HC Deb 28 October 1985 vol 84 cc778-86

Queen's Recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Transport Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure of the Secretary of State—

  1. (a) in respect of remuneration and allowances paid to deputy traffic commissioners;
  2. (b) resulting from the establishment of a Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee.—[Mr. Ridley]

9.6 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

It is quite wrong that we should seek to pass this money resolution without making comment on it. This is typical of the way that the entire buses Bill has been handled since it was first brought before the House. What is happening at the moment is that we are rewriting this major piece of legislation as we go along. There have been not hundreds of amendments but possibly as many as 2,000, most of them coming from the Government, during the passage of the Bill, and it is extraordinary that tonight we are being asked to add, in a money resolution, two basic changes. While minor in themselves, these changes demonstrate very well some of the problems that have arisen during the passage of the Bill.

For example, the motion states: That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Transport Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment … in respect of remuneration and allowances paid to deputy traffic commissioners". This arises from the fact that Government's initial intention was that the general public should have very little access to the traffic commissioners. It was only an extremely serious amendment in Committee that changed this particular Bill. Then in another place the legislation was changed, but not, frankly, improved. We shall probably see during the discussion tomorrow a very clear indication that the Government's attitude towards the general public is that, if there is something wrong with transport, the police and the local authorities should have the right to make representations but the traffic commissioners should not.

We have suddenly had this added rush to put money into the Bill because the Minister has decided that there is going to be such general chaos, so many people rushing to the assessors or the traffic commissioners, that there will be considerable expenditure on fees for those ladies and gentlemen. While I welcome this rather tardy recognition of the fact that there will be a great deal of chaos following the passage of the Bill, it seems to me extraordinary that at the last minute there should be a demonstration, yet again, of the cavalier attitude that Ministers have taken throughout the passage of the legislation.

Turning to the second part of this money resolution, the authorisation of payment relates to the establishment of a disabled persons transport advisory committee. This is a very important matter which concerned us very much throughout the passage of the Bill. We wanted to make clear to the Government that at present many local authorities provide a very high standard of transport for the disabled. It is important that that be retained, taken in conjunction with the abolition of the metropolitan counties, but there is clear evidence that no such thing will happen.

We are now told by the Government, almost at the last minute, that we should have moneys for the establishment of a disabled persons transport advisory committee. It is therefore useful to look at the wording of the clause to find out exactly what the Bill is going to do. It becomes painfully obvious that the committee may consider any matter which is referred to it by the Secretary of State. It will also have the inestimable advantage of making a report to the Secretary of State, who will actually lay a copy of it before Parliament. The committee will have no power to insist that those who benefit at present from provision for the disabled will receive the same standard of care in the future. It is plain from the weak and waffling language of the clause that the advisory committee, as it is set up, will have matters referred to it by the Secretary of State and will have the great honour of being able to consider them, but it will be unable to come up with any real plan that would change the attitude of those transport authorities that will have to provide the services.

There is clearly a difference in the way that the Conservative party regards the capital and the rest of the country. Throughout the Bill's passage, we discussed the fact that London is to be excluded, and we asked why, if the buses Bill is such a great innovation and will do such a fantastically good job, the capital is being deprived of that high quality service. We are told that the Secretary of State intends that it shall apply to the capital before long.

When we consider this part of the money resolution, we find that the division between town and country is even stronger than we suspected. London has been given an extra £5 million to deal with the problems of the disabled, after the GLC has been abolished, because London's voters have a clear view of the excellence of the service. Those of us who have seen it working know that it is an accurate view. The work done by the GLC in providing transport for the disabled of London has set a high standard that could be copied to considerable advantage elsewhere in the country. In effect, we shall have a two-tier attitude—the GLC receives £5 million while the rest of the country receives nothing. On that basis, I am afraid that we can only assume that, as with so much of the Bill, the Secretary of State has not worked out the effect that that will have on the transport industry as a whole and on the lives of ordinary people, or the way that it will operate.

Tomorrow we shall be considering the final stage of a massive piece of legislation which will completely alter the bus industry. Yet here we are — not just at the eleventh hour, but at the eleventh hour and——.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Fifty-nine minutes.

Mrs. Dunwoody

My hon. Friend says 59 minutes, but I prefer to say 55 minutes—making massive changes which will suddently, we are told, provide money for two basic parts of the legislation.

Had the Bill been properly prepared, none of that general atmosphere of incompetence would have originated. Had the Transport Bill become the Transport Act 1986, there would have been time for consultation with the relevant authorities and with the various groups, such as the disabled and those who provide specialised transport. There would have been at least time for the parliamentary draftsmen to produce a piece of legislation that did not need to be written once, or twice, but all the time in both places, because the House of Lords must have dealt with even more amendments than we did in the House of Commons.

This change was requested not once, but several times. and was discussed ad infinitum in Committee. It was finally brought forward on Report in another place. If that is not a classic demonstration of at best incompetence and at worst a totally unprepared, ill thought out and very damaging piece of legislation, I should like to know what is.

The Secretary of State for Transport has pushed the Bill through although it is badly drafted. Half the people who have been consulted are totally opposed to it. The reaction of the Conservative party in country areas shows that those who know about the needs of rural areas and of transport are absolutely opposed to this legislation. Yet, even now, the House is being asked to make various changes.

If the Secretary of State for Transport would like to do us all a great favour, even at this late stage, he should not be making tiny changes here and there which he thinks ought to have been made before, but which somehow or other he could not bring himself to accept; he should not be redrafting right up to the moment when the legislation leaves the other place; he should be saying "At long last I am demonstrating a side of my nature which no one suspected. I am an infinitely reasonable, tolerant and intelligent man, so I have decided that the best possible thing to do with the Transport Bill is to throw it into the wastepaper basket.".

9.17 pm
Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

I agree with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), but I was concerned when she said that the Minister was treating the GLC and therefore London differently from the rest of the country because the Minister may find the income available for the disabled persons transport advisory committee within the GLC to carry out any amendments that it wants but not make that money available for the rest of the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich will remember that a difference was revealed between the pensioners in London and those in the rest of the country in the debate that we had on concessionary bus passes. There was also a difference of opinion among the Tory Back Benchers on our Committee considering the Transport Bill and the Tory Back Benchers on the Committee of the London Regional Transport Bill. The Tory Back Benchers on the London Regional Transport Bill had backbone whereas the Tory Back Benchers on our Bill had no backbone at all and did not have the guts to support our amendment, which would have written into the Transport Bill the same amendment that was written into the London Regional Transport Bill and thus have guaranteed pensioners concessionary passes. I am rather surprised therefore of the reaction of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich as the fact that there is no money available for areas outside London although money is available for London is consistent with the Secretary of State's track record.

I do not oppose this money resolution because it will provide remuneration for people on the disabled persons transport advisory committee. Funds will also be made available for the deputy traffic commissioners. The Bill will give the Secretary of State power to appoint members to the committee and to grant remuneration. Not only will the Secretary of State be able to appoint his hacks but he will be able to decide how much his hacks get. Every time we have discussed London transport, the Secretary of State has talked about Ken Livingstone providing jobs for the boys. Under this Bill the Secretary of State will appoint a number of deputy commissioners or whatever their designation may be and after he has appointed them he will decide how much to pay them.

With this little measure the Secretary of State has done what he was determined from the outset to do. He said that he would rewrite the Bill and he has done just that, but he has not changed the plot. The result will be chaos in the transport industry. Even on Third Reading in the House of Lords, there were 70 amendments. An ill-conceived Bill has been rushed through by a Secretary of State with very little idea how transport should be run. The result will be chaos and those who suffer most will be people in the rural areas and in metropolitan districts such as Tyne and Wear, where one of the best transport systems in the country will be in jeopardy. Therefore, although we shall not oppose this little money resolution today, we shall certainly make our voices heard in relation to the Bill itself tomorrow.

