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Repeal Of Section 24(3) Of The 1968 Act

Volume 79: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1985

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'—(1) Section 24(3) of the 1968 Act (which imposes on the National Bus Company, the Railways Board and the Scottish Transport Group a duty to co-operate with one another for the purpose of co-ordinating the passenger transport services provided respectively by them or by their subsidiaries) shall cease to have effect.

(2) In subsection (4) of that section, for the words "Subsections (2) and (3)" there shall be substituted the words "subsection (2)".'.— [Mr. Ancram.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 148.

The new clause will repeal the statutory duty of the National Bus Company, the British Railways Board and the Scottish Transport Group to co-operate with each other to co-ordinate their services. The co-operation duty comes from the world of forced integration which the Bill will end. When the duty was designed, it had two purposes. The first was to bring about by statutory means co-ordination among the different nationalised operators so that their timetables coincided; the bus met the train, the ferry met the bus, and so on. In the absence of competitive forces, statutory duties are perhaps needed, but the Bill relies on the more efficient co-ordinating mechanism of market demand. A bus that leaves the station before the train arrives will not attract many passengers, and that discipline will create co-ordination under the new dispensation.

Secondly, the duty was designed to avoid so-called wasteful competition — a concept which the Conservative party rejects. It embodies the idea that passengers should be given no choice. If there is a rail service, the passenger must use it; he may not be offered a rival coach service. That was an idea that was decisively rejected in the House in 1980 when we deregulated long distance coach services.

In practice the duty under section 24 of the Transport Act 1968 has been a dead letter in that respect ever since, with the National Bus Company's and the Scottish Bus Group's competing coach services at last able to give passengers what they wanted—cheap attractive services —thereby tapping the enormous potential for increasing patronage. It is our view that this co-operation duty is no longer necessary. It would be an anachronism under the terms of the legislation. This is an important new clause, and I ask the House to support it.

The tabling of the new clause is a bit of cheek. Why have we got this piece of procedural queue-jumping at this stage of the Bill? If the new clause is as important as the Minister suggests, why was it not included in the original print of the Bill? The Secretary of State told us at the conclusion of the proceedings in Standing Committee that 127 amendments, mostly Government amendments, had been made. Why was there this sin of omission?

The Government ask local authorities to co-operate with each other. What is wrong, therefore, about ensuring that the Scottish Transport Group, British Rail and the National Bus Company should have some co-operation? The Minister might like to comment on the likelihood of competition taking place as a result of the Ayr-Glasgow electrification programme. Some co-ordination in that part of the west of Scotland might be appropriate. Can the Minister tell us something about the discussions and consultations that he had with ScotRail, the Scottish Transport Group and the National Bus Company about the repeal of section 24?

When the Scottish Minister is here, it will be useful to hear from him, because of his knowledge and expertise in Scots law, whether he confirms that any company subject to unfair competition will have interim protection until the Office of Fair Trading has made a judgment. The Under-Secretary of State rather skilfully skipped over my question earlier this afternoon.

New clause 12 is another blow at the principle of co-ordination of approach and the integration of services for the betterment of the travelling public in the private sector. Unless we get a convincing reply from the Minister, I shall advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the new clause.

I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) that for the Government to produce new clause 12 at this late stage is dishonest; it is an absurd and outrageous move that will not work in practice.

In my area British Rail has just pushed forward some good schemes to open new stations and develop new suburban services. There is concern that the Bill, far from creating competition, will lead to the development of monopoly bus operators. The Scottish Bus Group is likely to try to take over municipal bus services. The net effect will be that it will be most unwilling to deliver passengers to its main competitor, the new suburban rail services. We will finish up with a shambles when we could have a properly co-ordinated service.

The repeal of section 24 would be very much to the detriment of consumers in Scotland. My hon. Friends and I wish to vote against it.

In rural areas there can be problems that are not immediately obvious in urban areas. These concern integration between a bus service and a rail service to not heavily used intermediate stages, which can be very important except for those who travel to the station by car. One can get into a circular position in which British Rail says that there is not the demand to keep the station open because the public do not use it, and the public do not use it because the bus service does not connect with it at times that enable the station to be used. I have examples of this in my constituency.

To say that demand-oriented bus services will always meet a need for co-ordination with rail services is not true in rural areas. The bus company has many other considerations to meet. It has to schedule its entire service so that the buses end up at the garage at night at the end of the shift and overtime is not paid, and start again in the morning at a time when they can take people to work. These factors have to do with the mass demand for the service.

