§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Minister, yesterday I referred to the 10-minutes limit on speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm, which was an experiment for the last Session of Parliament only. I therefore can only appeal to hon. Members today to remember that there is a long list of those who have indicated to me that they wish to take part in the debate.
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Norman Fowler)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Fourteen months ago the House gave a Second Reading to this Government's first Transport Bill. That Bill, which later became the Transport Act 1980, reformed for the first time in half a century the traffic commissioner bus licensing system and allowed new services to be established. The 1980 Act also took the measures that were necessary to bring the State out of businesses where it had no role, such as road haulage and the removals business of the National Freight Corporation. The Bill takes that process several stages further. It contains important reforms and it reduces once again the public sector domination of the transport industries in this country.
In passing, I might say that of course the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) served as Opposition spokesmen on the 1979 Bill. They have now been joined by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott), whom we welcome to transport debates. However, it is rather curious that the Opposition now have more Shadow transport spokesmen than the Government have Ministers, which doubtless has something to do with representing all known Labour Party views on the issue.
The Bill has two major themes. The first is the introduction of private capital into State-owned industries. The position of the Government here is clear. We see no advantage to the public, either as taxpayers or as consumers, in keeping businesses in the public sector when they can do better outside, with access to private capital and with freedom from controls and Government interference. We have therefore carried out an industry-by-industry examination and have sought solutions geared to the needs of particular industries. We have deliberately chosen different ways of introducing private capital into, for example, the subsidiaries of British Rail as compared with, say, the National Freight Corporation. That, I believe, is one of the strengths of our policy. It recognises the different positions of different industries rather than imposing an inflexible policy on all. We are seeking basically new solutions to long-standing problems, which will benefit the public generally but which I also believe will benefit the industries themselves and those people working in them.
The second major theme of this Bill concerns the reform of motoring laws and the provisions on road safety. The changes here represent some of the most important reforms since the 1960s. The Bill changes the provisions 856 on totting up introduced by my distinguished predecessor, Ernest Marples, in his Road Traffic Act 1962, and it also strengthens the law on drunken driving set out in the Road Safety Act 1967. In addition, the Bill seeks to reduce motorcycling casualties, which are now so disturbingly high, particularly among the young.
However, let me make this clear. In this part of the Bill we are doing more than simply adding new restrictions. We are seeking to bring the law up to date so that it is regarded above all as fair. I believe that the changes in the totting-up system are a prime example of our approach. I also believe that this process of modernising our law is an indispensable condition for maintaining good relations between police and public in this country. Relations between police and public in Britain are exceptionally good, and a vital part of that are the relations between the police and the motorist. The need to preserve those relations is an essential element that any Government should take into account when deciding how far the law should go.
Let me turn to the different parts of the Bill. Part I basically makes possible a fundamental change in the status of the subsidiary companies of British Rail. As I told the House on 14 July last year, the Government and the board have identified four businesses in which they can see immediate prospects for the introduction of private capital—Sealink, hotels, hovercraft and non-operational property. The shipping and the hotels businesses were established because the board and its predecessors saw a need to provide services that were complementary to the railway, but circumstances have changed. The businesses themselves have increasingly turned away from the railways and have developed wider markets so that over 70 per cent. of the combined turnover of hotels and Sealink is now generated outside the railway. There are of course still very important links with the railway and these must be recognised, but there is no overriding reason why these businesses, which have much more in common with their private sector competitors than with the railway, should remain in the public sector. Certainly none can be considered an essential public utility.
But the logic of what we are doing is even more compelling than that. When I announced our plans last year, Rail News, the journal of British Rail, published its reactions to them. According to Rail News the proposals promiseda new lease of life for the main non-rail subsidiary businesses".At the same time, Sir Peter Parker, the chairman of British Rail, welcomed the announcement and said:The introduction of private capital should increase the scope and unlock the great potential of the subsidiary businesses. Investment has been limited and because of the thin spread the subsidiaries have been starved".The reason that he welcomed the policy was that the problem of the subsidiary companies of British Rail is not new—as anyone in the railway industry will confirm. The problems stretch back for year after year and through every Government that the Labour Party has formed since the war. I gather that the Opposition intend to vote against the Bill and against this provision. When they do so, let them say not only what are their proposals for the future but why they consistently ignored the question of the subsidiaries over so many years in the past.
The fact is that British Rail's subsidiary companies have suffered rather than benefited from being part of the public sector. They have been subject to public sector 857 constraints; they have until recently lacked management attention; and most of all, they have lacked investment. Successive boards have taken the view that with limited resources they have had to give priority to the railways. That remains the problem today, and, as Sir Peter Parker has said, a "do nothing" option is not the solution. For all that that means is that the subsidiaries will contract. The only sensible answer is the introduction of private capital into the businesses, and it is for that reason that we have jointly developed our ideas. Let me emphasise that the proposals in the Bill have the full support of the British Railways Board.
Using its existing powers, the board has already set up a holding company—British Rail Investments Ltd.—to which ownership of the three existing subsidiaries and of the non-operational property assets will in due course be transferred. This company will provide a focus for implementing the policy agreed by my Department and the board. Its task will be to examine the opportunities and prospects and to work out how private capital can best be introduced into the individual businesses.
The holding company has the freedom to find the best solution for each business, but if these businesses are to escape public sector constraints the board must surrender control of the businesses. In other words, it must dispose of a controlling interest in the businesses and future investment in the businesses will have to be financed by private capital.
The provisions of this part of the Bill can be described briefly. They do not in themselves change the status of the subsidiaries but rather they provide powers to enable the board to carry through the policy. Clause 1 gives the board power to sell shares in its subsidiaries or the undertakings or property of the subsidiaries. The use of these powers is not confined to the businesses which I mentioned; the powers are equally applicable to the board's other subsidiary activities. We have at present no plans to introduce private capital into these other businesses. However, there may be a role for private investment here, especially perhaps in British Rail engineering, and this is an issue which I shall want to consider with the board at a later stage.
Clause 2 provides for Sealink to establish a new subsidiary company and to transfer to it its harbour undertaking. Clause 3 provides a reserve power of direction, and clause 4 and schedule 1 deal with a variety of supplementary matters, of which pensions is probably the most important.
The board and the Government are convinced of the need for these provisions, and I do not believe that the House should be under any illusion. Unless we take this kind of radical action now, the future of these businesses will be bleak. I believe that our proposals will bring fresh opportunities for the businesses and for those working in them.
Part II of the Bill deals with the future of the British Transport Docks Board. The board operates 19 ports around the country, including some major ports such as Southampton, Hull and Immingham. It is responsible for handling about one-quarter of the country's seaborne trade. In 1979 the British Transport Docks Board made profits of £27 million before tax and interest on a turnover of £131 million. I should like to pay tribute to the management and work force for their successes over recent years.
§ Mr. Fowler
I shall explain that.
The advantage of the course that we are setting out—and again I stress that the chairman of the British Transport Docks Board accepts the case that I am making—is that it will give full commercial freedom to the board. The board will no longer be subject to intervention and interference from the Government. The management and work force will be responsible for their own future without Government controls of investment. So, above all, the proposals recognise that there is no need for the docks board to remain in the public sector under the restrictions and threat of restrictions that that involves.
The proposals in the Bill replace the docks board with a new two-tier organisation. Investors will be invited to buy shares in a Companies Act holding company which will control a reconstituted docks board to be known as British Ports as if it were a wholly owned subsidiary. Clauses 5 to 14 and schedules 2 to 4 provide powers for setting up the two-tier structure. They extinguish the board's debt to the Minister and give him powers to determine the financial structure of the new organisation. British Ports is given a constitution and powers and duties in relation to its harbour operations. I do not propose to describe the docks board clauses in great detail. My hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will deal more extensively with this and any points that arise in his winding-up speech.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I appreciate that my right hon. Friend does not wish to pursue the matter in detail. However, will he give one very broad figure? In clause 6 the debt of the docks board is extinguished. Will he give some indication of the size of that debt and what is the potential loss of interest on that debt which will be suffered by the Exchequer?
§ Mr. Fowler
I think that the figure that my hon. Friend wants is £80 million. That is the figure referred to in clause 6.
I was about to make three important points about the structure of the company. First, it is our intention that the business itself should be held together as one unit. That is something on which the board and, I think, those working for it have placed considerable importance. The British Transport Docks Board is a successful organisation. It derives its strength from a good mixture of ports, a strong management team and generally sound industrial relations. British Ports will be able to build on this success in the private sector with its management and ports remaining together.
Secondly, as the House knows, the Government intend to take a 51 per cent. shareholding in the holding company. The crucial point about the Government's shareholding is not the percentage size but whether it is used to control the holding company. I should make it quite clear that the Government will not control the holding company. Nor shall we be standing behind the new company in guaranteeing its borrowing.
Thirdly, as with British Rail, we want to see employees" shareholding schemes established so that those who work in the businesses will have a commitment and stake in their future success. This, it seems to me, is a far more tangible way of involving employees in their industries than following the out-dated belief that 859 nationalisation gives employees either greater control or greater security of employment. I believe that there are very few people outside a small section of the Labour Party who believe these days that that is the case.
Part III of the Bill is concerned mainly with the abolition of the National Ports Council. The council was set up to advise the Government on policy issues involving the ports industry. It was financed by the ports industry itself but was nevertheless independent of it. In cases of this kind, the question, I think, must always be whether the functions carried out by bodies such as this fully justify the costs that they impose and whether the functions can be carried out more effectively by the industry itself.
We have considered very carefully the case of the National Ports Council. It has achievements to its credit and I take this opportunity to thank its members and its staff. But we have also come to the conclusion that greater responsibility for progress in the ports should now be placed on the port industry itself. I am convinced that we shall get better results by placing responsibility on the shoulders of those most affected rather than by continuing the present Government-regulated statutory organisation. So clause 15 and schedule 5 provide for the abolition of the NPC and for its assets or liabilities to be transferred to the Government. But the ports industry has welcomed the proposal and the British Ports Association is already organising itself to meet the new tasks which it will shoulder.
The first three parts of the Bill, therefore, concern in one way or another reductions in the size of the public sector. Part IV deals with the second main theme of the Bill—the reform of the road safety and traffic laws. I shall seek to sketch out briefly the changes that we are making here.
First, the Bill reforms the totting-up system. As the House knows, the present law is that a motorist who commits three endorsable offences within three years is liable for disqualification for at least six months. The trouble with the system is that it does not distinguish between offences. A driver who commits three minor speeding offences is liable for the same penalty as one who commits three potentially more dangerous offences, such as reckless driving or failing to stop after an accident.
This has always seemed to me to be an entirely illogical position, and in Opposition I looked at the systems in operation in West Germany and in New York. As a result, I became convinced that our position in this country could be similiarly improved. Again in Opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) carried out a very valuable study on the same questions, and I pay tribute to him for that. While in Government, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and myself set up a Government working party to consider what improvements could be made in road traffic law generally.
Early on in its deliberations, the working party came to the conclusion that the present totting-up system could be replaced by a points system and that this was not only practicable but had very real benefits—above all, that motorists and professional drivers regard such a change as being fairer. I am glad to say that both the major motoring organisations—and, indeed, many others—have generally welcomed the proposals that we are putting before the House.
860 So the new system is based on the recommendations of the working group, which studied similar systems operating successfully in other countries. Clause 19 and schedule 7 provide that each of the current endorsable offences should be graded, according to seriousness by a number of points. When 12 points have been accumulated within a three-year period, disqualification for at least six months will almost always follow. The points values set out in schedule 7 are based on a study of the average level of fines imposed by the courts.
Clearly, there may be different views about the points value of different offences, and, equally clearly, we would be prepared to listen to arguments on that. But I hope the House will feel that generally the new system will be more equitable than the present one. I should perhaps add that, once the period of disqualification has been served, the slate will be wiped clean of points.
The second major provision in this part of the Bill is that we are tackling the problem of drink-driving. I do not think that anyone in this House should be under any doubt or illusion about the seriousness of this offence. At present, one-third of drivers killed in accidents are above the prescribed limit. Nor should we believe that we are always dealing, or even mostly dealing, with motorists who are just a little over the limit of 80 milligrammes. Over one-half of those convicted in the courts today have readings of over 150 milligrammes, and three-quarters of those convicted have readings of over 120 milligrammes. The effect of the 1967 Act has worn off, and new efforts must be made to improve the effectiveness of the law.
What approach, therefore, should we take? Some argue for stiffer sentences. I do not think that stiffer sentences are necessary. Courts already have very considerable powers. The crucial question concerns the enforcement of the law, so we have taken steps to enable enforcement to be more efficient than it is at present.
Clause 25 and schedule 8 provide for evidential breath testing—that is, breath test machines in police stations—which will largely replace the need for analysis of blood and urine samples. Breath testing works perfectly well in other countries. It has been tested by the police here and it has several important advantages. It provides an almost instant result for the motorist, and for the same reason it means that the policeman is able to spend more time in enforcing the law and less time in the station waiting for the police surgeon to arrive.
At the same time, we have redrawn sections 6 to 12 of the Road Traffic Act 1972, with the aim of removing the procedural loopholes. There is no question but that in the past these loopholes have meant that the undoubtedly guilty drivers have escaped on procedural technicalities. this in turn has had its effect on the police, who cannot be expected to enforce what is a deficient law, so on both these measures we have followed the recommendations of the Blennerhassett committee of 1976.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
I welcome the improvement in the procedures which have been mentioned, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way in which we can really improve enforcement is by introducting random testing? If he does not agree with that, will he indicate his reasons for disagreeing?
§ Mr. Fowler
My hon. Friend's intervention takes me exactly to my next point. Where we have not followed Blennerhassett is on the issue of random tests or 861 discretionary testing. We have not done so basically for the following reasons. First, we believe that the changes we are making will help the police further to carry out their job of enforcement. In other words, we believe that the changes already in the Bill will bring about a significant improvement in the police enforcement effort. Second, we do not believe that such powers are necessary; in other words, we believe that the police already have the powers which they need in this respect. third, we believe—and I attach considerable importance to this—that relations between police and motorist are an important part of police public relations, and an extension of power of this kind could potentially damage those relations.
I have been criticized—and I detect that I shall be criticised again—for being cautious on this question. If indeed that is a criticism, I would accept that that is the case. In my view, this House should think very long and very carefully indeed before adding powers of this kind. Certainly the House should ponder on the experience of Mrs. Castle, who in February 1966 introduced a Bill in wnich random test powers were included, and who in November of that year, following the election, introduced a further Bill in which they were left out. The House should consider her explanation for that change of policy, which was that she wanted to introduce legislation which would command the maximum amount of public acceptance.
But, above all, the House should answer the question whether such powers are necessary, given not only the powers that the police already have but the extra strength which I believe that the Bill will give to their efforts. Lastly, as I have said before, the House should be very wary about introducing measures which can affect relations between the police and the motorist in this country.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the House must be extremely careful about what we do. The principle that he is enunciating is one of public relations between the police and the public. Does he not agree that if we enshrine that principle in everything we do it will make the duty of customs officers, income tax inspectors and traffic wardens almost impossible? Does he not agree that the police would gain considerable respect from the British public if they were able to help to reduce the carnage on the roads? Is not random testing an important part of that?
§ Mr. Fowler
We are making substantial and important improvements in the ability of the police to enforce the law. I simply do not agree with my hon. Friend's general point about relations between the police and the public. We in Britain are more fortunate than any other country in Western Europe in the relations we have between police and the public. In many areas, not only drinking and driving, it is encumbent upon the House to consider whether changes will affect relations between police and public.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
The Secretary of State mentioned Mrs. Castle. I served on the Standing Committee both in 1966 and in 1967. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that circumstances have changed greatly during the past 13 years? First, far more drinking and driving takes place now than in 1967. Secondly, while 862 there was great opposition to the idea of testing at that time, it has now become accepted and we must move on to the next stage.
§ Mr. Fowler
I do not think that we should necessarily move on to the next stage simply because we have become accustomed to the testing that has taken place under the 1967 Act. The onus is on those who want random testing to establish beyond all reasonable doubt that new powers are necessary. I am advising the House that it is my view, and the view of the Government, that such new powers are not necessary—
§ Mr. Fowler
I shall not give way again, because the issue is such that there will be a number of interventions from both sides of the House. Obviously, I understand and respect the fact that there is a difference of opinion across the Floor. I ask the House to consider carefully the changes that we have made, which I believe will have an important effect and will make an important improvement in police enforcement of the law. I stand by what I have said on the question of police and public relations. I think that there is no argument across the Floor that that is an essential matter that any Government should take into account before extending powers.
The third step that we are taking in this part of the Bill concerns the problem of road safety and motor cyclists. In 1979 more than 1,100 motor cyclists died on Britain's roads. More than half of them were teenagers. A further 66,000 were injured, and our information is that the figures for last year will run at about the same level. Any Government must be concerned about casualties of that size. The proposals that we have put forward are aimed at enabling the motor cyclist, especially the new motor cyclist, to be equipped to take better care of his own safety.
Motor cyclists will always be vulnerable—their vehicle affords little protection. But the present casualty rates mean that per mile travelled a motor cyclist is some 30 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than a car driver. The figures also show that the young and inexperienced are the most vulnerable. I do not believe that it is difficult to see why. The present law permits an inexperienced 17-year-old to ride a motor cycle, possibly capable of more than 100 miles per hour, without even having to take a test. A mere 15 per cent. at present take training, compared with more than 90 per cent. of car drivers who take professional instruction. It seems to me that it is essential, as a matter of policy, that more motor cyclists should take training and follow that up with the driving test. It also seems to me to be patently wrong for a learner to be able to ride a modern 250 cc machine.
First therefore, clause 23 restricts learner riders to less powerful machines with a performance more appropriate to the general level of their experience and skill. Secondly, it provides for a two-part test for motor cyclists. The first part will be an examination off the road of the motor cyclists's machine handling abilities and will be mainly carried out by training organisations that I shall authorise. The second part would be carried out by the Department's examiners and would be very similar to the present on-the-road test. Thirdly, the clause limits the duration of the motor cycle provisional licence, which will mean an end 863 to the present position where a motor cyclist is able to ride on L plates virtually for the rest of his life, if that is his wish.
These proposals follow very closely the recommendations of a working party set up with representatives from the Government, the police and motor cycling bodies to review the safety position. Their report was unanimous. I hope that it will be clear that what we are seeking is in no way to discriminate against the motor cyclist, but above all to ensure that the new rider takes training as he come on to the road for the first time.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Edinburgh, South)
My right hon. Friend has rightly stressed the important connection between training and safety. Does he not agree that the statistics tend to show that many accidents happen during the first six months of ownership of a motor cycle? Would it not be better to consider ways of ensuring that training takes place within the first six months, if necessary by making it compulsory?
§ Mr. Fowler
The effect of what we are proposing will ensure that training takes place within the first six months. That is the whole purpose of what we are seeking to do. I do not believe that it is either necessary or desirable to have compulsory training at this stage, especially as we have a solution agreed between all the bodies on the way to move forward. I urge my hon. Friend—I know of his interest in the matter—to study the details of the scheme which I believe will meet the points that he raised.
There are several other important proposals in this Bill. Clause 29 and schedule 10 contain measures to reform lorry taxation. The objective is to relate taxation on heavy lorries more closely to the damage they do to the roads. The system proposed will be fairer than the present one and was endorsed by the recent Armitage inquiry report.
Clause 31 will remove restrictions dating from the last century on the powers of certain authorities, notably the Metropolitan Police, to recover the full cost of licensing taxis and taxi drivers. It should result in a saving to taxpayers and ratepayers of about £700,000 a year.
The measures that I have just described in this Bill will return the control of a significant part of British transport to private hands. The role of the State will be significantly reduced. The Bill sets free those industries and gives them the opportunities of the private sector—the opportunities and the challenge—while at the same time it makes some of the most important changes in motoring law and road safety that the House has had before it since the 1960s.
Above all, the Bill will be in the public interest. It will bring benefits to those who work in the industries concerned; it will bring benefits to the taxpayer; and it will bring benefits to the community at large in terms, I hope, of lives saved and injuries avoided. It is on that basis that I ask for the support of the House.
§ Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
I publicly congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment to the Cabinet. He has commented on the addition of my hon. Frind the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) to Labour's Front Bench transport team, and on the fact that there will now be more Shadow Transport Ministers than Ministers. That, however, is totally appropriate, because 864 the Labour Party attaches at least 50 per cent. more importance to maintaining and expanding public transport than do the Government, who are apparently more concerned to see its diminution and are making that clear in the Bill.
At a time of the most massive financial crisis facing British Railways, the Bill brings to bear upon them provisions which are at best irrevelant to that crisis and, at worst, downright damaging to their future. The Secretary of State is proposing powers to force them to sell their profitable subsidiaries. He said that it gives powers to the BR holding company, which is not mentioned in the Bill. But BR will have no power to sell subsidiaries without the Secretary of State's consent. That is made clear in clause 1.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I would be opposed to the forced sale of BR subsidiaries at any time. However, we can hardly envisage a worse time at which to force that sale than the present. The Government are apparently seeking to have the subsidiaries sold as cheaply as possible, to have the least possible sum realised by the public for their considerable investment in the railways over the years.
I do not necessarily dissent from the Secretary of State's view that there has been insufficient investment in British Railways' subsidiaries. Nevertheless, investment in recent years has been significant. It has put these businesses in a positon that in normal trading times, rather than during the massive recession that is being presided over by the Government, would enable them to make considersable profits. The railways are prevented by their external financing limit, which the Government set, from obtaining loans or making leasing arrangements to meet current and future needs. Whether the Bill can assist British Railways or their subsidiaries in dealing with the problem to even a limited extent will depend upon the agreement of the Treasury that the proceeds of the sale should be added to the external financing limit. That clearly would be the only circumstance in which British Railways could be assisted by the sale of subsidiaries.
If that is not to be the case, and if the Secretary of State intends that whatever money is realised by the sale should be deducted from the borrowing powers of BR, they will have no more money than they have at present. In other words, BR will be deprived of any future income from the subsidiaries and of any addition to their current financing. If the Secretary of State intends that the proceeds should be further invested in the subsidiaries, the benefit will accrue to those who acquire the subsidiaries. BR will benefit only to the limited extent that they retain any holding in those subsidiaries.
The effect of the Bill could therefore be greatly to worsen, even in the short term, the financial position of British Railways. The explanatory and financial memorandum suggests that one of the purposes of part I is to reduce the call of British Railways on the National Loans Fund.
§ Mr. Fowler
If the right hon. Gentleman believes that the proposals will do nothing for the railways, but will harm them, why did the board of BR welcome those proposals in the Bill?
§ Mr. Booth
British Railways have not said that they welcome the proposals in the Bill. Their comment was made in advance of their seeing the Bill. I have asked BR 865 whether it is the board's understanding that the Secretary of State intends the sale of the subsidiaries to lead to a reduced call by BR on the National Loans Fund. I gather that that was not its understanding. Its, understanding, on the basis of which it gave some welcome to the proposals, was that the sale of the subsidiaries would increase the money currently available to BR to run and develop its business.
§ Mr. Fowler
The Bill has been published for some weeks. Is the right hon. Gentleman maintaining that the attitude of the British Railways Board towards the Bill has changed? If he is, I have to tell him that he is totally incorrect.
§ Mr. Booth
The attitude of BR since the publication of the Bill is that they would be greatly disadvantaged in their main business if the proceeds of the sale were used to reduce their call on the National Loans Fund and did not provide more money for them to run their main business. The right hon. Gentleman's intervention on this point is highly significant. It tends to underline my suspicion that his intention in selling the subsidiaries is not to assist BR, but to reduce the call upon the National Loans Fund by BR, thereby worsening their position. It seems that his intention is to deny them income from the subsidiaries that they would otherwise enjoy. We are therefore justified in saying that BR stands to lose control and future profit in respect of those subsidiaries without the short-term advantage of the proceeds being added to the external financing limit.
British Railways are starved of cash for track maintenance, for structural renewal, for development of signalling systems and for their rolling stock. They are in danger of having to introduce further speed reductions and even line closures unless they can obtain more money for their main business. Their investment budget is frozen at about £366 million at mid-1980 prices. In other words, their investment is less than half that of most European railway systems. It is certainly less than half the investment that France, Germany and Italy are putting into their rail networks. Those systems also have a far higher percentage of electrified line. British Railways have yet to start on a number of major schemes of electrification, which I hope that we shall be considering shortly, when their report becomes available.
The Secretary of State has refused all British Railways' investment proposal to him since last May, and that, of course, is adding to the problem. The Bill gives him the most draconian powers. It denies British Railways the right to sell subsidiaries other than with his consent, but in clause 3 gives him the power to instruct British Railways how, when and in what circumstances to sell. That contrasts most strangely with the Minister's professed aim of letting the management of these great bodies run their own concerns. He is not allowing them to manage. He is taking unto himself powers to give them the most detailed instructions on how to deal with the most important aspects of their businesses.
In the first part of the Bill there is no reference to the holding company or to the limitation of sale of subsidiaries to those owned by the holding company. In fact, the Secretary of State has fairly made it clear today that it is not intended that there should be such a limitation and that his powers would extend to the sale a subsidiaries beyond those already owned by the holding company.
866 If the Minister is to bring any private capital into those companies he should make it clear why he believes that it should be on the basis of at least 51 per cent. of a subsidiary being sold to the private sector. By what strange logic will £l million-worth of expenditure by a company in which there is a minority public holding be totally exempt from the external financing limit that applies to British Railways and all its subsidiaries while £1 million-worth of expenditure by a subsidiary in which there is a majority public holding will be totally encompassed within the external financing limit?
One could look at the other limitations placed on the, development of British Railways' subsidiaries. If there is a minority public holding in a subsidiary, it will be able to sell and lease, but if there is a majority holding it will not be. If there is a minority holding, it will be able to enter into lease and lease-back arrangements. If there is a minority holding it will be able to realise the development value of properties by lease and sale arrangements.
The strange and arbitrary law of external financing limits will prevent the development of subsidiaries when a majority holding is public and will release them from the restrictions when the majority holding is private. That cannot be justified by public expenditure constraints, because the EFL, as applied to British Rail and its subsidiaries, covers both money that it borrows from the National Loans Fund and any money that it borrows from the private sector. Thus, to the extent that British Rail increases its borrowing from the private sector, it will reduce the amount that it can borrow from the public sector.
