Transport Holding Company Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th January 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

4.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

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

The House will be aware of the doctor's Orders which have led to the unfortunate absence today of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. I feel sure that it would be your wish, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House that we express our best wishes to my right hon. Friend for her speedy recovery from the attack of pneumonia which she has borne with great fortitude for the last fortnight.

This Bill is needed to increase the amount of money which the Transport Holding Company can borrow from the Government for the purposes of its business. The Transport Holding Company was set up under the Transport Act, 1962, to manage a wide range of nationally owned investments in road haulage, in road passenger transport and in other associated activities. It was then given power to borrow, provided that the aggregate debt outstanding, except from subsidiary companies, did not exceed £30 million. These borrowing powers have been used by the Company in the expansion of its business, and this has used up a substantial part of its borrowing powers.

As my right hon. Friend informed the House before Christmas, the T.H.C. reached agreement for the purchase of shares in the British Electric Traction group of bus companies. The cost of this acquisition is, however, too large to be met by the use of its remaining un-committed borrowing powers granted under the 1962 Act. The purpose of the Bill, therefore, is to enable it to borrow additional sums from the Minister sufficient to enable it to complete the purchase of shares in the B.E.T. bus group and still leave a sufficient margin for other contingencies which may arise.

I think that it will be convenient to the House if I set out the background to the proposed acquisition by the T.H.C. of the shares in the B.E.T. bus group. When the British Transport Commission was established under the Transport Act, 1947, it took over not only the railway companies, but the substantial investments which had been made by the railway companies many years earlier in the three big groups of bus companies. Soon after its establishment, the British Transport Commission negotiated the purchase of the shares in the Tilling group and the Scottish bus group which it did not already own. These two groups have, therefore, for the past 20 years been wholly owned by the nation and administered by the Holding Company.

At that time, discussions were held about the possible acquisition of the shares in the B.E.T. group of bus companies which were not owned by the B.T.C. But at that time the discussions did not come to completion. The B.T.C., and later the Transport Holding Company, therefore continued with a large investment in the B.E.T. group, but an investment falling short of control.

The position was that the T.H.C. had a shareholding in each of the individual bus companies, with one or two exceptions, equal to that of the British Electric Traction Company. In some cases, they each held 50 per cent. of the shares. In other companies there were outside share holdings, so that both the B.E.T. and the T.H.C. held less than 50 per cent. of the shares, but in all cases over 30 per cent. each. By agreement, however, the actual running of the bus companies was left basically in the hands of the B.E.T. group. The T.H.C. appointed directors to the boards of the individual companies, but, in all cases, effective control remained with the B.E.T. group. In effect, the State holding in these companies was treated basically as an investment.

This situation has continued for many years. However, during the past two years my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has been working on schemes for a substantial reorganisation of the local passenger transport services in Great Britain. The main principles were set out in the White Paper on Transport Policy in July, 1966, and the details of the various measures have been incorporated in the Transport Bill, now before the House.

While the details of this policy were being formulated, the board of the Transport Holding Company came to the conclusion that, in the changed circumstances which would be created, there would be advantages in the T.H.C. acquiring full control of the B.E.T. group of bus companies. The T.H.C. has, of course, an existing stake in the bus industry amounting to more than £100 million.

The board of the T.H.C. concluded that the value of this large public holding in the bus industry would be safeguarded during the inevitable changes in the organisation of the bus industry if the T.H.C. had full control of the B.E.T. group of bus companies as well as of the Tilling and Scottish groups. The board concluded that it would be commercially sensible to acquire the shares which it did not already hold in the B.E.T. group, if this could be done at a reasonable price by voluntary negotiation.

The board of the T.H.C. therefore approached the Minister and asked whether she agreed that this would be a sensible thing to do; and if so, whether the Government would be prepared to seek powers to extend the borrowing rights of the T.H.C. in order to complete the deal. The Minister took the view that it would be right to complete the process of bringing the main network of bus services into public ownership—a process which had been largely, though not completely, carried out in 1948–49. She therefore authorised the T.H.C. to enter into negotiations with the board of the B.E.T. Company.

Agreement was reached between the T.H.C. and the B.E.T. on the terms of acquisition. A sum was agreed of £35 million for the ordinary shares in the bus companies concerned owned by the B.E.T. This represented broadly, in the T.H.C.'s view, the value of the assets underlying the shareholding. It was also agreed that the T.H.C. would make an offer to buy the shares held by other shareholders in these companies on comparable terms which would be agreed by the financial advisers of the T.H.C. and the B.E.T. Such an offer will be made as soon as the T.H.C. has the necessary funds at its disposal.

By far the greater part of the ordinary network of bus services is, and has been for many years, in public ownership of one type or another—either municipal bus undertakings, London Transport or the T.H.C. interests. The provision of such services has become increasingly difficult in recent years. The growth of private car ownership has led to a continuous fall in the demand for bus services.

To a large extent, the provision of stage bus services must be regarded as a public service rather than a field in which there is great opportunity for the making of private profits, although that is not to say that the bus companies cannot be run except at a loss. This is far from the case. Most municipal bus undertakings have aimed at covering their costs year by year. The T.H.C. bus companies have also aimed at making a modest return on the capital employed. But one cannot expect to make large profits. Moreover, there are, clearly, significant economies to be obtained from having all the main bus companies under a single control.

As the House will realise, the bus industry is not one in which there is any substantial element of competition between the various companies. By and large, each company has operating rights over particular routes given to it by the Traffic Commissioners and on which other companies are not permitted to operate in competition. The various operating areas and routes were often settled many years ago and there would be opportunities for rationalisation arising from the full control of the B.E.T. companies by the T.H.C. Moreover, there would be substantial advantages in having a single publicly-owned company with which the new passenger transport authorities could negotiate for the provision of services in their areas. From all these points of view, the acquisition by the T.H.C. of the remaining interests in the B.E.T. group makes good commercial and operating sense. It will fit in well with the other proposals for reorganisation of local bus services. It is for these reasons that the Government believe that the purchase should be carried through.

Now that agreement has been reached between the T.H.C. and the B.E.T. on a commercial basis, it is obviously desirable that the changeover should be made as quickly as possible. A long period of uncertainty would be undesirable from every point of view. That is the reason why it hase been decided to introduce this separate Bill to deal with the position, rather than to include the Clauses in the Transport Bill itself. That would inevitably leave a long period of uncertainty which would be against the interests of the bus companies concerned and also of the minority shareholders to whom no offer can be made until after the passage of this Bill.

The House will note that we are proposing to raise the borrowing powers of the Transport Holding Company by £70 million. This, of course, is more than is needed for the completion of the British Electric Traction transaction itself, but it is obviously necessary to leave the Transport Holding Company with sufficient borrowing powers to deal with other transactions both in the bus and road haulage fields which may arise. For example, the Transport Holding Company has been carrying on negotiations with the Glasgow City Corporation which might well involve the acquisition of Glasgow's transport undertaking by the Transport Holding Company. In that case, as some hon. Members well know, Glasgow transport undertaking—

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

In a moment. I am dealing with the Glasgow transport question. In that case, Glasgow transport undertaking has substantial liabilities which will have to be taken over.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

The hon. Member has made the point that Glasgow transport undertaking will get a much better deal than other provincial undertakings throughout the country.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I am making no such point. It was the Tory Government which devised the 1962 Act and the constitution of the Holding Company, including its power to acquire undertakings. Negotiations have been going on about this matter; it is a matter of commercial judgment, and I thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite were all in favour of commercial judgment being involved. Negotiations have been going on which may well involve the Transport Holding Company taking over these undertakings from the point of view of making a beneficial contribution to the bus services.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

Am I right in thinking that under the Transport Bill these undertakings are liable to be taken over without compensation by the P.T.A.s? Why should Glasgow be picked out to be given compensation when the others are not?

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I wish the hon. Member would read the Transport Bill. The hon. Member is somewhat behind. I would advise him to consult—it is available in the Vote Office—the part which deals with the powers and functions of the passenger transport authorities and also with the establishment, which is the point I am coming to, of the National Bus Company and then it will dispel from his mind any misleading impression about the matter.

In fact I am coming on to this point. Since our White Paper on passenger transport was published three private bus operators have written to the Minister of Transport offering to negotiate on the acquisition of their undertakings and others have approached the Transport Holding Company. It may well be that the acquisition of some of those undertakings would appear to the Transport Holding Company to make good commercial sense, and it is necessary, therefore, to leave some provision and scope for this.

I would say a word about Clause 1(2) of this Bill. It is intended to remove any possible doubt that the Transport Holding Company is entitled to purchase shares in transport and related undertakings. Hon. Members may well be surprised, especially those who were involved in the passage of the 1962 Act, that this is thought necessary, since the Transport Holding Company has been making such purchases for a long time under the previous Government and under the present Government. Certainly the Company has power under Section 29(6) of the Transport Act, 1962, to subscribe for and acquire securities, and generally to carry on any business usually carried on by a holding company.

It is quite clear, however, that the wording of the Section is somewhat obscure, since these powers to do these things have to be exercised with the object of holding and managing the securities "vested in them". The Minister has been advised that there is some doubt as to the precise construction to be placed on Section 29(6) of the 1962 Act in relation to transactions involving the acquisition of shares, such as, for example, the proposed purchase from the British Electric Traction. Therefore, it is right to remove any possible doubt about the legality of these transctions, both those which have already taken place and any which may be entered into subsequently.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

Would the hon. Gentleman go into Section 29(6)? If the Holding Company were engaged in commercial enterprise it would have power as set out in subsection (6(a), (i) and (ii)). Is there any intention of changing this?

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

No. No change is made. As the hon. Gentleman will read in the Bill now before us, we have dealt with that matter for the purpose of removal of any doubt whatsoever about the construction to he put on that Section of the 1962 Act.

I have made it plain that this is limited to undertakings where the principal activities consist of the provision of transport services or facilities or the manufacture of road vehicles ". It is limited to those things, and this amendment defines and makes quite clear what, frankly, I think was quite clear, certainly to those concerned with the 1962 Bill. If any hon. Member cares to examine the proceedings on that Bill I think he will see that it was quite clear what power it was intended to give, a power which has been exercised under the previous Government as well as under the present Government. Now we have spelled it out as being the activities of the undertakings with which the Holding Company may be concerned in exercising the power of acquisition; it is limited to the principal activities … consist of the provision of transport services or facilities or the manufacture of road vehicles ". Thus we remove any possible doubt about the legality of those transactions.

Photo of Sir Robert Cary Sir Robert Cary , Manchester, Withington

I think the trouble is the use in the 1962 Act of this rather general expression "for those objects". They are (1) to form, promote and assist companies, (ii) to subscribe for, take, acquire and hold, exchange and sell securities of companies ". I think the doubt cast upon the exercise of the powers of the Holding Company has been through the use of that rather general term "for those objects".

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is quite right, and we have felt, on account of that question of the interpretation of those words in that Section, that it should be spelt out, as it is in Clause 1(2) of this Bill. It is spelt out in the form that this is a power to acquire securities and so on, but that it is confined to undertakings where the principal activities consist. of the provision of transport services or facilities or the manufacture of road vehicles ". It is confined to those objects which are the main objects of the Transport Holding Company itself.

Photo of Mr Keith Stainton Mr Keith Stainton , Sudbury and Woodbridge

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that some recent transactions made by the Holding Company may indeed be ultra vires?

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I am simply saying that my right hon. Friend has been advised that there is some doubt about the interpretation of that Section. This Clause is for the removal of doubt. The words at the beginning of the subsection are, "For the removal of doubt …" I cannot say what doubts have been cast, or whether anybody has dealt with those doubts or not, but I can say that we have been advised—my right hon. Friend has been advised—that doubt exists about the interpretation of the words in the 1962 Act. I think no doubt exists about the intention of those who passed the Act. Therefore, we are simply inserting this Clause in this Bill to ensure that this doubt shall be removed by spelling out what are the purposes with which the Transport Holding Company should be concerned when exercising any powers of acquisition at all.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to talk like this. I quite see what he says about the Clause spelling this out, but when he says he cannot say what doubts have been cast on past events, does he not think that there is a duty incumbent upon him to do so?

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

No. I think the hon. Gentleman who raised this question should address it to one of the Law Officers of the Crown. I was simply saying that I cannot give any answer to that question which he posed, quite legitimately. I cannot give, I am not in a position to give, and ought not to give, a direct answer to that question, which is one he can quite legitimately pose to the Law Officers of the Crown. We are concerned here, I think all hon. Members will agree, about Parliament's intention in the Transport Act, 1962, and about the formulation which we have made here over the power of acquisition, and its being directed and properly confined to undertakings whose principal activities are the provision of transport services or the manufacture of road vehicles.

If this Bill is passed, immediately the Government will lend to the Transport Holding Company the money necessary for the acquisition of the British Electric Traction shareholdings and, at the same time, authorise the T.H.C. to make an offer for the remaining shareholdings in these companies. The money will be advanced on the usual terms for Government loans to the Transport Holding Company at the going rate of interest. In due course, these liabilities will be transferred to the National Bus Company, which will be established under the Transport Bill. The National Bus Company will be responsible for meeting the charges on the loan, and it will have a duty to earn enough from the bus companies to enable it to meet these and other liabilities. In short, the whole matter will be treated as a commercial transaction.

I trust that the House will agree that this commercial transaction is one which is sensible, progressive and ought to be approved and, therefore, will give us the necessary authority to enable the Transport Holding Company to conclude the negotiations which it commenced with British Electric Traction.

5.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

At the outset may I ask the hon. Gentleman to convey our regrets to the right hon. Lady about her illness and wish her a speedy recovery?

May I say that I have never heard a worse explanation for spending £70 million of public money than that which has just been given by the Minister of State—[Interruption.] It ill becomes the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) to complain about what I say. Having heard his passionate outburst a few moments ago, I hope that he will be explaining to his constituents how the Government can take £25 million in prescription charges and spend £70 million on the nationalisation of buses and coaches.

Not only have we heard a bad explanation for spending £70 million. It is a remarkable performance for the Government, on this day of all days, to come to the House and make a statement about the necessity for numerous cuts and then to ask for £70 million to increase the nationalisation of buses and coaches. However, having done it, one notices that there is not one member of the Cabinet present to support it.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

That is a good sign.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The absence of the Minister of Transport is understandable, but the Bill bears the names of two other Cabinet Ministers, in addition to the name of a Treasury Minister. Not one representative of the Treasury is present to see £70 million of public expenditure go into nationalisation.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I hope that my hon. Friend is not suggesting that the absence of a Treasury Minister is anything but colossal good fortune for us all.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

What I am frightened about is what Treasury Ministers do in their absence. I fear that one of the things that they have been doing is to approve of this expenditure at a time when they are asking the country to make tremendous sacrifices in the social services, in education and-elsewhere.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to be truthful and fair in his argument, and not be just a smart alec. My hon. Friend the Minister of State said explicitly that, while powers are being asked for to borrow up to another £70 million, it may not be necessary. It may be only £20 million. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) is saying that it is to be £70 million as a definite figure. I ask him to stick to the facts and be his age.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I admire the hon. Gentleman for not wanting to spend this money, but we understand that £52 million is already committed, £35 million on British Electric Traction interests and at least another £17 million on the minority interests. In addition, the hon. Gentleman has explained that negotiations are taking place at present in respect of the remaining £18 million. We see how reckless the Government are in the sphere of public spending when, at this moment of time, they say that it is intended to give the nationalised industries more borrowing powers than they need.

For the second time since the present Minister of Transport has held her office, we have heard today that cuts are to be made in the road building programme. Only on two occasions in post-war Britain have cuts been made in that programme, and on both occasions they have been made under the present Minister. Yet she will be able to boast that, while she had to give way to the Treasury on that issue, she was able to persuade it to continue with the nationalisation of buses and coaches. I hope that the people of this country will share her pride.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Before he goes any further, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will demonstrate that he is able to distinguish between public expenditure, which makes an extra call on the resources of the national economy, and credit which is for the purpose of transferring existing assets from private to public ownership and involves no additional call on resources.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I would welcome that opportunity. The whole trouble with the Government is that they cannot distinguish between Government borrowing for this sort of purpose and the wastage which it generally brings.

In practical economic terms, the Government will be placing into the hands of shareholders £70 million worth of cash. If the Minister of State really considers that that will not result in an increase in consumption, he must have a remarkable manner of assessing people's likely reactions. In addition, in term; of pressure upon resources, I could quote to the hon. Gentleman a number of speeches by some of his right hon. Friends who are now in the Cabinet arguing how, for example, road building created no pressure on imports and very little pressure on manpower, but that the economic return in the saving of other services as a result of road building made it a viable economic proposition. However, the Government have decided to do away with some of the investment in roads and to invest, instead, in buses and coaches.

Think of the effect of this Bill on opinion abroad. The Government have recently gone round the world explaining why our currency has had to be devalued and why those who deposited in London had to lose 14 per cent. of their savings. Within weeks of doing that, they come to the House and ask for £70 million to nationalise buses and coaches. How will they explain the effect of this to the people overseas from whom we are borrowing this money? They will have witnessed today with great interest the statement of the Prime Minister. Doubtless they will have noticed that, at the moment that he went out of the House, another of his Ministers took his place and asked for £70 million to nationalise buses and coaches. Then, to add the final insult to those who are lending the money, they announce today that they intend to publish the Industrial Expansion Bill as well. It is a remarkable combination of events.

The explanation given by the Minister of State was, to say the least, inadequate. Let us take the specific position of the B.E.T.C., including the minority interests. As I have said, I gather that a total of £52 million will be going to them, £35 million to the shareholders in B.E.T.C. and f17 million to the minority shareholders. If I am wrong in those figures, no doubt the hon. Gentleman will correct me. They are the figures which I have been able to obtain from those who know something of the dimension of the minority interests.

The current return upon those bus services is 5¼ per cent. So here we have a Government, with an 8 per cent. Bank Rate at present, having to pay well over 7 per cent. for Government borrowings, borrowing money at between 7 per cent. and 8 per cent., and investing it in industries where they get 5¼ per cent. And that is a 5¼ per cent. in relation to something that has been diminishing over the years, and not increasing; 5¼ per cent. that, on all the projections of the Government as to the future of our bus services, the manner in which the public are going over to their own motor cars, and so on, is likely to have a declining earnings power.

" But ", says the Minister of State, "the great advantage is that there will be economies; we will be joining bus companies together and thereby getting a better yield". Has he consulted the Transport Holding Company on this? Last year a paper was presented by Mr. Glassborow, who is head of economic research at the Transport Holding Company—the nationalised company that is making this purchase—to the Public Transport Association. That is well up to date.

Mr. Glassborow referred to the Government White Paper on transport, and commented particularly on the phrase in it which reads: In many of these areas the efficiency of bus operation is hampered by the small size of the Undertakings. On that statement, the head of economic research at the Transport Holding Company commented: There is no evidence that the customer is the more satisfied with the bus services provided, the larger the size of the Undertaking. If efficiency is to be measured by costs, there is equally no evidence that larger size reduces costs. So far as the cost of municipal services are concerned, the following table, based on rather out-of-date figures. cannot be regarded as conclusive. As I have said earlier many factors other than the size of the undertaking must also affect their costs. I have confined my attention to the municipal undertakings, because of their number, wide range of size and the largely urban nature of their territories. There then follows a table that shows the average working expenses per car mile. It shows that with a fleet of up to 30 buses the expenses are 37d., and for a fleet of between 31 and 60 buses the figure is 39·4d. So the table continues to rise until for 1,000 buses we have a figure of over 46d. The whole statement of the head of economic research at the Transport Holding Company, and the whole of his argument, was on the point that no case has been made that to increase the size of the undertaking reduces costs. Indeed, what evidence there is—and he admits that it is not conclusive—points the other way.

Therefore, we have a Government, with an economic crisis at hand, who intend to borrow £70 million, and the Minister gives no explanation where the money is to come from. His explanation is, "We shall give it to the Transport Holding Company—a good sound commercial concern—at the going rate, so we will be getting back in interest very much more from the Transport Holding Company, which will, therefore, reduce its surplus in order to meet the interest that the Government will have to pay in making more borrowings from the public."

There are only two ways in which the £70 million can be obtained by the Government: one is to increase taxation by £70 million and the other is to go to the public and borrow yet a further £70 million at the present very high rate of interest. Any commercially-minded person who wanted to go in for a transaction of this kind would not dream of doing so at a time when an 8 per cent. Bank Rate prevails. Any sensible commercial person would go in for a transaction like this when borrowing rates were at their lowest, not their highest. But not the Government when, with their gay abandon, they decide at this moment to introduce such a Bill as this and go to the public for £70 million.

For us, there was what I thought was a particularly touching remark by the Minister of State. He said that three bus companies have actually come forward to be taken over. I am surprised that only three have, because we know how the Government operate. Indeed, we know how they started this particular transaction. They published a White Paper in which they stated that within the P.T.A. areas they intended to compulsorily purchase the best routes of the bus companies. They then started negotiations with B.E.T. Likewise, they now have before Parliament the Transport Bill, in which they take power for the P.T.A.s to compulsorily purchase the best routes of private operators.

