Passenger Transport Policies in County Areas

Orders of the Day — Transport Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th May 1978.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West 12:00 am, 17th May 1978

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 15, leave out 'including school transport'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this we may discuss Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 are drafting amendments which move the operation of school transport to a different place, which we accepted in Committee. They move it to the place which defines public transport passenger services. Therefore all the inclusions and exclusions are in one clause. I hope that the Opposition accept that they further improve its own excellent idea.

Amendment No. 4 meets another Opposition suggestion and excludes excursions or tours within the meaning of the 1968 Act from public transport considerations by the county councils. We accept the Opposition's argument that these could be excluded.

Amendment No. 5 is a drafting amendment. As a result of other changes made in Standing Committee this part of the clause had become rather long. The amendment breaks the clause into two subsections, which will make for greater clarity.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

I am delighted to know the Government are defeated in Standing Committee they regard it as an excellent idea. The Under-Secretary of State resisted our argument about school transport. It was our one clear-cut victory in Committee. But I am glad that on reflection the Government are moving gradually and slowly in our direction. We accept the change in the position of these words because we consider that no overall appraisal of public transport can be thorough unless the whole area of school transport is taken into account.

One of the weaknesses of the Bill was that without making a special mention of school transport there was a danger that there would be no co-ordination between the various county council departments which is necessary to provide the transport system desired by the people in non-metropolitan areas. We are grateful that the Government have seen the light of day.

We are also grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Amendment No. 4. He will recall that this resulted from a dual suggestion. One dealt with excursions. He resisted our proposals on express services and we are disappointed that he can accept only half of our suggestion. But this is a sensible amendment which will be welcomed not only by coach operators but by the many people who use excursions. People of all political persuasions enjoy coach tours, even if they do not always end in Blackpool.

We told the Government in Committee that the Bill was badly drawn and cumbersome and that the wording should be improved. Now our advice has been taken and we are grateful. We view what the Minister has said with satisfaction and realise that our activities in Committee have made a considerable imprint on the Bill.

1.0 a.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

May I say how pleased I am that the change has been made? I congratulate the Opposition and the Government on having taken the Opposition's advice.

I remember being a member of the county council in my constituency when we embarked upon purchasing about half a dozen "yellow perils", which were buses with which we started our own school transport service. I made the point then that I hoped that we would use the buses for carrying people in rural areas where the NBC service did not operate. That has never happened. Tonight, therefore, we have witnessed a victory, because the Bill will now force the Isle of Wight council to make better use of those vehicles, which lie idle for far too many days in the year. They are maintained by the Southern Vectis bus company anyway. To integrate the two makes a great deal of sense. This is a victory for common sense all round.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 2, in page 2, line 19, leave out "section 2' and insert sections 2 and (Concessionary Fare Schemes).".

No. 3, in page 2, line 23, leave out "not however including" and insert including school transport but not— (a)'.

No. 4, in page 2, line 26, at end insert or (b) excursions or tours within the meaning of the 1968 Act".

No. 5, in page 2, line 32, leave out from "expedient" to end of line 37 and insert— (3A) Those who provide public passenger transport services may under subsection (3) enter into arrangements between themselves for the establishment under the Companies Acts of companies controlled (jointly or severally by the parties to the arrangements and for—

  1. (a) the transfer of assets to such companies; and
  2. (b) facilitating the voluntary transfer of employees.".—[Mr. Horam.]

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 45, leave out "6A" and insert "5".

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this we may also take the following amendments:

No. 36, in Clause 5, page 7, line 28, leave out "7" and insert "16".

No. 37, in Clause 5, page 7, line 39, at end insert— (3) The statutory requirement relating to the insurance of motor vehicles used on public roads shall be amended so as not to permit the exclusion of car sharing for social or other purposes as authorised by this section.". No. 46, in Schedule 1, page 18, line 7, leave out "7" and insert "16".

No. 49, in Schedule 1, page 18, line 16 after 'owner', insert or any person making the arrangements for the journey". No. 50, in Schedule 1, page 18, line 19 leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert The driver or owner may receive contributions to expenses incurred or to be incurred by him as a result of driving the vehicle or making it available. A person making arrangements for the journey may receive such contributions to expenses or remuneration in respect of the arrangements". No. 53, in Schedule 1, page 18, line 41 at end insert No account shall be taken of advertisements made by a person making arrangements for the journey". No. 56, in Schedule 1, page 19, line 10 leave out 'and traffic commissioners'.

We may also take Government Amendments Nos. 34, 35, 47, 48, 51, 52, 54, 55 and 57.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

This is a complicated batch of amendments. I shall make two points about the Government amendments. They are essentially in response to criticism by the Opposition in Standing Committee. It was well-grounded criticism that Schedule 1 was extremely complicated. I accept that. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) made the point in Committee that the numbering was a little odd. We have taken his views and comments into account. I can assure the Opposition that there is no change of substance in any of the amendments. They simply re-order the words so as to shorten the schedule and, I hope, to clarify it.

Amendment No. 6 is the most remarkable of all the amendments because it simply changes "6A" to "5". That is a consequential amendment. Amendment No. 34 alters the explanatory parenthesis in Clause 5 consequent upon amendments to the schedule. Amendment No. 35 represents an important change around because it imports into Clause 5 exemptions on advertising in the case of informal car-sharing arrangements and sets them out in a different and clearer form. It adds the cases where advertising can take place to the existing number of cases. As the Opposition know, the extra two places are in workplaces and in clubs. Putting the provisions into Clause 5 enables us to drop various parts of Schedule 1, and we do that in Amendments Nos. 52 and 54. Amendments Nos. 51, 55 and 57 are consequential upon that change.

That leaves Amendments Nos. 47 and 48. The object—the main part of Schedule 1—is to legalise car sharing with payment, first, between neighbours, the sort of informal arrangement that we have been talking about, and, secondly, sharing for social purposes, but to retain existing restrictions which prevent this from being done commercially, so as to protect public transport. In Committee I gave examples of taxis plying up and down a bus queue and taking separate fare-paying passengers.

This is simply a change in form to put it in a rather clearer way. In the Bill as it stands we had in effect a general ban and then a long list of specific exemptions. Now we have turned it round and we state the ban solely in relation to commercial activities. Thus private and social activities are entirely free.

Amendment No. 47 states this change and Amendment No. 48 drops the exemptions that are now in the Bill. That is a considerable shortening of Schedule 1, and I hope that it is much easier to understand.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

I wish to address myself particularly to Amendment No. 37, in the names of my hon. Friends and myself, which is in effect the insurance amendment.

