House Of Commons
Monday 31st July 1978
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Death Of A Member
I regret to have to inform the House of the death of John Pitcairn Mackintosh, esquire, Member for Berwick and East Lothian, and I desire, on behalf of the House, to express our sense of the loss we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the honourable Member.
British Railways Bill
Motion made and Question proposed,
That so much of the Lords Message [26th July] as relates to the British Railways Bill be now considered.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.
Sheffield General Cemetery Bill
That so much of the Lords message [26th July] as relates to the Sheffield General Cemetery Bill be now considered.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
So much of the Lords Message considered accordingly.
That the Promoters of the Sheffield General Cemetery Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings theron in order to proceed with that Bill in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office of their intention to suspend further proceedings not later than the day before the close of the present Session and that all fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid;
That on the fifth day on which the House sits in the next Session the Bill shall be presented to the House;
That there shall be deposited with the Bill a Declaration signed by the Agents for the Bill, stating that the Bill is the same in every respect, as the Bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the present Session;
That the Bill shall be laid upon the Table of the House by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office on the next meeting of the House after the day on which the Bill has been presented and, when so laid, shall be read the first, second and third time and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read;
That no further fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which fees have already been incurred during the present Session;
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Tamar Bridge Bill
That so much of the Lords Message [26th July] as relates to the Tamar Bridge Bill be now considered.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
So much of the Lords message considered accordingly.
That the Promoters of the Tamar Bridge Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with that Bill in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office of their intention to suspend further proceedings not later than the day before the close of the present Session and that all fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid;
That on the fifth day on which the House sits in the next Session the Bill shall be presented to the House;
That there shall be deposited with the Bill a Declaration signed by the Agents for the Bill, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the present Session;
That the Bill shall be laid upon the Table of the House by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office on the next meeting of the House after the day on which the Bill has been presented and, when so laid, shall be read the first, second and third time and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read;
That no further fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which fees have already been incurred during the present Session;
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what further measures he will introduce to conserve energy.
As my right hon. Friend said in his statement on energy conservation to the House last December, and repeated in the Green Paper on energy policy, we shall bring forward further measures to conserve energy as and when necessary. This year the Government have introduced the energy conservation scheme to encourage savings in industry and commerce, and the Homes Insulation Bill to provide assistance for private householders. The "Save It" campaign is also being continued and developed, including co-operation with the nationalised fuel industries. Our programme is a continuing one and further measures will be introduced as appropriate.
Has the Secretary of State had discussions with the Department of Transport on the savings that might come from the electrification of railways? Has he any further plans for new sources of renewable energy which themselves would conserve energy?
We discuss electrification with the Department of Transport and throughout the Government. My right hon. Friend recently published a further statement on our commitments towards the so-called alternative sources of energy. We expect them to make a small but significant contribution to our overall energy supplies by about the end of this century but not a great contribution before then.
Does the Minister recognise that the only method of conserving energy which is not inherently wasteful of efforts and resources is the use of the price mechanism?
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that it was this Administration which got the fuel industries out of the accumulated deficits which had accrued under the previous Administration.
Has my hon. Friend had any studies carried out on the energy saving aspects of waterborne transport and, if so, has he discussed the matter with the Secretary of State for the Environment with particular reference to improving the Sheffield and South Yorkshire navigation?
This is principally a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and the British Waterways Board. We have looked at the possible consequences of energy conservation in this area, but I must tell my hon. Friend that energy conservation results alone would not make massive shifts to waterborne transport worth while. There would have to be other considerations and, indeed, there are. On the grounds of energy conservation, it is not really a priority.
As it is generally recognised that the biggest contribution to energy conservation can come from a more efficient use and production of electricity, will the Minister now say when he expects to come forward the working party report on combined heat and power proposals, and what action he proposes to take in the meantime?
I should like to say when the report and proposals are to come forward, but I cannot tell the House that a date has been agreed for the report. It is overdue. I hope that we shall have the report before too long, but I cannot make any commitment until we have seen the working party's recommendations.
Power Stations (Coalburn)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has any firm evidence indicating that it might be possible to increase the proportion of coal burned at power stations in the United Kingdom without directly or indirectly passing on higher costs to the public.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with the current level of coal-burn by power stations.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his proposals to alter the merit order of power stations in favour of more coalburning; and what conversations he has had with the trade unions in the electricity supply industry on the matter.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the current position of coal stocks at power stations.
Stock levels at power stations and at pithead are high and could increase further. In order to make the greatest possible use of our indigenous resources, I have put in hand with the National Coal Board and the Central Electricity Generating Board an urgent examination of the potential for burning additional quantities of coal in power stations to displace imported oil and coal. The study, which is still continuing, is being conducted on the basis that there would be no additional cost to the electricity consumer.
I thank the Secretary of State for that relatively full reply, but does not the observation of the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board that
indicate that the right hon. Gentleman's policy of trying to make power stations more dependent upon coal rather than on cheaper forms of energy is both unfortunate and wrong? Will he agree that his policy will result, or is likely to result, in an increase of electricity prices next years of some 11 per cent.?"the significant price advantage that coal has over oil has largely withered away"
No, I reject that, as I made clear in my answer, but the House should appreciate that in the context of energy policy the fuelburn must be a matter for national consideration. On a number of occasions the Central Electricity Generating Board has urged me to tax gas, and I have taken the view that that is not a sensible course for us to pursue. The board accepts that we shall not permit gas-fired power stations to be built. That has been accepted. What does not make sense is to stock coal at home and import it from abroad and to import oil from abroad at a balance of payments cost when coal, which is an indigenous source of energy, is available to us. I believe that this can be done without imposing any increase of prices for the electricity consumer, and I hope that my studies will show that to be so.
Since many of the coal industries in western Europe are now facing difficulties, largely because of the fall-off in demand for blast furnace coke, what help can we expect from the EEC towards solving what I believe will be a temporary problem since this industry will be utterly central to our economic thinking in 10 years' time?
I agree with the last part of that supplementary question: coal is the one resource which we can rely on for 300 years or more, and it would be lunatic to close pits in order to permit imports of coal and oil which may temporarily appear to be cheaper but which will not be available to us. As regards western Europe, the House should know that each individual German miner is subsidised by the German Government to the extent of £6,700 a year. Our coal is £10 a tonne cheaper than any other coal in Europe, and ours is much the most efficient mining industry. It would be absurd for me to put it at risk in pursuit of short-term market fluctuations which may well not persist.
But will not my right hon. Friend agree that it is a serious matter to take a positive step by political decision to lower the efficiency of our electricity supply system? In fact, it is a sin against the light. Has my right hon. Friend taken into account that the electricity supply trade unions are very doubtful about the wisdom of this step, and will he consult them first?
When I discussed the matter in the context of the situation in south Wales, the electricity trade unions were present. As my hon. Friend knows, the unions in the TUC fuel and power committee, under the chairmanship of Frank Chapple, have been urging upon the Government for a long time an integrated national energy policy looking long term. This is the inevitable consquence of looking long term—that one does not set at risk secure supplies of fuel in pursuit of short-term market interests. Nor have I ever known the electricity unions to fail to draw to my attention the economic disadvantage which they suffer vis-a-vis gas—my hon. Friend has made that point—and I think that energy policy must be made by a Minister answerable to Parliament. That is the view which I take.
Notwithstanding the concerted attack by Tory backwoodsmen on the mining industry today at Question Time, will my right hon. Friend give a guarantee for the future of Britain's coal industry and give an assurance that there will not be any more oil-fired power stations built while we have this massive quantity of indigenous coal still under our soil?
I am happy to respond to my hon. Friend's supplementary question in this way. I am in favour of using indigenous supplies of fuel, and that applies not only to coal but to our nuclear programme for which we have a considerable indigenous capacity. As the House will know, I have recently told the Central Electricity Generating Board that I am not prepared to authorise the Inswork Point oil-fired power station, and I believe that that, too, is a sensible decision in the light of all the factors which I have described.
Is the Secretary of State aware that a nuclear power station will produce energy—electricity—at 62 per cent. of the cost of coal? Would it not therefore be wiser to have a nuclear power station near Plymouth? Further, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has no statutory power to compel the CEGB to consume more coal? He has not got clause 2(2) and clause 9(2) of the draft Bill passed by the House.
I appreciate that, but at the same time I have responsibilities placed upon me by statute to co-ordinate the nation's energy policies, and I have to do the best I can in the circumstances which confront me. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government announced in April that, in their view, the power of specific directive ought to be available—
The Minister has not got it.
—subject to proper parliamentary approval. The hon. Gentleman might notice that nuclear power depends upon uranium, and last week the European Commission prevented me from signing an agreement with the Australian Government to buy uranium. I have to take account of a number of factors in considering the future availability of supplies.
Will my right hon. Friend take it that his policy will be welcomed not only in south Wales but in all mining areas, and he should pursue his objective of getting an integrated energy policy? Does he accept that, although great profits are now being made by all the energy industries—gas, electricity and coal—there ought to be a long-term policy recognising, as he said, that there is at least 300 years' supply of coal, probably more, available to us?
Obviously, I agree with my hon. Friend, but from the questions put from the Opposition Benches it would appear that the lessons of 1973 have been forgotten and Conservative Members are really advocating pit closures, which would put us at the mercy of vast increases in the prices of imported oil or imported coal to which we should then be subject.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the real threat of pit closures comes from his Government who have been so slow in recognising the problem which they now face? In the light of the productivity scheme, which was bound to give rise to this concern about higher stocks and the problem of coalburn, why has he been so slow and only now begun to consider the problem? Does he maintain, as he did in "Coal for the Future", that the crucial factor for the coal industry is to maintain the cutting edge of its competitiveness if it is to have a real future in this country, which can be so important for us?
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The mining industry, like all the fuel industries, including electricity, has been badly hit by the economic recession and temporarily the various price differentials have been subject to fluctuations. But it is confidently expected that there may well be an oil price increase of 10 per cent., and the truth is that his party's policy is meaningful only in terms of a pit closure programme. That, in effect, is what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, although he has not the courage to say it openly.
In view of the Secreretary of State's totally unsatisfactory reply, I beg to give notice that I shall try to raise this important matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.
Central Electricity Generating Board (Corporate Plan)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has had time to consider the Central Electricity Generating Board's corporate plan.
I have seen the CEGB's 1978 corporate plan which will be taken into account in reviewing national energy policy. I have already indicated to the board the importance the Government place on maintaining and strengthening the role of coal in generating electricity.
Is the Secretary of State aware that in cost forecasting the indication is that nuclear power will become more and more efficient as a source of electrical generation? In the light of the views expressed in the corporate plan by the CEGB, will the right hon. Gentleman now tell the House what has happened to plans for the pressurised water reactor?
The answer to the latter part of the supplementary question is that there has been no change. In January I announced that we should be authorising the ordering of two advanced gas cooled reactors and that an option for the PWR would be available. Why the hon. Gentleman should identify our future nuclear programme with an American reactor, excluding the AGR, I do not know. He chose to mention only the PWR and not the AGR.The general position is that the generating board has put forward its own views in its corporate plan, not the Government's views. The purpose of energy policy's being conducted in public is that people should know what the alternatives are before the Government decide what the policy should be. I have no complaints about the generating board's putting forward its views, but the decisions must be made in a way that is accountable to the House.
Can my right hon. Friend elaborate on the reasons why the European Commission chose to intervene in the way that he has described? Can he say what justification the Commission gave for intervening in Britain's affairs in the way that it apparently has?
