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Registration Of Local Services

Volume 79: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 5, line 18, after 'service', insert—

'(aa) the period of notice in relation to the registration has expired;'

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 159, in page 5, line 20 at end insert—

'(2A) Without prejudice to any Regulations which may be made under subsection 7 (e) below, the prescribed particulars to be supplied for the purposes of registration shall incluce—
  • (a) the size and type of vehicle used in the service; and
  • (b) particulars of the proposed route, stopping places, terminal points, timetable and level of fares.'.
  • Government amendments Nos. 9, 11 to 18, 20. 21, 23 to 28, 33, 38, 40, 60 and 110.

    The purpose of the amendments is to clarify the legal nature of registration. Registration is the cornerstone of the system established by the Bill to ensure that competition is fair, that services are operated safely and with proper regard to the passenger, and that the local authorities have a proper base to decide which services to subsidise through tendering. Therefore, it is important that it should be legally watertight. Careful study of the clause as originally drafted suggested that it might not have been so. The status of a registration between the date on which the application for it was accepted by the traffic commissioner, and that on which it became effective, was dubious. For instance, it was not clear that it could be varied during that period, which of course it can, within. the general rules for variation of services.

    The amendments clarify that, and at the same time simplify the way in which breaches of regulation rules are described in clauses 23 and 91, which provide sanctions to operator licensing and fuel duty rebate.

    The amendment will make considerable changes in the conditions of registration. I am glad that the amendment tabled by the Opposition was chosen, because we noticed yet another mistake in the Bill and wished to bring it to the attention of the House. The amendments that I tabled originally were designed to ensure that the operators of registered local bus services make proper provision for the safety and convenience not only of their passengers but of other road users in the community. The safeguards that we wish to include would make it clear that the prescribed particulars to be supplied for the purposes of registration should include the size and type of vehicle, the proposed route, the stopping places, the terminal points, the timetable and fares.

    It is important to understand that registration is one of the few pieces of legislation that will remain in place. Therefore, not only must it be properly organised, but it must contain information that will enable passengers and the local authorities to know exactly what the service does. We suggested that safeguards should be included to ensure that the local highways authority and chief of police were involved in the proposed routes, and especially in the safety of the vehicle that would be used in the service. We wished to ensure that all roads, stopping places and terminal points used in the service met the requirements of the highways authority and especially those of the police, who are responsible for road safety and traffic management. The highways authority would also wish to be satisfied about the structural suitability of some roads for some vehicles.

    The requirement was simply that the operator should consult the relevant authorities and obtain their approval before registering the service. The Government have gone some way towards inserting the safeguards that we wanted, but I am not sure that they have gone far enough. We must know whether operators have suitable vehicles for the services that they propose to operate. It is especially important to recognise that the bus industry provides a service to those members of the community who, at some stage, are least able to help themselves. Children, the disabled, family groups with shopping and other luggage, and the elderly especially are major users of buses. In west Yorkshire, the young and the elderly account for almost 50 per cent. of bus trips. The vehicles must be safe and convenient for use by the elderly and the disabled. Considerable advances have been made in recent years in bus design. Vehicles with low steps at the entrance, gently ramped rather than stepped floors and good provision of grab rails make it much easier for those who are unable in normal circumstances to cope with some of the older buses. Seats with easy access near the front of the vehicles are typical of the modern generation of vehicles operated both by well capitalised independent operators and certainly by most public sector companies.

    By contrast, in Hereford and one or two other areas where competition took place older coaches with high steps and poor access were used. The Conservative party made great play of the suggestion that only employees who worked for an independent operator would be prepared to assist people on and off buses, but that is not my experience. Even though drivers may be prepared to help passengers, that delays other traffic. It means too that cash is left unattended. There is no substitute for properly designed modern vehicles which the majority of passengers may board and alight from without assistance.

    Other information— copies of timetables and fares tables—should be carried and should be available for passengers to inspect. Destinations should be clearly displayed on the exterior of vehicles. Passengers should have adequate information. Some of those requirements were not included in the previous legislation. The requirement to display destinations is particularly important in busy areas where many routes operate from the same street. We know from the Hereford trial that where lots of buses are competing in a small area there is considerable confusion. I am afraid that that may be the case in future.

    Amendment No. 159 consolidates the matters that I have referred to by requiring the appropriate particulars to be supplied for the purpose of registration. Although I am glad that the Government have accepted that the amendment should be considered as part of this very large group of amendments, I would have hoped that Government Ministers might have explained in greater detail why the need for all this information to be added to the registration has been accepted. We believe that it is essential, but I do not think that Ministers have yet gone into sufficient detail to explain the change of heart on their part.

