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Mr. Wilson : The Minister is quoting from The Scotsman, and I am sure that he will not wish to be selective. He will also wish to quote from Mr. Hamish Morrison, the chief executive of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), who said :
"Simply to offer assistance with drawing up a bid, with no guarantee that management and employees will not be outbid by competitors with deeper pockets, is wishful thinking."
Column 1029Would the Minister care to address that concern?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman leads me directly to the question of preference. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said today that the price would not be the only factor in deciding what bids to accept. He would have to take into account as the main test the promotion of sustained and fair competition, the extent of employee participation and price. Management-employee buy-outs, by their nature, create a large number of companies, which add to competition, and that will be borne in mind.
My right hon. and learned Friend made it clear that Scottish-based companies with a significant measure of employee participation will satisfy some of the competition and participation objectives, but it is essential that the price is relevant to the value of the assets. The House will be aware of the strong interest that we have in seeing the spread of employee ownership and participation in
management-employee buy-outs, but not regardless of cost.
Mr. Robert Hughes : Will the Minister give an undertaking that the bids for each and every one of the 11 companies will be made public so that we can judge the effectiveness of the Minister's decision making?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I shall look at that point. Many hon. Members have expressed concern about ownership safeguards. One of the main objectives of privatisation is to boost enterprise in Scotland through the creation of locally based companies. One of the best ways to do this is through
management-employee buy-outs, which we are keen to encourage. However, no guarantees can be given about the eventual outcome of the bidding process, nor about what happens to companies after privatisation. One Scottish company bought four English companies at the NBC privatisation, and we cannot deny English companies the same right to bid in Scotland.
The best defence against takeover is for a company to be well run and successful, and we had this very much in mind in deciding on the units for sale and their size. Legislation already exists to control anti-competition practices. Therefore, any proposed mergers of companies after privatisation will be subject to competition legislation.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North asked about asset stripping, and other hon. Members expressed concern about this. Specialist advice on property matters will be sought. Arrangements will be made in each case to ensure that either the future development value of bus companies is reflected in sales proceeds or that the conditions of sale ensure that an appropriate share of future development value is recouped if a property is sold within a specified time. We shall be careful to ensure that there is no scope for asset stripping. This is an obvious point, but we are committed to an upgrading of the ferry services. Expenditure has been more than £22 million on capital works, including pier works and ships, and since 1979 we have spent some £78.7 million in direct support of ferry travel, which is a substantial amount.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) asked about consumers making their views known. They
Column 1030can do so through the Shipping Services Advisory Committee, and the Scottish Transport Users Consultative Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries raised this point as well. From recent discussions with the islands' community representatives, I am aware of how strongly they feel about the value of these bodies in making representations, and I see no reason to change the consultation arrangements when CalMac is taken into the ownership of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. It is vital that the views of consumers are taken into account. It is our intention to appoint members of the new CalMac board with first-hand knowledge of the islands and their needs. I emphasise the importance that the Government place on the responsiveness of the company to the community that it serves.
The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) made a sincere and passionate speech on behalf of his constituents at Gourock. The points that he mentioned will be looked at, but there are sound reasons for moving the headquarters to Oban.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : They will be nearer the centre of operations, and many people recognise that advantage. Nevertheless, that decision will require careful consideration, and the Government will look to the new board to deal positively with that issue, taking into account all relevant considerations in relation to the Clyde. The privatisation of the upper Clyde will inevitably lead to a shift in the company's sphere of influence. I appreciate the hon. Member's fears that there will be a reduction in the number of jobs in his constituency, but two important factors must be taken into account. First, there are the commercial aspects of CalMac's operations to be considered and the greater emphasis on Western Isles services in the future. Secondly, the jobs in question will not be lost to Scotland. The leader in the Glasgow Herald commented : "The proposal to shift the centre of administrative operations to Oban makes sense. In a unitary state, the furthest flung areas have as strong a claim to efficient public services as anywhere else." Mr. Graham rose --
Mr. Graham I feel sure that I am not hearing the Minister right. I believe he said that a board will be established having decision-making powers. But now he is saying that the board must move from Gourock to Oban--so there will be nothing but hard-line guidance.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : When the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow, he will see what I said. His points will be carefully considered, but it is very much our hope that the headquarters will move closer to the centre of operations. As to the Gourock-Dunoon and Weymss bay-Rothesay services, there is no doubt that the situation in respect of the Gourock- Dunoon crossing is anomalous. It is an unsubsidised private sector crossing competing with a subsidised public sector crossing on a similar route. The vessels Jupiter, Juno and Saturn making that crossing are shared with the Weymss bay-Rothesay crossing and are interchangeable. There seems a good case for the private
Column 1031sector to take on those crossings, and we shall ask the board to investigate with the private sector the possibility of transferring those routes.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) asked about RET. It has been thoroughly considered in the past, and the Secretary of State announced the reasons for his position on 21 February 1984. A flexible RET system is something of a contradiction in terms, as fares are meant to reflect the cost of travelling the same distance by road, and remove charges from controversy.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute asked also about rural railway lines. The Bill's scope does not include them. The hon. Lady said that rural lines are under threat, but I reassure her that British Rail has no plans to close railway lines in Scotland. She was referring to something that was purely press speculation. The Bill is important for Scotland's public transport. We believe that it will make Scottish bus services more competitive and responsive to their customers. We believe that it will provide a boost to enterprise in Scotland, giving working men and women the opportunity to have a stake in their industry.
Madam Deputy Speaker : There is, to my knowledge, no reason for it. I can still see people in the Strangers' Gallery, but if right hon. and hon. Members are concerned, I shall call for a report immediately.
Caledonian MacBrayne, with a new independent board, will continue to provide the important lifeline services to the islands to which we are committed, but it will do so with ever-increasing responsiveness.
This Bill is yet another example of the Government's determination to give the Scottish people control of their destiny.
Mr. Canavan : I had no intention of participating in the debate until I heard the ludicrous and unsatisfactory speech made by the Minister. In previous encounters with him I have described him as the most incompetent Minister in the Scottish Office, which is saying something.
I shall encourage many of my hon. Friends to speak in this debate, which can go on indefinitely. At Scottish Question Time, English infiltrators come in to disrupt our proceedings, but at least tonight we can inconvenience them by keeping them out of their beds.
Column 1032I must declare a constituency interest. I travel on buses occasionally : I take the bus from my house in Bannockburn to the station, to get to London. I know that, once upon a time, the Minister's ancestors came to Bannockburn for adventurist militaristic purposes, and that he has benefited greatly from that. His ancestors came on horses ; after this Bill, even he might have to do so-- [Interuption.] --or, as some of my hon. Friends have suggested, he might come by stagecoach.
The Scottish Midland bus group and Scottish Bus Group are in my constituency. The latter until recently serviced buses throughout Scotland- -
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : I know that the hon. Gentleman will want to reinforce that point before the English Members who have crowded into the Chamber to hear his speech leave again because they think he will go on for some time. I know, too, that the hon. Gentleman will want to make a point about the mental health of the Minister responsible for health in Scotland, who claims massive minorities for legislation like this.
Is the degree of public support for this Bill equivalent to the 19 per cent. who support the poll tax, the 23 per cent. who support student loans and the 33 per cent. who support opting out? Or is it more equivalent to the 61 per cent. who are dissatisfied with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the 71 per cent. who are dissatisfied with the Prime Minister or, in my opinion, the 99 per cent. who are dissatisfied with the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)?
Mr. Canavan : I am one of the constituents of the hon. Member for Stirling. I remember him coming out in support of the Transport and General Workers Union at Bannockburn bus garage and saying that he would be in favour of a trade union workers' co-operative taking it over.
I should be interested to know whether the Minister--the hon. Member for Stirling--still supports the TGWU at that garage, of whether he is now intent, like the Duke of Hamilton's brother and the Secretary of State for Scotland and all the rest, on selling off the Scottish Bus Group to the richest buyer who comes along. I am waiting for the hon. Member for Stirling to come in on this, but he will be a wee bit embarrassed, because he would not be the hon. Member for Stirling if it were not for the Tory influence through the establishment and the old boy network whereby Sheriff Principal Taylor put a gerrymandering exercise into effect and made Stirling a winnable seat for the hon. Gentleman, and brought him here not just as a Member of Parliament but as Minister for this, that and the other. That is the way in which the Tory party is operating in Scotland at present, not just gerrymandering but mishandling many important public services--health, education and the public transport services that we are discussing tonight.
Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : Did the hon. Gentleman hear the Minister say in his winding-up speech--I was fascinated and hung on every word--that the Bill was part of the Tory party's plan to give the Scottish people their rightful destiny? Would he care to comment on exactly how the Tories interpret their right to give the Scottish people their rightful destiny, in relation to their mandate?