I shall do my best. The Commission evidently decided to interpret the Euratom treaty in such a way as to prevent us from signing an agreement with a Commonwealth country to acquire uranium which this country badly needs for its nuclear programme. Although I took the opportunity of discussing the matter with Commissioner Brunner when he was in London, that view prevailed. In the Government's view—and this was made clear—the Commission is wholly wrong and is acting in a way that is contrary to our national interest and the wider interests of the Community.
National Coal Board And Central Electricity Generating Board
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of the National Coal Board.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board.
I meet the chairmen of all the fuel industries regularly.
When he next meets the chairman of the National Coal Board, will the Secretary of State apologise for his dilatory approach to the Community in trying to arrange a scheme which would benefit the British coal industry and increase consumption in Europe?
I do not think that the chairman of the NCB, the mining unions or anybody else thinks that there is anything to apologise for in what we have done. We have put our view forward for 18 months at EEC Council meetings. We agreed to the coking coal scheme, which helps the German steel industry, and we agreed to the Euratom loans, which primarily help France and Italy. We had every reason to expect that the steam coal scheme would be accepted. It was not. Far from apologising to anybody, we have been much disappointed by the Community's failure to allow the cheapest coal in Europe—I gave the figures a few minutes ago, showing that it is £10 a tonne cheaper than anyone else's—to be burnt in preference to cheap imported Polish coal. This view has been most formidably expressed in the Council, to the satisfaction of the British mining industry.
When the Secretary of State last had discussions with the chairman of the CEGB, did he confess to him that his own stated intention to try to intervene in the merit order decisions of the CEGB would be both premature and improper in the light of the Government's commitment in paragraphs 20 and 21 of their nationalised industry White Paper to do such things only on the basis of secured legislation and adequate compensation?
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what is meant. If there is a coalburn scheme of a kind already announced and approved for Scotland and Wales which makes coal available more cheaply to the CEGB, then, without our intervening in the merit order as such, the order of burning of the stations individually changes. That is what is proposed. We believe that that can be done without impinging in any way on the cost of electricity paid for by the consumer.
Will the Secretary of State discuss with the heads of the fuel industries the current shambles in the accountancy system being adopted by them, with some of them adopting current cost accounting and others not doing so? Why has the right hon. Gentleman failed to secure agreement on a common system for all of these nationalised industries?
I think that the hon. Gentleman has a point on accountancy. This is primarily a matter for the relationship between the nationalised industries, not only in the fuel sector, and the Treasury. I have seen some of the comments on whether inflation accounting methods are used or various other methods are used. The matter was discussed at a meeting of the nationalised industries' chairmen, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at which I was present. That will require further clarification.
Did my right hon. Friend see a letter from Sir Derek Ezra in The Times last week suggesting that the public sector industries faced real criticism for profiteering if they were in the black but were equally condemned if they made a loss? When my right hon. Friend meets Sir Derek, will he try to explain to him why this occurs? Will he confirm that the public sector energy industries have very impressive achievements to their credit? It would be very useful if he would invite the Opposition Front Bench to confirm that it approves of that success.
The one constant in all these matters is the hostility of the Conservative Party to the public sector, either for losing money as a result of its own policy or for making money as a result of the policy we have adopted. There are complications about inflation accountancy, but the fact is, that the publicly owned industries have done well. I have already cited coal, which is outstanding compared with any other mining industry in Europe. The day the Opposition pay a tribute to the public sector, we shall take seriously the criticisms they may wish to make of those industries from time to time.
Why was the Secretary of State less than frank with the House in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) in saying that he did not consider that he had been too slow in pushing the the coal scheme in Europe, when in a Financial Times interview only last week he said that he thought he had pushed the coal scheme too late and that it would have been better if coal had been part of the earlier package? We certainly endorse the right hon. Gentleman's rather franker earlier comments and not the comments he has now made to the house.
The hon. Gentleman misunderstood the position. I pressed the steam coal case 18 months ago, and the Council of Ministers would not agree to it. I felt it right not to hold back—[Interruption.] Of course I have read the article. I felt it right not to hold back on agreeing to the Euratom loans and the coking coal scheme, but the Council of Ministers has not been ready to endorse our policy. There is no power open to a British Minister to force it, although I would not mind a bit more help from the Conservative Party on our approach to Europe as well.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of the CEGB, will he press on him the advantages for the boiler industry of building a new boiler to replace the one at No. 11 unit C station, at Drakelow power station in my constituency? Is he aware that the CEGB has announced that it is not prepared to repair it but that It is considering building a new one in its place?
The reference to the new boiler at No. 11 created a slight confusion in my mind. I cannot go into individual management decisions, nor is it my wish to do so. But I think that the case for refurbishing existing power stations at this time is well worth considering, because it would be of real help to the industry. The boiler-making industry and the power plant industry must be kept in being for the major orders we expect to follow. Therefore, to that extent, I hope that I may satisfy my hon. Friend's general desire.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Why did my right hon. Friend group Question 5 with Questions 9 and 16? Question 5 concerned the chairman of the NCB and the other Questions were about the chairman of the CEGB.
The Minister decides his own grouping. Supplementary questions seem to have indicated why the Questions were grouped.
Will the Secretary of State examine the recent proposal by the European Commission for the substitution of imported coal by home-mined coal both in this country and in Europe? If so, has he costed it and what is his attitude to it? It seems to me that this is exactly along the lines that he has been proposing. I hope that he will be successful in pushing this through, because I believe that it would be advantageous not only to us but to Europe.
I most strongly agree. It does not seem to me to be very sensible to pass a lot of resolutions calling for a reduction of dependence on imported energy and at the same time to allow the domestic coal industry to be put at risk by imported coal. I have put forward this point of view most powerfully over a period of 18 months to two years, but the Council of Ministers has not accepted it. I think that it is necessary and should be encouraged, and I shall continue to press it. I have placed it on the agenda for the next Energy Council meeting.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I and many other Labour Members heard with great concern the problems that are caused by the interference of the EEC in our energy policy? Does he discuss these matters with the chairmen of the nationalised industries when he meets them and does he tell them exactly how difficult this interference is making the work of energy use and conservation?
I do discuss these matters. The House knows that the Commission is attacking us on six fronts at the moment—the interest relief grants, the Offshore Supplies Office, the landing rights, the possible attack upon the monopoly purchase of gas by British Gas, nuclear policy on the Euratom agreement, and refineries. This is a major range of attacks upon our national energy policy. I discuss them with those concerned and I might add—[Interruplion.] If the House will listen it will hear that these are not disputes with other member States, many of which share our view about the role of the Commission in energy policy. This is a question involving the Commission, not member States. It would be helpful if I could carry some Opposition Members with me on these issues.
British National Oil Corporation
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will review the security and confidential information made available to the British National Oil Corporation through participation agreements.
I am satisfied that the Department of Energy and the British National Oil Corporation are honouring the commitments relating to confidentiality of information contained in participation agreements with the various companies. I do not, therefore, propose to hold a review.
While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether he recalls that the requirements for investment up to 1987 are over £15 billion and that that investment will mostly be repaid out of retained earnings? Does not the threat to confidentiality call that in question? Further, has he considered the fact that the discriminatory nature of the treatment, on licensing and financial terms, is probably in breach of articles 86 and 92 of the Treaty of Rome?
The last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is not true. I would agree with the first part of it. If there were breaches of confidentiality, it would be very serious. But there have been none.
Are not the Government putting an unnecessary strain on those working within BNOC by making it both a commercial oil company and adviser to the Minister? Does he not realise that this must be a situation which breeds mistrust and misunderstanding?
It is true that the corporation has to be well aware of the practical difficulties occasioned by the requirement regarding non-use and non-dissemination within the corporation. Steps have been taken within the corporation to ensure that its personnel are acquainted with the need to observe those requirements scrupulously. May I venture the opinion that, perhaps, the personnel of BNOC are in this respect in the same position as other professional people in banking and in industry generally?
Does not the Minister accept that until January 1976 94 per cent. of the total investment in the North Sea came from private industry? Is it not essential that the confidence of private industry should be stimulated rather than hampered by anything which BNOC might do?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is a little hostile towards BNOC. The fact is that BP represents a substantial State involvement in the North Sea, so that I cannot confirm his first figure. Further, the British Gas Corporation has played a singularly substantial part in developing the North Sea. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the private and public sectors, married as they are, have to get on well together, which means that confidentiality in these matters has to be preserved by everyone.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has initiated any discussions on the proposals outlined in his White Paper "The Development of Alternative Sources of Energy".
Detailed discussions with contractors are in hand on projects arising from the increased research programmes announced in the White Paper on alternative sources of energy. My right hon. Friend hopes to make an announcement in the near future about the membership of the Severn Barrage Committee.
Due to the possibly serious consequences of the failure to develop alternative forms of energy, does not the Minister agree that the expenditure plans for research are too low and that this is an area where over-insurance against possible catastrophe would be perfectly justified?
I share some of the hon. Member's concern. There are two schools of thought about this. One believes that we are spending too much on alternative sources of energy, while the other believes that we are spending too little. A great deal of the technology that we are discussing is still in the laboratory stage; it is still very much in its infancy. As the technology and the engineering progress, more investment will have to be made.
May I ask whether, in the discussions on alternative sources of energy, people have brought home to the Minister the fact that to spend less than £1 million on the development of wind energy is totally inadequate in view of the potential of that source? Has he been made aware of the fact that to allocate fewer than 20 people to alternative source work within ETSU is also inadequate?
I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I have said, much of this technology is in the laboratory stage. As it develops, the Government have pledged themselves to spend more money. Many people feel that we are spending too much in this direction. The Government's view has always been clear and specific.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there have been two committees on the Severn barrage which have reported, the first in the 1920s? Is he aware that, although these reports have been favourable, they have remained on the shelves? Does he realise that, as a Young Socialist, I was presented with a prize for writing an essay on the Severn barrage, the prize being presented by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West, (Mr. Thomas), who was young and debonair at the time? We are still waiting for action to be taken.
My hon. Friend and the House will perhaps agree that the prize is now beginning to shine as a result of the commitment we have announced. We hope very shortly to announce the full membership of the committee. The fact that we have already announced the capital sum that will be involved in the feasibility studies is of importance.
United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met representatives of the United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association.
I saw representatives of the association on 20th July.
When the Minister last met oil company representatives, did he discuss with them the widespread press reports indicating, apparently from informed sources, that there is to be a change in the oil taxation structure of the North Sea? Are these reports true? If so, do they not indicate that the Government have made a miscalculation in the past and that there has been a delay in recognising this?
I discussed with UKOOA its views about the sixth round arrangements. The answer to the first part of the hon. Member's supplementary question is "No, Sir". As for the second part, the hon. Gentleman will have to refer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Is it not true, as a general proposition, that the benefit from oil development is either to the nation or to the companies concerned, while the cost is often borne by the local community in environmental terms and by way of a strain on services? Since the Department of the Environment seems unaware of whether any other OECD countries levy local taxes on offshore development in particular, may I ask the Minister to look at this matter so that local authorities in areas where there are close offshore developments may feel that there is some possibility of their getting some return for the costs which they will be called upon to bear?
That is an interesting point. It has been reflected in what has happened in the Shetland Islands and, to a lesser extent, in the Orkney Islands. This is not a matter exclusively for the Department of the Environment or the Scottish or Welsh Offices; it is for the Department of Energy. We take it very seriously, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
When he meets the offshore operators, will my right hon. Friend take up the question of the need for better health and safety regulations for the workers involved? When does he intend to raise this matter so that there will be a tightening-up of the present regulations?
