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Column 799All in all, I certainly welcome the Bill. As I have said before, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the way in which he has taken it through this House, and I wish it well in another place. 9.35 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes : I shall be brief because I know that many of hon. Friends wish to speak, but it would be uncivil of me if I did not thank the Minister for having acceped my amendment to delete "may" and "insert" shall". It is the only amendment that has been accepted. Indeed, in Committee I spent hours trying to persuade the Minister. Lo and behold, in my absence, without my having offered a word, he accepted it. That must say something about the power of my advocacy. Perhaps I had better not set out to seek my living in the law.
I hope that when the Bill goes to another place the Minister will reflect on some things we have argued about--the need to protect property rights ; the need for consumer protection ; and the right of workers to some say in the control of their own destiny, which, patently, the Bill, as it leaves this place, does not provide. I hope that the Amendment Paper in another place will not be flooded with amendments that might properly have been tabled for discussion here. One of the difficulties that we have had with the Bill is that it is an enabling measure. There is little of substance in it--very little detail by which we can judge how it is going to work. It seems to me that the absolute, prime points of inconsistency occur in clause 4, subsection (1) of which says :
"Without prejudice to any powers conferred on them by or under any other enactment, the Group shall have power to do, in such manner as they think fit, any thing required in pursuance of the disposal programme."--
blanket power for the Scottish Transport Group to do as it likes. Then we look with some astonishment at clause 4(2) :
"The Group shall not exercise their powers under subsection (1) above in relation to any disposal required in pursuance of the disposal programme except with the consent of the Secretary of State"--
exactly the opposite. It is worth repeating what I quoted in Committee :
"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away".
This shows the difficulty we have, so far as the future is concerned, in trying to deal with this legislation.
We are very seriously concerned about the issue of property stripping. My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) voiced our concerns very eloquently and in some detail. The Minister gave a hint that he might seriously think again. He said that there was an option available to the Government that would have to be considered. The option is to have in the contract a clause to the effect that if money were made as a result of the sale of property for development--for speculative purposes--a proportion of it would accrue to the Secretary of State. That is not entirely satisfactory. It would be much better if any development moneys made in that way were to go to the people who work in the industry. If the Minister is looking at options, he should consider making a proportion of any speculative gain available, in the form of a bonus payment, to those who have worked in the industry all their lives. That would not satisfy us entirely, but it would at least be a move in the right direction and
Column 800would be a means of giving some credence to the people who built up these companies and created the possibility of their becoming viable concerns.
No Opposition Member likes the idea of privatisation. We do not think that the Bill will succeed in its aims and intentions. We think that the service will suffer as a result. But I certainly hope that the employee buy-outs-- the different employee participation schemes--will succeed, and I hope that they will be widespread. That would be some saving grace. I would certainly give those a fair wind. A lot rests on them--the interests of the employees, and the interests of the consumers--and I hope that the Minister will look very seriously before the Bill proceeds further at the very strong points that we have made and that he will accept more than one amendment. 9.39 pm
Dr. Godman : It seems from part I that employee buy-outs will get short shrift, and that we will have a choice between a management buy-out and a company which has been encouraged to buy out a bus company. In other spheres of privatisation, employees of public utilities or state-owned organisations have been given an opportunity to negotiate with the potential buyer. The Norwegian firm, Kvaerner, was encouraged to negotiate with the work force at Govan before it acquired that yard. The Government encouraged it to negotiate. The work force decided democratically to accept the Norwegian bid, and it went ahead.
With the sale of Clark Kincaid by British Shipbuilders at East Hamilton street, Greenock, the work force, following negotiations with the would-be purchaser--Mr. Bill Scott--voted overwhelmingly to accept the terms and conditions of employment offered by the new owner. I am simply asking that a similar pattern of negotiation be adopted in part I. Following negotiations, which were led on the employees' side by Councillor Robert Jackson and John Quigley, the work force at Clark Kincaid accepted, with few dissentients, the deal that they negotiated with the new owners.