    I, too, would like to address a few remarks to amendment No. 159. If the Government intend, as I presume they do, to go ahead with the Bill in its present form it is vital that at the earliest possible stage maximum information is given to the traffic commissioner about the registration. The first part of the amendment refers to

    "the size and type of vehicle to be used in the service".
    If I am contemplating running any service — I understand that is what my right ho. Friend wants— surely I should know what kind of vehicle is to be used lby anyone else who is interested in the same route. If I discover that a minibus is being registered for a route and I believe that the route is susceptible to a considerable increase in demand—again I understand that is what the Government want — surely it is important that the maximum information is registered at the earliest possible opportunity. In that way the competition that is so dear to the Government's heart might be encouraged. Therefore, information of that nature would he very valuable at the time of registration, it would stimulate other people to consider whether they wanted to register for a parallel service over the whole route or part of it.

    Other information suggested for registration is
    "particulars of the proposed route, stopping places, terminal points, timetable and level of fares".
    Some of that may be open to discussion. Having been to Hereford I am convinced that that information is badly needed. There might have been certain stopping places in Hereford, but many of the buses did not go there to stop at them. They overtook each other to pick up people at the next bus stop, or even did not finish their journey because, having got three quarters of the way there, they saw people at the other side of the road waiting to go the other way, so they rapidly turned the bus round. I know that my right hon. Friend does not wish to encourage such behaviour.

    10.30 pm

    My hon. Friend has made some severe allegations about what has been going on in Hereford. I should be most grateful for his evidence, chapter and verse, on these incidents. Has he received complaints from passengers about this happening, and if so, on which buses where they travelling and when?

    When the Select Committee went to Hereford and Worcester, we obtained a lot of information, some of which is published in our report. The complaint that I have just detailed was certainly made, although I cannot remember whether it was in the formal evidence that was published or in the informal evidence given to us by a number of operators and members of the public. However, I assure my hon. Friend that that accusation was made.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the custom and precedent for an hon. Member to declare an interest before he speaks? I have not heard my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) declare such an interest, so I invite him to do so.

    I declared my interest not only on Second Reading but in a speech on an earlier amendment. If my hon. Friend had been present, he would have heard me do so.

    My suggestions tonight are designed not to sabotage the Government's proposals but to ensure that they are as workable as possible and achieve the ends towards which the Bill has been framed. It is essential for any potential operator to know what the extent of the potential competition will be. This is the most valuable thing. The point about registration is that people can see what services are proposed, and potential operators can see whether there is a living or even a profit to be made—out of identical routes, or parts of them.

    I should have thought that, in the interests of encouraging just that amount of competition that the Bill is intended to generate, the maximum amount of information should be given at the time of registration.

    Does the hon. Gentleman know that the shire county councils have done a short report on the Hereford position, in which they pointed out that Buchanans is still under prosecution for offences, and that there was clear evidence that no new routes had been created and that competition had been by duplication? Therefore, the points that the hon. Gentleman is making are not only valid but accurate.

    I thank the hon. Lady for that information.

    I shall not say that the whole of the Hereford experiment was a disaster, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) should not assume that. I am trying to show that there were defects in that experiment, and it should not be regarded as an ideal. Surely, the whole point of an experiment is that we should learn from the things that go wrong. I am not condemning the private operators in Hereford, but we should observe what happened there and try to see that such errors do not happen again. An essential pre-requisite is therefore the maximum of information at the time of registration.

    When about two hours ago, I said that, under the Hereford system, buses could turn round if they saw intending passengers on the other side of the road, clear off the bus and pick up those passengers and go on the other way, the Secretary of State waved his hands, laughed and rocked back in his seat as if it were a completely fatuous suggestion. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) has said that precisely the same complaints were made to the Select Committee on Transport when it visited Hereford. It is not a fatuous suggestion; it is likely to happen. People have complained, which means that it has happened. Unless the Government do something about it, it will happen time and time again. Some semblance of regulation must be provided for.

    It is also interesting that when the Minister commented upon the experiment in Hereford he said that it would have been a success if Midland Red had not been allowed to cross-subsidise services in order to eliminate competition. In Committee, many Conservative Members pointed to Hereford and said that it was a wonderful system which would be copied by bus services all over the country if the Bill were enacted. Now we are getting a little nearer the truth: that all is not rosy in the garden of Hereford. Things are going from bad to worse. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) referred to this point. It shows that the position in Hereford is dismal indeed. The fact that at one time there was a great deal of competition but that now there is competition in only one corridor in the Hereford area speaks for itself.

    Has my hon. Friend noticed that the only private operator who is left in that one corridor in the Hereford area, Mr. Buchanan, has been charged with using false registration plates? It seems, does it not, to be an extremely rosy situation in Hereford.

    I agree with my hon. Friend, but as this operator is still under the threat of prosecution I believe that the rules of the House do not allow me to refer to his case.

    I know what value the hon. Gentleman places upon accuracy. Perhaps, therefore. he will carefully read the press reports. He will find that it is not Mr. Buchanan but another operator who is charged with using buses bearing the wrong number plates and that a number of charges have been deferred until 1 July. The presumption of innocence ought to be maintained until guilt has been proved.