My hon. Friend will know that we have included references to these matters in the criteria, so-called, for the fifth round and, I hope, the sixth round. My right hon. Friend is in correspondence with the Secretary of State for Employment on this subject. I hope that we shall have something to say about it quite soon.
Nationalised Industries (Investment)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is now satisfied with the level of investment in the nationalised energy industries in the United Kingdom.
I am sure that the present level of investment in the United Kingdom nationalised energy industries, now running at an annual rate of some £.1.8 billion, is right. For the future, the hon. Member will find projections of possible investment require- ments up to the year 2000 in Energy Commission Paper No. 7.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he is satisfied that we are developing an integrated energy policy? Does he call together, when he has these discussions, the chairmen of all the energy industries to make certain that everyone knows what is intended? Does he not think it crazy that we should spend so much money on gas and oil, consuming it in great quantities in the next two or three decades, when we have an abundance of coal which is not being used to the extent that it should be?
My hon. Friend is, I know, a fair man. He will admit that my right hon. Friend has been outstanding in his attempts to try to bring together, not only informally but formally through the Energy Commission, the chairmen of the nationalised industries and all those possibly concerned with an integrated energy policy. I hope that the energy policy Green Paper is the first of several on the subject.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that one of the best ways to achieve a satisfactory level of investment is by a proper increase in retained earnings and profits, and that, while some of us welcome the progress that has been made in that direction, we should be a great deal more satisfied with progress if we could be satisfied that there were not frequent changes in accounting and depreciation policy which masked the real attitudes and achievements of the industry concerned?
The last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is an interesting comment not only on the nationalised industries but on industry in general. In reply to the first part, I assure him that we try very hard in that regard.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a widely-held opinion in the mining industry that many coal mines were closed prematurely at the time when we switched over largely to oil for industry? Would it not be fair to ask for some investment to explore the possibility of reopening pits?
I think that with hindsight —with some people, with foresight—almost everyone would agree with my hon. Friend that the rundown of the coal mines in the 1950s and 1960s was a great error and something that we certainly must not repeat. But "The Plan for Coal" is a witness to the industry of the intention of this Government at any rate to keep coal in its proper place.
Where substantial public investment is involved, is it not right that there should be the clearest public accountability? I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) said about the need for uniformity of accounting standards. Is it not unbelievably dilatory of the Department and the Secretary of State that there should still be no financial target for the British Gas Corporation so that the chairman is setting his own target?
I have already acknowledged the importance of the point made in the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. The point relating to the British Gas Corporation is a serious matter, I agree. But let us not run away from the fact that the corporation is one of the most successful publicly owned enterprises in the world.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the level of investment in the publicly owned energy industries should be a model to the private manufacturing sector, and that if investment in the private manufacturing sector were comparable to the level of investment he has been describing to the House the British economy would not be in the mess that it is in today?
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what discussions he had with the European Commission on the subject of alternative uses of energy, such as wave power and solar energy, before announcing his recent programme in the field.
There is close and continuing consultation on research into the alternative sources of energy with the other member States and with the Commission.
Which work can best be done on a national basis and which on a European basis?
In each of the areas of work, one has to consider each aspect on its merits. As my hon. Friend is aware, there are projects such as JET which are so large that they are clearly best done on an international basis. There are others where local climatic, sociological or industrial conditions make it better for them to be tackled nationally. Certainly that consideration is one of the factors that the review to be carried out by the CREST (Energy) Committee will take into account.
What proportion of the research and development budget is spent on nuclear power as opposed to the various alternative sources of energy?
I do not have the figure with me. I will write to the hon. Lady.
National Union Of Mineworkers
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects next to hold a meeting with the president of the National Union of Mineworkers.
The date of my next meeting with the president of the National Union of Mineworkers has not yet been fixed. I met him this morning.
When the right hon. Gentleman sees Mr. Gormley, will he ask him whether he is entirely happy with the Government's guideline of a 5 per cent. pay increase for the miners? If the answer is "Yes", will he ask Mr. Gormley whether that undertaking will continue during the period of the next Tory Government too?
I cannot look as far ahead as the possibility that in the late 1980s there might be another Tory Government, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that one of the many reasons why the NUM has given the Government such strong support is to be sure that, by an agreed policy, we shall be able to prevent a repetition of the disastrous episodes of recent years.
Will my right hon. Friend explain to Mr. Gormley that many of us on the Back Benches are not particularly satisfied with the 5 per cent. guideline but that we would not be satisfied with the type of policies that would be pursued by the Conservative Party, which would lead us into constant confrontation with the trade unions?
I think that there is no doubt that one of the reasons why there was a change of Government in 1974 was that the British public did not wish to have a Government engaged on a course of confrontation with the mining industry or other industries. As my hon. Friend knows, the NUM has, through pithead ballots, supported the Government in the recent pay policies, and that support has reflected the desire of the mining industry that it should be able to proceed without the risk of confrontation being renewed.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement on her aid policy for Africa.
I plan to increase steadily over the period ahead the amount of British bilateral aid allocated to Africa, particularly to the poorest countries. This year it amounts to £142 million, and it will, of course, rise next year within the increasing aid programme.
But cannot the right hon. Lady give us some assurance that her aid policy is based on the criterion of human rights? Has she given some intimation to countries such as Ethiopia that further aid will be withheld until we are satisfied about the civil rights situation?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here for my last Question Time when I explained that we have a residual aid programme to Ethiopia concerned with a rural water supply which we do not think it sensible to cut off because it will benefit the poorest people; but we are entering into no new aid projects for Ethiopia at present.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that overwhelmingly on this side of the House we are in favour of what she is doing in her aid policy towards Africa but that, like Oliver Twist, we would like more? What is she doing about the disaster in the Sudan, where ther have been catastrophic floods? Much of the Gezeira, the creation of Arthur Gaitskell, has been overwhelmed, and hundreds of villages have been covered. Help is neded there. Can my right hon. Friend please tell us what is happening?
Because we have a very efficient disaster unit in the Ministry, which I set up three or four years ago, we have already sent some special assistance to the Sudan to help meet the disaster. There may well be need for more aid, but we are already under way on the matter.
Will the right hon. Lady say whether it continues to be the Government's policy that, in the renegotiation of the Lomé Convention, human rights should feature as a prominent factor in the provision of aid?
We are seeking to make that so, but it is difficult. I can tell the hon. Gentleman only that.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it will be easier to include matters like human rights in the Lomé Convention if a specific effort is made in the renegotiations to protect the interests of ACP countries, particularly against the inroads of the common agricultural policy being pursued by the EEC?
My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I took part last Monday in the initial stages of the renegotiations of the Lomé Convention. Clearly, it will be a complex of factors, and we shall have to see how it works out on all sides. I agree that there are a number of interests of ACP countries that must be protected. We hope to be successful on the human rights issue, but I can only say to the House that it will be difficult.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether her Department plans to take any new policy initiatives in the light of the recent Bonn summit meeting.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development what progress is being made with the cancellation of debt of the poorest developing countries.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development what proposals she has on debt relief for underdeveloped countries; and whether she will make a statement.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development what action she proposes to implement her decision to consider giving debt relief to the poorest countries on a country-by-country basis.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement on British policy on debt relief in the light of the Bonn summit.
As part of their aid policy, the Government are taking steps with effect from today to remove the burden of past aid loans, known as RTA—retrospective terms adjustment—or to adopt equivalent measures, in respect of 17 of the poorest developing countries. These are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Botswana, Egypt, the Gambia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nepal, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, and Western Samoa. All have aid repayments outstanding, but are now eligible to receive aid from us on grant terms.The maximum cost will be some £60 million a year and the total amount of principal and interest involved to the end of the century is some £900 million. The cost will be entirely met from within the increasing aid programme. Detailed arrangements will be discussed with each of the 17 Governments. In the case of India, local cost aid will be offered instead of RTA. RTA will not be extended to Governments which would otherwise qualify but which we regard as having seriously violated human rights. At the Bonn summit the Government promised, with other participants, to support a replenishment of the International Development Association to allow its annual lending to rise in real terms, and said that the World Bank's capital should be doubled. We shall be pursuing both issues vigorously in the coming months.
Is the Minister aware that many of us welcome her announcement of debt relief for the poorest countries, but is she further aware that it is disappointing that this agreement was not possible at the multilateral Bonn summit, as the Prime Minister had indicated? Does this not suggest some failure of British policy? Will the Minister confirm that among the 17 countries which will benefit from this decision are some with a per capita income above the internationally agreed poverty datum line of 5280 a head?
On the second point, no. Some of the data are in the process of being revised, and in fact the RTA will extend to countries which normally tit into the category of the poorest countries. On the hon. Member's first point, it is not a failure of British policy at the Bonn summit; it is just a pity that other countries have not reacted similarly.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned that in future there will be grant aid instead of loans for such countries, but can she confirm that this will enable countries with the least resources to benefit in human terms in ways that might not have been possible under the former system of lending? Will she tell us how this will be effected in the coming years?
In fact, the essence of this new step in aid policy is the logical inconsistency of clawing back debt repayment and interest from countries to which we have already been giving grants for some years. Of course, it follows that in future these countries will have grants, as in the past, and obviously that will assist their development policies considerably.
Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the £60 million a year cost will not come out of already promised aid programmes to any of those 17 countries?
Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend on that matter. I do not know whether the House has completely taken into account what we decided in the public expenditure White Paper of a few months ago—that the aid programme should increase by 6 per cent. a year over the next four years. This is the biggest increase in all public expenditure programmes and it means that we can use the aid programme to do certain very valuable things, such as giving this debt relief, and at the same time continue to increase the aid programmes to the poorest countries. There is no conflict at all.
Does not the Minister believe that it would have been far more sensible to give debt relief on a country-by-country basis to those countries that were having specific problems rather than giving it in toto to countries with an economic level below a certain figure?
There are certain countries which are not included in this list to which we have been giving additional special measures of aid because of their difficulties. Jamaica and Zambia are two examples. The logic of the aid policy is that it is absurd to continue to claw back debt repayments and interest from countries to which we are giving grants. That is the basis of it, and the hon. Member must agree that we must have some logic.
While personally welcoming the principle of the arrangements that the Minister has announced, may I ask her under what authority the Government can make such a commitment? Surely parliamentary approval is required, and when will that be sought?
It would have been required had we met the cost of this scheme from outside the already agreed aid programme. But Parliament has already given its approval for that.
In view of the right hon. Lady's very important answer, may I express some regret that she has not made a statement on this matter so that we could probe it more effectively?While I accept that there is mutual economic benefit to be derived from an effective writing off of debts in certain cases between Britain and the third world, may I ask what criteria she has applied for writing off the debts, particularly in view of the fact that the per capita assessment is a very crude method of judging a country's economic potential? Secondly, will she answer more specifically the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Rifkind) about a country-by-country review of debt relief, based on a nation's ability to repay debts, which is far more sensible than the way in which we are tackling this problem?
I shall certainly expand a shade on the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pent- lands (Mr. Rifkind). A country which comes into the poor category has terrible difficulty in its development problems, and therefore acute difficulty in repaying past debts and interest. That goes without saying.As to the way in which we categorise countries, obviously we have used the category of the least developed countries. The per capita income, I agree, is not really satisfactory. I wish that some of our economists were further advanced in their work in trying to define some other index. But we do not have this yet, so we have to use the category of the World Bank. Work is being done on this at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex, and I agree we should try to arrive at better categorisation. But at present we must use the World Bank standard, which is internationally applicable.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Lady has made a statement which commits this country to an expenditure or loss of £60 million a year in the next 10 years to be taken off the existing aid budget. This involves a commitment by this country over a period to an expenditure of over £900 million. Her statement commits a future Parliament to certain expenditure. Should this not have been a statement by the Minister rather than an answer to a Question? Secondly, may we have a statement by you, Sir, tomorrow on the implications of decisions announced in this way by Ministers? Surely this involves the decision of the present Parliament and indeed of future Parliaments.
First, it is a matter of judgment for the Minister herself as to how she answers Questions. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman knows, every Parliament is the master of its own affairs. I have no doubt that the next Parliament will behave as it wishes to behave—properly, I hope.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether she is satisfied that moneys being lent or given to Mozambique by the United Kingdom Government are being used for the purposes for which they were intended; and if she will make a statement.
Is it not clear, even to the Minister, that from Mozambique there has been mounted a sustained campaign of murder, mutilation and arson against the Queen's subjects—mainly black—in Rhodesia? Whatever the intention of the right hon. Lady, her Department's funds—those provided by her Government—are helping to sustain a Marxist regime which is the enemy of this country.
I appreciate the hon. Member's deep concern about this matter. First, we have been responding, like 50 other countries and international agencies, to the economic needs of Mozambique since the closure of the border with Rhodesia. If the hon. Member is interested in a peaceful settlement with Rhodesia, however difficult that may seem, he should know that the closing of the border between Mozambique and Rhodesia has been a crucial factor in this matter.Secondly, our aid goes for precisely defined purposes. Thirdly, I would much more appreciate questions on this matter from Conservative Members if even one of them had visited Mozambique since its independence.
Will my right hon. Friend, in determining whether aid or money should be given or lent to Mozambique, have regard for the fact that the United Nations sanctions against Rhodesia have been observed by Mozambique, whereas the former Fascist colonial regime in that country was co-operating with the illegal regime in Rhodesia?
That is precisely the point. I quote very briefly some facts from the last United Nations mission, which identified a gap of $87 million in terms of transport, telecommunications systems and other development projects which had been gravely damaged by the closing of the border with Rhodesia.
Can the Minister tell the House, for the benefit of hon. Members and the public, exactly the use to which aid to Mozambique is being put? Some of us feel very concerned that it may be directed into channels for which it was not intended, either by the Minister or by this House.
I have given answers, written and oral, on this subject, many times in this House. The hon. Gentleman may well refer to them. I have specified what the aid has gone to. I have indicated that the aid is carefully monitored.
May we not be given the information now?
If Mr. Speaker will allow me 10 minutes in which to go through all the parliamentary answers I have already given on the subject, I shall be glad to do so. I repeat that I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers which I have already given.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development what action she is taking to promote the development of the jojoba plant in desert areas of developing countries, with a view to producing substitutes for sperm whale oil for use in the leather industry.
Research is still at an early stage and we do not intend to duplicate the excellent work being done in the United States of America, Mexico and Israel. When we judge that we can make a significant contribution of benefit to the underdeveloped countries, it will be made.
Is time on our side in this matter? Is not the truth that the leather industry at one level—and, much more seriously, the world in general—will have no whales when they are all massacred? Does my hon. Friend agree that, unless something is done as a matter of urgency rather than waiting for this, that and the other piece of research, we shall lose the world's biggest mammal'?
I fully appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend. The plant is potentially an excellent substitute, but there are considerable problems to be overcome before it can be considered a commercially viable alternative.
Will the Minister pursue this matter with great intensity? May I tell the House that I drive my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) back to his flat at night and that these great plants which he puts in my car are causing me some embarrassment? I believe that my hon. Friend has a very good case and I urge the Minister to pursue the topic with the greatest energy.
I fully recognise what my hon. Friend has said. I have spent some time examining the problem, although not at the same kind of personal discomfort suffered by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer).
It is not discomfort.
Excellent work is being undertaken. At present we do not believe that it would be helpful to duplicate the work that is being carried out until some benefit is shown from the research.
Mr. Robin F. Cook, supported by Mr. Ronald Atkins, Mr. George Cunningham, Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Christopher Price, Miss Jo Richardson, Mr. J. W. Rooker and Mr. Tom Litterick, presented a Bill to make provision with respect to the disclosure of official information: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed
Order Of The Day
Lords amendments considered.
Community Bus Services
Lords amendment: no. 1, in page 6, line 32, at end insert—
("(2A) A community bus service may extend to the provision of excursions and tours as defined by section 159 of the 1968 Act.")
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.I understand that with this amendment we are also to take Lords amendments nos. 2, 3, 4, 7 and 25. May I first explain this group of amendments? Amendment no. 1 allows community minibus services to be used for excursions and tours. Amendments nos. 2 and 4 are essentially paving amendments for the next Lords amendment, which is amendment no. 5 and which we are taking separately. Amendments nos. 2 and 4, and ultimately amendment no. 5, allow community minibuses to be used for private hire. In practice, private hire and excursions and tours amount to more or less the same thing. The differences are mainly technical. I propose to make the substance of the case for Lords amendment no. 5 on this group of amendments. Therefore, I hope that we shall be able to deal with Lords amendment no. 5 fairly speedily later. This will lead to a more logical debate. Amendment no. 7 is consequential and amendments nos. 3 and 25 deal with entirely separate subjects, to which I shall come later. The main issue which is the substance of most amendments in this group and of Lords amendment no. 5 which follows separately, relates to the finances of the community bus service. Even with the economies that come from the use of volunteer drivers, experience has shown that revenue from the basic stage services, which it is the main purpose of the community bus to provide, is not enough to meet all the costs of running the vehicle, in particular the capital cost and depreciation. Subsidy from the county council will be needed and we have provided the necessary powers in clause 1(5). But that subsidy should be kept within reasonable limits, and existing community bus services have kept their overall deficit down by operating occasional excursions and tours for local people and by a certain amount of contract hire—for example to take the Women's Institute on an outing. The revenue they get from these two sources helps to subsidise the less remunerative but essential stage services, and these outings are in themselves a valuable means of enhancing the quality of life for isolated rural communities. To this end, we make it clear for the avoidance of doubt that a community bus service can extend to the provision of excursions and tours. That is the purpose of amendment no. 1. In the new clause that we shall come to on use of community buses for contract work and the paving amendments nos. 2 and 4 we provide for the traffic commissioners in granting a road service licence or permit for a community bus service to authorise the use of the community bus as a contract carriage. That allows the second part of the additional usage. Without these provisions, the community bus would still have needed PSV licences for driver and vehicle alike to do excursions and tours or contract work and this would have undermined the licensing relaxation which is at the heart of what we are doing in this part of the Bill. The other amendments to clause 5 and the amendments to clause 7 and schedule 2 are purely technical and provide for the avoidance of doubt that the vehicle disc referred to in subsection (5) of clause 5 has to be issued by the traffic commissioners and by no one else, and that regulations made under section 160 of the 1960 Act can cover the procedure governing applications for and issue of the disc. The disc is the visible sign that the use of the community bus is properly authorised by the traffic commissioners, and it is particularly important that there should be no doubt about its authenticity if the community bus is also to be allowed to operate for private hire. These provisions are fully in accordance with the principle we have followed throughout of allowing as much flexibility as possible while maintaining adequate safeguards to prevent abuse and ensure that the appropriate safety standards are maintained. All the safeguarding provisions in clause 5 will apply equally to the use of the community bus for private hire under clause 6 and there are additional controls which allow the traffic commissioners, if necessary, to restrict the scope of private hire and which prevent the organisers from employing an additional vehicle solely for private hire work. Finally, the traffic commissioners must be satisfied before authorising the community bus to do private hire work that this
The essential point contained in this group of amendments is that a community bus service can augment its income, and in many cases the authorities are willing to do this by taking people on excursions and tours and by undertaking a certain amount of private contract hire. This is a sensible spelling out of what was always implicit in our intentions in respect of the community bus."is reasonable in all the circumstances with a view to financial support of the community bus service".
What discussions has the Minister had with the Confederation of Road Passenger Transport on this matter?
We have had discussions with the confederation on this subject. If the hon. Gentleman is not aware of those discussions, certainly one of his hon. Friends is aware of that fact. I think that we have consulted fairly fully on this matter—if not at the first stage, certainly at this stage. I hope that the House will agree to the Lords amendment.
I am grateful for what the Minister has said and I agree that we should also consider Lords amendment no. 5 while dealing with this group of amendments. Amendment no. 5 was taken with this group in another place. We are dealing essentially with two separate functions of the community bus services, though they have very much the same motivation.We welcome the proposals. I accept that it was intended that excursions and tours should be covered by the Bill and the amendments now express that intention clearly in the Bill. Licensing provisions in transport are potentially complicated. That will be a familiar argument to those who served on the Standing Committee, but, bearing in mind the considerable ramifications of the Bill, I suggest that after our consideration, we shall not have heard the last of it. So vague are some of its provisions that there will be considerable discussion and dispute about them. The important aspect of the provisions relating to excursions and tours is the recognition that there is very little money in this form of transport. All of us who take an interest in transport, particularly rural transport and community bus services to transport minority groups, small populations and so on from one place to another, appreciate that in virtually every case there is very little money in it. The amendments recognise that fact and keep public subsidy to a minimum. My hon. Friends and I very much approve of that.