Mr. Canavan : I do not understand how on earth the present Government claim to have a mandate for anything from the people of Scotland. If they are delivering anything at all to the people of Scotland, it is poverty, deprivation and increasing injustice--and, in this instance, a rundown in our public transport services which, although not perfect, have served the people of Scotland very well over many years.
A straw poll, or even an accurate opinion poll--or a local or general election--on public transport alone would, I think, reveal that the vast majority of people in Scotland were in favour of public ownership. That would be not for doctrinaire reasons, but for the simple reason that in their experience it has served them, their families and the work force. It has served many shoppers and commuters who cannot afford the chauffeur- driven cars that Ministers have, and thus rely on reasonable standards of public transport with reasonable fares. If that involves subsidy or cross- subsidy, I am very much in favour of it.
Mr. Marshall : My hon. Friend referred to the problems that the Bill would pose for companies in his constituency. Earlier I mentioned the firm of Walter Alexander, coach and bus builders, which is in his constituency. Clearly he is more familiar with the firm's problems than I am. Would he care to elaborate on the problems that the Bill will cause for it?
Mr. Canavan : A tram conductor. My hon. Friend was also educated in my constituency, at Larbert high school and other illustrious educational establishments in the area. I know that as a result he can speak with great eloquence and expertise about public transport in Scotland. I have the Scottish Midland bus group in my constituency and the Walter Alexander coachbuilding company. The Bill will obviously have a knock-on, or should I say knock-off, effect on the coach building industry.
A year ago I led a delegation from Scottish Bus Group Engineering Ltd, one of the subsidiaries of the Scottish Transport Group. The Minister will remember that because I went along with local authority and trade union representatives on behalf of the work force at the Scottish Bus Group which is located in Glasgow road, Falkirk. We feared that the Scottish Bus Group was planning to close down the operation in Glasgow road, Falkirk because privatisation was, as I described it at the meeting with the Minister, "just around the corner".
The Secretary of State is conversing and perhaps conspiring with the Government Whip. He probably wonders what time the debate will finish. The cards are in our hands for a change, and I will carry on regardless. If the Secretary of State wants to get his troops home early to their beds tonight, we deserve a better reply to the debate than that we received from the Duke of Hamilton's wee brother. He has probably never been on a bus in his
Column 1034life. I have certainly never seen him on a bus in Bannockburn. [Interruption.] Perhaps the Minister will correct me later if I am wrong.
Mr. Sillars : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am trying to listen to the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) who is making a valuable contribution to the debate. May I remind you that earlier this evening you asked several Conservative Members who continued to talk through speeches to remove themselves from the Chamber and talk elsewhere?
Mr. Canavan : I was talking about the Government's lack of mandate in Scotland for their transport policies particularly the Bill. As you probably know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have been rather outspoken about the abuse of patronage powers by the Government and the increasing abuse of those powers since they were rejected by 76 per cent. of Scottish people at the general election. I have referred to the Secretary of State using his patronage powers as a job creation scheme for failed Tory Members of Parliament, whether it is Michael Ancram, John MacKay-- Mr. Bill Walker : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Like you, I have been trying to relate the hon. Gentleman's speech to the contents of the Bill. I can see nothing in the Bill about the jobs that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.
Mr. Canavan : For once, the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has made a fair point. I do not intend to elaborate on the use of the patronage powers with regard to Alex Fletcher, Anna McCurley and Peter Fraser. Last week, I met John Corrie who was kicked out by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). John Corrie told me that he had been appointed a member of the Transport Users Consultative Committee for Scotland. [ Hon. Members :-- "Chairman."] Yes, chairman. I could not believe it. I asked him, "When were you last on a bus?" but he ran away from me on his horse. [Interruption.] I was on a bus last week. I frequently travel by bus. I have little option.
We ought to investigate in Committee how people like John Corrie are appointed to such positions. I do not criticise the man personally ; all of us have our attributes, but for his constituents, he certainly kept his light hidden under a bushel. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North is now sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.
The Government are using their powers of patronage in a very despotic manner in an attempt to disestablish public transport and to appoint people who have no experience of public transport matters to such positions.
Mr. Salmond : I suspect that John Corrie's interest in public transport is similar to Michael Ancram's sudden interest in public housing. Does the hon. Member believe that the support for this measure in Scotland is greater or
Column 1035less than the 19 per cent. that was accorded to the Conservative party in the most recent Scottish opinion poll?
Mr. Canavan : I think that support in Scotland for this measure is even less than the abysmal 19 per cent. support for the Tory party in the most recent opinion poll. Support for the Tory party in Scotland will, I suggest, become even weaker as the weeks and months go by. Earlier, before I was so rudely interrupted by some Conservative Members, I was reminding the Minister about a delegation that visited him at St. Andrew's house about a year ago. It consisted of representatives from the Central regional council and members of the Transport and General Workers Union and other trade unions at Scottish Bus Group Engineering Ltd. in Falkirk. I think I told the Minister after that meeting that never before--I have been a Member of Parliament for 14 years and I have led delegations to Ministers in Governments of both political complexions--had any Minister's performance been so incompetent. He sat there, as he did tonight, and just read the brief that had been prepared for him by civil servants.
My local government friends were there, as were my friends and comrades from the trade union movement. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh. [H on. Members :-- "Not at you."] People's livelihoods were at stake. I went along to the Minister, but all I got was a lot of guff. It was all prepared. We were told, "Oh, you must understand this, that and the next thing. All this has been written down by the Scottish Office." It was utterly incredible. I do not know whether it is possible for the Minister to reply later with the leave of the House, but his previous reply was as unsatisfactory as what he said at St. Andrew's house.
Mr. David Lambie (Cunninghame, South) : Before my hon. Friend finishes his speech, would he care to comment on the Government's decision to transfer CalMac's headquarters to Oban? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), I think that it is a bad decision. When the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs investigated road passenger transport and ferries, it visited Tromso in Norway. Tromso is inside the Arctic circle, and the Norwegian Government built a new university there, which resulted in it becoming a centre of economic activity.
Mr. Lambie : I am not making a speech. I am drawing my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that, when the Norwegian Government made Tromso the centre for a university, they made it a centre of economic activity in northern Norway, which draws people to the area. If the Government are to transfer the CalMac headquarters, why do they not transfer them from Gourock to Stornoway, and make Stornoway a centre of economic activity? That would revitalise the whole of the Western Isles. Would my hon. Friend care to comment on that point, which I think legitimate?
Mr. Canavan : I do not want to digress at this time of the morning, and I shall come a little nearer home. I remember when we had a Labour Prime Minister who took the Gourock-Dunoon ferry to the Labour party conference at Dunoon. He did not manage to sink that boat. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend Lord Callaghan is not here.
Column 1036The Government are shifting the CalMac headquarters from Gourock to Oban because the old Tory Member for the area has been displaced by the new hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). They are playing the old patronage game again. The Tories are desperate to win the seat back again, so they are shifting everything to Oban so that they can get MacKay back here. He would be an even bigger disaster than the Minister.
I have seen a lot of incompetent Ministers of various political complexions in my time, and I have just told the Minister what I think of him, but at least he is a nice man. He always has a nice smile when we go to see him. He gives nothing, though. MacKay is a horrible creature. He does not even smile and gives nothing. If fact he kicks us in the teeth. He has certainly kicked working-class people in Scotland in the teeth for many years.
Mr. Salmond : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has had to put up with a great deal of provocation during the debate, but is it really in order for the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) who has just left the Chamber, to sit through the debate waving his socks at the hon. Member for Falkirk, West?
Before all the interventions, rude, helpful or otherwise, I was telling the House about a delegation which I led to the Prime Minister. After the delegation to St. Andrew's house, which had a most unsatisfactory outcome, I decided to take on the Prime Minister herself. The Prime Minister was on record as saying that any hon. Member who was faced with a closure in his or her constituency was entitled to an audience with her. Because of the proposed closure of Scottish Bus Group Engineering Ltd. in my patch, I decided to take the matter up with the Prime Minister. I asked whether the delegation could include representatives from the trade union and from the local authority.
In view of her public commitment, the Prime Minister had to accede to my request and meet me, but my constituents and I were bitterly disappointed when she refused to meet representatives of the trade union representing the work force and representatives from the central regional council and from Falkirk district council who were experienced in such situations and wanted to provide support in the form of increased public investment at local authority level to keep the plant going.
Imagine my surprise a year ago, when the Prime Minister's private office wrote to me saying, "Dear Mr. Canavan, I am sorry but the trade unionists and those horrible local authority people cannot come along." However, I was invited to meet the Prime Minister, and who did I see in the waiting room but the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who was acting as the Prime Minister's lap dog. I went in and I was surprised when the Prime Minister offered me a cup of tea. She even offered me milk to put in it, which was incredible considering what she did about the bairns' milk in schools many years ago. I do not take milk in my tea.
Column 1037I sat down with the Prime Minister. I thought that I would get some support for the Scottish bus industry from the Minister. I thought that he was there with his mandate on behalf of the people of Scotland. I thought that his main remit, his main criterion, and his top priority would have been to present the case of the people of Scotland, including my constituents, as the Scottish Bus Group Engineering Ltd. workplace in my constituency was not just a parochial interest, but had repercussions throughout the Scottish economy in that the service offered by my constituents was of great advantage to consumers throughout the rest of Scotland.
I could not believe it--the Minister sat there and supped his tea, with milk and sugar. He smiled at the Prime Minister and reiterated the Government's case. He did nothing to fight for Scottish jobs in my constituency or elsewhere. I had had great respect for the hon. Gentleman. I know that he came from a great fighting clan which turned up on horseback before the buses came to Bannockburn. Some of the Douglases and Hamiltons changed their jerseys at half-time to ensure that they were on the winning side. Robert the Bruce gave out land throughout Scotland. Some of the Douglases--not the working-class Douglases, but the Hamiltonian Douglases-- have benefited ever since. They have never needed the buses, or their horses, except to hunt the poor wee foxes at weekends.
It is incumbent on the Minister to tell us in more detail why we should support this nasty legislation, which, like the poll tax, is an attack on most of the lower income groups in Scotland. Has he looked into the effect on the Scottish bus building industry? I say "bus building" rather than "coach building" because I am proud to represent the constituency of Falkirk, West, which has the best bus builders in the world. If the people of Scotland and England do not recognise that, many people throughout the world certainly do. Walter Alexander of Glasgow road, Camelon, is winning export orders in places such as Singapore and Hong Kong and helping to lower the trade deficit.
The Secretary of State does not realise the Bill's international repercussions. He is drafting in all the English Tory Members. They are coming out of the woodwork. Normally, they are pleased to come into the Chamber at Scottish Question Time for a 45-minute stint of "Ha, ha, jolly, jolly, hockey sticks" and ex-public schoolboy behaviour. But I shall keep them from their beds tonight. I hope that some of my hon. Friends will speak after me to punish those Tory Members and ensure that they do not get back to their dormitory and matron. It is about time the matrons and the other English Tories realised the Bill's knock-on effects on Scottish, British and international industry.
My constituents are building double-decker buses. Even in London, public transport leaves much to be desired. We must wait for the findings after the catastrophic accident this week before we make pronouncements about the reasons. People in the south of England could learn a lesson from some aspects of public transport in Scotland.
Column 1038Does the hon. Gentleman suspect, as I do, that the hon. Member for Tayside, North might be the guiding hand behind this legislation?
Mr. Canavan : The main contribution of the hon. Member for Tayside, North to transport was crash-landing his glider many years ago. I am sorry about the physical hurt that that caused him. I am also sorry about the physical harm that was caused to Lord Hailsham recently and about the accident involving the former Member for Glasgow, Central, the late Tom McMillan.
In the south of England, the standards of public transport are unacceptable and abominable compared with what I would tolerate in my constituency. I would go as far as to say that Tom McMillan would not have died if the standards of public transport in London had been the same as those in Scotland, where, in many areas, those open back-door buses are not acceptable. Getting rid of those buses would improve safety standards and improve job prospects for the workers at Walter Alexander in my constituency.
Insufficient tribute is paid to the worldwide reputation of the Scottish bus-building industry. Many people take double-decker buses for granted and we tend to look on double-decker buses as the norm. A great deal of scientific expertise goes into the building of a double-decker bus and into establishing the exact centre of gravity to minimise the possibility of tilting. It is also necessary to measure the height of the bridges on the routes along which such buses pass.
The cowboy operators who will take advantage of the Bill will not necessarily give the same priority to public safety and the satisfactory construction of buses. My constituents are very concerned about reducing the number of accidents from both the consumer and producer point of view.
Several hon. Members have referred to the effect of the legislation on fares. Will the Minister tell us what is his estimate of the effect on public transport fares? It is all right for the Minister, who has a chauffeur-driven car at his disposal. I must say in the Minister's defence, however, that very occasionally-- [Interruption.] He is one of the best of a rotten bunch. I say in the Minister's favour--I have a good word to say about everyone--
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. David Waddington) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put :--
The House divided : Ayes 256, Noes 191.
Division No. 18] [12.20 am
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes