Amendment of Transport (London) Act 1969

Clause 27 – in the House of Commons at 10:30 pm on 25th March 1980.

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Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East 10:30 pm, 25th March 1980

I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 27, line 2, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'independent body'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 33, in page 27, line 2, at end insert— '(1A) The independent body shall be appointed by the Minister and shall be comprised of nominees of the Greater London Council, trade unions representing bus workers, and the Transport Users' Consultative Committee.'.

No. 34, in page 27, line 13, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'independent body'.

No. 35, in page 27, line 16, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'independent body'.

No. 36, in page 27, line 28, after 'On', insert: 'the recommendation of the independent body on'.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

We had intended to debate the issue of appeals but we are faced with the time element, and there is clearly not time to deal fully with all the arguments. The clause has already been amended in Committee in relation to the appeals procedure to apply in London. Again, one must face the fact of the uniqueness of the London area and its transport system. For example, there is not a requirement for a road service licence, as such. For a London bus service one must make an application to the London Transport Executive.

The Government orginally wanted to establish that the appeal would be to a commissioner, but the commissioner did not deal with bus applications in London. In this case the appeal was not to be to the commissioner but to the Minister. The arguments were put forward by a number of bodies and by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that the appeals system should be changed and that the commissioner should be bypassed and the appeal made directly to the Minister. In areas outside London the appeals are directly to the commissioner in the case of bus operations, but there is always then a right of appeal to the Minister. Under this arrangement any refusal to grant a bus operation certificate or licence to operate can be denied by the London Transport Executive as before, but the appeal now will be directly to the Minister.

By these amendments we had hoped to discover whether an independent body could be returned. Such a body would consist of appointed representatives, and that in itself would cause considerable controversy. The argument might be that the representatives should be elected, but in the amendment we suggest that they should be appointed in the same way as commissioners in the rural areas are appointed, and that representatives of the Greater London Council, the trade unions representing the bus workers and the Transport Users' Consultative Committee should be members of this independent committee. To call it an independent committee presupposes that the Minister himself may not be considered to be independent.

Much of the transport system in London is extremely controversial, and a Tory Minister and a Tory GLC deciding whether a private bus service should operate in the London area might well be considered more than a coincidence. If the Minister and the GLC were to come together in the agreement. some might feel that they were undermining the London Transport system.

This amendment takes the matter of appeals a little further than the Committee agreed. I have been wondering for some time whether the commissioners' role is satisfactory, but I do not think that this is the time to continue the debate on the appeals, so we do not intend to press the amendment.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown:

I wish to intervene briefly, as I did not have the privilege and benefit of being on the Committee. I was a little surprised when I saw that the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) had been chosen in Committee to move an amendment concerned with London. There are about 47 Conservative Members for London constituencies and apparently not one could be found to move the amendment. I can understand why—he would not be very popular for bringing forward this sort of proposal.

I want to speak about the change that has been made. The Minister must accept that it is not a good one. At present the position is quite satisfactory. I contacted London Transport to ask about the current position regarding the numbers of applications dealt with under this procedure and I was told that London Transport had approved 99 applications and had refused only 23. I am told by all those who have had to deal with London Transport under the clause that they are satisfied that they are treated fairly and generously.

There is a suspicion in the minds of many of us about the new concept that the Government are bringing forward. They claim that in London we shall be subjected to enormous competition from outside operators, and we are concerned. The present system is not satisfactory, not wholly because of bad management by London Transport or inadequate finances but because of the traffic conditions in London.

At present the amount of money available to local authorities has been substantially cut back, so that they are unable to carry out the necessary roadworks to get traffic in London moving again. It seems odd that this Government are now introducing a system that will apparently allow operators to come along on the pretence of being able to improve the transport facilities in London, in terms of public transport, by acting like the old pirate buses used to do.

I took the opportunity of re-reading a book by Barker and Robbins about the history of London Transport. It is a fascinating book, and I urge the Secretary of State to take time to read it. He will see how, in 1923, the now Lord Ashfield argued that though he was not against competition, in the context of providing transport in London it would only create increasing problems. He also identified many of the problems.

That book takes one through the development of the pirate buses of 1923 through to 1924, which in the main resulted in the Act of 1924. That book highlights how many of the privateers operated. At first they service only the lucrative parts of the routes. They carried many destination boards, so that when they saw a lucrative area that was clearly waiting to he serviced they changed the destination board, turned the bus round, joined the queue and picked up the passengers.

Those pirate buses also searched out areas where there was a free run. They would look for an area where passengers were waiting to travel and where there was also a good run. They would ply that area, running back and forth making money, and when they had finished carrying the bulk of the traffic—which in London is between the hours of 7 am and 9 am and again between 4 pm and 7 pm—they stopped running. That meant that it was necessary for someone else to run services during the unprofitable hours.

Is that what the Government have in mind? The Secretary of State has taken to himself the power to overrule London Transport should it make a decision against which someone appeals. When I read what the Minister said in Committee I was not sure that he had established the case for the criteria that he said he would use. In answer to one of my hon. Friends, he said that the Minister would be able to check the criteria to see whether he was satisfied with it. What is laid down as the Minister's criteria? We want to know, and so does London Transport.

Normally, when one goes to the traffic commissioner—and London Transport is the traffic commissioner in inner London—one knows the criteria by which they work. It is no longer clear from the proposal in clause 27. There are a lot of words there. It is all negated by the Minister saying that he will call it in if there is an appeal and that he will make up his mind according to what he sees.

I am dissatisfied with that argument. I am not satisfied that the case for change has been made. I looked at the report of the Standing Committee. It appears that the amendment was delivered as a backhander. The hon. Member for Faversham suddenly tabled a very complicated clause. I do not believe that he sat in the Lobby outside, drafting it in detail. My suspicious mind leads me to feel that the amendment was the result of departmental briefing.

The amendment is much too detailed. It is too well drafted for an ordinary amateur from Faversham, who no doubt knows London like the back of his hand. That suggests that it was handed to him. Why? Was it a departmental amendment? That would be perfectly honourable. However, I wish to know if that occurred. If so, was London Transport consulted. Was the GLC consulted? The GLC is an elected body. It controls London Transport. By taking the power embodied in clause 27 the Minister is overruling an elected council. Why? Has he discussed the issue with the GLC? Did it agree that this was the best solution? We are somehow changing something that has worked satisfactorily to date. No complaints have been made. No complaints have been heard in London. Perhaps complaints have been heard in Faversham. The House and Londoners are entitled to know why this interference factor is being used tonight. There is no reason for it. I hope that the Minister will give an explanation before winding up. What advantages to London does lie envisage? How will it help London Transport to operate efficiently and effectively? How will it help the GLC to fund London Transport? Indeed the Government are keen to cut down its money.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson , Camden Holborn and St Pancras South

I shall be brief. The measure and the amendment have little to commend them. There is not much to choose between the rag, tag and bobtail independent body that we propose and that proposed by the Minister. They both fall into the, same category. They are both unnecessary interventions in the affairs of London Transport.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) pointed out, last year London Transport received 122 applications from independent bus operators. It approved 99 of them. My hon. Friend failed to point out that some of the remaining 23 applications were not turned down for reasons of quantity control; some were turned down because applicants' vehicles and professional competence were inadequate to run anything, least of all a public bus. Therefore, it would be best if the Minister were to withdraw this pathetic attempt at intervention in the affairs of London Transport.

I cannot go along with my hon. Friend in lauding the intervention of the GLC. The sooner the law is changed and the less the GLC has to do with London Transport, the better for those who work for it and who like to travel on it. The introduction of the GLC is complicated by the Minister, the London boroughs, the Metropolitan Police and Lord knows who. All the parties involved in providing London's transport can happily blame one another for its failure to work properly.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown:

As my hon. Friend knows, I am a great believer in party conference decisions. It was a party conference decision that the GLC should take over London Transport.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson , Camden Holborn and St Pancras South

There are certain party conference decisions that I do not agree with, and I shall not change my mind merely because policy decisions have re- cently been changed.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Minister of State (Department for Transport) 10:45 pm, 25th March 1980

The internal debate within the Labour Party is indicative of the state of the party. We have had three short speeches on this fairly uncontroversial clause, and all three speakers have disagreed with each other. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) does not support the amendment put forward by his Front Bench. I am not altogether clear what the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) thinks of the amendment.

We are saying for the first time that there should be a right of appeal against a decision of London Transport. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch is right that at present there are comparatively few applications, and only a quarter of those are turned down. Nevertheless, we believe that an independent operator should have the right of appeal against the decision of London Transport. It is a check. It serves notice on London Transport that it is not judge and jury in its own cause. It emphasises to the new operator that there is a right of appeal if he believes that he has been unjustly treated. That is all that we are setting out to do. It is a moderate and reasonable right of appeal.

The only issue between us is where the appeal should go. We believe that it should come to the Minister as in other appeals from traffic commissioner decisions. The Opposition want an independent body set up, appointed by the Minister and comprising nominees of the Greater London Council, the trade union movement, representing bus workers, and the Transport Users' Consultative Committee.

I shall not weary the House by setting out all the ways in which this group of amendments is defective, but it is not at all clear whether the decision of that great new body would be binding on the Minister or merely advisory.

Having listened to the arguments in Committee, I am surprised that the Opposition should suddenly introduce this totally new body into the London appeals procedure. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South spent most of the time in Committee complaining. He has at least been consistent in his remarks. First, he did not want to see anyone interfering, but, worst of all, he felt, was a proliferation of the authorities responsible for London Transport. I fully understand why he is not in sympathy with the amendments.

We would have another quango that would be asked to do an uncertain job, without its powers being clearly defined. Until 12 months ago we had too many quangos. At long last we are cutting back on that form of life. We should not add new quangos, particularly for transport.

Amendment negatived.