I recognise, without turning round, the well-known and not so dulcet tones of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). It is always a comforting thought to know that there is such a voice behind one and I hope that it augurs well for our later discussions.Public subsidy will be cut to a minimum and if the proposals in the Bill had been a little more adventurous, we could have hoped more positively that there need be no public subsidy at all. However, we welcome the provisions because they go in the right direction. The uses to which the provisions relating to excursions and tours will be put are commendable in every way. We are dealing with outings of the Women's Institute, a village community or part of an urban community. These are very suitable uses of the Bill's provisions and in some ways it is surprising that we have had to wait until 1978—many years into the use of the motor car and public transport generally—before getting such simple provisions stipulated and we are able to meet what has seemed a blatantly obvious need for many years. We welcome also the greater flexibility in transport particularly in country areas, that is provided by the amendments. We have been championing this for some time and all of us who are engaged in transport matters have been round the various courses for two years in the Transport (Financial Provisions) Bill in the last Session and in this Bill during the current Session. Throughout our discussions, my hon. Friends and I have championed greater flexibility and since these provisions help to that end, we agree with them. 3.45 p.m. Amendment no. 5 deals with contract hire and we welcome that for much the same sort of reasons. In an intervention during the Minister' speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) asked about consultations with the Confederation of British Road Passenger Transport. We are dealing with potentially complicated matters and I wonder to what extent it is reasonable to expect us—as front-men to the Minister—to appreciate these aspects, particularly when they creep into a Bill—or charge into a Bill—at the Report stage in another place. That is a very late time for such provisions to be inserted, commendable as they may be. The confederation is the most prominent body dealing with these matters in this country and it has voiced concern. It would have been better if we had considered this matter during the 20 elaborate sittings of the Standing Committee rather than having it bounced at us at this late stage. The Committee stage might have stretched to 21 sittings, but I am sure that the Minister would not have minded that. Considerable changes in the normal licensing pattern are involved. This was raised in another place and has been taken up by the confederation with the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State who were kind enough to see representatives of the confederation. The Under-Secretary has dealt with the detail of this matter because his has been the principal responsibility. The relaxation of the PSV requirements in some cases and the sole reliance upon the road service licence is a departure about which the confederation is extremely concerned. It has put forward proposals which are, to say the least, complicated. I see the Minister nodding his head in sympathetic agreement. I hope that he will intervene in the debate to tell us that he has heard from the confederation about the proposals and that he will watch the development of these departures in the licensing system. The PSV requirements have been important for many years and their relaxation is not unimportant. That provision should have been put into the Bill at an earlier stage. The vexed subject of the traffic commissioners has concerned us all, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne, during each stage of the Bill. The commissioners are singled out, in regard to contract hire, as the main body to protect the Government's overriding policy, which we believe needs questioning and occasional relaxation, of an overwhelming protection of public bus services. The traffic commissioners, being the retired generals they may be, have been chosen to perform this task. The safeguards that have been provided are consistent with the Government's overall policy, but, again, the commissioners are brought in as the body which will not only grant the road service licences, but will supply the safeguards. Amendment no. 5 deals with the various safeguards that the commissioners may recommend if they wish. I do not know whether I am up the right tree on my next subject, but I believe that I am. With the safeguards expressly included in the Bill by way of a new clause and applying to contract carriage, I am slightly confused about why they do not also apply to excursions and tours. There is a very narrow borderline. In many cases, a contract carriage will be an excursion or tour. All the safeguards are to be implemented by our mighty traffic commissioners on a regional basis. If they are to do that for contract carriage, why cannot they do it for excursions and tours? Surely exactly the same criteria apply to excursions and tours as to contract carriage. The excursion tour or contract carriage will be for the financial support of a service. In other words, they will minimise public subsidy. The commissioners have to be satisfied
It is to be wondered whether the commissioners necessarily form the most satisfactory body to conduct the licensing. From public service vehicles that operate on the boundaries of one council into the boundaries of another, from county to county or nationally, we come to the small bus that is operated, for example, by a village or a community. The commissioners operate regionally and they know the mighty pattern of public transport in the regions, but are they best fitted to decide whether "X" village is to have a bus service and to implement the safeguards? We are left wondering how the system will work out and whether this is yet another example of verbiage being poured into the Bill that at the end of the day will not make the least difference. The commissioners operate regionally and they are rather remote from the small operators. In practice how can they decide other than that the scheme that is put before them is for the financial support of the service? Indeed, it is possible to say that the service will not be profitable anyway and that it is bound to be in need of financial support. I hazard a guess that many services will need public subsidy in spite of the provisions contained in the Bill and in spite of the fact that they are running excursions and operating contract hire where they can. The various words of wisdom spoken by my hon. Friends in Committee about the commissioners are relevant to the amendments. Is there a case for local authorities to take over the powers that we are discussing? The cost of going to the commissioners if there is a dispute is such that it would put the unfortunate scheme out of business before it began. That is apart from the remoteness of the commissioners and the fact that they operate regionally. The local authorities must be considered seriously as being the most suitable licensing authorities to deal with these matters. I feel that I have been speaking long enough to put forward the basic arguments of the Opposition."with a view to the financial support of the service".
I am flattered to hear encouraging cries from my hon. Friends but to delay the House any longer would not be fit.The proposals before us are welcome as far as they go. They are not radical They do not embrace a wide enough spectrum. They do not deal with certain problems that have been tryingly obvious for many years. For example, they do not bear on commercially operated minibus services that might be operated by local garage owners. They might have minibuses that are used for school transport in the mornings and they might be available to be used for outings later in the day. The Opposition have always had an open mind and, dare I say, a radical attitude to the problems of transport in the rural, specialised and needy areas. It seems that the Government are coming towards us, and we welcome them. May they keep on coming until they achieve a realistic policy.
Order. It has already become clear that the House wishes also to discuss amendment no. 5. At a later stage I shall call amendment no. 5 formally.
If there is criticism from the Opposition that the amendments do not go far enough, there is a case for the House to consider the other side of the coin before it turns its attention to undertakings such as community buses. Some of the propositions contained in the amendments contain obvious dangers.I shall read a letter that I received from the Association of District Councils. The letter is headed
These are technical amendments and I seek some assurances from my hon. Friend on matters of safety. He assured us in Committee that such matters were ever in his mind, but the Association writes:"Transport Bill: the use of community buses for excursions and tours".
"I am writing to you in the hope that you will he prepared to express when the House receives the Transport Bill from the Lords in its amended form the Association's concern about the possible ramifications of the amendment adopted in that House which allowed community bus services to be extended to cover the provision of excursions and tours.
I have quoted the letter in full because it raises some serious matters. I hope that my hon. Friend will assure the House that these serious matters are fully noted. In Committee the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) was even further to the right in his opinions than his Front-Bench colleagues. The amendments seek to broaden the main provisions that we discussed in Committee. It may be a slight broadening, but some of us do not know what the ramifications will be. In my area there are complaints about the bus services. I receive letters complaining about infrequent services and buses not appearing. Opposition Members say "All hail to the amendments and the general provision. Everybody can flood on to the market and the drain on the general taxpayer's pocket can be stopped." I could run a bus service in my constituency without being an entrepreneur of any great expertise. I would lay on minibus services to neighbouring villages. I would provide coach services to bring in steel workers from the villages in the morning and I would have one or two contracts with the county council to take children to school. I would have some other occupation for the rest of the day, or I would sit with my feet up and enjoy a nice little income. What would happen to the service in my village? What would happen to all those who live in the village who wish to go into town to do their shopping? What would happen to the old people who want to go into town to get their prescriptions? It is a fact that we have fewer post offices. We have gone down that road so far that people are getting very bad services. 4.0 p.m. The Government have referred to measures that they are taking to try to improve the situation—for example, by giving grants to county councils. Many of those county councils—my own in particular—have submitted plans for subsidies to bus services. They are mainly Conservative-controlled councils. But, having received money from the Government, they have not paid it out in grants. They have said "What good boys are we. We were elected on the promise that we would keep down the rates. That is what we are doing." Therefore, they are using the money that we have made available for grants for transport services for other purposes. I am concerned that we should provide as good a service as possible to the people. Because of the changing pattern of rural life, fortunately more people now have cars. But there are fewer people in rural areas, and many still cannot afford cars. Therefore, they need to take advantage of what services are available. The hon. Member for Eastbourne, who has a rural constituency, nods. He knows that village shops and post offices are closing. People now need to get into the towns more than ever before for all kinds of specialist services, many of which are not available in rural areas. Many transport services are uneconomic. One of my hon. Friends told me about a bus service which served one particular village—a service which was uneconomic and made a loss. Some good people got together, had meetings in the village hall, and arranged to put on a minibus service. They found two retired gentleman to run it. Everyone was delighted. The community was going into action to serve itself. The local bus company opted out of providing the service. All went well to begin with, but what is often entered into with enthusiasm at the first flush is not always sustained. After they had been running the service for a few months and it got round to the winter and it was a question of getting up early in the morning, taking vehicles out on the ice and snow and coming home late at night—I have no criticism of these people—they said "After all, we are retired. We cannot keep it up. We have bitten off more than we can chew." So that service came to an end. Did the bus company come back with a service? No, it did not. There was bitterness and ill feeling in the village because what had been a marvellous concept had not worked out. Therefore, I am less than enthusiastic about the ramifications of some of the main ideas in the Bill. Although the amendments, in so far as they are technical, make the achieving of these objects easier, I still have my doubts. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend, in reply, to make specific reference to the safety standards that will operate in these areas. Does he consider that the legislation with the amendments is sufficiently tight? Despite the wide gulf that separates the hon. Member for Eastbourne and me in these matters, I hope that he will not express the view that we should tamper with the safety aspects. I am glad to see him nod. Those who take vehicles out should have the appropriate licences and skills. As the ADC memorandum stated, there should be no possibility that, after a hard day's work, a person will take out a vehicle and finish up driving it all night. Otherwise, the riposte will come back to this House as a result of tragedies. I nail my colours to the mast. We live in a changing society. However, I do not believe that the amendment will achieve a great extension of services to people in rural areas. I think that there will be a creaming off of the better areas, thus rendering it more difficult for the nationalised bus undertakings and other companies to provide any kind of comprehensive service covering whole areas. We may find ourselves going down that path. Therefore, I urge the House to watch the implications of this measure. I do not apologise for taking up the time of the House. It would be an ill day if this important measure went through without someone perhaps putting a contrary view by pointing to the implications not only for bus services, but for railway services.The ADC's primary concern is to ensure the safety of passengers, particularly as regards the competence of the driver. We believe that it would be dangerous to invite the possible serious consequences following the use on such services of a driver who does not meet the high standards of fitness normally associated with PSV licensed drivers, who would normally be used on licensed excursions and tours. This danger would be especially apparent where, for example, (i) regular volunteer drivers are not available and an inexperienced substitute is inveigled into taking over, or (ii), an unfamiliar vehicle is substituted for the regular one just prior to a journey with, say, manual rather than automatic gearbox. Passengers and others could be put at risk in these circumstances. There have been several well reported cases of deaths arising out of minibus accidents so far this year and although we are not aware of the inquest results in any of these cases, we would urge extreme caution as many drivers will undoubtedly have a higher opinion of their ability to control a heavily loaded minibus than is justified. The EEC rules on drivers hours would not apply and there is a possibility of a driver, having worked all day, then taking out a minibus that he could drive all night."
One of the misfortunes which afflicts Speakers of the House of Commons is the tradition that they do not attend our debates upstairs.
Order. That is not an affliction.
I was about to pay tribute to the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) before paying tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) and Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), because the debate upstairs was characterised by great vigour of expression upon either side.I express my ready agreement with the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe that, whatever we may do to liberalise the licensing laws, one precondition should be that standards of safety for buses and standards of skill for bus drivers are not only maintained but, if possible extended. Therefore, I find myself somewhat unusually in wholehearted and enthusiastic agreement with the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe. We need to note at the outset of the debate the virtue and merit of another place. We heard the Under-Secretary of State no less, in the presence of the Secretary of State, actually recommend that the House should agree with the amendments suggested by another place. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) in his place. He will not, to our sad loss, be in his place much longer, but he is in his place today. That is why it gives me particular pleasure to pay tribute to another place—a place to which the hon. Member for Handsworth has not always given the warmest praise in the past, as he would always recognise. One of the marvels of the past four and a half years has been the way in which the Treasury Bench has in some respects moved under the influence of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield towards the concept of a free market in the provision of transport. No one who reads the Transport Bill—the House will know what an impartial reader of the Bill I am—could fail to recognise in clause 5 a substantial measure of liberalisation. No one could fail to see in this clause, which permits a community bus to operate in circumstances in which today it cannot, the mind and the heart or part of the mind and part of the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Cold- field. He is entitled to claim part authorship of clause 5 and more than part authorship of the amendments from another place which have been commended to us by the Under-Secretary of State. Why do we so warmly welcome the amendments? It is because they liberalise still further the reluctant steps taken by the Transport Department. In preparation for this debate, and possibly in common with the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe, yesterday I made a journey on a community bus—the first that I have made. The bus service is well known both to the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State. It is called the Cuckmere Community Bus, but on the Sabbath it is called the Rambler bus. I caught the bus in company with my two sons at Friston Pond. I made the journey to the "Horse and Groom" at Polegate. The cost of that journey for two minors and their aged father was 50p. Others were also travelling upon the bus. It was not like a Southdown bus on a Sunday. This bus was half full. It was a dreadful day. It was pouring with rain in Sussex, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister will be able to testify—and as will the Secretary of State, who was staying at West Wittering. That is in West Sussex, whereas I was in East Sussex, so I was closer to the Prime Minister than the Secretary of State.
It was still raining.