In Committee we had a short debate, but one of the more heated debates, because five years after the subject of car sharing was first broached by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) in his Transport Bill it still appears that there has not been satisfactory agreement between the Government and the British insurance industry on how the insurance of car sharing should operate.

The Government appear to be taking the line that many of the car-sharing operations that are to be legalised will fall outside the scope of a normal class 1 motor insurance policy. The Under-Secretary went so far as to accept that many of these journeys would be construed as being for hire or reward. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to take that line, but he must be aware that many people are at present using car-sharing schemes, perhaps illegally. Many will have the erroneous impression when the Bill reaches the statute book that the schemes will be legalised, and many more people will be encouraged to go in for car-sharing schemes and will find that technically they run foul of the law.

I still find it astonishing that after I and other hon. Members have been asking questions for many years about the relationship of insurance to car sharing and its alteration, though Ministers have gone and come and gone, the Department of Transport has apparently not reached a suitable understanding.

Both the motoring organisations, the AA and the RAC, are genuinely very concerned about this matter. They rightly do not want to see their members put in a position in which, because they see the publicity attached to this extension of car sharing and its legalisation, they are perhaps unwittingly breaking the law and will find themselves convicted of driving without insurance.

Over the past two weeks I have approached the Motor Conference, which represents all the groups of motor insurers in the country. I was somewhat perturbed to discover that the Motor Conference was taking its stand on what it called the petrol-sharing arrangement, the arrangement that the motor insurers came to in 1973 during the fuel crisis when they stated that persons sharing a car who just covered the petrol expenses among themselves would not be regarded as taking part in a hire or reward operation so that a class 1 policy would apply. The motor insurers seem to take the line that that is as far as they want to go in relation to standard cover under the car-sharing arrangements which the Government are proposing in the Bill.

I do not believe that it is unanimous, but if the insurance industry is taking that view, I submit that the Government cannot do a Pontius Pilate act, wash their hands of the affair and say that it is a matter for the insurance companies and private individuals, because at the end of the day people will be breaking the law, laying themselves open to prosecution, because the Government have failed to face up to the problem.

Why do the insurance companies feel that they cannot provide the kind of cover required? Ostensibly, they say that it is because they are worried that too many people would operate on a purely private-hire basis, taking advantage of class 1 cover, but actually by running a commercial business. That is the line that the insurance companies take, and I am sure that the Government do not want, any more than we do, to encourage people to act illegally in that way. But one of the interesting effects of the Government's proposed changes is to make absolutely clear the distinction between commercial operations of that kind and the sort of car-sharing operations in private cars which the Government expect to take place under the new proposals.

In these circumstances, I should have thought that that underlined the need for something to be done where that clear distinction has been made between, on one side of the line, hire or reward operations for which a certain kind of motor insurance policy is necessary and, on the other, car sharing which would be covered as part of the normal class 1 policy.

I do not for a moment think that there is any great additional risk involved for the insurance companies in doing that. I feel that the activities of many motorists are already being covered, in effect, because their insurers do not know of the car sharing will become more obvious because advertising for car sharing will be encouraged and people will think that they do not have to worry about it because it has been legalised by the Government.

On the other hand, if the insurance companies are to continue with their somewhat narrow line, because the Government refuse to legislate, we shall have a period of confusion and, at the end of the day, there will have to be legislation of one kind or another.

When the insurance companies say that this is all very difficult, I point out to them that a few years ago it was said to be impossible to cover passenger liability in respect of people riding on the back of a motor cycle, but it is no longer enormously expensive to cover that risk. I do not honestly think that the premium question which the Under-Secretary raised in Standing Committee is relevant here.

Although, to my regret, the Motor Conference could not accept the wording of our amendment or that the motor insurers should have responsibility, I took the trouble to write to the chief executive of perhaps the largest motor insurer in the country, the General Accident Fire and Life Insurance Corporation, and I am sure that the House will be interested to know what the general manager, Mr. C. B. Heath, had to say: I cannot, of course, speak for the insurance market, but we, the General Accident, saw no objection to car sharing without charging an additional premium for the cover, provided, of course, that the policyholder did not derive profit from his activities. In other words, that is the same kind of dividing line as the Government have established in their revised schedule.

What shall we find? Those motorists fortunate enough to be insured with General Accident—I am not advertising—will be able to feel that they can drive quite happily under car-sharing arrangements and be fully covered, and motorists insured with some other company or a Lloyd's syndicate will discover that they are not covered.

1.15 a.m.

I submit that that is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. It is as unsatisfactory as it was when some motor insurers used to issue policies which excluded passenger liability. It needed the passage of the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) to make passenger liability compulsory to ensure that all persons could ride in cars in the knowledge that at least they were properly covered by the insurance policy.

If the industry is to take this divergent view within itself, the Government must take a greater interest in this aspect of what they are putting forward. If not, they will be rightly blamed for not having followed out the implications of what they are trying to do.

One problem is that, in their anxiety to do something, the Government have jumped a fence a little too early. They could easily have restricted the way in which car sharing was to have been spread. For example, they could have restricted it to people who shared a common place of work or a certain community interest. That might have satisfied some of the insurers who feel uncertain now.

My main criticism is that the Government appear to have taken the line that they did not need to go into this kind of detail. I find that unacceptable. As I said, it is five years since this issue was first raised—five years in which the Minister's advisers have known of the complications. I have no doubt that when the Bill becomes law, with a blaze of trumpets, as some great achievement by the Labour Government, they will say "We have at long last instituted car sharing." But if, by so doing, the Government invite large numbers of our constituents effectively to break the law by driving without proper insurance, that would be reprehensible and irresponsible.

I must put forcefully to the Under-Secretary of State that he should consider this amendment. I am not asking him to say that this is the ideal way of dealing with the problem. I shall listen with interest to what he says. I think it is a pity that we did not have a separate debate on this amendment. This issue merits a separate debate. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will answer this point before going into the intricacies of any other amendment.

If the Under-Secretary cannot give a satisfactory answer, I assure him that we shall continue to press this matter. Indeed, we hope that our friends in another place will press it. I am convinced that if the Bill goes through as it stands—if there is no agreement between the insurers and the Government; the insurers giving some kind of undertaking that the bona fide car sharer as opposed to the private hire operator will be covered—sooner or later the pressure of events will force the Government to legislate. Surely it is better for the Government, before the Bill goes through the other House and perhaps gets on the statute book, to get together with the Motor Conference and the motor insurers to try to hammer out this matter. It is not an enormous problem. It is a question of the Government saying "We accept that we have opened up a new avenue, we can see that there are complications, we accept that you have given us the petrol-sharing concession, but we feel that you will have to give us a bit more." They should say that, first, to legalise the situation and, secondly, to cater for the future.