9.20 pm
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

Those of us who took part in the Committee stage of the Transport Bill and who are said to have no spine are especially grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for introducing the amendments in the money resolution. It comes very badly from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) to say that the Bill is ill-conceived, as we remember sitting for hours on end listening to opening speeches from the Opposition on clause 1 which amounted to general statements about transport in this country. Those speeches took up almost 100 hours of the Committee's time, with the result that the Bill was guillotined. The hon. Lady cannot complain that the Bill was ill-conceived and that there was no consultation when the Opposition set out from the beginning to prevent any sensible discussion on it.

Provision for the disabled is a prominent feature of the money resolution. I and my colleagues in the Committee —two or three of them are present today—welcome the provisions for the disabled persons transport advisory committee. Conservative Members made it clear to the Secretary of State that special provision ought to be made for the disabled and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took our advice and undertook to amend the Bill. He has fulfilled that undertaking and carried it through to the House of Lords. Whatever the Opposition may say, that stance on the part of the Secretary of State resulted from the initiative taken by Conservative Members of the Committee. So much for the criticism that we had no spine and no guts. It is because we stood up and said what we thought that all transport authorities and bus operators will be bound to provide concessionary fare schemes, especially for the disabled. The fact that it will be for authorities to opt out rather than in is of great importance in terms of the money available as a result of this measure.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich referred to transport problems in rural areas. As a result of the Bill, villages such as the one in which I live in my constituency which have only two buses a week will be able to have a much more flexible transport system to take people into the local market town to do their shopping and other business. Contrary to Opposition scaremongering, the taxi provisions and the extension of licensing provisions to allow minibuses and other rural transport to flourish will be welcomed by people in the rural areas when they appreciate what the long-term effects of the Bill will be.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford upon Avon)

My hon. Friend was speaking of his experience in the rural areas of Lancashire. I can confirm from my experiences in Warwickshire that there are enterprises preparing to offer new public transport services in rural areas which previously had highly unsatisfactory services. I anticipate that we shall see the fruits of this legislation quickly, and that they will parallel the excellent consequences of the deregulation of the sale of spectacles. Such deregulation has resulted in enterprises offering a new, improved range of services. Evidence suggests that exactly the same will happen with regard to transport.

Mr. Hind

It has been suggested that this money resolution is a patching-up operation, due to the lack of consultation. The representations of some Labour-controlled local authorities with transport responsibilities were notable for their absence. The Lancashire county council, if I may use a cricketing expression, took their bats home and refused to have anything to do with the Committee.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?.

Mr. Hind


Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?.

Mr. Hind

It was notable that, when I was called upon in Committee to make what I thought were sensible speeches on behalf of those I represent in Lancashire, I had to rely upon transport planners from authorities other than those of Lancashire because they refused to take part in the debate.

Mr. Rogers

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Hind


It must be borne in mind that the lack of consultation has been used as an excuse by many Labour-controlled authorities to stall and do nothing on this Bill. If the result is chaos, the public can ask those authorities why that is so. The answer is that, right the way through, they have refused to do anything.

Mr. Rogers

Perhaps I may correct the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hind

I do not need to be corrected.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Only one hon. Member may be on his feet at one time. If the hon. Member is patient he may be called.

Mr. Hind

I do not wish to appear uncharitable, Mr. Speaker. I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Rogers

I thank the hon. Gentleman and I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for subtly making the hon. Gentleman give way. The hon. Gentleman said that there was no pressure from the Lancashire area in connection with this Bill. Does he not remember that one of the leaders of the opposition to this Bill was my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) who, very forcibly on occasions, Dut forward the views of the Lancashire county council and the local authorities in that area? I would like to remind the hon. Gentleman that he was not present on one occasion to support his own amendment.

Mr. Hind

I accept that the amendment was eventually withdrawn. However, the Front Bench spokesman to whom the hon. Gentleman refers represents Wigan and the views of Greater Manchester, not Lancashire.