Then, of course, they are kind enough and considerate enough to say, "If, with the taking over of the best routes of private operators, the private operators' businesses are no longer viable, we will be willing to buy the whole of their businesses". What a generous Government they are! No one, in such a circumstance, with a Bill before Parliament threatening every private bus operator in the country with being taken over—the Minister of State shakes his head: can he say which bus company operating stage services will not be affected?

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Everyone knows that we have to discuss all the powers and functions of the passenger transport authorities. It will be some considerable time before these authorities will take over in their areas the functions of the traffic commissioners—because I presume it is to that that the hon. Gentleman refers—and they have to negotiate with the private operators about the best routes. How this can be represented as a threat to take over all the best routes, when it will be a considerable period of time before the passenger transport authorities with these powers and functions will be established, I fail to see. It certainly has no relevance to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

There is a Bill before Parliament which the Government have put forward as their Bill. If the Minister says that the Government are quickly having second thoughts about it, and that a lot of it will be drastically amended, I will be pleased, but the Bill, in his name arid the names of his colleagues, states quite clearly that passenger transport authorities can be set up in any part of the country and that they will have power to compulsorily purchase the best routes of private operators.

Any Bill that contains those two provisions contains a threat to any private enterprise bus operator, and the Minister knows it. So all these companies are under threat. A Bill has been published to do this and, quite understandably, some of the private operators would like to have the threat executed as quickly as possible so that they can get out of the business and know where they are. The Government have published their proposals first and have undertaken to negotiate only second and in so doing are depressing the present position.

There is a price for depressing the position, and I should have thought it slightly "hot" practice on the part of any Government to negotiate to buy up the biggest private operator of buses at a time when the Government themselves had done away with investment allowances for buses. The Government do away with investment allowances for buses in 1966, and in 1967 they negotiate to buy out the biggest private operator. Then, within weeks of buying out the biggest private operator, they announce that they are restoring investment allowances for buses. I wonder what would have been the effect on the profitability of the transaction if, beforehand, the Government had informed the B.E.T. shareholders that it was their intention to bring in a 25 per cent. investment grant for buses.

Then we have the recently announced reduction in fuel duty. Was any indication given to the B.E.T. shareholders before the negotiations that if they had decided not to sell, their profitability would have increased as a result of the reduction that is taking place in fuel duty? These are ways of dealing with business which are. to say the least, somewhat suspect

The whole conception of the Bill is that of being hostile to free enterprise. The view of British Electric Traction of the Government's proposals was made perfectly clear in that concern's last annual report. The chairman of the company commented in great detail on what he considered to be the adverse effect of taking over the company and doing with it, under the Transport Bill, what the Government intend to do with it. He stated: I am unable to advise you of the extent to which your Company's underlying interests may be affected for so much is still uncertain. I cannot believe that this Minister, the sincerity of whose aim to improve public transport is unquestioned, would ever pursue a deliberate policy of disintegration under the public banner of ' integration '. Yet to abstract our associated companies' local carryings within the conurbations of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Tyneside would be to cut the commercial heart out of four of our healthiest units … That will be done under the National Bus Company.

The chairman summarised the whole matter by saying: It is always quicker and simpler to destroy than to build well. To my mind it would be tragic if your bus interests in the united company which, together, form a healthy and viable structure—one fit to emulate, and be emulated by, the best in other groups—were now to be sacrificed in favour of the untested fabrication of a passing Minister. Those were the views of the B.E.T.

I have already told the House of the views of the Transport Holding Company on the advantage of size. The only group of people actually in favour of this proposal are Ministers. They view it as a straight tidying-up operation of getting rid of private enterprise in public transport. This is a tragic mistake. They made the first mistake when they decided to knock out the free enterprise element from Tartan Arrow. I wonder if then the Minister gave any thought to taking the free enterprise part out of the rest of the transport services.

The Government are trying to create a system in which no comparison has to be made with nationalised undertakings. No other sector of enterprise can show such initiatives and over the years the B.E.T. has shown considerable initiative. After this Bill has gone through and after the Transport Bill has gone through, there will be no comparison to be made with nationalised undertakings in any form of transport. Therefore, we can expect lethargy to increase.

The one reason why the Transport Holding Company has had such success is that it has been run by those who have a commercial attitude. They have built up the company in competition with free enterprise. The Minister has decided to dispense with competition and to create one big State monopoly so that no longer will the commercial element exist in this type of transport.

We have to take into consideration that this acquisition will form part of a national bus company and that the Transport Bill will give the national bus company of tomorrow power to enter almost every other form of manufacturing and repairing it wishes to enter. We know that these assets and properties in all the areas concerned will be used as part of the general invasion by the present Minister of Transport of the whole free enterprise system. The organisation will be able to open petrol stations, motor accessory shops and motor repair shops, and to operate all provisions of the Transport Act. Here we see a Bill which will increase public expenditure, a Bill which is bad in commercial terms and which will result in unnecessary increases of Government borrowing. It is a Bill which shows, once again, the Government's hostility to free enterprise and their desire to extend nationalisation.

It shows that the Government have not learned all the lessons of the last three years. This afternoon, they have been proud and happy to break our commitments to Australia, New Zealand and many other parts of the world, but to keep their commitments quite unnecessarily to nationalise a perfectly sound and viable commercial industry.

5.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) always surprises me by the agility with which he can turn his arguments at different times in different directions. Of course, he objects to this extension of borrowing power being given to the Transport Holding Company because he is afraid that certain road transport undertakings, either of passenger or freight, which at present are lucrative will pass into public ownership.

The hon. Member used the words "State monopoly" in connection with the Transport Holding Company, but he does not refer in the same way to British Railways as a State monopoly. The railways are losing money. The hon. Member would never dream of suggesting that they should go back to private ownership. The same line is followed with regard to many other activities. We have complete acceptance by the Opposition and by the Tory Party as a whole of the idea that when things are not paying or they have sunk into a situation in which they can no longer pay, they can be taken over by the State.

No hon. Member from Scotland needs any education about this situation, for today, in transport and in many other ways, Scotland is floating on State aid. All the Highland counties would have been lost and more people would have left to come down to England or go overseas if Government aid had not been so readily available in Scotland, particularly for transport. The hon. Member suggested that it was a crime for this Bill to be brought forward at this time, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State fully explained the reasons why the Minister had accepted the advice she has received.

Under the Tory Government we had the 1960 Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Act. That came after the Tories fought the 1959 election with a pledge that there would be no further extension of public ownership under any guise whatever. Yet their first act was to bring in the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Bill. It was not a question of giving borrowing power to the Highlands and Hands and shipping services.

I have a copy of that Act with me. The then Secretary of State took power to give grants, also to lend money, and to build ships and to charter ships. There was a much wider extension of powers. To use the hon. Member's words, a much bigger "frittering away" of public money. The Bill we are now considering is much more limited and it protects the finances of the country. The hon. Member for Worcester should know the 1960 Act very well. Why did he not mention any of its provisions? If he thought at the time when the then Secretary of State for Scotland brought in that Measure that his right hon. Friend was right in doing so, why does he use such adjectives as he has used about my hon. Friend bringing in this Measure?

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

If the hon. Member knows anything about the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Act, I am willing for him to intervene, but up to now that is all that I have been talking about.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

The hon. Member has been talking about the use of adjectives. I want to ask a question about one of his adjectives. He described this as a limited Bill, but we have never had a more open-ended Bill than this. There is no restriction in any way. "Limited" is not the adjective he should use in speaking of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

The hon. Gentleman and I have crossed swords before. I do not want to delay the House by quoting from the 1960 Act. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am truthful in the House. I am not like some Scottish Members who make up arguments not caring whether they are factual or not. I try to be factual. I ask the hon. Gentleman to take my word for it that the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Act, 1960, is the most open-ended Act for the disbursement of money that ever passed through the House.

In the wider concept of a larger monopoly, if the hon. Member for Worcester prefers that word, I have always believed that small concerns which struggle along with limited resources and not many vehicles will inevitably get into economic difficulties and lose money on some routes. Consequently, services are discontinued. This happens under private ownership if the concerns are too small.

I was a member of the Standing Committee which spent many months considering the 1962 Bill. If any blame is to be allocated for the fact that the Transport Holding Company came into being, I know where it should rest. The Labour Government did not bring it into being. However, I should be out of order if I were to tell the House why it came into being. I will content myself with saying that it was because of certain mistakes made by the then Tory Government.

The Government could argue in connection with bus and freight operators that, in the wider context of the financial control of certain areas, the more lucrative routes should help to pay for the less lucrative routes or routes which present difficulty or which lose money. This is my conception of a sane transport system. This is the argument we constantly hear from hon. Members opposite in connection with the closure of railway lines and stations. Hon. Members opposite want them kept open on the grounds of social priorities, and I agree with them. If this is to be so, there must be something to balance the losses.

Although the hon. Member for Worcester is very antagonistic to anything which smacks of a State monopoly, he supports a system of transport in which there is private competition but which inevitably means that there is no transport service on routes which could lose money. This is all wrong. I am not hidebound on this, but I believe that a larger scale of ownership should be encouraged by Governments, of whatever colour, so as to give the necessary social service in the less lucrative areas, because great profits are still being made in transport.

The Tory Government accepted the responsibility of putting the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Act on to the Statute Book, an Act which gave open-ended power to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Financial Resolution imposed no limit on the amount of money which could be spent on building ships, chartering ships, or setting up companies. We did not disagree with the principle. Although we pointed out inconsistencies, we agreed that the Orkneys and the Outer Isles should not be cut off simply because private enterprise firms which were operating there could no longer carry on and intended to shut up shop. The then Secretary of State, despite his election pledges and the statement in the Tory manifesto that there would be no further extension of public ownership, was forced to accept the belief that I have always held, so that the transport services in this area should continue.

I therefore hope that we shall hear from the hon. Member for Worcester less of the philosophy which he expounded today. If he is to speak for the Tory Party on this subject, he must keep himself better informed as to the reasons for the presence of some of the Sections in the 1962 Act. In the process of furthering his education, he should read the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Act, 1960. If he did, he would not argue so vehemently some of the propositions which he advanced today. I have much pleasure in supporting the Second Reading.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), save to say that, if he was really seeking to protect the British taxpayer against some of the operations that take place under the Highlands and Islands umbrella, I would have some sympathy with him. I once travelled in a MacBrayne's boat, and a very unhappy experience it was, made the more bitter because of the reflection that I myself was subsidising the trip as a taxpayer.

I was very interested to hear the Minister of State say that it was necessary to introduce the extremely broad Clause 1(2,a) to cover up or to rectify any irregularities that may have taken place in the past. The Minister disappointed me considerably. Having let the cat out of the bag, he refused to say either how many cats there were or what size they were. He merely said that a Law Officer of the Crown was the right person to reply to that type of question. I am very happy to see the Solicitor-General sitting on the Treasury Bench. I do not know whether he wishes to intervene to tell a shocked House what irregularities may have occurred or who has acquired, under totally improper circumstances, what concerns.

The whole House must share the confusion and shock of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) at hearing a Minister say that the injection of cash to the tune of £70 million would not make any difference to the economy. This is another cat of a quite different breed which comes out of the bag. We have been told with such horrifying clarity what we have always suspected—we have been learning it bitterly over the years—that Ministers simply do not understand what they are talking about. They do not seem to appreciate that the injection of cash to the tune of £70 million will tempt those who receive it immediately to spend it.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

That is not what I said. I simply drew the attention of hon. Members opposite to the difference, about which there is no doubt, between public expenditure which involves an additional call on real resources in terms of capital and labour and, on the other hand, expenditure for the purpose of a transfer of existing assets between private enterprise and a publicly owned enterprise. What we are discussing today falls into the latter category, whereas the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has focused on the former category.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

Horror of horrors. The hon. Gentleman is merely magnifying his own error. The whole point is that £70 million of borrowing is to be put into people's hands. There is a difference to this extent certainly, that, instead of the Government spending it, private citizens will spend it. The Government affirm their concern to damp down purchasing power and not to put too much of a pull on imports, but this is a step in precisely the opposite direction.

I venture in a mild way to suggest that the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon does not deserve any credence, nor does it deserve to be taken seriously, so long as the Government are prepared to introduce a Measure like this.

It is, as the Prime Minister explained at length, very difficult to secure economies from policies which are in motion. The Prime Minister made clear, when he was dealing with the casualties under his axe, just how hard it had been. We are also aware of many issues which have been under threat of cuts for some time. I invite the House to compare the dimensions of the things with which the Prime Minister has been dealing this afternoon with this piffling exercise on which we are now engaged. This afternoon we were dealing with the question of our relations and our good faith with the Commonwealth, with our ability to protect our own interests. We were considering matters of grave importance to this country, such as the raising of the school-leaving age and prescriptions.

We were dealing with a whole number of issues on which many people throughout the world feel strongly. Compare the dimensions of those problems and what is involved in them with this trivial piece of nonsense, this £70 million piece of nonsense which has survived and which by its survival destroys any claim whatsoever that may be left to this wretched Government to common sense or good faith.

The proposal in this Bill is enshrined in a White Paper, Public Transport Traffic, which is simply riddled with clichés and flabby with wishful thinking to a degree which is unusual even in Government publications. Page 1 is a real masterpiece which I commend to your careful attention, Mr. Speaker. I have never seen such a piece of real—

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

It is quite all right; we understand.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I am sorry, but my vocabulary fails me. I must content myself by asking the House to read page 1 of this White Paper carefully. This page contains the words: … transport must become the servant of the planners, not their master. Whom do these planners serve? Many people feel that had some of the people who have been responsible over the years for the planning of our affairs devoted their undoubted energies in some other direction, this country would have been a more cheerful and prosperous place today. Who are these people, anyhow? Are these the same people who plan our street widths so that when a street is redeveloped—surprise of all surprises ! —the width remains the same? Are these the people who are responsible for roundabout after roundabout? Are these the people whose brilliance obscured the vista of St. Paul's Cathedral by totally unwanted development?

On page 3 of the White Paper occurs a somewhat misplaced boast. We are told proudly: In all, 80 per cent. of stage bus passengers in Britain are carried by publicly owned undertakings …". If this be so—and far be it from me to challenge the Minister's veracity—why do not the Government start trying to make something of that lot? Why do not they start working on the 80 per cent. which they already proudly claim to own? In view of the strictures in this White Paper and the strictures on passenger transport by many Socialist Ministers, why do not they improve what they already own? Are they not shouldering rather naively a large and well-deserved hunk of blame and responsibility?

Instead of that, we have in the same White Paper a silly bleat like this: We must also see how far public transport can offer new opportunities in the renewal of our urban areas. What in the name of conscience does that mean? Let me refer, as an example, to the London Passenger Transport Board. This appears to me to have all the great advantages of a publicly-owned monopoly which Ministers are so often telling us about. Yet at the end of the day what could be said for this great monster? It is neither cherished by its customers nor relished by other users of the road. What has it done in the sacred cause of the renewal of our urban areas? I have already referred to the customers who do not cherish it. Other road users are only too familiar with the experience of having the roads totally blocked, in terms of way and visability, by a great solid phalanx of scarlet leviathans.

We are told on page 1 that the needs of rural areas must not be overlooked. I represent a constituency in Somerset, the needs of which are largely catered for by the Southern National Omnibus Company which resides a long way away from my constituency and the management of which takes very little interest in the affairs of the people of Somerset. The management have shown themselves over the years to be only indifferent performers of their obligations. For instance, they are now engaged in the rather tedious task of shedding those routes which they undertook and on which the railway service was suspended. This is causing my constituents a great deal of irritation and hardship and it is regarded as sharp practice.

The word "sharp" brings me to this point. They are sharp and, indeed, insolent competitors. Not very long ago a private company called Safeways Ltd. applied to renew its licence. The Southern National Omnibus Company had the insolence and the colossal presumption to contemplate and, indeed, to formalise objections to the renewal of that licence because Safeways Ltd. would not agree to put up its fares to the level demanded by the Southern National Omnibus Company. This is an example of the sort of thing that we shall face in large volume. There is no evidence whatever here that we can expect a new deal in public passenger transport. There is instead the threat of waste, incompetence and arrogance.

We are told that the Transport Holding Company is going to be transformed into a new monster called the National Bus Company. I cannot think of a more ominous start in life. It is obviously a very close cousin of the National Coal Board. Why not get Lord Robens to run it as he runs the Coal Board? That really would make a muck of it. We are told about the relations that this body will have with the railways and the passenger transport authorities. After studying the Government's own plans and expressions of intention on the subject, one can only say, "God help us all". The muddle and confusion which will emerge from this bureaucratic exercise in folly passes comprehension.

I hope that the Minister of State will not think I go too far if, with a good deal of evidence behind me, I modestly and quietly remind him that publicly owned bodies do not always get on very well together. Socialist spokesmen always happily assume that all activities owned by the public will agree and get on happily and peacefully one with another. A greater inaccuracy or delusion I cannot imagine.

We are told that there will be financial objectives, and these are piously set out in the White Paper. Here is another borrower from the Exchequer. I interpolate a thought here. In view of the country's misfortune in having had its affairs controlled from the Treasury and by the Treasury for far too many years now, I had hoped, perhaps naïvely, that there would one day be an outbreak of modesty among the great men of the Treasury and that they would, because they cannot perform the responsibility, reject it when offered to them by the Government. But here they are responsible for all the other nationalised industries and now taking the bus industry as well.

On page 13 of the White Paper, suitably enough, there is a splendid piece of English: In short the establishment of the N.B.C. will provide a sound basis for developing on a rational basis the provision of bus services throughout England and Wales. What on earth is the point of putting a sound basis on a rational basis, or the other way round? There seems to be a lot of bases here but very little of any solid proposal to put upon them.

Using as polite and restrained language as I can, I regard the Bill as an expensive and vicious irrelevance, very much the same as the Government who hatched it. I greatly hope that, before long, we shall be able to destroy both.

6.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Mapp Mr Charles Mapp , Oldham East

I listened with some pleasure to the Minister, but I regret that I was not present when the Front Bench Opposition spokesman made his contribution, although I have tried to pick up his theme, a theme with which I am not very happy. I shall look at the Bill from a longer-term approach because I regard it as, so to speak, an interim Measure for financing certain amalgamations which have been made and which are likely to take place. I regard these amalgamations as desirable, and I consider that they should be done in a normal commercial way. I have no dogma about nationalisation as such I believe that, given efficiency in management and a good organisational structure, public enterprise can generally outdo private enterprise, but it needs those preconditions to start with.

Having lived with the double problem of the British Transport Holding Company and, before it, the railways, having major and minor interests in bus transport as well as in the Holding Company and the British Electric Traction Company, I am not sure which of the two has been playing the role of the elephant, but I know that it was not a happy arrangement.

In the context, mainly, of long-distance passenger transport operations, there was a lot to be said for the two getting together and the major taking over the minor partner. This has been done, and the new Transport Holding Company is the vehicle on which the Minister will rely in future in respect of her other legislation. Because this Bill, in effect, authorises another £70 million, some of which will be involved in the later legislation, I beg leave to put certain definite arguments to the Minister. I want to show why, in my view, the Transport Holding Company should disappear from the scene. I shall develop my argument in a minute.

In considering the general road passenger services of this country, one does not need to go over the economic problem of the cross-subsidising of fares, the question of rural people having to pay more than people in, say, London or South Lancashire; neither does one need to go into the problems of licensing by Traffic Commissioners, a form of licensing which has been inflexible in many ways, and neither does one need to go too deeply into whether the Traffic Commissioners are the people who should determine stages or fares. In my view, looking at the future pattern of road passenger transport in Britain, the approach expressed in the other Bill, which is by implication written into the present one, is wrong.

I put it to the House and, not least, the Minister, that, in the context of the country as a whole, the proposal that the conurbation authorities and the Transport Holding Company should work together, the latter conditioned in terms of fares at the end and the commencement of journeys, will be carried through at the peril and expense of rural Britain being sacrificed for the highly lucrative traffic during the summer months and the long-distance hauls.

This seems to me to be not quite Socialist and, if I may say so, not altogether a good administrative approach. If we are worried, as we are, about the developing use of the private car and the desire that people must have a choice in providing transport for themselves, for their wives and for old and young throughout Britain, the idea of taking the main centres of population and building round them is, in my view, false. It is false, basically, because we concentrate thereby on what is, so to speak, the most promising parts—if there be anything promising in road transport of this nature —and we leave aside the rural parts of Britain.