I have no doubt that it was raining.The purpose of my recounting to the House my first expedition in a community bus is to illustrate that these bus services in rural areas are of the greatest value and importance to the travelling citizen. I hope that our acceptance of the amendments will mark the start of a recognition by the House of the need to follow the lead which the Government have set in clause 5 for a progressive and radical liberalisation of our licensing laws. When the Under-Secretary of State advised the House to accept the amendments, I had the impression that he was doing so with a certain amount of reluctance. We know his views. He is one of the brightest stars upon the Treasury Bench, but he has to glance over his shoulder and look below the Gangway. I exclude from the term "below the Gangway" the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe and the successor to Lord Glenamara, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans). There are Luddites below the Gangway. There are those who do not recognise that the liberalisation of the licensing laws is the greatest service that the House can render.
How far would the hon. Member go with the liberalisation of the licensing laws? I am sure that many of his hon. Friends would not favour the abolition of the licensing system for certain types of business.
I nail my colours firmly to the mast. I answer directly the question put to me by the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr Atkins). I should happily abolish the traffic commissioners and all their works with one exception. I should allow their residue, or a new body, to insist that nobody and no company could operate a public transport system unless two crucial criteria were met—that he or she who drove the bus had the necessary qualifications and that the bus itself complied with the strictest safety standards.I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has arrived, because I have sat at his feet on these matters. He and I believe that the best interests of the travelling public will be served if there is a free market in the provision of bus services, subject only to those two crucial safety elements.
Would the hon. Member apply the abolition of the licences to other types of vehicle?
It would be out of order for me to deal with lorries. We are now dealing with buses. I have enunciated my views about licensing for buses. I would allow anybody to run a bus provided that the driver was capable of driving and that the vehicle complied with the strictest safety regulations. No one could accuse me of having fudged the answer to that question.
What would my hon. Friend do about buses running along narrow country lanes?
One of the marvels of mankind is that the magic of the market place will operate even in country lanes. We should allow motor cars to pick up passengers. We should allow—as we have in Cuckmere—volunteer drivers to serve communities, such as those now working for the WRVS and other voluntary organisations who would be only too pleased to drive villagers into the market town. That is to be permitted to a limited extent under the Bill. In a small way, it was permitted in the Minibus Act. If we could go further along that road. we should be able to provide citizens in rural areas with the means which they lack today of getting to towns and larger villages. That is why the Bill is so important. That is why the amendments are so important. They show that the two Ministers have overcome the protests from below the Gangway and recognised that liberalisation is required.In the past 30 years there has been a dramatic increase in the regulatim and control of bus services. That experiment has failed. The Bill, and the acceptance by the Government of the amendments, are a modest recognition of that failure. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster was right to welcome the amendments. We have a further hope. We hope that the partial recognition of the need for liberalisation will be extended. We hope that those of us who are on the libertarian and radical wing of the Tory Party will be able to carry with us to further triumphs the Ministers who sit on the Treasury Bench—although sadly, only for the three days that remain in the Session.
It is remarkable to hear these antediluvian arguments. which I thought had been killed on both sides of the House, about the free play of market forces in transport. There may well be need for that free play in many aspects of economic life, but in transport it is a certain way to destroy regular stage services.The history of transport, before nationalisation and since, seems to indicate this, because the small operators existing with the free market forces have been mopped up by the bigger operators in the interests of economy. As the public service transport services have become increasingly more expensive and because they have been expected to run regular services, even at times when there is not a great demand for them but as a great service to the community, and because these extraordinary expenses cause public transport to be a greater economic problem than any other sphere of economic activity, it has been necessary to rationalise transport services. Because of this, the smaller operators, operating under free market conditions, have had to give up and their businesses have been taken over by bigger concerns. This concentration has gone on. Eventually, the great majority of this country's bus services have come under the public sector, because private enterprise could not run those services at a profit. The problem is that if one goes back to the early stages and allows a private operator who has retired, perhaps, or who has another income, to operate a service during a period when he can take the cream of the traffic, during the rush hour, for instance, or perhaps for special excursions or for contract hire, eventually it means the erosion of the regular services which are provided for the whole community throughout the day. There is a great danger in this. We must remember that some of the losses of the public transport services are mopped up because they can provide vehicles for excursions and for contract hire. It is for that reason that I support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). We are not very doctrinaire about this. We accept the fact that community buses should be allowed contract and excursion work. However, we are asking the Minister to ensure that the losses which are reduced in their undertaking will not increase the losses of the public service vehicle undertakings. This can easily happen. We know, for instance, that it may well be that public service operators have provided excursions and buses which on the way to the destination would have gone to some of the outlying villages and picked up and deposited at the end of the excursion. The services which they operate from the little market town may be eroded if there are operators in the hamlets who run bus services independently. If because of the excursion and contract work of the community buses, similar work is reduced by the public service transport operator, this may mean an increase in his losses. It may well also mean a reduction in the services, and sometimes the total annihilation and destruction of the services, as has happened in the past. This has happened, of course, quite naturally when people have clubbed together in using a car to take them to a certain destination either for work or for pleasure.
Would not the annihilation of a loss-making service actually produce a net saving, or, indeed, a profit for the other operator? Therefore, would not the hon. Member compensate someone else?
The fact is that if an operator loses this trade, his losses are increased. If the losses are increased, either a greater subsidy is required—let us remember that the community buses are subsidised—or the operator reduces his services. If this should undermine his position so much that he has to cease the services, the communities will be worse off than previously because people will have to wait for certain hours on certain days before they can travel where they wish to travel. This is a great inconvenience. Already many rural areas have worse public transport services than they had 100 years ago. This is because the annihilation of those services has followed the increasing cost of transport, which has occurred through excessive competition under free market forces.I have spoken for longer than I intended. However, I hope that the Minister will ensure that the extra powers that are being given to the community bus services will not erode the public service undertakings that are doing a job under difficult conditions.
After listening to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), I must say that one of the things that I shall miss when I am no longer a Member of the House is not hearing the most engaging and rather charming way in which he puts over the most extraordinary Right-wing opinions. When listening to the hon. Member, I was rather reminded of a remark of Hugh Dalton, who once said that there were some supporters of extreme private enterprise who did not believe in traffic lights because they interfered with the law of supply and demand.Certainly the hon. Member's attitude seemed to be a logical extension of that when he was answering his hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). I should not have thought that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe was regarded as having very much in common with those of us below the Gangway on the Labour Benches. He raised a perfectly reasonable question about the social implications of the misuse of roads. The hon. Member for Eastbourne brushed him off in just the same way as he would brush us off. I am tempted to divide the House on this amendment. It seems to me that the Government have engaged in a bit of sleight of hand. They have slipped in a rather important provision or, rather, have allowed the Lords to slip it in and have acquiesced in it. I confess that I was not paying particular attention to what was going on in the other place. I do not know whether these amendments were carried against the Government or were accepted by the Government in the other place. It is whispered to me that this is a Government amendment—which makes it even worse. It is not even as if the Government had accepted the amendment from another source because they feared that they would be defeated if they did not accept it. We shall certainly need to know certain answers before we can allow this to go through without some sort of challenge. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) made mention of one question. It is all very well for a number of people, in a first flush of social enthusiasm, to provide a service which apparently fills the gap in the public service provisions, but that enthusiasm may wane when the difficulties of winter or, perhaps, the tedium of sustained effort, or perhaps financial difficulty, render it more difficult. If in the meantime, as a result of temporary competition, the public service—which is being rather painfully maintained, perhaps, in circumstances in which, because of dispersal of population over wide areas, it is difficult to make it economically viable—is forced into further retrenchment of services, one ends up in a worse situation after all. I wish that those who believe in a competitive private enterprise would tell us what happens when the various competitors have been knocked out of the ring. We know that through the weakness of Labour Governments or through strong periods of Conservative government private operators have been allowed to enter the field. Charter air operators have had the picking of the airways. It is interesting to observe that Sir Freddie Laker, who after all appears to be one of the heroes of the Tory Party, has conceded that there are limits to the usefulness of the type of operations in which he himself is—at present, at any rate—a pretty conspicuous operator. 4.30 p.m. Will my hon. Friend tell us a little more about what is intended in terms of the remit of the traffic commissioners? Is it expected to be a condition of licensing that a new operator will guarantee use of the service for a set period of years? Is that the sort of thing that the traffic commissioners will be expected to demand of an applicant before granting a licence? If not, may we know what is meant in clause A(2) by the use of the phrase
"on a regular basis for the purposes of the service"?
I am sure that in his anxiety to be wholly evenhanded between the operators who are subsidised by the State and those who make their own way the hon. Gentleman would not wish to impose on anyone conditions more onerous than would apply to the public transport system.
No, I do not think I would. but I should like to know how long the service would operate. I should like to know whether it was going to be merely a flash in the pan. As regards public transport services, they have to bear the heat and burden of the day of non-viable routes. This is only natural, because we expect that rural areas should be provided with services which are taken for granted in the towns. It is perfectly reasonable that we should demand to see the colour of the money of those coming forward with these proposals.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not at the moment. I am addressing my remarks to the Minister. The hon. Gentleman is another Poujade. He can make his own speech in a moment. He need not get so excited. He need not wave his arms quite so excitedly. I am addressing my remarks to the Manifesto group who form the Department of Transport.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hansworth (Mr. Lee) is supposed to be addressing his remarks to you and not to any other body.
I think that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) has allowed his enthusiasm to run away with him. The Chair belongs to no group.
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That was a piece of pedantry: the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) knew full well what I meant. My remarks are addressed for the hearing of the Minister and the Under-Secretary, if they are minded to address themselves to the subject.Subsection (3) of new clause A says:
That seems to be an unexceptionable term, if only one knew what it meant. It seems to be tantamount to saying "How long is a piece of string?" May we have some more precise indication of what is intended? There is not a large body of authoritative case law in this aspect of the work of the traffic commissioners. The minibus service is a fairly recent innovation and, therefore, to some extent we at large in matters of traffic commissioners' case law. There is limitation as to the number of persons involved. It must be at least six and not more than 16. To some extent this invariably provides some indication of the size of vehicle. It would have been helpful if there had been some indication with regard to physical size, having regard to the fact that many roads in rural areas, even to this day, are not very wide. As the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe said in his intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne, safety arises not only in the sense of the competence of the operator and the vehicle's roadworthiness. The size and the use of the vehicle on roads which are inappropriate because of the narrowness of carriageway are factors which have a bearing on road safety and on the question of accident prevention and hazards. Unless I receive some very good answers to these questions, the Lords amendment will not go through with quite the murmur of unanimity that I think the Minister expected."The licence or permit shall not be granted with an authorisation under subsection (1) unless the commissioners are satisfied that it is reasonable in all the circumstances with a view to financial support of the service."
I had not intended to intervene, but it has been made necessary for me to do so by the curious reluctance of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) to give way and let me make one or two simple points and I hope that the House will not mind if I detain it for a few moments.What worries me about the hon. Gentleman's attitude to these matters is that he enters the Chamber in the most orthodox of garbs and propounds the most unorthodox of opinions. He has been doing so for a long time. I do not know who will take his place in this no doubt necessary role. The hon. Gentleman seems to have some extraordinary ideas on the subject of competition and the position which should be accorded to the public sector above all. He has some very odd ideas as to what actually has happened in some areas of rural bus services. If it is of interest to him—it may not be, but it should certainly educate him—I could take him to a part of the country not 50 miles from here where over 15 years ago the public service operator abandoned the loss-making service and left a number of local communities with no bus service. There was no question of the operator being forced by the traffic commissioners to continue the service. There was no power in the traffic commissioners to force the operator to do any such thing. It would be ludicrous to suggest that they had any such power. As I was the local councillor at the time and the villagers wanted a bus service, we broke a few rules and we hired a bus. We were persecuted by the inspectors, so we used the church bus for a while. That was persecuted by the inspectors. Then a very public-spirited local citizen obtained for himself a public service vehicle licence and a bus and ran a community bus service, in effect, over a considerable mileage of the routes which had been abandoned by the public service operator. I am happy to say that that service is still running. I do not know how the gentleman concerned, who is a busy consultant psychiatrist at one of the local hospitals, manages to do this. It is a considerable testimony to what can be done by the private sector and by voluntary effort coming in and picking up the bits when a public service operator has completely abandoned local communities. I do not want anything to happen under the Bill or under the Lords amendments which will be likely to make such an event more difficult in the future. What concerns me about certain provisions in the amendment and about certain provisions in the Bill is that if competition is to be intensified against the marginal operator—the private operator who has come in to pick up a service and who has been running it on a shoestring for a long time, perfectly safely, but not necessarily very profitably—that will not necessarily be to the public advantage. Therefore, I hope that whatever happens the private sector will not be subjected to unfair competition.
I do not know whether the hon. Member was present at the time I made my speech. He is now making exactly the point that I made, except that he is now making it for the smaller entrepreneur whereas I was making it for the larger bus companies. This is what we all fear.
It is always a matter of pleasure and surprise to me to find myself agreeing with people whose views I do not know. I am correspondingly delighted to find that the hon. Member would have carried me with him in my absence. I think that there is room for unease on this question and I shall be interested to. hear what the Minister has to say about it.
By leave of the House. may I speak again? It is not the usual custom for a Minister to wind up a debate on a Lords amendment as well as to open it, but in view of what has been said on both sides of the House I think that I should say a few words.First, I respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis), who asked for an assurance about safety. I agree with him absolutely that safety standards must not slip. That is a view which has been advanced by hon. Members on both sides throughout our debates on community minibus services. Community minibuses will in fact be more restricted in the journeys which they may undertake than are minibuses operating under permits under the Minibus Act. We shall ensure that the essential safety requirements will be plainly set out in the regulations to be made for these buses. The drivers will have to be over 21 years of age and have a current full, not provisional, driving licence. The vehicles themselves will have to meet the safety elements of the existing public service vehicle regulations. Moreover, we shall be producing a booklet giving advice on the setting up of community minibus schemes, and in that booklet we shall recommend the organisers to enlist the professional assistance of their local bus operators in selecting suitable drivers. I was asked by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) as well as by my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) and Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) for an assurance about the effect of community minibuses on existing stage services. We come here to the whole point of putting the operation of community minibuses under the aegis of the traffic commissioners. Much to the chagrin of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), this essential safeguard remains, and the traffic commissioners, in deciding whether to grant a permit or licence for a community minibus, will have regard to the effect of the community minibus on the operations of any existing operators, whether they be large subsidiaries of the National Bus Company or small, marginal operators such as those to which the hon. Member for Woking referred. If there is likely to be any creaming-off effect on those other services, the traffic commissioners will take that into account and may in certain circumstances not grant a permit. That is why the hon. Member for Eastbourne wants to abolish them, but my view, which, I think, has support on both sides of the House—the hon. Gentleman's view has the support of only a very restricted part of the House, if I may say so, without being unfair— is that we should keep the traffic commissioners. My hon. Friend the Member for Hands-worth asked precisely what was meant by the words in subsection (3)—
The point is that many of these community minibus schemes, although they may have volunteer drivers, will not be able to support themselves exclusively out of their fares on their normal stage carriage operations, and they may therefore from time to time hire themselves out to, say, an old-age pensioners' club or a Women's Institute for the purpose of excursions. This will add to their income and make the service more readily viable. To the extent that minibus schemes are able to do that, the service will be more likely to pay its way and there will accordingly be a smaller subsidy demanded from the county council, and it is likely that more minibus schemes will be brought into being if a smaller subsidy is required for any particular service. The traffic commissioners will therefore look into the finances of the community minibus in question and decide whether they should allow it to indulge in such excursions or private contract service to help meet its costs, which will be minimised in any event by the use of volunteer drivers. One cannot be more specific in the legislation than that. The traffic commissioners will look at the particular circumstances of community minibuses in deciding whether to allow that additional facility."unless the commissioners are satisfied that it is reasonable in all the circumstances with a view to financial support of the service."
What about the length of time to which a would-be operator would commit himself?
I think that the traffic commissioners will have a general remit to keep the service under review, and if they feel that this aspect is in any way being abused they will, I am sure, take that into accountNext, I was asked about the size of minibuses. I inaugurated a new minibus service at the end of last year in a part of Devon. If my lion. Friend the Member for Handsworth knows that part of the country, he will be aware how narrow are the roads and how high are the hedges. The minibus in question, which was of the maximum size, negotiated those roads quite satisfactorily. Therefore, if a minibus can manage roads of that character, other such buses will, I am sure, successfully negotiate most roads in the country I believe that the sort of minibus which we are talking about is well tailored to the type of road we find in the more remote parts. I hope, indeed, that manufacturers of community minibuses will be able to standardise now and adopt a pattern which will enable their buses to be produced rather more cheaply so that community minibus operators or county councils, as the case may be, can buy them more cheaply. 4.45 p.m. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) asked me for an assurance about the way we propose to bring in the provisions regarding private hire. He pointed out that the Confederation of British Road Passenger Transport had advocated a rather different way of approaching this matter, a way which would have meant that we did not have this debate at all because we would not need these Lords amendments but could proceed under existing legislation. However, we felt that it was more straightforward to make quite explicit what the Government intended instead of achieving our objective by encouraging operators to put themselves outside the existing restrictions on private hire and thus become subject to the road service licensing provisions, which was the alternative way that the confederation put forward. We believe that ours is the better way, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall watch developments—I think that that was his phrase—and if we turn out to be wrong we can certainly look at the matter again, or some future Government can look at it again. At the moment I think it right to make explicit what we intend and to operate in an open way rather than encourage people to break regulations and thus come under a different technical part of the Bill. I believe that these provisions are balanced, and certainly, as I judge the tenor of the debate today, they seem to accord with the general spirit on both Front and Back Benches on both sides. They represent a balanced approach to the serious problems which we have in remote rural areas, and I am sure that they will therefore commend themselves to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
We come now to Lords amendments nos, 2, 3 and 4, to be moved formally. In addition there is also Lords amendment no. 5, which Mr. Speaker indicated should be dealt with in the same grouping. Have I the leave of the House to put the Question on all four altogether?
Lords amendments nos. 2 to 5 agreed to.
Car-Sharing For Social And Other Purposes
Lords amendment: No. 6, in page 8. line 43, after ("Act") insert
(",in sections 270 or 271 of and Schedule 5 to the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892")
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.This is a purely technical amendment. The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, which regulates private hire vehicles in England and Wales, does not extend to Scotland. Thus, by inserting a reference to a Scottish Act, which has been used in certain cases to control private hire vehicles, we ensure that the provisions of this clause can be applied to Scotland as well as to England and Wales.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I may have misheard what you or Mr. Speaker said, but what happens regarding Lords amendments nos. 7 and 25?
We shall reach those in due course. Perhaps I may explain the matter. They are grouped and will be moved formally at the appropriate point when their number is reached on the Amendment Paper.
Question put and agreed to.
Lords amendment no. 7 agreed to.
Lords amendment: No. 8 in page 9, line 30, after ("of") insert (",and Schedule 4 to,")
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.The purpose here is simply to put in a cross-reference. It is a piece of editorialising.
Question put and agreed to.
New Clause B
Drivers' Hours (Eec Rules)
Lords amendment: No. 9, in page 9, line 44, at end insert new Clause B—
("B. In section 96 of the 1968 Act (restrictions on drivers' hours), after subsection (11A) (added by the European Communities Act 1972, with a view to penalising contraventions of the applicable Community rules), there shall be inserted—
"(11B) But a person shall not be liable to be convicted under subsection (11A) if—
(a) he proves the matters specified in paragraph (i) of subsection (11); or (b) being charged as the offender's employer or a person to whose orders the offender was subject, he proves the matters specified in paragraph (ii) of that subsection.".")
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.The amendment makes available to drivers and employers operating within the scope of the EEC rules on drivers' hours the same statutory defences against contravention of those rules as are available to drivers and employers operating entirely under part VI of the Transport Act 1968. Thus the clause inserted by the amendment has the effect of bringing the enforcement provisions of the EEC on regulated work into line with those for work regulated by domestic regulation under the Act of 1968. We brought forward this amendment in the Lords following representations from the Freight Transport Association. I think that it meets the approval of the trade unions and the employers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) made an important point earlier when he paid credit to the other House and its value in relation to the Bill. The whole House owes a debt of gratitude to my noble Friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth for moving the amendment. Although one would have liked the Government to make it, we must give them credit for having accepted it.We think that a very important point of principle has been recognised in the amendment, simply because the statutory defences which have been recognised in our transport legislation for over 40 years would have ceased to apply where vehicles were being driven under the new Community rules if the amendment had not been made. Here I would add a word of criticism. The Government have known full well that the whole question of the implementation of the drivers' hours legislation, which we shall talk about later tonight, would give rise to a whole series of anomalies. On Second Reading I criticised the way in which the Bill had been drafted and the considerable lack of thought, in view of the enormous amount of time there had been before the Bill came before the House. Although we give the Government credit for having accepted the amendment, they should have foreseen the situation that has arisen.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not being discourteous to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) when I say that the amendment is tightly drafted. There is talk in the rules of "unforeseen circumstances" and certain accommodations that can be made. I shall express some views on the general subject of the complexity of licensing and the response of the Government and the Opposition. If the debate is to be allowed to run wide, I hope that all hon. Members taking part will be able to range widely. However, it seems to me that we are discussing a matter that is fairly restricted.
With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, the Chair must see how hon. Members develop their arguments. As long as they keep within the rules of order and within the scope of the amendment, all will be well. Otherwise, the Chair will intervene.
I have no wish to extend this debate much wider. I think that we shall have the opportunity later this evening, perhaps much later, to go into these matters in much greater detail. I wanted only to make the point that an important question of principle had been decided, that in my view the Government should have taken the initiative and that it should not have been left to an outside body to see the inevitable consequences of their legislation.Having said that, on behalf of the Opposition I welcome the amendment and am very pleased that the Government have accepted it.
I bear your ruling in mind, Mr. Speaker.The criticism we have just heard from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) about the late stage at which the amendment was made comes ill from a member of a party that is a part-felon on the matter of how we come to be involved in these extremely complicated regulations dealing with drivers' hours and what is and what is not permitted. The whole sin in the present position is the Common Market legislation, and the Opposition Front Bench must take its share of the blame for getting us into this ball game. Important as the concessions are—and I do not wish to oppose them—we come on to dangerous ground when we allow excuses such as unavoidable delay in completing a journey due to unforeseen circumstances. That paints matters with a broad brush in an area where the law is specific. We often face the necessity for such an amendment because the EEC regulaticns are so embracing. For an employer charged with causing or permitting his driver to breach the rules, the breach arises because the driver has carried out periods of driving on duty otherwise than in his employment of which he—the employer—was not aware or could not reasonably have become aware. How far down the line do we go with that argument? It seems unexceptionable at first thought, but if somebody is responsible under regulations covering what somebody in his employment does, he has some responsibility in the matter—whether it is in a nationalised undertaking, the Civil Service or anywhere else. For example, it is part of the doctrine of the House that if the sin is committed in a Minister's Department the Minister accepts responsibility.