If the justification for this arbitrary rule, which has such a bearing on the development and running of BR's subsidiaries, is that it is intended to reduce, limit or contain BR's demands upon the national resources, it is the wrong approach in present circumstances, when both public and private sectors would be advantaged by increasing investment in public transport, and in rail transport in particular.
If the Secretary of State were to approve the investment proposals made to him by British Rail he would help not only British Rail but many private companies that are only too ready to supply the equipment needed by BR for such an expansion. The rigid and indiscriminate Treasury ruling that is applied to nationalised industries cannot in present circumstances make commercial or economic sense.
The Minister is clearly planning to strip British Rail of its profitable parts and reduce the public sector borrowing requirement in the short run at the expense of making it considerably worse in the long run. If the subsidiaries are sold out at much less than what would be their true value in normal times it must be true that they will not be able to finance their current needs, particularly, as the Minister confirmed in his intervention, since they will not be able to get the money—it will be knocked off their right to borrow—which means that in future they will have to come back to the Government for more money.
§ Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
since the Minister did not once mention the possible effect on the fares structure of this proposal, how does my hon. Friend see that structure being affected in the absence of the income to which he has referred?
§ Mr. Booth
That is an important issue. There can be no doubt that we now have a policy of probably the highest 867 fares that we have ever seen—certainly higher than in almost any other European country. That, to a great extent, reflects British Rail's inability to develop its assets because of the limitations that I have described and because of the overall limitation of the EFL and of Government support for the railway system.
Therefore, if, in the circumstances that I have described, the Government were to refuse British Rail money to compensate it for the loss of future income at a time when its assets have been sold cheaply or stripped, there would be no alternative but to attempt a higher fares policy, with all the risks that that entails of a further drop in the number of passengers.
The passenger volume that British Rail successfully increased from 1974 to 1979 has now begun to turn down, and it is doubtful whether we will not see in it what we have seen in many bus services—an increase in fares, leading to a decrease in passengers, and a vicious spiral of further rundown.
Therefore, a future Labour Government, if the Bill is operated as I suggest it will be, will have to deal with this situation. They will not only have to find ways of quickly reasserting public control over national assets in transport which have been stripped by this Government; they will have to formulate policies to allow public enterprise to flourish, to provide services and to generate demand and employment in the economy, without being hamstrung by unrealistic Treasury restrictions.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that almost exactly the arguments that he is now putting so forcefully were put by the Labour Party when it fell to my right hon. Friend and myself to put through the legislation that sold Thomas Cook, then held by the British Transport Holding Company. He will recall that his party then undertook what he has now said—that when it returned to office it would repossess Thomas Cook into the public sector. Does he not recall that in six years of office after that, when Labour Ministers examined the position, they concluded that the decision had been a sensible one? Is he not now using exactly the same kind of language to condemn this further sensible sale? Is it not likely that in practice, if ever he returns to office, the same common sense will prevail?
§ Mr. Booth
I recall clearly that in the last Government we could not fulfil the undertaking to bring Thomas Cook back into the public sector, but I am surprised that we should be reminded of that case by a Conservative Member.
After the sale it was discovered that the price that had been obtained for Thomas Cook by a Conservative Government was well below its true value and that major aspects of that public asset had been overlooked. If ever there were an example of a Government being careless of the public financial interest, I should have thought that it was in the case of Thomas Cook.
We are greatly concerned that the total power of the Minister envisaged in the Bill is to override the judgment of the holding company. Therefore, will the holding company be allowed by the Secretary of State, who will have great power under the Bill, to reject a bid by a competing company? For example, if the holding company receives a bid for Sealink by the company that is chaired by the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. 868 Wickenden), will it be allowed to reject that bid, or will the Minister use the power that he undoubtedly has? Will the holding company be allowed to reject a bid for British Rail Hotels by the company that is chaired by the chairman of the Conservative Party? The power that the Secretary of State is taking must be justified. Will he leave the right to reject bids to the holding company, or will he reserve to himself the power that he will have, if clause 3 is adopted, to instruct it to accept bids?
§ Mr. Fowler
I shall give the answer that I have already given on this matter. We are proposing a reserve power, but clearly we would allow the holding company of British Rail discretion in dealing with the sort of bids that the right hon. Gentleman has set out. The reserve power would be used only in the unlikely circumstances that no progress has been made by any of the subsidiaries for selling off, but not in the circumstances outlined by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Booth
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for what he said. It gives the lie to those hon. Members who have said that debates in this House are a waste of time. It is extremely important that the Secretary of State should have put on record the fact that he will not use the power in clause 3 to override the decisions of the holding company to reject bids of the type that I have described, but the power is undoubtedly there, and in Committee we shall examine whether that power should remain, in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's assurance.
§ Mr. Adley
Will the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) make clear whether he has stated that if there were ever to be another Labour Government in this country, where a sale was negotiated under the terms of this Bill any company would be confiscated by a future Labour Government with the intention of taking that company into public ownership? Is he adumbrating that this afternoon?
§ Mr. Booth
This afternoon we are debating principally the policies of this Government. However, it is the view of my hon. Friends and myself that if a Conservative Government believe that they are justified in calling upon their majority in the House to give them powers to strip public assets—to transfer assets from the public sector to the private sector—in a way that disadvantages the public interest and advantages a limited private interest, a future Labour Government may feel justified in calling upon their majority to reverse the process—transferring assets from private to public ownership in a way that disadvantages private ownership and advantages the public interest.
§ Mr. Fowler
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Labour Party has now decided to override what the board of British Rail want?
§ Mr. Booth
That is not what I have said, and before the next general election, depending on how these assets have been transferred, we shall have to make a decision to include in our manifesto a proposal that will make clearer to the British public how we intend to deal with what we regard as proper public assets than did the Conservative Party before the general election.
We are also concerned about the position of those who are forced by the subsidiaries to leave the British Rail pension schemes. Under the present Treasury rules, if a majority holding in a subsidiary is sold out people will not 869 be able to remain in British Rail pension schemes. How they will fare will depend very much on the use of the powers defined for them by the Secretary of State in schedule 1. It is clear from the schedule that the Secretary of State cannot in any way worsen the position of a company in respect of pension schemes when it buys subsidiaries. But, in contrast to the 1962 Act, there is nothing in the Bill that gives the same sort of safeguards for the beneficiaries of pension schemes.
In relation to the provisions of the Bill for the British Transport Docks Board, there are some noticeable differences in the treatment of the nationalised industries. The British Transport Docks Board has a profitable trading record and it makes a significant contribution to public funds. Therefore, the question from a Conservative Member about the debt was irrelevant. What was called a debt is in fact the loan capital basis on which the board operates and on which it pays a fixed dividend to the public. We do not believe that any part of this profitable undertaking should be handed over to the private sector. The powers that are given to the British Transport Docks Board under schedule 3 are significant, and I congratulate the Secretary of State on deciding that the board should be entrusted with a wider range of activity—carriage of goods by road, the power to act as shipping agents, the power to develop land and the power to construct and operate pipelines. Those are important powers which we want to examine carefully. However, it is a tragedy that a Conservative Minister considers that these organisations should have such powers only when the private sector is to take them over in part.
We welcome the limited assurance from the Secretary of State in advance of the publication of the Bill that he will not permit the sale of a majority interest in the British Transport Docks Board, under its new name, to the private sector. But that assurance is not written into the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill that says that it will not be possible to sell more than 49 per cent. Further, the Secretary of State said that, even though the public will hold the majority interest in the new docks board, he has no intention of using his 51 per cent. plus holding to control the activities of the board. Therefore, if he does not use it, the private sector will have control of the operation and it may use that control to sell off some of the more profitable assets.
In relation to the National Ports Council, we are opposed to the abolition of this body in the absence of any other body being created that can direct the organisation and investment in British ports. Although the National Ports Council—which I think I am right in saying was created by a Conservative Government—has lacked teeth, it has given some valuable legal and financial advice to Ministers on port matters. It has provided research and development of port activities which would not otherwise have been available. Therefore, it is an undesirable, badly judged, move to get rid of this body at a time when the Secretary of State faces difficult decisions regarding the financing of ports. Those who participated in the debate on the financing of the Port of London Authority, and certainly hon. Members representing Merseyside constituencies, are well aware of the problems of port finance that face the Secretary of State for Transport at present.
With regard to the cost of pension schemes and compensation payments to the staff and members of the National Ports Council, who will be made redundant if the Bill is enacted, we are opposed to a large part of that cost 870 being met by a levy on the industry. The costs arise directly from Government action, and they should be carried by the Government. Even if we do not push the issue to a vote, I hope that the Government will note that we are opposed to a Ways and Means motion that could transfer a large part of the cost to the industry—an industry that has not sought this measure.
It is wrong to include road safety provisions in the Bill. They are important, but they should have been introduced as a seperate Bill. A road safety Bill would have made a lot of sense and it could have been discussed in a better atmosphere. The provisions should not have been tagged on as nine clauses in a Bill which contains highly controversial party political matters. That will not help us to have the sort of discussion that we need on some road safety issues.
No party wants to be branded as anti-road safety or pro-drunken drivers. Such matters are bound to be raised on the road safety clauses.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Blennerhassett committee reported five years ago. There was agitation from both sides of the House for the previous Government to do something about that important report. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why he and his colleagues did nothing to implement the recommendations?
§ Mr. Booth
The hon. Gentleman brings me to my next point. We have had the report for a long time and I know that the previous Minister of Transport wanted to introduce legislation. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I am not saying that it would be wrong to have legislation. We have waited too long for a road safety measure, but it would be better to have a separate Bill instead of making the provisions part of a measure which would be highly contentious for party political reasons.
I broadly support the idea behind the updating of the points system, but the Minister has some strange priorities in his allocation of points. One is more likely to be disqualified from driving for threatening property than for threatening life and limb. One may get eight points towards disqualification by going out equipped to steal a car, but a driver who goes over a school crossing in defiance of a "lollipop man", when kids are crossing, will get only three points. The Minister is right to assume that we shall want to examine the points table carefully in Committee. Nineteenth century Tories were believed to be more concerned to protect property than the life and limb of working people, and it seems that that attitude has been adopted in the Bill.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if a driver went across a school crossing in defiance of a "lollipop man" he would almost certainly be charged with reckless driving and would get 10 points towards disqualification?
§ Mr. Booth
A driver will get only three points for going over a crossing in defiance of a "lollipop man". If he is charged with another offence, that will be a different matter.
The problem of drinking and driving raises important and difficult issues for the House. We have had the Blennerhassett report for five years and that is a long time to wait, particularly if it appears that by acting on the report we can reduce the number of lives lost through drunken driving.
871 The report not only makes recommendations for changes in the law but comments on the relationship of the drinking and driving law with its enforcement and its interpretation by the courts. It argues that definition of the circumstances in which police can breath-test a driver creates defences and court decisions that may deter police from testing and prosecuting. In other words, the report suggests that as a result of Parliament's having sought to define the circumstances in which a policeman can demand a breath test we have created a situation in which the courts may have to decide not whether a person was drunk, but whether a policeman had any right to stop him and require him to take a test.
I accept the Blennerhassett view that any power to test that goes beyond testing those who are obviously incapable of driving or have been involved in an accident will require the judgment of a police officer to be exercised and, to the extent that it requires judgment, could be used in a random way. Therefore, the issue of random testing is not merly an argument between what is proposed in the Bill and the full application of the Blennerhassett recommendations. An element of random testing could take place within the present law.
I have the greatest reluctance in agreeing to give the police any unrestricted enforcement power. I can see great difficulties in drawing a distinction between an unrestricted right of enforcement in respect of breath tests and a restricted right of enforcement in other areas—the right to search for stolen goods and so on—but the case made in the Blennerhassett report is so strong and serious that we should find a way during the passage of the Bill to enable hon. Members to decide whether they want what is proposed in the Bill, which goes part of the way towards the Blennerhassett recommendations, or whether they want to go the whole way.
I am surprised that the Minister's proposal in respect of what is known as the hip-flask problem only changes the onus of proof. No one should be able to evade a charge of having committed a crime by being able to prove that his test was affected by the fact that he took a swig from a flask after having been called on by a policeman to take a breath test. In any other area of criminal human activity, changing, distorting or destroying evidence to avoid being charged is itself an offence. We ought to apply a similar philosophy to the hip-flask problem.
The Bill's proposals to change the basis of heavy goods vehicle tax will enable the tax to relate to weight, the number of axles and a number of other factors. The Minister said that it meets one of the recommendations of the Armitage committee, but the House requires a categorical assurance tonight that the Government will not take the view, now or in future, that having complied with that recommendation they can go on to introduce heavier lorries on to our roads.
I am opposed to such a move. I support the view of the Armitage committee that many other actions need to be taken before we can begin to look at whether we should have heavier lorries. We need to consider how more freight could be transferred to rail, what road construction is necessary, how we can build more bypasses, including one in my constituency, the introduction of lorry control schemes that would make more sense of the use of lorries, 872 how we can make lorries safer, less noisy and less damaging to our roads and a better form of operator licensing.
The Bill includes one Armitage proposal and a very important reference to powers relating to British Railways' subsidiaries. We may deal with this later in our proceedings, but the Minister might usefully have included the recommendation made by Armitage that Sealink should be eligible for grants under section 8 of the Railways Act 1974 and that so should Freightliners. When Freightliners was run by the National Freight Cororation it was eligible, but now that it is part of British Rail it is not eligible for section 8 grants. I understand that the purpose of the grants is to provide more rail sidings and rolling stock to reduce the environmental damage done by lorries.
The present distinction between whether the organisation running Freightliners is a British Rail subsidiary or NFC, which can be transferred to private ownership, is a ridiculous distinction to make.
The Bill contains much which is controversial and little which is good. The first part means that we should be creating a way of destroying an important part of British Rail. The first part of the Bill fails tragically to meet the urgent needs of British Railways. In the past the Minister has many times spoken as a supporter of British Rail, but by his actions he is strangling and destroying our railway system. For that reason, we shall vote against the Bill and we call on all those who believe that our railway system should be maintained and developed to support us.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
First, I should like to join the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) in congratulating the Secretary of State on his promotion to full membership of the Cabinet. Given the importance of transport in our economy, the original situation was highly anomalous. I am delighted that as a result of his performance in office he has now received that highly justified promotion.
The Transport Act which was implemented last year made significant improvements in the structure of transport, and I believe that the Bill does the same.
My right hon. Friend has been flexible in his attitude. For example, in the light of the comments on the Green Paper on tax on possession, he has shown that his approach is not dogmatic. That is important in relation to transport matters.
I must declare an interest as a director of a company whose activities include transport.
I wish to concentrate my remarks on two major parts of the Bill and to keep within the time limit of 10 minutes, even though Mr. Speaker has said that that does not apply.
I shall speak, first, about British Rail and, secondly, about road safety. The hyperbole of the last few sentences of the statement of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in Furness was absurd, because to say that my right hon. Friend is destroying important parts of British Rail is totally out of line with reality. The fact is that my right hon. Friend's proposals will give the existing operations of British Rail a better chance of surviving and of serving the public. That is true of both the mainstream operations and the subsidiaries of British Rail.
I was puzzled by the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that somehow the chairman and the members of the board of British Rail have changed their attitude towards the Bill. 873 That is not my understanding. I understand that they support the measures because they recognise that British Rail's subsidiaries have been starved of capital. As a result, they believe that the operation now suggested will help.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the flow of capital that would result from the disposal of British Rail's assets. It is clear from the explanatory memorandum that the proceeds from the disposal of part of the board's interests in its subsidiaries will flow to the board. That will mean that, even if the borrowing limits are adjusted, the railway operation as a whole will be able to save interest on the borrowings that would otherwise have had to be made. To that extent, British Rail gains. But against a public sector borrowing requirement such as we have now—a subject which was covered by the press this morning—to suggest that limits should be further relaxed is quite unrealistic. In terms of general economic management, it would be very dangerous.
Perhaps the more important point is that the subsidiaries, which have been starved of capital, will now be able to get capital from the private sector as well. In that context, it is right that, if more than 50 per cent. is divested, control will pass and they will go outside the public sector borrowing requirement limit. That means that those working in the industry—for example, in Sealink, or in the hotels—will have a safer expectation of future employment than if they were in the overall control of British Rail. British Rail would tend to concentrate on its mainstream operations and would not feel able, as indeed it has not been able in the past, to make sufficient capital available to ensure that employment opportunities remain in subsidiary operations. I am sure that my right hon. Friend's approach is right.
It is strange that the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness should speak of massive cutbacks in British Rail when he knows perfectly well that the investment ceiling in British Rail in real terms has been maintained at the same level as it was when the previous Government were in power.
§ Mr. Higgins
It was certainly insufficient under the previous Labour Government. I do not accept that, but the proposals in the Bill will help both to the existing mainstream operations and the subsidiary operations, for the reasons that I have given.
I turn now to the more controversial aspects of the Bill concerned with road safety. I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the proposals for motor cycles. Anyone who drives to London as a commuter knows only too well the considerable hazards to which motor cyclists are subject because of the general low standard of driving.
As my right hon Friend knows, I am a member of the council of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I believe that my right hon. Friend passed its test some time ago. We should realise that the Bill's proposals are the minimum standards required. We should do everything we can to encourage both motorists and motor cyclists to take further advanced tests so that the standard generally is improved. The proposals to ensure that people do not go on driving powerful machines for ever on provisional licences should he adopted.
Having said that, I want to cast a few doubts on specific proposals in the Bill, particularly as my right hon. Friend 874 said that he is open to persuasion on the provision in schedule 7 for the points system which is rightly to be substituted for the totting-up system. The number of points allocated is somewhat curious. When I came to analyse the system, I was forced to the conclusion that some of the offences, which are now not subject to automatic disqualification, should be taken outside the disqualification points system suggested. For example, someone using a motor vehicle uninsured and unsecured against third party risks should be subject to automatic disqualification, not just 10 points. Clearly, the effects can be very serious.
On the overall approach, I am doubtful about my right hon. Friend's proposal that once the points system has resulted in a disqualification the slate should be wiped clean. I have received representations which suggest that an over-balance of points should be carried forward on the grant of any future licence. I am also doubtful about the provision to the effect that, if a number of offences are committed at the same time, one should take the highest number of points for all those offences. If I understand the Bill correctly, the points are not cumulative. Again, that seems a doubtful approach. Indeed, if I understand my right hon. Friend correctly, the scale of points has been arrived at in the light of fines which historically have been imposed by the courts. That seems an odd basis. We are not legislating; we are endorsing past decisions of the courts.
I do not think that the scale proposed is right. For example, a motor cyclist who carried a pillion passenger contrary to the law, which would involve only one point, and then twice subsequently drove uninsured would not on the points system be disqualified automatically. Therefore, we need to look carefully at the points system.
I believe that in the broad economic sense and in the light of the specific proposals on road safety the Bill is useful. We all know about the pressure on parliamentary time. If we were to chop every Bill into component parts—I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend acknowledges this—we would not get measures dealing with many of the more difficult and controversial aspects of legislation on this or any other subject. It is right that my right hon. Friend should bring forward what is in a sense a package. I hope that the House will support these proposals. The Bill is a further major step forward in improving our transportation law.
§ 5.1 pm
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
As the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) observed, the Bill contains a number of disparate and essentially distinct elements. Therefore, I expect that hon. Members who take part in the debate will direct their attention to different aspects of it. I intend to restrict my comments to clause 25, which is the introductory clause to schedule 8.
Some hon. Member may be quick to note that that clause and schedule are in the larger part of the Bill which does not apply to Northern Ireland. I make no apology on that account, since it is the opinion of my hon. Friends and myself that, particularly in the matters of road transport and road traffic, it is wholly anomalous that there should be different codes of law in different parts of the kingdom. Whatever arguments may be put forward elsewhere, a motorist in any part of the United Kingdom should clearly be under the same law and subject to the same penalties in the same circumstances.
875 When the Ulster Unionist Party was consulted on parallel proposals for Northern Ireland legislation by Order in Council, my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) wrote to the Minister:We therefore recommend the elimination of all the present divergencies in Northern Ireland law in respect of drinking and drivingand my hon. Friend went on to say that there were very few other divergencies which he believed could, even temporarily, be justified. Therefore, we look forward to Orders in Council coming before the House before too long which will bring the current road traffic law in Northern Ireland into line with that in the rest of the kingdom, so that, thenceforward, the House can legislate on these matters for the United Kingdom as a whole.
I come now to the substance of clause 25 and schedule 8. I go this far with the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) in his regret that this matter was combined with the other matters in the Bill. I see and accept the justification offered for that by the Secretary of State. But if he was going to use the Bill as a vehicle for dealing with road traffic law, he should not have placed in a schedule matters so important as the amendment of the 1972 Act relating to drink and driving; for almost every provision in that schedule requires most careful consideration.
Although, technically, we can propose amendments to schedules as freely as we can to any other part of a Bill, there are two limiting considerations. One is that by the time we get to schedules, holidays are already in sight—at any rate, for hon. Members serving on the Committee—and consequently, attention tends not to be so vigorous and acute as it was in the earlier stages. More seriously, a schedule must be taken as a whole, however many amendments are tabled to it, and therefore the valuable opportunity to review progress through a Bill by the question "That the clause stand part of the Bill" is not available when legislation of this importance is placed in a schedule.
However, I am sure that the Secretary of State, having accepted the drafting, will wish the paragraphs of the schedule to be dealt with as fully as if they were—as I believe they should have been—substantive clauses.
The Road Safety Act 1967 created not just a new offence, but a new type of offence for which there may possibly be some, but cannot be many parallels in our law. Hitherto, the offence had been driving when unfit to drive by reason of alcohol. The 1967 Act, as repeated in the 1972 Act, created an entirely new offence. That offence was not being unfit to drive, but being in an objective physical condition, namely, having a certain proportion of alcohol in the blood—the blood-alcohol count. It thereby made criminal a condition of which only the person accused could convict himself by giving evidence against himself and being obliged to do so. It was a severe innovation in the general scope of road traffic law, and I think that is one of the reasons for the extreme anxiety that we have all felt, and that the Secretary of State expressed this afternoon, about relations between the public and the law enforcement authorities in the context of drink and driving legislation.
At any rate, the House—though I expressed my disagreement at the time and have done so ever since—accepted the 1967 Act in the belief that, however 876 exceptional the powers and the nature of its provisions were, they would contribute dramatically to reducing the toll of death and injury caused by persons driving under the influence of alcohol. Therefore, it is pertinent and, I believe, overdue to look at experience since 1967.
We are in a special position in conducting that study, for we have an objective criterion of a kind which is not available in any other aspect of the study of road casualties. Whether lawfully or not—and I believe, probably unlawfully—before the 1967 Act came into effect, coroners were already post mortem-ing all drivers killed in road accidents to ascertain the blood-alcohol count. Thus there is available in this aspect an objective comparison between the drivers killed on the roads before and since 1967. Of course, there is a trap even here, because the statistics relate not only to drivers whose deaths were in any way necessarily caused by their own condition, but to drivers who were killed as a result of someone eles's fault or by an act of God. The statistics make no attempt to distinguish the degree of causation of the deaths that might be attributed to alcohol. Still, they give the basis for an objective comparison of experience before and since 1967, always acknowledging that there is no direct causal relationship implied in the 100 per cent. statistical base.
When the Blennerhassett committee reported in 1974 it drew a dismaying picture at the outset of the report. It pointed out that the proportion of drivers with the relevant alcohol counts killed in road accidents was substantially higher in 1974—that was the last year for which figures were available—than it had been in 1967. The proportion was approximately one quarter before, and had risen to one third by 1974. I believe that the Secretary of State mentioned that statistic. Thus upon the face of it, the role that alcohol plays in the causation of road deaths had not been favourably affected by the legislation of 1967.
Anyone presented with that proposition will, of course, be quick to observe a possible qualification, though there is only one possible qualification. The possible qualification is that, but for the 1967 Act, the effect of alcohol upon road casualties today would be greater still. I do not believe, however, that that qualification can be made to appear at all probable when one considers the details of the experience since 1967. It is unfortunate that Blennerhassett did not go into those details, because I believe that they are extremely important and illuminating.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right with his statistics, as one would expect. But in 1968 and 1969 there was a most dramatic drop. The figure then rose again. We should be looking today to see whether we can reinstate the position which arose after the 1967 Act.
§ Mr. Powell
I am in a sense obliged to the hon. and learned Member. We all tend to follow the same train of thought in applying our minds to this problem, and I make no complaint that the hon. and learned Member has anticipated the principal course of my argument. Blennerhassett indeed pointed out that there had been a sharp fall in the years immediately after 1967 in the overall percentages quoted. But, said Blennerhassett, in a phrase which was repeated by the Secretary of State today, the, effect had "worn off". I shall return later to that question of "wearing off".
Let us consider exactly what was the experience after 1967. In a paper by Mr. R. F. Newby of the Road Research 877 Laboratory, the overall figures for the three years following the inception of the 1967 Act were broken down according to the percentage of blood alcohol. The result was striking. There had been virtually no effect, even initially, upon those with the higher blood counts. The proportion with a count of over 150 remained virtually unchanged from the start. The effect was only in the 100 to 150 band, and presumably, therefore"unless there is some very queer quirk in the picture—it was clustered very close to the 100 figure. So it was in the area just within criminality that even the immediate impact—the impact which has "worn off"—took place.
That tends to be confirmed by the remarkable picture in appendix 2, figure 3, of the Blennerhassett report, which analyses by age the drivers killed in accidents over the legal limit. It shows that the groups aged under 30 and over 30 behaved in much the same way immediately but that there was then a big divergence: the resumed rise was quickest among the under-30s and slowest among the over-30s, though the two figures were converging again towards the same point, but I suspect not asymptotically, by 1973–74. That tends to confirm the impression that even the initial impact, that which "wore off", was upon drivers who had a blood alcohol count just within the limits of criminality. It was those drivers who were most affected initially in their readiness to go on the road and in their prudential behaviour.
Now we know a good deal—and reference was made to this by the Secretary of State—about the level where alcohol actually does the killing. Alcohol counts of over 150 account for three quarters of deaths in which alcohol has been present and counts of over 200 for, I believe, about half the cases.
§ Mr. Fowlerindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Powell
I may have strayed a little, but the latest figures will be found in the Secretary of State's speech—incidentally, I understand that they have been virtually steady since the last Blennerhassett year, 1974.
In the light of those facts, I do not believe that we can simply say that the 1967 Act was initially a lifesaver, but that the effect wore off so that it ceased to have any such effect. I believe that the much more probable interpretation of those facts is that what the 1967 Act did was to render criminal, and to cause to be avoided temporarily, the behaviour of those who were only marginally, if at all, a cause of enhanced road danger, and to leave unaffected and untouched the great majority of those in whose bodies alcohol is, for themselves and for others, a cause of mortal danger.
If that analysis holds good, surely the House is called upon very seriously to reconsider the whole principle of the 1967 Act. I acknowledge that, on the whole, the amendments that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to introduce by schedule 8 are an improvement, though some, I think, are not. However, I do agree that he has modernized—that was his term—the 1967 provisions. But I do not think that we are justified—and I take encouragement in saying this from the right hon. Gentleman's own clearly acute sense of the danger to the public's relations with the police and law enforcement authorities in this area—or entitled merely to improve the 1967 legislation and then walk away, saying that we hope it will work again for another two or three years. It would be a species of levity to say "We got a crop in 1967, 878 but of course, that has now ceased to have any effect. So let us do something again for another two or three years until that too wears off. Then we will come back with random testing or increased penalties—always something new—in order to purchase yet another statistical improvement."
§ Mr. Ennals
Even if it is only in the course of two or three years that we see a significant improvement in the number of deaths and serious injuries, we are talking about lives—not statistics.
§ Mr. Powell
If the right hon. Gentleman will do me the honour later to follow through again the line of my argument, I think that he will see my difficulty. There is no justification for equating the movement of the percentages disclosed during the four years after 1967 with a fall in road casualties caused by alcohol in the blood of the drivers of vehicles. The probabilities are on balance against that interpretation if the complete picture is considered.
I resume the alternative which I believe the House must face. It must face either going on with merely another exercise in the hope that the next time round the effect may be a little longer "wearing off" or adopting the alternative of reviewing radically the approach that was adopted in 1967 to combating the influence of alcohol upon road casualties.
I do not believe that enough has been done to interpret and understand the experience of the past 13 years, and I am certain we have not sufficiently debated in the House that experience or its implications. I wish to regard the divagation in the course of our legislation, upon which we entered upon in 1967, as still one that is provisional and under test. We may make the improvements proposed in the eighth schedule; but the House should resolve, and the Secretary of State should undertake, that there will be a far more deep and thorough-going investigation of the consequences, if any, of the 1967 Act before we allow that legislation to remain on the statute book for many years yet.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
There is a great deal in the argument that has been advanced by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that should cause us carefully to reflect on the grave issue of drink-driving offences.
May I say at the outset how pleased I am that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been promoted to the Cabinet. He has clearly won his place on personal merit, but it is also wholly right that so important a subject as transport, basic to the efficient running of the economy, has a place at the Cabinet table.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his readiness to implement at least some of the Blennerhassett committee's recommendations. Better late than never, but it is a sad commentary on the way in which we order our priorities that if Government had had the imagination and courage to implement the proposals four to five years ago many thousands of lives lost on the roads since might have been saved and a huge toll of injuries and social misery avoided.
Even now, as chairman of the National Council On Alcoholism, I feel that I should issue a warning. The measures that the Government are now seeking to take, to enable the law on drinking and driving to be enforced more 879 effectively, will soon lose their impact if the consumption of alcohol is allowed to get out of hand. The Blennerhassett committee pointed out that before the 1967 Act was passed 25 per cent. of all those killed on the roads had a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit. That fell to 15 per cent. in 1968, but by 1974, when the Blennerhassett committee began considering the issue, the percentage had surpassed the pre–1967 figures and had risen to 35 per cent. of all those killed.
Among young males the situation was even worse. By 1971 deaths resulting from a blood-alcohol level above the limit had risen to 40 per cent., and by 1975 to 45 per cent., of all road deaths.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Accidentally the hon. Gentleman said "deaths resulting from". These are not figures, with great respect, of "deaths resulting from", they are deaths where a certain blood-alcohol count was present. That is not the same.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I do not quarrel with that. The point that I am trying to make, which the right hon. Gentleman did not make, and which is highly relevant to the debate, is that during that period consumption of alcohol had risen by 39 per cent. That is what should concern the House.
Reporting only nine years after the 1967 Act became law, the Blennerhassett committee commented:We feel it must be recognised that the growing abuse of alcohol is a major factor—possibly the major factor—in the declining effectiveness of the 1967 Act".Could the same thing be said in future about the measures dealing with drink-driving offences set out in the Bill? After all the trend in the consumption of alcohol is upward. Comsumption is increasing all the time in the United Kingdom as it is throughout the world.
The recent report on drinking in England and Wales which was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Security and carried out by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys shown the close connection between alcohol consumption and road deaths. The report states:Most of the deaths occurred from 10 pm to 4 am with the proportion over the limit rising to 71 per cent. on Saturday nights. This is broadly consistent with the results"—that is of the survey—showing that most drinking took place in the evenings with Saturday being the heaviest drinking day.There is no need to gaze into the crystal to ascertain where we are heading when we can observe what is happening on the other side of the English Channel, where alcohol abuse is worse than it is here. According to the French Minister of Transport, 40 per cent. of all road deaths in France are caused by alcohol. There is no doubt that inappropriate drinking is the greatest single problem that we have to overcome if we are to reduce the dreadful carnage on our roads. As the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) reminded us in an intervention, we are dealing here with human lives. If we are concerned about that, the greatest single factor that we have to overcome is inappropriate drinking, and it follows that any decrease in the national consumption of alcohol would help. I recognise, of course that any decrease in consumption levels would bring other benefits too, and that responsibility for suitable control policies is not a matter solely for my right hon. Friend.
880 The link between alcohol abuse and crime, juvenile delinquency, violence of all kinds, family break-up and accidents at work and in the home is well established and there is no escape for Government as a whole from the need to strengthen our weakened licensing law, to heighten public awareness of the dangers of abuse and to curb irresponsible advertising.
While I welcome the Bill, especially clause 25 and schedule 8 which remedy some of the weakness in the existing law on breath testing, I am disappointed that the Bill has two glaring omissions. First, there should have been a lowering of the legal limit of blood-alcohol concentration from 80mg. Secondly, the Bill should have contained those measures proposed by the Blennerhassett committee and strongly supported by the National Council on Alcoholism and the British Medical Association, with no objections from the motoring organisations, to deal with high risk offenders. I did not expect to see the first in the bill but I am disappointed that the second has been omitted, especially when the consultative document on drinking and driving that was issue by my right hon. Friend's Department in December 1979 accepted this important innovation. I remain convinced that lowering the limit and dealing sensibly but firmly with the high risk offender would have beneficial results for safety on our roads and would save lives.
I deal first with the desirability of lowering the legal limit from 80 mg to 50 mg or, to use the language in the Bill, from 40 microgrammes to 25 microgrammes. The deleterious effects of alcohol on driving skill are observable at 30mg, and increased proneness to traffic accidents accelerates sharply in the average drinking driver after 80 mg. In 1978 the magazine Motor commissioned tests on driving performance and alcohol impairment at Brands Hatch. The tests showed that anything after one pint of beer would almost certainly make a driver less capable at the wheel. Most of the drivers involved in the tests—some of whom were very experienced—considered that they were fit to drive. They thought that they had performed well when they had committed quite a number of serious offences.
Some hon. Members will recall that in the 1960s Professor John Cohen demonstrated what can happen in experiments with Manchester bus drivers. We can suppose that Manchester bus drivers, like London bus drivers, are highly competent drivers of heavy vehicles. Yet it was demonstrated that, when given small doses of alcohol, these drivers thought that they could drive an 8ft. wide bus through a gap measuring 7ft. 6in. Of course they could not. "Motor", in an article in August last year, commenting on the Brands Hatch tests, believed that there was a case for lowering the limit to 50 mg. That would certainly make a valuable contribution to the safety of young drivers who, alas, are often acquiring their driving skills at the same time as they are acquiring their tolerance to alcohol.
The classic Grand Rapids survey in the United States quantified the relationship between accident involvement and blood alcohol level. The study involved 6,000 accident drivers matched with 7,500 other drivers. It showed that accident proneness doubled when 50 mg. was reached, quadrupled at 80 mg., increased sevenfold at 100 mg. and 25 times at 150 mg. A leaflet, issued by my right hon. Friend's Transport and Road Research Laboratory in 881 January 1979, commented on a later analysis of the Grand Rapids study on the risks to drivers at different ages. What emerged was interesting and significant.
For young people, there was a sharp acceleration—a table to which the right hon. Member for Down, South made reference establishes the fact—in accident proneness at much lower blood alcohol levels than with older people. With the young, the acceleration takes off sharply at 30 mg. At 50 mg., a young person is three times more prone to accident than before. At 80 mg., he is six times more prone. In heavier and older drinkers, the sharp rise takes place after 100 mg.
When we look at cases of drink-driving offences, we see clearly that the majority of young offenders have lower blood alcohol levels and the majority of older people have higher levels. Moreover, half of all those killed on the roads in their early twenties have a blood alcohol level above the legal limit compared with 20 per cent. of those over 40. There is also evidence that a large number of road deaths occur among drivers with blood alcohol levels below the legal limit and substantial numbers of these are probably young drivers. Indeed, there could be a case—I suggest this on the basis of what I have laid before the House—for having differential limits for different ages. A moment's reflection, of course, will show that there are practical difficulties.
For the sake of protecting the young people of this country, therefore, I urge my right hon. Friend to look again at lowering the limit for all motorists. I am glad that he has wisely retained the power in schedule 8 to the Bill to vary the limit. I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South, as I think the whole House would probably agree, that this matter is so important for the liberty of the subject and the health and safety of the citizen, that it should have been the subject of legislation on its own, carefully thought out, presented and argued in public. We must, however, make the best of what is before us.
The second omission relates to high risk offenders. I say, more in sorrow than anger to my right hon. Friend, that this is not only disappointing. It is baffling. In their consultative document, the Government described unequivocally the Blennerhassett committee proposals under this head in these words:Clearly, the most important and far reaching of the committee's recommendations is in the area of sentences".There are grounds for believing that a large proportion of drinking drivers are alcohol-dependent. That means that they always have alcohol present in their blood. The consequences of conviction, I am sorry to say, are not sufficient to break the habit or to motivate these people to seek treatment. The fact is that over two-thirds of middle-aged drivers have a blood alcohol level above 150 mg. at the time of their conviction.
Those of us who work in this field—there are a growing number of hon. Members, I am glad to say, who take a keen interest in the war against alcoholism—know that educational messages about the dangers of drink and driving have little, if any, impact on the driver who has developed alcohol dependence. Aiding and motivating the alcohol-dependent driver to seek treatment would make as valuable a contribution to reducing accidents as any educational campaign aimed at bringing home to the public generally the dangers of drinking and driving.
§ Mr. Fowler
I shall ask my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with this matter more 882 fully. I should not, however, like my hon. Friend to believe that we have lost sight of the issue of the high risk offender. We already have the powers to take action against the high risk offender. My hon. and learned Friend, in his summing up, will elaborate that point. I would not want my hon. Friend to continue under the belief that we have lost sight of the important point that he makes.
§ Sir B. Braine
I did not suggest, for one moment, that my right hon. Friend, who is very sensitive to these matters, had lost sight of the issue. I was addressing myself to the Bill. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, will be able to remove some of the anxieties expressed by hon. Members on this subject. My right hon. Friend will see in a moment where my argument is taking me.
Blennerhassett recommended, I think the House will agree, that those motorists, convicted with a blood alcohol level above 200 mg and recidivists should not have their licences reinstated after statutory disqualification until they could prove to the magistrates that their drinking no longer presented a problem. My right hon. Friend's Transport and Road Research Laboratory, in a recent report, confirmed Blennerhassett's argument for the establishment of a category of high risk offenders. The report, it is interesting to note, was a study of 1,032 male drivers charged with drink-driving offences. It asserted:The high incidence of previous alcohol-related non-motoring convictions and the fact that their offences tended to be committed earlier in the evening, may be suggestive of a typical drinking behaviour".Moreover, Blennerhassett observedThe greater the driver's dependence on alcohol, the less likely he is to he influenced by legal sanctions".That is the point that I want to make. Those who are engaged in dealing with this matter know it to be the case.
An Irish study with which the right hon. Member for Down, South is no doubt familiar shows that the alcoholic driver has a significantly greater number of accidents and prosecutions—four times as many prosecutions and twice as many accidents. The study shows that alcoholics with a history of road accidents or prosecutions involving alcohol abuse had these relatively early in their history of alcoholism and some six years before they were admitted to hospital for treatment.
I wish to make it clear that I am not advocating a tougher and more punitive treatment of the high risk offender. I am pleading for a more rational, a more effective and, in the end, a more caring approach to a serious and growing social problem. Measures to deal with the high risk offender should not be seen as punitive. Nor should the Government delay their introduction because of cost. Implementation would mean the screening of 16,000 convicted drivers a year. The cost could easily be offset, not only by improved safety on the roads, but by a substantial improvement to the well-being of problem drinkers and their families. It is, after all, the family that bears the cost of the last round.
A special order, such as recommended by Blennerhassett, for those found with over 200 mg. could well provide the motivation a problem drinker so badly needs to seek help and so to overcome his drinking problem. Of course it may be difficult to guarantee to a court that a high risk offender will not he handicapped by alcohol again, and the question of the weight to be given in the courts to subjective evidence, as outlined in the 883 consultative document, cannot be underestimated. I do not underestimate it. However, what can we make of the view expressed in that document thatFinding competent and willing people in sufficient numbers to help offenders and give evidence on their behalf may not be the major difficulty."?What then is the major difficulty? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary of State will be able to tell us.
Paragraph 50 of the consultative document states:There may also be a case, when public expenditure constraints permit, for the development of services more specifically tailored to the needs of the drinking driver, e.g. 'high risk' drivers might be given a leaflet setting out basic facts, about alcohol's effects on the central nervous system; direction to special counselling services".Why should such a modest provision wait until public expenditure constraints permit? We are dealing with safety, with matters of life and death. Offenders should be encouraged to seek help themselves. There is no reason why they should not be referred now by the courts to the existing services. I cannot see why the Department, with the help of voluntary agencies such as the local councils on alcoholism, cannot embark on experimental education sessions for drink driving offenders.
Many such schemes operate in North America. For example, in Philadelphia there are arrangements for persons charged with driving whilst intoxicated to be assessed by a specialist and for the court, after reviewing the assessment, to direct the offender either to lectures and discussion on education about drink for one evening per week for six weeks, or to counselling sessions for six months. The scheme has been running for six years. It has had results. We can learn from it. We should not be arrogant. Americans have gone through hell because of alcohol abuse. Incidentally, the offender pays for the course that he has to take. I hope that the Secretary of State will be prepared to re-examine his attitude in the matters which I have mentioned. I trust that these will be discussed in detail in Committee.
This is an issue literally of life and death. How many hon. Members in the last few years have lost a friend, often a young friend, in a road accident? That is a common experience for most of us these days. On such an important matter the Government should not drag their feet. They should act boldly, with courage and imagination. I am certain that the country is ready for effective measures to deal with this dreadful toll of death and injury.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
Like the right hon. Members for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), I shall concentrate on road safety. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) about the merit of two Bills.
I shall deal with drink-driving and the wearing of seat belts. The wearing of seat belts has not been mentioned so far in the debate. It is extraordinary that the Secretary of State has not taken the opportunity to make provision for the compulsory wearing of seat belts. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said:No other single practical piece of legislation could achieve such dramatic savings in lives and serious injuries … Many thousands of families in Britain could be spared personal tragedy, grief and suffering in the future.884 I agree entirely with that.
The case for the wearing of seat belts, especially when travelling in the front seat, is overwhelming. Tens of thousands of people are killed or seriously injured because of the failure to use seat belts. The statistics prove that. The statistics of casualties amongst front seat occupants of cars and light vans in Great Britain in 1978 show that 263 people who wore seat belts and 1,651 people who did not wear seat belts were killed. A total of 4,646 people wearing seat belts and 21,062 not wearing seat belts were seriously injured. The figures show that one is six times more likely to die in an accident and five times more likely to suffer serious injury when one is not wearing a seat belt than when one is. There is no question about the statistics, whether they relate to the United Kingdom or the 27 other countries which have legislated and have made comparisons.
If the statistics are so obvious, why is it necessary to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory? We all know how easy it is to forget. I pay tribute to people involved in voluntary campaigns. I refer to the "Clunk-Click" campaign, by Jimmy Savile and others. Ten years ago 14 per cent. of drivers wore seat belts. Today about one-third of drivers wear them. However, unless we take further action voluntary education and publicity campaigns are unlikely to achieve anything more. That is why other countries concluded that they should legislate. That is why the House and many other bodies have voted in favour of such legislation.
There is massive support for the compulsory wearing of seat belts. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Automobile Association, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Medical Research Council, the Institution of Highway Engineers, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Institute of Road Safety Officers and, not least, the Secretary of State for Social Services—not only the last chap but the present chap—believe that this is the time for compulsory legislation. The present Secretary of State and his predecessor voted in favour of it in the House.
In the last six years the House has voted four times with substantial majorities in favour of legislation to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory. For example, on 22 March 1979, in a division on Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill, 244 hon. Members voted for such legislation and 147 against—a majority of nearly 100. On 20 July 1979, on a Private Member's motion, the vote was 134 in favour and 50 against. That was almost three to one in favour. The House is on record. It is surprising that the Secretary of State has not introduced such legislation. I hope that it will be introduced in Committee and that finally the Bill will contain that provision.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members who are opposed to the compulsory wearing of seat belts accept that people should wear seat belts and that if it were made compulsory, more people would wear them, but still oppose compulsion on other grounds? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the grounds?
§ Mr. Ennals
I am aware of the grounds. Most of them are based on human freedom and on the belief that people should be free to decide whether to wear a seat belt. That argument could be applied to passengers on aeroplanes. 885 Someone might refuse to wear a seat belt in a car. However, aeroplane passengers accept that it is a natural safety measure and that it is required of them. If seat belts were made compulsory, I believe that people would wear them.
There are all sorts of things that people do not like doing. Mention has been made of the 1967 Act and of breath testing. No one liked that idea and there was opposition to it. There are countless things that people have not wanted us to legislate about. We must ask ourselves whether it is in the public interest to do so. That is the question, and it applies to seat belts and—but not to the same extent—to drinking and driving.
If a driver does not wear a seat belt, only he, or the person sitting in the front, will be killed or seriously injured. However, one must consider the effect on his family and the cost to the National Health Service. It has been estimated that the cost to the National Health Service is already well over £100 million. Many wards are full of accident cases. Those accidents could have been avoided if people had been wearing seat belts, but they chose not to do so. As a result, the waiting list of those needing other orthopaedic operations becomes longer.
It is almost inevitable that when this subject is dealt with by means of a Private Member's motion it is defeated by a small number who talk it out. Legislation can be secured only by means of a Government-sponsored measure. The previous Labour Government introduced such a measure, but as a result of misfortune, they were voted out of office. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and will accept an amendment in Committee.
I shall speak briefly on my second point, as there has already been a substantial exchange on the subject of drink-driving. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East for the work that he has done, and continues to do, to lessen the evil of alcoholism. Drink-driving is a steadily growing menace to the safety of drivers, passengers and the public. Even more than the compulsory wearing of seat belts, this subject affects the community. Often it is not the person who has had too much to drink who suffers as a result of an accident. He may suffer, but someone in another car or a pedestrian may be the victim.
In the majority of road accidents in which personal injuries result, one of the parties has been drinking to excess. The annual cost of road traffic accidents due to drinking is about £200 million. I address a Government who desperately want to reduce public expenditure. These two measures would make an enormous contribution to the saving of public expenditure, quite apart from the saving of life and avoiding the effect on the livelihood of the families involved.
Like the Automobile Association and many other organisations, I believe that it is in the public interest for the police to be given wider discretion as regards breath-testing, as advocated by the Blennerhassett committee. I do not like the term "random testing". It implies that a policeman will stand on a corner, stop every car and carry out a blood test. The police should be able to use their discretion in certain circumstances, when they fear or suspect that someone may have been drinking too much. The police's sense of responsibility should be better trusted, and clause 25 should be strengthened in that way.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South that it would be a good idea to set up a study on the effects 886 of the 1967 Act. However, there can be no doubt that during the first two or three years the Act had an almost dramatic effect. We must ask ourselves—as the hon. Member for Essex, South—East did—why that dramatic effect has fallen off. There is a simple answer. People think that they will get away with it. The more you drink—I say this to you, Mr. Speaker, although I know you would never think of drinking—the more you convince yourself that you will get away with it. Therefore, we should give the police more power to use their discretion.
Like the previous Labour Government, this Government clearly believe that a bold policy on both of these issues would be unpopular. When I was a Minister and sat on the Government Front Bench many of my colleagues—but not I—thought that this sort of measure would be unpopular. I wish that I had been able to persuade my colleagues to introduce a measure on seat belts earlier in the life of the previous Labour Administration. I wish that we had taken more action on the Blennerhassett report. Such action would not be unpopular. The public are so concerned that they expect the Government to be bold in their actions. If we do not take such action now, when shall we have another opportunity? When will the next transport measure be introduced?
How many tens of thousands of lives will be snuffed out or seriously affected if we do not adopt these two measures? I believe that such measures would be popular. It is not for me to tell the Government how to achieve popularity. They will find that difficult. However, the public would welcome a bold lead, and I hope that when the Bill comes back to the House for Third Reading the Government's lead will be bolder than it is now.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
We are debating not just a Bill but many subjects. So far, hon. Members have concentrated on motoring offences and the totting-up system. I shall concentrate on part II and on the future of the British Transport Docks Board. That will include schedule 3.
It is well known by those who take an interest in this subject that 19 ports are administered by the board. Last year collectively they made a profit of some £27 million. That was an extremely good record. In 1979 the board made a contribution to the Exchequer and repaid loans of £10.8 million. In addition, it paid interest on loans of £6.7 million and paid tax amounting to £7.8 million. The return on the capital used was 15.1 per cent. In 1979 a target was agreed between the board and the Government to the effect that the return on capital should be 20 per cent. when world trade was on an upward trend.
As we all know, 1980 was not a year of opportunity for the shipping world or for ports. All the ports administered by the BTDB are increasingly subject to subsidised competition from other ports, mainly in the European sphere. Other ports have received subventions from Governments and from local authorities. The House should reflect on that and should bear in mind that the BTDB has had a good record.
I have had discussions with the seven unions employed in the port in Southampton. They were heartened by the statement made by my right hon. Friend to the effect that there would be no Government commitment to split up the 19 ports and that they would be kept within one organisation called British Ports. In addition, they were 887 heartened by the statement that the Government would retain 51 per cent. of the shares. The 49 per cent. of the shares that will be available to the market place have created a fear in the minds of the officials of the seven unions that if the shares ended up in a limited number of hands there could be problems of asset stripping and reorganising the port facilities for the limited use of those major shareholders. When my right hon. Friend considers the distribution pattern of the shares I hope that he will remember that the British Transport Docks Board management and the unions are speaking as one and feel that there should be a maximum spread of shares into as many hands as possible. It is therefore nonsense for the Opposition to say that they will reverse my right hon. Friend's decision in the near future.
I believe that the docks employees—I do not mean merely the stevedoring force, but all those who work the facilities of a port, and the 19 ports of the British Transport Docks Board in particular—should be allowed to become shareholders in the new company. When the holding company that will direct the share issues and appoint the directors of the British ports considers the share distribution with my right hon. Friend, I hope that it will consider a one-for-one share issue, similar to the scheme that originated in the British Airways Bill but which has not yet come to pass. The basic idea was an extremely good one. It was to involve all the employees of the ports not only to have a financial interest but to have the necessary energies and incentives, perhaps by a one-for-one free share issue for every one purchased by the employee. In that way, my right hon. Friend and his Department would give British Ports a good send-off so that it can achieve more and more co-operation in the difficult work that will arise in the future.
I turn to clause 14, which refers to port facilities. There is here a point of issue that must be resolved. Subsection (3)(b) refers to:the berthing, towing, moving or dry-docking of a ship which is in, or is about to enter, or has recently left, a harbour".There is at present a difficulty in Southampton. There are two dry docks, numbered 6 and 7. One was originally built to take the "Queen Mary", and it is enormous. It is mainly used by British Shipbuilders and the ship repairing side of Vosper Thornycroft. Last year, British Shipbuilders lost £10.3 million on its ship repair activities, and Vosper Thornycroft accounted for £4.3 million of the total loss. Talks have been taking place between British Shipbuilders, the British Transport Docks Board and the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, which is desperately worried that there will be no dry dock facility at Southampton.
As the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) knows, 1,000 jobs depend on the future of the two major dry docks in Southampton. There seems to be an impasse at present, although one can understand both arguments. First, British Shipbuilders has just accepted £185 million from the Government to keep the company going. The ship repairing side is very much a secondary consideration, and I understand that about £500,000 will be required to enable the two dry docks to be kept open.
I can understand the argument of the British Transport Docks Board. It is told by Government that it is in business and that it must not look to the Government for an extra 888 subsidy. British Shipbuilders is under the same pressure to cut back wherever it can. As I said, 1,000 jobs hinge on this matter.
I hope that when summing up the Minister will be able to give the Department's opinion on how to solve the problem of the immovable object meeting the irresistible force. Between the two, there must be some form of arbitration, or certainly round-table talks, to try to remove this impasse, as well as to fit in with the provisions of subsection (3)(b)
Paragraph 18 of schedule 3 refers to land. Southampton is perhaps more fortunate than most other ports, in that about 600 acres of land were wisely purchased in the past, as the BTDB was expecting a great expansion in container traffic and, perhaps, in all other forms of traffic. Southampton has been extremely fortunate in relation to the previous acquisition of land. However, paragraph 19 of schedule 3 contains a sub-paragraph about which I am extremely worried, as an opponent of compulsory purchase orders for many years. I may have got this quite wrong, but that sub-paragraph states:The Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act 1946 shall apply as if British Ports were a local authority within the meaning of that Act and as if this Act had been in force immediately before the commencement of that Act.Most of us know that injustices have arisen in the past as a result of local authority compulsory purchase orders. I hope that the Minister will look at this to make sure that the fears that I have outlined are unfounded.
Paragraph 16 of Schedule 3 contains what I regard as a well-written statement. Perhaps it was in the original Act that set up the British Transport Docks Board. It states:(1) British Ports may provide houses, hostels and other like accommodation for its employees and those of its subsidiaries.(2) British Ports may make housing loans to such employees to assist them to acquire housing accommodation and may guarantee loans made for housing purposes to such employees by building societies and other bodies.That is a good provision for everyone who works within the ports. I am not sure whether it has been fully taken advantage of in the past, but having highlighted it so plainly in the Bill I am sure that my right hon. Friend will get a great response.
Southampton has dockland problems that are perhaps just as bad as those of any other dockland area. There are many areas into which British Ports can move. I feel that in the past such organisations have been reluctant to go for planning permissions. For example, there could be a major hotel within the Southampton dockland area. A mini-industrial estate, near to the Continent, which is served by good ferry services could be a tremendous trading asset. Much of the land could easily be used for a marina. More berthing space is desperately needed along the South Coast. I would have thought that the assets of British Ports would contain many jewels, which it could realise.
Paragraph 21 of schedule 3 there is a paragraph about general borrowing powers. It mentions the ways in which British Ports will be able to raise cash—all this private money that we are hoping will come in. The first is:by the issue of debentures on such terms as British Ports thinks fitThat is good. The second is:by borrowing from a bank on overdraft".That is possible. Many of us know about that. It would be a commercial judgment. The third is:by opening an acceptance credit with a bank or accepting house".889 That could be possible. However, can my hon. Friend explain (d):by accepting money on deposit"?There is obviously a hidden commercial reason for that. I cannot imagine that it refers, for instance, to a savings bank in the High Street of Southampton, where one could pay in money for British Ports.
I have spoken quite long enough. You asked each of us to speak for only 10 minutes, Mr. Speaker. I want to be the first to honour that request.
This is an excellent Bill, which is extremely well drafted. If I were to use a comparison, I should say that it is more Lowry than Cezanne, but it is nevertheless beautifully drawn. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on getting five Bills into one. I am sure that he will have the full consent of the House at the end of the evening.
§ Mr. Speaker. Order. Without in any way reflecting on the 15 minutes taken by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), I remind the House that 20 hon. Members have already indicated to me that they hope to catch my eye.6.12 pm
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I hope that I shall be the first to stay within the 10 minutes limit, Mr. Speaker.
I have mixed feelings about the Bill. I intend to support Second Reading and ask my colleagues to do likewise. I see no reason, in principle, why private money should not be sought by British Rail and other nationalised bodies, as the Government are proceeding to make possible in many spheres. However, I am afraid of the result for my constituency. We are very dependent on British Rail and Sealink. About 70 or 80 per cent. of the traffic to and from the Isle of Wight is catered for by British Rail and Sealink. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) will be well aware that the only alternative is Red Funnel, which is a privately-run company operating from Southampton. It involves a longer journey and it does not carry nearly as many passengers.
I should like the Government to apply the 49 per cent. rule to the investment of private capital in Sealink. If more than 49 per cent. is sold off we are very much at risk. The passenger service from Portsmouth to Ryde is reputed to make a loss of about £400,000 a year, although the two car ferries make a substantial profit. A future operator may not wish to carry on the passenger service.
We get a good service from Sealink. I am not one of those who complain of it. In the winter there is an hourly service from Lymington to Yarmouth and a half-hourly one in the summer. There is also a frequent service on the Portsmouth to Fishbourne route, which runs throughout the night in the summer. I have no real complaints about the Red Funnel service. The company has been very cooperative, particularly recently. However, it operates until only about 8 pm in the summer and finishes a little earlier in the winter. It operates on the basis of one crew per boat, and when the crew goes off duty the boat is withdrawn. British Rail provides three crews per boat and runs the service continually.
I want to know a great deal more about the Government's intentions about Sealink. Will they allow it to be split up? I suspect that its routes to Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands are not particularly profitable. If 890 P and O is anything to go by—and it arbitrarily closed the service between Liverpool and Belfast the other day—will the people in Northern Ireland be at risk in that way?
I believe that Seaspeed is a subsidiary of Sealink. Talks are in progress between Seaspeed and Hoverlloyd, which operates the hovercraft service from Ramsgate across the Channel and which has been on the market for about three years. It has shown a small profit but is for sale. The Seaspeed service from Dover carries well over 30 per cent. of the cross-Channel traffic. Here, I am on the Government's side. I was always amazed to discover that when Seaspeed ran hovercraft services from Cowes to Southampton it employed no less than 315 personnel. It had offices in Dover, financial offices in the Isle of Wight and a head office in London, which is nonsense. The administration needed to be smartened up and thinned down. Nevertheless, it has been very successful.
My constituency stretched the hovercraft on that service and we should like to stretch the four hovercraft operated by Hoverlloyd. The British Hovercraft Corporation would obviously like to do that. Incidentally, it would also be a good investment for the Government, for defence purposes. What is the Government's attitude to the proposed link-up between Seaspeed and Hoverlloyd? If Seaspeed wishes to take it over, will the Government allow that?
What about the new harbours company? It is always helpful to have the brief from the Library. It states in this case that it is considered unlikely that Sealink would ever want to sell off its harbours interests. One is Ryde pier, which Sealink would love to get shot of. If it threw in Fishbourne as an inducement to buyers, the Isle of Wight, as a community, would be at risk.
What provision is being made for local authority representation on any new board? The county councils are now the transportation authorities and must maintain close links. The Isle of Wight county council has close links with its local bus operators, Southern Vectis, which is very good, but it does not have nearly such good links with the railway or the cross-Solent services. I wish to explore the matter further, perhaps in Committee. We need answers.
Across the Solent there is a great opportunity for a third operator, but we are constantly thwarted, largely by Government Departments such as the Ministry of Defence—which will not allow the service to land at, say, Leeon-Solent—or by local authorities. That would be one way to bring more competition into the services.
I hope that Sealink will maintain its routes across to the island, even though it is one of the most expensive ferry services in Europe, if not the world. To me, a railway is not merely a railway; it includes the hotels at the end of the line and the ferry services. That system is maintained throughout the world. I have just been to Australia. The privately-owned Ansett Airlines has a good chain of hotels. It was a great mistake when British Rail, in the Beeching era, was forced to sell some of its more profitable hotels.
Perhaps the hotels could be run more efficiently, and there is need for the railways to get more capital. This may be one way of achieving that in the present situation. However, I am dubious about what may happen if the controlling interest in those assets is disposed of. 891 As for part III, what is good for British Rail in providing share purchase schemes for its employees must surely apply to British Ports. I think that the hon. Member for Test made that point, but I want to emphasise it.
I come to the matter of road safety. Clause 23 deals with the safety of motor cycles. I accept everything that the Government are doing in this connection, though perhaps they do not go far enough. I support what was said earlier about seat belts. I am totally sold on their compulsory use. But on the subject of the safety of motor cyclists, I have received a representation—in my opinion, a fair one—from a group in my constituency. It says thatthe banning of learners who have not passed a test within two years of obtaining a licenceis surely a little unfair. It then says that the proposalwill not be applied to car learner drivers, who surely must be considered to be on the same level of competence or incompetence, as the case may be. The 125 cc and power to weight ratio limits proposed have not taken account of older machines of over 125 cc which come within the power to weight limits. We regard this step as another direct intrusion of personal choice.The emphasis on training is, I think, acceptable, but I wonder why there is not more emphasis on the possibility of youngsters at school learning to drive cars and motor bicycles. This is a trend that should be encouraged in the fifth or sixth form at school, or at technical college. It is a practice that should be introduced far more widely.
I welcome clauses 29 and 30, relating to the change in the duty on heavy vehicles. I have sympathy with a particular representation that has been made by the Freight Transport Association. It is unfair to put certain vehicles—such as, for example, a large Kelloggs cornflakes vehicle that comes regularly to the Isle of Wight—in the top rating when they are carrying featherweight products. That is something that should be looked at. The FTA suggests two ways in which relief could be given to those large vehicles which do not carry heavy products.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) did the House a service when he persuaded the Department to publish the TRRL reports on commercial traffic, because those reports revealed just how much damage was being done to roads. I hope that in due course we shall have time to debate fully the Armitage report.
There are three matters that I deeply regret the Government have not covered in dealing so comprehensively with road safety. There is no provision in the Bill for the role of cyclists. The Secretary of State is on record, when in Opposition, as having been favourably disposed to cyclists. In the 1930s cycle tracks were being laid, but they seem to have been forgotten now. I hope that we shall be able to amend the Bill to give fairer treatment to cyclists.
Then there is the matter of road humps. In our last Session a Private Member's Bill providing for road humps almost got through, and I think that most people would have liked it to be enacted. Why has provision for road humps not been included in the Bill?
Finally, the Bill should have dealt with seat belts.
§ Sir Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
I, too, wish to speak only about part IV of the Bill. The principal quality of the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) is his consistency: I have always found him to be wrong. He has value as a kind of political litmus paper. I well remember the occasion when he subjected us to two terrible winters when, as Home Office Minister, he proposed and carried through legislation which held us on central European time, summer and winter, for three years. The right hon. Gentleman, then the Member for Dover—the most Continental constituency in the country, in that it is the nearest English location to central Europe—was absolutely certain that he was right. He was wrong; absolutely wrong.
Today, on the subject of drink-driving, the right hon. Gentleman said that now that motorists have got used to accepting the breath test and the blood and urine tests, it is time to move on to further levels of compulsion. That is a strange attitude. I do not want to take up too much time on the subject of seat belts, a matter which I consider to be irrelevent to the Bill, which basically contains two specific proposals, one about disqualifications and the other about motor cyclist training. However, I must point out that the statistics that the right hon. Gentleman described as uncontroversial and incontrovertible are the most bogus statistics ever advanced in favour of any argument from any quarter. In fact, during the past 40 or 50 years motorists have been the victims of pressure groups to a greater extent than any other section of the community.
This is a good Bill and one which I entirely support. On Second Reading one must resist the temptation to raise Committee stage points; for example, I want to consider the principle of the allocation of points in schedule 7.
I think we are all now agreed that the totting up procedure was bad. It was bad because it was capricious in its effect and did not distinguish between the gravity of the individual offences which added up to a disqualification. A person could drive more on less blamelessly for perhaps 30 years and then be caught for three speeding offences within a month and still be as good a driver as previously. After all, no one observes the speed limits. Any day in Whitehall or in the Strand one can observe whether vehicles are exceeding 30 miles per hour. Of course they do, and we all know that they do.
I remember a speech made by Lord Goddard when he was Lord Chief Justice. He was apt to describe motorists as mad dogs. A proposal was made to stiffen the penalties for speeding per se, not accompanied by offences of careless or dangerous driving. He described it as nonsense and he said that he, as Lord Chief Justice, was driven to the courts every morning via Constitution Hill—I think it was—and his chauffeur drove at 30 miles an hour. The speed limit in the Royal parks at that time was, of course, 20 miles an hour. So the Lord Chief Justice was being driven at 10 miles an hour above the speed limit. He said, moreover, that he was passed by every car on the road. That is the offence of mere speeding, with none of the other elements being involved. That is what made it capricious.
My right hon. Friend, in introducing points, is making an undoubted improvement in proposing that four offences of mere speeding in three years should lead to disqualification. But it is a change of only mechanics and 893 degree. The basic objection remains. There is no gradation of offences inside the system. Speeding, for example, can be almost nothing—a technical infringement without any other consequences—or it can be a serious offence.
Breach of the construction and use regulations can be a very minor offence or a very serious offence, yet, whatever it is, it attracts the same number of points. Offences of careless or dangerous driving can vary greatly in seriousness, but the court has no discretion as to the number of points that may be awarded.
I strongly favour some degree of discretion in order to make the whole system manifestly just, and not, as it still must be in essence, capricious.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
Will my hon and learned Friend comment on the possibility of a danger that exists in allowing a discretion—that a very high speeding offence could be interpreted as careless driving?
§ Sir Ronald Bell
I am assuming—and some of the criticisms of schedule 7 overlook the point—that the schedule is awarding points for offences which are considered singly. If there is an offence of dangerous driving, or something like that, that is charged and it will have its points. We have to assume that the only offence charged is speeding and then look at it like that. Even in a case where the only offence charged can be speeding, there is still a range of seriousness in that offence.
My other thought—which is again of a general character—relates to whether a system such as this is a good thing to have. Under the Road Traffic Acts, the court can disqualify for almost anything; certainly for all the endorsable offences there is the power to disqualify. The court can disqualify at once in a bad speeding case; it does not have to wait for three offences. In a very bad case of careless or dangerous driving, or driving without due care and attention, the court can disqualify at once. I am not sure that by introducing the mechanics of the topping-up procedure in this way we are on a good road.
I should like speeding to be made a fixed-penalty offence, unless the prosecuting authority feels that it was necessary—it should have that discretion—to prosecute instead, either because of the nature of the offence or the record of the accused. That would cover everything, and the public would feel much happier. It would be manifestly just. Although, generally speaking, the system set out in the Bill will not be bad, there will be the odd case in which the person concerned will not be punished sufficiently.
I am basically speaking, as it were, in favour of the motorist and do not want him to be hit too much, because the Secretary of State's point about relations between the public and the police is immensely valid and important, and I strongly support it. Nevertheless, with a rigid system there will be some people who are disqualified when it is not really merited. There will also be some who will not be disqualified when they ought to be.
I hope that the Government are not yet fully committed to a mechanical system and will still listen to all that is said in the various debates on the Bill. In particular, I hope that they will consider whether my second suggestion would be both simpler and better in its results.
§ Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)
The debate so far appears to have been centred around the various 894 provisions within the Bill concerned with drinking and driving and similar offences. We welcome those provisions, of course, but I particularly welcome the changes in regard to the taxation of heavy lorries, because these are long overdue.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) will forgive me if I do not follow the points that he made, because I want specifically to refer to those aspects of the Bill that deal with the privatisation of British Rail subsidiaries and also the British Transport Docks Board. These provisions are totally unnecessary, and should not form part of the Bill.
I should make it clear at the outset that not only am I diametrically opposed to denationalisation by the back door, which the Bill will allow; I firmly believe that a change of Government should ensure that those nationalised industries that are turned over to the private sector will be renationalised without compensation. Both the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party conference are on record in 1980 and in 1979 as voting along those lines.
Conservative Members have chided the previous Labour Government with having done nothing about Thomas Cook, but they know very well that with the majority that we had in the House during the last Parliament it would have been quite impossible to make any changes in that direction.
There are specific provisions in the Bill that concern and worry me. Sealink UK Ltd. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British Railways Board, which generates both ferries and harbours. Under the Bill, the BRB is required to secure that Sealink UK Ltd. forms a new harbour company, which will operate these harbours. We believe that the harbours are successful now and can see no reason whatever for forming them into a separate company, unless it is for an ulterior motive of which perhaps we shall be told at some time in the future.
If a separate company is to be set up, what is to happen to the staff? As was the case in the Transport Bill last year, there are no provisions that give specific help to the staff in the event of major changes in this direction. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us on that aspect.
Again, if the Bill becomes law, from which area does the Minister expect to get private investment? He has told us that shares will be sold when the market conditions are right. Surely, to sell shares in, say, Sealink UK Ltd. at the present time, with the effects of the current recession and the over-provision that private operators have created across the Channel, would only mean the sale of the nation's assets at much below their true value.
I should also like the Minister to say how large a portion is to be sold off of those subsidiaries of British Rail that are to be privatised. First, we are told that it will be a substantial part. Then we are told that it will be more than 50 per cent. Last year, when the Minister was dealing with the previous Bill, he seemed to change his mind almost daily about the National Freight Corporation.
What steps does the Minister intend to take to ensure that a bid such as has already been promised by European Ferries will not create a complete monopoly of ferry services, without the accountability of a publicly appointed board of control, in the way that the BRB is accountable to the Secretary of State at present?
The British Rail Property Board has made an excellent job of disposing of surplus railway land over the years. All the receipts from such sales, and the revenue from their 895 commercial operations on sites that cannot be disposed of, have assisted the railway finances. Now, if the Bill goes through, the Government want to intervene in this area as well. If that is allowed to happen the land will be sold off and an asset will be lost for all time.
British Transport Hotels and Seaspeed Hovercraft are other subsidiaries of British Rail listed for privatisation. The hotels are second to none in their efficiency and level of performance. The only reason why BTH has not been able to develop as other hotel groups have developed is that restrictions have been placed upon it. It did all the work involved in developing a major hotel project at Gatwick, and was then stopped by the Government from proceeding with that proposal.
We should not be selling off hotels owned by the BRB which are known throughout the world for their standard of service and efficiency. If the Government made the capital available for modernisation, these hotels would equal the best in the country.
I should like to say a few words about the British Transport Docks Board. If ever there were political dogma it is to be found in this aspect of the Bill, which seeks to interfere with the running of the board. Even the Secretary of State this afternoon praised the way in which the board has been running its business. It is a highly successful public enterprise. It has consistently produced a good level of profitability. In 1979 the profit—before tax and interest—was £27 million. In 1978 it was £30 million. The board has repaid its predecessor's loans in 1979 partly two years and partly three years in advance of the due dates. That is a first-class record.
In 1979 the board made a total contribution of £25 million to the Exchequer and achieved a return on capital of 15.1 per cent. That is a success story. Capital investment in 1979 amounted to £13.3 million and was financed without any external borrowing. During a 10 year period total profits of £168 million were generated and reserves were built up from £8 million to £86 million—again, a success story. Yet the Government want to interfere with the running of the BTDB. That is political dogma at its worst. Since 1972 the board has generated sufficient cash from its operations to meet an investment programme of £108 million, increase working capital, and meet all loan repayments. Clearly, therefore, the fact that the BTDB is publicly owned has in no way militated against its success, and in 1979 the Exchequer benefited to the tune of £25 million.
The reason why the Government are allowing private capital into the undertaking has nothing to do with efficiency or profitability. It has to do with private capital being allowed to cream off parts of a profitable public enterprise, and the Conservative ideology of rolling back the public sector. The BTDB has been in the forefront of introducing new methods of efficient working. It has served as an example to the rest of dockland and to industry generally. Nothing can be done for that industry by introducing private capital that it cannot do for itself. The industry has set an example to every other organisation and nationalised industry. It is a success story that should not be interfered with during the course of the Bill. It is not too late for the Government to change their mind. This part of the Bill should be rejected. When he replies the Minister should say specifically why the Government are interfering with such a success story.
896 Those who believe that there should be renationalisation without compensation remember the 1950s, when a previous Conservative Government hived off sections of the road haulage industry. They hived off the profitable sections of an industry that had been rejuvenated during the period of nationalisation. New lorries had been bought. As soon as the Conservative Party came into power it sold off the profitable sections. That is happening again, especially in relation to the BTDB.
If the Government wish to help the British Railways Board they should provide the capital for electrification, for modernisation of the tracks, for re-equipping and for new locomotives and wagons. That is the way to help British Railways—not through the silly provisions contained in the Bill. I hope that the House will turn down the Bill when it votes on the Second Reading this evening.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his elevation to the Cabinet. Everyone in the Conservative Party knows, and I think that the House recognises, how hard he has worked on transport affairs during the past few years. No elevation could be more deserved.
The Bill has five objectives of a social nature, and two of an economic-cum-political nature. I have some sympathy with the comments of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), because it is not easy to deal with a Bill that contains much that is non-controversial in party terms but some items that are controversial.
I support the Bill in its entirety, but I wish to register some strong reservations about a number of omissions. I shall deal first with the economic-cum-political aspects. I declare an interest as marketing director of Commonwealth Holiday Inns of Canada Ltd. I do not know why the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) omitted to tell the House about his interest in his trade union. It might have been helpful if he had done so. I wish to put on record the fact that I am actively involved in the British hotel industry. It is for the Committee of Selection to decide whether it wishes to take note of that fact. To the best of my knowledge there is not, nor is there likely to be, direct contact between the company with which I am connected and British Transport Hotels.
My interest in the hotel industry enables me to refute some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Derby, South and to support what the Government are trying to do for British Transport Hotels. The British Railways Board welcomes what the Government are doing in the Bill. The hotel industry is one of expansion. Many companies, including the one with which I am connected, are investing in new hotels. Every time the British Railways Board sought to invest in new hotels or in modernising its hotels, the first people to object were the unions. They have always said "Do not put the money into the hotels. Put it into rolling stock, new locomotives or track maintenance." Indeed, they have demanded that the money be put into all the things mentioned by the hon. Member for Derby, South. The starvation of funds from which British Transport Hotels has suffered is not a recent phenomenon. It has nothing to do with this Government. It is a fact of life for British Transport Hotels that it is little more than an appendage to our huge railway system. If the previous Labour Government had wanted to do something 897 useful for British Transport Hotels, they should have relieved it from the burden of development land tax. That single measure passed by the Labour Government did more harm to British Transport Hotels' prospects of expansion and investment than any other measure.
There are good jobs in hotels, as there are jobs in the railways or in any other form of activity. The Bill will help the growth prospects of those who work in British Transport Hotels, with whomsoever it eventually goes into partnership. If the trade unions were as interested in jobs for people as some of them appear to be in politics, they would recognise the opportunities rather than the burdens that the Bill represents.
I shall touch only briefly on the docks problem. I hope that the commercial freedom that the Bill allows for the docks will result in increased competition for the benefit of those who work there and for those who use the docks.
I turn to the social aspects of the Bill, especially road safety. My right hon. Friend is in danger of being remembered as the Minister who did not deal with seat belts, and as the Minister who did not really grasp the nettle of drink-driving. I also share the regrets expressed by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) that my right hon. Friend has not reintroduced the Highways (Road Humps) Bill which received almost universal support in the House. Back Benchers sometimes have to pressurise Front Benchers of both parties on certain issues. I suspect that at later stages of the Bill there will be an attempt to change substantially measures that are already contained in it and that should be amended, or even to introduce measures that are omitted from it. The mounting toll of accidents on our roads is an indictment of our inaction in the House and a challenge to our courage and judgment. So far, we have failed. Like the good Britons that we are, we always manage to find excellent reasons for inaction.
I do not wish to become too involved in the detailed arguments about seat belts. I hope that even my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) will agree that if more people wore seat belts there would be fewer serious and fatal accidents. I hope that he will also agree that if there were fewer drunken drivers there would be fewer accidents. If we accept those simple propositions rather than the complex proposition put forward by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) we might be able to make progress. After some years of not being too certain, I have recently come to believe that we should make the wearing of seat belts compulsory.
We should encourage the police to seek out drunken drivers. The police view is divided on the question of random tests, but in Hampshire the police have been vigilant and successful when they have carried out a welcome purge against drunken drivers. It would be a substantial deterrent if the public knew that the police were being encouraged to search for drunken drivers rather than passively stand by and hope that they find drivers who had had too much to drink. After all, we are more likely to find drunken drivers emerging from a pub than from a monastery.
§ Mr. Adley
I stick to my proposition! What could be a greater deterrent to drunken driving than police cars or 898 policemen stationed outside pubs? If those inside knew that they would be confronted by the police when they left, that would be a powerful deterrent.
Has my right hon. Friend considered having discussions with the brewers about stationing breathalyser kits in public houses? That may or may not have been thought of.
§ Mr. Adley
I believe that most people would welcome the certainty of knowing that they might be going on to the roads in an unfit state to drive. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider approaching the brewers in an attempt to secure their co-operation on this point.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and others have put forward their views about the loss of individual freedom implicit in making the wearing of seat belts compulsory. That argument is often heard in the United States about the privilege of toting guns. People there say that if they were denied that right it would represent a serious loss of individual freedom. Most people in this country would reject such an argument. We are sent here to do what we believe is right, not just what we believe might be popular.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that relations between the police and the public were vitally important. I accept that, but he, too, must accept that others take a different view about the effect of seat belt legislation and random testing on this relationship. This is a matter of judgment. I remain concerned that not enough has been done in the Bill seriously to discourge drink-driving by using the police as a deterrent.
The greatest omission from the Bill, which is perhaps inevitable, is any decision on substantial new investment for the railways. I am an inveterate railways enthusiast, for which I do not apologise. Our railway system is one of the finest in the world. British Rail covers a higher percentage of its costs by fares than does almost any other railway. It should be congratulated on that, and, equally, successive Governments ought to be condemned for failing to invest sufficiently in the railways.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comment, but he has not referred to Sealink or the British Railway's property subsidiary. Perhaps through the hon. Gentleman I can seek an assurance from the Minister that we shall not see under the provisions of this Bill a repetition of what happened with Thomas Cook, which was a profitable undertaking which was sold by a previous Conservative Government to the Midland Bank and which lost £2 million in its first year.
§ Mr. Adley
I would not dream of being tempted down that path, and I hope, Mr. Speaker, that "injury time" can be deducted from my score to take account of that intervention!
We have under-invested in our railways. I make a plea to Labour Members to try to bang together the heads of the NUR, ASLEF and TSSA to get them to work with the British Railways Board to present to the Government a united case for more investment. If that happened only good could come of it, and I hope that that suggestion will secure agreement.
I support the Bill, but it has some serious omissions.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
It is most interesting to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch 899 and Lymington (Mr. Adley). I was awaiting with bated breath his monthly dissertation on the quality of the toast on British Railways, a dissertation that appears regularly in my local newspaper. Unfortunately he did not deal with it today.
Last year the Government churned out masses of Bills—so many that even Conservative Back Benchers complained about the welter of legislation. At the end of last Session many hon. Members were saying that that would not happen again. That is correct. We shall not have so many Bills this Session, but perhaps that is because those that do appear will follow the example of the Transport Bill, which is three Bills, or even more, rolled into one.
Our debate has shown the futility of dealing with issues in that way. The topics on road safety should have been the subject of a separate Bill. We could then have had a series of discussions and free votes on topics such as random breath testing and seat belts. However, I suspect that, since the early part of this Bill is highly controversial and political, the stage will come when the Government will have to impose a guillotine. That will mean that the end of the Bill dealing with road safety, which is a non-party issue, will probably not get the discussion it merits.
The Minister admitted that the British Transport Docks Board is a success story. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) have submitted figures showing a profit of £27 million before tax last year for that organisation. I have always understood that if something is working well it should not be changed, fiddled or messed around with. I am worried that the Government's action will destroy the efficiency that has developed in the BTDB ports over the past few years.