I believe that car sharing is important. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) gave some telling examples of car sharing and pooling in the United States. If we want to persuade people to share their cars to reduce the amount of energy being used, we must ensure that in no way can they be penalised by claims for damage to their cars not being met.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will take this serious point on board and be aware that, if we do not get a satisfactory answer tonight, he will hear a lot more of this matter in the further stages of the Bill and in the months afterwards.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

This is an interesting and important debate, and it is a pity that it is being held at such a late hour because there are vast implications. The remarks of the hon. Member for Welling-borough (Mr. Fry) were very relevant.

I am indebted to the Automobile Association for its brief, which has been most useful. Let me make one general point. I do not want to twist anybody's tail too greatly, but it is remarkable to hear the Tory Front Bench insisting that a Labour Government should make private enterprise insurance companies do something or another. I shall be interested to hear the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) on this subject. I think he will agree that this points to a failure of the free market economy since there appears to be a need to respond to something for which people will pay. If the insurance companies will not provide a service of this kind, perhaps the sensible thing which my Labour colleagues should do is to set up a nationalised insurance company to do the job properly right across the board.

It is a strange ideological position for the Tories to insist that the Government should make up for the deficiencies of the insurance companies. It is a sad day for private enterprise when those deficiencies are so bad that it takes them so long to respond to such a need. I think that is fair comment.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

Will the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that the whole issue flows from proposed Government legislation and that the matter would not arise if car sharing were not to be legalised? I am criticising the Government for not following through the implications of what they are doing. I think it was during the period when unfortunaely the hon. Gentleman was absent from the House, owing to the temporary aberration of the electors of Bristol that this issue arose. Various assurances were given by Ministers to the effect that the matter would be sorted out, but here we are five years later with nothing having been done about the position.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

I think that my attendance in the Chamber has been most diligent throughout the day.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

I was referring to the period when the hon. Gentleman lost his parliamentary seat.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I am glad that he was not reproving me for any absence from this debate. It was certainly not my fault that I was absent from the House for that brief number of years.

I do not regard the comments in the hon. Gentleman's intervention as fair. The Government have created a set or circumstances in which people are able to travel as passengers in private cars. If the Conservatives are as enterprising as they say they are, they should have weighed in with cover for this contingency.

The brief from the AA says: The insurance industry say they do not wish to go beyond allowing only 'petrol money'"— the AA has gone as far as that— as contributions because of their fear that 'quasi-taxi' operations, carrying passengers on private car policies as a 'sideline' will mushroom. But such operations are outside the relaxation allowed by the Bill, and such quasi-taxi operations will remain included within the public service vehicle licensing requirements. That is the AA's assessment. That is much nearer the truth. Therefore, I felt it wrong that this aspect of the matter was appearing to go through without somebody uttering a few words of qualification.

I appreciate that the Government have been careful to limit the provision, but how careful should one be? The Opposition are not pressing for it to be a quasi-taxi operation within the public service vehicle licensing requirements, but the insurance companies are expressing their fears. That is the position which has been reached and it is important to consider the matter carefully.

I admit to having some fears on this aspect of the operation, whether it relates to car sharing or vehicles to be licensed for voluntary service. In the country districts the large bus operators who seek to provide a comprehensive service find themselves in tricky economic straits. Therefore, if this matter gets out of hand, there will be insurance problems and it will also have an impact on the whole pattern of operation.

People may well do some of the things the insurers fear. If someone goes one stage further than the Bill allows, his passenger will not be properly covered. If he carried personal friends or workmates and there was an argument in the car, resulting in personal injury, or if someone fell getting out of the car, there could be great insurance difficulties. Perhaps in raising the difficulties the insurance companies are being wiser than we know, instead of committing themselves to provide cover willy-nilly. Rather than blame my hon. Friend for not forcing insurance companies to do something over which they might legitimately hesitate, there might be a real need to reconsider what we are doing and try to deal with the real problems.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

Part of the welcome philosophy behind the Bill is a belated recognition by the Government of the need to liberalise our licensing laws. Amendment No. 36 carried that process an important stage further. The amendment would bring subsection 2(a) of Clause 5 into line with subsection 2(b). To the Government's credit, last year they supported the Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) which became the Passenger Vehicle (Educational and Other Purposes) Act 1977. It is difficult to see how a Government who approved of that Act, however reluctantly, can resist this amendment.

The restrictive licensing laws have operated against the public interest. It is that principle, which has been conceded by the Government, which will be violated by the Government if they do not accept the amendment. Why should vehicles adapted to carry no more than seven passengers and which fall outside the Minibus Act, be penalised? What is magic about the number seven? All sorts of magic figures appear in the frenzied minds of Government Ministers, but quite why the number seven should be so important, when in subsection 2(b) the Government themselves agree that the maximum number should be 16, is difficult to comprehend. Of course, Amendment No. 46 is the corollary of Amendment No. 36.

1.30 a.m.

I turn to Amendment No. 50 which relates to Schedule 1. That amendment seeks to replace sub-paragraph 3(3) with the new sub-paragraph in Amendment No. 50. Here again, the amendment which stands in the names of my hon. Friends would extend the liberalising purposes which the Government themselves have in mind. That amendment ought to be welcomed by the Government Front Bench. Indeed, it may well be that my hon. Friends tabled this amendment with the approval of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State, because I believe that the purpose of Amendment No. 50 is the purpose of the Government.

The difference between the subparagraph which would be substituted for Schedule 1 (3) (3) is simply that where there is expenditure to be incurred, that expenditure is something which would be lawful. I believe that sub-paragraph 3(3) as at present drafted, is unreasonably restricted. Let us suppose that an impoverished driver or owner wishes to make facilities available for a vehicle adapted to carry at most seven passengers. If that driver or owner is a small man, who is not in advantaged circumstances, I believe that that person should be entitled to receive contributions towards expenses, not just which have been incurred but which are to be incurred.

It is very easy to understand that an owner or driver of a small vehicle may easily incur expenses before he actually carries out the journey. He has to license his vehicle and pay for the petrol before the journey takes place. Why should not a driver-owner in those circumstances be allowed to receive contributions before hand? It is almost as if the Government were saying that they would legislate only for the opulent. I find that proposition wholly indefensible.

