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Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Money

Volume 930: debated on Friday 29 April 1977

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Queen's Recommendation having been signified

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to enable the requirements of Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1960 and other requirements applying to or in connection with public service vehicles to be modified in areas designated as experimental areas by the Secretary of State, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase in rate support grant which is attributable to any provision of the said Act of the present Session authorising the making of arrangements for the grant of travel concessions.—[Mr. Graham.]

4.10 p.m.

We have already taken some time after 4 o'clock today, and I know that there is at least one hon. Member who has an urgent engagement outside the House besides the Minister. Therefore, I do not think that it would be right to take up much time on the Money Resolution this afternoon, for that reason and that reason alone. Otherwise, it would be right to take up the allotted time and go on until 4.55 p.m. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister—the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam)—is very happy that someone else has an engagement outside the House besides himself. However, if this becomes a habit I shall have to rethink the procedure.

The Money Resolution authorises an addition to the rate support grant in respect of the expenditures authorised in the Bill. I should like to ask, first whether any addition to the rate support grant as a result of the Bill and of this Money Resolution is thought likely to be additional to the rate support grant that would otherwise be authorised. That is, of course, always a difficult question to which to find the answer, because no one knows what the rate support grant would otherwise be. We shall not know that until next year, by which time these particular expenditures will no doubt be mopped up and embraced in the total for the rate support grant, which, being very large, will swamp the minor expenditure involved in the Bill.

I notice that the last paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum on the Bill states:
"The effect of the Bill on public funds is not expected to be significant, and it is envisaged that there will be no additional manpower requirements."
It is all very well to say that the expenditure will not be significant, but what does that mean? Are we talking of £10,000 a year or £500,000 a year? Just how much are we talking about? I can think of other expenditures that any sane person would regard as not being significant in relation to any line in the public expenditure lists. I think particularly of the amount of money that would be needed to reopen the closed ward in St. Mark's Hospital in Islington, the cost of the reopening of which, as you may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be only about £4,000 a month. By any standards, that is not a significant amount in order to restore a hospital of international reputation to its full working condition.

As a result of the reluctance of the various authorities to allow that £4,000 a month to be spent—£1,000 a week, let us say—a significant number of people, women in particular, are not able to be admitted from the waiting list to that hospital for treatment for various very serious bowel conditions, and even cancer of the bowel.

The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum on the Bill states that the effect of the Bill on public funds is not expected to be significant. What I want to know is whether it is likely to be more or less than £50,000 a year. If it is more than £50,000 a year and can be dismissed in this throw-away language in the Financial Memorandum to the Bill, I should like to know how this money can be treated as nought while the money required to keep open a ward in a hospital such as St. Mark's is regarded as something so terrifically significant.

There are other questions. According to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum,
"The Bill empowers the Secretary of State to designate experimental areas within which the law relating to public service vehicles may be modified by authorisations granted by local authorities."
Is it the expectation that there would be one experimental area, half a dozen, or what? No one can glean from the memorandum to the Bill just how many such places are likely to be authorised. If more than 10, 20 or 30 are authorised, I imagine that the expenditure is likely to come above the figure I have quoted for the expenditure needed to reopen the cancer ward at St. Mark's Hospital.

I repeat the concern I expressed last Friday about the bringing on of these Money Resolutions at this time of the week. I do not see why the House of Commons should be bothered on a Private Members' Bill day with Money Resolutions of this kind. Money Resolutions are not private business. If I had put down this Money Resolution, it would have not have got onto the Order Paper and if it had it would not have been called. A Money Resolution has to be put forward by a Minister of the Crown. Therefore, although a Money Resolution might relate to a Government Bill or to a Private Member's Bill, it is Government business, not private business. Therefore, it should not be tagged on to the end of the day which the House has chosen to allocate to Private Members' Bills. That does not prevent Government motions coming on at the end. Two more Government motions are coming on after this one which the House in its wisdom will no doubt pass.

As I did last week, I wonder whether the reason behind the bringing forward of a motion like this on a Friday is not that it happens to be a day upon which the Bill is on the Order Paper but that it is thought to be a day on which it might be possible to slip the thing through without any aggrieved Member, like myself, being around to stop it.

I hope that the Minister will address himself to at least the first of the points I have made. I do not expect him to do any more. I shall understand, as will my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), if he is brief. Roughly, what amount of money are we talking about? Is it likely to be under or over £50,000.

4.19 p.m.

In spite of the unexpected nature of the circumstances, I can reply specifically to my hon. Friend. There will be four specific areas designated under the Bill. They will be small in number and small in area. The areas are North Devon, North Yorkshire, Dyfed and South Ayrshire.

I suppose that any extra expenditure incurred would be in addition to rate support grant in the sense that it would not have been incurred if the Bill did not get through. The Bill is designed only to cope with concessionary fares and the use of concessionary fares in unconventional forms of transport. The Bill is designed to provide for that in four particular areas as an experiment only. The amount of money involved is very small indeed.

All the administration of concessionary fares will remain as before. It will simply mean, for example, that a person who has a bus pass will be able to use it not only on the normal stage carriage service but when travelling in a neighbour's car or a car run by the WRVS. This is allowed under the scheme but not under the ordinary bus licensing system. To that extent, my guess is that the amount of money involved will be considerably less than £50,000 a year. Those are the fairly clear answers to my hon. Friend's questions.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to enable the requirements of Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1960 and other requirements applying to or in connection with public service vehicles to be modified in areas designated as experimental areas by the Secretary of State, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase in rate support grant which is attributable to any provision of the said Act of the present Session authorising the making of arrangement for the grant of travel concessions.