I am concerned at the privatisation proposals because we do not know how they will be handled. We are told that the Government will retain 51 per cent. of the shares but that they will have no say in the policy adopted. The Government should insist, therefore, that no one shareholder should be allowed to hold a major part of the remaining 49 per cent. Many of us fear that shipping companies or similar organisations will try to gain control of ports by purchasing large numbers of the shares and will then try to operate the ports to suit their interests. That happened in many ports in the past and was the cause of bad industrial relations. The great improvement in industrial relations has been one of the successes of the BTDB, even compared with Liverpool and London. I do not want those relations to be impaired.
It is suggested that employees should be encouraged to take up shares. I do not know whether BTDB employees, the dockers and others employed in the ports will want to do so. But I urge that the holding of the shares is so arranged that no one organisation can obtain sufficient to exert an influence on management decisions. The board has been successful largely because of its professional management. Any interference with that would cause grave trouble. A port is more than just a dock. It contains many inter-related industries, including ship repairing and shipbuilding. A serious problem in Southampton at present is the announcement by the BTBD that it is closing two dry docks there. Such a move will destroy ship repairing in the port—ship repairing which has serviced all the big liners, including the "Queen Mary", the "Canberra", 900 the "Oriana" and so on. Such activities require a dry dock. This argument has continued for several years, and the BTBD has stated that it cannot have this loss-making facility on its balance sheet.
Previously, before British Shipbuilders came into operation, negotiations were going on with Vosper Thornycroft. Those negotiations were continued with British Shipbuilders. I understand that a year ago an agreement was reached—I do not know the details—for sharing costs and making other arrangements. We are now told that for some reason or other British Shipbuilders has gone back on that agreement.
I have already written to the Secretary of State for Industry, who is responsible for ship repairing. I appeal to him and to the Secretary of State for Transport, who is responsible for the British Transport Docks Board, to get the two sides round the table and knock their heads together so that some sort of arrangement is made.
If the dry docks in Southampton close, 1,000 jobs will go. No one should imagine that the ships which are repaired there will go somewhere else in this country. They will not. They will go to the Continental ports, to Rotterdam or the American ports. Thus, Britain as a country must recognise, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test said earlier, that nearly all the Continental ports—Rotterdam, Hamburg and Le Havre—are in one way or another State subsidised, either by the local municipalities or by the Government.
British ports are in competition with Continental ports for business. That is why I am a little concerned about the proposal in the Bill to abolish the National Ports Council. One of the functions of the National Ports Council is to work out a policy for all British ports. If it disappears, there will be nobody left to do that job, particularly if the Government abdicate their responsibilities and say that the matter has nothing to do with them.
Although I support healthy competition among ports in this country—that has happened within the structure of the British Transport Docks Board—the real competition is between British and Continental ports, and if we fail in that competition, our port industry will die a slow death.
Who will now do the overall port planning? Is it possible, for example, that the new authority, British Ports, will eventually take over London and Liverpool and other big ports? If I thought that that would happen and that one organisation would be taking over, I should be much more happy. I should like to hear from the Minister whether that will be possible. For example, would it be possible for the new ports authority to make an arrangement for the Liverpool dock to come in with it? I make a plea that we should not mess up something which is working well, unless we are certain that what we are putting in its place is better. There are grave doubts about that today.
One part of the Bill deals with road safety. I should like a free vote in the House on random testing.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Not on a three-line Whip, but on a free vote in the House—on both sides, including Ministers.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Yes, a three-line Whip to get us here, if the hon. Gentleman likes. There would be a free vote after that.
901 There is already random testing to some extent, although called by another name. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington praised the action of the police in Hampshire in the new year. I also praise it. There was an element of random testing in that action. Some police authorities have admitted that there is an element of random testing in what they do, although they do not refer to it in that way. At this stage, I am not taking one side or the other in that argument, but issues of that kind ought to be settled once and for all by the House of Commons. The same applies to seat belts. I am opposed to compulsory wearing of seat belts, but the matter should be settled once and for all in the House. Let us have a free vote on it instead of having to come back year after year under Private Members' legislation with hon. Members talking it out and all the procedure involved. The matter should be settled once and for all.
§ 7.3 pm
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
A number of hon. Members have already touched on the matters that I intend to raise, so I shall be very brief.
I wish to deal with some of the points made, particularly by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). The facts listed by the Secretary of State lead me to different conclusions from those to which he finally came. I come to these conclusions on balance. Although I come down firmly on these conclusions, I see the points that the right hon. Member makes very strongly.
The Government are taking the opportunity to deal with half of what Blennerhassett recommended in his report five or six years ago. Of course, we hope that the loopholes will be stopped. No doubt they were a challenge, perhaps even an exciting challenge, to advocates, but they seem odd to hon. Members, members of the public and those who sit in a judicial capacity. The argument was not whether a person was incapable of driving a car—that was often fully admitted—but whether the procedures had been properly applied. Those loopholes are being dealt with. I hope that the resources of the Temple are fully exhausted, although I doubt it. At any rate, I imagine that a great improvement will be made.
If we close those loopholes, we are still left with the appalling fact that one-third of those who are killed on the roads have an excess of alcohol in their blood and that three-quarters of those who are convicted of those offences have 120 mg. of alcohol per ml. of blood, which is well over the limit. It is startling to know that on a Saturday night three out of four who die on the roads die with an excess of alcohol in their blood.
We may stop the loopholes, but the House must recognise that the loopholes are simply things that are thought up by the lawyers. I wonder how much the fact that there are loopholes makes any difference to a person's decision to drive when he has taken too much alcohol. That is not how a person contemplating such a drive makes up his mind.
I have come to the conclusion that the mere closing of the loopholes will increase the incidence of convictions but may do very little to stop those who drive having consumed too much alcohol. One should consider the circumstances in which a person makes up his mind whether he will drive. There is only one decision before him. He asks himself: "Am I capable of driving?" first of all, and then: "Am I likely to get home? Have I a sporting chance of getting home and not committing a moving 902 traffic offence?" That is the one thing considered by the person making up his mind. He does not for a second consider whether a policeman will arrest him when he is not wearing his hat or whether he can take an extra swig. These matters do not come into his calculations. The fundamental question is: "Will I be caught and will I be able to get home?" He makes up his mind in circumstances, as the right hon. Member for Down, South properly pointed out, in which he has a very high proportion of alcohol in his blood—150 mg. Those were described as being quirks. Certainly there is a quirk in someone's blood if it contains that amount of alcohol. His decision will not be very sensible. I am asking not for random tests but for discretionary tests. The only way that we can change that decision is to ensure that he believes that he may be picked up, even if he drives home carefully and properly. On many occasions, of course, he or she will get home, but, on the odd occasion, he will not.
It is simply because it is at that point of judgment that we must make the penalty apparent that I believe that we should change the system. Of course we should close loopholes, but, more important, we should say to this person, "Even if you drive carefully, you are running the risk that you will be picked up." That would be a far more fundamental change and would make a more radical difference than any other to people who drive with a high alcohol content in their blood.
One distressing feature of the present position is that we have random tests, but of an unpleasant type. Officers stop vehicles for mechanical checks and then suspect that alcohol has been taken. They are adept at assessing when someone is under the influence, and that person can then be breathalysed. Over this holiday period, people have been encouraged to let the police know if they see others who are drunk and incapable leaving public houses. In those circumstances, of course, the police are entirely entitled to stop people but the malice which is likely to be behind such telephone calls does not bear thinking about. Some people may act in this way from a sense of public duty, but many others will not.
When we have half-random tests—everyone in the courts knows that that is so—we should do better to face up to our responsibilities now and simply say that the time has come to make the change. Closing loopholes will make no material difference to those who drive with too much alcohol in them. The only substantial change which will make a difference is the removal of the prospect of a person driving home safe from ploice attention.
I end on a minor point. A small and rather quaintly named Bill which fell at the end of last Session—the Highways (Road Humps) Bill—had a great deal of support in the House. Surely it would not delay the passage of this Bill too much if the Government could find a place in it for that measure. I am sure that the long title would cover its provisions.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
In the time available I want to concentrate on the clauses dealing with British Rail and its subsidiaries, and with the British Transport Docks Board. So far as I have any interest to declare in the Bill, I declare it as a member of the National Union of Railwaymen.
I support the plea by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) for greater investment in the railways. I read during the weekend a timely report by the 903 International Railway Journal, which made some up-to-date comparisons of investment in railways throughout the world, particularly in Western Europe. Considering what happens in other countries, it is deplorable that British Rail's investment levels should have been virtually frozen at £305.5 million for several years and look likely to be frozen at that figure in future. Currently, according to the International Railway Journal, investment in the world's railways in 1981 could reach £14.2 billion. The only two countries in the Western world where investment is being held steady or is even falling are Britain and the United States. Germany aims to spend £918 million on its federal railways. France intends to spend £827 million on its railways. Even a network as small as Belgium's—one quarter the size of ours—will have £346 million spent on it in 1981.
When challenged with these figures, as he has been repeatedly, the Secretary of State has always said, in effect, "We do things our way in Britain. We do not necessarily have to follow the example of the rest of the world." I agree with him about some industries and some habits, but on railway investment I cannot believe that he is the only member of the band who is in step.
Recently I had the doubtful pleasure of reading another report—one from the Ministry of Transport on the safety record of the railways in 1979. Some worrying trends emerged from that report. For example, 23 accidents that took place in 1979 were the direct result of the combination of short-wheel-based vehicles running on indifferent track.
In his comment on safety in that report, the chief inspecting officer of railways, a man not given to exaggeration, said:Of the remaining 22 derailments attributed to errors on the part of the permanent way staff, 9 occurred at locations where a deliberate decision had been made to defer attention to the track. Where normal renewal is deferred the problem is then one of deciding whether deterioration of the various components has reached the stage that, for safety, a restriction in the speed of traffic must be imposed. This depends upon those who carry out the routine inspections, who are at a fairly low level in the organisation making a correct judgement.The chief inspecting officer went on:I have already commented, in paragraph 11 … on the situation as far as accidents caused by defective track are concerned and also indicated how deferments in the track renewal programme can lead to an increase in the number of derailments attributable to errors on the part of the permanent way staff. I do not see the position improving as long as the average age of the track goes on increasing.When a man such as Lt.- Col. McNaughton makes that sort of value judgment the Secretary of State should give a reply that is a little less cavalier than the one that he gave when he was first questioned about that report. His reply on that occasion was more reminiscent of the attitude of the railway directors of 100 years ago—who also thought that they knew best about railway safety—than of the man who is in nominal charge of our transport system in the 1980's.
No one wants to be alarmist about future prospects for railway safety. Those of us who have worked in the industry have always been conscious that the safety of the passenger is the first consideration, but we have a record of more and more derailments on indifferent track, caused by vehicles that should probably have been sent for scrap some years ago. One of the trains comprising short-wheel-based vehicles might be running on indifferent track 904 alongside track used by high-speed trains travelling at 125 mph. If it were derailed at such a time, the resulting carnage would be ghastly.
I ask the Minister to look again, even at this late stage, at railway investment.
Part II of the Bill contains proposals which have been well and truly castigated from the Opposition Benches, for the privatisation of the British Transport Docks Board. The Secretary of State repeatedly says that the chairmen of the nationalised industries agree with these proposals. It is much the same agreement as was extracted from Dick Turpin's victims so long as his pistol was pointing in their direction. Whether they would have expressed the same sentiments when Dick Turpin had ridden off into the night is another question.
Many members of the senior management in British Rail and its subsidiary companies that are due for privatisation have expressed considerable reservations about the way in which the organisation is going. The NUR has two main objections to the proposals for the BTDB. First, it considers that there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the public interest, which should be the Government's concern, would be served by these proposals.
It also believes that the detailed implementation of the proposal can offer no guarantee for the future control and integrity of the BTDB business. The proposal to use private capital is required neither by the internal financial needs of the docks board nor by the Government's understandable concern to restrain public expenditure. The BTDB is healthy, and it has proved to be highly profitable in recent years. It has been self-financing and has met its obligations to the Exchequer without any difficulty. The measure of its success and of its benefit to the public is to be found in the rigorous performance targets that were agreed last year by the board and the Government. Indeed, when the Secretary of State for Transport first put forward this proposal he said:Over the last few years the financial and managerial performance of the British Transport Docks Board has been very satisfactory.If that is the case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) said earlier, why tamper with it? The denationalisation proposals that the Secretary of State is making pay off the favours received through various organisations that have helped the Conservative Party in more ways than one over the years. We in the NUR believe that these proposals should be resisted—and resisted they will be.
On the question of subsidiaries, I turn to the real jewel in the crown, certainly in respect of one or two City friends of the Conservative Party. I refer to the British Transport Property Board. Its contribution to the cash flow of the British Railways Board in 1979 was £42 million. The contribution from non-operational properties was £12 million in 1979. But the story does not end there. The board, undoubtedly under some pressure from the Government, has said that it intends to redefine some sites, presumably those presently classed as operational, so as to allow them to come under the privatisation stakes. That would make a fairly attractive package of properties for anyone in the City who is anxious to make a quick killing out of a formerly publicly owned industry.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) is not present, because I told him yesterday that I intended to make reference to his well-publicised bid 905 for Sealink. The hon. Member does not fit into the normal image of the tycoon. One would normally expect someone with calloused hands and a loudly striped suit—the scrap dealer made good, so beloved of the Beaverbrook newspaper business. The hon. Member for Dorking is a quiet, modest and softly-spoken man. It is impossible to read a Sunday newspaper now without seeing another glittering article about him. Not only does he run Townsend Thoresen; his company evidently owns half of Denver, Colorado. He has just been awarded the franchise for the area presently controlled by Southern TV, and now he wants to gobble up Sealink, too.
Far be it from me to make a personal attack on the hon. Member for Dorking, particularly in his absence, but the deputy chairman of the British Railways Board said a few harsh things about the hon. Gentleman in the current issue of Railnews, the management's newspaper. The unions have no say in its policy. In case anyone should think that Mr. Bosworth, the deputy chairman, is a pipe-smoking ex-engine driver, let me assure the House that he is an accountant, who was brought in 10 or 12 years ago to toughen up the financial performance of the railways. Referring to the takeover bid by the hon. Member for Dorking, he said that the board was totally opposed to a takeover. He continued:I stress the word 'takeover' because that is all the Wickenden statements indicate—they do not suggest any idea of partnership or merger. This is an opportunist bid at a time of market depression.I hope that the Secretary of State can give us some assurance on Sealink and its future.
There were even more surprising representations in my post last week. The Freight Transport Association—not a body that normally agrees with me, or vice versa—expressed concern about the future of cross-Channel services. It said:The keen competition between ferry companies has traditionally been beneficial to users.There is a slight inaccuracy in that. Those hon. Members with slightly longer memories can remember that as recently as three or four years ago the Channel was referred to as the most expensive stretch of water in the world. The cut-price travel to the Continent, which seems to be advertised on television nearly every day, is new. The FTA continued:It is important that this should continue. The possible sale of Sealink could lead to a near monopoly on the major routes across the Channel and the Irish Sea. It is hoped that the Government's attitude to such developments will emerge during the debate, but if not the Minister should be urged to comment.The Minister has had his turn to comment, but he has shown no sign of commenting on anything since he resumed his seat. I hope that his hon. and learned Friend will have a few assurances for us later on the future of this company and on whether it is to be gobbled up by its present competitor in the cross-Channel business.
I return to the question of the future of the railways and railway investments generally. We have heard that the board and the railway unions intend to make a joint approach to the Secretary of State to see whether there is anything that he can do to ease the railways' financial problems. Among the proposals that have already been agreed by both sides are an increase in the board's external financing limit for 1981–82 from £920 million to £970 million; a renegotiation of the terms of the PSO grant to provide increased support for passenger services; an extension of Government support to BR's freight operations in line with that granted by other European 906 countries; and an endeavour to improve the terms of the existing section 8 grant facilities. There is also a proposal for an urgent decision on the Channel tunnel and specific priority for such schemes as the locomotive and freight rolling wagon programme; the advanced passenger train for the West Coast main line; the electrical multiple unit programme to ensure a continuing work load in British Rail Engineering Ltd.; and such schemes as East Anglia electrification and West of England resignalling.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) pointed out, many of those proposals have been lying on the Secretary of State's desk awaiting decisions for the best part of the last year. It is time that the right hon. Gentleman stopped seeking, whether inadvertently or not, to mislead the House and say that he has not received any proposals from the British Railways Board. Many of the proposals that I have just outlined have already been made to him.
I conclude with a few remarks about pay and productivity. If we listened to right hon. and hon. Members opposite we would think that the railways were vastly overstaffed and that all that is needed to cure their financial ills is a dramatic reduction in the number of staff in the industry. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) frequently makes the point about the need for greater productivity within the railway industry. I have said before that in respect of the Southern Region greater productivity can come about only through greater investment. There cannot he one-man trains when much of the rolling stock and track on the Southern and the Eastern Region is ancient and clapped out. One man cannot operate such trains. For example, at current rates of replacement of Southern Region EMU sets, it would take 25 years before most of those sets would be modern enough to be operated by one man. Productivity can be achieved only through greater investment.
The NUR publication Transport News has a two-page spread in its current issue entitled:New power box at Doncaster"—which our general secretary opened recently. The Conservative Party wants productivity. This signal box signals 155 route miles and replaces 52 old signal boxes at 67 level crossings. On each shift there will now be only seven signalmen. That sort of productivity is welcomed by the NUR, which wants a modern railway system. Power signal boxes such as those at Doncaster and London Bridge do not come cheap. They cost about £20 million or £25 million each, and if the Secretary of State wants a more productive and more modern railway system he will have to spend more money than is being spent at present.
The NUR believes that the Bill is doctrinaire and divisive. It fails to meet any of the real needs of the railway industry, and if it goes through in its present form it will undoubtedly lead to a further deterioration of railway services in the next few years. For those reasons I hope that my hon. Friends who serve on the Standing Committee will do all in their power to amend the Bill and to bring about a better deal for the railway industry.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
I listened with care to the speech of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and particularly to his comments about the need for more investment in British Rail. It is easy to ask for more investment, but the question that the hon. Gentleman must answer is where the 907 investment is to come from. If he says that it should come from the Government he is asking the taxpayer, who is currently subsidising British Rail to the tune of at least £2 million a day, to find even larger subsidies.
Unless it is intended to create an ever-larger burden for the British taxpayer, it is time for those who care about the future of British Rail to see whether funds can be generated from what British Rail possesses. The proposals in the Bill to allow BR to sell subsidiaries make good sense. The hon. Gentleman quoted figures from the 1979 annual report and suggested that the subsidiaries that are to be sold were making huge profits and that the sale proposal was a great mistake.
In fact, there is no clear indication in the annual report of the capital possessed by each of the four subsidiaries. The profits, such as they are—and British Rail hovercraft made no profit—are so minimal that one questions how anyone can argue that the subsidiaries make any contribution to British Rail's overall financial position.
It follows clearly that if British Rail is not to become an ever-increasing burden on the taxpayer, subsidiaries that could do better in private hands should be sold. Only by creating profits from those subsidiaries can additional funds be made available to relieve the burden that will otherwise have to fall on the taxpayer.
It may be asked how private industry can make profits when British Rail cannot. The answer is simple. Those who buy the subsidiaries will do so with the intention of investing in them to get the profits that British Rail cannot achieve because it generates no profits and therefore has no investment. If we are to give the subsidiaries any chance of being as successful as they could be, we must follow through what is in the Bill and give the subsidiaries a chance to get the investment that could make them profitable. From those profits will come a tax return which, no doubt, will become the increased investment for British Rail that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East and I both want.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) may laugh. I suggest that he thinks about the simple facts of economics which sometimes, alas, seem to escape him.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
No. I want to keep my speech as short as possible, and interventions take time.
I had intended to start my speech by congratulating my right hon. Friend on his appointment to the Cabinet in his new capacity as Secretary of State for Transport. If I tell him that I think his promotion is richly deserved, I tell him no more than the truth. I can think of no one who has kept the subject of transport more forcefully before us. I congratulate him on his second Transport Bill in less than two years.
The Bill deserves a great deal more support than the Opposition have given it. If I say no more about British Rail, it is because I wish to keep my remarks to a minimum and I shall concentrate on the road safety aspects. When the previous Bill came before the House I chided my right hon. Friend for not including anything about motor cycle safety and the training of learner riders. Therefore, it is not unnatural that I welcome clause 23 in the present Bill.
908 I have one or two reservations about the clause. I am uneasy that there appears to be a loose definition of a learner motor cycle. It appears to be a machine with an engine that does not exceed 125 cc, and I do not believe that that definition will be enough. I see no reason why engineers should not develop more power from a small engine. There is a further definition that seems to relate to kilowatts, but I shall comment only on cubic capacity, and I suggest that if we rely solely on the size of the engine as the controlling factor in the speed that can be obtained from a machine we may be barking up the wrong tree.
I also suggest that before we use a definition such as "learner motor cycle" in legislation we should be more willing to look at the sort of safety measures that are already being researched by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory at Bracknell in terms of what equipment should be included on a really safe motor cycle. I am uneasy about the definition in the Bill.
One of my hon. Friends has already asked why we are not making training compulsory. Any unqualified driver who goes out in a car with L plates must have an experienced driver sitting beside him. We insist that the car driver should be trained by an expert from the moment he obtains a provisional licence. Although the changes in the Bill will make it more likely that training will proceed after a motor cyclist has obtained a provisional licence, they do not provide an absolute guarantee that that will be the case.
There are many excellent training centres throughout the country, including one in my constituency, manned by instructors who are experienced in motor cycle techniques. I have to ask why we should not insist that the first time that a provisional licence holder buys a motor cycle he should undergo an eight-week training course, or whatever is required, at such a training centre before he is allowed to risk his life on the roads.
The British Motorcyclists Federation informs us in the House magazine:Government statistics show clearly that a learner rider is at greatest risk for the first 18 months of riding.If that is so, does it not follow that it is in those first months that the greatest care should be taken? The federation points out:The waiting list for driving tests is so long in some areas that a rider may have only one attempt at a test before being banned for a year.If that is the case, why should we not include among the powers of training centres the ability to test a motor cyclist after training and to give him a full licence if he passes? Those who run the training centre at Newbury feel that they demand more in their training than the average motor cycle tester employed by the Ministry asks for when a motor cyclist goes for his test. In that situation a full licence could be provided if the test were passed. That would have two benefits. First, it would make training more attractive, whether compulsory or not. Secondly, it would cut down the excessive waiting time which motor cyclists have to endure at the moment.
The last point that I wish to make on this aspect of motorcycle training is also in the British Motorcyclists Federation's advertisement:The waiting list for driving tests is so long in some areas that a rider may have only one attempt at the driving test before being banned for a year … Because there is no appeal against a failed test the rider would be disqualified for a year without being able to present any defence.909 Therefore, I believe that we must look again at the legislation to see whether we have got it right.
Those are my reservations about clause 23. I suggest that we should not be too absolute that training will make a major difference to motor cycle casualties. The motor cycle action group, in a circular, states:Police figures indicate that in 70 per cent. of motor cycle/automobile accidents, the blame is found to lie with the motorist.That brings me to the point that I want to make about the emphasis that we are placing on the motorist to be more heedful and mindful of motor cyclists. If my right hon. Friend looks at the Highway Code, he will find only six brief references to motorists and motor cyclists throughout its whole length. He will also discover that there is no single section devoted to how those who own motor cycles should conduct themselves on the roads. He will find that there is no emphasis on the way that motorists should impose road discipline upon themselves to ensure that they are as conscious as they should be of the motor cyclists around them. If we can find room in the Highway Code for a whole section devoted to extra rules for cyclists, surely we should do the same for motor cyclists.
By the same token, I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the creation of public information films to tell people more about road safety than is currently available. Nothing has irritated me more, when I have watched television through till midnight, than to find an excellent public information film about something which I suspect many people would like to know about but which remarkably few people will know about because they will not be watching television as late as that.
I should like to stress the need to persuade pedestrians to wear light-coloured clothing at night. Only two days ago I very nearly hit somebody when I was driving my car. That person was wearing a black overcoat on an unlit road. It was only by the grace of God that I did not strike him. I could not help feeling that more ought to be said about the need for such people, including myself, to wear light—coloured clothing at night.
I have only two other points to make. The first relates to the problem of signs. It was stated in the national press today that in Hertfordshire out of 400 people who were asked to name all the signs in the Highway Code only four could state what they meant. That is appalling. Perhaps that underlines the need for greater education of motorists. However, It must surely also underline the fact that our driving examiners are not putting sufficient emphasis on knowledge of the Highway Code before passing people as qualified drivers.
That leads me to a particular bugbear of mine. Throughout the country signposts are put up which lead to one's destination until perhaps a crucial T-junction where, for some strange reason, whoever put up the signpost has decided that a game must be played with the motorist—namely, to let him or her guess whether to turn left or right. At one stage I thought that it was my bad map reading or my inability to read my AA book. But this matter has now become so chronic with me that, even if it seems a frivolous point, I make it because I suspect that that failure to see whether the signpost takes the motorist where he or she wants to go constitutes a safety hazard.
My last point relates to speed limits on A roads. I make no apology for raising a constituency issue in the last minutes of my speech. The A4 runs through the whole length of my constituency. Although the M4 has taken 910 away a great deal of the traffic that used to go through it, because Newbury is a growing town traffic is again increasing on the A4. All those villages which lie on or straddle the A4 now face an increasing traffic hazard which in turn is producing a number of fatal accidents.
Woolhampton, which straddles the A4, but lies north and south of the road rather than along its length, has suffered a series of fatalities in recent months. The villagers have been up in arms about it and have organised a petition.
When the villagers asked whether they could have a 30 mph speed limit to stop motorists who, according to a recent survey, drive through the centre of the village in the middle of the morning at 52 mph, the answer was that they could have a 30 mph speed limit on an A classified road only if there was more than half a mile of developed housing frontage in the village. Woolhampton, alas, is 200 yards short of that magic figure. Therefore, nothing can be done.
I recognise that a simple rule, such as half a mile of developed frontage, is a rough and ready measure which will get by in many instances. Certainly, if I were talking about a village on a B road I would not be making this point tonight. But many A roads carry an enormous volume of traffic. If we are not to have any flexibility in the criteria governing speed limits and, therefore, road safety, the fatalities that the people of Woolhampton have had to suffer will go on.
I appreciate that point is not currently in the legislation—I may seek to introduce an amendment to cover it—but I hope that the Ministry will give some thought to creating greater flexibility in respect of villages on A roads in terms of speed limits.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
This debate presents the new Secretary of State in an entirely new light as far as I am concerned. I had always thought of him as the master of overstatement. But today he seemed to understate his argument on the disposal of British Rail's assets.
The right hon. Gentleman confined his remarks to four main subsidiaries of British Rail, as though the Bill applied only to those four subsidiaries. But the Bill empowers British Rail to sell any, or indeed virtually all, of its assets. It needs only to say that a particular aspect of its business is a subsidiary and it can sell it. Under existing legislation, British Rail can dispose of its assets only if in its view they are no longer required for the conduct of its business. According to this measure it will be possible for British Rail to decide that all the railways in Scotland are a subsidiary and to sell them or to sell the advanced passenger train, when it is running to Glasgow, or to sell British Rail Engineering Ltd.
Of course, British Rail will say that it does not want to do that. But there is a further feature in the Bill—the power of the Secretary of State and his successors to direct British Rail to set up subsidiaries and to sell off bits of the assets. Therefore, whether the Secretary of State realises it or not, he is asking the House to empower him to do what the Institute of Economic Affairs has been advocating for some time—namely, to sell off large chunks of British Rail to roll back the public sector.
911 Even with all the publicity that the Secretary of State has managed to get for his proposals, I do not think that it is on that basis that he has presented this measure to the public and the House.
While we are talking about Government commitments, and so on, it is worth noting that the Conservative election manifesto contains no word about the disposal of any of the assets mentioned in the Bill. Therefore, there can be no question of the Secretary of State at some future time telling the railway unions that he has a mandate from the British people to support the disposal of these assets. Taking what he said about British Rail at face value, what he is talking about is selling off the hotels, Sealink, Seaspeed and the property board, which I believe he described on one occasion as a "disparate jumble".
Those assets are not a disparate jumble when one considers that they are linked by the railway system. If one cut off a foot, a hand, a head or any other protuberance from a body, and threw them all into a heap, they might seem rather odd. But if there is a body joining them together, they seem rather less odd and more co-ordinated. We regard these assets as an integral part of the railway system in this country.
Let us consider what is possibly the least paying side of these businesses. Even with the hotels, at the moment the private sector does rather well out of British Rail's hotels. There is a considerable training system for staff and management, which is a constant source of poaching by the private sector hotel groups which lap up people who have been trained by British Transport Hotels.
The Secretary of State blamed the previous Labour Government for the lack of capital resources of British Rail hotels. But the last major proposition put to any Government was put forward jointly with British Airways under the "Heath Government", if one is allowed to use that phrase in the House, for a hotel at Gatwick which would serve both the airport and the railway and be of immense benefit to all concerned. That proposal, of course, was turned down on the usual ideological grounds. It is sometimes worth reminding Opposition Members that there was a time when we had ideological objections to the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).
Seaspeed Hovercraft is certainly not a paying proposition, nor has the hovercraft business been a paying proposition for the private sector outfit which also operates a service across the Channel. Both have been caught by the very substantial increases in fuel prices. Fuel costs form a high proportion of the total cost wherever hovercraft operate, so they have taken a right old beating.
Sealink, however, has been doing relatively well. Moreover, it has helped the British economy in more ways than one. For a start, it has been buying British-built ships. Over the past 20 years, more than two thirds of the vessels bought by Sealink have been built in British yards. Recently, it has tended to concentrate on buying from the Harland and Wolff yard in Northern Ireland, which activity has been described by a representative of that company as a godsend to Harland and Wolff, and consequently a godsend to Northern Ireland. Certainly, if the scale of orders that Sealink has placed with Harland and Wolff is not continued, the future of that shipyard will be severely in doubt. Let us consider what might happen if Sealink fell into the hands of its two major competitors, European Ferries and the P and O company. Neither of those companies has placed an order with a British shipyard in the past 10 years.
§ Mr. Dobson
Yes. Had the hon. Gentleman bothered to read the evidence taken by the Select Committee on Transport, he would know that it is expected—indeed, I believe that even the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) expects—that there would still be a considerable amount of shipping traffic across the Channel even if a tunnel were built.
It is worth noting that European Ferries, whose ship "Viking Venturer" recently went into Cherbourg to the tune of "Land of Hope and Glory", had that ship built in Aalborg, Denmark, which, with West Germany and Holland, has been the source of every ship built for that patriotic company in the past decade. So there is not much prospect for the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Northern Ireland or any other in Britain if that company lays hands on the Sealink assets.
§ Mr. Dobson
As members of the Treasury Bench would say, I would need notice of that question. I would guess that it would not be very much.
§ Mr. Dobson
No, I shall continue my speech. It is also worth noting that the hon. Member for Dorking told the 1978 Conservative Party conference that that haven of patriotism, with all the Union Jacks, the hats and so on, had placed an order for £50 million worth of new ferries in West Germany. The hon. Gentleman, who, as we all know, is a great believer in standing on one's own feet and suchlike, said that it was because the British Government would not give his firm adequate subsidies if it bought ships built in Britain. That is an indication of his and his company's firm commitment to standing on their own feet, not getting subsidies and buying British.
§ Mr. Porter
This ought to be explained. I trust that the hon. Gentleman gave notice to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) that this disgraceful attack was to be made.
§ Mr. Dobson
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) made it quite clear in conversation yesterday, either face to face or by telephone. I am happy to allow my hon. Friend to do that on my behalf. The hon. Gentleman knew what was happening.
Reference has been made to the uncompetitive nature of shipping across the Channel and what used to be the fare pooling arrangement. It seems to have been suggested that in some way or other Sealink is an awful, monopolistic and inefficient organisation which wishes to have nothing to do with reducing fares and giving a better deal to people crossing the Channel or going to Ireland. But it was at Sealink's suggestion that the fare pooling arrangement with the other two companies was abandoned. It was not at the suggestion of the other two companies.
913 A further point must be made on the question of competition. The Queen's Speech states:Further proposals will be brought forward to reduce the scope of nationalised and state industry, and to increase competition.The point has already been made that it would be a curious way to increase competition on the Channel routes to allow either of the private companies currently operating in that area to take over Sealink's services by an amalgamation or indeed an outright sale. In those circumstances, there would seem to be little merit in the disposal of Sealink's assets in this way.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
If the hon. Gentleman intends his speech to be a defence of the interests of Sealink or those employed by it, and if he feels that he is protecting their position on the Channel, can he explain why Sealink itself is most enthusiastic about having access to private capital in the way that the Bill facilitates, with the full support of the British Railways Board? It is its belief as well as the Government's that the best prospects for the future business of Sealink lie in that direction.
§ Mr. Dobson
We Back Benchers have listened to a lot of "Front Benchery" today. Had the hon. and learned Gentleman remained patient for a little longer, he would have discovered that I intended to deal with that point later.
I pointed out at the beginning that this measure goes much wider in the powers that it gives to British Rail to dispose of its assets than the Minister has led us to believe. I should also point out that that part of the Bill which deals with the setting up of a harbour company by Sealink also permits the Secretary of State to set aside any local Act in furtherance of the measures in this Bill. This has nothing to do with the Sealink harbours. It gives the Secretary of State a power, which I hope the House will not approve, to set aside any local Act. That is a grotesque extension of ministerial powers which ought to be resisted on principle.
I turn to the real objective interest among the people behind the Conservative Party, and I want to refer to the British Transport Property Board. In my opinion, this is where those behind the Tory Party intend to get their payoff. The Property Board owns a considerable amount of real estate. It is worth noting that over the last five years, the Property Board has contributed £160 million of capital to British Rail. Will British Rail get an equivalent sum over the next five years out of these arrangements, or will the profits go to those who, it is said, will be investing in the Property Board?
Although it could be argued that, given the general premises on which the Government are proceeding, there was some justification for introducing private capital into the three operationl aspects of British Rail—Sealink, hotels and Seaspeed—I see no justification whatever for treating the Property Board in that category. The Property Board as it is presently established will receive rents for onward passage to British Rail, or it will pass on bits of capital when it sells its assets. All that needed to be done to enable British Rail to make even more out of the property board side of its non-operational business was to allow it to enter into lease and leaseback arrangements, as well as joint arrangements with developers, in respect of the development of some of its sites. It is not at all necessary for British Rail to be included in the arrangements that have been put forward by the Secretary 914 of State, which will have no validity under the Bill. They are not mentioned in the Bill or established by it. They constitute a scheme which will be possible if the Bill is passed. However, there are no restraints on the arrangements.
I turn to the point raised by the Minister. It is said that British Rail agrees to these proposals and welcomes them. The same is said about the Sealink management and all sorts of other people. They no doubt welcome them just like the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) used to welcome things, yet the minute he did not welcome them he found himself on the Back Benches. Some people in the management of the nationalised industries do not want to go on to the nationalised industries' equivalent of the Back Benches. Consequently, this operation is a shotgun divorce. There is no way in which the present senior management of British Rail could have said that they did not accept these proposals and remained in their present positions. We all saw what happened to the previous members of the National Enterprise Board when they fell out with the Secretary of State for Industry. Now, even the new chairman has disappeared as well. Therefore, this is a fatuous argument.
All that we have had is ideology and general spleen against the nationalised industries, which constitute the main motivation for the proposals before us. It is worth noting the inclusion of the British Transport Docks Board in these proposals. Every reason which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have put forward for introducing private capital into the undercapitalised subsidiaries of British Rail is totally invalid in relation to the BTDB. There is no way in which it can validly be said that the docks board has suffered from being part of the public sector, yet that is the Secretary of State's justification for what he is doing to British Rail's subsidiaries.
The docks board has not drawn substantially on capital from the public sector. It has raised capital, operated efficiently and done very well and it is an absolute plum for picking. That is why it must go. It is quite clear that this is purely ideological. It is purely a question of practicalities. There is no question of improving the terms and conditions of staff or doing anything better for the public.
It is not just the Tory Party purchasers of property who benefit from this sort of thing. There is also a rip-off when the process is going on. During the selling off of BP assets last year, no less than £4 million was trousered by people in the City by way of fees for undertaking the sale. Even at this point in those proceedings, when nothing has been sold off and we have not obtained the City's dubious advice about how to sell off, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman and his Under-Secretary reckon that they will have to pay about £130,000 in fees for the advice which they have received on the privatisation of the assets about which we are now talking. Therefore, a lot of people in the City will make money out of this transaction.
I trust that the Opposition will be voting against this measure. I shall not deal with any of the matters relating to road safety, which no doubt will be dealt with at a later stage. The Bill represents a further reprehensible, retrograde step in Government policies which are likely to damage the interests of the travelling public and certainly the interests of those who work in these assets.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesend)
Perhaps I shall encourage the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) when I tell him that my first point relates to a Sealink property which I am pretty certain will be hard to get rid of. It is a property in my own constituency, and it is mentioned in clause 2. I refer to the Gravesend West station pier, which connects to Tilbury via the Sealink ferry.
I must raise this detailed point at this stage, because it is urgent that I should be reassured about it. Paragraph 8(1) of schedule 1 states:the Minister may by order—(a)repeal any local enactment which in his opinion has ceased to have effect".That ferry lost £150,000 last year, but one of the encumbrances at present is that there is a common law clause stating that the person who runs the ferry should run it in perpetuity.
I ask my right hon. Friend to tell me whether enactment of the Bill will remove that common law right. There may be broad ramifications for the people in Gravesend who depend on the ferry daily if that is the case. I would like the opportunity for considerably more consultation and discussion before that happened.
I am deeply conscious of the lack of time in this debate. I hope to keep to my usual record of being extremely brief. I approve of the changes for heavy vehicle licensing in the same way that I approve of most of the points in a complicated and diverse Bill. I hope, however, that one of these fine days the Government can transfer directly the money paid by vehicle users to the road fund. We in Kent have been told that we cannot have completion of that vital road, the M20, to Dover and the ports linking Britain with Europe. This could be done if a direct connection was established with the number of huge juggernauts using that road, particularly the uncompleted section which they are churning up daily. I recognise that I am perhaps asking for pie in the sky. That motorway, however, is vital to the nation, not just to the county of Kent.
I turn to the vexed question of drunken driving. This debate has been my first chance to hear the House discuss the tragic circumstance of the drunken driver. I have been much interested in the views put forward. I am firmly of the opinion that we took the wrong turning all those years ago in 1967. I recall that I was working at that time in a broadcasting studio. One afternoon, a motoring correspondent came to me, having attended one of the sessions at Brands Hatch—we have heard today about another session in the 1970s—where he, together with other motoring correspondents, had been given a few drinks and put through tests. I do not believe that the results of those tests were too much publicised. Thanks to the gentlemen from Fleet Street being rather used to drinking, each time they had another Scotch, they tended to do better in the tests. This continued to a rather indecent degree until, inevitably, they did worse. The tests, however, destroyed to a great degree the theory that the effects of drink are universally the same.
I am not supporting the drunken driver. I am suggesting that we have merely tinkered with the problem. We have had the breathalyser. We have debated whether to have random tests. I understand that, under the Bill, when suspicion is sufficient for a policeman to give a breath test, we have reached the random point.
916 Whom does this dissuade from driving when drunk? People drive with excess alcohol in their bodies for possibly three reasons. One is dire necessity. Presumably in those cases the person will continue to drive and take the risk. The second reason is bravado. The third is impairment of judgment by alcohol.
I do not believe that treatment, social work and the threat of police cars in pub car parks will stop the problem. The figures for France have been quoted. Those figures show very little change, I understand, in spite of strict laws. One figure I have not heard during the debate is the increase in the number of cars and drivers on the road in 1980 compared with 1967. I would dearly love to know what is the proportion of people found with excess alcohol in their blood now compared with then.
§ Mr. Brinton
Of course. It depends exactly on how many people are tested. I should like to know whether that proportion has gone up. I believe that the number of drivers, the number of tests and the number of convictions has gone up and that the problem is now more apparent. I do not believe that the proportion has changed. The only way to stop the criminal act of driving with excess alcohol in the blood is more severe punishment. Punishment is the only thing that the sort of person we are discussing will understand.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman: (Huddersfield, East)
I shall be unashamedly brief in my comments on parts I, II and III of the Bill. It is enough to say that having served many hours on a Committee dealing with a not dissimilar Bill—the Civil Aviation Bill, now the Civil Aviation Act—I have a grave suspicion that this is just the same old tune as was played in the last Session, and not played very well. A preamble in that Bill also exhibited a great desire by the present Government to give more freedom to various bodies, including British Airways and the Civil Aviation Authority. I can inform the House that by the time we finished the Bill we noticed that the authority had been given remarkably less freedom and that the Government had declared their inability to sell British Airways at a price that anyone was likely to pay.
I hope that the Government will think again in terms of attacking what I believe to be a fine railway system when compared with any other railway system in the world. I believe that pressure has been put upon the British Railways Board. The Government should be severely criticised for having lumped with a Bill that is highly controversial a great deal of proposed legislation related to transport safety.
I wish to concentrate on part IV. I have a special interest in this subject. It amazes me that during the debate only one or two hon. Members have drawn attention to the gravity of the situation, given the number of deaths and injuries that take place on the roads every year. It is surely not acceptable in a civilised society that the figures should show 7,500 deaths and 75,000 serious injuries. There have been estimates from a large number of professional organisations that 1,000 lives a year could be saved by the compulsory wearing of seat belts, a further 1,000 by strong action on drinking and driving, a further 1,000 if motor cycle training were tightened up and made compulsory, 917 and perhaps 500 if road legislation were sensibly used to slow down the excessive speed at which people drive on minor roads.
Being killed and seriously injured on the roads is a very great risk. It is more likely that people up to 45 years of age will be killed or seriously injured on the roads than that they will die from cancer, a heart attack, or from a similar cause. The most likely cause of the termination of their lives will be a road accident.
The roads claim more lives than any of the classic diseases, yet, since I have been a Member of the House—a reasonably short period—I have been unable to unravel the reason why this subject is neglected.
Many people believe that our political system involves countervailing powers; that where one pressure pushes for reforms, automatically another pressure pushes in the opposite direction. In this and many other areas that theory is totally disproved. There is a tremendous apathy about safety on the road. As soon as it is mentioned to most people in the media the shutters go down and no interest is taken. Road safety is a non—sexy subject and the media want to deal only with sexy subjects. Road safety is boring, and people do not wish to be reminded of it. For that reason many pressure groups are diverted to other causes and interests.
The motoring organisations seem to be more interested in selling Reader's Digest guides to the countryside and providing advice about where to eat and stay than in representing the interests of the travellers. Politicians and the media must take the responsibility for neglect. The media find road safety an uncomfortable subject. It is not a party issue, and no great bouquets are offered to political combatants, so the subject does not receive the attention that it deserves.
Transportation safety is a matter of public health, in the sense that diseases that used to kill people and decimate populations 100 years ago are no longer with us, thank goodness. We no longer suffer from cholera and typhoid, and the other diseases that demanded Government action in the 1840s and 1850s. When people such as Chadwick were introducing revolutionary legislation against impure water and poor sewerage systems, which caused thousands of people to die from cholera and similar diseases, opponents used the same arguments as we have heard today against legislation on seat belts and drinking and driving. Chadwick was a pioneer in public health legislation. His proposed legislation was defeated and, sadly, he disappeared from public life. The Times of the day blustered:We prefer to take our chance with cholera than to be bullied into health.That is the attitude taken by some hon. Members today. It is shameful in a modern legislature. Ironically, diseases that kill our citizens are preventable. People are being killed when we could prevent it.
We have concentrated on death and injury on the roads, but we could also cut Health Service bills by dealing with smoking and diet. A death on the road is estimated to cost over £100,000 in hospital, social security and other benefits. That sum multiplied by the 7,500 people who are killed on the roads each year must be an argument against allowing the individual to do what he likes, however he likes to do it.
We must have a new attitude to public health. It must be regarded as a part of our lives and include how we behave on the roads. With such a new attitude to road 918 safety the relationship between the public and the police, which the Secretary of State holds so sacred, would change overnight. How many people blame their public health officers for their ill-health? How many people are in fear and loathing of their public health officers? Surely, if the police help people to help themselves to live longer by the use of breathalysers, that will be welcomed by the community. It is fallacious to argue that bad relations between the police and the public will be engendered by tough legislation on drinking and driving.
I was angry when I listened to the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton), in whose speech I detected a complacency about drinking and driving. I was also angry when I read The Guardian on 18 November, which carried the headline:Remorse of father cuts jail sentence.The article told how a man left a public house with a friend, raced in his car down a country lane, and killed two little sisters who were feeding horses in a field. That gentleman received a short sentence. I am not making a particular comment on the case, but such cases can be multiplied 1,000 times.
It is not a question of someone else's child or aged parent being killed on the road. We are talking of our own mothers and fathers and our little children. They are at risk, because people have not been given guidance by their legislators. The House has a responsibility to ensure that children are not killed because their parents do not put them in seat belts, or because they pay scant attention to the dangers of their children being loose in the front seats of cars. Action must be taken. It is a matter of public health.
I turn to the liberty argument. John Stuart Mill would turn many revolutions in his grave if he could see the way in which his arguments in his classic essay on liberty are used by people with various interests, and various axes to grind. They talk not about the liberty of the individual but about the liberty of pressure groups to have their way in this legislature.
We must bear in mind another hallowed concept—democracy. The will of the House has been expressed year after year. Hon. Members have demanded and voted for the compulsory wearing of seat belts. They have been prevented from attaining that aim by the blocking of seat belt legislation.
I recommend hon. Members to look again at Mill's "On Liberty". They will discover that Mill would have been on the side of the angels in this argument. When hon. Members discuss seat belts and drinking and driving, a small minority often employ an argument that is similar to that used in the United States of America in relation to personal handguns.
It is sad that there will not be another Bill that covers road safety for some months or years. We have a tremendous opportunity to change people's lives. Several things are missing from the Bill. I shall mention some of them. If the Department of Transport and the Government are serious about road safety, they should consider the crucial matter of excessive speed. It is speed that kills and maims so many people. There is nothing in the Bill that will curb excessive speed. Many experts have pointed out that the proposals mean that a person will be able to have four convictions for speeding rather than three before he loses his licence. They represent an encouragement to speed.
919 Many hon. Members take it for granted that we all speed and that the "old Adam" in all of us likes to get home early. That is not true. Speeding kills. Many of us drive within the speed limit because we know that to drive only five or 10 mph faster than one should makes the difference between being able to stop when a small child crosses the road and hitting him. I hope that the Secretary of State will change his mind about the points system in terms of speeding and that that will be discussed in Committee.
I agree with other hon. Members that a small Bill on road humps would help to change speed patterns. In particular, it would help to prevent rat-running, when people take short cuts from major roads to smaller roads. I direct the Secretary of State's attention to a subject that is not mentioned in the Bill but is of increasing concern to all those interested in road safety—the growing role that commercial vehicles play in accidents and deaths on the road. Evidence is coming to hand that although only 7 per cent. of traffic on our roads is commercial traffic, 40 per cent. of accidents involve commercial vehicles. Speeding by commercial vehicles is a great and increasing danger. It is sad that that is not recognised in the Bill and that there are no proposals to introduce legislation to provide stricter control over commercial vehicles and the hazards that they present to life and limb.
I join those hon. Members who spoke about the Bill's omission of any reference to safety belts. We have here a unique opportunity to include in a Bill provision for the compulsory wearing of seat belts. It is a unique opportunity, because the Secretary of State wishes to introduce a points system that would lend itself easily to enforcement. If failure to wear a seat belt were to gain one point in a totting up system in which the motorist believed that he might get another three points for speeding a little, people's opinion about the wearing of seat belts would be changed. A points system would go well with compulsory seat belt legislation. I hope that the Secretary of State will change his mind and will welcome an amendment that introduces the compulsory wearing of seat belts. In addition, I hope that he will allow some time for that to be discussed.
The Bill says nothing about tyres. Many accidents occur because legislation on tyre tread is inadequate. Every year, the major tyre distributors check tyre wear. This year they found that the treads of nearly 50 per cent. of tyres called in on a particular day were below the legal thickness limit. The Road Research Laboratory tests indicate that even the present prescribed limit does not give sufficient road holding in wet and icy conditions.
Education and propaganda are extremely important aspects in any programme of transport safety. I recognise that there are some limitations to what those aspects can achieve, but it is important that when we have public expenditure cuts the first cuts should not fall on the training of children in schools, "lollipop ladies", or the most vulnerable section of our community—children on public roads.
It has been estimated that the bad design of vehicles is responsible for 8 per cent. of the accidents on our roads. It appears that bad roads and bad road design are accountable for 28 per cent. of the accidents. However, people and their errors are responsible for 64 per cent. of road accidents. If we bear that in mind, the priorities for any Government who are interested in changing the 920 atmosphere of transport safety in Britain are clear. The Government should act in the areas that I have mentioned. They should act decisively in the areas covered by the Bill.
I must disagree with the Secretary of State on motor cycles and the need for compulsion. The advisory committee recommended a three-year trial of encouragement by means of a voluntary programme. Those concerned with transport safety throughout Britain understand only too well that it is only the sensible and serious young men and women who turn up for training when such a programme is made available.
I believe that the Government would have introduced compulsory training if it had not involved Government expenditure. Such training could have been launched and it would have involved only a small percentage of Government expenditure. Voluntary training will not work. About 1,100 young men and women motor cyclists were killed last year and the same number will be killed this year, and the year after. The Bill will prove to be ineffective in that respect.
I have covered the points system. It can be amended in Committee to make it an effective and welcome change.
On drink and driving, the Bill demonstrates that the Government want to indicate that they are moving in the general direction of the angels, but there is not enough backbone in the drinking and driving provisions. Random testing is essential. That was the opinion of the Blennerhassett committee. All the experts take that view, including the police. If we do not have random testing there will be no real deterrent to drinking and driving. Some of the Scandinavian countries have arrived at a situation in which people do not drink and drive. We are constantly giving planning permission for larger car parks at public houses. That is an irony that perhaps is lost on the Secretary of State. It will be confirmed if he does not strengthen the drinking and driving clauses.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for taking quite a long time. However, I was in my place in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate. We can change attitudes towards the horror that kills our children and parents. That can be done by education, propaganda and law. Most of the experts are convinced that only legislaion will reduce the present dreadful statistics.
Classical Greek literature tells of the sirens luring sailors on to the rocks, where their ships would be wrecked and they would perish. Their bodies were left there as a warning to other sailors. Perhaps we should consider leaving effigies of the dead on our beautiful country roads and motorways.
I urge the Government to have the courage of their convictions and to seize this opportunity, which will not be repeated for many years, to make a real effort to change the situation. On 5 November the Minister made a clear statement in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He said that road safety was not a question of party politics. I heartily agree. I am sure that he meant it. I hope, therefore, that he will have the courage to give hon. Members on both sides of the House at all stages of the Bill the opportunity to make real changes.
§ Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)
I shall be brief and staccato. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his truly remarkable accession to the Cabinet. I 921 also congratulate him on introducing yet another Transport Bill which is not only beneficial to the country but which achieves justice and improves road safety.
Sir Peter Parker, chairman of British Rail, has stated:Railways are a creative business. The introduction of private capital should increase the scope and unlock the great potential of subsidiary businesses.That says it all. A recent article also quoted the chairman of the British Transport Docks Board as accepting the advantages of denationalisation.
I have covered in three seconds what I should like to have taken 20 minutes on, like the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman). However, I thank the many organisations that have contacted me, particularly RoSPA. I recommend that organisation's excellent knowledge of safety matters to every hon. Member. I also thank STEP management services, the AA and the RAC. I cannot do justice in this short time to even parts of their briefs.
There is one paradox. One motoring organisation has presented the case that the slate should not be wiped clean of points once a disqualification is imposed. The other motoring organisation says the opposite. It is difficult to reach a conclusion there. I suspect that that is better done in Committee.
I welcome the totting up procedure for traffic offences. I hope that it is a first and excellent stage of a system that may later, through regulation or legislation, achieve fixed penalties for minor motoring offences such as speeding. I should like to deal with the detail in Committee.
During our last oral question period to the Transport Department my right hon. Friend guaranteed a debate on each separate offence and the penalties applicable. That is important. I appeal to the Opposition to ensure that this part of the Bill, which comes after some of the more controversial parts, will he reached in time and dealt with in a manner that allows debate on each offence. Both sides of the House will then be sure that a satisfactory conclusion has been achieved.
I should like the Minister to reassure me on a number of points concerning motor cycle training. Will it be a legal requirement for organisations licensed to conduct the proposed test to do so only after the candidate has undertaken an approved training course? The advisory committee introduced the idea of a part 1 test as encouragement to people to take training. The spirit of the recommendation may be lost if the legislation does not tie the two together. Will the Department of Transport or some other body lay down the elements which would require to be taught within the approved training course? Should the training organisations have flexibility in terms of course length and optional extras? Will the curriculum be determined by the Department and include those elements of roadcraft which are essential for a young driver's survival?
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The answer is "Yes" to all the questions that my hon. Friend has posed so far. They are important questions for the training organisations whose co-operation we shall be seeking.
§ Mr. Mills
I am very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. There is some concern about the lack of the words "constable in uniform" in relation to breath tests for motor cyclists. In my opinion, the Government have got it right. Those of my constituents who have written to me have all held the view that the role of the police in society is in 922 connection with law and order, and that other methods must be found to ensure that drinking and driving does not happen. The Minister has established that in existing legislation we have quite draconian powers which he has strengthened by blocking the loopholes. For us in a democratic society to move towards an unnecessary system of random testing, when the same social and moral objective could be achieved by other means, would be wrong.
I turn to the new taxation system for goods vehicles. I make a plea on behalf of many manufacturers of those goods which are of large bulk and low density. Kelloggs Cornflakes was mentioned. This system covers a mass of goods such as empty food containers, foams, insulation for homes, and many other products. May I say how grateful I am to my hon. and learned Friend for the great amount of detailed information he has sent in reply to my letters on the subject of down-plating? I am somewhat reassured, but not entirely convinced by the arguments advanced by his Department against allowing voluntary down-plating of vehicles, when in my view we should encourage larger vehicles which are better equipped and better designed, with larger, better, safer tyres, brakes and suspension.
It has been suggested that we encourage the manufacturers or distributors of lightweight goods to consider technical down-plating. As an ex-tyre designer with no present connection with any tyre company or tyre manufacturing company, I believe that it would be a retrograde step if, in order to achieve a lightly laden vehicle, the lower plating is made to fit a smaller tyre, thereby losing braking, safety and load-carrying capacity. That would be wrong. I know that my hon. and learned Friend is not suggesting that, but if it were suggested it would be wrong.
I beg the Minister to look again at the possibility of down-plating. The majority of people who would find down-plating of value are not the cowboys. In general, they are the large, reputable manufacturers who carry goods to our breakfast and dinner tables, and they do a very good job.
Finally, I wish my right hon. Friend and my hon. and learned Friend the best of luck in bringing forward this second Transport Bill during my time in the House. If I am selected as a member of the Committee, I look forward to helping them in their task.
§ Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)
I entirely support the Bill, for many reasons. It reduces the public sector, it increases the private sector, it gets rid of a quango, it gives much fairer treatment to motorists who may commit motoring offences, and it tries to ensure that motor cyclists have a better safety record and protect their own lives. Therefore, I support the Bill across the whole spectrum.
I shall concentrate my remarks on the first three parts. I am probably one of the few Members who have been privileged to work in the public sector, the private sector and also in a quango. The three parts of the Bill concern those three spheres.
First, for a number of reasons, I consider it to be of vital importance that private finance goes into British Rail. First, British Rail management and the board want it. I know that, because I have spoken to them. Secondly, the private sector wants to put funds into British Rail. This will become apparent in the next year or so when the shares are put on the market. Thirdly, it will enable those 923 activities to be given better management concentration and, in turn produce better results. Fourthly, we can see the financial effects. It is only when one isolates particular activities from the overall financial results such as those of British Rail that it can be seen whether those activities are profitable and bring in a good rate of return on capital.
For those reasons, I hope that British Rail will welcome private enterprise. I am sure that the unions and the employees will welcome that added investment. We have heard many times during the debate about the limits and restrictions on investment in British Rail. The subsidiary companies need investment in order to expand. Sealink may be making good profits at the moment, but this may be the right time at which to try to get a very favourable price from European Ferries or some other company. The move might not be as good a one to make in the next few years, particularly if the Channel tunnel proceeds, as I hope that it will.
I cannot see British Rail carrying on efficiently and effectively in managing hotels strung across the country. Surely it must bring in private enterprise to take over some of them lock, stock and barrel—perhaps the whole of its hotel enterprise. To my great surprise, I saw that British Rail was advertising weekends in London at hotels which are not its own. I cannot believe that its own hotels are fully booked at weekends at the moment, although I hope that they are.
I welcome the proposal to change the British Transport Docks Board into British Ports. I welcome the opening up of its powers and activities, because it has been hidebound in the past. I know that the board welcomes private enterprise money in pursuing its activities. It has a very good record, but it should be able to expand into other activities and make them more efficient by bringing in the better management controls and financial disciplines that are part and parcel of the private enterprise sector.
With regard to British Rail property, it is a great bugbear to me that in my constituency British Rail has a good deal of land which both the local councils and private manufacturers would like to acquire. That land cannot be released because British Rail has so many things to do, and because the British Rail Property Board is much keener on going to office developments and large concerns elsewhere. But with better use of the land in my constituency, local rates would be decreased, and manufacturers would have a better output if they could get hold of the land. I cannot, therefore, believe that British Rail is making the best use of its property assets.
I support the winding up of the quango, the National Ports Council.
The Bill has my full support. We should not worry because so many hon. Members are eager to speak on the Bill this evening, or because it covers such a wide area. Under the new Secretary of State, transport is creating much more interest and I very much welcome that fact.
§ Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
I differ basically from the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) in that I only wish that there had been two separate Bills. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) was right in saying that the latter part of the Bill will deserve much more time than it will probably get. Road safety and all the various things included in the tail end of the Bill— 924 the licensing of goods vehicles, cab licences, and so on—could have been discussed, along with seat belts, in a separate Bill, without any of the acrimony which goes with the remainder of the Bill.
It is on the remainder of the Bill that I should like to address the House for a few minutes. I understand the philosophy which motivates the Secretary of State, but I wonder what his reasons are for bringing forward the Bill. As far as I am aware, the proposals were not part of the Conservative election manifesto. It was not proposed in that manifesto that there should be any hiving off in this area. I do not believe that it was dealt with anywhere in the right hon. Gentleman's pamphlet "The Right Track". It did not appear there as part of the philosophy for doing something for British Rail.
The hiving off proposals are seen as nothing short of bowing to the pressures of the Conservative Party's supporters in the City, because of the rich asset stripping possibilities presented by British Rail's subsidiaries.
Briefly, what are those subsidiaries? The three main businesses concerned are the British Rail Property Board, Sealink United Kingdom Ltd. and British Transport Hotels, all of which are usually making a profit. In the last 15 years, the British Rail Property Board has generated £226 million from the sale of land assets for the benefit of railway business. Last year it made a profit of 77.6 per cent. on capital invested. This year it is expected to contribute £12 million towards British Rail. With current assets valued at about £186 million, that is what is meant by the privatisation of the public sector. Public assets are being plundered for doctrinaire reasons and to pay off the Government's friends. Last year Sealink made a profit of £13 million. There is no doubt that it will face some difficulties this year. The competition has become tough. It is probably because of that competition that its profits have fallen. I wonder what will happen if European Ferries, the company of the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) takes over the cross-channel ferries. Will the competition disappear and the massive profits accrue again? Gone will be the so-called cut-throat competition between the two sides. An asset that belongs to the public is being stripped because of the Government's doctrinaire approach.
I wish that I could agree that there is something wrong with the management of British Transport Hotels. However, that is not true, nor is it fair. It is a well-managed body. Had it the facilities and the investment possibilities that it has been specifically disallowed under the public sector borrowing requirement regulations, it would have been able to invest as it did with the Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria. That hotel has shown a tremendous return on investment. British Transport Hotels had to put the whole of its investment potential for one period of time into one hotel, and the remainder were left to stagnate. That is a great pity. If those hotels are hived off, many will close. They are on valuable sites in the centre of the city. The private sector will close them to realise the assets. The hiving off is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Investment in the hotels would show a good return for the public sector.
The finances of those three bodies find their way back into British Rail funds. How will it help British Railways if we hive off the profitable sector? The Minister should say how that will help British Ralways. How will it help their finances across the board? What will it do for the farepayer? What will it do for the London and South-East 925 commuter? What will it do for the lines that are steadily becoming uneconomic because of the high charges that British Rail is forced to charge? One Conservative Member asked whether the taxpayer would have to meet the cost. What does the taxpayer contribute towards the total costs of running the railways? British Rail receives 29 per cent. of public money towards the cost of fares. The German railways receive 39 per cent., the Danish railways 39 per cent., the Italian railways 68 per cent., the Dutch railways 45 per cent., the Belgian railways 50 per cent., and the French railways 45 per cent. Those figures are far in excess of the public investment that either this Government or the previous Labour Government were prepared to invest in the railway system.
If the money is not forthcoming from that sort of investment, it must come from fares. In Committee the Secretary of State and the Minister must tell hon. Members and the users of the railway system whether they will increase fares until the customer squeals—and the South-East commuter has no choice but to pay—or whether they will insist that a railway system that is necessary for the British economy be kept up to date and modern.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
I cannot make a speech in the time available, so I shall make only a few brief comments. The sale of British Rail subsidiaries can make a positive contribution to the creation of a modern railway. I wish that Opposition Members could welcome the proposals. They have been welcomed by Sir Peter Parker. They should consider the matter in a more enlightened manner and realise that the commuters of the South-East and the general passengers would prefer the funds to be invested in new rolling stock and better equipment than in property and hotels that produce no positive return to the railway system. We must ensure that the funds realised from the sale of the assets are used to benefit the railway system. We might find a degree of co-operation in that.
I wholeheartedly welcome the transport aspects of the Bill, the proposals for the sale of British Rail subsidiaries and for selling shares in the port undertakings, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on them. I also congratulate him on achieving a major Bill that combines both transport and road safety. The Opposition Front Bench should echo that congratulation, not criticise my right hon. Friend for having dealt with two disparate issues. Given the facts of life in Cabinet, he has made a considerable achievement. The road safety proposals are vital and will probably have a major effect on the lives of millions.
I want to make an appeal to the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth). The committee stage of the last Transport Bill in 1980 was conducted in an atmosphere of great controversy. That was not the best way of conducting parliamentary business. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that this Bill with its motor cycle legislation, its proposal for a new breathalyser machine, and the proposal for a points system for traffic offences—we may even debate seat belts, which I would welcome, and random breath testing—will vitally affect the life of the community. It is important, therefore, that Parliament is seen to debate such matters carefully, thoroughly and conscientiously. I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to ensure that in Committee the 926 controversial elements in the early part of the Bill are dealt with in such a way that we are left with adequate time to debate in a sensible and amicable atmosphere the later subjects of road safety, and so on. In that way the people of this country will see that they have been properly considered by Parliament.
§ 9.1 pm
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
We have had a debate of considerable interest on highly controversial matters. Like many other hon. Members I feel that it would have been better for the road safety provisions to have been contained in a separate Bill, and that applies particularly to the breathalyser and discretionary powers which may divide the two sides of the House. We welcome the fact that action is to be taken on road safety now rather than being delayed, and that factor should perhaps be taken into account.
I declare an interest. I was a seafarer for 10 years and a member of the National Union of Seamen. I have served in hotels, worked on docks and served on ships. I therefore have a reasonable amount of experience of working in the industries covered by the Bill.
I felt that in introducing the Bill the Secretary of State was whistling into the wind when he claimed the credit for the last Transport Bill. On the news tonight we were told of further redundancies in the transport industry and reductions in services. Many of us feel that we are witnessing the destruction of the public bus system. The right hon. Gentleman is now turning his attention to the public rail and ports transport industries. Many of us feel that they will now suffer from the same policy, which is to undermine the public sector to the direct benefit of the private sector.
Before moving on to welcome parts of the Bill, I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment to the Cabinet. Perhaps the policies that he has been pursuing have convinced the Prime Minister that they are the sort of Tory policies that she wants. They are, however, those that we find the most controversial. We wait with interest to see whether the right hon. Gentleman will join the wets or the others in the Cabinet debates.
We welcome the Bill's contribution towards improving road safety, and we agree with the need for them. We welcome, too, the attempt to deal with the carnage among motor cyclists, many of them youngsters—we have heard about 1,000 deaths—and we hope that it will bring some improvement.
We support the proposals for a totting—up system for traffic offences. However, there is concern about the points allocated for particular offences and about the proposal to wipe the slate clean in regard to certain discretionary disqualifications. A policeman has suggested to me that the incentive in the points system is for an offender to get off home after an accident without reporting it. That would incur a penalty of six points. By doing that, however, the motorist who causes injury while drunk avoids a possible disqualification. Those are points which no doubt we shall have an opportunity to discuss in Committee, as the Secretary of State has said.
The more controversial matter to which the House has given attention tonight and on other occasions is the one concerned with discretion power for drink-driving offences which is not in the Bill but which may end up in the Bill. The controversy ranges across both sides of the House.
927 The previous Labour Minister of Transport put forward to the then Cabinet the recommendations of Blennerhassett. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) asked why the Labour Government had not implemented those recommendations. That is another indication of the controversy on implementation involved in this policy.
We welcome the recommendations of Blennerhassett which have been included in the Bill, which will improve the law on drink and driving. However, I have been convinced for a while, particularly after recently reading Blennerhassett, that there is a strong argument on grounds of deterrence for further actions to be taken over the granting of the power of discretion.
The Secretary of State said that we should pay attention to what Barbara Castle said, when she was Minister, in introducing her drink-driving legislation without discretionary powers. She was concerned about relations with the police and about public acceptance. I argue that public attitudes have changed a great deal since 1967. The polls suggest that the majority of people favour the introduction of discretionary powers in this area. Moreover, drink consumption has increased.
The reality, as pointed out by a number of hon. Members, is that there has been an increasing number of deaths due to driving with a level of alcohol higher than that allowed in the Bill and that these deaths occur at certain times of the day. Over 1,200 drivers have been killed because of drunken driving.
There will be a discussion in Committee on this matter, but I should like to put it on record that I believe that discretionary powers are already being used in this area although they are intended for other purposes. For example, the chief constable of Warwickshire has made it clear that during random inspection of such things as car transport offences or insurance certificates, such traffic legislation has provided the opportunity to observe whether a driver is affected by drink.
Therefore, as random testing is beginning to be used to detect drunken drivers, the House should make up its mind whether this is a power which it is prepared to give to the police authorities. If so, it should consider what conditions and rules should govern its application. I hope that in Committee we shall have the opportunity to develop that argument and that eventually the House will decide on that controversial matter.
I will concentrate my remarks on port policy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) dealt with many of the arguments about railway subsidiaries. The Bill has a number of controversial elements in major areas of transport policy.
The abolition of the National Ports Council and the privatisation of the British Transport Docks Board will be important developments in port policy. The justification given by the Secretary of State for that action is that he feels that there should be less Government intervention in this area and that the private industry and market forces should determine the structure of our port industry dictated by the commercial decisions. He did not feel that the ports were public utilities and considered that they were best left for their potentianal development to forces other than the State.
That flies in the face of a great deal of evidence in the industry and of the major analysis done in 1962 by the 928 Rochdale committee, which was set up by a Conservative Government. It flies in the face of the conclusions of that committee and of the evidence of recent events, which show the trend of port policy over the next few years. Rochdale made it absolutely clear that the industry then had an excessive amount of obsolete investment and concluded that the best way of reorganising it was to establish a national ports authority.
The Secretary of State must understand why Rochdale reached that conclusion. The committee considered the various private interests represented in the Docks and Harbour Authorities Association, which had had a considerable influence on port development up to that time and concluded that it had completely failed in its obligation to develop a modern port industry. That convinced the committee of the need for a national ports authority with the power to develop, reorganise and modernise and to channel investment where it was so badly needed.
That proposal was opposed by the private sector, and, when considering the recommendations in 1962 or 1963, the Government bowed to that pressure and refused to establish a national ports authority. Instead, it set up the National Ports Council, which was given only powers of advice plus certain statutory functions.
Like the Secretary of State and others, I congratulate the council on its work over the last 15 years. It has done a great deal of analysis and research and has played an important part in development and modernisation. However, it has not had the authority to influence the industry's structure, because its role has largely been that of advising the Minister.
The Labour Party has always believed that a national ports authority was essential. Just before the Secretary of State came to the House in 1970, the Labour Government had tried to pass a Bill which contained provisions for such an authority. We have advocated that policy ever since, so our record is consistent.
I have not necessarily agreed with all the judgments of the council—nor have a number of the unions involved, particularly the TGWU. For example, I disagreed with its decision to support further expansion of containerisation at Felixstowe. That led to a £24 million development, and there is now excess capacity for containerisation in that port. Indeed, we are beginning to see over—investment in a number of ports. That is one of the problems to which the Rochdale committee addressed itself.
The development of small wharves created many political problems in 1972, 1973 and 1974. The council did not point out strongly enough to the Minister the impossibility of large ports with huge investment programmes—much of the money coming from the taxpayer—being able to compete with small wharves with little capital investment. I therefore disagreed with the council's judgment on that matter.
We are told in Department handouts that the reasons for doing away with the National Ports Council are that it will save money, that there will be less intervention and that the ports themselves can handle the council's functions.
On the first of those reasons, the levy is £1.2 million on a £500 million turnover—which works out at about 0.22p on every pound. That is a small price to pay for the research and development statistics that the council has been providing for the industry. It has a high reputation 929 abroad, its publications are in great demand and its advice has been given not only in Britain but in other countries. The industry will not continue all its work.
The Secretary of State's second argument for abolition is that there will be less intervention. I understand that he intends to abolish some statutory powers—some of which were never used and one of which was last used in 1971. Powers relating to appeals by docks over dues and to investment over £1 million, for example, will be transferred to his Department, although he can take investment decisions already, on the advice of the council. As I understand it, he will have to increase the number of civil servants in the Department, probably by about six, in addition to the ports director. Certainly, the more difficult aspect of this development is the loss of independent assessment by an independent body of the various port problems that arise directly out of investment when a Minister has to consider various schemes for investments of over £1 million. The Minister would be denied the expertise and appraisal by the National Ports Council. That body was used by the Conservative Government in 1972 to bring about a solution to the problem of the small wharves. Indeed, the Secretary of State used the National Ports Council even after announcing its abolition. He used it to examine the finance problems in the Liverpool ports. That in itself is a recognition of the role that the council can play.
There is an interesting difference between the role that the Secretary of State will have under the Bill and the role that he has at present. It could be argued that he has the responsibility for directing the British Transport Docks Board at present. He certainly has the power, although various Ministers in different Governments have always advocated that they will not interfere in the day-to-day management of the companies. They have largely been left with a free hand. Now, any investment by a port that may not belong to the British Transport Docks Board will force the Secretary of State to make a decision on whether the investment is acceptable or on whether he will allow further containerisation in one port. If he looks at the case of Felixstowe he will see that the BTDB is against such a development. Now, he will have a 51 per cent. share in the docks board, but at the same time he will have to make a decision about the containerisation development of another competing port interest. That will not lead people to be confident that the Secretary of State will make impartial judgments. That will lead to further difficulties, certainly when a Tory Minister is making the decisions.
Tory Party policy on ports has tended to result in a dash for the market place. A good example of that was the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in 1971, when Selsdon man was rampant. That company was allowed to go bankrupt, and we heard a lot about widows losing their money. But within two years the Government had to bring forward another Bill promising finance to all other such port authorities because of the damage they had done by allowing the collapse and bankruptcy of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board—as well as losing much money themselves. But now we are at it again. There is a dash for the market place. The Tories are killing off the nationalised industries, and closing down a key independent body that can give advice, even though it was established by a previous Tory Government.
The Minister cannot stand aside from intervention in port policy. It is not possible for him to get rid of the assets and assume that he will not be involved in the development 930 of port policy. I warn him now to look at what is happening in the ports. There is a financial crisis in heavily subsidised London, Bristol and Liverpool, and one developing in Manchester and in other estuarial areas, due to the declining traffic and a switch of traffic from the West of the country to the East, resulting in surplus labour in areas with high severance costs. There will be a financial crisis in which he will be involved.
When we debated the Port of London (Financial Assistance) Bill 1980 the Minister said that he was not really intervening in the activities of the Port of London Authority because there had been a commitment by the Labour Government. Yet when hon. Members representing Merseyside and Liverpool constituencies said that the problem was the same there and asked for extra help, he said that he would not intervene. A written answer in December made it clear that he has already extended the right to borrow more. He may now find that what may affect anyone wishing to purchase shares in the British Transport Docks Board is the fact that he will be propping up so many other ports—for good reason; we shall probably support him in that exercise—and that will affect the BTDB and its share price. We shall have to see whether that happens, but those considerations are on the horizon and must be taken into account.
The Minister concluded in his press statement on the abolition of the National Ports Council thatThe Council should be wound up, and that the responsibility for the efficiency of the Ports Industry must now be put firmly on the ports themselves.That means a return in some cases to the same private sector influences that produced the crisis that Lord Rochdale had to resolve. With the heavy labour severance costs and surplus capacity in the major ports, how will it be possible for them to maintain efficiency without being given considerable financial help, which the Secretary of State will shortly have to recommend to the House?
Much has been said about the British Transport Docks Board. I have had much to do with the board in Hull over the years. Our exchanges have been controversial, but it cannot be denied that it is a profitable industry. The Secretary of State made it clear that the reason for the privatisation is the need to roll back the public sector. That is an ideological reason.
I am the last to condemn ideological reasons, because I campaign on ideological grounds myself. It is legitimate for the Secretary of State to say that he wishes to return parts of the public sector to the private sector. I disagree, but that must be the Minister's reason. There cannot be any other reason, because the BTDB is certainly not short of cash. It has made considerable profits, has £80 million in reserves and is not short of capital to meet its investment requirements. According to the Secretary of State, it has a good industrial relations record and it is certainly not disorganised. In another press handout, the Secretary of State said that it is a "happy mix of ports". He wants to keep 51 per cent. control in order to prevent the sale of profitable sections of the British Transport Docks Board.
The BTDB is a sound organisation which has done well in financial terms and would match any private sector return. We reject the Government view that the community should not continue to benefit from all its investments or that the national interest can be considered to be the same as the private interest. There are differences between the two sides of the House on those fundamental points.
931 The privatisation of the board is unique. It is a private company, free from Government control. The chairman declares that that is one of its advantages. It is free in finance, investment and development. It will have equity capital. It is said that the Secretary of State will hold 51 per cent. of the shares, though that is not written into the Bill. Questions are raised about those who will buy the other 49 per cent.
Presumably that minority will dictate the commercial policy of the board. The Minister says that he will not intervene in any decisions. The minority will appoint directors and determine commercial policy as they see fit. The Secretary of State will be holding 51 per cent. of the shares on behalf of the taxpayer, but he will not be prepared to intervene in decisions that will affect whole communities depending on ports. I do not know for how long the Secretary of State will be able to hold that position, but we do not believe that the taxpayer, who has put a lot on money into the industry, should be disadvantaged. We strongly disagree with the Government's proposals.
The Minister has also given up the right to appoint members to local boards, the consultative area bodies that will seek to exercise the influence of the community on major port developments in their areas. Their members will be appointed by the BTDB.
The Minister has removed the controls on sales to the private sector, but has guaranteed that there will be no takeover of the BTDB. I assume that that is his intention in holding 51 per cent. of the shares. He will allow the board to take over other companies while it is protected from being taken over itself. That is a unique sort of private company. Presumably it may be in the market to purchase the harbours that will be separated from Sealink under the Bill.
The Government go further. The nationalised industries have inevitably been restricted because the belief has been that as they are big organisations they may not use their power correctly. When the docks board goes private, it will be allowed to buy businesses, such as road haulage, shipping agency work and other firms doing work in the port areas which the nationalised industry could not do. The docks board will become stronger within its ports.
If anyone wishes to appeal to an independent body against BTDB dues he will be unable to, because the Minister has got rid of the statutory independent body to assess the position, such matters will be referred to him for judgment. That will considerably strengthen the private transport docks board. The Minister will be a major shareholder, but will not exercise any influence.
It is our belief that the users' interests will be significantly weakened. The Minister has made clear that he will not intervene in commercial matters except in the decision to sell off. I presume that in other areas, such as the appointment of directors and commercial policy, he will exercise no judgment. We think that is fundamentally wrong.
Another matter that causes concern is that the Bill gives the Minister powers to direct the selling of shares in this industry. Indeed, he may have to force the industry to sell at a most unfavourable time.
It has been said that the privatisation of Cook's was disadvantaged by this situation. It is possible that we will witness difficulties in the timing of such sales. A number 932 of public industries that are to be privatised will be trying to float their shares within the next two or three years. It will take a year before the effect of the Bill—the sale of assets—reaches the market. It is possible that the shares will be in the market at an unfavourable time for selling. The Government may have to decide whether to force some kind of share allocation against the commercial judgment to sell the shares after the election of the next Government. Clearly a political decision will have to be taken.
I conclude by repeating the comments made about British Rail investment. Nationalised industries have been disadvantaged by successive Governments over the past few years. They have not received sufficient money for investment. That is the unpalatable fact. That was because of Treasury rules on the amount of investment.
If we are prepared to say that our investment has not been sufficient to maintain the British railways system, the Minister should not say that, because he has given the same amount as the Labour Government gave, that should be enough.
It is evident for all to see that, according to the rail accident reports, insufficient attention has been paid to rail maintenance. There has been a reduction in the track on which trains travel. Investment in engines is insufficient. We have seen all kinds of examples. The Minister should be aware that productivity alone is not sufficient to solve this problem.
The Monopolies and Mergers Commission has pointed out in relation to railways in the South-East that productivity alone will not be sufficient to finance the investment requirement.
My final point is that, if the Minister provided as much money to British Rail as American and European Governments give to their railways systems, there would be no need to sell off subsidiaries to raise cash. But since he chooses not to do that or to allow sufficient investment, it is not surprising that British Rail management says that if its only choice is to get private investment, that is welcome because the system will collapse if it does not get it.
The important point for the Minister to recognise is that money can be given to the nationalised industries. They can utilise the possibility of raising money on assets, such as hotels. They do not need equity financing to achieve that means of financing by the private sector. However, that is prevented by Treasury rules. A 51 per cent. ownership means that it is a public sector industry. But that is apparently not so if it is a docks industry. The docks can be owned 51 per cent. and be free of the Treasury, but British Rail will be forced to sell 51 per cent. to be free of the Treasury.