If the bus service does not link with the rail service, British Rail will close a station or withdraw services from it on the grounds that the public does not want to use it when it is not the case that the public do not w ant to use it but that they do not have the opportunity to use it because there is no bus to service it. That is why it is so necessary to have the co-ordinating functions in the hands of the county council, so that there is interconnection instead of rail and road being in competition with each other in the destructive sense of deliberately not making contact so that one's services can triumph over the other's.

In the early days, when there were no bus services, there were competitive rail services in the same areas that deliberately tried to cream off traffic so that the alternative line would suffer. That is not the position today, when there is a monopoly rail service. But to rely on the pressures of competition to ensure that bus services are efficient feeders to and from rail services when they have other needs to meet for their own profitability shows, I am afraid, a lack of understanding of the needs of rural areas.

This new clause does not only affect the rural areas. It will have a detrimental effect on transport services on Tayside, the city of Dundee and Strathclyde. I have a letter from the then manager of the Scottish region of British Rail to the effect that, if there were unregulated competition, the future of commuter services between Arbroath and Dundee, and of the Strathclyde commuter services, would be placed in jeopardy.

No benefit to the public interest will be achieved by repealing section 24(3) of the Transport Act 1968. We shall regress to transport anarchy if the new clause is passed. For those reasons, I shall vote against it.

New clause 12 is obviously intended to correct an omission from the original Bill and is another sign of just how badly the Bill was drafted. As the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said, it is not only the rural areas that will be affected by the new clause. The whole of the Strathclyde rail review, which has been carefully negotiated between the Scottish Bus Group, British Rail and the Strathclyde PTE, will also be affected. I wish to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to a report in The Scotsman on 15 May:

"The Scottish Transport Group is preparing to fight a price war which is expected to break out on Scotland's most profitable bus routes when the Government opens them to free competition."
Councillor Waugh, the chairman of the Strathclyde highways and transport committee, claimed:
"The Ayrshire rail electrification scheme could become a £62 million white elephant"
and said:
"the Glasgow to Ayr service is attracting 400,000 fewer passengers a year than expected."
Who will foot the £62 million bill for this white elephant? How many jobs on British Rail will be lost? The new clause is not needed. The Bill is much better without it.

I wish to comment upon the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). I do not remember my hon. Friend going into the Lobby against the Bill on Second Reading. If, however, he reads the report of his speech, he will see that his argument for co-ordinating rail and road transport is similar to the arguments of many hon. Members in favour of co-ordination between rail and road.

I fail to understand how my hon. Friend approves of the Bill if he sincerely believes in what he has just said. He made the excellent point that there is a need for co-ordination. It is the failure to retain co-ordination in the Bill that gives me considerable reservations about it. We have been told before that if rail services are abolished they will be taken Ayer by road services, but because of the failure to provide proper co-ordination in the past my hon. Friend is suspicious about unco-ordinated services. If my hon. Friend sincerely believes in what he says, he will have to re-examine his attitude towards the Bill.

Since my hon. Friend has been good enough to visit the Chamber during the last few minutes—

My hon. Friend has not been in the House for very long. May I point out to him that the Second Reading of a Bill deals with its general principles, while its Report stage deals with the details? It is not the general principle which will result in more appropriate—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What relevance do the hon. Gentleman's remarks have to the clause under discussion?

It is rather difficult to relate the two. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's intervention will be brief and will relate more directly to the new clause that is under discussion.

It was apparently in order for my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) to mention how I voted on Second Reading. You allowed that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a relevant observation, so it must be in order for me to reply to it.

I was reminding my hon. Friend, who had evidently forgotten, that the Second Reading of a Bill deals with its general principles. I agree with the general principles of the Bill. We are debating not its Second Reading but a new clause. That is why I wondered whether my hon. Friend was in the House when it was moved. It is co-ordination between road and rail, not the general principle, that is being debated, so how hon. Members voted on Second Reading is out of order now, though clearly that is not the view of Mr. Deputy Speaker.

That is an excellent example of why one should not give way. Apart from chairing a Select Committee for two hours this afternoon, I have been in the Chamber for all but 20 minutes of the debate. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that that is rather longer than he has been in the Chamber.

I do not wish to prolong the debate. I have made my point. I was simply attempting to say that an important point of principle arose here. If the new clause has made my hon. Friend and others think again about the Bill, this short debate has been thoroughly worth while.

I shall briefly respond to the questions which have been raised in this short but important debate.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) asked why the new clause had not been put down before. In Committee I seem to remember him reminding us all the time that the Government had said right from the beginning of the Committee stage that during the course of the Bill we would try to improve it. This new clause is in fulfilment of that commitment and, as I have already explained, will go a long way to improving the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman and several of my hon. Friends asked what was wrong with co-ordination. There is nothing wrong with co-ordination as long as it arises out of the transport requirements shown in the market place. What is wrong is when a certain form of transport is imposed, purely at the whim and wish of central planners, on those who wish to travel. It is precisely that sort of co-ordination against which the new clause strikes.

The hon. Gentleman asked why the new clause was necessary. I should like him to consider the position of the Scottish Bus Group which will be competing with other bus operators. If the new clause were not to be passed, that group would find itself having to consult and co-ordinate with other services while those that it was competing against would not be required so to do. If he thinks that that is fair competition, he had better look up the meaning of the word "competition" again. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and my Friends the Members for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) asked about competition with rail. Even in the constituency of the hon. Member for Gordon rail is proving successful in competition with buses because it offers better journey times to the centre of Aberdeen. The Government—this has been exemplified over the past week by a £3 million grant to improve rail services in Glasgow — are confident that the rail services will be able to compete with, and will be better for the competition from, buses. Indeed, the director of ScotRail. while making it clear that he would rather not have that competition, has shown confidence that he will be able to compete successfully.

The hon. Gentleman has not been present all evening and I do not see why I should give way to him.

Several hon. Members, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton, referred to the co-ordination of bus and train services. The market place will ensure that private operators who are operating on profitable routes will, in order to maintain that service against other possible competition, try to co-ordinate with the rail services. They will find that if they arrive either too soon before a train leaves or after it has left they will soon lose their passengers to other operators.

In areas where there will be unprofitable services which private operators will not take up, clause 59 will give county councils and, in Scotland, the regional and island councils the power to promote the availability of public passenger transport services for the convenience of the public. In putting their services out to tender they will be able to meet the necessary requirements.

Time is moving on and hon. Members wish to debate other new clauses.

The speech of the hon. Member for Maryhill points up a fundamental difference between the Labour and Conservative parties. He believes that people should be made to fit the transport system. We believe that a transport system should be designed to fit people. It is in pursuance of that that this new clause has been moved, and I ask my hon. Friends to support it.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 218, Noes 164.

Division No. 216]

[9.40 pm


Aitken, JonathanBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amess, DavidBowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)
Ancram, MichaelBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arnold, TomBoyson, Dr Rhodes
Ashby, DavidBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Bright, Graham
Baldry, TonyBrinton, Tim
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Brooke, Hon Peter
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBrown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Beggs, RoyBrowne, John
Bellingham, HenryBuchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Bendall, VivianBulmer, Esmond
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnBurt, Alistair
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnButler, Hon Adam
Blackburn, JohnButterfill, John
Bonsor, Sir NicholasCarlisle, John (N Luton)
Boscawen, Hon RobertCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bottomley, PeterCarlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)

Carttiss, MichaelKing, Rt Hon Tom
Cash, WilliamKnight, Gregory (Derby N)
Chapman, SydneyKnox. David
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Latham, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Lawler, Geoffrey
Clegg, Sir WalterLawrence, Ivan
Cockeram, EricLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Colvin, MichaelLester, Jim
Coombs, SimonLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Cormack, PatrickLightbown, David
Critchley, JulianLilley, Peter
Currie, Mrs EdwinaLloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Dickens, GeoffreyLord, Michael
Dicks, TerryMcCrindle, Robert
Dorrell, StephenMcCurley, Mrs Anna
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.MacGregor, John
Dover, DenMacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Dunn, RobertMaclean, David John
Durant, TonyMajor, John
Eggar, TimMalins, Humfrey
Emery, Sir PeterMalone, Gerald
Evennett, DavidMarland, Paul
Eyre, Sir ReginaldMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Fallon, MichaelMates, Michael
Favell, AnthonyMawhinney, Dr Brian
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMayhew, Sir Patrick
Fletcher, AlexanderMellor, David
Fookes, Miss JanetMerchant, Piers
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Forth, EricMills, lain (Meriden)
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Fox, MarcusMiscampbell, Norman
Franks, CecilMitchell, David (NW Hants)
Freeman, RogerMoate, Roger
Gale, RogerMonro, Sir Hector
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Garel-Jones, TristanMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Glyn, Dr AlanMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Gorst, JohnMoynihan, Hon C.
Gower, Sir RaymondMurphy, Christopher
Greenway, HarryNeale, Gerrard
Gregory, ConalNelson, Anthony
Griffiths, E, (B'y St Edm'ds)Neubert, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Nicholls, Patrick
Grist, IanNormanton, Tom
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Norris, Steven
Hampson, Dr KeithOppenheim, Phillip
Hanley, JeremyOsborn, Sir John
Hargreaves, KennethOttaway, Richard
Harris, DavidPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Harvey, RobertParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Haselhurst, AlanParris, Matthew
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelPatten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)
Hawksley, WarrenPattie, Geoffrey
Hayes, J.Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hayhoe, BarneyPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Hayward, RobertPollock, Alexander
Heddle, JohnPorter, Barry
Henderson, BarryPortillo, Michael
Hicks, RobertPowell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Powell, William (Corby)
Hirst, MichaelPowley, John
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Price, Sir David
Holt, RichardProctor, K. Harvey
Howard, MichaelRaffan, Keith
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Rathbone, Tim
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Rhodes James, Robert
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hubbard-Miles, PeterRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hunt, David (Wirral)Roe, Mrs Marion
Jackson, RobertRumbold, Mrs Angela
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickSackville, Hon Thomas
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineSilvester, Fred
Kershaw, Sir AnthonySims, Roger
Key, RobertSkeet, T. H. H.
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)

Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Viggers, Peter
Stanbrook, IvorWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Steen, AnthonyWall, Sir Patrick
Stern, MichaelWatson, John
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Watts, John
Stradling` Thomas, J.Wiggin, Jerry
Sumberg, DavidWood, Timothy
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Thompson, Donald (Calder V)Tellers for the Ayes:
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)Mr. Ian Lang and
van Straubenzee, Sir W.Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Vaughan, Sir Gerard


Abse, LeoGourlay, Harry
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterHancock, Mr. Michael
Ashley, Rt Hon JackHarman, Ms Harriet
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Barnett, GuyHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Beckett, Mrs MargaretHeffer, Eric S.
Beith, A. J.Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bell, StuartHolland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Benn, TonyHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Howells, Geraint
Bermingham, GeraldHoyle, Douglas
Bevan, David GilroyHughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Bidwell, SydneyHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Blair, AnthonyHughes, Roy (Newport East)
Boyes, RolandHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Bray, Dr JeremyHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)John, Brynmor
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Kennedy, Charles
Bruce, MalcolmKirkwood, Archy
Buchan, NormanLamond, James
Caborn, RichardLeadbitter, Ted
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Leighton, Ronald
Campbell, IanLewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Campbell-Savours, DaleLewis, Terence (Worsley)
Canavan, DennisLitherland, Robert
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Carter-Jones, LewisLofthouse, Geoffrey
Cartwright, JohnLoyden, Edward
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)McCartney, Hugh
Clay, RobertMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMcKelvey, William
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)McNamara, Kevin
Corbett, RobinMadden, Max
Cowans, HarryMarek, Dr John
Craigen, J. M.Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Crowther, StanMartin, Michael
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Maxton, John
Deakins, EricMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Dewar, DonaldMaynard, Miss Joan
Dixon, DonaldMeacher, Michael
Dobson, FrankMeadowcroft, Michael
Dormand, JackMichie, William
Duffy, A. E. P.Mikardo, Ian
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Eadie, AlexMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Eastham, KenNellist, David
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)O'Brien, William
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)O'Neill, Martin
Fisher, MarkOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Flannery, MartinPark, George
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelPatchett, Terry
Forrester, JohnPavitt, Laurie
Foster, DerekPenhaligon, David
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Pike, Peter
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldPrescott, John
Fry, PeterRadice, Giles
George, BruceRandall, Stuart
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnRedmond, M.
Godman, Dr NormanRees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Golding, JohnRichardson, Ms Jo

Robertson, GeorgeStraw, Jack
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Rooker, J. W.Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Rowlands, TedTinn, James
Sedgemore, BrianWallace, James
Sheerman, BarryWareing, Robert
Sheldon, Rt Hon R.Weetch, Ken
Shore, Rt Hon PeterWelsh, Michael
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)White, James
Silkin, Rt Hon J.Williams, Rt Hon A.
Skinner, DennisWilson, Gordon
Smith, C. (lsl'ton S & F'bury)Winnick, David
Snape, PeterYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Soley, Clive
Spearing, NigelTellers for the Noes:
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)Mr. John McWilliam and
Strang, GavinMr. Frank Haynes.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.