Why should we deny to those who wish to become passengers, in acordance with the provisions of Schedule 1, the facility for travelling in one of these vehicles if the driver or owner is a small man without resources? That, of course, was the purpose which my hon. Friends had in mind when they tabled Amendment No. 50. I hope that the Government will think it right and will accept that the sub-paragraph set out in the amendment is better drafted, more helpful and will enable the small man without resources to provide facilities which otherwise he could not provide.

It would be the most astonishing proposition if from the Treasury Bench we had the rejection of a provision which would give protection to those who wished to travel and which would give assistance to the person of slender means who wished to provide a passenger facility for people in rural areas.

It is incredible that we should be debating this matter at all. It was the Opposition's hope that the Government would indicate that our amendment was acceptable in every way. I hope that we shall have that recognition and an acknowledgement that Amendment No. 50 is an important and meaningful improvement to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

I wish to refer to a number of the amendments in this group, and I begin with Amendment No. 35 which, as I understand it, extends the opportunities for advertising car-sharing facilities.

The amendment introduces the right to advertise at any place of work. But this is still a very restrictive approach. In Committee, I pointed out that one of the most likely means of communicating information of this kind to one's neigh-hours in a village, for example, would be by delivering handbills. But that will still be unlawful. I have no doubt that we could all think of other examples of fairly normal communications whereby people could advise their neighbours, friends and others that they were trying to create some joint user arrangements to travel to work. It is very restrictive to limit advertising facilities in the way that the amendment seeks to do.

If we are to have this new definition of who can and who cannot operate a car-sharing scheme which simply excludes anyone in the business of hiring out for reward, why cannot we allow greater facilities for advertising?

I am disappointed with the amendment. It could produce some foolish anomalies. In that respect, it has failed to achieve the desired objective.

I turn next to Amendment No. 36. There, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) seeks to leave out "7" and to insert "16". It is a most helpful proposition. Time after time we nave sought to include the minibus in this more liberal approach. For many villagers, the prospect of having a larger vehicle available for public transport would make a very significant difference to them.

Again we come back to the fact that there will still be restrictions on the use of such a vehicle. It cannot be used for profit. It cannot be used for business purposes. But if a group of people wish to share a larger vehicle and the petrol costs, why do the Government wish to restrict its size? They have missed an opportunity here. They are imposing endless restrictions when they have this overall general restriction meeting the same purpose. I welcome any attempt at liberalisation, but the Government have been too timid by half. Amendment No. 36 would be a helpful step in the right direction and I hope that the Government will accept it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne also referred to Amendment No. 50. That has not been explained to us, but I presume that it allows the owner of a vehicle to receive rather more than just petrol costs and expenses incurred, as defined in the Bill. It says: The driver or owner may receive contributions to expenses incurred or to be incurred by him as a result of driving the vehicle or making it available. It is silly to restrict a car-sharing arrangement to such a small amount that the sharing will make no financial sense. If we want such arrangements to work, we must allow all expenses to be shared on a sensible basis.

The amendment carries the matter forward to a sensible degree. Arrangements would still be circumscribed by the general provision that a person could not run such a scheme for reward. The amendment would simply allow him to recover reasonable expenses incurred or to be incurred.

I can see no reason for the Government to oppose Amendment No. 50. But if we allow more expenses to be contributed by other parties, that brings us to the fundamental question of insurance. We owe my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) a debt of gratitude for raising this matter. Criticism should be levelled at the Government for not having made the position much clearer by now. If insurance companies are to restrict their understanding of car sharing to petrol contributions only and the Bill goes further than that—and I suspect that it does, even without the amendment—the motorist could find himself placed in an undesirable position.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

The document that I read from the AA made clear that the real fear of insurance companies was that they could get involved in the quasi-taxi business and they were concerned about how far liability would stretch. Presumably the AA had done its research on this matter.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

I shall be coming to that. It is unsatisfactory that, after all these years, we still have such a doubtful position between the Government, the insurance companies and the public. We cannot allow that to continue when the Bill gets on that statute book. No one wants large numbers of motorists to be uncertain about the nature of their cover.

It may be that some insurance companies will adopt one attitude while others adopt another, but none will change the wording of policies. The companies will put a different legal interpretation upon the form of words, some of which have been prescribed by statute. To the extent that they are being prudent and sensible in interpreting the road traffic Acts and their obligations under them, it is important that we get the Bill right. If General Accident takes a liberal view, that will help its policyholders, but it makes the position less clear for other motorists. If some companies are generous and others are not in their interpretation of the wording, most motorists will not know how they are affected. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Government to try to clarify the position.

1.45 a.m.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis), with his usual ingenuity, manages to reduce everything to an ideological dispute. He has done so again—even motor insurance—by saying that the blame lies with private motor insurance companies for not providing what the public want. He got it wrong. Insurance companies will give insurance cover for vehicles used for hire and reward for a certain premium. They are trying to maintain the low level of premium—by international standards—which is charged to the ordinary motorist using his car for normal domestic purposes.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

When I made that point it was on the premise of the hon. Member's Friends. The point I then tried to make was whether the insurance companies had much more legitimate fears about the areas they were getting into and what they were actually covering. That was where I quoted the AA document.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

The hon. Member was seeking to suggest that the bus companies would have more to fear because the car-sharing could develop into car-hire operations. But generally we are talking about car sharing where bus services are not offering competing services. We are talking about villages in rural areas where car sharing will offer a valuable step forward.

If the insurance companies were asked to cover operations that could, conceivably, become car-hire, for the sake of protecting all motorists and their motor account generally they would have to increase the rate in anticipation of car-hire operations.

We must try to get a clear definition of "hire" and "reward" in this context. The latter from General Accident that my hon. Friend the Member for Welling-borough quoted made the point clearly. If the operation is not for profit it should be within the terms social, domestic and pleasure use of a private car as defined at present. Surely we can look to the Government to liaise with the insurance industry to produce the desired situation.

If we require further legal clarification, is it not possible to have further amendment of the Road Traffic Act and have a statement on the insurance certificate to the effect that the activities defined in Section 5 of the Transport Act 1978 fall within the category of normal social, domestic and pleasure use? That would clarify the position. The Government could organise this in conjunction with the insurance industry.

It would be wrong for this situation to be left as it is now. The Government, rightly or wrongly, have created the situation by introducing legislation that has brought in this element of uncertainty. They cannot want this uncertainty to prevail once motorists start picking up passengers as defined in the Bill.