Not in this Government.
That is the doctrine of the House. If I were an employer of somebody charged with serving the public, and if he were fiddling the public or conning them, I should take it as part of my responsibility.I have no rooted objection to the proposal, but the question of dealing with drivers' hours and the legislation must be a full-time job. It is no longer sufficient to be interested in transport generally. Employers need to understand the ramifications of drivers' hours and conditions and everything emanating from the Common Market. I should imagine that each firm or nationalised enterprise will need a full-time adviser on the domestic legislation and the EEC regulations. The procedure is unsatisfactory. I do not see how any employer or employee can have the necessary knowledge to allow him to work in the unsatisfactory position into which we have got ourselves on legislation concerning drivers' hours and what drivers are permitted to do. It ill becomes the Opposition Front Bench to offer criticisms. When Conservative Members wax lyrical about the Government's deficiencies, they should think of where they stood on the Common Market and all its works. Criticism should come only from those who took a stand similar to mine and that of some of my hon. Friends and some notable exceptions on the Opposition Benches. The Opposition must share the burden of blame with my right hon. and hon. Friends. I am harsher with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary than I am with other Ministers, because my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend played a murky part in their eagerness to get us into the Common Market.
I endorse all that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) has said. Absolute offences are a part of the law that one frequently encounters. One tends to regard this as the type of offence connected with the food and drug regulations whereby, for various reasons, if a breach is committed that is sufficient for the purposes of a conviction and, whatever the mitigation, the offence is made out.I infer from the blurb which has been obligingly provided that a different defence may be available for a breach of the European Community drivers' regulations as opposed to a breach of the domestic law. If I am wrong about that, the Minister will no doubt put me right. It is odd that there should be two criteria by which proof of a criminal offence may be supported depending on whether the legislation is of a domestic kind emanating from this House or imposed on us by our Common Market masters. 5.0 p.m. The defences seem to be somewhat loose. It may be that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. One would like to see what a court would regard as "unforeseeable circumstances". That phrase is as difficult to define as it is to define "reasonableness". The terms "reasonable man" or "reasonable circumstance" or "reasonable defence" are among the most tautologous phrases that a lawyer can use. We use them, I suppose, because we give up the attempt to define what is often almost indefinable. This is an invitation to vagueness, to an evasion of the law, to a whittling down of its impact. I should be interested to know how an employer who properly plans his work programme will avail himself of the defence which allows him to say that he was not aware or could not have been aware that the journey was not likely to have been achieved except by a breach of the hours limitation. It may well be that where a genuinely meritorious instance occurs there is a case for the court imposing a conditional or absolute discharge. That is a not infrequent device resorted to in cases where an offence has been made out but where it is clear that it is not made out in a moral sense. I share the concern that has already been expressed about the intention of the Government, bearing in mind the wide and imprecise nature of the offences. I find it all the more unsatisfactory when such offences are made referable to Common Market law rather than domestic law. I know that the Secretary of State is a Common Marketeer and may be inhibited from making an objective assessment of the situation. I am hoping for the best.
The Prime Minister is much given to quoting poets. I shall misquote slightly. Kipling it was who wrote:
"If you can keep your head when all about you
It seems that certain hon. Members have revised that slightly so that it now reads:Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,".
"If you can keep your seat when all about you
There is a constant attempt to blame the European Community for all our problems. That carries little weight with many Opposition Members and members of the public. I feel sorry for the Secretary of State. He is faced with overt hostility from such Cabinet colleagues as his right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for the Environment. Their hostility to the European Community is known because they never stop promoting it. No one should be surprised if, as a result, the Secretary of State for Transport finds it difficult if not impossible to negotiate happily with the Community. We are always giving the impression that the majority of the members of the Government have as their overriding priority the destruction of the EEC and the damnification of all its works. No wonder they do not help as much as they might.Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,".
By leave of the House, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee), may I say that we are providing the same defence for the EEC regulation offence as is already available for Transport Act offences. The Opposition, when in Gov- ernment, did not include the offences as amendments to the Transport Act in the European Communities Act 1972.
Question put and agreed to.
Control Of Off-Street Parking
Lords amendment: No. 10, in page 10, line 1, leave out clause 9.
I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
With this we may also discuss the Government amendment to Lords amendment no. 10, in page 10, line 34, at end insert—
"(3A) Any such Order shall also require councils—
(a) to consult organisations representative of the disabled before deciding to propose tie designation of a controlled area under the Order; and (b) if representations are received from such organisations about the proposal, to send to the Secretary of State (together with copies of representations received from other organisations consulted) a statement of how parking requirements of the disabled arising from implementation of the proposal are met by existing facilities or, if in the opinion of the council they are not already so met, how it is intended to meet them.".—
and Lords amendment no. 23, in page 17, line 29, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 32.
I do not intend to rehearse the familiar arguments about parking control. We have been over them many times and I do not believe that this is an appropriate time to run a well-worn course. There were many clear differences of opinion in another place. The Government held one view about the proposals then included in the Bill and a majority of noble Lords held another.I have to say—and I say it with reluctance and no disrespect to the other House—that I have found no new, inspiring or persuasive ideas in what was said in the debate in the other place. There was no distilled wisdom, no profound insight, no fresh interpretation and no exciting vision. In other words, having read the remarks of the noble Lords, I was neither wiser nor better informed than I had been after listening to the debates in this place. I confess, although this may be an inadequate reason of itself to be moving disagreement with the Lords, that I would prefer not to capitulate to the rather routine arguments of Lord O'Hagan when I had resisted the blandishments of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). I always do my best to be generous towards him, even amenable. I have a great regard for him, as I must have after the long time we have spent together in the House of Commons. It always hurts me to hurt him in any matter. If I was obliged to hurt the hon. Gentleman, as I am afraid I did when I opposed his proposals on this matter, how far short I would fall of the high standards of this place and the affections it generates if I were now to say that, where the hon. Gentleman failed, Lord O'Hagan should succeed? It is for that reason, if no other, that I must ask the House to accept my advice. These are old and familiar arguments. We have been discussing the question of parking and its appropriate place in traffic management for over 20 years. I remember, when I was a young, inarticulate and shy member of the Marylebone council, joining in supporting the large and formidable majority in favour of introducing parking meters into the streets of Marylebone. I did so because Mr. Harold Watkinson, now Lord Watkinson, who was then Minister of Transport, indicated—he was the first Minister of Transport to do so—the need for new restrictions on on-street parking. I think that he first advocated on-street parking and meters over 22 years ago. Then Mr. Ernest Marples made clear, as Minister of Transport, that he was a supporter of the strict control of parking. I should like to take this opportunity, the first in a transport debate since his death, to pay tribute to the important and valuable, work done by Lord Marples at a time when we were coming to terms with the motor car for the first time. I make it clear that that was street parking as an important part of traffic management.
Is not the simple point that street parking is on ground in public ownership whereas off-street parking is not? Is not that the crux of the argument?
Indeed, it is not, unless we are concerned only with the question of the invasion of property rights. Although that is a question that we may want to discuss from time to time, we are not considering it now. We are discussing the proper management of parking to ensure better traffic management, and better traffic management sometimes involves less road building, which itself encroaches on private property. So we want to look at this matter in traffic management terms.I mentioned Lord Watkinson and Lord Marples for one purpose. In the other place, it was argued that to move in this direction was only the thin edge of the wedge. If there is a wedge and it has a thin end, that wedge and the thin end were evident 22 years ago, when the idea of restricting parking, whether on or off the streets, was accepted as a necessary part of traffic management. So I do not think that there should be so little confidence in the power of this House, or, for that matter, the power of another, to decide when to call it a day and not to proceed with very important measures. I do not want to rehearse the arguments again. I will say only that, in the first place, one cannot have effective management of traffic in towns unless one has management of parking as well, and that, secondly, it is desirable—and I have not changed my view of this—that there should be a large measure of local option in this matter. Looking back at the Second Report of the Select Committee on Expenditure for the 1972–73 Session, I was struck by the evidence given by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who was then Secretary of State for the Environment. His evidence is recorded in the minutes of evidence in Volume 2. It was given on 22nd June in that Session. The right hon. Gentleman was asked whether he thought local authorities should be permitted to control private off-street car parking, and he replied:
That was the right hon. Gentleman's view when he carried responsibility for car parking under the last Conservative Government. I am sorry to have had to bring that evidence to the attention of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, because I am afraid that he is somewhat embarrassed by the revelation, but that was the position six years ago, and apart from remarks made by the hon. Gentleman in our debates on this Bill there has been no suggestion that a Conservative Government, were one ever to be elected, would not feel it necessary to move in this direction. I have much greater faith in local democracy, both in the common sense of local authorities and in the power of the electorate to turn them out if they do not behave in a sensible manner. I have much too much faith in them to believe that it is wrong to give them the opportunity to decide what is best for their own localities."They already have it in London, and I think that elsewhere they would need to have that power."
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his reference to the common sense of local authorities, and I agree with him. The only point at issue between us is that this is restricted to county councils. Why do we not bring in councils at borough level to a much greater extent?
My hon. Friend made that important point, with which I have great sympathy, in previous stages of our discussion of this Bill. The simple answer is that the Bill would not be the appropriate place for us to change the present division of powers between the two tiers of local government. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has been considering what might best be done. He has been in some discussion with me and other ministerial colleagues on the matter, but, as long as the distribution of powers remains as it is, it is appropriate in this Bill—it is the only quick way of doing it—to give this power to the counties. But I take my hon. Friend's point, and I think that there is much validity in it.I wish for these reasons to restore the clause as it was previously drafted, except that I am proposing an important amendment to it. As I have said, I found it difficult to see any new ideas in the debate in the House of Lords, but in Committee there concern was expressed that car park licensing might affect the mobility of the disabled, who are depen- dent on the use of cars to get them into town centres. I recognise that the disablcd, both drivers and passengers, are particularly vulnerable to traffic restraint measures, and I am anxious that when authorities use their licensing powers they give proper consideration to the special needs of the disabled. Accordingly, the clause as reintroduced contains a new subsection which requires an authority, when initiating a licensing scheme, to consult organisations representing the disabled, and if such organisations object to the scheme the authority must, in forwarding its objections to me, inform me what it already has done in order to meet the needs of the disabled or what it proposes to do. I shall then have an opportunity to consider whether the provisions are adequate, and if they do not appear to be so there are opportunities for me to intervene and require the draft regulations to be amended. That is one respect in which I hope the House will feel that I am making a concession, and one of a kind that is wholly appropriate. I have no sense that I am doing it under duress. Perhaps I may try further to mollify some of the anxieties. In deciding to reintroduce the clause, I have carefully considered the argument put forward in both Houses and by the interests involved that a public inquiry should be mandatory at the draft regulation stage. I have concluded that there is no case for such a radical departure from traffic regulation practice—that will not be news to the House. Moreover, my discretion as to whether to hold a public inquiry is an inherent feature of a scheme already extensively debated and sanctioned by Parliament. However, my Department will issue guidance which will make it clear that the power should be used only to relieve the most congested urban centres where local authorities are already using their existing powers to control parking to the full. In other words, this power will not be perversely exercised. I do not believe that it would be, but this is a safeguard which I think that the House will welcome, and I give my undertaking in that respect. If any authority proposed to use the powers in other circumstances, I would consider very carefully whether there was a need for me to intervene.
Has the Secretary of State taken into account the fact that before planning permission was given to erect the building, the local authority insisted on a car park being incorporated in part of the building? Would that be considered to be conclusive evidence not to restrict what the owner had put in at the request of the local authority?