It has been said that Tory Governments always use the opportunity to sell off profitable sectors to their friends. We are beginning to witness that again. The Government should know that any attempt to sell off or to direct the selling off of profitable sectors of nationalised industries within the period of the run-up to the election will be resisted by the Labour Party.
It should be made clear to all who seek to buy shares in these companies that they will not benefit from their action. As soon as the Labour Opposition are returned to power, they will take the quickest means possible to regain control of these sectors and to withdraw the obstacles that have prevented their development in the past. 933 If the Bill becomes law and allows the dissipation of public assets, thereby disadvantaging the public sector and the national interest, we shall not feel inhibited from acting for the public interest as strongly as this Government have acted for the private interest that they represent.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) sat down after what appeared to be a strong pronouncement on what a future Labour Government would do. As the transport policy of the Labour Party was not implemented by the Labour Government during their six years in office, many of those considering the position under this legislation may not be too daunted by what the hon. Gentleman said.
There are many subjects to cover in reply to what has been a wide-ranging debate on a wide-ranging Bill. This is the second Transport Bill that we have dealt with in this Parliament. In view of the number of hon. Members who wished to speak in the debate it is obvious that the House is anxious for a second instalment of the kind of legislation produced by my Department. We have had so many demands for extra subjects to be included that my right hon. Friend and I feel that a steady supply of legislation in this area is awaited with eagerness for the remainder of this Parliament.
This modest measure covers many subjects which break down into two broad issues. Two parts of the Bill are concerned with the denationalisation of some of British Rail's subsidiaries and the British Transport Docks Board. That follows from the powers that we took last year to denationalise the National Freight Corporation.
Several hon. Members have noticed that the methods and mechanics followed in each case have slightly varied. There is no absolute equivalent provision either for the NFC last year or for British Rail and the BTDB this year. I suggest that that shows that we are approaching the problems of the different nationalised industries in a pragmatic and reasonable way by looking at the different circumstances of each industry. We are not following a set, doctrinaire pattern. We are trying to give these industries—several of them neglected over the past few years—a proper opportunity of access to capital investment for sound commercial projects in their areas without the restraints that the public sector inevitably brings for trading companies. We are dealing with trading companies, and there seems no purpose in them remaining public sector companies. Indeed, they can thrive in the commercial world without close political and Treasury control. We believe that the Bill brings together the real interests of the general public, the taxpayers and the work forces in the industries.
There is another part of the Bill on a totally different, but transport-related, subject—road safety. Again, we have tried to adopt a commonsense approach to the provisions in that area. We have isolated the worst problems in our road traffic figures and tried to deal with them in a way which will seem fair to the ordinary motorist. It is important that the ordinary driver is not badgered with too much unnecessary regulation and does not become resentful of police powers in traffic matters. On the other hand, every responsible driver accepts the need for necessary rules to keep clown casualties and 934 shares the sense of shock that many hon. Members have expressed about the level of traffic accidents in some areas.
We have tried to keep a balance between the understandable resentment of the ordinary motorist against unfair interference in his motoring and improvements needed to tighten up road safety legislation. Some hon. Members have insisted that we have gone too far. Others have said that we have not gone far enough. No doubt in Committee they will be reassured on some issues that we have the balance about right for the broad mass of the general public.
First, I emphasise one provision of the Bill which is slightly outside the two main areas but which has been the subject of speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton), the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth). It is also a subject on which there is great public concern, I refer to the taxation of heavy lorries.
We are introducing provisions in the bill which will pave the way towards making very heavy lorries pay a proper contribution to their road costs through taxation. That policy was recently recommended to us by the Armitage report. It is something that we already had in mind, but we should have hesitated if Armitage had not endorsed it. Our policy is quite clear. All classes of lorry should pay in taxation at least the track cost which they impose. That is fair to the taxpayers, who pay for the maintenance of the roads. It also makes for fair competition with rail freight and other modes of transport. Tax on lorries also has to raise revenue, but how much it raises is a matter for the Chancellor, not for my right hon. Friend or myself. All tax from lorries together—fuel tax and vehicle excise duty—raised £1,035 million in 1979, but the actual levels for the future will not be decided by the Bill.
The structure is being changed because the present distribution of the burden of vehicle excise duty between different types of lorry is unfair and due for reform. Lorries as a whole pay more in vehicle excise duty than their total road track costs. The excess is expected to be more than £40 million in 1980–81. But most of the excess is paid by the lighter types of lorry. By a quite ridiculous arrangement, they, in effect, subsidise the bigger and heavier lorries which do most damage to the roads. The Armitage report estimated that 125,000 lorries do not pay their full road track costs through VED. Those are the heaviest, four-axled articulated vehicles. The provisions of clause 29 and schedule 10 enable us to change that by restructuring vehicle excise duty, although the timing of the actual changes will depend upon the Chancellor, as will the details of the rates to be charged.
I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) expresses the views of many in the road haulage industry when he speaks of the possibility of down-plating for larger lorries which carry lighter loads. Of course, we shall consider that point in Committee. But, as I think the material I sent to him made clear, there would be considerable difficulties if the owners of lorries were, in effect, choosing the weight at which they will tax their lorries. The main difficulties would be in enforcement.
I turn to an important point in response to the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness. The fact that on this issue we are acting in line with a recommendation of the recent 935 Armitage report on heavy lorries does not mean that in any way we have prejudged the position or formed a reaction to the other recommendations of that important report. Eventually, we very much hope that there will be a proper debate in the House. Certainly, any decisions by the Government on the Armitage report will need proper consideration, not least a debate in this Chamber. But, as I have said, that is slightly outside the main subject matter of the Bill.
A great deal of the debate has been taken up by controversial points on the denationalisation proposals contained in the first part of the measure. The Opposition's reactions to this policy are wholly predictable but quite disappointing. It is no good our debating for the next several months which of us is being more doctrinaire. It seems to me, from the points that have been made today, that very few Opposition Members are capable of taking a detached view of the actual needs of the businesses.
The needs of the businesses must be seen first and foremost in what they will do for their customers, for the industry that they serve and for the taxpayers who actually own and finance them in very large part. We must also bear in mind the interests of the management and work forces of those companies. It is consideration of those features which has led us to put forward the various powers for introducing private capital into the businesses which the Bill will enable us to put into effect.
The right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness, followed by several of his hon. Friends, such as the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson), was concerned about the impact on British Railways subsidiaries of any introduction of private capital for the finances of the main rail business. He claimed that this would damage British Rail because it would come straight off its external finance limit. When pressed, he was in some difficulty to say how it was that the chairman and the entire board agreed with our policy.
The position with regard to the EFL of British Rail is that the proceeds of any sale of shares in companies held by the holding company will go to the holding company and through it to the British Railways Board. The external finance limit of British Rail is negotiated annually by the Government, as it was by the previous Government, taking into account the full financial needs of British Rail.
We shall not do anything so crude as to take the total proceeds of any disposal of assets straight off the EFL of British Rail. On the other hand, when we negotiate the EFL each year, we must have regard to the interests of the general taxpayer and we must have a look at the progress that has been made in raising capital and disposing of assets. But this will merely be part of the ordinary annual EFL negotiating process. Obviously, the main rail business expects to get some benefit from the disposal of some of the subsidiaries, and that is why British Rail has agreed to the policy.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the loss of expectations which British Rail would experience from the subsidiaries being taken out of its control. But he ignores the fact that over the last five years these subsidiaries have been net takers from the rail business and have been financially supported by British Rail. They have been a burden on the taxpayer and have constituted an upward pressure on fares. Sealink alone took £50 million out of the business between 1975 and 1979. It is now returning to a 936 profitable situation, but that will be sustained only if it can maintain a sound commercial policy for the future, and that will best be maintained if it is put into the private sector.
Some of the attacks made by Labour Members about the understanding that we have with British Rail were quite unreal and did no credit to the judgment of the board, any more than they did to the judgment of Ministers, although I suppose they were not intended to do so. An understanding has been reached between ourselves and the board because we believe that the interests of the rail business coincide with the policy aims of the Government.
Of course there will be a need for considerable hard discussion between Ministers and British Rail as we proceed with the implementation of this policy. But we are in agreement with the members of the board—not, as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) suggested, because we had held a pistol to their heads but because together we are seeking to arrive at practical solutions to practical problems in businesses which the previous Government took no notice of and neglected for years and years. In particular, we are seeking a way in which capital investment can properly and responsibly be got into sound commercial projects.
It is our view that the best judgment of investment proposals in the area of the subsidiary businesses will come from the market. The best source of money for investment proposals, which will best ensure that money goes into sound commercial projects, is risk capital raised in the capital markets in the usual way. The future financing of investment in these industries should not be totally dependent on methods of raising capital by loans or otherwise, backed by an implied Government guarantee to a public sector company which is always subject to the approval of Whitehall in taking its investment decisions.
When a nationalised industry, with the approval of Government, borrows money in a wholly publicly-owned situation, particularly against a background of trading losses, it is no good saying that somehow that investment is not public spending or public sector borrowing. The money is being forwarded on an implied guarantee by Government, and that is regarded as a political decision by the markets which advance the money.
When control of the subsidiary businesses is transferred, and they assume the character of private sector companies, they will be free to go to the market without their borrowings counting towards British Rail's EFL, without their borrowings being part of the PSBR and without the need for the approval of my right hon. Friend. They will be trading in the private sector as commercial enterprises, and will benefit as a result.
The reaction of the two Opposition Front Bench spokesmen has been extraordinary. They say that there was not enough investment under their own Government, but they attack what they call the Treasury rules, which exercise some restraint on the amount of public sector borrowing by British Rail. Every Government, including their Government, have had to apply those rules for the reasons that I have given. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), with his experience at the Treasury, dealt with this matter. It is extraordinary to hear two Opposition Front Bench spokesmen implying that when they are returned to office all public sector restraints will be taken off the investment needs of the nationalised industries. Other private sector trading companies, having to raise their capital in the present 937 difficult climate, will not be encouraged to hear the kind of words that have been uttered about the basis on which the Opposition believe that investment should be raised for nationalised industries. Our approach is sensible, flexible and pragmatic and offers the best future for these businesses.
What is not helpful is the instinctive response of Opposition Members who start making dark threats about renationalisation when they come back to office and run the risk of frustrating all the investment plans of British Rail, the subsidiaries and the Government over the next few years by trying to cast a blight on the financial proposals that the Government put forward. The effect on the subsidiary businesses, in each case, should be welcomed both by those who use them and by those who work for them.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight and other hon. Members raised the question of Sealink. We are not breaking up Sealink; it is being disposed of as one business. It will be free to operate in the markets in the way that I have described. Closures take place now. It has just closed the Heysham-Belfast service. There is no reason why the change of ownership should imply the closure of future services. The closure of harbours, were that contemplated—there is no reason to think that it would be contemplated—would require legislation in almost every case. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend that the common law obligation to run the Tilbury-Gravesend ferries is not affected by the contents of the Bill.
I have been asked about Seaspeed, a subsidiary that does not have a good financial record. It is engaged in talks with Hoverlloyd. We are interested in those talks. At the moment we are not a party to them. There are some interesting prospects if overheads can be reduced by rationalising the businesses of these two competing and, at the moment, loss-making undertakings on the Channel. Those negotiations are not held up or directly affected by the passing of the legislation.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South pointed out that the Bill will affect all the subsidiaries. At the moment our agreement with British Rail covers Sealink, Seaspeed, the hotel business and the property business. We believe that together with British Rail we can forward the policy sensibly.
A different approach has been adopted to the British Transport Docks Board, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and other hon. Members asked a number of questions. It has been a strong and successful business in recent years, with a good and profitable record, although by no means free from problems, as the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Test and the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) made clear.
We are not seeking to break up the business. We are not seeking to sell off the most profitable assets. We are offering the opportunity for the business, as one company, to thrive in the private sector and to be freer of public sector constraints. It does have public constraints. It has an external financial limit imposed each year. So long as it remains 100 per cent. nationalised, when it could be a profitable and successful trading company, it is inhibited in more ways than it is helped in its development. That is the reason why the board of the British Transport Docks Board is anxious to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Government in the Bill.
938 In the first place we are retaining 51 per cent. of the shares for the Government. We have not written this into the Bill. Although our present policy intention is to keep 51 per cent. for some time, there is no magic about that figure, or a lasting commitment to it. We are following the precedent of BP where a Government majority holding was held. We will give it the character of a private sector company by not using our majority holding in any way to control the commercial policy of the holding company—the upper company of the two-tier structure described by my right hon. Friend. We shall continue to make it clear that we shall not stand behind the new company in garanteeing its borrowing in any way. Its new investment, therefore, will come from risk capital.
The Government gave an undertaking in relation to BP. We cannot regard as a private sector company a subsidiary in which British Rail retains a controlling interest. There is no basis on which a nationalised industry can give such an undertaking and so release a company from being a public sector company so long as it is owned by a 100 per cent. nationalised industry. It is not credible to make a subsidiary a private sector company if it has a British Rail majority interest.
§ Mr. Prescott
In the BP solution, in which private interests were involved, the Government appointed two directors to the board to ensure that their interests were taken into account in commercial decisions. That is not so under the Bill.
§ Mr. Clarke
We shall not appoint directors to pursue any commercial policy or to take any part in the commercial policy of the company. We have not taken a view on the possibility of circumstances arising that would make us interested in appointing directors out of sheer prudence to safeguard the value of the large sums of taxpayers' money wrapped up in the 51 per cent. shareholding. At this stage we believe that the public interest is best served, and the public holding best safeguarded, by turning the company into a genuine private sector company and by making it clear that commercially and financially it should operate in the private sector without control by the Government.
I turn to two further developments, relating to ports and harbours. My right hon. Friend dealt with the abolition of the National Ports Council. We believe that it is right at this stage, so many years after the NPC was founded, to give back to the ports a greater responsibility for ports policy. That does not diminish our praise for the work of the NPC.
The acid test of the arguments advanced by the Opposition Front Bench is the reaction of the ports industry to our proposal to wind up the NPC. The move has been welcomed by the ports industry generally. Not only the private sector of the industry welcomes the abolition; most of the public ports applaud our decision. They believe that the time has come to divide the functions between the ports and to leave only a few essential functions to the Secretary of State. We shall raise the limit on harbour development investment from £1 million to £3 million. We shall soon lay the order for that, as part of our relaxation of direct Government involvement in the investment decisions of ports.
I have left myself only a few minutes to deal with the other important parts of the Bill, which deal with road safety. Inevitably, many speeches have been made by hon. 939 Members who regret that we have not included measures that appeal to them. We have heard appeals for seat belts, road humps, action to help cyclists, and various other matters. All the arguments have been made in a generous spirit, but they have been ungenerous in the sum. The Government are extremely concerned about road safety. No Government legislation in that area has been presented with any serious prospect of success for about 13 years. The subject has been neglected.
If everybody's pet subject were included in the Bill it would be transformed from that which will command only one or two mornings in Committee to an all-embracing Bill that would obstruct Parliament's remaining business. We have tried to isolate the most serious and pressing problems.
I am pleased that nobody has had anything but praise for our provisions on motor cycle safety. It is to Parliament's credit that an area in which over 1,000 young people are killed each year is receiving such close attention and such support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) made a detailed speech and I should have liked time to deal with all the points that he raised. He mentioned the key decision that we face—whether to go for compulsory training. I understand my hon. Friend's interest in compulsory training, but, as I hope will emerge in Committee, we are satisfied that the provisions in the Bill will encourage and induce a high level of training among learner motor cyclists. We believe that these proposals will produce a far higher level of training than the present inadequate level. Any movement towards compulsory training is resisted by most training bodies, which believe that it would encourage the needless resistance of motor cyclists. Those motor cyclists should be encouraged to take up the training that is available.
Major controversy has arisen on the drink-driving proposals. Although there is general agreement that the law needed changing there is some doubt whether we have changed the right things. The Government have sought to retain the present levels—or an equivalent in terms of alcohol in the breath—of alcohol in blood and urine, but to improve the drafting of the law. We wish to simplify it, clarify it, remove needless technicalities and thereby to make it more difficult for the guilty to get off by means of silly technical defences. In addition, that will make it easier for the police properly to administer and enforce the law, and it will make the law more effective.
In particular, we have simplified the definition of the offence and we have taken out all the technical requirements for the taking of tests in order to remove the possibility of such defences. However, we have had to be circumspect about the circumstances in which the police can have the power to arrest a suspect. We had to be precise in order to protect the liberty of the individual. We have also been careful about police powers to require a test to be given at all. Those grounds continue to be described in the Bill.
Much debate has taken place about discretionary or random testing, for which many enthusiasts press. Given the present powers to require a test, it would be unnecessary and counter-productive to introduce random testing. The police can already take a test from someone who has been involved in an accident, or from someone who has been involved in a moving traffic offence. They 940 can already take a test from a person suspected of having alcohol in his body. We have strengthened those powers by extending them from the power to take a test from someone who is driving or attempting to drive, to the power to test someone who was driving before the police had an opportunity to apprehend him.
In the real world, how necessary is it to have complete discretion? The police can already make use of wide powers to deal with suspects. We all know that in the real world in which we live and drive one is more likely to be intercepted for a moving traffic offence at 11 o'clock on a Saturday night than at 3.30 on a Thursday afternoon. However, if complete discretionary testing were introduced the police would not have sufficient manpower. If they stopped every motorist they would have to test a lot of people whose tests would turn out to be positive. As my right hon. Friend said, one runs the risk of damaging police relations with ordinary members of the driving public. That should not be done lightly.
We are raising the penalty for hit-and-run driving by adding a nought. We are raising the fine from £100 to £1,000, because hit-and-run driving often occurs because people run away in order to escape the breathalyser test. We believe that that area of the law should be tightened up. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) wanted to go further on the subject of drink-driving. I was not surprised to hear that. He pointed out that we had not taken up a Blennerhassett recommendation dealing with high-risk offenders. I do not have time to do justice to my hon. Friend's case.
We rejected the Blennerhassett proposal because we could not work out a practical way in which magistrates' courts with a high-risk defendant before them could receive evidence on the question whether that defendant's problem was cured or whether he was likely to offend again. We believe that we have found other ways of tackling the problem. Under existing legislation we have administrative powers that enable us to revoke licences if people suffer from medical conditions that make their driving a danger to the public. There is no reason why that should not be extended to the high risk drinking and driving offender. We shall use those powers. I have no doubt that the road safety provisions will be debated at length in Committee. Equally, I have no doubt that they will receive the general approval of the House and that the Bill will receive the general approval of those who have the long-term interests of nationalised industries in mind as well as the need to cut down the carnage on our roads.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 312, Noes 235.
|Division No. 38]||[10 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Bendall, Vivian|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Benyon, Thomas (A'don)|
|Alexander, Richard||Benyon, W. (Buckingham)|
|Alison, Michael||Best, Keith|
|Alton, David||Bevan, David Gilroy|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Ancram, Michael||Biggs-Davison, John|
|Arnold, Tom||Blackburn, John|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Blaker, Peter|
|Atkins, Robert(Preston N)||Body, Richard|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E)||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas|
|Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone)||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Bowden, Andrew|
|Banks, Robert||Boyson, Dr Rhodes|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Bradford, Rev R.|
|Beith, A. J.||Braine, Sir Bernard|
|Bell, Sir Ronald||Bright, Graham|
|Brinton, Tim||Grist, Ian|
|Brittan, Leon||Grylls, Michael|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hamilton, Hon A.|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hawksley, warren|
|Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Buck, Antony||Heddle, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Henderson, Barry|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Burden, Sir Frederick||Hicks, Robert|
|Butcher, John||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Hill, James|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)||Holland, Phillip (Carlton)|
|Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Hooson, Tom|
|Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul||Hordern, Peter|
|Chapman, Sydney||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffery|
|Churchill, W. S.||Howell, Rt Hon d. (G'ldf'd)|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)||Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Howells, Geraint|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hurd, Hon Douglas|
|Cockeram, Eric||Iriving, Charles (Cheltenham)|
|Colvin, Michael||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Cope, John||Jessel, Toby|
|Cormack, Patrick||Johnson, Smith, Geoffrey|
|Corrie, John||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Critchley, Julian||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Crouch, David||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Kimball, Marcus|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Dover, Denshore||Kitson, Sit Timothy|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Knight, Mrs Jill|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Knox, David|
|Durant, Tony||Lamont, Norman|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lang, Ian|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Latham, Michael|
|Eggar, Tim||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Elliott, Sir William||Lawson, Nigel|
|Emery, Peter||Lee, John|
|Eyre, Reginald||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lester Jim (Beeston)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Lewi, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Faith, Mrs Sheila||Lloyd, Ian (Havant &W'loo)|
|Fell, Anthony||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Loveridge, John|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||McCrindle, Robert|
|Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||MacGregor, John|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||MacKay, John (Argyll)|
|Forman, Nigel||Macmillan, Rt Hon M.|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bjury)|
|Fox, Marcus||McNair-Wilson, M. (New F'st)|
|Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Fraser, Peter (South Angus)||Madel, David|
|Freud, Clement||Major, John|
|Fry, Peter||Marland, Paul|
|Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||Marlow, Tony|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Marshall Michael (Arundel)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Marten, Neil (Banbury)|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Mates, Michael|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mather, Carol|
|Goodhart, Philip||Maude, Rt Hon Angus|
|Goodhew, Victor||Mawby, Ray|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Gorst, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Gow, Ian||Mayhew, Partick|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Mellor, David|
|Gray, Hamish||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Greenway, Harry||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Grieve, Percy||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Griffiths, E. (B'y St. Edm'ds)||Mills, Peter (West Devon)|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Moate, Roger||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Molyneaux, James||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Monro, Hector||Shepherd, Richard|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Shersby, Michael|
|Moore, John||Sims, Roger|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Speed, Keith|
|Mudd, David||Speller, Tony|
|Murphy, Christopher||Spence, John|
|Myles, David||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Neale, Gerrard||Sproat, Ian|
|Needham, Richard||Squire, Robin|
|Nelson, Anthony||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Neubert, Michael||Stanley, John|
|Newton, Tony||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Nott, Rt Hon John||Steen, Anthony|
|Onslow, Cranley||Stevens, Martin|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Osborn, John||Stewart, J.(E Renfrewshire)|
|Page, John (Harrow, West)||Stokes, John|
|Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Page, Richard (SW Herts)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Parkinson, Cecil||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Parris, Matthew||Tebbit, Norman|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Pawsey, James||Thompson, Donald|
|Penhaligon, David||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Percival, Sir Ian||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Peyton, Rt Hon John||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Pink, R. Bonner||Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)|
|Pollock, Alexander||Trotter, Neville|
|Porter, Barry||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)||Vaugham, Dr Gerard|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Viggers, Peter|
|Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)||Waddington, David|
|Prior, Rt Hon James||Wainwright, R.(Colne W)|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Wakeham, John|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Raison, Timothy||Walker, Rt Hon P>(W'cester)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Walker, B. (Perth)|
|Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)||Waller, Gary|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Walters, Dennis|
|Renton, Tim||Ward, John|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Warren, Kenneth|
|Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Watson, John|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Rifkind, Malcolm||Whitney, Raymond|
|Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)||Wickenden, Keith|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Wilkinson, John|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Williams, D.(Montgomery)|
|Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Rossi, Hugh||Wolfson, Mark|
|Rost, Peter||Young, Sir George (Acon)|
|Royle, Sir Anthony||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Scott, Nicholas||Mr. Spencer Le Machant|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||And Mr. Anthony Berry.|
|Adams, Allen||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Allaun, Frank||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)|
|Anderson, Donald||Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest||Buchan, Norman|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n&P)|
|Ashton, Joe||Campbell, lan|
|Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Bagier, Gordon A.T.||Canavan, Dennis|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Cant, R. B.|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'we)||Carmichael, Neil|
|Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedgwood||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Cartwright, John|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro)||Cohen, Stanley|
|Bradley, Tom||Coleman, Donald|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)|
|Cook, Robin F.||Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)|
|Cowans, Harry||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Craigen, J. M.||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Crowther, J. S.||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Cryer, Bob||Kerr, Russell|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Lambie, David|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)||Lamborn, Harry|
|Dalyell, Tam||Lamond, James|
|Davidson, Arthur||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'Ili)||Leighton, Ronald|
|Davies, lfor (Gower)||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)|
|Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Dewar, Donald||Litherland, Robert|
|Dixon, Donald||Lofthouse, Geoffery|
|Dobson, Frank||Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)|
|Dormand, Jack||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson|
|Douglas, Dick||McCartney, Hugh|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Dubs, Alfred||McElhone, Frank|
|Dunn, James A.||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Dunnett, Jack||McKelvey, William|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Eadie, Alex||McNally, Thomas|
|Eastham, Ken||McNamara, Kevin|
|Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)||McTaggart, Robert|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||McWilliam, John|
|English, Michael||Magee, Bryan|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Martin, M (G'gow S'burn)|
|Ewing, Harry||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Faulds, Andrew||Maxton, John|
|Field, Frank||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Fitch, Alan||Meacher, Michael|
|Flannery, Martin||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Ford, Ben||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Forrester, John||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)|
|Foster, Derek||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)|
|Foulkes, George||Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)|
|Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Moyle, Rt Hon Ronald|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Newens, Stanley|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Ginsburg, David||Ogden, Eric|
|Golding, John||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Gourley, Harry||O'Neill, Martin|
|Graham, Ted||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Park, George|
|Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)||Parker, John|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Parry, Robert|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Pandry, Tom|
|Haynes, Frank||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Prescott, John|
|Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Home Robertson, John||Race, Reg|
|Homewood, William||Radice, Giles|
|Hooley, Frank||Richardson, Jo|
|Horam, John||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Howell, Rt Hon D.||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Huckfield, Les||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Robertson, George|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Robinson, G. (Cobentry NW)|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Rooker, J. W.|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Roper, John|
|John, Brynmor||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Ryman, John||Tilley, John|
|Sandelson, Neville||Tinn, James|
|Sever, John||Torney, Tom|
|Sheerman, Barry||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon R.||Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)||Watkins, David|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Walsh, Michael|
|Silverman, Julius||White, J. (G'gow Pollok)|
|Skinner, Dennis||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)||Whitlock, William|
|Snape, Peter||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Soley, Clive||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Spearing, Nigel||Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)|
|Spriggs, Leslie||Williams, Sir T.(W'ton)|
|Stallard, A. W.||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)|
|Stoddart, David||Winnick, David|
|Stott, Roger||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Strang, Gavin||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Straw, Jack||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)||Mr. Frank R. White and|
|Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)||Mr. Joseph Dean.|
|Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.