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Commons Chamber

Volume 19: debated on Monday 1 March 1982

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House Of Commons

Monday 1 March 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Death Of A Member

I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Sir Ronald McMillan Bell, Knight, QC, Member for Beaconsfield, 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 hon. and learned Member.

Oral Answers To Questions

Trade

India

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will use the occasion of the Festival of India to promote trade between India and the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade has accepted an invitation to address a conference on the Indian market organised by the British and South Asian Trade Association to coincide with the opening of the festival.

The Festival of India presents a unique opportunity to improve political and cultural relations between the two countries, especially because of the visit of Prime Minister Gandhi. Surely it is not enough for the Secretary of State for Trade to address a conference. Surely what should be done in these circumstances—

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is making proposals. He should ask a question.

Does the Minister accept that it must be in the interests of Britain as well as of India to correct the massive trade imbalance and to help India, especially in the light of the proportionate cut in the economic assistance that we provide?

I assure the House that our efforts to nourish both economic and political relations with India will certainly not be confined to the period of the festival, during which, of course, we shall watch and admire artifacts of the Indian civilisation. Our relationships with India are of considerable importance and the subject of continuous scrutiny and endeavours by not only my Department but others.

Is not the main purpose of the Festival of India to foster music and the arts in the context of historic ties and warm relationships between India and the United Kingdom?

Export Statistics

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what information he has as to the proportion of exports from the United Kingdom which come from United Kingdom subsidiaries of foreign companies.

Foreign-controlled enterprises accounted for 29 per cent. of United Kingdom exports in 1979, the latest year for which data are available. The information is collected annually in the overseas transactions inquiry and was published in British Business on 3 July 1981.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that this shows that the subsidiaries of foreign multinationals in Britain are an essential and important part of our economy, providing many jobs? Does he also agree that they have been coming to this country increasingly now because, as a member of the Common Market, Britain provides them with access to a large market? Does he agree that if we left the Common Market the multinationals would cease to come, which would cost thousands of jobs in Britain?

There is no doubt that these companies play a very important part in our national economy, accounting for 21 per cent. of output and 15 per cent. of employment, as well as the export figure to which I referred. I am certain that their success depends on Britain being part of an open trade agreement, including open trade with Europe.

Textiles And Clothing

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether agreement has yet been reached in the Council of Ministers on the level of global ceilings on imports of textiles and clothing from all sources, including multi-fibre arrangement signatories.

The Council of Ministers agreed in principle on 25 February on global ceilings on imports into the Community of the eight most sensitive textile and clothing products.

Is the Minister satisfied that the ceilings agreed in principle will be sufficient to prevent any further erosion of our textile industries?

I am satisfied that the overall package that will emerge when the bilateral agreements within the framework laid down are concluded will provide a much tougher regime and greater protection for the British textile industry.

But just how tough is the mandate about which the Minister has boasted on the 1 per cent. growth? Will there not be a 4 to 5 per cent. growth in imports? Does that not give the lie to the Minister's claim?

I would be the last to boast of any achievements in this field. Knowing the sensitivity of the area, it would be extremely ill-judged for me to do so. The 1 per cent. growth rate relates to the most sensitive products. It is possible that there will be a higher growth rate in less sensitive products. We must wait and see. I can, however, assure the House that, in the most sensitive products, there will be a lower growth rate than that achieved in the last multi-fibre arrangement.

Has the Minister had any reaction from the textile industry to his announcement in the House on Friday?

I am happy to say that the only reaction has been an invitation to see the new headquarters of one of the associations, which I take to be a friendly invitation.

Does the Minister recognise the concern felt by producers and workers in the parts of the textile and clothing industry that come under categories two and three, dealing with such matters as suits, dresses, jackets, shirts and so on? Do the surge mechanism or the cutbacks on dominant suppliers relate to those categories? What action does he intend to take to safeguard what amounts to 50 per cent. of the industry?

No. Those categories are not covered. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, they are essentially non-sensitive categories. I appreciate that there are individual areas of concern. In those individual areas, the Government will endeavour to ensure that the growth rates are less than those negotiated under the previous multi-fibre arrangement. There are about 600 categories under those two groups. Many are areas where the textile industry would not press, I believe, for limited quotas.

European Community

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what has been the balance of trade in manufactures with the rest of the European Economic Community for each of the last six months.

In the last four months of 1981 there was a crude deficit of about £1, 400 million. With permission, I shall circulate the available monthly information for 1981 in the Official Report.

My right hon. Friend says that in the last four months of 1981 there was a crude deficit of £1, 400 million. That is a very considerable amount. In view of the recovery and massive increase in productivity that is taking place in British industry, does my right hon. Friend see the prospect of this deficit reducing significantly? Or does he see it, like the Japanese deficit, as a matter about which hon. Members should be concerned?

My hon. Friend is right. This is a deficit of great significance. Just under half of it is accounted for by road vehicles. I would not care to make an assessment of whether there will be a reduced deficit in the year in prospect.

What is the right hon. Gentleman's latest estimate of the likely loss of exports and jobs if Britain were to withdraw from the European Economic Community?

That would depend almost entirely on what replacement arrangements were made.

Is not the deficit almost exactly the same as the combined deficit with the United States, Japan and EFTA? Do not these three together take a smaller proportion of our exports that the EEC as a whole? Is it not further a fact that our export-import ratio with the EEC is still more favourable than that with the United States, and about three times as favourable as that with Japan?

Broadly speaking, I agree with those propositions, but I am not quite certain that I could validate the individual statistics that my hon. Friend has quoted.

Following is the information:

CRUDE BALANCE OF UNITED KINGDOM TRADE IN
MANUFACTURES WITH THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY

1981

£ million, OTS basis

January-18
February-144
September-357
October*-164
November-515
December-336

Source: Overseas Trade Statistics of the United Kingdom.

Notes: Figures for March to August are not yet available due to the Civil Service pay dispute.

*The October export figures are inflated as a result in the system of documenting exports.

British Airways

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will make a further statement on measures taken by British Airways to improve its financial position.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a further statement about the measures taken by British Airways to improve its future financial position, referred to in the Under-Secretary's reply on 4 February, Official Report, column 171.

British Airways made a pre-tax loss of £141 million last year and is expected to make a further substantial loss in the current financial year. Its debts are fast approaching the £1 billion mark. It is clearly the management's responsibility, therefore, to take strong measures to improve its financial performance as quickly as possible. I welcome the determination of Sir John King and the British Airways board to take such measures.

In the interests of fair competition in civil aviation, will my hon. Friend confirm that, despite British Airways' rejection of the description that it is State subsidised, it has received a wide variety of support from the taxpayer over the years? Is it not true that if British Airways were not a nationalised airline, but a private sector company, it would have been declared bankrupt long ago?

In the last part of his question my hon. Friend certainly puts the issue rather brutally, but, many people might think, accurately. It is absolutely right that the House should be aware of the massive support that British Airways has received from the taxpayer by means of the national loans fund and public dividend capital, amounting to £10 million a year, injected over the last five years, on which it has not recently been repaying its dividend. Its private sector debts are guaranteed by the Treasury, which means a preferential rate of interest. It also benefited at no cost to itself from the exchange cover scheme when that scheme was in operation. It has had £160 million of PDC written off. Its Concorde support programme was funded by the Government. There are many other points that I would raise if time were available.

Will the Under-Secretary of State take an early opportunity to withdraw the statement he has made on a number of occasions that British Airways has been subsidised? What were the subsidies? Is he aware that he gave an answer only last Friday indicating that over the last five years British airways had paid £100 million to the taxpayer and received £50 million back. That means that the taxpayer is £50 million up if one takes out of the calculation Concorde, which is a separate operation?

I thought I had made it clear even to the right hon. Gentleman that British Airways has benefited from taxpayers' support by at least ten separate means. If preferential rates of interest from the national loans fund and preferential rates from any private sector borrowing are not benefits, I cannot think what are. In addition, it has benefited from the exchange cover scheme. As for subsidy, it had £160 million written off. Furthermore, Concorde was subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £10 million every year. This also existed under the Labour Government.

Does the Under-Secretary of State realise that it is wrong to try to imply that the losses on Concorde result from any commercial mismanagement on the part of British Airways? Concorde is a national project subsidised in France and in Britain. It is the decisions of Governments that have led to subsidies and to losses. Does the Under-Secretary understand that one of the obligations of a Minister of the Crown is to play fair with the industries that he is supposed to support?

I am only too well aware of my duty to play fair. It is precisely because I am playing fair to the taxpayer that I emphasise the massive support that the taxpayer has given to British Airways over the years. I am extremely surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is apparently not aware that British Airways is claiming to make a profit out of Concorde at the moment, that it thinks it will do so in the years to come, and that it is extremely keen to keep it.

On the matter of improving the financial position of British Airways, will my hon. Friend confirm that the baggage handling dispute has improved the service to British Airways' customers and has also reduced the pilferage from those customers—

If this is absolute rubbish, will my hon. Friend say so? If it is true, however, will he encourage British Airways to draw the obvious conclusion and perform accordingly?

I shall encourage British Airways to draw the correct conclusions from what is happening. The manner in which other members of British Airways are acting in this crisis is a splendid tribute to the spirit that still exists within the airline.

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that the dispute is the fault of British Airways, which will not respond to an ACAS initiative to engage in negotiations with the Transport and General Workers Union? Is he also aware that this is a dispute in which British Airways has locked out its own staff despite guarantees from the executive council of the Transport and General Workers Union to meet some of the negotiating deadlines? If there is a deterioration in British Airways finances as a result of this dispute, it is its own fault.

I certainly do not confirm what the hon. Gentleman says. The details of the dispute and how it is handled must remain matters for the British Airways board.

Cars (Imports)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade how many British cars have been privately imported during the last 12 months.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what proportion of privately imported vehicles is manufactured overseas.

Separate statistics of new cars imported personally, whether of United Kingdom or foreign manufacture, are not available.

I do not know whether I dare thank the Minister for that reply. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in addition to the import of cars for personal use, there is a strong rumour that British companies will be allowed to buy their car fleets abroad? If that is so, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it will greatly harm the motor industry in Britain? What will he do about it?

In general, would it not benefit British customers and, in the long run, producers, if cars had to be made as cheaply in Britain as they are on the Continent?

My hon. Friend has emphasised a tremendously important point. It would not be in the long-term interests of anyone in Britain if our motor car industry did not strive to become efficient and competitive in full world market terms at the earliest possible moment.

If the Government believe that the retail margins on sales of new cars are too high, might it not be better to refer that to the Director General of Fair Trading under the Competition Act than to make it easier for foreign-based people such as civil servants, defence personnel and—according to The Times—even Ministers to bring in cheaper foreign cars?

The hon. Gentleman has begun from the wrong point. Pricing decisions are for the commercial judgments of manufacturers and dealers, acting within the requirements of the competition rules of the United Kingdom and the EEC.

"The Sunday Times"

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will publish his reply to the letter from the National Union of Journalists' chapel at The Sunday Times relating to the infringement of editorial independence.

I have placed a copy of this correspondence in the Library of the House. It is for the independent national directors to consider allegations that editorial independence has been infringed.

In regard to the company articles and the likes, does the Secretary of State agree that Rupert Murdoch attempted to find a way round the original agreements, but was caught? If the right hon. Gentleman had his time again, would he not design the articles quite differently, and would he have taken different action in referring the matter to the commission?

The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) has tabled question No. 22 about the titles, and I hope to reach and answer it. The answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "No". The answer to the third part is that I do not think that I would depart from my judgment.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that an element of make-believe surrounds the so-called guarantees of editorial independence? In practical terms, they are now unenforceable. Might it not be much more realistic for my right hon. Friend to accept that Times Newspapers Ltd. has a proprietor who, from time to time, may decide to fire an editor pour encourager les autres, and that there is nothing that the Government can do about it?

I do not agree that there is an element of make-believe in the articles. I understand that the question refers to the dismissal not of an editor, but of journalists. If the editor thought that his independence had been infringed, he could have appealed to the independent national directors.

Reverting to the episode to which my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) referred, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Mr. Rupert Murdoch failed to act within the spirit of the agreement when he attempted to transfer the titles without any reference to the independent national directors? What decision, if any, has been made about the future of the titles? In the light of recent experience, are not further safeguards necessary?

I do not wish to be in any way obstructive, but I owe it as a courtesy to the hon. Member for Battersea, South—who has tabled a question specifically on the transfer of titles—to deal with the matter later.

Given the importance that all hon. Members attach to editorial independence, will my right hon. Friend speculate on the degree of independence enjoyed by other newspapers, such as Militant?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that events seem to justify some of the fears that were expressed when Mr. Rupert Murdoch took over Times Newspapers Ltd? If The Times is closed, what approach will the Government take towards ensuring that it reappears in the near future?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's first observation. Clearly both sides of the House would like The Times to continue as a major journalistic force. However, it must do so on an economic basis.

Tourist Industry

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he is satisfied with the operation of the law relating to the regulation of the tourist industry ; and if he will make a statement.

The principal measure is the Development of Tourism Act 1969, the main provisions of which govern the activities of the British Tourist Authority and the English, Scottish and Wales tourist boards; in general I am satisfied with its operation.

Is the Minister satisfied that present legislation is effective enough for debacles such as the collapse of Laker Airways? Is the law adequate to reinforce the action being taken by organisations such as the Association of British Travel Agents, which I understand are doing their best in difficult circumstances? Perhaps they would like some legislative reinforcement from the Government.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of praise about the action that is being taken. The Government passed legislation so that the air travel reserve fund can back up with the necessary funds any shortcomings that may result from the bond scheme, which is in operation in the first instance.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that while hotels can be built with the help of grants in industrial development areas where they are not necessary, they cannot similarly be built in non-development areas, such as the South-East, where they are necessary? Will he consider the regulations in that respect?

Laker Airways

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the position of the route licences granted to Laker Airways and held by it prior to the receivership; and if he will make a statement about its current status.

The Civil Aviation Authority has given notice to Laker Airways that its air transport licences are suspended. However, whether the suspension takes effect and, if so, the timing of it, depends on whether the airline appeals to my right hon. Friend and on the outcome of any appeal. I understand that the authority has also notified the airline that it intends to publish particulars of a proposal to revoke the licences; this proposal may be the subject of a hearing and subsequently of an appeal to my right hon. Friend, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.

No doubt the Minister recalls that on 9 February the Prime Minister spoke about the possibility of de-suspension. Will he confirm that such de-suspension could not take place unless the airline were sold in its entirety as a going concern, with due consideration for the outstanding debts?

The hon. Gentleman has asked an extremely intricate question. I cannot answer "Yes", but I can say that this matter is for the Civil Aviation Authority to decide. It will, of course, take account of the financial state of the company, or any reconstructed company. In addition, it is taking advice on whether the suggested reconstructed company—Brenpage—qualifies under regulation 17.

Given that the Minister's appellate functions require him to be somewhat circumspect when replying to my question, can he at least place on record the Government's hope that, after all the inquiries, two British airlines will still fly both to Los Angeles and New York?

It would be improper for me to say more than to remind my hon. Friend that an application from British Caledonian and, presumably, from any reconstructed Laker Airways—if it is reconstructed—to fly to Los Angeles would be the subject of an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Therefore, I should not comment.

Will the Minister ensure that a pirate like Laker does not fly again? Sir Freddie Laker paid less in salaries than other airlines and had a registered office in Jersey so that his employees did not have the benefit of going to industrial tribunals. Indeed, Sir Freddie Laker prevented his employees from joining a trade union. The result has been that all of them have lost their employment. Will the Minister protect people in future?

It is a shocking abuse of the House that the hon. Gentleman uses the privilege of the Green Benches to call Sir Freddie Laker a pirate. The hon. Gentleman said that Jersey was being used as a way to get round section 15 of the Act, to which I presume he was referring. As usual, the hon. Gentleman is totally inaccurate.

Sir Freddie Laker did a good deal of good work in the early days, but is the Minister aware that the worst feature of the misfortunes was that so many people who were booked on scheduled flights lost their money? Therefore, is there not a need for cover by the air travel reserve fund, bonding or insurance to make sure that if an airline goes bust—as British Airways could now. if it were not nationalised—such people are protected?

With regard to my hon. Friend's point about scheduled passengers, I ask him to wait until question 15 is answered, when I hope he will receive a satisfactory answer.

Does the Under-Secretary agree, as a matter of general civil aviation licensing policy, that it would not be proper for an airline operator to be able to walk away from hundreds of millions of pounds of debt at home and abroad and then to start operating a licence again without having made any arrangements to pay those debts?

The right hon. Gentleman is putting a hypothetical question to which it would not be proper for me to give an answer. With regard to the laws of receivership, it is the duty of the receiver to get as much money as possible for the creditors. That is what Mr. Mackey and his associates are doing.

European Community (Motor Vehicles)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the balance of trade in motor vehicles with the European Economic Community Six in 1970 and for the latest available year.

Our crude deficit of trade in motor vehicles with the six original members of the European Community was £11 million in 1970 and £1, 290 million in 1980.

From those horrendous figures, is it not undeniable, despite what Lord Stokes told us would happen at the time, that Common Market membership has proved disastrous and catastrophic to the British motor vehicle industry? We negotiate limits on Japanese imports, which will allow in more EEC imports, but will the Minister accept any responsibility for the existence of the British motor industry? We are investing in the motor industry and seeking to build it up, but would it not be wise to negotiate import ceilings on EEC imports in the same way as we do with Japan, regardless of what the Treaty of Rome says?

I note the hon. Gentleman's last comment. If he is advocating that Britain should be outside the Community operating a tariff barrier against it, that would lead to massive industrial dislocation. On the hon. Gentleman's first point, those figures show an enormous increase, but they derive, in part at least, from the policies of companies, such as Ford and Vauxhall, which have Continental-wide manufacturing strategies which, in consequence, lead to high levels of imports, particularly from Belgium and Germany.

Is it not a fact that harmonisation and the role of non-tariff barriers has not gone far enough, particularly in the field of taxation? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that motor manufacturers and motor agents are disturbed that British cars can be bought more cheaply in other EEC countries? This certainly appears to be the case with cars manufactured in these countries which have similar costs of manufacture.

My hon. Friend's second point was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). It remains the Government's policy to secure as far as possible the mutually agreed dismantling of non-tariff barriers throughout the Community.

Do not the figures show that a large part of the huge trade that we are now supposed to be doing with the Common Market consists of unnecessary car imports that are damaging British industry and employment?

Only someone with a monumentally narrow mind could describe as undesirable a car that had been manufactured in Italy, France or Germany. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to be an anti-Marketeer, he should not be a puritan at the same time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures also show how desperately uncompetitive the British car manufacturing industry has been compared with the European car industry?

Malaysia

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what steps he is taking to promote the expansion of trade with Malaysia; and if he will make a statement.

During his recent visit to Malaysia my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed fully with the Prime Minister of Malaysia the problems for bilateral trade that have arisen. As my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal reported to the House on 11 February, we hope that this meeting will be the beginning of a better understanding.

Will my hon. and learned Friend redouble his efforts to try to find out why relations are so sour between Britain and that responsible, democractic, strong and free country, which has always been a supermarket for Britain's exports? In particular, will he seek to influence the policies of some of his colleagues to ensure that we do not treat some of our loyal Commonwealth friends in the same way as people coming from East Germany and China, while giving massive preference in fees and health care to all members of the EEC?

I assure the House that my right hon. and noble Friend has explored the question of Anglo-Malaysian relations with the Prime Minister of Malaysia. I should say British-Malaysian relations as it is St. David's day. Naturally, the high commission is in constant touch with the Malaysian Government. It is a matter of concern to us that there is reported to be some discrimination against British bids in the public sector in Malaysia. I assure the House that I am not aware of any discriminatory measures against Malaysia or its residents by the present Administration.

Will my hon. and learned Friend seriously consider sending the Minister for Industry and Information Technology to Malaysia, which has a ripe market for such technology and is looking to this country to assist it?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will take note of my hon. Friend's comments. It is for him to assess the opportunities in the light of public statements that have been emanating from Malaysia.

Japan

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what steps he is taking to redress the imbalance of trade with Japan.

The Government—along with the rest of the European Community—are continuing to press the Japanese to open their market to our manufactured goods and to limit exports in sensitive sectors. The Japanese Government have recently announced a number of measures to improve access for imports from overseas, but I made it clear in Tokyo last month that, while I welcomed these steps, much more would need to be done.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he has perhaps made a mistake in his softly-softly approach, particularly as there is an adverse trade balance of more than £1 billion? The Japanese will always parley while they take the barley. Does the right hon. Gentleman further agree that it would be best to say to the Japanese that we will import as much from them as we export to them—no more, no less?

That would be a dubious proposition from a country that has so much to gain from multilateral trade. The only approach that has any likelihood of success is one that links the interests of the West European nations and the United States. That will remain the centrepiece of our approach

As our deficit in manufactures with Germany last year was twice what it was with Japan—£2 billion—what is the logic of insisting on voluntary restraint on Japanese imports but not on German imports?

There are three reasons. First, Germany does not have the massive balance of payments surplus that is causing difficulty to other countries. Secondly, Germany has an open market for British goods. If we have the competitive skills, we can sell on that market. Thirdly, German penetration of the United Kingdom market is not based on a narrow range of items.

Has not the Director General of Fair Trading, under section 2 of the Competition Act 1980, the power to prevent the distribution of dumped goods where they distort trade and where such action can be construed as an anti-competitive practice? Will the Secretary of State suggest to the Director General that he should use those powers and accept applications by British manufacturers of, say, footwear, who are in competition with Japan, to restrict the flow of such products to British markets?

I shall look into that important, though somewhat. esoteric, point and write to the hon. Gentleman when I have concluded my investigations.

In view of the marked difference of opinion among anti-Marketeers as to whether Japan is more to blame than the EEC, is it not safer to cling to the conclusion that we need open trading and that there is no substitute for that for a country, such as ours, that depends on exports?

Yes. I have a great belief in open trading, although it is qualified in certain circumstances, as with the MFA and, indeed, trade with Japan.

Is the Minister sure that restricting Japanese imports is not a puritan attitude?

Hire Purchase Act 1964

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he is satisfied with the working of the Hire-Puchase Act 1964.

Does my hon. Friend agree that someone who might buy a secondhand product, for example, a car, which is subject to a leasing agreement does not have the same protection under the Hire-Purchase Act 1964 as someone who might innocently purchase a secondhand car that might be subject to a hire-purchase agreement? If so, does he further agree that thousands of people could be driving cars which, for reasons best known to others, they do not own? Will my hon. Friend bring forward legislation to amend the apparent anomaly in the Act?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the innocent private buyer. I am grateful to him for his proposed amendment to the Supply of Goods and Services Bill. I am urgently considering a number of legal and other aspects of the matter, particularly whether the amendment is within the scope of the Bill. I shall be in touch with him on all these matters at the earliest possible moment.

Does the Minister agree that there is no possible reason of principle why the same protection should not apply to a consumer of a product on a leasing agreement as to a consumer of a product on a hire-purchase agreement? Would the Government, as the first single piece of primary consumer legislation for which they have been responsible in the past 34 months, amend the Act?

I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's feelings. I agree that the innocent private purchaser is likely to be in a weaker position to bear a loss than a finance company. If the hon. Gentleman would bear with me while we consider the legal aspects, and particularly whether the matter comes within the scope of the Bill, I shall do my best to be helpful.

Air Travellers (Travel Insurance)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he has any proposals to extend protection of air travellers, other than those on package tours, in the event of the failure of the airline.

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will introduce legislation to provide protection for air travellers who buy tickets on airlines which become insolvent.

At present I have no plans to introduce legislation on these lines. This is a complicated and difficult problem involving as it does an international industry. However, as I am sure my hon. Friends will be pleased to hear, I have instructed my officials to review the position to see whether there is any practicable way in which protection could be given to the scheduled air traveller.

I welcome that move. Will my hon. Friend confirm that among the matters that his officials might take into consideration is the possibility of a small levy on each scheduled airline ticket to enable a fund to be created comparable with the one that was used in the recent Laker situation to protect people who have gone abroad on package tours? Would it also be within their orbit to take account of the possibility of a foreign airline failing, tickets for which having been purchased in the United Kingdom?

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome for the important review. I assure him that all those points will be covered within it.

Does the Minister agree that it is not at all difficult to make such provision? Would it not be possible to introduce a bonding scheme along the lines of that operated by ABTA? Has the promise that Tiny Rowland made on television to meet the costs of scheduled air travellers been fulfilled?

The promise made by Mr. Roland Rowland was that he would pay the costs of scheduled tavellers if and when he was in charge of the air company. Perhaps I might ask the hon. Gentleman why the Labour Government did not introduce a bonding scheme. If he is baffled, I can give him the answer. It is an extremely difficult and intricate matter, involving foreign airlines. We shall certainly look at all the intricacies and difficulties in our review.

When making a booking no air taveller is likely to assume that he might lose his money as a result of a company's bankruptcy, so should not travel agents at least make the position clear to people booking tickets and provide them with an opportunity to take out insurance

That is an interesting suggestion. No doubt representatives of the travel associations will take it to heart.

Will the Minister reconsider what he said to the hon. Member for Norwood, (Mr. Fraser), as many hon. Members may feel that Mr. Rowland's promise was unqualified?

As I understand it, Mr. Rowland was saying what he would do were he ever in a position to be influential in the airline.

Will my hon. Friend ask his officials to look at the air travel reserve fund, which contains a large amount of money, to see whether some of that can be used to compensate people who, although not scheduled passengers, booked hotels through Laker as well?

The fund contains about £18·5 million. I shall have my officials look at the matter. There is a difficulty in making people who paid a surcharge when they were going on a package holiday pay for the problems of those going on scheduled tickets.

Laker Airways

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether problems faced by the travelling public following the collapse of Laker Airways have yet been resolved; and if he will make a statement.

Laker Airways scheduled passengers overseas were all brought home successfully, thanks to the generous efforts of other carriers. The bonding arrangements, provided by Laker's tour operating companies as a condition of their holding air travel organisers' licences, made available funds to bring home inclusive package tour customers from this country who were already abroad, and I understand that all these people have been repatriated. Together with the air travel reserve fund, the bonds should ensure that no one who has booked an inclusive air package holiday or advanced booking charter with one of the Laker tour operating subsidiaries loses financially. Unfortunately, scheduled ticket holders who had not yet made their journey with Laker Airways are unsecured creditors of the company and as such should contact the receiver if they have not already done so.

The hon. Gentleman said "should". Is he aware that many Spanish hoteliers have said that they intend to sell their Laker bed contracts, despite the fact that Laker Tours and Arrowsmith have been purchased by Saga and Greenall Whitley? Will the hon. Gentleman seek assurance from the two companies that every person travelling this year through them, particularly to Spain, has guaranteed accommodation, despite the threats of Spanish hoteliers?

I am sure that the two companies will need no urging from me to do their best for all who booked through Laker subsidiaries. It is entirely a commercial matter.

When my hon. Friend is considering whether protection should be afforded to scheduled airline passengers, will he bear in mind that the air travel reserve fund was set up by the Labour Government by inposing a levy on package holiday passengers to bail out other package holiday passengers and that it would be airway robbery if, many years later, the money were to be used to refund to people the cost of booking on a schedule airline?

My hon. Friend has put the matter fairly. We have the air travel reserve fund because of the extremely—I must watch my adjectives—ill-judged action by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who set the whole thing in motion to begin with.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of the problems for passengers and other creditors arose because Sir Freddie Laker made misleading statements about the viability of his enterprise three days before the collapse? He said that £60 million had been secured to rescue the company and that his confidence was rising ever higher. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that those statements were justified?

I have no doubt that when Sir Frederick made those statements he was under the impression that they were correct. What is more, when this matter was reported in The Guardian and the Daily Mail the following day, the reports were put side by side with statements from bankers saying that Sir Frederick had probably jumped the gun.

Overseas Development

United Nations Development Programme

40.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what contribution Her Majesty's Government have pledged to the United Nations development programme for 1982; and if he will express this in terms of $ American per head of the population of the United Kingdom.

44.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what contribution the United Kingdom has pledged to the United Nations development programme for 1982; and if he will express this as a percentage of gross national product.

We intend to contribute £18·5 million to the United Nations development programme in 1982, subject to parliamentary approval. Our contribution to UNDP is expressed in £ sterling, and on the basis of recent exchange rates our contribution is equivalent to $0·60 per head of United Kingdom population.

The latest published money GNP figure is for 1980. Our contribution for that year represented 0·007 per cent of our GNP.

As Norway's contribution to the fund, expressed in dollars per head, is 20 times that of the United Kingdom, and in view of the right hon. Gentleman's repeated commitment to giving priority to the poorest countries in the overseas aid programme, why is he giving so little support to the one international institution that shares that priority?

I do not regard £18·5 million as "little support". Britain's contribution is the seventh largest of those so far announced in 1982. Britain has always been among the 10 largest contributors to the programme. We regard the UNDP as an efficient and effective organisation.

Does the Government's contribution live up to the pledges given at Cancun by the Prime Minister to deal with the problems of world poverty? Is it because the Americans have reduced their contribution that we are reducing ours? Would we not help the poor of the world far better by increasing our contribution to the UNDP than by spending £10 billion on Trident?

I do not regard the last part of that question as relevant. Our contribution to the UNDP is voluntary. It is not, therefore, affected by that of the United States.

Is my right hon. Friend content that aid from the British taxpayer to Third world countries is by-passing the Governments of those countries, bearing in mind that the abject poverty in which many people live in those countries is caused by the corruption and Socialist policies of those Governments?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that these figures are less than the 1969 Lester Pearson target, which was generally accepted at that time? How is he getting on in the struggle in the Cabinet for funds for all spending Departments? Shall we be able to reach at least some part of the North-South settlement figures for next year?

The figures mentioned in the answer are not the 0·7 of the Pearson report, but, like the Labour Government, we hope to achieve that figure when our economy is right. If the hon. Gentleman and the Labour Party can help in getting the economy right, we should be grateful.

It is important to recognise the amounts of money sent to backward countries, but can my right hon. Friend assure us that when machinery is sent—that is surely essential for developing countries—there are people there who can put it to proper use instead of allowing it to rust on the quays and in other places?

I do not know what happened previously, but we now try to see that if a developing country is receiving machinery, particularly complicated machinery, there are people trained to handle it once it is in place.

Was not the reference by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler) to Norway irrelevant and foolish, in that our Norwegian friends are able to produce 10 times as much oil a year as is required for their needs and are therefore much richer per head of population and able to give much more in development aid?

Many of these comparisons are irrelevant, as my hon. Friend has suggested.

Why did the Minister say that it was not relevant to contrast our defence expenditure with overseas aid when all the Governments who attended the United Nations special session in 1978 felt that they could tie the two together and promised to cut the arms bill and use the money to help the Third world?

If we do not have a proper defence policy, the consequence might be that we do not have a proper aid policy.

International Development Association

41.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what is the value of the United Kingdom's contribution to the sixth replenishment of the International Development Association of the World Bank; and to what extent this will finance the export of British goods and services for schemes backed by the International Development Association.

The value of the United Kingdom's contribution to the sixth replenishment of the International Development Association is £555 million.

There is no formal link between contributions to multilateral agencies and procurement return, and it is impossible to predict what success British firms will have in international competitive tendering. Their past average achievement overall for IDA projects has been about 14 per cent. of total foreign procurement.

Will not that substantial and welcome funding go directly to assist the poorest nations of the world? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be much easier to obtain support for our substantial funding of the IDA if it were seen to be of direct benefit to British industry and trade? Is there no way in which our contributions to the IDA can be tied to trade with contributing countries?

I am afraid not. It is a question of industrialists going to foreign countries and doing their best to obtain contracts. We have recently appointed a new commercial officer post in the British embassy in Washington to assist business men to obtain these contracts.

Will the Minister answer the most important question on the IDA that he failed to answer in the debate on 11 February, namely, why was it necessary for the Government to copy the savage cut of 25 per cent. in IDA funding by the United States? Would it not be better to copy Norway, Sweden and Denmark and refuse to make any cuts which would have a disastrous effect on orders and jobs in this country and in the poorest countries of the Third world?

The answer is that we and other major donors are concerned to preserve the principle of burden-sharing—presumably Norway is not—basic to the IDA six replenishment, whereby IDA commits contributions pro rata to the unqualified commitments of any member responsible for a shortfall if that member is contributing more than 20 per cent. of the replenishment.

Does the Minister agree that even 14 per cent. could create a tremendous amount of employment in Great Britain? Seen even from a selfish angle—and parliamentarians may do that—would it not be as well to carry on the loan agreed by the 1980 Parliament, if only for the sake of creating employment in this country? Would that be a reasonable approach to the subject?

India

45.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects to be able to give a figure for total United Kingdom aid to India for 1981–82.

The final figure will be available late in 1982, but I expect to have a provisional figure by May.

The Minister will be aware of the interest that the House has shown in the aid programme to India. Will he undertake to do everything within his power to convince his Cabinet colleagues that it is necessary to maintain the strongest possible aid programme to one of the most disadvantaged countries in the world?

In view of the unprincipled propaganda against the Government's aid policy, will my right hon. Friend consider giving more publicity to the Christian missions and other bodies that give generous aid to India and other countries? Is not the advantage of aid through private enterprise, private endeavour and charitable effort that less money finds its way into bureacratic channels and into the Swiss bank accounts of dictators?

The question relates to India. Therefore, dictatorships and Swiss bank accounts do not come into it. I pay tribute to the voluntary agencies mentioned by my hon. Friend. We are increasing our subscriptions to them.

Personal Statement

3.30 pm

I wish to make a personal statement about an incident that occurred during a series of interventions by the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) in the course of the winding-up speech by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales at the end of the debate on Welsh affairs last Thursday.

I should like to apologise to the right hon. Member for Rhondda for suggesting that he might have been drinking, a suggestion which was unjustified and which, of course, I withdraw.

I should also like to apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, for making your task more difficult by a remark from a sedentary position that was out of order.

I hope that St. David's Day is an appropriate moment to make amends.

Cricketers (South African Tour)

3.31 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House. under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the visit to South Africa of a group of cricketers being describe d as an 'England Eleven' ."
The matter is specific because 12 English cricketers, who are already becoming known as "the Dirty Dozen", have decided, in defiance of the advice of the Test and County Cricket Board, to tour South Africa and play so-called Test matches, describing themselves for this purpose as "the English team".

It is important because these men are placing in doubt the forthcoming tours of Britain by Indian and Pakistani cricket teams, are jeopardising this country's place in international Test cricket, and could affect the future of both the Commonwealth and the Olympic Games.

The matter requires urgent consideration because the tour is due to begin on Thursday, which leaves very little time for the Government to fulfil their obligations under the Gleneagles agreement by taking every practical step to discourage a group of men who, by giving aid and comfort to what the Gleneagles agreement describes as "the abomination of apartheid", are selling themselves for blood-covered Krugerrands.

Order. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) gave me notice before 12 o'clock midday that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the visit to South Africa of a group of cricketers being described as 'an England Eleven' ."
I listened, as the House did, with concern to what the right hon. Gentleman said.

The House knows that it has instructed me to take into account the several factors set out in the standing order but to give no reasons for my decision.

The fact that I am ruling that the right hon. Gentleman's submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order in no way minimises my belief that he has raised an important matter, but I cannot agree that his application should be submitted to the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not out of order that such a scurrilous attack should be made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman)?

Statutory Instruments &C

Ordered,

That the draft Representation of the People (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) Order 1982 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Filament Lamps for Vehicles (Safety) Regulations 1982 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Mather.]

Reserve Forces Bill Lords

Ordered,

That the Reserve Forces Bill [Lords] be referred to a Second Reading Committee.—[Mr. Mather.]

Orders Of The Day

Travel Concessions (London) Bill

3.38 pm

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. BERNARD WEATHERILL in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Weatherill. Is it not proposed to call new clause 1, in my name and those of several of my hon. Friends? It raises a number of issues which are central to the Bill. I wonder whether you could give me some guidance on your treatment of that new clause?

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) knows that it is never the practice of the Chair to explain why amendments have not been selected, but I may say to him that his clause is outside the scope of the Bill and was not selected for that reason.

New Clause 2

Duties Of The Greater London Council To Further The General Transport Interests Of The Elderly And Disabled

Without prejudice to any other duty imposed upon them by this Act or any other Act, and in particular to their duty under section 84(1) of the Act 1967, it shall be the general duty of the Greater London Council (hereinafter in this Act referred to as 'the Council') to encourage, organise and, where appropriate, carry out measures, which will promote the provision of integrated, efficient and economic facilities and services which appear to the Council to be required to meet the needs of those elderly and disabled persons for whom transport concessions can be provided under section 138 of the Transport Act 1968."—[Ma. BOOTH.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a second time.

The purpose of the clause is to impose on the Greater London Council a duty to promote the provision of services which, in its judgment, may be required to meet the needs of elderly and disabled persons.

It is necessary that such a clause be added to the Bill if the legislation is to serve the purpose for which it is intended, as outlined by the Secretary of State when he introduced it.

The Bill is the result of a series of urgent public considerations by transport authorities up and down the country to a Lords judgment which has thrown considerable doubt on the ability of local authorities to provide public transport services. In this case, we are concerned with those services only to the extent that they are used by elderly and disabled persons. However, the Law Lords ruling was of such a sweeping nature that we contend that there can be little doubt that it impinges upon services used by the elderly and the disabled to quite an appreciable extent.

The terms used by the Law Lords in their ruling cannot in any way qualify the restrictions that they imposed in such a way that they would not apply to services used by the elderly and the disabled.

The interesting mechanism of the Bill is that it puts the Greater London Council, in respect of its provisions for concessionary fares for the elderly and the disabled in the same position as the metropolitan and shire counties. Although it refers to the 1969 Act, it cites part of it which says merely that London boroughs are in the same position as other local authorities under the 1968 Act. The provision of these services will be affected by the Law Lords judgment to the extent that it affects any shire or metropolitan county throughout the country.

Over the last few weeks those shire and metropolitan counties have been greatly concerned about what services they can provide and what financial provision they should make for them. In no small measure, that led to the demonstration at Downing Street today and the massive petition that was delivered to the Prime Minister.

If the power in the Bill is to be used without undue restriction, we must include a clause that says that in providing these services the people concerned are not constrained by the Law Lords judgment. In simple and straightforward terms, that is what the new clause proposes. It says that the duty of the GLC to exercise its judgment to develop the services needed for these disabled people is unfettered by the 1968 or 1969 Acts or, in so far as it is legally possible, by the Law Lords judgment.

Let me give one example of the extent to which the Law Lords judgment was sweeping and should not be read in a way that suggests that it would not bite on services to the disabled. I choose the judgment of Lord Scarman. Like the other Law Lords, for part of his judgment Lord Scarman drew on the case of Prescott v Birmingham corporation in 1955—the case of an operator in a transport undertaking.

In that case the Birmingham corporation decided to introduce free travel for old people, which is relevant to what we are now considering. The Court of Appeal held that the decision was not a proper exercise of the corporation's statutory duty. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the courts have taken a serious view of the limits placed on local authority powers to provide fare concessions.

On page 6 of his judgment Lord Scarman said that although Parliament had subsequently intervened to permit fare concessions,
"a principle was declared by the Court of Appeal. It is well to put in the headnote as being that local authorities owe a fiduciary duty, analogous to that of a trustee, to their ratepayers".
He went on to say that
"the principle of a fiduciary duty owed to the ratepayers has never been doubted".
In his summary Lord Scarman reiterated the principle as a basis for his final judgment. He said that although legislation had been introduced since the court ruled that it was wrong for Birmingham to operate a free concessionary fares scheme, the fiduciary duty principle was now established. In Lord Scarman's judgment, that still stands and can still be used as a test of whether the powers of a local authority to provide concessionary fares and concessionary travel schemes are used legally.

It is now beyond any shadow of a doubt that if the House decides that the GLC shall have power to promote these services for elderly or disabled people it must say to any court, or to any person attempting to challenge the use of that power "We intended that that should be a free standing duty which should not be subject to any of the limits or circumscribed by the Law Lords judgment or anything else written into an Act".

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the remarks in the House of Lords were directed to concessionary fare schemes. He will know that such schemes were never raised in the House of Lords case and are not referred to in any of the judgments. The whole issue of concessionary fares giving rise to the Bill comes not from the House of Lords judgment, but from the GLC campaign, which has tried to suggest that it would not continue with the scheme.

3.45 pm

With respect, the hon. and learned Gentleman either misunderstands me or chooses to misunderstand me. I carefully distinguished between the Birmingham corporation judgment, which was precisely directed to whether there was a power to provide free concessionary fares, and Lord Scarman and the other Law Lords who issued a judgment. In one case they were referring directly to a concessionary fares scheme, but when referring to Birmingham Lord Scarman was saying that, although subsequent legislation had been passed which made it clear that some powers permitted concessionary fares, nevertheless the principle of a fiduciary duty determined in the Birmingham case still stood. That means that any other concessionary fares powers that have been granted since are, in the view of Lord Scarman and his fellow Law Lords, still subject to the fiduciary duty test.

There would have been no sense in Lord Scarman using that reference unless he intended it to have that meaning. He was not saying that a fiduciary duty was peculiar to concessionary fares, but rather that a fiduciary duty must be considered in relation to any transport provision under any fares arrangement. The purpose of the new clause is to ensure that that should not be the case. We want the House to decide that the concessionary fares issue should be free standing and should not be affected by the Law Lords judgment or their view of a fiduciary duty.

Surely the Law Lords were saying that the fiduciary duty applied to any local authority powers—not just to transport*—and would apply to concessionary fares under the 1968 Act if the local authority, in the view of the court, failed to weigh the interest of the ratepayer against the interest of the pensioner and the fare payer. For example, if a local authority decided to make concessionary fares wholly free, thereby causing a massive rates increase, on the indication given by the House of Lords the courts would rule that illegal.

I fully accept my hon. Friend's point. I confined my remarks about fiduciary duty to transport, but the statement of principle cannot be confined to transport. It could even be argued that a council should take account of its fiduciary duty to ratepayers when deciding how much to charge for the home help service. Apparently the principle is the same whatever service is provided by a local authority. It certainly covers all fares issues, including concessionary fares.

In estimating the cogency of the Minister's intervention and his views on fiduciary duties, will my right hon. Friend take note of the fact that support for the hon. and learned Gentleman on the Conservative Benches is conspicuously absent?

One of the disadvantages of speaking from the Dispatch Box is that one sees one's opposition, but not one's supporters. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for causing me to look behind me. I am delighted that my arguments appear to be of great interest to my hon. Friends. I think that they command considerable support. It is notable that the same cannot be said about the Minister.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that we are very much in favour of the Bill? We have agreed both clauses and are now discussing the new clause tabled by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. It is of no interest to us, because it adds nothing to the Bill, and it is not likely to. As to the number of Conservative Members present, will the right hon. Gentleman remember the old adage that it is quality that counts, not quantity?

I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman, who is normally fair-minded. His presence today indicates that he, at least, is prepared to listen to the arguments about whether the new clause is needed. I only wish that the same courtesy had been extended by some of his colleagues.

The issue impinges on what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would claim to be a matter of some importance for the powers of local authorities. In previous debates Conservative Members have made sweeping criticisms—some of them highly personal—of Greater London Council members who took a different view from them on this issue. We are trying to deploy a case which is realistically based on our most recent experience of attempts by local authorities to provide services that they deem to be necessary.

In doing that we are reflecting a proper concern for local democracy, which does not seem to be common to both sides of the House at the present time.

We must look at the provision of concessionary fare schemes under the 1968 Act. The powers of the GLC will now be the same as those of all the shire and metropolitan counties. Those powers, as the Under-Secretary of State well knows, vary enormously. There are areas in shire counties where there are virtually no concessionary schemes, areas where there are good concessionary schemes, and areas where there are different concessionary schemes. The same power will apply in London.

Up to the present time, particularly over the past year, the provision of concessionary fares for the elderly and disabled in London has been of a high order. Therefore, it is an important and valuable service that is at risk. When we debated this issue on 24 February the view was expressed from the Government Benches that the number of passes for concessionary fares applied for in London was not a good indication of the need for or the usage of those passes. It was even suggested that a modest fee might be charged on the pass application as a means of deterring undue use of the passes by people who did not really need them.

I made careful checks on both the contentions made at that time. One was that the cost was unduly high because it was set against the number of passes. The second was that the use of the passes was comparatively modest. However, the use of the concessionary fares pass in London, far from being modest, is massive. There were 245 million passenger journeys travelled in London in 1979–80, as against 890 million journeys by normal fare-paying adults and fare-paying children, excluding those on travel tickets and education authority passes. For every three who were travelling as normal fare-paying adults or children, there was one travelling on a travel concession. There is massive use of the concessionary fare scheme in London. It is much greater than anywhere in the metropolitan counties. The scheme will be under exactly the same legal provision as in the metropolitan counties if we leave the Bill unchanged.

The collapse of services is very different in degree in its effect upon the concessionary fare user as compared with other passengers. Those entitled to the concessionary fare will be the very people who are least likely to have a car to use as an alternative if the concession is withdrawn. They will be the people least likely to be able to afford a taxi if the service is withdrawn. They will be the people least likely to be able to walk the necessary distance if the service is withdrawn. Therefore, we also have to see the question in the perspective of the service being threatened.

For that reason, we make no apology for using in the new clause the words
"the provision of integrated, efficient and economic facilities and services"
in relation to the people that I have mentioned. We believe that it is the desire of good local authorities throughout the country to provide services for the elderly and the disabled in a way that is efficient and economic. Provided that they have a free standing power to do it, we believe that they will do it in he majority of cases.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Government were serious about their economic and social policies in this respect, rather than using political opportunism in regard to Ken Livingstone and the GLC, they would be thinking of concessions for the unemployed, so that people could look for work effectively, rather than being asked to ride around on their bicycles.

I bow to you on that, Mr. Weatherill. Inasmuch as we are confined in our discussion of the Bill to concessions on services used by the elderly and the disabled, I urge the Committee to consider the fact that those provisions can make for a more efficient general use of the system. It was the case that, with London running superior concessionary services, there was better use of its vehicles.

According to the figures for 1979–80—I have the later figures if anyone wants them—London was getting 7·49 journeys per mile operated, as compared with only five journeys per mile operated in Greater Manchester, 5·99 in West Yorkshire, and 7·34 in South Yorkshire, which has a policy of very cheap fares. Nevertheless, even with that cheap fares policy, mainly because of the concessionary fare differences, the authority in South Yorkshire could not get as full a use of its vehicles as was obtained in London.

It is a matter of simple common sense that, if we believe it is right for local authorities to make provision for disabled and elderly people, they should make it in a way that leads to the maximum utilisation of the buses. There is little point in having a subsidy to run a service that can be used by disabled people if that results in a lot of empty seats. It is the combination of the services in an intelligent manner that leads to the maximum utilisation of the vehicles and that is what we want to see developed.

The reason why, over the past year, the concessionary travel arrangements have been regarded as so valuable in London is that, when the Labour GLC took office, it decided—and it is to be applauded for having done so—to extend the concessionary travel scheme for the elderly so that it would include free travel on the London Underground from 9.30 am on Mondays to Fridays and at any time on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Prior to that decision, the charge made to an old-age pensioner for using the London Underground had been 20p, but even the withdrawal of the 20p fare has resulted in massively greater use, and that is very much to be welcomed. I do not believe that any hon. Member wants to sit in judgment on whether it is appropriate that an old-age pensioner should be able to travel on one day or another, or at one hour of the day or another. It is for local authorities to decide how to use their powers.

4 pm

If the Government are to confine the Bill to the narrow issue of concessionary fares in London, we should insist that that is done effectively. We want to ensure that the Greater London Council will have a power that will not be circumscribed by the House of Lords—a free-standing power, irrespective of any other duties in legislation, to promote properly services for the elderly and the disabled.

There can be no doubt, from any careful consideration of the judgment of the House of Lords, that unless it is made clear by some device—such as the new clause—that that power exists, whatever is written into the legislation will be subject to challenge and will be subject the test of fiduciary duty in a way that will put the service at risk and lead to authorities that might otherwise do so being deterred from providing services that are not only valuable, but desperately needed.

The new clause raises the issue of the level of services that can be provided for the elderly and the disabled and embraces not only the power bestowed on the GLC by the Bill, but, in a sense, the Transport Act 1968, which allows for the provision of concessionary fares for the disabled and elderly outside London.

The Under-Secretary tried to argue on Second Reading—as he argued in an intervention today—that the question of concessionary fares had never arisen in the Lords judgment and that the 1968 Act was not prejudiced by the decision of the Lords about the exercise of fiduciary duty by the GLC. If there is no doubt about the right of the GLC to provide services for the elderly and the disabled, why is the Bill needed? The Transport (London) Act 1969 allows the GLC to provide those services. That was referred to by some of the Law Lords only in passing and was said to be part of the reaction of the Government to the judgment in the Prescott case. A number of the Law Lords referred to section 40 of the 1969 Act, which allowed similar rights as the 1968 Act. If that were true, we would not require the Bill to reassert the power of the GLC to provide concessionary fares for the disabled and the elderly.

That point was argued last week. The answer was that under section 40(a) only the London boroughs could act in that role. As a result of that we were able to give freedom to London as a whole for the concessionary fares by using a 2p rate, which brought the matter under general local government powers and not under the 1968 Act.

I take the hon. Member's point, but the issue to which I was coming, and which the hon. Member may have overlooked, is not that the power in section 40 was restricted simply to the London boroughs and that we wanted to give the power to the GLC, but that the issue that arose in relation to the general power given in the 1969 Act, and which was so circumscribed by the House of Lords in the GLC decision, is capable of being used against the 1968 Act and against the Bill.

The Law Lords have asserted that any power given to a local authority is subject not only to the ultra vires rule, but, as Lord Diplock made clear, to the ultra vires rule that is inextricably part of the discretion of any local authority. Therefore, in exercising discretion, a local authority is bound, by its fiduciary duty, to balance the interests of the ratepayers and any other group with which it is dealing.

The other group is not just the fare payer, which was the issue in the GLC case, but the elderly and the handicapped, for whom we are seeking to provide in the Bill and who were provided for under section 40, at least within the London boroughs, and in the 1968 Act. We are not yet clear—because no one has gone to court on the 1968 Act—whether the courts would take the same view of an exercise of discretion under the 1968 Act as they did in relation to the 1969 Act and general subsidies for transport.

It was assumed, as is clear from the fact that the Government have produced the Bill, that the courts would say that the provision of concessionary fares was not an unreasonable exercise of discretion, but there is no reason to assume that. I suppose that the exercise of discretion by the GLC on the fare structure under the scheme produced after the London elections was a reasonable exercise of' power given the considerations to which the GLC applied itself. However, if the GLC considers that all elderly people and all handicapped people should have not just concessionary fares, but free travel, and that they could' use the tubes or the buses at any time, with a consequent loss of revenue, which was made up by the rates to the point at which the precept rose sharply, would it not be argued by an outer London borough that the same issue had arisen there as arose on the fares structure for general passengers? The answer is "Yes".

We have got into a mess because the judiciary has taken it into its head to exercise a political role. It denies that, but there is no doubt about it. Once we get beyond the stage of defining what an Act says, as a matter of English law, wording and construction, and go into whether a local authority or any other political organisation has to decide between one set of people and another and into the sort of criteria that it should apply, we are applying a political decision.

Saying that something is unfair to ratepayers is a political decision. I can equally say that an action is unfair to passengers. I do say—indeed, it is implicit in everything that I have stood for—that it would be better if the less well off got benefits from the better off. In that sense, the general ratepayer is better off than the general fare payer. They may coincide in some instances, but where they do not—where one group comprises judges going to the High Court in their robes—the one group is better able to pay than those who can afford to travel only by public transport.

In evaluating the interests of one group against the other, my presupposition would be to weigh heavily in favour of those who are least able to afford the money involved. In making that judgment I am applying what I freely concede to be a political test—but so were the Law Lords.

In those circumstances, how do we know that when we have passed the Bill it will be applied as we wish? We cannot rely on what the Minister says, because we all know that no court is entitled to take into account what a Minister says. It can take into account only what the Act says, as interpreted according to the criteria applied by courts in the past.

Ever since the Poplar case, and especially since the Prescott case, the courts have taken to themselves the power of evaluating interest politically. We cannot enact the Bill in a way that will obviate that danger. The courts will always take the interest consideration into account in evaluating any decision made by a local authority. At the time of the Prescott case it was considered unthinkable that an authority could not provide free transport in Birmingham for the elderly. The court's decision was subsequently reversed, apparently, by the 1968 Act. It is now an axiomatic feature of social services in all major urban areas to provide free travel on the buses, or cheaper travel, for the elderly. The public now think that that is reasonable. There has been a sea change in political decision-making.

It is true that it has not percolated into all areas of Conservative-held territory, but it is true over a broad generality. It is possible for the Minister to argue that if the Bill is enacted it will safeguard the rights of pensioners only because there has been a sea change in the political consensus.

Where is the political consensus of the judiciary? It seems that it is away to the right of the political consensus in the country and a long way to the right of the consensus in Labour-held councils and on the Opposition Benches. We have a serious problem. Ever since Dicey produced his constitutional theory in the nineteenth century it has been supposed that the House is the final arbiter of political decision-making. Increasingly, that is being undermined—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman's remarks would be better related to a Second Reading debate than to the new clause, which has nothing to do with what he is speaking about.

I was trying to lead, Mr. Weatherill, to my understanding of why the clause is necessary. Although the clause is probably the best that we can do, given the long title and other considerations, it probably will not be enough. That is the factor that worries me. Even this clause, if it is accepted, will have to be interpreted by judges who have already stamped their political colours on the criteria that will be applied in interpreting it. That is a serious difficulty for the House of Commons.

If we were discussing these issues in the United States Senate, we would understand the position perfectly well. We would know, to take President Roosevelt's example, that if we wanted to enact the clause we would first have to change the Supreme Court judges. If we want to pass this sort of clause here in the House of Commons, we may have to change the judges in the High Court and in the House of Lords.

Those who argue that the judiciary is the final bulwark of liberty fail to understand what they are asking the judges to do. Judges such as the Master of the Rolls, who make judgments of the type to which I have referred with their eyes open, fail to recognise that if the country decides in a general election to elect a Government who have a different view and a political consensus different from theirs, that Government must rule and that if need be they will have to change the judiciary if they are to rule.

4.15 pm

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has said "Shame". I, too, say "Shame." When I was studying constitutional law I was told that what Parliament said would be applied by the judiciary. The constitutional law that I learnt was right. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it was right. However, it seems that things have changed. If the new clause is passed and is subsequently enacted with the rest of the Bill, there is no guarantee that the judiciary will apply it as the House of Commons wishes. I suspect that the Minister will say that the clause is unnecessary because the Bill as it stands will do what is set out in the clause. However, I maintain that we need the clause. It should appear in the Bill with three lines under each line of it. We need a sort of three-line Whip. But even if we had a three-line Whip, that would not necessarily carry the day.

We shall not know what will happen to the clause until it reaches the House of Lords, when a number of judges will express their view on the political reality of the balance between the elderly and the disabled and the ratepayer.

We might, as my hon. Friend suggests, take a leaf out of President Roosevelt's book. My hon. Friend will remember that President Roosevelt changed not the judges but the age at which judges retired.

My right hon. Friend is right. I think that the Labour Government thought of that in 1968. The retiring age of judges has been reduced to 75. However, there was one that got away, and he is the worst of the lot. The next Labour Government may have to reduce the retiring age of judges substantially. Perhaps I err a little when I say that we shall have to change the way in which judges are trained and appointed and the way in which the Bar is recruited. However, that takes us outside the confines of the clause and the rules of order.

Order. I say with the greatest kindness that the hon. Gentleman was good enough to say a short time ago that he was coming round to discussing the new clause. I hope that we shall come to that now.

I am grateful, Mr. Weatherill, because I had just about got there. I recognise that I had erred and strayed in my last remark.

The clause is unexceptionable and I am sure that the Minister will accept it. It merely states what the Bill is supposed to do. It does so in terms similar to the ill-fated terms of the 1969 Act. In using the phrase "integrated, efficient and economic" we are employing the dreadful word "economic". We know what happened to "economic" when it reached the House of Lords. When we ask "How will the judges deal with this?", the answer is that they will probably deal with it in the same way as they dealt with other legislation. That is what worries me.

Surely the clause sets out what the Bill is supposed to be trying to do. Its purpose is to say that the elderly and the disabled of London are entitled to concessionary fares, too. We should be able to guarantee concessionary fares for them in the way that we desire and as we have guaranteed elsewhere. Of course, there are some who question whether it is right to have concessary fares in Birmingham, Leeds, South Yorkshire, or even in the fair city of York.

One of the major problems in York is transport. There are narrow streets and many large buses and cars. The only way in which we shall overcome the problem is by subsidising bus passengers to the point where we persuade people to use the buses and to leave their cars. Even if we had the statutory power to do that, the judges would overrule it. How do we know that they will not do that with concessionary fares for the elderly and the disabled?

If the Minister says that he accepts the general principle set out in the new clause, I hope that he will say that a further amendment will be introduced in the House of Lords which states that no court will be able to exercise the discretion that is vested in the clause and that it will not be possible to challenge the exercise of that discretion in any court. If the Minister were prepared to do that, I do not doubt that we could overrule the power of the court to apply political doctrine to the Bill. However, until we do that, although I am not sure that the new clause is adequate, it is the best that we can do in the circumstances.

In debates of this kind, the House is in danger of being subjected to a lawyer's beanfeast. I suggest that we have just listened to one such speech. Although I agree with the general tone of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), it could have been much briefer. There is no amendment in his name that suggests that his ideas are superior to those of my fight hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth).

My main concern is about the prospect of interference with the existing benefits of the aged and disabled in the London area. Of course, the Minister will suggest that the Bill preserves those benefits, but that is not the view of many hon. Members and members of the public. The Minister must clear up that problem this afternoon. There will always be a running argument about the role of the House and that of the judiciary, but whatever we do today or before the Bill is passed should not impair that system—whether we change the wording of the new clause, or whether the Government accommodate it or promise second thoughts about the present inadequacies of the Bill.

This is a limited discussion, but part of the burden of my speech on Second Reading was the enormous boon of free travel for many aged people in my constituency, who I know I cherished it. The fiduciary and financial aspects have clouded the discussion to the extent that there is a risk of losing sight of human considerations and of the iron necessity to do what we can to safeguard and even extend the mobility of the aged. It is mobility that is so important to them in getting together with their relatives over long distances.

The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) put his finger on the issue. Having worked in local government over the years, we both understand the rules of the game. Those rules were called into question the first time that someone took action against a local authority—I think that it was Tameside—which had acted within its political remit and done what it had promised in the local elections. The council was challenged by the ratepayers.

Since then, in a continuing process, the Government have taken local authorities to court through third parties, third parties have taken local authorities to court and local authorities have taken other local authorities to court. The whole thing is now in a mess. The hon. Member for York is right to say that whatever we draft here, representing local government, will always be challengeable in the courts and can always be set aside or interfered with depending on who hears the case. The case can be taken as far as the House of Lords and a different decision secured every time. The Minister must ask himself whether we can any longer accept the risk of such challenge.

From his years in the courts the hon. Member for York knows whether it is right to argue that the individual's right should be so circumscribed as to refuse him recourse to the courts if he thinks that a local authority is abusing the law. On his argument, that is what we must do, but it is a dangerous move. In a whole range of matters, an individual should have the right to take a local authority to court if he believes that he has a case.

I do not see how new clause 2 provides anything more than is provided by section 138 of the Transport Act 1968, under which any local authority has a right to provide concessionary fares. The cause of the present difficulty is that the GLC in 1981 apparently decided that it could no longer operate concessionary fares under the 2p rate system. If it could have done so, there would have been no problem. I understand that the Minister said on Second Reading that the GLC claimed no longer to be able to continue that service under the 2p rate system. We agreed that years ago, with no equivocation about the proper way of doing it. Once it was said that the service could not be provided by means of a 2p rate, we were kicked into touch and London had to do something about it. Therefore, it is important to ensure that, under section 138, we have no less a right than the rest of the country. If the hon. Member for York is correct and that right has been equivocated, it must affect every local authority. The issue is much broader than concessionary fares for London alone. One must therefore consider the application of the 1968 Act as a whole to ensure that London is no less privileged than the rest of the country. That seems to be where we are now.

I support the Bill and I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support new clause 2 because I see nothing wrong with it. It is simply a re-emphasis—the Minister may say, an unnecessary one—of the existing law but there is nothing wrong with it. It could be argued that these further words might provide a greater opportunity for someone to challenge the law. I can think of a whole range of possible arguments about the "efficient and economic" nature of facilities in London.

For instance, the 277 bus route through Hackney is more like a 138½ route because people wait half an hour for a bus and then two come along. That has been a continuing complaint over the years. If I wanted to be contentious I could have a go about the words "efficient and economic", because the facilities in my borough are neither. We have no underground and we could argue that that makes our facilities uneconomic and inefficient.

Does the hon. Gentleman consider that the use of the words "efficient and economic" attached to a duty to promote services to meet the needs of a disadvantaged group is rather different from the much broader context in which "economic" was used in the 1969 Act?

I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point but I would ask him to consider something else. He made an excellent case for the new clause, but we have had this argument about efficiency before in London. When we were pressing for the original concessionary fares, this was the major plank of the opposition by Sir Richard Way, who was then the chairman of London Transport, against my argument about putting bottoms on seats. I argued that, in the fares structure, the seat was paid for and that whether the seat held the bottom of an elderly person or not was neither here nor there. Sir Richard Way quoted figures which allegedly showed that many of the people for whom this benefit was claimed were at that time paying passengers and that London Transport would lose money if concessionary fares were introduced. That is how we reached the figure of £3 7s 8d. per concessionary pass, because it was argued that that represented the loss to the LTE of giving each elderly person concessionary travel between 9.30 am and 3.30 pm.

The argument was also advanced that one could not expect the same number of vehicles to be on the road between 9.30 am and 3.30 pm as during the two peak periods. It is in this context that I ask the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) to consider the words "efficient and economic". A duty has been placed upon London Transport by the Law Lords and everyone else to run an efficient and effective service. To do that, it will have to leave the majority of buses in the garage between 9.30 am and 3.30 pm in order to save costs and thus be sure of remaining within the concept of efficiency.

4.30 pm

With respect, taking buses off the road at times when concessionary fares are most likely to be used cannot be consistent with a duty to promote services specifically to meet the needs of elderly and disabled people. I believe that that duty would be a protection for the GLC if anybody challenged it. Because it has a duty to provide for the needs of these people, it is entitled to keep the buses running efficiently.

That may be so. I do not know. I merely ask the question. The overwhelming duty upon the GLC, and through it on the LTE, is that it must run a financially viable service, and to be efficient and effective in so doing. It seems to me that the efficiency and effectiveness rather than the financial viability will be subject to qualification, so that it will be driven to set the financial viability of the undertaking as a whole as primus inter pares among those criteria.

It would then follow that the majority of buses will be in the garages between 9.30 am and 3.30 pm, so that people receiving the facility of concessionary travel in London will have the misery of being unable to find a bus in which to travel. They will be frustrated. If they succeed in finding a bus and getting out of London to visit their families, they will have difficulty in getting back because they will fall foul of the time limits. They will therefore have to wait far longer than they wish and return to areas such as mine in the dark, when they will be afraid to walk home from the bus stop. That, too, will be a disincentive.

I do not object to the new clause, but I do not think that it adds anything to section 138, which already provides all these powers. There have been no complaints from the metropolitan counties or from other passenger transport authorities, who have enjoyed this power since 1968. If there had been any way in which those authorities considered themselves to be circumscribed, we should have heard about it. The Association of Municipal Authorities would have said that changes were needed. So far as I know, it has never done so.

As the hon. Gentleman says, nobody has tried it on. Nevertheless, authorities have plenty of lawyers, but even the AMA has not asked for the legislation to be amended to protect its members.

I do not disagree with the new clause and I do not argue against the ethos of it. I simply believe that it does no more than restate the fact that any local authority wishing to run such a scheme is entitled to do so. In London, there is a problem in that the London Transport Executive is a separate entity. There has never been the same degree of control as for other passenger transport authorities, so there is the major difficulty of trying to run the local authority and the transport authority when there is that distance between them.

As has been said many times, the question is how to reconcile the duty being placed on the LTE to be financially viable and this technique to allow concessionary fares or any other form of free fares—"Fares Fair" or however one describes them.

I therefore offer this advice to the Minister for the third time. As I said on Second Reading, we must have a meeting with all the relevant parties to discuss how to get out of the difficulty. We shall not achieve a solution by tinkering in this way. I support the Bill because the fears of the elderly must be allayed, but I hope that the Minister will tell us that he has reconsidered the matter since Thursday and that he and his right hon. Friend will undertake to get together with the GLC, the LTE and local authorities in London to discuss how best to proceed, bearing in mind all the points raised by the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness, and how to ensure the best safeguards to achieve the aims of new clause 2 in terms of integrated, efficient and economic facilities and services not only for the elderly and disabled but for London as a whole.

I support the new clause, but I share the scepticism of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) about the amount of good that it may do. Incidentally, I have no objection to a Yorkshireman who has drifted down to London contributing to a debate about London. I see no harm at all in foreigners having a go on these matters.

As I understand it, the Bill has been introduced because the GLC has asked for it because it feels that it would help to protect its concessionary fares scheme. The new clause has been introduced by the Opposition in the hope that it will help the GLC a little more by releasing it from the trap in which it has been caught by the House of Lords.

I have tried to contain myself, but so far everyone has been speaking on false premises. The GLC has not been caught by the House of Lords. As the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said, the GLC has decided that it does not wish to spend the 2p rate on the concessionary fares scheme. It has, therefore, asked for this power, and we are giving it. There has never been the slightest doubt in the mind of anyone who has considered the matter that the GLC could continue the concessionary fares scheme. The debate has been based upon nonsensical and mythical fears.

It is all very well for the Minister to say that the GLC might wish to spend the 2p rate on something else so it has asked for the Bill. Nevertheless, after the Lords judgment, a number of eminent lawyers advised the GLC that the concessionary fares scheme might be in doubt, while other eminent lawyers advised—perhaps not in such wild language as the Minister used, but roughly in the the same terms—that it would not be in doubt. The speeches so far show that the arguments have merit.

I come to the most important point. As my hon. Friend the Member for York said, notwithstanding the Bill and the new clause, it is still possible for any court, whether it be the House of Lords or the Court of Appeal, to say that none of the legislation helps at all because, in taking these decisions and balancing its duty to the elderly against its duty to the ratepayers, the GLC has failed in its fiduciary duty to the ratepayers. Since the House of Lords decision, any court may rule in that way on old or disabled peoples's fares or any other transport aspect. That issue is relevant to this new clause because we must decide whether there is any point in introducing it and whether it has the force, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) said, of ensuring that the GLC, when operating a concessionary fares scheme, is not frustrated by the judiciary.

I know all about the difficulties of this matter because I had a brief appointment as a parliamentary private secretary in 1976 over the Tameside case. The now retired legal adviser to the Department of Education and Science, Mr. Dudman, told the Minister in a laughing tone that he must not believe he could draft judge-proof legislation. He was, of course, right; the House cannot pass legislation with any certainty that a bench of judges will not overrule it.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point and the possibility of overturning what might be adduced as the will of Parliament. I understand that we are dancing words on the end of a needle. We agree, even if the wording of the amendment is not perfect, that it seeks to impose a specific duty on the GLC which it did not have previously.

I understand that aspect and hope that it is helpful. My hon. Friend the Member for York is a lawyer and I noted his remarks. However, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) are not. The amendment might not be helpful. One will only know that when the Bill is first litigated and not on the Royal Assent. I notice that the hon. Member for Ravenshourne (Mr. Hunt) has left the Chamber. Only if a busybody outer London borough council takes the matter to court to discover, using ratepayers' funds and public money, what the House of Lords, as presently assembled, thinks about this Bill will we know whether it will be helpful.

The Bill attempts to put the GLC on all fours with other local authorities under the 1968 Act. Since the GLC judgment, the 1968 Act has been litigated in Liverpool by Great Universal Stores. On 18 February R v. Merseyside county council ex parte Great Universal Stores was heard before the wise, intelligent and wonderful Mr. Justice Woolf. I know my Erskine May and that I am allowed to praise judges, although I must not cast any aspersions on them. I praise Mr. Justice Woolf to the skies. He represented the Government as a Treasury devil in the Tameside case. Although he was not made a judge for his pains on that case, he became a judge soon after it.

Mr. Justice Woolf has an excellent track record. He found the Secretary of State for Social Services guilty over the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham case and recently exonerated the Liverpool council over its cheap fares under the 1968 Act. I quote from his judgment on the 1968 Act because it is extremely relevant to this new clause; it will help Parliament to know what the judiciary might in future think about the wording of the new clause. On the Liverpool decision, he said that it did not automatically follow that the setting of fares to a level which would result in a deficit, which it was practicable to avoid, was unlawful. There was a discretion to do so and whether the discretion was lawful or not would depend on how the decision to set the fares at such a level was reached.

He continued that while in both cases—the GLC and Liverpool cases—initially there was indecent haste about the attempts to put into effect the policies which had been pronounced in the manifestos before the election, in the present case there was more temperate consideration given to the desirability and consequences of putting into effect the policies. A further distinguishing feature of the present case was of the policies adopted by the council after the election which were very much more important in, accordance with the Merseyside structure plan, as approved by the Secretary of State, which made it clear that transport was important for the regeneration of the area.

4.45 pm

I use those two passages to stress the narrow thread on which hangs the interpretation of this new clause, if it passed into litigation and was tested in the courts on its legality. The GLC must consider its various duties towards old peoples' transport, farepayers and ratepayers and whether it has properly carried out its fudiciary duty to the ratepayers according to the quotation given by my right hon. Friend from the House of Lords Scarman judgment.

The whole matter turned on temperate consideration. The House of Lords said that Ken Livingstone was intemperate and Mr. Justice Woolf said that the Liverpool council was temperate. That cannot be a sensible way to legislate. We are certainly voting on the new clause and trying to perceive some sense in this narrow Bill, but there must be a better way of legislating.

There is no London underground system in Lewisham. Buses are provided and my constituents consider them to be unco-ordinated; they come in bunches and do not provide an integrated or efficient service as in the terms of the new clause. They are certainly not integrated as are other transport facilities provided in my constituency by British Rail. The GLC rightly wanted to grant concessions with British Rail so that we might have the service as set out in the Bill—"integrated, efficient service". The Minister said "No"; British Rail was not to be allowed to grant concessions. Pure Government policy prevented what the new clause attempts to provide in London; integrated, efficient and economic facilities and services.

The GLC intended to do a little more then my hon. Friend said. Its leadership offered British Rail £20 million in order that British Rail might reduce its fares in line with the fare reductions for buses and tubes in London, which would have considerably helped people in Bromley—those who originally brought the action. My hon. Friend is right; the Government refused to allow British Rail to do that because it would have been outside the external financing limit.

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman attempts to respond to that intervention, I point out that the new clause is concerned with the needs of the elderly and the disabled, not with general fare reductions.

I am aware of that, Mr. Weatherill. I am also aware that one can get away with murder from the Front Bench. We poor folk on the Back Benches have to tread much more carefully. I agree with the point, but I shall not follow my hon. Friend. We are talking about whether the right of the GLC to make concessions to elderly people is further entrenched by the new clause or whether it makes no difference.

In future, the GLC will wish to give old people and disabled people the same concessions on British Rail that they receive on the buses and the underground. If the track record of the Minister is any guide, he will use his powers of fiat that Parliament has given him to prevent London Transport giving such concessions. I should therefore like to know from the Minister his attitude to concessions on British Rail. I once asked the hon. and learned Gentleman in a parliamentary question if he would care to accompany me on a journey around the South Circular road. The hon. and learned Gentleman demurred, saying that it was some time since he had been around the South Circular road and that he did not wish to undertake such a journey in the near future. I understand his feelings.

If, however, the Minister had accepted my invitation, we would have come to a large traffic jam at Forest Hill in my constituency. It is your unhappy task and duty, Mr. Weatherill, to have to cross occasionally the South Circular road, if not to have to face the prospect that confronts me of driving repeatedly round it to get from one end of my constituency to the other. On this journey, if the hon. and learned Gentleman had accompanied me, we would have come to Forest Hill station where four or five bus services terminate. That raises the issue of integrated services for old people and disabled people and whether the GLC should be allowed to contribute towards helping to build a bus station to form a proper interchange with Forest Hill station. I see the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer) taking a vague interest because he was the former hon. Member for the constituency before I defeated him in the 1974 general election.

If the GLC is to be allowed to put money into facilities to enable buses to park at Forest Hill so that old people and disabled people can transfer to trains and receive the same concessions, there must be some indication from the Minister that he will not simply use his powers, as he did in the previous case, to say that he intends to prevent this sort of integrated public transport for old people and disabled people in London.

Exactly the same situation prevails at Catford and Catford Bridge stations. Again, on your peregrinations south, Mr. Weatherill, you will know that these are also points where a number of buses reach their terminus. There is a desperate need for some integrated system that will free elderly people and disabled people from the need to cross difficult roads and negotiate awkward steps and staircases to change from one form of public transport to another.

I should like to know from the Minister whether he would refuse to agree if the GLC, under the terms of the Bill when it becomes an Act, were to suggest investing substantial resources in this sort of interchange system that is desperately needed to assist the mobility of elderly and disabled people in moving from one form of transport to another. This is the sort of scheme that the Bill should produce.

I shall vote for the new clause. I shall vote for it in the knowledge that the Bill is completely inadequate and merely tinkers with the real needs of the elderly and the disabled in London. There is need for an assurance from the Minister that this is essentially an interim measure and that he will produce proposals for proper public transport that old and disabled people in London can use and can afford.

In expressing my support for the new clause I should declare an interest, in that I am myself a beneficiary of concessionary fares, although I assure the Minister that I am still a good deal younger than the Master of the Rolls.

The poverty of the Government's case is made even more evident by the almost total lack of support that they have received from their Back Benchers. My hon. Friends the Members for York (Mr. Lyon) and for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) have made it clear that the law on this whole matter is very much in need of clarification and that this will not be achieved by what is an extremely meagre Bill.

I wish the right hon. Gentleman nothing but good health in his seventies, eighties and beyond. He will recall—he attended the whole of the Second Reading debate—that a substantially greater number of Back Benchers supported the Bill from the Government Benches than spoke in opposition to it from the Labour Benches.

Although some Conservative Members may have supported the Bill on Second Reading, it is obvious that, after taking some time for reflection, they have concluded that it does not deserve so much support after all. The Minister, in his brief intervention, argued that the whole debate rests on a misunderstanding, that everyone knows what the law is and that there is no need for clarification. Following the experience of the Law Lords judgment, I do not think that many people will be comforted by the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks. Everyone thought, until December, that the low fares policy of the GLC was legal. The Minister could have got up and said that there was no need for legislation, because there were no doubts. I have every sympathy for the new clause, which is intended to put it beyond doubt so far as is humanly possible that old people and the disabled have the right to concessionary fares.

My other criticism is that the Bill is inadequate even in its provision for the old and the disabled. By refusing wider concessions the Government are forcing other travellers in London, who will now have to pay much higher fares, to pay for the old people's concessionary fares instead of those concessionary fares being paid, as should be, from Government support grants.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a false suggestion. As he knows, the present, lawful budget that the GLC has approved allows £58 million to be spent out of the rates on the concessionary fares scheme. There is not the slightest doubt that the GLC has the legal power to do this. It has the Attorney-General's advice that it can. It will be paid, like everywhere else, out of the rates. It is nonsense to suggest that there is doubt about that part of the law. It is nonsense to say that it will be paid for by other people.

5 pm

I am arguing that, as a result of higher fares, London Transport will have a smaller deficit to meet and therefore the Government will not be under the same pressure to provide funds to cover the deficit as they would have been if the fares had not been increased. That is clearly so. Therefore, support for concessionary fares for the elderly is partly dependent upon the large increases in other fares which we shall be forced to meet.

People forget that the elderly often do not live alone, but live and are dependent upon one or more breadwinners, who also travel to work. If the breadwinner is unable to travel to work because of the extremely high fares, the elderly person's standard of living will also be severely affected. Only today I received a letter from a constituent which states:
"I am a nurse and I travel every working day from the above address"—
in Battersea—
"to Camberwell … I found that the fair fare helped me a lot in the few months it came into being…Please can you do something to help us—the travelling public. I am the breadwinner of the family as my husband is unemployed, and with the benefit cuts I am feeling the crunch at the moment because it is me who has to pay the rent and the bills."
That brings a breath of the real world into the debate. The bureaucratic atmosphere in which the Minister moves gives him little contact with that world.

As a result of the general increase in fares there will be an undoubted deterioration in services. I think that it was the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) who said that people may have to wait half an hour for a bus. It should be borne in mind that it is not only the relatively young who have to wait that time, but the elderly. Given the Government's policies and this meagre Bill, services will undoubtedly deteriorate.

Only a few days ago Sir Peter Masefield, chairman of London Transport, and Sir James Swaffield, the director-general of the GLC—who are not mad Marxists, or even mad monetarists, but who have considerable knowledge of London Transport—warned that the present policies would lead to a further deterioration of conditions. According to the Financial Times, Sir Peter Masefield said:
"London Transport expects that when fares double in three weeks time, 18 per cent. of passenger traffic will be driven away from the buses and tubes."
Services will be worse and there will be longer waits, and that will clearly affect the elderly as well as those who are younger.

According to the Financial Times, Sir Peter said:
"The new fares will be twice those offered by urban transport authorities in Paris and Amsterdam."
Indeed, Sir Peter Masefield confirms what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) and by my hon. Friend the Member for York, that there is a crying need for the law to be clarified, and the Bill does not do that.

We have rightly been told that great emphasis has been laid on the novel doctrine that local councils owe a fiduciary duty to ratepayers. However, they also owe a fiduciary duty to fare payers. It is ludicrous to say that ratepayers and not travellers—although they are often one and the same—are owed a fiduciary duty.

Hon. Members receive many letters on this subject. I received a letter from the Rickmansworth and Croxley Green Farepayers Association. Let hon. Members note that there are now fare payers' associations as well as ratepayers' associations. The letter states:
"As an Association we are totally non-political, but we support completely that which you are seeking to achieve."
However, I shall not discuss my Ten-Minute Bill now.
"Our members face a horrendous rise in fares and we are most grateful to you. If we can assist in any way, please let us know."
I hope that it will be realised that local authorities owe a fiduciary duty to fare payers as well as to ratepayers.

I am glad to note from your tolerance, Mr. Weatherill, that my speech has been wholly in order. Therefore, for the reasons that I have given, I support the new clause and continue to regard the Bill as inadequate.

Mr. William Pitt
(Croydon, North-West)