    I accept the hon. Gentleman's word on this, because he is the Member of Parliament for Hereford.

    On such a matter as this there is no need for me to withdraw. I understood that Mr. Buchanan was still under the threat of prosecution. If I am wrong, that is it. Other companies, however, spring to mind that have been prosecuted for something more serious than using the wrong number plates. However, the use of wrong number plates ought not to be allowed.

    Opposition Members have always referred in derogatory terms to the Hereford experiment. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) may be pleased to hear that, with the object of proving the rumours that they had swallowed during the past few months, a large party from Nottingham went to Hereford a few weeks ago. It was made up predominantly of city officials and Labour councillors. They returned very quiet and very chastened. The word in Nottingham is that the Hereford experiment is working and that the Bill contains many good things. The hon. Member for Wrexham ought to leave Hereford alone. Labour councillors in Nottingham have come to realise that there is a lot of good in the Hereford experiment.

    I will not leave the Hereford experiment, because in my view it has proved to be an absolute disaster. We no longer have competition, except along one corridor into Hereford, and, as I said, towns such as Kington and Presteigne do not have services as good as they used to have.

    I am beginning to doubt the high value that the hon. Gentleman places on accuracy, because I had to pull him up on this point in Committee. He will be aware, in respect of the example that he regularly trots out, of Kington and Presteigne, that the reductions in service were made before the start of the trial area and were made by the county council and not as a result of bus operators pulling out. Will he not learn that, or is he programmed to trot that out regularly because somebody has given him the information?

    I am always prepared to give way to local Members if they know what is going on and have first-hand information and I will give way to the Minister when I have pointed out that, while nobody can be right all the time, services in the rural areas of Herefordshire are not as good as they were. There have been no new routes and nobody has made a profit.

    As the hon. Gentleman is holding forth on this area, with which he seems to be particularly familiar, may I ask him to explain how, when I was speaking at a meeting recently, a gentleman in the audience said, "I wish to take the opportunity to thank the Government for having introduced the trial area in the Hereford and Worcester area, because, for the first time for 25 years, we have a bus service in my village."?

    If there is a new route that did not exist before the establishment of the trial area, the Minister should name the village and put it on the record. If I am wrong, fair enough—a contribution has been made to the debate and hon. Members on both sides of the House are wiser. I understand that no new routes have been pioneered since deregulation and since the establishment of the trial area in Hereford.

    This is like a nightmare. Having listened to the hon. Gentleman for 150-odd hours in Committee saying the same thing, it is tiresome to hear him say it yet again on the Floor of the House. Can he adjust the programme a little? Without knowing the details of the Hereford experiment, I am concerned that the hon. Gentleman should be discrediting bus companies that may have prosecutions pending against them, but against whom nothing has been proved. It might be unfortunate if he pursued the point.

    I was simply pointing out that prosecutions were pending, and nothing else that I said, or am saying, implies anything from the point of view of the two companies concerned. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

    When was the hon. Gentleman last in Hereford, when did he last travel on Herefordshire buses and when did he last speak to Hereford people on the subject?

    It is all anecdotal, I suppose; one cannot know unless one has actually travelled on the buses.

    I travelled in Herefordshire towards the end of last year. I cannot remember the date.

    No, not by bus. [Interruption.] I travel by bus regularly and I travelled by bus every week on a great many occasions. Hon. Members have tried to catch me out on that, as on other matters, and again they have failed. The source of my remarks is the transport consortium of shire county councils, and I have made my own investigations. That body said:

    "No new routes have been created and competition has been by duplication, so that the full benefit of the increased number of buses has not been realised. Hereford and Worcester County Council did at one stage make strenuous efforts to co-ordinate some of the competing services, but agreements between operators did not begin to emerge until last year."
    I shall omit one short paragraph. The consortium continued:
    "Early morning, evening and Sunday services are very limited. No buses before 7.30 am, a handful of journeys after 6.15 pm, just three journeys on Sundays on selected routes."
    If hon. Members believe that that is a comprehensive integrated bus service, they should think again. It is an abysmal service. The citizens of Hereford do not have a service that they would describe, if asked for a proper expression of feeling, as better than the previous one. If they happened to live next to one of those three or four routes where fares are cheaper, they might describe it as a better service. I believe that the overall answer would be that the trial area has not been a success.

    10.45 pm

    The hon. Gentleman has made assertions about no buses being earlier and no buses being later. Is he aware that, on the country routes, no one is worse off in terms of the arrival of buses although perhaps no one is better off? The hon. Gentleman must bear it in mind, in making his dismissive assertions that the bus revenue support is lower, that the taxpayer is getting better value for money for providing the same level or a better level of service. Is the hon. Gentleman aware also that in the informal evidence taken by the Select Committee the general view of those who lived in the countryside was that no one was any worse off but that a number of people were substantially better off?