I may be asked why Oldham, East should express this view. I express it because I have for a long time studied transport from a national point of view. Perhaps the House will listen with interest to this point. I should have expected a Minister of Transport, looking at the needs of England and Wales, though not necessarily at Scotland, would regard the London pattern of transport as showing a good principle, provided that the region covered is sufficiently embracing. Apart from the question of efficiency of operation of the fleet, and apart from the question of the financing of vehicle purchases and so on, that principle has for 30 years proved itself to be intrinsically right. I refer to the principle of monopoly. One is able thereby to cross-subsidise fares over a very large area. One can have a good fleet doing the job and being well administered, and one can call in aid the best brains and knowledge in the industry.

Complaints can be made about the London Transport Board, but they are not about the principle but rather about its working and costing, and result from the volume of private cars. I believe that the right approach would be to make each of our major centres of population the hub or area or regional authority, ensuring that we have however many are needed—probably 10, 12 or even more—to cover the whole of Britain.

For example, it is clear that no passenger conurbation authority, such as is envisaged in the Transport Bill, will afford much succour to an area such as North Wales. It could help it and will certainly not injure it, but it will not provide the reformation that is wanted. On the other hand, a passenger conurbation authority which covered Aberystwyth, Oswestry, Wrexham, Chester and all North Wales could start with administrative "know-how" and cross-subsidisation, giving a better form and transport pattern.

It is said that one of the first authorities to be put on its feet will be in the Manchester area, and the Oldham local authority is co-operating to bring this about. I think that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) will agree with me on what I have to say about this, for he knows the area as well as I do, if not better. Are we to have within 15 or 20 miles of Manchester a conurbation authority that excludes Buxton and Crewe? They are in the country and have a rural aspect. If they are excluded, will they get the benefit of what remains of mass transport in an area like Manchester or Liverpool, where one can drive for miles and never see a green field?

We should have taken the more populous parts and civic centres such as Plymouth, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and Hull, and built around them conurbation authorities linking up with each other, giving the rural people of those areas of subsidisation or cross-fertilisation that will make their fares tolerable. That has been going on for years, and it is a good principle. I and my hon. Friends subscribe to the principle that electricity should be as cheap in the Lake District as in Manchester, broadly speaking. That principle is accepted by many hon. Members opposite, and it also applies to the telephone service.

If it is right to enable people from the countryside to travel into the towns, as I think it is, my right hon. Friend is misguided in simply identifying selected bases for traffic areas and building around them. In the case of Manchester the authority might cover the area for 12 or 15 miles around, which is nearly as densely populated as London and has the cream of passenger transport. I beg my right hon. Friend to reconsider the whole project. The areas of her conurbation authorities should be outlined on a national pattern.

The holding company will have terminal facilities and staging arrangements with the conurbation authorities. Typical firms of this kind are are North Western Road, Car Company, the Crossville Bus Company and the East Kent Road Car Company. Each has considerable responsibilities for staging people within the towns or cities of its areas, but each also goes outside them for a large part of its work; each already partly subsidises its rural load by the better load it carries in the cities. But they and others will come into the Transport Holding Company and will be a Government agency bargaining and consulting with the conurbation authorities about letting down or picking up within the authorities' areas.

I am not happy about that kind of consultation. It is very much at arm's length, there is a sore edge, and there is not always willing and quick consultation. There is an air of looking after one's own public utility. I speak with some experience of public authorities on this kind of work. Therefore, the country should have the appropriate number of passenger conurbation authorities completely covering the country.

I now come to the problem with which the Bill will partly deal—the lucrative through-services such as those between Birmingham and London, Manchester and London, and Manchester and the North-East, which have often been carried out by those firms which were previously 50 per cent. owned by the Holding Company and in future will be totally owned by it. In the past, there was little or no consultation with the railways, but I do not complain about that.

The Holding Company will have to choose between those lucrative long distance services, such as London-Torquay, Manchester-Torquay, London-Glasgow, with little or no real consultation with the railways and on the other hand another form of traffic on which it will not be able to make up its mind. I again take the example of the North Western Road Car Company, whose headquarters are at Stockport. It will have the responsibility of carrying people in the Manchester conurbation, with fares tied down by the Traffic Commissioner and influenced by the financial activity and health of the conurbation authority, which could he helped by the rates. But the Holding Company will have a completely different base, and its fares structure outside the conurbation could be "x", "y" or "z", as it argues with the Traffic Commissioners.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider the matter and decide to start from the right basis, covering Britain with the most sensible form of conurbation authorities, based on the pivotal points such as Plymouth, Exeter, Taunton and Bristol, with those authorities having the responsibility of working the rural routes, where the buses after often only a third full. I refer to the position of this authority that could carry between the conurbation authorities. I believe that the traveller has the right of option between read, rail and air. Instead of having the Transport Holding Company, which is a piece of history—it is a legacy of the buying up of some pieces of road transport in 1932–4, that legacy being left with the, railways in 1946–9 and being carried on, by the railways in either major or minor measures of control and management—I would put on the combined passenger conurbation authorities the responsibility of having a body under their control which would deal with long-distance passenger transport.

If it had such a body under its direction and had 15 or 20 conurbation authorities owning collectively the through road transport people I should he able to feel that if profitability can be reached, as we know it can, on long distance road transport between main centres it would be canalised back from that authority to the 15 or 20 conurbation authorities owning the services and directing the policy. It would also prevent them from being directly under the Minister.

I believe that socialisation of industry is still a good thing provided that there is efficient management and flexibility to do the job. Such a national company owned by the regional conurbation authorities would be a much more flexible body and much more sensitive to feeling within the region, and, if I might say so, might be free from Ministerial interference. I am not blaming any particular Government for that, though I can think of one Minister who inter- fered in transport far too much. There is much to be said for the people running transport being allowed to do their job and this House having a broad survey of what they are doing.

Therefore, in regard to the £70 million not in the sense of buying over the B.E.T. company but in the sense of continuing the Transport Holding Company I would say "No". The Holding Company should, I believe, give way to a revised pattern of regional conurbation authorities, which should own the national system providing through transport across Britain. That is a much better pattern than the improvisation before us in this limited Bill and a better alternative to that in another Bill which the House will be considering shortly.

6.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

I want to take up one or two points made by the Minister of State, but first I would say that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) will have much sympathy from this side of the House in asking the Minister to reconsider her plan. He is one of a long queue of people who have applied to the Minister ever since the P.T.A. proposals were propounded suggesting that they should be reconsidered. I suppose that this Bill provides us with the final chance of becoming aware that the Minister has no such intention. The hon. Member for Oldham, East may consider whether to join us in the Lobby and back the convictions which he has so eloquently expressed.

The hon. Member's principal theme was that there ought to be a comprehensive look at transport. That is one of the arguments that we have always used from this side. We believe that it is ludicrous to go ahead with a hotchpotch of transport reorganisation in anticipation of the Royal Commission on Local Government which will deal with the whole business, and will, we hope, in many ways do it in line with the proposals put by the Ministry to the Royal Commission in its evidence, with a great deal of which one cannot disagree.

I want to take five points that the Minister made and ask for some clarification. First, he said that there were advantages in the economics from the single ownership of all the buses. He said that it was good commercial sense. It would make our case rather difficult to argue if there was a single shred of evidence to substantiate what he has said. I would refrain from making the charges that I have made in many of the conurbations affected by the proposals about the costings if he could give me a single shred of evidence that he has done some homework to justify his conviction that this is good commercial sense. If it is, perhaps he would explain who has said that this is the case. Where is the evidence, and upon what authority? Let us have some facts and figures. Let us see the reasoning behind this line of thought. It would deal with many of our doubts on that aspect.

I was amazed at the Minister's account of the way in which the Transport Holding Company came to achieve the agreement of B.E.T. to the take-over. Everybody who has followed the events knows we have found the managers of the B.E.T. companies on the Voice organisations up and down the land fighting to remain an independent organisation and listened to the account given by the Minister today of the apparent amicability of the arrangement reached cannot reconcile the statement of B.E.T. to the take-over. they have been seen over recent months.

The reason why B.E.T. has decided to accept the offer is precisely the reason why the Holding Company made the offer in the first place, not because it was the right thing to do as an isolated example of reorganisation, not because it was in the national interest, but because in the wisdom of those involved in bus management it was the least bad way they could find of stopping the Minister going on with the original proposals that he was hawking round the conurbations. It was not something that they wanted to do or intended to do; it was simply a way of preventing the Minister from imposing an even worse plan on our buses. That is why the Holding Company made the offer and why B.E.T. accepted it, and those concerned particularly had in mind the fact that if they did not accept they would find themselves being bought out.

I was appalled to hear the Minister of State pooh-pooh the idea that small operators have little to fear from the proposals of the Passenger Transport Authorities. Schedule 6(10,i) of the Transport Bill says that the Executive may revoke at any time for any reason the consent that it has given to independent operators to continue to operate within the designated area. For the Minister of State to pretend that this is no threat to the private bus operators, diminished in number as they may be, is to distort the meaning of the Transport Bill.

The Minister of State also made a point which he may want to change by clarification. He gave me the impression that the fact that the Holding Company has left in the hands of the B.E.T. companies the majority control had led to conflict within its operations over the years. Can he give some examples of where there has been conflict between B.E.T. and the Holding Company in their jointly owned companies and where B.E.T. has defied the wishes of the Holding Company and acted against the public interest? We should be interested to know.

I felt it necessary to intervene in the Minister's speech—and I am grateful to him for giving way—over the question of the negotiations now going on to acquire, or possibly to acquire, Glasgow Corporation's undertaking. The point I wanted to make was that, in making available substantial capital, as one of the possible ways of using the £70 million provided under this Bill, for the assumption of the liabilities of Glasgow Corporation, there was almost a difference of principle between this proposal and the treatment being given to the other conurbation areas where there are not these substantial liabilities because the ratepayers have from time to time paid the revenue for their buses out of increased fares, with the result that there is no accumulated debt to be met by the taxpayer in the form of the extended borrowing we are discussing in this Bill.

In turning to the Bill itself I believe that the Bill is much too expensive for the purpose for which it is designed. Secondly, it is doctrinaire in its approach to the problem of managing buses. Thirdly, I believe that it is irrelevant to the solution of the problems of the reorganisation of transport. Fourthly, it is in no way costed.

We are to provide under the Bill an extension of the borrowing powers to provide a further £70 million. Of this, £35 million is to go straight to the B.E.T. companies. Another £12 million to £15 million-my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) claims that it is £17 million—is to go to minority holdings, at least by way of an offer. We are thus to spend about £50 million of the taxpayers' money in order to achieve the ownership of the buses in the four conurbations in the country.

I appreciate that the Transport Bill does not preclude the Minister from extending the Passenger Transport Authorities throughout the country but she has said that it is her intention in the early years only to extend them to the four areas with which we are all familiar. Within these four areas I have calculated the number of buses owned by B.E.T. and the proportion that number bears to the total value of the B.E.T. undertakings. Within these four areas there are four companies in B.E.T. holdings which are affected. They are Midland Red, the Ribble Group, the North-Western Car Company and the Northern General Transport Group and its subsidiaries.

These companies or groups of companies own 4,360 buses out of a total B.E.T. holding of 11,073 buses, which was the figure at 30th November, 1967. In other words, in order to get control of the buses in these conurbations, which are worth, on a proportionate basis of calculation, £13,775,000, the Government intend to spend £35 million. If, in doing the calculations, one also takes into account the minority shareholding valuation, then, in order to get £19,675,000 worth of buses, the Government are to spend £50 million.

This is an opportunity for the Minister to make a genuine concession and thus fall in with the spirit of the Prime Minister's appeal for economies. There is no case for acquiring the B.E.T. bus interests outside the four conurbations and, if my calculations are right—and they are not far wrong—if the right hon. Lady made such a concession, we would be asked to spend £19 million, including money for the minority holdings, and not £50 million.

The Prime Minister today asked for concessions. Here is a major concession which does not affect the proposals of the Government to reorganise transport, even if one disagrees with the way they intend to do it in conurbations. Without difficulty, the Government could make this major concession and save about £31 million. But the fact is that the Minister has no intention of making any concessions. We are not really talking about the reorganisation of transport in the four conurbations but the desire of the Minister to take over the ownership of the buses as quickly as she can. That is what this Bill and the P.T.A. proposals are about.

The right hon. Lady has made herself clear on this point and her opponents have also made their awareness clear. My hon. Friend referred to the statement by Mr. Spencer Wills in the latest B.E.T. Report. Mr. Spencer Wills made it clear that he regarded the right hon. Lady's proposals as being totally disastrous for the bus industry. He said so only seven or eight months ago. In her White Paper, the right hon. Lady stated that …the main network of public transport is no longer an appropriate activity for private companies whose prime duty must be to their shareholders … Whose opinion is it that this is no longer an appropriate area for private activity? I see no argument for blindly accepting that the right hon. Lady has a divine right to tell us what sort of activities are appropriate for private enterprise and what are not. This is a fundamental matter which has never been proved in any way by the Minister. What evidence has she to suggest that it is not an activity for people to make a legitimate return?

It is no argument to say that 80 per cent. of the. stage carriers are run by public organisations. The only relevant argument is whether they are being run better, more quickly or more cheaply than they would be by privately-owned operations. If we could be shown that this was the case then, of course, our arguments would be difficult to sustain. It is fair to ask whether municipal buses are run more quickly or cheaply or have been modernised more quickly or meet transport requirements any better. It has certainly not been demonstrated so far. Is there any justification for assuming that public ownership has provided a better bus service? After all, the industry is about a better service for those for whom it exists—the travelling public.

If we could be shown that the private sector had failed to provide such a service we would have to look at our arguments again but it is up to the Government to prove their case. It is not we who must prove our case. The Government wish to take this action and it is for them to show that it is in the national interest, and they must do it not with emotion or generalisations but on facts and figures based on knowledge of and research into the industry.

The organisation the Government intend to impose on the industry is irrelevant to the problems with which the Bill is supposed to deal. The relevant parts of the Transport Bill are based upon the assumption that we must find ways of dealing with congestion in our cities and it is true that we must find them. I would not pretend that there are not areas on the outskirts of our cities where there is certain overlapping or irregularity in the way the buses are organised. In such areas, a certain amount of rationalisation could come about by intelligent give and take between municipal and private operators. There will never be a human society where one cannot find some form of readjustment necessary on the fringes, as it were. But to take this mammoth Bill, backed as it is by the even bigger Transport Bill, in order to deal with the small peripheral activities of a few bus companies in one or two outlying areas is to misunderstand priorities.

Of course the Minister knows this. It is abundantly clear that she has grasped the priorities, because the main and laudable purposes of the Executive are outlined in Clause 18 of the Transport Bill, which provides that within 12 months the Authority shall produce a plan to deal with the provisions of the Bill and that within two years there shall be a further plan which is to be coupled with a structure plan for the conurbations which is being provided for in a Bill shortly to be introduced by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. This reorganisation is perfectly right and we go along with it and that is the purpose with which Ministers should be involved. But that makes irrelevant the Minister's decision to get the very men who should be involved in that planning tinkering with the ownership of the buses and trying to decide whether to paint them a different colour, or to change the emblems or mottoes. They will be buried in the detail of whether buses go up one way or down another, or whether fares should be put up a penny here or there, or whether a bus stop should be moved a yard. Ministers should see that the planners are more concerned with the long-term planning which is the prime consideration.

As soon as the National Bus Company which follows from the Transport Bill comes into being, one of the main purposes with which it will be statutorily charged is to co-operate with the Executive, and the sort of co-operation in which it will be involved will be co-ordinating and providing information and transferring assets from one organisation to another in order to help with this process of rationalisation. All of those with whom I have discussed these questions in the conurbations believe that this will involve them in an immensely complicated day-to-day probing of each other's activities which is not relevant to the main purposes with which they should be concerned. It is one of the cardinal failures of the whole concept which the Minister is now advocating that those who could do so much to reorganise and replan solutions for the problems of transport and the congestion within areas will be bogged down with a whole range of what in practice will be regarded as footling administrative details.

Although the Bill may have a fixed capital limit on the amount of money spent on this aspect of transport reorganisation, its consequences on the expenditure increases which could well follow are not in any way limited by these capital limitations. One of the problems expected throughout the conurbations is the effect on fares following from rationalisation. I asked the Minister what representations she had had from the Transport and General Workers' Union about its attitude towards the level of earnings and wages in the conurbations, particularly with regard to the differences between rates paid by municipal undertakings and those paid by private companies. I was disappointed to find that the Minister saw fit only to acknowledge that there had been representations and that she had made no attempt to explain what they had been.

One of the dilemmas which will face those dealing with re-organisation is that there will be immediate pressure to raise the levels of wages in private companies to those paid by municipal undertakings, and I should like the Minister to say precisely tonight what representations have come from the T. & G.W.U. on this matter, because the conclusion of all of those with whom I have discussed the subject is that there will immediately be pressure for an increase of wages to level the lowest with the highest. For those administering the scheme this will leave no alternative but higher fares.

Photo of Mr Charles Mapp Mr Charles Mapp , Oldham East

Only this last weekend I have been discussing this aspect, that is, the relationship of those now employed in one of the four bus companies which we have with a possible conurbation authority. Clearly, the men concerned hope in due course to be able to get the advantages of generally better pay and overall conditions which now operate in the Manchester area. However, the same people want to continue the traditional overall earnings which they now get on runs such as Manchester-Newcastle, Manchester-London and Manchester-Birmingham, even though they often work outside the legal hours provided for them, a id I had to remind them —

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. An intervention cannot he a second speech.

Photo of Mr Charles Mapp Mr Charles Mapp , Oldham East

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I was saying that we have to be careful that they do not get the benefits of both worlds.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

The hon. Gentleman has made the point extremely clearly and it is precisely in this sort of respect that the pressure from the unions will come. Although the earnings in the undertakings and the companies are now much the same, the basic rates are different, but if the basic rates in the undertakings are spread to the companies, there will be an immediate increase in the level of fares. This is precisely what we are anxious about and this is precisely the point on which the Ministry will not give us its views.

That summarises my basic anxieties about the Bill. It is irrelevant and expensive. I am appalled that the Ministry has made no attempt to cost any of its assertions in its defence. I do not believe that the Bill will lead to a more streamlined or efficient organisation and I am dismayed that the Ministry has not made any factual attempt to justify its assertions. It is opposed by the entire weight of the industry on which the Bill is to be imposed. Coming as I do from the West Country, where £70 million would provide a motorway almost from Bristol to Plymouth, a project which is shelved year in and year out by the Ministry of Transport, I am appalled that Government supporters should be prepared to accept the sort of sacrifices which have been imposed on the nation today and within minutes should propose this irrelevant Bill which will absorb so much of the money which has already been removed earlier today from the pockets of the people.

6.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) and the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) spoke of this as being the day of all days on which not to introduce this Bill. I would have thought that it was the day of all days to introduce it, because one of the things about which the country is concerned is getting the whole of our infrastructure, as well as our industry, more efficient so as to benefit from the industrial advantages which are gained, to have an efficient transport system instead of that which so often in the past has fallen down. This applies as much to the commuter section, to getting people to and from work, as to any other. As a demonstration of the Government's determination to get the infrastructure right, this is a very proper Measure to have today.

The hon. Member for Tavistock asked what would be the effect on wages for those in private undertakings who would now work side by side with those in municipal undertakings. I would like to believe that the Government's attitude would be that people doing similar jobs should have similar rates of pay and that the benefits received by those in municipal undertakings—superannuation, better wages, better sickness allowances and so on—should pass to those in private undertakings. This has been one of the main criticisms of those employed in private undertakings, particularly those in com- panies within the B. T.H.C. ambit, especially where the B.T.H.C. has had a 50 per cent. holding and where conditions of employment have not been as good with semi-nationalisation as for those in municipalised undertakings.

I hope that we shall see these improvements in conditions when the Bill gets through. That will take a great deal of negotiation and consideration by the parties concerned and it is not for me to prognosticate about what will happen in those industrial negotiations. However, one hopes that there will be parity of esteem and parity of treatment for those doing similar jobs. This matter has been brought vividly to my attention when people on the same bus routes in my constituency doing the same work on the same services have been getting different rates of pay and working in different conditions of employment. Such anomalies should be ended.

The other point relates not so much to the statements made this afternoon, nor to the Bill that has now gone upstairs, but to what will happen as the result of the passing of this Bill. I would like my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, when he comes to reply, to say how he envisages these companies will work when the National Bus Company is established in those areas which will not go immediately into a P.T.A., and in particular what sort of co-operation he sees between the national company and municipal companies in areas where dual services operate and where there is dual administration, with less efficiency.

What does he envisage will be the role of these companies in rural areas? We have had statements about subsidies, the role of the Traffic Commissioners and so on. My experience, particularly in cases where railway services have been withdrawn, has been that the private companies have rushed in and said "Yes, we can give a comparative service "but after a year they have been asking to put up the fares and have been cutting the services that they were supplying.

There is a withering away of the transport services of the countryside. This is happening, whether they be publicly or private-owned companies. Now we are taking into public ownership a great chunk of the private section of the industry, serving many rural areas and I was hoping that we would have a more positive policy towards the social service aspect.