My hon. Friend has done a considerable service by moving this amendment and by the investigations that he has made. I hope that this will prompt the Government into action and that they will clear up all the uncertainties.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I certainly do not intend to add anything to the question or insurance as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has covered this. I hope that the Minister will reply to him.

I want to speak to one or two of the other amendments. I am grateful to the Government for the way in which they responded to the points in Committee, and made the alterations contained in the Government amendments. It is a great joy to see the abbreviation and simplification which has been achieved. I congratulate the Government and the draftsmen on doing this. It will make matters much easier. One unfortunate consequence of this is that it makes it even more than usually difficult to understand what would now be the effect of our Amendment No. 53. It is now an amendment to something which, if we accept the Government amendments, will no longer exist.

In the Minister's view, has Amendment No. 53 been overtaken by the intention of his reworded and redrafted portions of the clause and schedule? The purpose of Amendment No. 53 was further to liberalise the provisions for the making of advertisements by a person who is the prime mover in a car-sharing scheme.

Here I come to the key safeguard, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham. I agree with him that the key factor is to be found in Schedule 1 (5) (3). As printed it is (6A) (3). This makes the clear qualification that: Local authorities and traffic commissioners shall not give consent for the purposes of this paragraph where it appears that arrangements for provision of the facilities in question are, or are to be, made for any commercial purpose or with a view to profit; and consent shall be given only if the facilities are to be provided with a view to meeting the social and welfare needs of one or more communities. That is a clear safeguard. All these amendments have to be seen against that. It means that the amendments seeking to extend the flexibility and freedom of people who organise car-sharing schemes come up against the long-stop provision that these advertisements cannot be made if the whole arrangement has any element of commercial activity or profit in it.

We maintain that these liberalisations are all safeguarded by the long-stop provision. I hope that the Minister will look into this carefully. What we propose offers a way out for all of us and enables us to give the maximum flexibility to those organising these schemes.

I hope that the Minister will give an opinion on Amendment No. 53, if he can. What we want this to mean is that the person making arrangements for the journey shall have flexibility and freedom to advertise, provided that it is not a commercial or profit-making operation.

There are two purposes to Amendment No. 50 to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) drew attention. The first purpose is to bring in the idea that the person organising the journey may well incur some expenditure before the journey takes place. I hope that the Miinster can meet us on that by accepting the amendment or, perhaps at a later stage in another place, dealing with the issue. It is obviously desirable that this should be done, and again we have the safeguard that nothing commercial can be considered. It is obviously desirable that a person without large resources who has to incur expenses should be able to receive contributions even if the expenses have not yet been incurred.

The second part of the amendment refers to the bringing in of the word remuneration. In Committee we discussed at considerable length the situation of a driver, who spent a considerable portion of his time driving a vehicle for a shared car scheme, who might be out of pocket by losing some of his employment, or some other factor. It was generally accepted that that could happen to a driver. But it could happen to a person making arrangements for the journey. That could be someone who had some other form of work to do but who had to make arrangements such as getting together the advertisements, getting together all the people, putting up advertisements and arranging for them to be passed round. It might be that in those circumstances some form of remuneration would be needed. We agreed in Committee that that would not be the same as profit-making and would be a form of recompense for the time and energy expended in undertaking necessary work.

Amendments Nos. 36 and 46 relate to raising the limit from seven seats to 16. It is to be borne in mind that we have the safeguard that none of us is talking about anything that is profit-making or commercial. Surely the objective of the whole operation is to enable a vehicle that may be in a rural area, village or community, and owned by either an individual or body, to be used for taking others to and from a local town, or for some other errand, with each person making a contribution towards the cost. We are all agreed that that can happen with an ordinary private car.

The Government have accepted that a pretty large private car may come within that category. A Peugeot was described as the sort of car that could be involved. However, if one person in a village or community has a Peugeot that may carry seven passengers and he is allowed to use it for a shared-car scheme and another person has a minibus, that might have up to 16 seats but is a private vehicle, is in the community, is available for use, is not used commercially, and fits all the other criteria, why should the minibus be excluded because it has more than seven seats? I do not see the logic of that.

It is, as the Under-Secretary of State said in Committee, a matter of judgment and a matter of degree. However, if a community can transport 30 or 40 persons in a series of loads of seven in different cars, why is it so undesirable for 14 or 16 persons to be transported in one minibus, always providing that the operation is not commercial or profit-making? I do not see the logic of the exclusion.

I urge the Minister sympathetically to consider the amendments that seek an extension. There is no danger of a minibus used in the way that I have described competing in a commercial or profit-making way with the public transport system. Such arrangements are likely to be made only when there is no suitable public transport system. It is easier to use a public transport system if there is one available. Where it is most unlikely that there is such a system it is most unfortunate to restrict the scheme by keeping it down to seven-seated vehicles. I accept that in most instances seven-seated vehicles will be quite sufficient, but why spoil a new scheme purely for the sake of making a restriction that is not necessary?

There is no reason to think that it is necessary to have such a restriction and I hope that the two amendments will be accepted. I hope that the Minister will not think that I am in any way ungrateful for the most acceptable way in which he responded to our words in Committee. We are most grateful to him for the flexible approach that he has adopted. We are all indebted to him for that. However, the Minister could crown the laurels that he has earned for that by accepting that, whereas we may have had some fairly good ideas in Committee on this matter, which he has accepted, we have still got some good ideas, and I very much hope that he will accept these. If he cannot accept all of them tonight—because we are all in a bit of confusion with this very large group of amendments—I hope that he will at least agree that where he thinks that we have still got a good point here, he will arrange for it to be looked at again in another place. This would extend the excellent scheme that the Minister is bringing in in a way that would be very useful for many people.

2.0 a.m.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

I hope to be able to crown my laurels, in the curious analogy that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) has made, by pointing out that at least one of the amendments is met by the changed wording that we have put down and that another one I cannot accept for reasons which I shall explain in a moment.

I should like first to deal with the separate question of insurance, which perhaps would have been suitable for a separate debate, raised by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry). I shall try to reassure him that what we are doing is sensible and that what he suggests is precipitate and not necessarily in the public interest. I doubt whether I shall succeed, because I know that he has a bee in his bonnet about this. I do not mean that in any unkind way, because I know that he has been pressing this point for many years, and he has considerable experience in the insurance business. Therefore, he presses the matter with the advantage of that experience and knowledge, which we do not have.

However, I think that if I put the situation to him in this way, it might help him and the House to understand the matter clearly. We are essentially making legal the taking of a payment for giving lifts on a regular basis. Existing motor insurance policies may not completely cover that. The hon. Member is essentially saying that we should enact a law to make sure that that cover is absolutely comprehensive. That is his position.

I should like to make two points to the hon. Member. First, the extent to which insurance does not cover the situation is less than he suggests. Social car schemes will be covered. Generally, I imagine that a collective insurance will be taken out by the person who is organising a social car scheme. Secondly, as the hon. Member agreed, the taking of money to offset petrol costs will be covered by the ordinary insurance.

After all, what we are talking about is a situation in which people have probably been giving lifts and have not been aware that they were committing an illegality in taking from their neighbours, or from whoever they have been taking it, some contribution towards petrol costs. That is the simple fact of the matter. We are making that legal.

By doing that, we are dealing with the heart of the problem. Anyone who takes more than petrol costs or tries to make a profit out of it, if one can put it in those terms, is going rather beyond the situation which most people would recognise as the more normal one—that if they give lifts, they will probably expect their passengers to make a contribution to petrol costs.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

Surely the Under-Secretary is not trying to tell us that anyone who takes more than a share of the petrol costs is making a profit. Let me put it to the hon. Gentleman that anyone who is running a car can have available the average mileage cost, provided by, say, the AA or the RAC, and to share expenses on that basis would be more than sharing petrol costs but would still not entail making a profit. Will the hon. Gentleman please address himself to that point? This is exactly the area in which the difficulties will arise.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

I deliberately used the term "making a profit" in quotation marks, as it were, because I was simply using a shorthand term for going beyond asking simply for petrol costs. What I was saying was that it is the contribution towards petrol which in most cases is what we are talking about, which is the normal arrangement. But I agree that in many instances people will make a different arrangement which goes further than that. That is not, in a sense, taking account of depreciation and so on, making a profit in a strict sense. I accept that. I accept the hon. Member's point. I was merely using shorthand to describe the situation about which we are talking.

Social car schemes are also satisfactory on petrol costs. But if we adopt the full scheme suggested by the hon. Member for Wellingborough, costs to the ordinary motorist might be involved. He asserts that there will be little extra cost. That is a matter for dispute. Perhaps one should explore that more fully. Extra costs could be involved for the ordinary motorists by making such a provision part of the insurance. Many motorists will not wish to take advantage of the legalised position and will not indulge in car sharing. But they might have to pay extra. The cost of insurance has risen in the last few years, and one should think twice about imposing that extra cost.

I recognise that the hon. Member for Wellingborough is worried about the situation. As he knows, we are involved in discussions with the insurance industry. So far the discussions have taken place between officials of my Department and the industry. I have written to the chairman of the appropriate body and I hope to have a meeting soon with him and his colleagues. They have already agreed to additional publicity to explain the petrol cost provision. They have now told me that they are prepared to consider endorsing individual policies to make the petrol cost position absolutely clear. They have not agreed to that but they are considering it. If they are willing to go down that path, that would help the problem of making people aware of what their policies cover.

I make a commitment to the hon. Member personally. I shall probe further the specific provision in the amendment.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

The Under-Secretary of State says that there will be publicity and perhaps endorsement of individual policies. Is he saying that there will be a restriction and that if a motorist receives a contribution in excess of the cost of petrol he will be uninsured?

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

One would have to make explicit by an over-printing on the policy the statement made by the insurance companies two years ago that petrol costs could be recovered within the terms of the normal insurance but costs above that could not. That would make the position clear to each person—if each read his policy. Many people do not read their policies and they would not know. But that is going as far as is reasonable to make the position clear. I shall press further with the insurance industry the hon. Member's argument and make clear the feelings expressed in the debate.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

All that we are asking is that car sharing should not be considered to be hire or reward. It was customary for many years for a normal class I policy to include the business use in person by the policyholder. There have been developments and certain insurers have removed the business use in person by the policyholder and lower premiums have been charged.

As long as a division is made about hire or reward it can still be up to insurers to make individual arrangements and offers such as omitting cover for car sharing under the terms of a particular policy. That could be slightly cheaper than a policy which covers car sharing. But doing that only underlines the necessity of showing that car sharing does not constitute hire or reward. If it does—and the Under-Secretary, in spite of what he said tonight, made it clear in Committee that many of the car-sharing uses would be hire and or reward—people will have difficulty getting the right insurance cover. They will be convicted of driving without insurance.

Photo of John Horam John Horam , Gateshead West

What the hon. Gentleman has said is on all fours with the point of his amendment. I will make the general point to the insurance industry. We have made the point already, but we will push this further and explain the general feelings of the House and of the Standing Committee.

Because of the changes that the Government have made—I hope helpfully—some of the Opposition amendments now relate to parts of the Bill which have been removed. Amendment No. 53 is not overtaken by our amendments and we must resist it. The point that the hon. Member for Wellingborough made about what is now Schedule 1 paragraph 5(3) is not correct. The general guarantee that he mentioned relates only to social car schemes, and therefore Amendment No. 53 would have been, if the schedule had not been amended, attached to that part of the schedule which deals with private car sharing. That would have allowed general advertising by individuals who were operating private car-sharing schemes. That would have been contrary to the general spirit of what we are trying to do.

Similarly, that general guarantee does not apply either to Amendment No. 50. That, too, would in a sense drive a coach and horses through our general provisions by making it possible to organise general car sharing in a way with which we disagree, and in a way that would wrongly damage public transport.

The substance of Amendment No. 49 is met by the changes in the Bill. That covers a point made in Committee by the Opposition. We cannot accept the amendment because it is now attached to nothing. The substance of the point is, however, met by the revised wording of the schedule.

Amendment No. 36, which is coupled with Amendment No. 46, would allow vehicles designed to carry seven passengers to carry 16. I do not know what the Opposition are trying to do in this remarkable proposal, which is curious even by the standards of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). Perhaps they ate seeking the higher productivity they failed to secure through British Rail accounts in this way. Apart from that bizarre approach to the use of large cars. I take the general point that they want car sharing to be extended to larger vehicles, not merely to permit more people to be carried in a small vehicle.

2.15 a.m.

This comes back to the point of which the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) made much in the Standing Committee—that we should initiate the sort of van-sharing schemes which are evident in America. But conditions in America are very different from those here. The schemes have been used there to fill a gap, because in America public transport has declined and even disappeared in many urban areas, certainly in suburban areas, whereas it has not here. Therefore, it is not as necessary here, and it would do more damage here. Moreover, there are lower densities in many urban areas in America. Van sharing for that reason, too, is more appropriate, because public transport operating in these low density situations cannot survive as it can in this country.

For those two reasons we must continue to reject the pet notion of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 3, line 10, leave out '6' and insert '3'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this amendment we are to take Amendment No. 8, in line 15, at end insert— (7) If a District Council shall disagree with the policies laid down by a county council, as provided in subsection (1) hereof, then any such district council shall have the right to refer the issue is dispute to the Secretary of State whose decision thereon shall be final and binding.".

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

Under the provisions of subsection (6), where a sum of money is due from a county council to a district council there can be a delay of six months from the time at which a notice is served by the district council on the county council before the sum in dispute can be referred to arbitration. The amendment's purpose is to reduce the period of six months to three months.

Amendment No. 8 provides for the Secretary of State to deal with any dispute not about money but about other matters between a district council and a county council. Amendment No. 7 relates only to the question of the time limit which should expire before the dispute can be referred to an arbitrator.

To take a specific example, in my constituency there is the Eastbourne District Council. If the Bill should reach the statute book, the council, a district council for the purposes of the Bill, may be required to carry out transport policies in accordance with the provisions of the clause. If in carrying out its duties it incurs expenditure which it would not have incurred unless there had been a requirement laid upon it by the county council, the district council could be seriously out of pocket. The purpose of the amendment is simply to say that where a district council in accordance with instructions given to it by a county council incurs expenditure, and there is a dispute as to the amount, we should shorten the time scale for reimbursement of the district council.

I come before the House to make a plea on behalf of district councils, which are almost always less opulent than county councils. I do not see why the Government have selected a period of six months. Surely Ministers are as keen as those of us on the Opposition Benches to try to speed up administration. Why should a district council be out of pocket, getting no interest on the money it has laid out, for a period of six months before it even goes to arbitration?

My Amendment No. 7 is modest. Had I been a little bolder, I should have proposed that the period be two months, but, out of deference to the Government Front Bench and with the customary modesty that the House has come to expect from the hon. Member for Eastbourne, I have merely halved the Government's period.

Mercifully, the Secretary of State is in his place. He will tell us why he has chosen the period of six months, and he will, no doubt, say why he thinks it reasonable that a district council which has laid out money should be precluded from going to arbitration for a period of six months.

Who is the arbitrator? The Government suggest that the arbitrator should be the president of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. I confess that that is a gentleman—or a person, as I suppose we have to say nowadays—of whom I had never previously heard. I am sure that that person is immensely distinguished, but I wonder where to find him. If one is a lowly district council, having laid out thousands of pounds at the request of the county council, to whom does one submit one's claim for arbitration?

I do not have with me the telephone directory. Perhaps one of my hon. Friends could go in search of it so that we might see whether the president of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy is to be found listed there.

It is relevant to ask who appoints this person. Presumably this is another area of Government patronage. I do not know who appoints the president of this body. But we may be fairly certain that if a dispute is referred to him he will not be a person who will arbitrate at once. If I know anything about arbitrators, they sometimes take a great time, and, if there is to be a great deal of time in resolving the arbitration once it is referred to him, that is all the more reason for cutting down the initial time from six to three months.

I regard Amendment No. 7 as of considerable importance, and I move it solely in order to protect the district council and, of course, the ratepayers of the district council.

Amendment No. 8 also is a plea on behalf of the district council, to provide that where a duty is laid upon a district council as provided in Clause 1, and the district council finds itself in disagreement with the county council, the district council shall have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. I have always been under the impression that the Government Front Bench would be in favour of appeals to Ministers where there is a dispute between a district council and a county council.

Again, I give an example from my constituency. The Eastbourne Borough Council happens to be the owner and manager of the oldest municipal bus undertaking in the world.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

I shall not now go into the argument whether it is a good or bad thing for district councils to own municipal bus undertakings, but the reality—I am glad to have the support of hon. Members below the Gangway on the Government side—is that the Eastbourne Borough Council owns buses. It operates those buses in such a way that it is proposing in the current financial year to break even. It is not on every occasion that the aim of a local authority to break even is realised, but, happily, the Eastbourne Borough Council has a substantial Conservative majority, and I hope that that excellent objective of breaking even will be achieved.

Let us suppose that under Clause 1 an obligation is laid upon the Eastbourne Borough Council, being the owner and operator of buses, so to operate those buses that it is not enabled to achieve the extremely desirable objective of breaking even, or, of course, as I would argue, the objective of making a profit. Suppose the county council, in accordance with the plan or, coming to Clause 2, in accordance with the five-year plan, were to say "We require you, the Eastbourne Borough Council, to operate your buses in such a way that they do not make a profit or break even." Suppose the Eastbourne Borough Council then said to the county council "We do not think that this is a good idea. We think that we should be allowed to operate our buses as we have done in the past, and we find ourselves in disagreement with you." Why should the borough council be compelled to do that which the county council directs it to do when the borough council is accountable to its own ratepayers—accountable, in fact, to my constituents?

That is why these two amendments have been linked together. They are linked not only in the selection of the Chair but in reality. That is an agreeable situation as well.

Amendment No. 8 seeks to provide that, where there is a disagreement between a district council and a county council, there should be not the absolute override powers of the county council but an appeal.

How could the Secretary of State object to an appeal being made to him? Do not all Ministers rejoice in appeals being made to them? Do they not rejoice in having a chance to impose the ministerial will when deciding between the virtues of a borough council and a county council? Ought not the Secretary of State to be nodding rather than shaking his head? It is true that it is his head, but he should be giving some sign of friendly response to these modest amendments.

That is not all. Looking at Clause 2, we find that this may not be a once-forall situation. It may not be that there is just one disagreement between a county council and a district council. We have the influence of the Secretary of State's hon. Friends below the Gangway. There is a passion for five-year plans on the Government side of the House. I am not keen on five-year plans. I believe that they are likely to go awry. Five-year plans which have been tried further east than this place have not been great successes.

Therefore, I find that the initial folly is compounded by Clause 2. Not only are we to have a plan which, in the words of Clause 1(1)(a)(i), is supposed to develop policies which will promote the provision of a co-ordinated and efficient system of public passenger transport to meet the county's needs", but, under Clause 2, we have to prepare and publish a public passenger transport plan for the succeeding period of five years". Therefore, there may be a period of continuing dispute between the district council and the county council.

If the Bill is unamended, disputes which take place between the little and relatively impoverished district council and the large and relatively well off county council will always be resolved in favour of the county council.

I do not find that just, equitable or sensible, and it is less just, less equitable and less sensible when I find that the district council, which has been compelled to lay out money in accordance with the county council's plan, cannot go to arbitration for six months.