In terms of advice, support and pressure, Lancashire county was deliberately absent and chose to take no part in the proceedings. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about Greater Manchester but my statement on Lancashire is true and I will not resile from it.

Mr. Speaker

If I may say to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), I do not get hon. Members to give way. It is up to them.

Mrs. Dunwoody

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Is it genuine?

Mrs. Dunwoody

Yes. It seems that the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) is misrepresenting a Lancashire Member who sat on the Committee for many hours and gave clear voice to all of the views of Lancashire people which, frankly, cannot be said of the hon. Member for Lancashire, West.

Mr. Speaker

I was not on the Committee, so I do not know that.

Mr. Hind

The hon. Lady deliberately misconstrues what I said. I said that the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council deliberately chose to take no part.

Mrs. Dunwoody

That is not true.

Mr. Hind

That council might have written to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), but it chose not to write to Conservative Members on the Committee who represent the Lancashire community. My constituency is called Lancashire, West— it could not be more clear which part of the county I represent.

Mr. Rogers

The Irish sea. That is west Lancashire.

Mr. Hind

Opposition Members may complain, but if the Bill is a mess, as the hon. Lady has said, it will be as a result of the failure of Labour-controlled local authorities to work for its implementation.

9.30 pm
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Labour Members have said that the Bill was ill thought out. I have had conversations with several Members of another place who were amazed at the number of amendments that they were expected to vote through almost on the nod after the Bill had received such an exhaustive Committee stage here. Although I accept that the Government might feel that some clauses were not reached because of controversy on earlier clauses, it is nevertheless clear that many amendments were introduced late.

No Opposition Member would vote against the proposed rather niggardly provision, but it appears from what I have read this week that the Government might have been better advised to have written in some underwriting of a pension provision for members of the National Bus Company who are understandably worried about their pensions after privatisation. Employees of the Scottish Bus Group are not going on strike in support of colleagues in England and Wales because the Scottish Bus Group is not to be privatised. Employees there feel that their pensions are better safeguarded. I hope that they are right.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) complained of discrimination as between London and the rest of the country, but there is a further discrimination—of which we do not complain as yet—between England and Wales and Scotland. Presumably because of pressure from the Scottish Office, the Scottish Bus Group is to be retained as a public corporation, and that will give continuity for pension rights. That merely illustrates the illogicality of the Government's thinking in introducing the Bill.

There has been pressure from employers, unions and everyone else associated with the Bill for a properly underwritten guarantee of pension rights. It is regrettable that the Secretary of State has failed to write such provision into the money resolution. He is launching a bout of chaos on the country. There will be uncertainty for employees and an unpredictable service for bus users, all on the back of limited and somewhat contradictory experiments.

The Secretary of State has a nerve to return to the House so late and claim that the Bill was well prepared—it clearly was not—and that the resolution is anything like a definitive response to the criticisms of the gaps in the Bill and its financial provisions made here, in Committee, and in another place. So far, the Government have not responded to the protests. The workers look forward only to uncertainty and passengers can look forward only to worrying whether rather than when a bus will come along.

9.34 pm
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhonnda)

I have been prodded into speaking by what the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) said, especially as he extolled the Bill's virtues. Anybody who sat through the Committee stage will realise that this Bill has been cobbled together. The Secretary of State and his junior Minister, who took us through most of the time as the Secretary of State was absent, did not know what it was all about and on most occasions they had to rely quite heavily on civil servants to explain to them the meaning of some clauses.

One of the aspects of legislation which I should have thought any Government drafting legislation would consider was whether they could judge the effect their legislation would have in six months or a year. I challenge the Secretary of State to tell the House now or tomorrow what the state of transport will be in six months or a year. It was quite obvious in Committee that they were not able to forecast the state of transport. It is the lack of scientific analysis and logical progression in putting forward this Bill that disturbs me.