    Because the Government have imposed a guillotine on this important Bill. There are many clauses that we cannot consider. It ill befits Conservative Members to ask why, when I say that we should continue the debate.

    The hon. Member has recounted some comments that have been passed on to him. It might be helpful if I record just three points that were made to me by passengers which bear upon the points that have been raised. A young man visiting from west Yorkshire said:

    "Where I come from the buses don't run so late and they cost more. I don't use them often here, but it is cheap and the last bus is after 11 o'clock at night."
    An RAF man said:
    "The service is fine, a lot cheaper than Cambridgeshire where I come from."
    Another person stated:
    "We only have hard leather seats in Cardiff. This is much more comfortable."
    Those are repetitive comments from people who in practical terms found it—

    Order. The Minister is going a long way beyond the terms of the amendment. No doubt the Under-Secretary of State will seek in the fullness of time to catch my eye to reply to the debate. Dr. Marek.

    I shall give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison).

    The Under-Secretary of State stated at the Dispatch Box, when referring to west Yorkshire—

    Order. For obvious reasons, I should not have allowed the Under-Secretary of State to refer to west Yorkshire. Perhaps I should have told the hon. Gentleman the moment he referred to west Yorkshire, rather than allowed him to continue, that that aspect was beyond the terms of the amendment. I hope that the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) will not pursue that point.

    I did not raise a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What you allowed was an infringement of the rules of the House. If you allowed the Under-Secretary of State to make a statement, surely I am entitled to raise a matter on the very point that you allowed. Can the Under-Secretary of State specify the area of west Yorkshire to which he referred? I represent part of west Yorkshire, which is a fairly large place.

    Amendment No. 159 is important because the public and the local authorities must know where the bus stops will be, when the services will run, and so on, and it is perfectly reasonable to refer to the experience in Hereford in that context. I do not deny the examples given by the Minister, but they are highly selective. No doubt I could go out asking for views and find one person who thinks that the evening service is terrible because he has been waiting for 15 minutes whereas at 5.30 in the afternoon he may think that the service is very good, but I do not believe that selective information of that kind assists our deliberations. I believe that if the views of the people throughout the Hereford area were gathered and assessed objectively the majority view would be that the trial area was not a success.

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the subsidised rural services in the Hereford trial area were not subject to any competition, which is completely contrary to the proposals in the Bill, and that the information required by amendment No. 159 will be all the more important if competition is to be generated?

    The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The House will note that, when the hon. Gentleman first made those comments, he was immediately attacked by his hon. Friends the Members for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) and for York (Mr. Gregory) because they thought that he was saying something against the spirit of the Bill. In fact, he was doing no such thing, but he made the valid point that if we are to have deregulation—if we are to have this evil Bill thrust upon us—

    The hon. Gentleman does not need to tell us that. If we are to have this evil Bill, the traffic commissioner—an authority far removed from the local people — must have the information required by amendent No. 159. The requirements are perfectly straightforward. What possible objection can the Government have to a requirement to specify

    "the size and type of vehicle to be used in the service"
    "particulars of the proposed route"?
    At least the traffic commissioner, the local authority and the public will know what route the operator proposes to follow. We do not want buses taking short cuts through town centres just to get ahead of the competition

    Specified stopping places are also important. In Hereford there were instances of six or seven buses trying to pile on to one bus stop. If the amendment is accepted, the traffic commissioner will have a chance to try to achieve some order out of the chaos. In that respect, amendment No. 159 is a very good one.

    We discussed this in Standing Committee. Once one starts including that kind of detail in the legislation, one loses the flexibility of regulations in which the requirements for registration can evolve according to experience. As soon as one tries to hammer these things down, the system becomes inflexible and it is difficult to have any cogent, amendable policy. Regulations are flexible and do not give rise to the same problems. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that?

    No, I do not agree. The amendment states:

    "Without prejudice to any Regulations which may be made under subsection 7 (e) below, the prescribed particulars to be supplied for the purposes of regulation shall include".
    There is no question of an attempt to impose more regulations. It is a means of providing more information for the traffic commissioners and the local authorities. If necessary, they can talk to the independent operators in an endeavour to achieve a more coherent system. Above all, the public should receive the information. The amendment does not seek compulsion.

    I wish to bring my remarks to an end, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I have suffered a barrage of interventions from Conservative Members. I shall do so by referring to the 3 May edition of Labour Weekly, which is an informative weekly newspaper. The 3 May edition tells us that proprietor Dennis Buchanan has been charged with the fraudulent use of number plates on a mechanically propelled vehicle. That carries no implications for operations in the Hereford area and no implications for proprietor Dennis Buchanan.

    I have said that the country areas now have worse bus services than before. In doing so, I was taking up an article written by Mr. Dunbar that appeared in "Buses". If I have that wrong, I shall be the first to admit it, but I do not think that I have. Hon. Members who are interested in these matters can ascertain for themselves whether I have it right or wrong at the end of the debate.

    Amendment No. 159 is sensible as it does not seek to compel anyone to do anything. It seeks merely to provide information, especially for the public. The public should be aware of timetables so that they know when buses will run. They should know with certainty the destinations of particular buses. Buses should not run short of their stated destinations.

    We have covered this circuit before. A commercial operator will not run a bus without stating where it is going. He will want customers and he will not run a bus that does not have a board stating its destination. He will know that no one will board it in the absence of that information. The public will not stand at lamp posts waiting for a bus if they know that the bus will not stop. Instead, they will stand at bus stops. The hon. Gentleman's points are a lot of nonsense.

    The hon. Gentleman may hold that opinion, but we have heard that certain buses curtail their journeys, turn around and travel in the opposite direction. When people board a bus that is supposed to travel in a certain direction—to the destination stated on the front of the vehicle—they should be confident that it will travel to that destination. It is on that basis that I commend amendment No. 159 to the House.

    I shall intervene briefly, and mainly to express regret at the enormous number of inaccuracies trotted out by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), who detained the House for far longer than it deserved.

    The hon. Lady may so describe my comment, but if the facts had been presented instead of apochryphal —

    I wish to pay tribute to the number of times that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) courteously gave way to Conservative Members. Notwithstanding my hon. Friend's courtesy, the hon. Gentleman chooses to talk about the time that my hon. Friend has detained the House. If some Conservative Members knew as much about transport as my hon. Friend. they would be much better informed.

    I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I am prepared always to acknowledge the graciousness of the hon. Member for Wrexham and that of the hon. Lady. I defer, to an extent, to the hon. Gentleman's expert knowledge. However, he has talked about my con-stituency and my county in terms of great expertise without having studied the local issues at first hand. I can only regret that it was necessary for me to intervene. However, I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's gracious-ness in allowing interventions in his contribution. I regret the negative attitude that has been taken and on the basis of hearsay evidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) related the experiences of councillors from Nottingham who visited Hereford. People who have visited Hereford and spoken to Herefordians—[HON. MEMBERS: "Herefordians?"] A select breed with white faces. They have been privileged to participate in the experiment from which much has been learnt and incorporated in the Bill. Nobody has said that the experiment was perfect. It was the test bed and many of the lessons that have been learnt have been included in the Bill.

    11 pm

    In amendment No. 159, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) addresses matters that have already been dealt with. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend accepts the amendment, but will he bear it in mind that the concept of the level of fares is itself an inflexibility in what could be flexible and competitive? Will the level of fares shown on the notice given with registration particulars be a maximum or a precise level? If it is a maximum, the operator can respond to competitive pressure by charging a little less and passengers will know that they will not be obliged to pay any more.

    If it is the precise amount, however, inflexibility is introduced and a statutory period of notice must be given before and any change can be made. That might be advantageous when reducing fares, but when increasing them it might unnecessarily put an operator in financial difficulty. I want to ensure that we do not pin down operators with an inflexibility that we might regret. I should be most grateful if my right hon. Friend would comment on that. Having said that, I shall shut up.

    I should like to repeat some of what I said in Committee, because amendment No. 159 has overtones of amendments which were proposed in Committee. The difference between Conservative Members and the Opposition is that they distrust private operators. They think that private operators should be pinned down so that they are unable to make a go of things. The amendment provides that an operator must be as specific as possible to limit his scope of operation. He has to specify the size and type of his vehicle, for example. A member of the public could probably object to the traffic commissioner on the ground that an operator had to put in a replacement vehicle because his normal one was off the road. Even worse, the operator has to specify the proposed route.

    No, because I am on an important point. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) may not know this, but on the fast bus to Heathrow airport from Victoria coach station — the hon. Gentleman has probably not taken this bus, but I am a keen bus rider and I travel on it quite often—the bus driver is given a discretion as to which way he goes to Heathrow. I have travelled on the bus a number of times, and it has gone three or four different ways to avoid traffic jams and to accommodate various passengers. The driver asks where one wishes to alight, and he will go that way to assist the passenger. That is an example of the kind of private enterprise operation that one expects to see. However, once one stipulates that the operator has to have particulars of the proposed route, he will not succeed in offering the flexibility, imagination and enterprise that I want to see.

    Does the hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that if in his constituency one of his constituents, who may live at some point along the route, wished to travel from Kingsbridge to Totnes, but did not know which way the bus was going to go, that would not inconvenience the constituent? It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should have chosen the example that he did because, of course, London is not deregulated. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is saying that we do not need deregulation in order to achieve flexibility. We simply need to tell the bus drivers on express coaches that they can go whichever way they like.

    The hon. Lady always manages to twist any sensible point and turn it round to her advantage, but that is something for which she is well known.

    If a passenger were travelling from Kingsbridge to Totnes—and the hon. Lady knows Totnes because she lived there for many years, and she is still referred to, although I will not say in what way, by various constituents — on a private enterprise bus which had nothing on the front, which is what the hon. Member for Wrexham was suggesting, the passenger would travel on that bus only once if it ended up at Ivybridge. Any commercial operator travelling from Kingsbridge to Totnes who took on board a passenger who asked for Totnes but ended up in Ivybridge would not be used by that passenger again. That is market forces, and that is what the hon. Lady does not understand. A person may be inconvenienced once, he may find himself in Ivybridge and not Totnes, but he would travel on that bus only once. Thereafter, he would make other arrangements.

    My hon. Friend in his earlier remarks drew attention to the limitation that might be imposed on an operator if he had to specify the size and type of vehicle to be used, resulting in a rigidity in that operator's performance. Would my hon. Friend accept that in our authority we have conventional double deckers, conventional single deckers and what we now call minibuses of 30 seats and less? It seems to me, as I am sure my hon. Friend would agree, that it is perfectly in order for an operator who has adequate vehicles of all types to make his own decision in the light of the circumstances as he sees them on which type of bus is appropriate, not only for a particular route, but for the time of day. It may be more appropriate to have the double decker at peak and the mini bus for the late night service.

    My hon. Friend, as always, makes interventions that are particularly pertinent and relevant. His intervention is far more appropriate than was that of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).

    This point is relevant not only to bus services but to airline services also. Airlines do not put on a jumbo jet with one person on board — unless it is the British Airways back-up to the shuttle service in order to make the maximum loss. In private enterprise bus services, one uses a small bus when there are a few people travelling and a big bus when there are a lot of people travelling. That is what private enterprise is all about. One does not waste money if one can avoid it.

    The hon. Lady also said that one did not need to deregulate the bus service when I gave the example of the express bus. She gave a good example, but she does not understand that that express bus service to Heathrow is competing against the London Transport Al and A2 bus, and the underground. That is why the express bus has been made flexible. That is to attract other—

    I do not object to what the Al, A2 and A3 buses do, but the hon. Gentleman must admit that it is a specialised service. All that the bus does on the way from the airport is drop people off, not pick them up. The buses have a predestined route because there are bus stops en route. I have no objection to that, but airport buses and similar operations are not comparable to local stage carriage services. Does the hon. Gentleman admit that?

    I have been drawn off the point that I was making. Whenever the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich intervenes, one get drawn off the point. I want to get back to what the amendment is about. I should like to deal with what the hon. Member for Wrexham has just said. I think that he must be on autopilot this evening because he is saying the same thing over and over again. At least we know that we are safe with him.

    The amendment refers to stopping places. Let me imagine the Kingsbridge to Totnes bus with no sign on the front, trundling along the country lanes of Devon, and a little lady standing there with her shopping basket—

    And an umbrella. The lady is standing by a lamp post waiting for the bus to stop, but she does not know where it will stop or where it will go. That cannot make sense. If one is running a private enterprise service, one will want customers. That is what private enterprise and profit is about. One makes profits only if one has the passengers. but if nobody knows where the buses are going and where they stop, one does not get any passengers at all. When the amendment states that one should specify the stopping places, it is as if a private operator would wish to pass by all the potential passengers that he could take, to keep driving to an unspecified destination. The hon. Member for Wrexham cannot be serious in suggesting that that is what is required in the Bill.

    The amendment goes on to say that there must be "terminal points". Of course there must be terminal points. The bus has to stop sometime. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that it goes on and on, passing all the passengers, going past all the lamp posts, and all the bus stops? What is supposed to happen if the amendment is passed?

    The amendment also refers to a timetable. Not only is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the bus has no destination on the front, that it keeps going past the bus stops and the lamp posts. and goes round and round non-stop, but nobody should know when it is travelling. Is he suggesting that that is why the amendment is needed? Clearly it is nonsense. The amendment also says that there should be a "level of fares". That cannot apply because the bus would not have any people on it because nobody would know where it was going and where it stopped. Therefore, one would not need to know the level of fares because nobody would be paying anything.

    Therefore, the amendment is clearly completely inappropriate. It is not needed because no private enterprise operator could run a service without explaining the very things that the amendment is designed to do. I, and I am sure, my hon. Friends, believe that it is complete poppycock. It is Alice in Wonderland. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich is now laughing with her hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) because she realises what a ridiculous amendment it is. It adds nothing to the Bill. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wrexham has associated himself with it, because it does not do him the credit that we have come to expect after listening to him for 150 hours in Committee.

    11.15 pm

    We have had a most amusing debate on amendment No. 159. I feel much like the man on the bus in Cambridgeshire, to whom my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary referred. I feel as if I have been sitting on a hard leather seat, as I often do when I listen to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), who takes one rather slowly through the countryside, stopping at every available bus stop and not hastening to his destination.

    If I were to pontificate about the bus services in Wrexham as freely as the hon. Gentleman does about those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), it might rouse the hon. Gentleman to a higher level of activity and a higher tempo. The way in which he freely tells the House what is happening in Hereford—when he later admits that he has not been there for a year and never on a bus, but has read some Labour party propaganda that tells him that the whole thing is rather a bad egg, without the faintest apology to my hon. Friend who lives there, holds surgeries there, receives letters from his constituents and knows what is happening in Hereford with a degree of detail and technical knowledge—makes him look like a man from the moon.

    We have heard enough from the hon. Gentleman about Hereford, and not enough from my hon. Friend who knows the position there. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would stop that nonsense. Tomorrow I shall take pleasure in telling him what I think about the bus service in Wrexham on whatever amendment he likes. Although I have never been to Wrexham, or on a bus there, and know nothing about it, I am as willing as he is to pontificate.

    Will the Secretary of State tell the House when he has been on a bus?

    I have been on a bus, but I confess with great candour never in Wrexham. However, that will not stop me from emulating the hon. Gentleman and commenting at great length on the nature of bus services in Wrexham, although I have never been there, or in a bus.

    In Wrexham.

    Many requirements are needed to register services. There are two points of difference between the two sides of the House. The first is whether the requirements of what must be registered should be in the statute, or whether they should be spelt out in regulations under the statute. The hon. Lady would like them spelt out in the statute, whereas the Government think that it might be more sensible and flexible to spell them out in regulations.

    The second difference between the two sides relates to the details that it is necessary to register when an operator registers a service with a traffic commissioner. We do not differ much about what should be the details of registration and, on reflection, the hon. Lady may agree that it is better to have some flexibility. Regarding the details of what should be registered, we shall gain experience of what is and is not necessary to be registered, what could be inimical to commercial confidentiality if it were registered, and what should be changed from time to time. There is not much difference between us about the substance.

    The Government's policy of seeking to make regulations which set out the things which should be registered may be more flexible than the hon. Lady's more rigid policy of spelling them out in the statute.

    What details should be registered? The hon. Lady's amendment specifies the size and type of vehicle, the proposed route, the stopping places, the terminal points and the fares. The purpose of registration is to inform local authorities which services will run in their areas in terms of geography—where they will run—and in terms of time and frequency—when they will run. That is the essential information that must be known before a local authority can augment bus services by going out to tender for some routes.

    It is not entirely obvious that the size and type of vehicle should be registered, because a competitor, having discovered that someone had registered a large vehicle, might decide to register to run a smaller vehicle because he believed that there was less trade. Furthermore, he could then hold the first operator to the condition that he run a larger vehicle, because that was the vehicle that he registered. Therefore, the first operator might lose the flexibility to change to a smaller vehicle if he discovered that the trade would support only a vehicle smaller than the one he registered. We should not be too firm about this. We are happy to consult the industry and the local authorities to try to determine exactly what to specify in the regulations as to size and type of vehicle.

    My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) was right to say that it is unnecessary to be specific about the proposed route. However, it is necessary to he specific about where the route starts and ends. If wished to go from Kingsbridge to Totnes, I should be extremely keen to arrive in Totnes. I would not mind which route the bus took. A service which was radio-controlled might hear that there were some people in a village off the main route who wished to be picked up. Therefore, the bus would go off the main route and pick up the four or five people there, because the driver would know that they wished to go to Totnes. Should it be a breach of registration if the operator shows the flexibility that is in the interests of the passengers?

    I am deeply grateful to the Secretary of State for this newly found — [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am deeply grateful for the great courtesy that he always displays. I am not clear whether he is seriously telling the House that he cannot envisage the necessity for people who live along the route between two small towns to know the route that the bus will take. We could be talking about anywhere in South Hams, where there are even fewer people, more lanes and higher hedges, but in this case we are talking about two towns. Is he saying that, if it suited another group of passengers. the bus could be diverted here, there and everywhere? Does he seriously imagine that no one will get off the bus in between the two towns about which we are talking?

    I feared that the hon. Lady did not understand the amendment, but I was sufficiently courteous and generous not to accuse her of that. But it is now clear that I should have done so, because she does not understand the amendment.

    We are not talking about the information given to passengers in timetables or fare tables, which can be posted anywhere. We are talking about the service that must be registered with the traffic commissioners. My point is that an operator who registers the service, and then decides that it would be better to take a different route, advertises it in his timetable and gets customers interested, would be accused of breaking the registration conditions simply because he had not registered the alternative route. They are two different things. One is what the operator says to his passengers and the other is what he registers.

    Earlier in his reply my right hon. Friend said that information had to be registered to enable a local authority to see where it would need to augment the service. If the route is not predetermined, how on earth can the local authority decide whether that service needs to be augmented? In my constituency, there might be a bus service from Wellingborough to Kettering but if the people in Little Harrowden, for example, did not know whether the service was to go through the village, they would not know what to expect. There might be a supplementary service from Little Harrowden to serve either Kettering or Wellingborough, or there might be a bus service through it. Surely it is important for the local authority to know, so that it may decide whether it needs to augment that service.

    I do not dissent from what my hon. Friend says, but there is a balance between saying that the slightest alteration in the route registered to be run by an operator 42 days before he starts will involve him in a possible breach of the registration, and the other side of the argument, which is that of course the local authority has to have a very clear idea of where routes will be. To achieve a balance between those two laudable objectives, all I am asking for is a certain flexibility after consultation in drawing up the regulations, rather than having the matter specified in statute.

    I can speak only of my own constituency. I am advised that over the years bus services have declined. Instead of having regular bus services between Totnes and Kingsbridge, there are fewer and fewer buses. Surely my right hon. Friend would agree that all rural constituents want more buses. If there are new services because of the Bill and because private enterprise produces more buses, people will be delighted, even if the buses deviate a little from the proposed route. Surely the purpose of the Bill is to increase the number of buses and to create more services between rural towns and villages. That is what people want and should get.

    I agree with my right hon. Friend. On Second Reading, when we were discussing buses and taxis, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) intervened to describe the two as totally separate. She said that buses were for the poor and taxis were for the rich, and she wanted to know why I was worried about taxis. When one thinks about it, there is not all that much difference between a bus and a taxi.

    No. Again, I do not think the hon. Lady is up to date. I think she will find that shared taxis under the Bill will be cheaper for the individual than many municipal bus services. When we consider the small number of people in hamlets in South Hams and other such places who do not have cars, we find that it is almost a taxi service that is required in many cases. Therefore, we should not be too disparaging about taxis.

    In regard to the list of items in the amendment, terminal points are vital. Stopping places are important, but we want a little flexibility about where they are to be. Again the timetable is important, but we do not want to make it so rigid that half a minute's deviation could amount to a breach of registration.

    In regard to the level of fares, there is an exception in my agreement. I am not convinced that fares need to be registered and that the failure to charge the precise fares in the registration should render an operator liable for sanctions against his operator's licence. I agree that many local authorities, and especially those that run concessionary fares schemes, may need to have details of the fares charged, but if they do, they can obtain them as part of the concessionary fares arrangements themselves. I do not want to make registration more of a burden than it need be, and experience of fares notification under the present licensing system suggests that the information is not, in practice, used. I am not convinced on the point of fares.

    The difference between the two sides is small. The question is whether it should be done through statute or regulation. Regulation is more flexible and takes account of the points that have been made by hon. Members, and I hope that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich will not press her amendment to a Division.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 9, in page 5, line 20 at end insert—

    '(3A) In subsection (2) above "the period of notice", in relation to any registration, means, subject to regulations under this section—
  • (a) the period prescribed for the purposes of this subsection; or
  • (b) if longer, the period beginning with the registration and ending with the date given to the traffic commissioner by the operator as the date on which the service will begin.'
  • No. 11, in page 5, line 29, leave out from 'particulars' to end of line 34 and insert 'are registered under this section'.

    No. 12, in page 5, line 37, leave out from 'section' to `the', in line 38.

    No. 13, in page 5, line 39, leave out from 'shall' to first `the' in line 42 and insert

    'become effective—
  • ' (a) on the expiry of the period beginning with the date on which the traffic commissioner is notified of the variation or, as the case may be, cancellation and ending with the date determined in accordance with regulations under this section; or
  • (b) if later, on'.
  • No. 14, in page 5, line 42, after 'given', insert 'to the traffic commissioner'.

    No. 15, in page 5, line 43, leave out 'commencement'.

    No. 16, in page 5, line 44, leave out 'discontinuance of the service' and insert 'cancellation'.

    No. 17, in page 6, line 7, after 'subsection', insert `(3A) or'.

    No. 18, in page 6, line 10, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—

    (c) that in such cases or classes of case as may be prescribed—
  • (i) subsection (2) above shall have effect as if for the reference in paragraph (aa) to the period of notice there were substituted a reference to such period as the traffic commissioner may determine;
  • (ii) subsection (6) above shall have effect as if for the reference in paragraph (a) to the date on which the period mentioned in that paragraph is to expire there were substituted a reference to such date as he may determine;'. — [Mr. Ridley.]
  • With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 178, in page 7, line 13, at end insert ';and (d) any Passenger Transport Executive.'.

    In the inimitable words of Ministers, this is a drafting amendment. We think that as the PTEs are to be responsible for the tendering arrangements, they should be notified, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree.

    Yes, I agree. However, the amendment is not well drafted. I accept the principle of it and will table an amendment in the other place to meet the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

    I thank the Secretary of State, and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave withdrawn.