It always surprises me that with the Transport Holding Company holding 50 per cent. of the shares and private industry holding 50 per cent., the party opposite, when in power never sold off these shares in public ownership back to private industry. It always amuses me thinking of it preaching this policy of free enterprise, and with this wonderful opportunity of selling off the public interest to the private sector, that it never took the opportunity. Maybe it was because it felt that while this large section of public investment was within the private sector it was on to a good thing and wanted to keep it like that.

When we are in power it is right and proper for us to take these steps to give the public sector control of all these companies who are holding a large interest, and to take the whole of the transport industry into public ownership. It is to be welcomed because it brings to an end an anomalous position and it holds out a promise of future development, particularly in rural areas. I would especially like to hear from the Minister how she sees the system working out, and how the relationship will develop between municipal authorities and the national bus service in those areas where the P.T.A.'s are not to operate, and how we can have a degree of rationalisation between the municipal companies and those which are now coming into public ownership.

6.55 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Anthony Berry Hon. Anthony Berry , Southgate

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) described himself as an optimist, and if I represented his constituency at this time I would like to be an optimist too. He asked very pertinent questions and there is nothing in this Bill which satisfies me that the answers which he may get will be encouraging for him. It is a comparatively short time since I became a Member of this House and during that time there have been a number of occasions when it is true to say that the eyes and ears of the world have been upon us in our deliberations. This has not been as often as in days gone by perhaps, but there have been certain occasions and today is probably the most important of those.

I can therefore see some possible confusion in the future over my speaking in this debate. I can imagine my small son of a few months old, in about 20 years' time, when he becomes interested in politics, as I hope he will be, asking me about my life in Parliament at this time, and particularly the various stages of the Labour Government culminating in these tremendously savage cuts imposed this afternoon—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member must come to the Bill.

Photo of Hon. Anthony Berry Hon. Anthony Berry , Southgate

I am discussing what we are discussing this afternoon, which I hope is in order. I can see my son questioning me about my speech and being rather puzzled as to why I am talking about the Government spending an extra £70 million rather than talking about them cutting hundreds of millions of pounds which they have announced. I can see that in future, and indeed in the world at large today, it will be very confusing in that we are now, only a few hours before tomorrow's debate, discussing extra spending of the taxpayers' money during a time of such tremendous economic crisis.

This is rather a quandary, like the fashion industry. The fashion industry does not know whether to continue with mini-skirts or maxi-skirts. Just before we rose for the Christmas Recess we spent an afternoon discussing what was surely a "maxi" Bill and today we have a "mini" Bill. Whichever they are, they are both important and worthy of detailed discussion here, for what they show and for what they do not reveal. This covers some fundamental points.

No one opposite has answered the question: why are we discussing this Bill now? Mention has been made of the White Paper and the request from Transport Holding Company for permission to buy the remaining percentage of the B.E.T. group. The Government are being very naive when they suggest that the Transport Holding Company should be surprised at the answer it got. The White Paper says: The T.H.C. therefore asked the Government whether they consider it desirable for the T.H.C. to make an offer for the purchase of these shares. What on earth did it expect for an answer except the one that it got? Surely the purchase of those shares was entirely in keeping with the Government's attitude. I am unclear about their proportion of the £70 million. We know that it was £30 million for the underlying assets, about £17 million for the minority interest. I would still like to know quite a lot more and perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will help. There are £18 million for these contingencies. That may be a small amount in comparison with some of the figures that we are discussing today, and will be discussing tomorrow and Thursday, but it is still a great sum of money.

Arising from that we have the question of the future of the Transport Holding Company, which fits in most emphatically with what the Government are trying to do. One page 11 of the White Paper we have the announcement that the Government are intending to establish a statutory National Bus Company to which will be transferred all the T.H.C. interests in bus undertakings in England and Wales. This Government approval of the Transport Holding Company's proposal is merely a short-cut to nationalising the whole bus industry.

What is it that they have against the Transport Holding Company? I think that basically it is that the Holding Company does an extremely good job. It has done it well ever since it was formed in 1962. It has done it under Labour Government and under Conservative Government. But what the Government do not like is the way in which it does it, because it does it in a businesslike way, which the Government find impossible to accept. Even though the assets are nationalised, are Government owned, the fact that they are controlled by men who believe in a private enterprise way of doing things is anathema to the Government, and that is one of the fundamental reasons why they want to take over the Company.

There are some phrases in the Annual Report and Accounts of the Transport Holding Company for the year ending 1st December, 1966, which must be very annoying to the Government, because the chairman and the directors speak their minds. We find such phrases as Important in this category, of course, was the Prices and Incomes policy of the Government … For example it hit road haulage with great severity …". We also find: The other most important factor in this category was the existence of economic contraction "; and later we find: The Board will naturally continue to do their best no matter what circumstances prevail in the future ". The Board was not happy about the way in which the Government were acting and its members did not hesitate to speak their mind. Shortly they will not be able to do so because they will no longer exist. It is relevant to point out that the profits of the Company over the period varied between £14 million and £17½million and went back to £14½ million in the year which I have just quoted which, considering the economic conditions, was remarkably good.

The back page of the Bill refers to the Ministers who support it. I am very pleased to see the name of the Secretary of State for Wales. His name is conspicuously lacking from the Transport Bill, which we discussed shortly before Christmas. That is very surprising. Indeed, throughout the Second Reading debate on that Bill there was hardly a mention of Wales, apart from something about the Abergavenny-Brecon Canal, which is not of any great moment. Possibly we shall hear more about Wales today. I hope that the absence of the name of the Secretary of State for Wales from the Transport Bill does not indicate any absence of feeling about Welsh interests and that they will be fully recognised in Committee.

I should like to mention another important aspect, and that is the apparent acceptance by the Government of their inability to solve any part of the transport problem by building more roads. There is hardly a mention of roads in the Transport Bill. Certainly there is no more reference to them in this Bill. There has been an almost complete failure today to appreciate that surely part of the problem is the shortage of roads. Speeding up the construction of the motorways, in particular—my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) mentioned one; I mention the completion of the M4 as another—is a way in which money could be spent, and far more usefully than by spending £17 million on unexplained contingencies under this Bill.

The Bill is badly timed. It has the wrong types of control. It is nationalisation through the back door. There is reference in the White Paper to the dismissal of shareholders. We are to have in their place the Government and, in particular, the Minister herself. Anyone who has read more than two pages of the Transport Bill cannot have failed to find over and over again the phrase "with the consent of the Minister That also applies to this Bill. It is a bad Bill which can do the Government nothing but harm. Unfortunately, it will do the country harm, too.

7.5 p.m.

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

I hope that the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) will forgive me if I do not deal specifically with his points. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has taken note of them and will deal with them.

I rise to deal with the legal points in Clause 1(2). It might be helpful to the House that I should intervene at this stage. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary), in an intervention, made it evident to me that he clearly understood and, to some extent, appreciated the significance of this provision. I am glad that that is so. However, later there was a reference, I think by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), to irregularities. Although the observation was jocularly made, I think that it is right and proper that I should deal with the point.

By virtue of Section 29 of the Transport Act, 1962, the Transport Holding Company was empowered to acquire certain securities for certain objects set out in the Act, the significant words being: to hold and manage the securities vested in them by virtue of this Act, and to exercise the rights attached to those securities. There was set out in the Fourth Schedule of the Act the securities which were by virtue of the Act vested in the Transport Holding Company. The powers to acquire granted by the Act were for certain objects therein set out.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

That sentence goes on to say: … as if the Holding Company were a company engaged in a commercial enterprise…

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

It is true that the Section goes on to deal with that aspect and provides that the Company is generally to carry on any business usually carried on by a holding company and to do all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of those objects. My point is that under the 1962 Act the power of the Transport Holding Company to acquire was confined to certain objects which were spelt out in the Act. Section 29(6) provides that … the objects of the Holding Company shall be—

  1. (a) to hold and manage the securities vested in them by virtue of this Act, and
  2. (b) to exercise the rights attached to those securities"—

Photo of Sir Arthur Irvine Sir Arthur Irvine , Liverpool Edge Hill

as if the Holding Company were a company engaged in a commercial enterprise, and the Holding Company shall have power for those objects—

  1. (i) to form, promote and assist companies,
  2. (ii) to subscribe for, take, acquire and hold,… securities of companies ".
That is what the provision is.

What it is intended to effect by the Bill—I am trying to assist the House as a lawyer in a matter of this kind—is to spell out for the avoidance of doubt what I, as a lawyer, believe was implicit in Section 29 of the Transport Act. I say that it was implicit for this reason. The 1962 Act laid emphasis in its language on the Holding Company's character as a commercial enterprise. That is set out in the Act— as if the Holding Company were a company engaged in a commercial enterprise ". As a lawyer, my understanding of Section 29 of the 1962 Act as it stood, bearing in mind the reference to the Holding Company's character as a commercial enterprise, would be that the Holding Company could not in any commercial sense manage the securities vested in it under the Schedule to the Act without having the power to acquire securities which have a genuine bearing upon the securities vested. That would be my interpretation of the power as defined and conferred by the 1962 Act.

If I am right in that interpretation, any provision such as we offer to the House in the Bill to clarify the matter may be criticised as being superfluous or undesirable. None the less, although that is my interpretation of the Act, I would say to the House that there is in the 1962 Act an ambiguity.

The view I take—and I am confident that the House will accept this from me —is that as a matter of principle, if there is the slightest ambiguity in a statutory provision conferring powers of acquisition or any other powers, on the whole the better course is to treat the matter overtly and directly and to clear the ambiguity out of the way once and for all. That, on this legal point, is what the Bill does.

Clause 1(2) spells out something that was implicit in Section 29 of the Transport Act, 1962. It provides that if the principal activity of a company consists of the provision of transport services or … the manufacture of road vehicles ", the acquisition of such a company is an acquisition for the objects referred to in the 1962 Act. Such an acquisition would be deemed to have been affected for the objects of the Holding Company. That is our purpose.

We believe that the effect of the Bill is to set out explicitly what has been all the while implicit in the law. That is why I can say to the House that I do not believe that any irregularity has occurred under this head, but it is better to have it made clear. The test which is now applied to determine whether the Holding Company has a power to acquire as a matter of law is a test which we recommend to the House as a reasonable one, a correct one, a commercial one and one which, as I have indicated, was regarded from the outset by both sides as appropriate. That is what I offer to the House on this matter and I trust that it will be thought to have been of assistance to intervene at this stage on this point.

7.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Emlyn Hooson Mr Emlyn Hooson , Montgomeryshire

This is the first opportunity that I have had of following the hon. and learned Gentleman in his role as Solicitor-General, and I am glad to do so. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked the forgiveness of the House for not following the remarks contained in the speech which preceded his. I likewise, although a lawyer, beg the hon. and learned Gentleman's forgiveness for not following him, save to make this comment. It appears to me that there was extreme dubiety whether, under Section 29 of the 1962 Act, for example, the Transport Holding Company could acquire a company the sole concern of which was, for example, the manufacture of vehicles. As I understand it, the main point of the change which is made by the Bill is to make sure that the Transport Holding Company can do that. That has, perhaps, a slightly sinister connotation in the change which the Bill seeks to clarify in the powers under the 1962 Act.

From the Government's point of view, there is an unfortunate juxtaposition of affairs today which they cannot avoid. This afternoon, we heard the Prime Minister announce a series of savage cuts, including the most savage cuts in social and education services. Now, the House of Commons is asked to approve a Bill which will give the Transport Holding Company power to borrow an additional £70 million. Whatever view the Government take, it is impossible for this House to consider the Bill other than against the background of this afternoon's cuts.

I have great sympathy with the social objectives of the Government. I share their view that there should be the maximum opportunity for educational expansion and the maximum amount of social provision, but the reason why the cuts have been announced this afternoon is the disastrous incursion of the Government from time to time into the commercial sphere and their disastrous handling of economic events.

The House of Commons is at fault as a House, because the great control that the Legislature has over the Executive is over the provision of money, which is what we are discussing in the Bill. Even if we take the Bill from the Government's point of view, if we accept their sums and their principles, they are asking the House to approve an additional £70 million loan sanction. Even on their own figures, £18 million to £20 million of that money is not needed. That money, at the very least, is a blank cheque, and for what purpose? How on earth the Government have the effrontery to come forward and ask for that blank cheque this afternoon after the cuts which have been announced belies belief.

The consequence is that the Transport Holding Company has no longer to come back to the House of Commons for approval for this money, which will have to be raised somehow, either by taxation or by a Government loan, and at a high rate of interest. The money that is paid out for shares which are taken over will be bound to have an inflationary effect upon the economy. How, therefore, can this House responsibly, even on the Government's own assessment of the situation, give the Transport Holding Company a blank cheque for £20 million?

The Minister of State, introducing the Bill, asked the House to consider the Bill on commercial considerations. Let us probe a little deeper into this, therefore, and approach it from the commercial point of view. Is this good commercial business from the shareholders' point of view—the shareholders in this case being virtually the public? How can the Government justify taking over a 50 per cent. shareholding in a company they propose to take over, a 50 per cent. shareholding not owned at the moment by the Transport Holding Company? Is this necessary? And, if so, why is it necessary? I would not have thought it good commercial business, unless the Government can show the House that it is really impossible to work this system unless we take over the additional 50 per cent. shareholding. Otherwise, it is simply a waste of Government money. Money is there invested at the moment, and no reasons have been given to the House why the 50 per cent. should be taken over.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

In both the last two points he has made the hon. and learned Gentleman was talking about the injection of £70 million of actual spending, because this is going to be the actual compensation paid in cash to the shareholders. As far as I can see, this is three years' prescription charges at half a crown.

Photo of Mr Emlyn Hooson Mr Emlyn Hooson , Montgomeryshire

It is three years' minus about two months, I think, to be exact. but I entirely take the point which the hon. Gentleman has made.

But let us go a little further. How do the Government justify on commercial grounds taking over the other shareholdings of the subsidiary companies? What is the justification of this? If they want to approach this not on a doctrinaire basis but on a strictly commercial basis, why on earth should the Government borrow money at a high rate of interest and take over shares at an assessed value and then themselves receive as a result of this whole transaction a lesser rate of interest than that at which they will borrow? I think it is entirely wrong and an entirely wrong approach.

What is tragically wrong with this Government is, whatever they cut in the social services, or in defence, what they are never prepared to do is to draw in their own horns on their commercial adventures. That is what they should do today, because surely there is no justification for this Bill at this time.

The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), who is not in his seat at the moment, though in any event I did not give him notice that I would mention his speech, made mention of my part of the country and suggested, in an interesting development of a theme, that rather than have a national holding company one should really develop, as it were, regional nationalisation. He used a term which I have never heard before, and which I hope he will never use again—" conurbation of affairs ", whatever that means. I gathered that, basically, the principle he was putting forward was that sparsely populated, difficult rural areas, such as my own from a transport point of view, should be amalgamated with more prosperous, more populated urban areas, so that the urban areas' services which are profitable could be linked with those in the unprofitable rural areas, so that the one sort of area could support the other. I am against this for this reason. I much prefer, from the national point of view, that we have good, well-run services to make a good profit and to pay taxation, and that from that taxation the Government, where necessary, provide subsidies in the sparsely populated rural areas.

This is very much better, because it seems to me to follow as night follows day that once the Government hand is in on the running of a commercial enterprise that enterprise is doomed not to pay. It is very difficult to analyse exactly why this happens, but it does happen. We are told from time to time that amalgamations will result in economies in Government services. They never, never do. It is Parkinson's Law or something else which affects them, but the truth is, and we all know it, that, whatever the theory of the matter, in practice it never, never pays. I see the Junior Minister smiling. I am sure he will agree with me basically. It never does pay. He cannot point to an example of an amalgamation which has taken place in Government services, an amalgamation which was supposed to result, theoretically, in an economy, which has ever really achieved that economy.

Interesting figures were given by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) from an assessment of, I think, the director of research in the Transport Holding Company, figures which he has got which seem to suggest that the greater the number of buses the greater the administrative costs of running each single bus. When we have these amalgamations, what happens inevitably is that administrative costs go up, everything goes up. Whether we like it or not —and I am not myself opposed to the principle of public ownership—what in fact happens is that once the public purse is involved, there never seems to be any true responsibility for the money.

Mention was made by an hon. Member on the other side about the disappearance of transport services in the rural areas. The truth is that there have been no greater blows to the rural areas than those by the public transport services of British Railways, and in my own part of the world, certainly, many employees speak of gross maladministration of the railways. It is always so costly; there are always so many officials around; nobody has the right to take decisions without reference to one or another official.

I would have thought that what is before the House today would be a very bad proposition for the country at any time, but a particularly bad proposition for the country at this time. I would have thought that, on their own figures, the Government could not commercially justify taking over the remaining shareholdings in many of these companies. Nor have they even begun to put forward any justification for the blank cheque of £20 million. The greatest single sacrifice which this country has the right to demand from this Government is that they should cease or at least curb their disastrous adventures in the commercial sphere, and this they could start on this afternoon by withdrawing this Bill.

7.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has made some cogent points. I think that in principle we would accept that there is a need to examine what is the optimum scale of function of those undertakings which we are now contemplating, and I would agree with him that it does not necessarily follow that greater size leads to greater economy of operation. Indeed, as he pointed out himself, there is danger of a Parkinsonian principle being applied, by which we create some sort of self-generating momentum, an escalation of size which becomes very difficult to control and justify.

However, I think he has to some extent over-stated the case because he seemed to imply, in what was a perfectly sound critique of mere size, that there was no purpose in amalgamation, in co-ordination, in rationalisation. I think that in this particular instance, although one may have certain reservations about proposals which will be coming to this House in connection with the Transport Bill, nevertheless there is a case, which is legitimate, and which is reasonable, for the sort of amalgamations and the extension of control which are now being proposed.

I think it is not entirely fair to say, as an earlier speaker from the other side rather suggested, that the Government here have ridden roughshod over all objections, bringing forward for doctrinaire reasons some sort of scheme which is not welcomed and endorsed by those in the industry. In fact, in paragraph 49 of the White Paper on "Public Transport and Traffic", to which reference has already been made on several occasions this afternoon, we find it quite clearly stated that it was the Holding Company which took the view that it would be desirable for it to purchase the shares which it did not own in the B.E.T. group. Of course, it may be said that this is quite natural because it will be the beneficiary of the proposal which it makes. Nevertheless, it is more important to consider what were the reasons which under- lay this view, and some of them are, in principle, worthy of respect. They considered that apart from other intrinsic advantages this ought to enable that body to participate with each Passenger Transport Executive in the reorganisation of bus services without damaging the economic and financial viability of the bus companies already owned or parly owned by the T.H.C. I should have thought that most hon. Members would accept in principle that there is something in that proposition. The paragraph goes on: It would also facilitate the useful reorganisation of services in other areas. Of course, like other hon. Members, I am sceptical about these arguments in theoretical terms. Sometimes, reorganisation can produce surprising results which we might not wish to see.

An hon. Member opposite put his finger on what is underlying today's debate when he claimed that the Government saw no role for private enterprise in the transport industry. Although it may have been put forward for polemical and party political reasons, as is our custom, there is a point in meeting this argument head on. Is there a place for private enterprise in the provision of essential transport services?

I should have thought that the logic of the events of the last 50 or 100 years indicates to a considerable extent that the provision of public transport services inexorably becomes the responsibility of public enterprise. The most obvious example of that is seen in the history of our railways which, from the outset, were developed under very careful public control in the form of legislation in the 19th century which severely defined the powers of the railway companies. However, despite that degree of public surveillance over the private companies, by the interwar years it had become obvious that a structure of private ownership was no longer competent to keep the industry functioning efficiently and profitably, and we all know that, by the end of the second world war, it would have been only a matter of time before some of the railway companies found their way into the Bankruptcy Court. I often wonder why we ever nationalised the industry, rather than waiting for the Official Receiver's Department to hand it over to us.

There is a point in referring briefly to that history, because, although we are discussing what in some ways is a technical and strictly financial provision, the debate is set against the back-cloth of major changes which are taking place in the transport industry, particularly as it affects our great conurbations.

It has become obvious for many years that, in all our cities, bus operation is facing difficulties which are inherent in a situation where the private motor car is, almost from day to day, playing a more notable role in the transport of individuals to work and for other purposes. Just as, in an earlier period the railways found competition from the road transport industry such that they could not resist effectively, so, too, the municipal and company bus industries together are facing a crisis which surely requires re-assessment of the part private enterprise will want to play in the industry in the years to come. Already we have a situation where, to a large extent, the public well-being has defined certain control, and restrictions upon the operation of private enterprise which make it questionable how far we can have any entrepreneurial initiative coming into the transport industry in our cities.

The obvious need which will arise is that, when the Passenger Transport Authorities are set up, they will require cost benefit analysis which may show that the bus industry has a part to play and, from the community point of view, a vital and commercially beneficial part to play in transport in our cities but that, because it is an evaluation based not upon straightforward accounting procedures but upon the hidden costs borne by society as a whole, it will be necessary to feed public money into the industry in years to come rather than anticipating private money even wishing to find such an outlet.

Reference has been made already to the possible implications for wage rates in the industry following the sort of amalgamation and extension of control which we are now discussing. An hon. Member opposite referred earlier to the differential which exists between the municipal bus undertakings and the companies. If I understood him, he suggested that, as a result of steps now being taken, it will almost certainly result in a considerable upward movement of rates in the company sector to equate them with municipal rates.

In the course of the last few weeks, a Report has been published by the National Board for Prices and Incomes on Productivity Agreements in the Bus Industry. It is a Report which is of considerable importance this week, because it will affect some very important decisions which are to be taken in the next 48 hours.

On page 11, we find listed the rates paid in the municipal and company sectors of the bus industry. In July, 1967, the basic weekly rate shown under the heading "Municipal" was f12 17s. 0d., whereas that listed under "Company" was £12 14s. 10d., and the point is made in paragraph 45 that The gap between municipal and company drivers in terms of basic rates is only 2s. 2d. Later on in the Report, the Board points out some of the implications of these anomalies, which are so varied and complicated that it would be quite impossible even to list them today. In paragraph 74, one finds: To facilitate a closer relationship between the pay of a company busman working in a town and that of a municipal busman we propose that the narrow gap of 2s. 2d. between the company and the municipal basic rates for drivers he eliminated thoughout the company sector. The point of referring to these relatively detailed technical points about comparability and eliminating anomalies is that, in any case, we are in a situation where there is bound to be a continuing reappraisal of the anomalies which have been incurred and which have relatively little justification today.

It is not true to say, on this type of evidence, that anything implicit in the present proposals would have any additional effect across the board, as suggested by earlier speakers from the benches opposite. It was said that the proposals might affect the average gross weekly earnings in the two different sectors. However, unless I misunderstand completely the implication of the table on page 11 of the Report, the average gross weekly earnings in the municipal sector were £22 6s. 5d., compared with £22 10s. 9d. in the company sector.

The feeling that many of us are bound to have is that we are in a situation where planning in general quite clearly has been put at risk as a result of the economic difficulties which have arisen, and there will be some who will allege that these difficulties have arisen because of our attempts to plan the economy. We may plead that these particular attempts were misguided, but there is now a general view emerging that the concept of planning itself is unwise. That is a view which should be rebuffed. Nevertheless, there is a case for considering the particular circumstances of different areas and saying that we should have greater flexibility than seems at times to be anticipated in the wider provisions of the Transport Bill.

The general proposition that there is a case now for rationalisation within the bus industry seems to me to be incontrovertible and, I should have thought, fundamental, for the reasons I have tried earlier to summarise, but this rationalisation can, and I think will, come about only if the right steps are taken as a result of the effective extension of public ownership. If this is said to be nationalisation by the back door, that is a good, emotive term. I suppose—I do not care about the way in which we describe it —but I believe that there are cases where there must be an extension of public ownership. This is one instance in which I feel a case can, in principle, be made out, although, like hon. Members opposite, I would be sceptical in future about accepting the general proposition in theory. We have to look at the small print, and see how, over the months and years ahead, in practice the opportunities presented by this rationalisation will be seized and will result in a more efficient and viable transport service.

7.41 p.m.

Photo of Sir Robert Cary Sir Robert Cary , Manchester, Withington

I hope that the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) will forgive me if I do not follow his theme, because I want to turn at once to the helpful observations we have had from the Solicitor-General. Those observations arose out of an interruption I made in the speech of the Minister of State. I had been troubled in mind by Section 29(6) of the 1962 Transport Act. I thought that the form of words used in that Section for these bodies cast some doubt on the extent of the powers conferred on the Transport Holding Company.

After listening to the Solicitor-General, I now understand that the intention of the present Bill is to empower the Transport Holding Company … to form, promote and assist companies … or to subscribe for or deal in any securities in any company whose … principal activities … consist of the provision of transport services or facilities or the manufacture of road vehicles … In the form in which the Solicitor-General has tried to deal with it, this Bill is, by that much, an improvement upon the Act, but in matching the relevant Section of the 1962 Act with the present Bill three questions occur to me.

First are these powers really required? By Clause 50 of the Transport Bill, the Transport Holding Company is already intended for dissolution. If that is so, we shall by this Bill be transferring a very large sum of money to what is literally a shadow body.

Secondly, I notice that Clause 1(2) of this Bill refers to action taken … whether before or after the passing of this Act … I suspect that those words are put in to validate the purchase by the Transport Holding Company of the shares of the West Riding Automobile Company in September last. At that time I rather questioned whether the Holding Company had the legal power to take that step. The Holding Company paid 31s. for the £ shares of the West Riding Company. It got rather a good bargain, because on 28th September The Guardian said that in spite of that price, which may or may not be a fair one, it had to be adjusted against a net asset value of 37s. 2d. a share. On that basis, as I say, the Holding Company got a good bargain but, be that as it may, the question arises whether by this Bill something which was not then strictly within the compass of the Holding Company will now be brought within its compass, and the West Riding transaction validated.

Again, I do not know why reference is made to the manufacture of road vehicles unless the Holding Company has recently purchased shares in some bodybuilding companies that have not, as far as I can gather from its records, been disclosed. I do not want to be cruel to the Parliamentary Secretary—I had intended to address myself to the Minister of State—but would he come clean as to precisely what transactions he and the Ministry of Transport are seeking to whitewash by these subsections? When we deal in Committee with this small technical Bill, some of the duties dealt with in the subsections will need to be closely looked at.

I want now to turn briefly to one or two wider aspects of the debate. First, I fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) that no more inopportune step could have been taken by the Government than to introduce this Bill today—psychologically, in terms of the nation and of our constituents to recommend to the House today proposals for sacrifices, as regards defence on this side or as regards social charges on the other—to recommend a period of austerity and restraint —and then suddenly, as a sequel to that statement by the Prime Minister, the Government seeking, quite casually and in a modest, small Bill of almost one sheet of paper, the spending of £70 million.

I know that what the Minister of State said in reply to my hon. Friend was partly justified within the walls of this Chamber but outside, psychologically, the statement made by the Prime Minister at 2.30 and then the Minister of State at half-past four requesting from the House of Commons a sum of £70 million to spend in this manner seems to be an act of political madness. I therefore say to my lion. Friend—and the thought was sown in his mind by an interruption made by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) during the Prime Minister's speech—that he has rendered a good service to the electors as a whole by reminding them of the ineptitude of the Government in making tactical decisions that no sensible person ought to make in coming to the floor of the House of Commons.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester named the head of economic research of the Transport Holding Company. I listened to the speech made by Mr. Glassborow in September at the P.T.A. Conference. As a sequel to what my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester said about the conurbations we had an extremely interesting speech by the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) on this subject. The House ought to know the opinion of the conurbations which was deployed before the Public Transport Association by Mr. Glassborow. He said: a single conurbation authority is unnecessary, because any greater degree of co-ordination … can be achieved more simply, … it brings diseconomies of scale, removes that element of choice and competition … produces excessive standardisation in bus design, in patterns of operation, in systems of payment and in fare scales. I do not think anyone has made such a strong indictment as that against the proposals in this Bill or in the much bigger Bill, which we discussed on Second Reading on 20th December, in regard to the creation of the conurbations.

I shall not try to analyse the recommendations made by the hon. Member for Oldham, East about the great regional conurbations. This was touched upon by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). To develop that now would widen the debate too much and I do not think I have the abilities or talents to deal with it in the far-ranging context of conurbations in the North-East and the North-West. The hon. Member for Oldham, East was trying to help the rural areas, but in my opinion the Government will find themselves in great difficulty in establishing the four quite modest conurbations which they have to establish under the Transport Bill. They first have to get that Bill on to the Statute Book. Therefore it is rather premature to discuss this question now.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, the Minister of State, or whoever replies to the debate will comment on the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon that expenditure on new forms of assistance to public transport provided for in the Transport Bill is being limited to £10 million in 1968–69 and £20 million in 1969–70. Why should we put such a drastic curb on immediate benefits to be given to public transport and yet at the same time spend £70 million through the agency of the vote to be cast tonight?

The note of the Prime Minister's appeal today was that of almost a national approach, an appeal and challenge to everyone to help the country to get into a healthy state of equilibrium. No one will quarrel with that. It went almost halfway to the speech I heard a great leader of the Labour Party make as far back as 1931. We may be moving into that sort of period but if we are to be called upon to act unitedly or in a semi-united way it is the greatest betrayal of Parliamentary proceedings for the Government in power at the moment to push through the House acts of Socialism incorporated in different sections of the Transport Bill. The Government are tempted to foster purely party aims in terms of transport through the agency of the Transport Bill, but I ask them to be good enough to withdraw that Bill and to re-present it, containing only those parts on which we can get common agreement on both sides of the House.

7.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

I apologise for intervening in this debate without having heard the opening speeches, but, having heard the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary), I feel constrained to interject a criticism which I hope will be mild and temperate in contrast to his outrageous remarks about the tactics of the Government in introducing this Bill on the same day as they are asking for cuts in public expenditure.

This Bill, I understand, does not increase public expenditure by a halfpenny. All it does is to allow a company, which it is true is owned by the State, to borrow more money than it is allowed under existing legislation. There will be no charge to the taxpayer as a result of the power of that company to borrow more money. If the Transport Holding Company makes a profit as a result of its operations it will pay back the loans at the appropriate rate of interest then prevailing and still make a profit. How this could be a further charge on public expenditure I fail to see, although of course I recognise—

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The hon. Member said that he was not present during the opening speeches. Will he change his comment when he hears that the Government are currently paying 7 per cent. and 8 per cent. and the yield of this investment will be 5½ per cent.?

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

I do not withdraw one iota of the comments I have made when I remember that the Transport Holding Company acts as a commercial undertaking. It borrows money at the prevailing market rate and pays back at the prevailing market rate. The fact that the profit produced as a result is only 5 per cent. after payment back of the loan does not seem to detract from the argument at all.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The hon. Member has got it wrong. In fact the Government are paying £52 million for an asset which yields 5¼ per cent. The going rate at present is 8 per cent. Therefore, the Transport Holding Company's profits—which belong to the taxpayer—will be reduced by the difference between 8 per cent. and 5¼ per cent.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

If the Transport Holding Company after payment back of the principal sum and the interest is still making a profit, however small, how can it be said that there falls on the taxpayer any further burden? I take up this point because in my maiden speech 18 months ago I raised the whole question of the profitability of the Transport Holding Company and its effect upon fares. I reiterate the point today because it seems even more appropriate at this stage of our economic well-being than it was 18 months ago.

The point I made then arose from experience I had in my constituency. The bus company there is owned 50 per cent. by the West Yorkshire Road Car Company—which is owned completely by the Transport Holding Company—and 50 per cent. by the local authority. About two years ago the company proposed to put up its fares. When we examined the matter in detail, we found that the company was not making a loss upon its services within the York area but, because it was under an instruction from the Government to make a profit of about 10 per cent., it had to raise its fares simply to make that amount of profit.

This point ties up with the point just raised by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). If the Transport Holding Company is charged with the duty of making a profit year in, year out, that profit must be made, in relation to its passenger transport services, out of the fare-paying passengers. This increases the cost of living of the fare-paying passengers, and that increase is ultimately reflected in pressure on wages. This year of all years we ought to try to stabilise the cost of living so that the pressure on wages is to some extent relieved.

Therefore, I take a different view from that expressed by hon. Members opposite. We should, certainly in this year, say that the Company in relation to its passenger services should break even and not make a profit. If it be a charge against the taxpayer that the Company does not make a profit, in the sense that the taxpayer loses, the taxpayer will benefit directly in lower fares within the areas where the Company operates passenger services. I accept that this would not be necessary or desirable in most years, but in this year, when the pressure on costs will be very great as a result of devaluation —and as a result of the pressure on wages, it will be even greater—and when it is highly desirable to evolve some restraint in wage claims, the Government would be well advised to say that they will forgo the profit which the Company makes out of its passenger services, which in the last year for which I have figures was about £7 million. This is not an enormous sum but it would make some contribution to stabilising the cost of living. This is the constructive criticism which can be made of the Bill on Second Reading.

If, as the hon. Member for Worcester suggested, we are at the stage of consensus politics, we should recognise that the country is in such a serious position that party points are not legitimate and we should seek to serve the true interests of the nation. In such a situation, it should be said, first, that the taxpayer will not have any added burden as a result of the Bill and, secondly, that it is desirable, in view of Britain's state, that the Company should go one step further and forgo its profit on its passenger transport services for this one year.

I hope that the Government will consider this as part of their approach to the incomes policy, because the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today will be less effective if the benefits of reduced public expenditure in the coming years are eaten away by inflation as a result of increasing wage demands. It is desirable that the benefits of devaluation be maintained for as long as possible before inflation inevitably eats them away. This period can be extended by the adoption of suggestions such as that which I have made.

When the Opposition rise to the stature of a national party and make constructive criticisms of legislation put forward by the Labour Government which is genuinely intended to have the nation's wellbeing at heart, we will be able to sympathise with some of their criticisms. When the Opposition launch, as the hon. Member for Worcester does immediately, into Press hand-outs criticising the Government from a purely party point of view, with the obvious intention of screwing every last ounce of party advantage out of a difficult situation, we can have no sympathy whatsoever with the Opposition's criticisms but can only reject them.

8.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

At 2.30 p.m. the Prime Minister cut education, housing, road building, and a number of other important services. He appealed for efforts by industry and the nation at large. At 4.30 the Government moved the Second Reading of a Bill to waste £70 million of the taxpayers' money. This is a case of putting party doctrine before the national interest. It must be seen in the context of a Government who have staggered from crisis to crisis as each new measure of Socialism has been introduced and as each new experiment has foundered and damaged the country. There are even Labour supporters in my constituency who agree with me that this is an ill-timed Measure and that, if the Government have money to spare, there are other more important things to spare it on than this Bill.

In answer to a question asked by one of my hon. Friends about the Price Review, the Prime Minister said that there is a need to protect the public purse. However, as soon as Socialism stalks in, protecting the public purse is forgotten and we are asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will cost £70 million—and the public purse does not matter a damn.

We are asked to vote tonight, of all nights, £70 million to extend bus nationalisation, £52 million of it to be spent on the takeover of a number of companies which are apparently running perfectly satisfactorily—the Aldershot and District Traction Company, Ltd., I believe the Midland Red, the Thames Valley Traction Company, Ltd., and others. These companies have a proud record of service to the public in their areas, and there is no suggestion that they have been letting the public down.

The Bill also reinforces the right of the Company to manufacture road vehicles. Some explanation should be given of this proposal, because it will be read with considerable concern in my constituency where Leylands, one of the biggest and finest bus manufacturers in the world, have Thornycrofts, one of their subsidiary companies, engaged in work on their bus manufacture and other things.

When the Minister of State was addressing the House, I intervened on the small matter of the difference of £18 million between the £52 million in respect of which we have received details and the £70 million which we are asked to vote. There is a blank cheque for another £18 million. We are entitled to more explanation than we have been given so far about what this is to be spent on.

I understand that there is some question of this £18 million being spent on buying the municipal bus undertaking in Glasgow. I asked the Minister of State why this was so, because, as I understood it, the Glasgow municipal bus undertaking was liable to be taken over by the P.T.A. for its area in due course without compensation. The Minister of State told me—rather arrogantly, I thought—to go away and read the Transport Bill. I had already read it.

I acknowledge that it is difficult for a mere layman to understand the intricacies of Parliamentary drafting. However, I have that Bill in front of me. Clause 17 says that the Minister must by Order transfer to the Executive all municipal passenger transport undertakings in the area. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the liabilities."] I acknowledge that. Why are we asked to vote an additional £18 million under this Bill to be spent purchasing the Glasgow municipal bus undertaking when that could be paid for, or transferred, under the provisions of the Transport Bill? It seems to me that a limitation was placed by the Prime Minister in his cuts today on the expenditure to be incurred under the Transport Bill, but that it is fudged and got round by including the sum of £18 million to be spent in a way which would not be allowed under the Government cuts announced earlier today. This is something on which the House is entitled to an explanation.

I oppose this Bill for three reasons; first, because it is inflationary; second, because it is damaging to the future of bus transport; and third, because it plays party politics at a time when national unity should be the first call. As to inflation, I listened staggered to the economics of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) whose idea of finance and the running of the country's economy would certainly cause the hair of any banker, who was considering whether to use sterling or not, to stand on end.

How is the money to be raised? There has been no suggestion that the Government should float a new transport loan. Therefore, the money is to be raised by printing Treasury bills and handing over cash. That itself is inflationary. What is going to happen to the money? It is going to be given to British Electric Traction—£35 million of it—and the money is going to be spent on a series of takeover bids. The rest of the money will be paid over in cash to the individual shareholders.

What will those shareholders do, and what will happen to the recipients of the B.E.T. take-over bids? These are private individuals who will receive a substantial increase in the value of their shares. Are they going to save it under the present Government, with inflation as it is, knowing that there is no incentive to save it and that if one leaves the money in the bank, within a few weeks or months there will be a wealth tax or some other tax which will take the money away, with devaluation removing its purchasing power?

Are people going to be encouraged to save under the present Government? Of course not. A fair proportion of the money will be spent. Then what happens? It adds to the pressure of our economy and it adds to inflation. It adds to the problems of the Government and the nation. Therefore, I say that the proposal to inject the £70 million into the country's economy by printing at this time is inflationary and dangerous.

It is also damaging to the bus industry. In 1829 we had the first horse bus, and that is about on a par with the philosophy of nationalisation which is preached in this Bill. We should ask some questions. First, will it make bus transport cheaper? We find that the level of fares is controlled by the Traffic Commissioners. Therefore, there is no suggestion that fares will be cheaper. Secondly, will it alter and improve the timetables? Again we find that the timetables are controlled by the Traffic Commissioners. Therefore, it will make no difference there.

Next, will it add to the comfort in which bus passengers travel? We find that all the way down the line it is the private firms who, in their competition, have been the leaders in change in the bus industry and the passenger carrying industry, the leaders in improvements, the people who have introduced what was at first a luxury and what later has become accepted as the regular feature in transport. This competition is to be taken away by this Bill.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

Let me finish what I am saying.

There is one matter of overwhelming importance. We are told by the Prime Minister that the nation is in a serious situation. There is the need and the appeal for national unity. There has been a call for individual effort. We have seen in the country at large in the "I'm Backing Britain" campaign a response from citizens who, in the national interest, are prepared to give of their time and effort in order to help the nation along. Yet the whole of what they can possibly achieve by their united efforts during the course of a year will be wasted by the millions which are to be poured down the drain by this Bill.

The Government are appealing and will continue to appeal for wage restraint. They want wage restraint from the ordinary individual, but they will not restrain themselves. They want wage restraint from ordinary people, but the are not prepared to restrain their own expenditure. Here we find that £70 million is going to be pumped out, and then the Government expect people 70 believe that there is a shortage of money and a need for restraint. If they really believed that there was a need for restraint they would withdraw this Bill. I plead with the Government to stop playing politics and to start backing Britain by withdrawing this Socialist Measure by which so much damage will be done by this doctrinal approach.

8.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

I was amazed by the last few remarks of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell). He said that £70 million would be paid out by the Treasury to the Transport Holding Company which would then use the £70 million to pay out shareholders in other companies in order to acquire their shares. He concluded by saying that the Government were pouring the money down the drain. If I were a shareholder in a bus company, I would object to being called a drain. The hon. Gentleman should be careful of the language he uses, because generally speaking shareholders in bus undertakings and all sorts of other enterprises are certainly not drains. To refer to them as drains and sewers is a despicable thing for an hon. Member to do.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

I shall not give way. When an hon. Member is so abusive of honest people who have invested their money, I think it is despicable. If, as the hon. Member says, there is a Labour supporter in the hon. Member's constituency who agrees with his views, then I would disown that Labour supporter.

I want to get back to the Bill and away from the drains, for I do not want to go down to the sewer as the hon. Gentleman did.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

That was an unfair attack on shareholders, and, although I am not a shareholder in a transport undertaking, I am prepared to defend them. I am sure they will use whatever cash they have as diligently and as wisely as they can. That is my experience of shareholders. I am surprised that an hon. Member opposite should make such a vicious attack on these people. I hope that the Conservative newspaper in the constituency which he represents will give full publicity to his reference to these shareholders as being a drain.

In politics it is worth while having a pretty good memory. If I am wrong and make a few technical errors in what I am about to say, I am sure there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who will correct me, but in general I think I am right. We have in Scotland a company called MacBrayne Limited. That company serves a sparsely populated area of Scotland and it is impossible to do this economically. MacBrayne, a Scottish Company owning steamships and buses, could not provide transport to the west and north-west of Scotland as a private profit-making company. We pay an annual subsidy of about £300,000 a year. [An. HON. MEMBER: "More than that."] I understand that the sum is even more than that. The shareholders are guaranteed 6 per cent. The company loses money every year. Yet I have never heard a Tory Member of Parliament for Scotland or England criticise the previous Government for wasting the taxpayers' money to finance MacBrayne Limited to the extent of £300,000 to £400,000 a year, so that the shareholders can get their 6 per cent. dividend, although they are borrowing on Treasury bills at 6[ to 7 5/16per cent.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

I do not believe the hon. Member was in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) referred to MacBrayne Limited and was highly critical.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

The hon. Member for Yeovil has always been highly critical of politicians on both sides since he ceased to be a Minister. This is common in the House, and one can understand it.

There was another transport company in the Highlands of Scotland which was in a bad way, almost going into liquidation, and the people of Orkney and Shetland were likely to lose their services. We had a financial crisis and a balance of payments problem at the time. There were serious restrictions, and 136,000 unemployed in Scotland. Scottish Members on this side, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), who is now Secretary of State for Scot- land, raised Adjournment debates and took every opportunity to press the matter. We kept the Government up night after night, complaining about the serious employment situation in Scotland and the breakdown of transport services.

What did the then Conservative Government do, at a time of crisis when they were calling for economies? They introduced the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Bill, a Bill to form a new company called the Highlands and Islands Shipping Company, with power to borrow money to build two ships and then to hire them out to a company to run them. It was done with taxpayers' money, and at a time when the country was in serious financial difficulty.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

There are certain differences between both MacBrayne and the Highlands and Islands Shipping Company and the matters covered by the present Bill. Those two companies were in financial difficulty, and, as the hon. Gentleman has said, there was a danger that, if they were not helped, they would restrict their operations and the public would suffer.

That does not apply in the case of the company we are now considering, the B.E.T. There is no danger of the B.E.T. folding up or restricting its operations. Yet, in spite of that, the Government wish to throw £70 million down the drain.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

I am not complaining about the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Bill or about support for MacBrayne in order to provide services in those areas. I support it. It is right that the general body of taxpapers should support services for these people.

The services are uneconomic because of the sparsity of population in the areas which the companies serve. If MacBrayne operated from London to the North-West, it could make a profit. If the Highlands and Islands Shipping Company could operate services all round the coast and to Northern Ireland, with steamers covering the densely industrialised areas as well as the sparsely populated areas, it could probably make a profit.

This is why I support the present Bill. Increasingly, we have a situation in which various small companies all over the place try to carry on, with duplication of fixed capital, if one can call a bus fixed capital, and with duplication of operation to meet peak services. A lot of small companies try to run bus services and have to have 50 buses to meet the peak period, which lasts only an hour or so, and then for the rest of the time they have about 40 of their buses lying idle. The municipal bus services in the conurbations have a corresponding problem, having to carry too many buses for their services, too. If the two were one holding, with the fixed capital, the buses, interchangeable over the whole route area, economies could be made in the amount of capital resources required.

I regard this investment of £70 million as an investment to rationalise that situation. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Basingstoke mentioned Glasgow. Up to a few months ago, I lived on the Glasgow-Clydebank boundary, and I knew the absurd situation which prevails there. Anyone over 65 years of age living in our road, on one side of the burn, could travel on the Glasgow buses for 2d. between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. That was possible because the service concerned was run by Glasgow Corporation. On the other side of the burn, someone of 65 years of age, perhaps the other person's sister, had to pay 1s. 3d. to travel into Glasgow, because it was a different bus undertaking. I sincerely hope that the rationalisation of transport will be carried out in such a way as to eliminate stupid anomalies of that kind.

In September last year, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) made an astonishing speech. I am surprised sometimes by the things which Members of Parliament say to their constituents. The hon. Gentleman made a rousing speech in Worcester objecting to the proposal of what he called this "profligate" Government that transport of all kinds should be carried as a burden on taxpayers and ratepayers. He thought it terrible that taxpayers and ratepayers should be called upon to support rural transport systems, and he said that we ought to have a selective form of subsidy. That is how he was reported in The Times, and I was amazed to read that a Member of Parliament could talk such utter tripe. Subsidies do not fall like manna from heaven. I have always had the impression that I helped to pay any subsidy which anyone had in this country. Perhaps the hon. Member for Worcester has some secret source for these contributions.

The only way to bring harmony into British transport and to get the best value out of it is by organising the industry so that we do not have to carry in depots hundreds of thousands of vehicles which are not used outside the peak periods. This is the problem—how to give an adequate service in the peak hours without carrying excessive capital. It is all very well to hammer the railways, municipal bus undertakings or London Transport. It is a very difficult problem. I happen to be an engineer. Engineers do not have the same problem. We can manufacture nuts and bolts and then put them on the shelf. It costs a bit to keep them on the shelf, but nothing like what it costs to keep a bus in the garage.

This difficult problem will not be solved if, on the one hand, we leave the conveyance of freight and passengers in the hands of small companies while, on the other, leaving the conurbations and the profitable areas in the hands of any company or group which can grab them. I know two fellows who started a bus service after the First World War. That bus company is now part of the Western National. When they were young, living in Keynsham —the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. David Webster) probably knows Keynsham—they started their bus service, after making their money by running charabanc trips to the battle fields in France. In the end, they sold out to Western National, which is now owned by the railways.

We have been told about the wonderful things that private enterprise has done. In 1926, the then Conservative Government introduced a Measure to give financial assistance to the railways. I have forgotten the exact details, but about £40 million was raised out of the Consolidated Fund to lend to the railway companies for the reconstruction of railway stations, bridges, tunnels and so on. The Great Western Railway did much splendid capital work with funds provided from the Consolidated Fund. When the Conservative Party do it, that is all right. It is like the master of the house—if he goes off the rails it is all right, but if one of the servants does so it is not so good. It is, and always has been, the attitude of the party opposite. It is all right when they introduce the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Bill and nationalise MacBrayne Ltd.

An Hon. Member:

And Cunard.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

But when we do it they say that it is a waste of public funds. I cannot understand that mentality.

Photo of Mr James Dempsey Mr James Dempsey , Coatbridge and Airdrie

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind, when making his very pertinent speech, that the Conservative Government also subsidised Colvilles in Lanarkshire to the extent of £50 million?

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

The party opposite introduced legislation and cajoled Colvilles, against the will of the directors, to build a strip mill. They were told by the Conservative Government: "By God! you will build it". The Conservative Government forced Colvilles to build a strip mill which they never wanted and opposed all along the line. The men in Whitehall knew best, according to the Tory Party, but when we are in Government it is different.

We were in opposition for 13 years and know something of what it means. I have followed Parliamentary proceedings since I was a youth, and the party opposite is the worst in opposition that I have come across. They condemn things that they did when they were in power. They condemn us for rationalising the transport industry, but they did things to rationalise the electricity industry in Scotland, and to rationalise the gas industry, the steel industry, and the railways when those industries did not want it. They did an awful lot of things, and that is why they lost the election. They were cajoling and bribing the people. If the Bill is explained —

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

My hon. Friend is going as such a speed that it is a job to keep up with him. He will remember that in discussing the Financial Resolution on the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Bill some of us raised the point that the Bill was completely open-ended. There was no limit to any sum in it. The Secretary of State for Scotland could build and charter ships and do a whole host of other things without any capital sum being laid down. Yet we hear this tripe tonight from the party opposite about the £70 million.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

The Secretary of State at the time could do anything he liked. He could even buy and sell silver.

The Tory Party has been described by famous politicians in the past as the party of the open-ended purse.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

An organised conspiracy.

Photo of Mr Cyril Bence Mr Cyril Bence , Dunbartonshire East

That is what we are faced with today. I can understand some opposition to details of the Transport Bill, but the opposition to this Bill amazes me. Whatever Government are in power there are certain things that one can support and certain things that one opposes. There are certain things in present Government policy that I dislike, and there were certain things that the Tories did when they were in power that I liked. It is beyond me to know how they can oppose this Bill when they put down Questions about the anomalies of rural bus services, when they complain about rail closures in rural areas and the lack of bus services because they do not pay. In the village where I live there are only two services a day because the services do not pay. The Tory Member for the area is protesting about closing the railways, but they do not pay either.

Hon. Members opposite must make up their minds whether to think in terms of what sort of measures will lead to greater economies and efficiency, and to oppose measures which they think do not do so, or to oppose things just for the sake of being in Opposition [Interruption.] That was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor)—righteous indignation from the Scottish maverick. Throughout the period in opposition of the party opposite, especially in the past three months, their tactics and techniques have been poor, and now we have this trivial opposition to the Bill, which enables the Transport Holding Company to reorganise some of our passenger services so that people in the rural areas can have the same transport benefits as those in the densely populated conurbations. That is what the Bill sets out to do. The Conservative Party in opposing it has just about sunk to the depths.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Was the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) giving way or had he completed his speech?

8.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

I think it is well known that I was for 19 years a solicitor for the legal department of the Great Western Railway and for one year with the nationalised industry, but it may riot be so well known by hon. Members that since I have been a Member of this House I have continued to act as a solicitor and a number of my clients have been connected with transport or transport organisations and one was connected indirectly with the bus industry. I do not know whether this is a matter that I should declare. I do not think it is. In any case, no personal interest actuates me in wishing to oppose the Bill, which — I agree with my hon. Friend the Member far Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker)—is an affront to the intelligence of the House, and it is absolute lunacy to bring it forward at the present time.

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has made a riproiaring speech bringing in almost anything, and most of it was entirely irrelevant. It surprised me to hear B.E.T. compared with MacBrayne's. There is some difference in the size of the companies. Nor does one suppose that B.E.T. had a great deal to do with the small rural bus services about which the hon. Gentleman was talking. The B.E.T. companies were big bus companies and had been in the hands of substantial undertakers for a very long time, and they had nothing to do with the small bus companies.

It strikes me as astonishing that on the very same day as the Prime Minister has made his grave Statement we are dealing with a Bill which extends the powers of the Holding Company by £70 million. I recommend the hon. Gentleman who was sarcastic in his recent speech to look at the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill which says that the financial effects will be that: In consequence of the extension of the limit on the borrowing powers of the Transport Holding Company there will be a corresponding increase in the sums which may be issued out of the Consolidated Fund under Section 20(3) of the Transport Act 1962 ". It is obvious that this additional sum—£52 million for the B.E.T. companies and the rest for some undisclosed purpose will be charged on the Revenue and will have to be found by the taxpayers.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

Does not that refer to the mechanics of phasing out the money which has been borrowed from the public at large in order that it can be passed back to the Transport Holding Company? Is it really a charge on the public purse? I should have thought not.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

At any rate, the argument that this would involve increased public spending would apply.

There has been some comment about the 1962 Act. I was on the Standing Committee dealing with that Measure. At the time I particularly welcomed Clause 29 because it was setting up the Holding Company which continued the tradition of the old companies of having various interests associated with railway companies though not under their direct control. It seemed to me that the Holding Company was a reasonable compromise between the conflicting interests of private enterprise and nationalisation in the control of such associated concerns. I do not know whether hon. Members appreciate to what extent the old main line companies had diversified their interests by indirect means.

If. instead of rushing into the Transport Act, 1947, the then Labour Government had left the railways to sort out their own affairs, it is true that one or two would have been in difficulties but some would not. The Great Western Railway, for example, had never at any time paid less than 3 per cent. on ordinary dividend and had a great many diversified interests which it was planning to extend.

The G.W.R. had been the pioneer of bus companies. Indeed, it had run motor buses from Penzance to Lands End in 1903, before there were any motor buses in London. It still had large bus interests in 1945. In addition, it had substantial shipping interests, not only ships of its own but indirectly and was also planning for substantial air interests —for example, air feeder services in connection with railways. It was planning a west coast route for an air service from Scotland to Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, North Wales, South Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, Biarritz, and Barcelona to the Balearic Islands, which would have been an interesting and useful route in modern tourist conditions. But this plan never came into being. The G.W.R. was also building a new housing estate near Looe and was proposing to build a new hotel.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now getting a little wide of the Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

I do not want to be misunderstood, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to point out that I approved of the Holding Company being introduced in the 1962 Act. This Bill proposes to lend more money to that company. I approved of the Holding Company in the 1962 Act because it was a continuation of policy which the railways had already started before nationalisation. I do not approve this Bill because I do not think that it is a continuation of that policy. I was merely indicating that there were a number of diversified interests by the railways before the war and which were intended to be continued after the war but that, when nationalisation took place, the subsidiary interests were inevitably neglected.

This neglect came about because, in the turmoil of nationalisation, it could not be expected that the newly-formed British Transport Commission, first under Sir Cyril Hurcomb and then under Sir Brian Robertson, as they then were, could pay the attention to the subsidiaries which they deserved. The consequence was that many of these subsidiary interests did not prosper under the Commission and it was appropriate that they should be separated from the railways, although still put under the public charge of the Holding Company.

There might well be a case for extending the borrowing powers of the Holding Company if the company were to be continued. I always hoped that Section 29(8) of the 1962 Act would be implemented. This gave the Holding Company the right to sell part of its interests in some of these subsidiary affairs. If it had wanted to develop, that would have been a more appropriate way to get more capital rather than borrowing from the Government.

A number of these subsidiary organisations have little to do with the railways. They are things like the Atlantic Steam Navigation Co., which is a ferry service, Pickfords and concerns of that sort, which all come under the Holding Company. There is no reason why the public, through shareholders, should not have some interests in some of these things, as it does in B.E.T. buses, which are in some cases already 50 per cent. owned by the Holding Company. This would have been a more appropriate way of extending the operations of the subsidiaries without lending money to the Holding Company to buy out B.E.T. and implement the provisions of this Bill.

Reference has been made to an explanation given by the learned Solicitor-General of the meaning of Clause 1(2), which contains the words: … or the manufacture of road vehicles … There are some small manufacturing interests in the Holding Company already. By accident of history, these found themselves in the possession of a company which does manufacture but I hope that it will not try and use the surplus of this £70 million under the Bill for any extension of that business. Although there have been some motor manufacturing concerns which have been under public control and which have succeeded — one has only to think of Volkswagen or Renault to know that that happens—there have been many more cases the other way round. In some Socialist and Communist countries nationalised manufacturing industries have not been at all successful and have been an embarrassment to their Governments and have been kept going only by the rigorous suppression of competition from outside sources. As that would be the last thing which we would want in this country, I hope that none of this money will be speculated on expansion of manufacturing under that provision.

In the circumstances this is a most undesirable Bill to bring in at this time. It is a great pity that it was introduced. I am sure that the general public will not understand why it was introduced on the day, that we were asked to accept cuts, and for those reasons I oppose the Bill.

8.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

We expected something better from the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson). He has spoken on almost every Transport Bill since I have been in the House. I came here merely as a humble seeker after truth to find out what the Bill was about, but he did not enlighten me very much. We had from him, as usual, a biographical monologue about his association with Great Western Railways which I heard as far back as 1950.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

I was declaring an interest.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

It is a long interest, and it has been declared ad nauseam.The hon. Gentleman need not declare an interest. We know that he is an honourable man and that he speaks with a great deal of detailed knowledge of these things. I have sat on Committees with him and as he said that he was a member of the Committee which considered the 1962 legislation, perhaps I can ask him a question. Clause 1 of the Bill says: For the removal of doubt it is hereby declared that, for the purposes of … What is the doubt which we have to remove? Was the 1962 Act which was brought in by the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) so sloppily drafted that it left room for doubt? Otherwise, how can there be this doubt? No Government bring in legislation for the fun of it.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) is entitled to say that it is unwise, or that it is against the national interest, but Bills are drafted not by hon. Members but by Government Departments, and the Minister is responsible. The right hon. Member for Wallasey was an outstanding Minister of Transport and yet we have to remove a shadow of doubt from his Act. It could be argued that there is nothing in the Bill which was not intended to be allowed by the 1962 legislation.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

If the right hon. Gentleman had been in the Chamber, he would know that the Solicitor-General was asked that question and was kind enough to reply to it. I understood him to say that there was no doubt. I do not know why this Bill has been introduced; the right hon. Gentleman had better ask those who drafted it.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

If the powers were enshrined in the 1962 Act and were present before half past four this afternoon, all this nonsense about the irresponsibility of asking for another £70 million is sheer poppycock.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) has the point, that presumably the powers were present in the 1962 Act, and if they were present then, how can we say that necessarily this is an act of irresponsibility.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

The right hon. Gentleman is on two points. The first is the second point, if I may talk to him in Irish, which was explained by the Solicitor-General, who very civilly told the House that it was very clear that the intention of the Bill was to increase the Holding Company's various securities but it was not explicit. He simply, to make quite certain that there should be no shadow of doubt, has taken the opportunity of this legislation coming through about the Holding Company to put that bit right. We do not object to that. The bit that we object to is increasing the borrowing powers from £30 million to £100 million at a time of international stringency.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

That could be done anyhow. The hon. Member has strengthened my plea. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) who was in this House in 1931 has drawn from the spirit of James Ramsay MacDonald to strengthen his argument. We have had the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) who made a purple peroration for the sake of the local Basingstoke Advertiser. We have had all that and yet we come, at the end of the day, to the fact that this is merely a Bill to make clear something which should have been made clear in the 1962 Act, and consequently there is no issue at all about it. No one seems to be rising, so I appear to have carried the House with me.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

Clause 29(11) of the 1962 Act says that the Holding Company shall not borrow money at any time to exceed £30 million. This Bill is to increase that to £100 million. That is the main point.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

The principle was the same and it is perfectly ridiculous. It has nothing whatever to do with what happened today. In so far as occupants of the Chair have allowed at least a passing comment upon the statement that was made this afternoon, may I be allowed to make a statement too? The Prime Minister made a considerable statement and Mr. Speaker allowed the questioning to go on until half-past-four.

That dealt with the whole prospectus of political activity, and it is somehow thought odd and the country tomorrow, said the hon. Member for Withington, will see how irresponsible we are, because later in the day we considered this Bill. What a lot of nonsense. The country will not even know that this Bill has been debated. Tell me the paper that will give headlines to anything said here? Surely the country is not in such a masochistic mood that, because we have a statement this afternoon, the whole business of transport undertakings will not go on.

I take the hon. Member up on one or two points of detail. He searched his memory to see whether there had been any successful public enterprise in the manufacturing of commercial vehicles. There is one. He may remember, in the days of the London General Omnibus Company, which was the predecessor of the London Passenger Transport Board, that the Associated Equipment Company was founded for no other reason than the manufacture of vehicles for the London General Omnibus Company. When it became the London Passenger Transport Board, it manufactured those vehicles for the Board. It still manufactures them today.

I still cannot understand how any public money—this may be an outside chance—is likely to go into the manufacture of commercial vehicles. I certainly should look at it with what engineers used to call a very tight eye. If I may declare an interest, for a period before I came here I was on the engineering side of road transport, and served my apprenticeship within that firm. I do not see that there is any possibility of that at all. On the general philosophy of it, it seems that, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) it is necessary to be highly selective about subsidies—[Interruption.] —I will give the hon. Member for Cathcart time to speak. I would not wish to stop him. But hon. Members opposite are highly selective about subsidies.

There has been reference to the right hon. Member for Wallasey. He was responsible for the Beeching proposals. The breach came when the Earl of Home emerged from the gilded chamber to seek a seat in the House of Commons at Kinross and West Perthshire. The worst breach in the Beeching proposals for the Conservative Party came in the promises which he made in the course of the election about those proposals in order to win that election. He did not care very much about subsidies then, if he knew what they were.

The Bill gives power to borrow up to a certain amount. It is merely a provision. In the heavy debates in the days ahead, there will be considerable divisions across the Chamber and strong feelings expressed on things which affect the life and well-being of the people. It will merely be a matter of party political electioneering anticipating an election which we will win anyway.

8.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has been very generous in allowing me a few minutes to say something about the Bill.

This is a very small Bill. Therefore. hon. Members on both sides of the House may wonder why there has been so much controversy about it and why so many harsh things have been said. One obvious reason is that we have not had one justification given for the Bill. Only one hon. Member opposite tried it. The hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) said that it seemed to him that the reasons for it were incontrovertible. That was the only possible justification for the Bill that we have had. It will not do one thing to solve the transport problem. It will not give a better service to the public. It certainly will not save money. It will probably cost a great deal more in the harmonisation of affairs, and so on. It will do nothing to help the people.

This day will probably go down in history as the day when the sacred cows came home to roost. The Prime Minister made it abundantly clear that as from now there could be no sacred cows, that every item of expenditure had to be carefully considered and scrutinised and had to justify itself in a social and economic way. How can the Minister possibly justify the Bill in these circumstances and in this context?

How can Scottish Members go home this weekend and justify to their constituents the Prime Minister explaining at half-past two that £7 million had to be cat front the Scottish housing programme and, on the same day, discuss spending £70 million on merely changing the ownership of a section of transport? This appears to be absolutely crazy. If Socialism is the language of priorities, the language has gone seriously wrong.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

The hon. Gentleman should try to be factual. He talks about millions of £s being cut from the Scottish housing programme. The Prime Minister was quite explicit. Areas in dire need will get special attention, but expenditure in other areas is to continue in the same ratio, and, as housing output in Scotland has been the largest ever, things will not be too bad. However, I hope that there will even be an increase in that. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to try to abuse the privilege of the House.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

I was trying to do nothing apart from quoting the Prime Minister. He said that expenditure on Scottish housing was to be slashed next year to the extent of 1,500 approvals, which comes to £7 million, and yet on the same day we are discussing the approval of £70 million to achieve nothing.

The Minister, in introducing the Bill, said that this was a voluntary sale. How can he possibly say that it is a voluntary sale when the Government have published a Transport Bill giving them full powers to take over the company? It is as if the Minister was trying to negotiate a voluntary sale of his own house to a local authority when the local authority had already issued a compulsory purchase order and sent along a half a dozen of its work men to try to knock the house down. That is precisely what the Government have done. They have done everything in their power to ruin private road haulage, to ruin the private sector of the buses and then to conduct a voluntary sale.

The sum involved is £70 million, which will not all be needed. The Minister said that there would be other voluntary sales. It is obvious from its report that the Transport Holding Company has a large stake in road haulage, in which it has 38,000 employees. Will some of this money be used for an extension of road haulage? This should be made clear.

The Solicitor-General, in his brief intervention, explained subsection (2) of Clause 1. He said that the 1962 Act was crystal clear, as were its powers, but that lest there was any shadow of doubt, a new provision was being introduced. From Section 29 of the 1962 Act, the powers seem to be so wide as to allow for anything which any reasonable organisation could contemplate.

One thing which was surprising was when the Minister spoke about how the money would be used. He said that Glasgow's transport was being negotiated for. The Minister, the Solicitor-General and others have said that all we have in the Bill is clarification of a situation which already exists. In those circumstances, I should like to ask the Minister a straight question. Under Section 29, did the Holding Company have powers to take over Glasgow Corporation's transport, and does it now have those powers under the Bill? It seems to me that the change which is being introduced would be very relevant for the acquisition of Glasgow's transport.

Can the Minister make clear exactly how the negotiations for Glasgow's transport are taking place? Is a specific sum of compensation being considered? Will several million pounds be handed over to the City of Glasgow in exchange for its transport system, which is not exactly one of the wonders of the world, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) would agree? The recent general manager of the transport department was referred to not so long ago as the man who put Glasgow on its feet.

Apart from that, a lot of capital is involved. In the negotiations, do the Government intend to give cash to Glasgow for its transport service? That would be only reasonable and just, because a great deal of money has been spent, but many authorities from England, Wales and, perhaps, other parts of Scotland might ask why, under the passenger transport authority arrangements, they are to get nothing for their wonderful bus services. Glasgow's bus service is unique, but principles applied rationally should not be unique. In these circumstances, the Minister owes it to us to say what is involved, how the negotiations are taking place and whether it will be simply a book transaction or cash will be paid over.

It is crystal clear that in this day of alleged priorities the Government are turning their backs on priorities. They will hand to shareholders £70 million which will be available for spending. To that extent, the higher taxes which come must be that much more severe in taking a good bit more out of general public expenditure.

Obviously, this move is simply ideological. The Government are going ahead with their transport legislation when all must be telling them that this is economic madness and the way to drive the country towards economic suicide. No one and no country can have confidence in a Government who, on the day when they cut everything else, do nothing other than change the ownership of a transport company. Ownership is the only thing which is changed. It is ownership which matters to the Minister of Transport and to the accursed Left wing of the party opposite. We on this side are concerned with the best provision of transport and not simply with ideological motives of one sort or another. In these circumstances, for the nation, for the transport of the country, for the future of our country and its people, the Government will be well advised, even at this late stage, to abandon this foolish Bill.

9.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

It is with some hesitation that I intervene in the Glasgow debate between my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael), the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who is to wind up for the first time at that Box, and I congratulate him on that. I know that his firsthand knowledge of transport matters in Glasgow is excellent. He tried to improve my own when we were there last summer in the Glasgow tube—slightly different from the Paris Metro but in essence the same.

I also know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart takes a keen interest in borrowing powers Bills in general, as I do myself. I think he will agree with me that borrowing powers Bills for nationalised industries very frequently come at times of very great stringency in the private sector. One has seen that with the borrowing powers for the Coal Board, with the borrowing powers for the gas industry and for other fuel industries. It seems that at times when the private business man is having his overdraft and hire-purchase arrangements frozen the public sector is allowed to expand very rapidly. This is a very considerable expansion.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who was formerly Minister of Public Building and Works, who has now left the Chamber, having said that he did not know what all the fuss was about—and evidently did not want to know—talked about various small paragraphs of subsections which the Solicitor-General has kindly explained to the House. He also explained the reason why they are put in, and we accept the reason. However, this is an immense increase of public borrowing powers. a £70 million increase. From £30 million to £100 million is an increase of over 200 per cent. at a time when other people are being told to cut back and when they were told that there would be no exceptions.

There is £35 million to buy out British Electric Traction bus interests in cash. It will go in cash into the pockets of its shareholders. Despite the remarks of hon. Gentlemen opposite, the recipients will naturally put a good deal of it into expenditure, because when prices are rising as rapidly as this it is natural to buy now and not wait till prices go up higher. Then there is £17 million for, as we understand it, buying out minority interests. There is a difference of opinion between some of us. The estimate I was given was £17 million; my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) heard of £15 million; but there are figures like that. One wonders whether it is necessary to buy out minority interests at this time. Then we have the much more mysterious £18 million for other acquisitions. I cannot believe that is the asset value of Glasgow's transport undertaking.

It seems that there is no attempt to justify the alleged need to nationalise buses, except rationalisation—we do not know what that means—in the hands of the Minister. Incidentally, I regret that the right hon. Lady is ill, and I sympathise with her in her illness. There is no justification for that step, except, possibly, economy of size, and this, of course, according to Mr. Glassborow, who has already been mentioned today, is average running expense per vehicle mile. With up to 30 buses it is 37d. per mile; then from 31 to 60 it is 39·4d. per mile; and then there is economy of size between 61 and 90 buses, down to 38·7d. a mile; then it rockets up at 1,001 buses to 46.1d. a mile. This argument about economy of scale does not genuinely seem to hold water.

The other recommendation we are told about is co-ordination and improvement of traffic in our cities. I should have thought that by increasing the powers of he Traffic Commissioners that could be done without expense to the public, without this vast increase of public expenditure of taxpayers' money at a time when we are all being told to draw in our horns.

Under the Bill, the Minister is giving what appears to be adequate compensation to the private proprietor. In the case of British Electric Traction, she should. It is an institutional stock of the first order. It is held by pension trusts, and it is right that, when she expropriates a company, it should be by a moderately well-agreed price.

However, one wonders what are the terms of compensation. One hears of en estimated price/earnings ratio of 12·7, but, in this case, on figures of just over 5 per cent. earnings on capital, the price is about twenty times the earnings, and, at a time when earnings in buses are decreasing, that seems a relatively high ratio. One wonders how it was calculated.

If that is to be done to the private undertaking and if it is to be done to the undertaking of the City of Glasgow, one wonders why it is not to be done to other local authority undertakings. Why should they not have compensation? Why have we not heard violent protests from supporters of the Government on behalf of Birmingham, Newcastle, Gateshead, Liverpool and Manchester about the acquisition of ratepayers' property without adequate compensation and, as far as I can see, no compensation except the exchange of paper?

This is ratepayers' property. Hon. Gentlemen opposite claim to be supporters of public enterprise, which is what this is, but, just as they have done in the past in the case of gas undertakings and others, they are taking away ratepayers' property without compensation. Indeed, they go further, because not only do they pay no compensation but they make ratepayers suffer the risk of having to bear a precept to meet the deficit on local railway lines in their areas without what is the right of any democracy of being able to say that a particular railway line should be withdrawn. The decision to withdraw is the Minister's and not that of the people who pay for the deficit on a local line.

In global terms, this amounts to an extra burden for the ratepayers of £60 million, in return for which their assets are confiscated without compensation. What is to be the advantage to them? It seems reasonable that private investors and the pension trusts who have funds at stake in British Electric Traction should be adequately compensated, but there are plenty of ratepayers who have funds at stake in their bus undertakings. What is to be done to help them?

We know the Minister's criteria in her Transport Bill of efficiency in the moving of freight. Authorisation will be granted to a lorry company provided that it can do much better than the railways in terms of cost, reliability and speed. However, what is there under either the Transport Holding Company Bill or that for the P.T.As., which is closely linked to it, to make sure that the bus user gets a better deal in terms of cost, reliability and speed? There is nothing to improve the situation for the unfortunate traveller, except to make management more remote from him than it was in the past when he could write to his local undertaking and make his complaints. He will have to deal with the National Bus Company or a Passenger Transport Authority which is much more remote. He will feel himself to be a very small fish in a very big sea and be rather bewildered by it.

Then one looks at the technique of arriving at the method of compensation. In the past year, the Minister has been going to various great cities and talking to transport committees, their chairmen and officials about the new method of organising public transport. The bus companies have known, as we have, that this threat of nationalisation was upon them. They knew also that there would be a fight in Parliament. But there was a depression in the market in the shares of the firms concerned because it was known that there was the risk of expropriation. That applies to the steel industry, and to any industry that is challenged. It is part of the Labour Party's technique to depress the price, and then to say to a bewildered chairman who has to be responsible to the shareholders investing in his company, "We are willing to pay you considerably over the asset value as it is at present shown in the market."

The people are grateful for what appears at first sight to be generous treatment, but it is not generous treatment, because for the year and a half before this the share price has been depressed by the threat of the best part of the undertaking being taken over. On 4th November last, the "A" shares of British Electric Traction were 58s. 9d. on the market, and on 12th January of this year they had gone to 70s. 3d.—an increase of 18 per cent. That seems generous, but is, in fact, an indication of how the price was marked down by the fear of the take-over of what we agree is a somewhat declining industry.

The chairman is, therefore, faced with the dilemma that if he demurs and does not accept the offer more pressure will be applied, possibly the next offer would be less generous, and he knows that the people whom he is defending are not bloated capitalists just because they invest in B.E.T. They are largely these pension funds to which I have referred, and they cannot take a risk of losing the asset value on their compensation price —

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) has twice made the point that the shareholders of B.E.T. are pension funds, yet he began his remarks by saying that this Bill is an inflationary proposal because the money that will be paid out to the shareholders will be used in consumer expenditure. How can he combine both those points, if the pension funds, almost by obligation, will have to reinvest in other forms of security?

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

The hon. Gentleman has done me the compliment of oversimplifying what I have said. Some of the shareholders are pension funds, the large predominance are pension funds, but there are still plenty of small private investors who will get their compensation in cash. They see prices going up, they want to modernise their houses or otherwise improve their lot, and they see that it is cheaper to do it now than to wait, particularly after devaluation. I am sure that this is quite manifest even to the hon. Gentleman.

By this Bill £70 million is added at a time when the Prime Minister has said that there will be no exceptions to our drawing in our horns on public expenditure. It is added to an increase of £40 million of general taxation on all goods going by road haulage, and all the other increases in taxation of which we heard from the Minister of Transport on 20th December last. This is using the taxpayer's own money to acquire his own property after reducing him to such a sufficiently supine position that, in the end, he is grateful to be taken over.

This, again, is the technique of Socialism, particularly as one connects it with Clause 45 of the Transport Bill, which gives to any of the boards of any of these undertakings the right to manufacture and distribute anything that has anything to do with their own business, including shipbuilding. This is using the taxpayer's money to act against him when what is needed in the economy is to make the country competitive. The country is not made competitive by public enterprises. However well they are run, they are not run on a commercial basis —

. Webster:

In the context of this Bill one has to consider the unfortunate road haulier. In the last three years he has had excise duty doubled, had his fuel tax increased three times, and lost his investment allowance. Under this Minister bus companies lose investment allowance, yet on the very day when they are to be publicly acquired and nationalised they are to be given an investment grant. The most cynical thing I have known, even from this Minister, is the way in which she presents herself as a Lady Bountiful giving away taxpayers' money and then withdrawing support. Then there is the £50 wear and tear allowance for a 3-ton lorry, £190 on an 8-ton vehicle and the abnormal load provision of £15 per mile.

The Prime Minister said today that one of the special priorities will be the development areas, yet it is development areas from which abnormal loads come particularly, and often those loads are for the nationalised industries. I look around and fail to see present the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), and I do not see the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). Whatever the row they have kicked up about welfare services, prescription charges, school-leaving age, the housing programme, pensions, family allowances, while we on this side think of our defence and commitments to our allies, the great base of Singapore which probably could get in the hands of Communists if we are not to look after it, do they consider that all these things do not matter and that what matters most is to make sure that £70 million is passed to the Ministry of Transport to take bus companies into public ownership?

It seems quite extraordinary that last week there was an article in Tribune about the statement by the Minister for the Arts to her constituents. It received tremendous publicity. There was a rumour that the Prime Minister to some extent encouraged the publication of that statement. It was put to me as a rumour and certainly it is a thing which the Prime Minister has a reputation for doing. I should not be surprised if that is what happened.

The Left wing has been protesting about all these things. Today they kicked up a row, although we have a Left-wing Minister of Transport and a Left-wing Prime Minister, who seems to going back to his Left wing, who have scooped the Left wing of the Labour Party and done away with their sacred cows of abolition of prescription charges and of raising of the school-leaving age in order to nationalise buses. Why is this more important to the Labour Party at this time? Why is it that the Transport Bill, which promises nothing for improving services in transport either for the road haulier or for the bus operator, is to be rushed through this year? Why is it that buses owned by local authorities or by the four main conurbations are to be acquired at present and the rest after the local government review and at a time of national financial stringency?

The Prime Minister has spoken about sacrifice. Again and again he has tried to invoke the spirit or Dunkirk, yet we have this demand for public ownership without any justification or reason given that there will be a better service for British industry in moving goods about and making sure that goods are delivered more reliably—not just almost as reliably as before, quicker and not almost as quickly, and cheaper. These are the things which are needed to make British industry compettive, not getting control of every aspect of it. What we have not been told is how much additional bureaucracy will be required. In the Prime Minister's statement there was a remark sugesting a cut in bureaucracy, but when we examined it closer we found that it was to be a cut in the increase which we would otherwise have had.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us how much of the £70 million will be for administration. How much will be expended this year? I appreciate that the £35 million for British Electric Traction has to be expended at once because that has been agreed. Can he tell me about the state of play regarding the £17 million for the associated minority interests? Can he give us further detail, more than the Minister of State gave us? The Minister of State told us about Glasgow. We would like to know how much is to be dovetailed to buying up road haulage industries which will be bankrupted by an association of the steps already taken by the Government in increasing taxes, and also the special authorisation, and the abnormal loads. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could tell me about these things.

There is one thing about the Bill to which the Left wing can have no objection. The Prime Minister is not doing this to improve his credit with foreign bankers. I wonder to what extent the foreign bankers, on whom the Left wing are conscious that the Prime Minister's credit depends at present, have been informed about this. There was the extraordinary proximity between the date of publication of the Bill and the date of the letter of intent to Mr. Pierre-Paul Schweitzer. This was extraordinary cynicism. Then there was the rushing through of the Transport Bill almost immediately after that during a Christmas euphoria. What was even more cynical, there was the rushing through of the Transport Bill within three days of the publication of the Transport White Paper on buses, although the Minister of Transport had undertaken that she would consult the local authorities after publication of the White Paper and before publication of the Bill.

In conditions like this a businessman, whether he runs a bus service or whether he runs a haulage service, knows that the chances of adequate consultation with this Government are limited indeed. The strictures of Lord Radcliffe in relation to the British Museum issue, although they seem far removed from this issue, are particularly appropriate, in that the Government treat with contempt the average citizen who is trying to do his duty for Britain. On the one hand, businessmen are told to give better service, to believe in Britain, to back Britain, while on the other hand, while they are doing just that, they find themselves compulsorily ruined by these taxes.

The Government are taking away from the businessman the right to choose how he shall send his goods the most efficient way possible. They take away from the individual in the great city the right to choose how he shall go to work. They take away from the workmen in these industries the right to choose who they shall work for. This is something which trade union members would do well to remember, because many road haulage operatives—workers and drivers—that I have spoken to throughout the country are anxious at being taken over by the Transport Holding Company, although I know that it is well managed under its existing management

However, we know that this Minister of Transport has a way of her own of getting rid of chairmen of public boards with very little compensation, with very little advanced warning, and in a most abominable offhand sort of way. What would happen if the existing management were to be replaced by some instrument of the Minister's to do what she says? Then what would be the chances, for instance, of a special authorisation being objected to by the National Freight Organisation and being given to Pick-fords or to the B.R.S.? This would be cynicism carried to its furthest.

One has seen the way this Minister has treated in consultation those who are trying to run their businesses and give a service to the country. One knows that there is this cynicism abroad. One regrets it deeply. One regrets that on the day that Britain is called upon to make such immense sacrifices a cynical Bill of this nature should come before the House.

9.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) congratulated me on my first appearance to wind up a debate for the Government. As he said, he and I, with other members of a Select Committee, once travelled on the Glasgow Metro. The Glasgow Metro has a certain unique historic place, quite apart from its size, because I believe that until very recently it was the only non-capital city in the world with an underground railway. If in the course of the next few months we get the Transport Bill through the Committee stage and through the House, and if the passenger transport authorities are set up, we have the possibility of examining in the city of Glasgow the likelihood of having, with the existing underground, with the electrification of the railways, and with the use of certain disused railway lines, about the fifth largest metro in the world. Therefore, I hope that in two or three years' time I may again have the pleasure of accompanying the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare on a trip on the Glasgow Metro.

We have had a long and interesting debate and hon. Members have raised a number of important points. I intend to deal with as many of them as I can in the time available. First, I should like to make one or two general comments. The main purpose of the Bill is to enable the Transport Holding Company to complete the purchase of shares owned by British Electric Traction Limited in bus companies in the B.E.T. group. The T.H.C. already owns securities in the majority of these companies and in most cases its shareholding equals that of British Electric Traction. But B.E.T. holds the controlling interest. The transaction has already been agreed between the parties at a price of £35 million subject, of course, to the passage of the necessary legislation this evening and subsequently in Committee.

Hon. Members suggested that the Government indulged in sharp practice in encouraging the Transport Holding Company to negotiate the acquisition of the B.E.T. shares at this price while they were considering the inclusion in the Transport Bill of provision both for capital grants for the purchase of new buses and for an increase in the rebate on bus fuel duty. Their reasoning was that the profitability of B.E.T. would be increased by these new measures.

I think that nothing better illustrates the difference in philosophy between this side of the House and the other. Hon. Members opposite see Exchequer payments as a means of increasing the profit of private enterprise. We see Exchequer payments as a means of cutting through the vicious pus spiral of decreasing traffic and increasing fares which has been a feature of all bus operations over the past decade. The purpose of the new measures of financial support embodied in the Transport Bill is to enable public transport to play its necessary rôle and to give operators a powerful incentive to increase their efficiency by re-equipment with modern buses. The Transport Holding Company has said that it then proposes to make offers for the remainder of the privately held shares in B.E.T.

In the course of the day a figure of £17 million and other figures have been carelessly thrown around as the cost of this further acquisition of shares. On our information, this is well in excess of the figure that the T.H.C. is considering. No firm figures are yet available. It is, of course, a matter for the Transport Holding Company to decide how much it should offer for these shares.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

Could the hon. Gentleman say how much money out of the £70 million will be left over after paying all the compensation of one kind and another?

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

I have already said with, I think, some clarity that the figure of £17 million was being carelessly thrown around and that no firm figures are yet available, because it is still a matter for negotiation. Obviously, not knowing which figure to subtract from the £70 million, it is difficult to say what will be left over. The crucial and inescapable fact is that in transport terms it makes sense for the bus companies in the Tilling Group and the B.E.T. group to merge. The Transport Holding Company, and its successors, will use this opportunity to rationalise the operation of their various subsidiaries, making some economies by drawing together services previously operated independently by companies in the two groups.

It was suggested by the hon. Members for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) and for Weston-super-Mare that economies of scale are not practicable. What we are speaking of in this debate is individual operating units. The Transport Holding Company has never believed in large operating units, and it and its successors intend to continue to operate through a company structure, each company being of manageable size. At present, for instance, the T.H.C. controls over 14,000 buses, but these 14,000 buses are divided among nearly 40 separate operating units. The British Electric Traction group, which the T.H.C. will acquire, owns another 11,000 buses in 25 different companies. Neither the T.H.C. nor the B.E.T. is inefficient, but the T.H.C. believes that, by regrouping within the existing company structure of the two groups, some genuine and worthwhile operating economies will be secured.

Some hon. Members opposite, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) among them, asked why the Transport Holding Company will need the £100 million. The House will appreciate that £35 million is the cost of the ordinary shares held by British Electric Traction. The cost of buying outside shareholdings is additional, and I dealt with this on the question of the figure of £17 million to which reference has been made. It is important to remember that it is an upper limit. It does not necessarily follow that the Transport Holding Company will borrow all the £100 million within its lifetime. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the £100 million?"] We are here providing for an additional £70 million, but the other figure has been used in various connections.

There is already borrowing power for £30 million, and this Bill is to increase it to £100 million. Therefore, the final borrowing power under the Bill will be £100 million. I am pointing out that it does not follow that the Transport Holding Company will borrow the whole £100 million within its lifetime, that is, until all its shareholdings have been passed to other statutory bodies as provided for in the Transport Bill, probably by the end of 1969. But it is essential to provide now for a sufficient margin to enable the Transport Holding Company to take advantage of all opportunities to make good investments without need for the Minister to come back to Parliament for further extension of borrowing powers.

Hon. Members have queried whether this B.E.T. deal represents a good investment. The T.H.C. was well aware of the rate of interest it would have to pay on the money it would need to borrow to buy the B.E.T. shares. Taking this into account, it was fully satisfied that the investment made good long-term commercial sense. This was a commercial decision made by businessmen whose remit under the Transport Act, 1962, introduced by the previous Administration, is to behave as if they were running a private enterprise holding company.

The hon. Member for Worcester and others suggested that B.E.T. at present gets a return of about 5¼ per cent. on capital. The return from these bus company operations is, of course, controlled strictly by the Traffic Commissioners when fixing fare levels. They examine the companies' accounts in great detail whenever a fares application is before them. Although the circumstances of companies differ, in general, it can be said that the Commissioners in recent years have fixed fare levels so that com- panies are enabled to expect a return of the order of 8 to 9 per cent. on their capital employed. This I believe to be the return which B.E.T. has been getting.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I thought that I heard the Minister say a few minutes ago that the great difference between the two sides was that the philosophy of the party opposite was that one should not make profits out of public transport. Now he is saying that the whole philosophy of the Transport Holding Company is to make increased profits from this particular concern.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

There is a difference between the paid out profits of a company and the profits on capital. The Traffic Commissioners have two points of view to consider. They are normally in the position to examine the accounts of a bus-operating company when it has asked for an increase in fares. The Commissioners have a duty not only to the shareholders to see that there is a viable profit —because the Transport Holding Company exists to make a profit as the hon. Gentleman's party established —but also to the fare-paying passengers. The Commissioners must make a point of compromise, and in general the return has been between 8 and 9 per cent.

The hon. Members for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) and Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) spoke of the possible purchase by the Transport Holding Company of Glasgow Corporation's bus undertaking, on which negotiations have already been in progress for some months. They suggested that Glasgow was being given preferential treatment in that the municipal undertakings that would be transferred to passenger transport authorities under the provisions of the Transport Bill would not be so kindly treated. I must dispel that thought and emphasise that Glasgow and other municipalities in a similar position will be similarly dealt with. The Transport Holding Company and Glasgow Corporation are aware of the terms of the Transport Bill. I can assure the House that Glasgow will get no special preferential treatment. The remainder of the £70 million additional borrowing powers —

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

The point we wish to know is whether Glasgow will receive cash for its public transport, whereas under the P.T.A. procedure authorities do not get cash. If Glasgow will get compensation in money for its transport, that is fair and reasonable, but we were making the point that that would not apply to other places.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

I should like to be able to give a "yes" or "no" answer, but there is no such thing as a "yes" or "no" answer to a great many questions. All politicians know that it is infantile to suggest giving a "yes" or "no" answer to many questions.

Commercial negotiations are now going on between Glasgow Corporation and the Transport Holding Company. It is outside the province of my right hon. Friend the Minister at this point to intervene, and at this stage I cannot say whether there will be a cash payment to Glasgow. It is a commercial transaction between the duly-elected corporation and the Company, and we must await the results, but there will be no special preference because the Glasgow case happened to come up before the P.T.A.s had been formed. Glasgow will not have any special edge on anywhere else. It is important to realise that the Company and Glasgow Corporation are also aware of the Transport Bill and what it involves. It would do them less than justice to suggest otherwise. We have been told all afternoon that there are no commercial criticisms of the Transport Holding Company. It is a sound, hard-headed commercial company, and I am sure that it has heard that a Transport Bill of the massive proportions and importance of my right hon. Friend's has been produced. It could hardly have escaped its notice.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

Could we clear the matter up by saying that under this Bill the Government are asking for power to borrow £100 million, and have therefore told the Transport Holding Company that in its negotiations with the Glasgow Corporation it could, if necessary, pay in cash, and that the £100 million could partly be used for that purpose? The Minister should at least be able to tell us that.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

I tried to make this clear. The Transport Holding Company originates the negotiations. It is the body which decides how the negotiations will be carried out and will ultimately decide in agreement with Glasgow Corporation the terms of the transfer of the assets of the Corporation. But the remainder of the £70 million additional borrowing powers is to give the Holding Company the necessary degree of flexibility in its future investment. It may be difficult to envisage the extent of the opportunities which may arise, but surely we should not deny the competent board of the Holding Company the wherewithal to make such acquisition of shares in the transport field as its commercial judgment directs.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare suggested that the Holding Company's field is being extended by the Bill. It is not. It may be that in other Bills there is an extention of certain powers, but in this Bill the field of the Holding Company is not being extended. The Holding Company has held shares in vehicle manufacturing companies since 1st January, 1963, when it was set up. There was an important exchange of securities with Leyland Motors in 1965 when the Holding Company acquired an interest in Park Royal Vehicles Ltd., in exchange for shares which Leyland took up in Bristol Commercial Vehicles Ltd. and Eastern Coach Works Ltd., the bus manufacturing subsidiaries of the Transport Holding Company. There is no present intention on the part of the Transport Holding Company to acquire any further vehicle manufacturing interests.

On the vires question, it is important that there should be no doubt about the powers of the Holding Company to enter into share transactions both because of the size of the B.E.T. deal and because of its place in the overall reorganisation of public transport as set out in the Transport Bill. The Solicitor-General dealt very fully with Clause 1(2) which makes clear that both this deal and past acquisitions are being treated as within the objects of the Transport Holding Company.

Hon. Members on both sides have queried the effect of the acquisition of B.E.T. on the wages of the busmen. My lion. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) spoke at some length on this. The short answer is that there will be no conflict in regard to wages. Both the B.E.T. group and the companies wholly owned by the Transport Holding Company are in what is known as the company sector of the passenger bus industry, and their busmen are paid the same basic rate.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

This is a most important point. The argument used in the past was that these people were privately owned. They are now coming into public ownership. Surely they should have equal conditions of employment in terms of health, pensions, security and so on.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

I was coming on to that. It is true that at present busmen employed by municipal undertakings are paid somewhat higher rates and that the Minister has received representations from the Transport and General Workers' Union concerning the rates to be paid to bus crews employed in the proposed Passenger Transport Authorities. But it is relevant that the Prices and Incomes Board in its recent report on productivity in the bus industry has recommended that the basic rates of busmen in both the municipal and the company sectors should be the same in future but that the crews employed on urban services, because of the nature of the work and irrespective of the status of their employers, should be paid somewhat more than those working predominantly in rural areas. I think that answers my hon. Friend. The basic rate will be the same but the suggestion of the Prices and Incomes Board is that, because of the more onerous work in the urban areas —and this is generally accepted to be so —there should be a supplement for that type of work.

I turn now to the question which has bedevilled the debate. It may be summed up in the question as to whether it is right for the Government to cut the roads programme but continue with this Bill.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

I have been hoping to have an answer to a question I put. Can the hon. Gentleman give one example of where there will be economies from the rationalisation of B.E.T. and Holding Company operations?

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

I am not a bus operator, but I point out that all hon. Members on both sides have paid tribute to the business acumen of the Holding Company and, indeed, of B.E.T. and we can discuss the question of the size of their fleets and other aspects. But I thought I had covered this point by saying that the Holding Company, as a good and experienced bus operator, believes that, if it had control of B.E.T., there could be a reorganisation in many areas—a reorganisation which, in its commercial judgment, would lead to noticeable savings.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

The Holding Company is a competent operator. It says that it believes it can make savings and it has been doing a very good job throughout the country. Therefore, when it asks us for power to borrow more money in order to make the outfit more efficient—and its history is one of high efficiency—there is a certain amount of impertinence on our part if we ask for examples when we have not even got down to making final payment to B.E.T. for taking over the assets.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

If the hon. Gentleman has such faith in the Holding Company as a competent operator, why not also have faith in the competence of B.E.T. as a bus operator and scrap the whole operating concept of passenger transport authorities?

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

The B.E.T. has agreed to this deal. It would he naive to think that the opposition is not ideological. One part of these proposals is not opposed by B.E.T. but from the publicity on the buses and in some newspapers there is no doubt as to where it stands on the Bill. It has taken its stand on purely doctrinaire grounds—not on commercial grounds, because we know that it is selling out to the Holding Company.

However, I was about to deal with the question of the roads programme. The B.E.T. transaction is simply transfer payment which does not use up any real resources. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) explicitly and simply explained this to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare. The important point is that, even with the cuts announced today in the roads programme, the level of expenditure on roads is at a higher level than ever before and will still be rising.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the proposals for passenger transport authorities

The B.E.T. group has important bus services in three of the four areas where P.T.A.s are to be established—Midland Red in the West Midlands, North Western in the Greater Manchester area and Northern General on Tyneside. There was little prospect of these companies cooperating with the P.T.A.s while under B.E.T. control. I have already referred to campaigns run by the B.E.T. and it would have been impossible to get the proper co-ordination in this ideological frame of mind. We have had to explain from time to time that the Transport Holding Company has no effective means of intervening in these campaigns despite the fact that it is a large shareholder. What public transport needs is co-operation and it will be the duty of the National Bus Company to co-operate with the Executive in the reorganisation of bus services.

To sum up; the Bill is an essential preliminary to the comprehensive Transport Bill which, by an accident of timing, has already been given its Second Reading. The Transport Holding Company's ownership of all the main bus companies in Great Britain, which will amount to about 25,000 vehicles under its direct control after these borrowing powers have gone through, will permit rationalisation and reorganisation of bus services in a way which has not proved practicable so long as the Tilling Group was wholly owned by the Holding Company but while the B.E.T. group was partly owned by the Holding Company but effectively controlled by a private company.

This in the opinion of the Government and in the opinion of the experts

in the Holding Company, who are bus men, will not only lead to economies, but will provide the people throughout the country with better services than have been possible before, and it will permit the reorganisation of public transport generally through the establishment of P.T.A.s. We believe that it will allow the reorganisation of transport to be carried through more smoothly and much more fairly than would otherwise have been possible.

The debate has been long, perhaps longer than a debate such as this would normally have been, because of what happened today, because it has happened on a day when the Government have announced their Measures for the next three years. To some extent this has bedevilled the debate, because there has always been a mix up in the minds of hon. Members opposite of these borrowing powers and real resources. The Bill will not affect real resources. It will affect only assets being transferred from one section of the community to another. The transfer of these assets, we believe and the Holding Company believes, is essential if Britain is to have the type of bus services which it deserves and urgently requires and if we are to be able as a major industrial country to make a solid contribution to the solving of public transport problems in the world.

Photo of Mr Will Howie Mr Will Howie , Luton

Mr. William Howie (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household), rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The House divided: Ayes 270, Noes 217.

Division No. 29.]AYES]10.01 p.m.
Abse, LeoBeaney, AlanBray, Dr. Jeremy
Albu, AustenBence, CyrilBrooks, Edwin
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Bidwell, SydneyBroughton, Dr. A. D. D.
Alldritt, WalterBinns, JohnBrown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)
Anderson, DonaldBishop, E. S.Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)
Archer, PeterBlackburn, F.Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)
Armstrong, ErnestBlenkinsop, ArthurBrown, R. W. Shoreditch & F'bury)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Boardman, H.Buchan, Norman
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)Booth, AlbertBuchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. AliceBoston, TerenceButler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)
Bagier, Cordon A. T.Boyden, JamesCant, R. B.
Barnes, MichaelBraddock, Mrs. E. M.Carmichael, Neil
Barnett, JoelBradley, TomCoe, Denis
Coleman, DonaldHowarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)Oswald, Thomas
Concannon, J. D.Howell, Denis (Small Heath)Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Corbet, Mrs. FredaHowie, W.Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Hoy, JamesPadley, Walter
Crawshaw, RichardHughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Page, Derek (Kings Lynn)
Cronin, JohnHughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)Paget, R. T.
Crossman, Rt. Hn. RichardHughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Palmer, Arthur
Cullen, Mrs. AliceHughes, Roy (Newport)Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Dalyell, TamHunter, AdamPark, Trevor
Darting, Rt. Hn. GeorgeHynd, JohnParker, John (Dagenham)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)Irvine, Sir ArthurParkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Pavitt, Laurence
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Pentland, Norman
Davies, Harold (Leek)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Jones, Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham, S.)Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyJones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Delargy, HughJudd, FrankPrice, William (Rugby)
Dell, EdmundKelley, RichardProbert, Arthur
Dempsey, JamesKenyon, CliffordRandall, Harry
Dewar, DonaldKerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)Rankin, John
Diamond, Rt. Hn. JohnKerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)Rees, Merlyn
Dickens, JamesKerr, Russell (Feltham)Reynolds, G. W.
Dobson, RayLawson, GeorgeRoberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Doig, PeterLeadbitter, TedRobertson, John (Paisley)
Dunnett, JackLee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)Robinson, Rt.Hn. Kenneth(St.P'c'as)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)Lee, John (Reading)Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th &C'b'e)Lestor, Miss JoanRodgers, William (Stockton)
Eadie, AlexLever, Harold (Cheetham)Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Edelman, MauriceLever, L. M. (Ardwick)Rose, Paul
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Edwards, William (Merioneth)Lomas, KennethRyan, John
Ellis, JohnLoughlin, CharlesShaw, Arnold (llford, S.)
English, MichaelLuard, EvanSheldon, Robert
Ensor, DavidLyon, Alexander W(York).Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)McBride, NeillSilkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Faulds, AndrewMcCann, JohnSilverman, Julius (Aston)
Femyhough, E.MacColl, JamesSlater, Joseph
Finch, HaroldMacdonald, A. H.Small, William
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McGuire, MichaelSnow, Julian
Foley, MauriceMcKay, Mrs. MargaretSpriggs, Leslie
Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)Mackenzie Gregor (Rutherglen)Stonehouse, John
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)Mackintosh, John P.Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Ford, BenMaclennan, RobertSummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Forrester, JohnMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Swain, Thomas
Fowler, GerryMcNamara, J. KevinSwingler, Stephen
Fraser John (Norwood)MacPherson, MalcolmTaverne, Dick
Freeson, ReginaldMahon, Peter (Preston, S.)Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Galpern, Sir MyerMahon, Simon (Bootle)Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Gardner, TonyMallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Thornton, Ernest
Garrett, W. E.Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.)Tinn, James
Gourlay, HarryManuel, ArchieTuck, Raphael
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)Mapp, CharlesUrwin, T. W.
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. AnthonyMarks, KennethVarley, Eric G.
Gregory, ArnoldMarquand, DavidWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Grey, Charles (Durham)Marsh, Rt. Hn. RichardWalden, Brian (All Saints)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Mason, RoyWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)Maxwell, RobertWatkins, David (Consett)
Griffiths, Will (Exchange)Mayhew, ChristopherWatkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Mendelson, J. J.Weitzman, David
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)Millan, BruceWellbeloved, James
Hamling, WilliamMilne, Edward (Blyth)Whitlock, William
Hannan, WilliamMitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)Wilkins, W. A.
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Molloy, WilliamWilley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Hart, Mrs. JudithMorgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Hasefdine, NormanMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Hazell, BertMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Heffer, Eric S.Morris, John (Aberavon)Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Henig, StanleyMoyle, RolandWoodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Herbison, Rt. Hn. MargaretNeal, HaroldWoof, Robert
Hilton, W. S.Newens, StanWyatt, Woodrow
Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)Norwood, ChristopherYates, Victor
Hooley, FrankO'Malley, Brian
Horner, JohnOram, Albert E.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasOrbach, MauriceMr. Alan Fitch and
Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)Orme, StanleyMr. Joseph Harper.
NOES
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)Balniel, Lord
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Awdry, DanielBatsford, Brian
Astor. JohnBaker, W. H. K.Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton
Bell, RonaldHall, John (Wycombe)Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Osborn, John (Hallam)
Berry, Hn. AnthonyHarris, Reader (Heston)Page, Graham (Crosby)
Biffen, JohnHarrison, Brian (Maldon)Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Biggs-Davison, JohnHarvey, Sir Arthur VerePardoe, John
Birch, Rt. Hn. NigelHastings, StephenPearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Blaker, PeterHawkins, PaulPeel, John
Boardman, TomHay, JohnPercival, Ian
Bossom, Sir CliveHeald, Rt. Hn. Sir LionelPeyton, John
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. JohnHeath, Rt. Hn. EdwardPike, Miss Mervyn
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir EdwardHeseltine, MichaelPink, R. Bonner
Braine, BernardHiggins, Terence L.Pounder, Rafton
Brewis, JohnHill, J. E. B.Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Brinton, Sir TattonHirst, GeoffreyPrice, David (Eastleigh)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.Col.Sir WalterHolland, PhilipPrior, J. M. L.
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Hooson, EmlynQuennell, Miss J. M.
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Hordern, PeterRamsden, Rt. Hn. James
Bryan, PaulHornby, RichardRawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N&M)Howell, David (Guildford)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Bullus, Sir EricHunt, JohnRenton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Burden, F. A.Hutchison Michael ClarkRidley, Hn. Nicholas
Campbell, CordonIremonger, T. L.Ridsdale, Julian
Carlisle, MarkIrvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Robson Brown, Sir William
Cary, Sir RobertJenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Channon, H. P. G.Jennings, J. C. (Burton)Royle, Anthony
Chichester-Clark, R.Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Russell, Sir Ronald
Clegg, WalterJopling, MichaelSandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Cooke, RobertJoseph, Rt. Hn. Sir KeithScott, Nicholas
Cooper-Key, Sir NeillKaberry, Sir DonaldSharples, Richard
Costain, A. P.Kerby, Capt. HenryShaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Kershaw, AnthonySilvester, Frederick
Crouch, DavidKimball, MarcusSinclair, Sir George
Crowder, F. P.King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)smith, John
Cunningham, Sir KnoxKirk, PeterStainton, Keith
Currie, G. B. H.Kitson, TimothySteel, David (Roxburgh)
Dalkeith, Earl ofKnight, Mts. JillStodart, Anthony
Dance, JamesLambton, ViscountStoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryLancaster, Col. C. G.Summers, Sir Spencer
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)Lane DavidScott-Hopkins, James
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)Langford-Holt, Sir JohnTapsell, Peter
Digby, Simon WingfieldLegge-Bourke, Sir HarryTaylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Dodds-Parker, DouglasLloyd, lan (P'tsm'th, Langstone)Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir AlecLongden, GilbertTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Drayson, G. B.Loveys, W.H.Teeling, Sir William
du Cann, Rt. Hn. EdwardLubbock, EricTemple, John M.
Eden, Sir JohnMcAdden, Sir StephenThatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Maclean, Sir FitzroyThorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Elliott, R.W. (Nc'tle-upon-Tyne.N.)McMaster, StanleyTilney, John
Emery, PeterMacmillan, Maurice (Farnham)Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Errington, Sir EricMaddan, MartinVan Straubenzee, W.R.
Farr, JohnMaginnis, John E.Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Fisher, NigelMarples, Rt. Hn. ErnestWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMarten, Neilwalker, Peter (Worcester)
Fortescue, TimMaude, AngusWall, Patrick
Foster, Sir JohnMawby, RayWalters, Dennis
Fraser, Rt.Hn.Hugh (St'fford & Stone)Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Weatherill, Bernard
Galbraith, Hon. T. G.Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.Webster, David
Gibson-Watt, DavidMills, Perter (Torrington)Wells, Jon (Maidstone)
Gibson-Watt, DavidMills, Peter (Torrington)Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Gilles, Rear-Adm. MorganMills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Miscampbell, NormanWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Glover, Sir DouglasMonro, HectorWood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Glyn, Sir RichardMorgan, Geraint (Denbigh)Worsley, Marcus
Godber, Rt. Hn. J.B.Morrison, Charles (Devizes)Wylie, N. R.
Goodhart, PhilipMott-Radclyffe, Sir CharlesYounger, Hn. George
Goodhew, VictorMunro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Gower, RaymondNabarro, Sir GeraldTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grant, AnthonyNeave, AireyMr. Jasper More and Mr. Reginald Eyre.
Gresham Cooke, R.Nicholls, Sir Harmer
Grieve, PercyNott, John
Gurden, HaroldOnslow, Cranley
Bill accordingly read a Second time
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Fitch.]
Committee Tomorrow