I do not know why the hon. Member for Lancashire, West is so happy. The hon. Member for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell), the junior Minister who took the Bill through Committee, was not happy and his arguments were not based on a proper analysis of the problem. The Government set up trial areas and made some money available for certain experiments to be carried out, and yet we had the ridiculous situation of the Minister of State, Department of Transport saying to the Committee, "Oh, yes, we are basing our views on experiments that were carried out in Hereford and I have first hand experience of those. I went there myself and asked people".

Mr. Speaker

May I direct the hon. Member's attention to the money resolution? He is going a little wide of that.

Mr. Rogers

I am not going particularly wide, Mr. Speaker, because I am saying that the Government are now asking for money, but during the preparatory stages of this Bill they did not ask for money to carry out properly funded experiments on the future of British transport. We ended up with the ridiculous situation of the Minister of State perambulating around Hereford chatting up people to find out what they thought of the experiments. Anyone who reads the reports of the proceedings in Committee will see the ill-founded bases of the Bill. The money that is being put forward to cover some of the difficulties that the Bill will bring about in our transport system will not be sufficient to cover the lack of awareness and lack of preparedness of the Government in reorganising the transport system.

9.37 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) was not quite sure of her attitude to the money resolution and the amendments that relate to it, which will be taken tomorrow. At one moment she described them as massive changes and a little later she said they were tiny changes. She will have to make up her mind before tomorrow whether she regards the amendments as massive changes or tiny changes. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady made a mountain out of a molehill, because the two measures concerned with the money resolution are minor and I will reply to the debate on the two limited points within the resolution.

Ever mindful of the admonition which you, Mr. Speaker, gave to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), I should not like to stray into the tempting country which the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) strayed into when he talked about dial-a-ride and concessionary fares and the Tyne and Wear metro, or into the matter mentioned by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), who talked about pensions and wondered whether the Scottish Bus Group should be denationalised. Those are matters which can quite properly be raised tomorrow. I will confine myself to the limited resolution before the House.

The first point concerns deputy traffic commissioners. Instead of having three traffic commissioners as has been the case for route service licensing, we are now to have one traffic commissioner. The practice with heavy goods vehicles has been to have one deputy traffic commissioner who will stand in for the commissioner if he is sick or on holiday or if the pressure of work is too great. Throughout the Bill's proceedings, the same practice was suggested for the traffic commissioners in the context of buses. The deputy chairmen are not employed on full-time salaried posts but are paid fees for the cases they take.

I freely admit that there was a drafting mistake, in that the Bill and the original money resolution allowed for salaries to be paid to the traffic commissioner and those he employs, but they did not permit fees to be claimed by the deputy traffic commissioners. This was an oversight, and had the Standing Committee been doing its job properly instead of wasting 44 hours on clause 1 it might have picked up the odd point such as that. However, if that was the worst mistake we made, that is not too bad.

The disabled persons transport advisory committee was established in response to our debates on the interests of the disabled. Lady Lane-Fox moved an amendment in another place to make the existing non-statutory committee a statutory one. That non-statutory committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, advised her and me on all matters associated with transport for the disabled. The amendment was welcomed in another place, and, from what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich has said, it seems that this House will welcome the change.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich complained that the disabled persons transport advisory committee would have no powers to insist on this, that or the other being done, but the purpose of advisory committees is to give advice, not to have powers to insist on things being done. This committee has existed for a long time and has met with considerable success in improving public transport for the disabled.

This change, which is generally welcome both in this House and in another place, requires that the statutory committee should be rewarded only by means of expenses, but there is no power in the Bill to pay the expenses of the members of that committee. That power is not in the Bill because the committee was not statutory when the legislation was first published and went through Committee. If hon. Members wish to have a change of this sort made, they must accept the fact that an extra money resolution is needed.

Those are the two small points dealt with in this money resolution, which I commend to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Transport Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure of the Secretary of State—

  1. (a) in respect of remuneration and allowances paid ro deputy traffic commissioners;
  2. (d) (b) resulting from the establishment of a Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee.