New clause L and related consequential amendments abolish the Railways and Coastal Shipping Committee. That is part of our policy of reviewing, and where possible reducing and abolishing, the quangos in this country. This committee was established in 1969 under the Transport Act 1968. It was intended to provide a forum for coastal shipping interests to discuss matters of mutual concern, and it was given power to investigate complaints about the level of British Rail's freight charges where the board was in competition with coastal shipping interests.
In practice, however, the committee has not found it necessary to meet since 1974, and during the whole of its existence has received no complaints about charges. In those circumstances the Government felt that it might as well be put out of its misery. We propose to close it down.
This is the death of yet another quango in order to balance the new ones that have been appointed by the Government. This is the second quango of this kind to be abolished. The first was the Freight Integration Council, the abolition of which we opposed. The two committees had in common the fact that they did not meet very often, and there was a lesson to be learnt from that. Indeed, those of us who have looked at these committees know that the Railways and Coastal Shipping Committee was supposed to look to the interests of rail and shipping and ensure that fair competition was maintained between them, so that one did not get an advantage over the other. In fact, both have declined.
It is unfortunate, but anyone looking at the coastal shipping fleets could have seen—and I advocated this 15 years ago—that the combination of the various sections of the public sector shipping interests, including British Rail, steel, gas, and electricity, would have provided a major coastal fleet, and there could have been expansion to the advantage of both the coastal shipping industry and British Rail. It is unfortunate that the committee neither had the imagination nor the flair to analyse the problem and recommend solutions. On the basis of its activities, it is clear that there is no justification for continuing its existence. We could substantiate the argument for the Freight Integration Council, but clearly we could not do the same for this committee.