Taking these two amendments together I believe that I have the unlikely support of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas). That is a remarkable situation. Possibly I also have on my side the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, because I know that this matter is close to his heart. I am sure I can look to his support in the Division Lobby.

I am not so sure that I carry with me my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but that will be not for the first time. It is not necessary for those on the Back Benches always to find themselves in agreement with those who occupy the Front Benches. That is why I commend the amendment to the House.

2.30 a.m.

Photo of Mr Ronald Thomas Mr Ronald Thomas , Bristol North West

I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with a good deal of the comments made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). We all know that in the present set-up district councils have to collect money for county councils. It seems strange that the district councils, having gone through that operation, find that they have to wait six months before they can do anything about county councils which owe them money. Since a good deal of the money is borrowed, it is a costly exercise if a district council is owed money in this way. That council loses interest, because it could find ways of using the money by investing, perhaps in the short term, so that the capital is not wasted.

I agree with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's comments, but for different reasons. In Bristol, where we have a Labour City Council, it may be said—and indeed I hope it would be said—"For social reasons we do not wish to run our bus service at a profit but want to provide a social service". However, the county council, which is Tory-controlled, will take the hon. Gentleman's line and say "No, you must run at a profit".

The hon. Gentleman put the matter in contrasting terms. There would be a conflict if a county council, such as Avon, were to tell a district council, such as Bristol, "You must run your bus service at a profit". I hope that my colleagues on Bristol District Council would say "We believe that we should be operating much more of a social service, and therefore we are happy to put £X into the bus service to enable it to be run as a public social service rather than at a profit."

If there were such a conflict, I believe that the only Department that could handle that situation would be the Department under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. It would be unacceptable if the matter were put in the hands of anybody else.

As I am convinced that in the next couple of decades the Secretary of State for Transport will be a Labour Minister, I should be happy to see the matter in my right hon. Friend's hands. He would say to Bristol District Council "In this complex situation you are right to spend more money to subsidise the bus service to operate a social service" and his decision would go against the Tory-controlled Avon County Council. I hope that the Secretary of State will give clear answers to the important questions which have been raised.

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Teesside Stockton

At one stage we were being teased by the soporific sophistries of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), until in rousing himself he roused my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) and formed an unusual alliance. With respect to both hon. Gentlemen, there is some misunderstanding of the reasons for the clauses concerned, so they deserve an explanation.

The curious thing is that Amendment No. 7 proposes three months, while nine months was mentioned in Committee. The hon. Member for Eastbourne asked for the reason for the period of six months. That provision comes straight from the Local Government Act 1972. I can understand my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West finding that distasteful because that was not one of the most distinguished pieces of legislation of our generation. But the hon. Member for Eastbourne, perhaps with some loyalty to those who were here a little before him, may feel that the provision has an attributable origin, if not a distinguished one.

We did not pick six months out of the air. In the light of the discussion in Committee, however, we felt it right to consult the ACC and the ADC. The latter was mildly in favour of a longer period. So, far from moving in the direction that district councils might have wished, the hon. Member for Eastbourne, for the best of all possible reasons, is moving the other way. I am not saying that the ADC is always right or that it was right this time, but if it would wish to move one way and the hon. Member to move another, I think that that is a good reason for staying where we are.

On Amendment No. 8, the hon. Member was interesting on the problem of seeking to arbitrate between Eastbourne and the county council. I understand my hon. Friend urging the merits of the Secretary of State arbitrating, but it is very unusual for the hon. Member for Eastbourne to thrust more responsibility upon Ministers. Most of the time he seeks to take it away.

Photo of Mr Ronald Thomas Mr Ronald Thomas , Bristol North West

He has seen the light at last.

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Teesside Stockton

I should like to believe that, but let us consider his subsequent habits. Everybody is capable of travelling the road to Damascus, but it does not happen overnight. This may be just a temporary late night conversion for the hon. Gentleman.

Much though I enjoy my ministerial authority, there is a limit to its extension. I do not wish to be an arbiter between two tiers of local government. If that happened, not only would it be an additional

Division No. 217]AYES[2.39 a.m.
Adley, RobertHicks, RobertTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Brooke, PeterKnox, DavidMr. Ian Gow and
Fry, PeterMontgomery, FergusMr. Roger Moate.
NOES
Anderson, DonaldEvans, Ioan (Aberdare)Pardoe, John
Archer, PeterEvans, John (Newton)Park, George
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Ewing, Harry (stirling)Parry, Robert
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Penhaligon, David
Bates, AlfFlannery, MartinRadice, Giles
Bean, R. E.Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRichardson, Miss Jo
Beith, A. J.Freeson, ReginaldRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bishop, E. S.Golding, JohnRoderick, Caerwyn
Blenkinsop, ArthurHardy, PeterRodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Bradley, TomHarper, JosephRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Harrison, Walter (Wakefleld)Rowlands, Ted
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Horam, JohnSedgemore, Brian
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Sever, John
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Cant, R. B.Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Carmichael, NeilJones, Barry (East Flint)Skinner, Dennis
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Kaufman, GeraldSnape, Peter
Cohen, StanleyKinnock, NeilStallard, A. W.
Coleman, DonaldLamborn, HarryStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Lamond, JamesStott, Roger
Corbett, RobinMcCartney, HughTinn, James
Cowans, HarryMcDonald, Dr OonaghWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)McElhone, FrankWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)MacKenzie, GregorWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Madden, MaxWard, Michael
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)Marks, KennethWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
Davidson, ArthurMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Whitehead, Phillip
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Meacher, MichaelWoodall, Alec
Deakins, EricMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Woof, Robert
Dempsey, JamesMitchell, AustinWrigglesworth, Ian
Dormand, J. D.Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Douglas-Mann, BruceNoble, MikeTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Duffy, A. E. P.Ogden, EricMr. Ted Graham and
Dunnett, JackO'Halloran, MichaelMr. James Hamilton.
Ellis, John (Brigg A Scun)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley

Question accordingly negatived.

burden on Ministers and strengthen the central Government where I would wish to strengthen local government: it would also create problems for those elected in either tier, who carry responsibilities and must get together to solve their problems.

In other clauses that we shall come to, it is demonstrated that the two tiers of local government can get together and solve their problems without reference to me. I hope that the hon. Member will accept my view and not wish to press Amendment No. 8 any more than Amendment No. 7.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

In view of what the Secretary of State has said, I do not wish to press Amendment No. 8. But I do propose to press Amendment No. 7.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 6, Noes 103.