At the moment, there are negotiations involving the privatisation of Fergusons at Port Glasgow. The would-be purchaser is Ailsa-Perth of Troon. When put to the work force, the initial offer was overwhelmingly rejected in a most democratic way--by a secret ballot which conformed in every way to the Government's legislative provisions. Almost 400 men and women voted on the initial offer, and only five voted to accept it. The would-be buyer has been told by British Shipbuilders to make a fresh offer which presumably must include an improved package of terms and conditions of employment. Before bus companies such as that in my constituency are sold, employees should be consulted. Employees should be treated as employees of British Shipbuilders in Scotland and south of the border have been treated.
I sincerely hope that the new board of Caledonian MacBrayne will place orders with Scottish shipyards. I am pleased to see the Secretary of State in his place. I said earlier that a CalMac ferry is to be launched from the Ferguson yard in Port Glasgow in about two weeks' time by a member of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's family. I hope to be at the launch and that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be there, too. I have no doubt that there will be employees at the yard who are anxious to say a thing or two to him--in a most courteous way
Column 801--about the sale of CalMac. They are a very courteous lot on the lower Clyde, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. I look forward to the day when the Secretary of State orders and launches a series of ships built for Caledonian MacBrayne by the work force in Port Glasgow and the equally skilled work force in Aberdeen.
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : The theme behind the Bill was uttered by the Minister earlier. It is the belief that competition, which is what the Bill is said to be about, leads to efficiency. That is sometimes true. Opposition Members recognise that there are occasions when competition leads to efficiency. However, it does not inevitably do so. This weekend, Mr. Frank Bruno and Mr. Mike Tyson will be joined in competition but it will certainly not lead to efficiency. It will lead to one or the other being in a comatose state. In fact, some Conservative Members seem to be previewing the Tyson-Bruno fight.
As I said in Committee, the weakness of the Government's argument is that in order to stimulate competition they bring into play actors whose sole aim is to eliminate competition and to ensure a monopoly for themselves. By and large, that is what has occurred. The consequence of bus deregulation is that there is less competition this year than last year and there will be less competition next year than this year.
The method by which those who are involved in the alleged competition seek to achieve profits is by eliminating competition. There may be economy or efficiency for a while, but the aim is to eliminate competition, particularly in large parts of Scotland where the traffic on the routes is not such as to be able to sustain competition and where there is enough business only for one supplier. It would be far better for that supplier to be a public provider than a private one.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) rose --
Mr. Worthington : I am delighted to hear the assurance from the hon. Lady that competition does not automatically lead to efficiency. Those wise words have been signally absent from the Minister's contribution. It is something we have to take into account. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and other hon. Members have pointed to the contribution that has been made by minibuses since deregulation. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dumfries has acquired a minibus only in the past couple of years. Under the regionally provided services in Strathclyde, all the innovations that have been attributed to deregulation have been present for a number of years. I cannot think of any innovation that has occurred within the region since deregulation.
Competition is often followed by a neglect of those things that are crucial to the public provision of transport,
Column 802such as safety. We should have perhaps spent more time on the consequences of deregulation in terms of the standard of buses, which has visibly declined. There is no longer the same commitment to a modern fleet and one wonders what the breakdown rates are. Therefore, as I have said, competition does not inevitably lead to efficiency. What has been missing from the Government's perception is that transport is not simply a means of travelling from A to B. Transport is a means by which communities are linked, families are linked and friendships are allowed to occur. That consideration has been missing and the Government have shown collectively over the past few years a great dishonesty about transport. They have said that it is always open to regional councils to provide transport where it is socially necessary.
There are two problems about that. The Government say that it is up to the regional council to provide the subsidy but the Government also say that regional councils are spending too much on all their services, including transport. The Minister should acknowledge that it is the view of the Scottish Office that far too much money is spent by regional authorities on the maintenance of concessionary fares. It would be honest of the Government if the Minister said that it is their intention and hope that regional councils will lessen their commitment to concessionary fares. We hope for such honesty. The Government have been saying dishonestly that regional councils should support socially necessary fares. In recent years, the Government have introduced the poll tax and in doing so they have taken control of 80 per cent. of local government expenditure. That will make it increasingly more difficult for regional councils to sustain socially necessary services.
I hope that, although so many powers will be given to the Secretary of State by this enabling legislation, a means will be found by which we can keep an eye on what happens. I do not share the Minister's optimism that employee-management buy-outs will figure commonly. I do not share the Minister's optimism that locally based companies will be formed and will survive. What will occur over the next 10 years is a process whereby private monopoly establishes an inefficient stranglehold on route after route in Scotland.
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : First, I must apologise for not being here earlier. I was at a funeral in my constituency. I understand that earlier the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) said that I might be in favour of moving the headquarters of CalMac from Gourock to Stornoway. As I made clear in Committee, I would not be in favour of such a move if it led to the removal of jobs and to upheaval of the community in Gourock, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham). I want to put that on record.
I realise that time is marching on, but I want to pick up one point from the Minister's remarks. He described the Government as being absolutely committed to the lifeline services to the islands. I recall in Committee the Minister extolling the proud and historic name of Caledonian MacBrayne. I asked then why, in that case, it was ever in the Government's mind to change the historic name to that of Sealink or P and O. There is no doubt that that was the Government's intention earlier this year. They
Column 803intended to privatise Caledonian MacBrayne. Opposition Members pointed out something that the Government had not yet realised--that to privatise Caledonian MacBrayne would be to lose vast sums of investment and subsidies coming from the EEC. When the Opposition pointed that out, the Government had to go back and look again at their plans. Although they had been trying for some months to find a way round the obstacle of most of the money coming from the EEC, they could not do so. That is why Caledonian MacBrayne has not been privatised under the Bill. It is not because of the Government's commitment to those lifeline services but simply because they could not find a way around the problem of the potential loss of money from the EEC.
The great danger presented by the Bill is that it still holds the potential for further--creeping--privatisation of Caledonian MacBrayne services. We fear that, should the EEC become less generous to the lifeline services to the islands, the Government will take that as a cue to proceed with their preferred option of privatisation. Any such move would be fiercely resisted, not just by myself but by local councils and communities throughout the highlands and islands which rely on those ferry services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said that there had been no demonstrations in the streets demanding a Scottish transport Bill, and indeed there were not. However, there were demonstrations in the islands against any potential privatisations and there would be again if the threat of the privatisation of Caledonian MacBrayne recurred. The Minister should take heed of that and abandon now any intention of reintroducing the privatisation of the ferry services.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : I shall comment briefly on some of the comments made by Opposition Members. First, however, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his masterly conduct of the Bill. The Opposition have said that the present system of nationalised bus routes is a source of community spirit and a method of sustaining friendship. A variety of other phrases were also used. If there is one thing of which we are certain in the rural communities of Scotland, it is that the bus routes as organised by the regional authorities under their present structure do the opposite. It has been interesting that the Opposition have consistently had to shift their ground because they could not accommodate the desires of those who work in organisations such as Strathtay. Those people have been actively pursuing a policy of attempting to take over and run the organisations themselves to the extent that they have been shedding their wages and putting them into an account in order to bid for and take over the services which they are anxious to see serving people and which at present they recognise are not serving people. What could be a better litmus test of public feeling than that? Opposition Members have had to retreat from what they would like to call the "workers' " interest to the consumers' interest. Those who want to take over the buses and who presently drive the buses or run the service are interested in the passengers. I assume that in Labour terms passengers are consumers, but I call them passengers because I do not know anybody who consumes buses. It is important that the people who work on the buses, who run the buses and who know the people who travel on them
Column 804want to take over the buses in private organisations for the benefit of those who travel on them. That seems an argument on which the Opposition have been completely defeated. Now that the people of Scotland are to be able to take over their own buses, the Opposition's argument is thoroughly defeated.
Mr. Wilson : Before the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) works himself up into a too satanic and demonic condition, in view of his certainty about the wishes of the people who work in the bus industry in Scotland, would he advise the Government to conduct a ballot of workers within the Scottish Bus Group on whether they want to retain the status quo or opt for the Bill?
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned .
That, at this day's sitting, the Transport (Scotland) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Dorrell.] Transport (Scotland) Bill
Question again proposed , That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Mr. Andrew Welsh : I am disappointed by the Bill and the Government's handling of it. Even the most arrogant and self-assured Government must surely concede that somewhere, sometime, something that the Opposition have said must be of some relevance to the Government's operations--but not this Government. They and they alone decide what they want and push through their measures. They have listened to nothing that Opposition Members have said, apart from on one tiny amendment. In so doing, the Government have rejected a series of amendments designed to protect consumers and transport users, ensure employee-management buy-outs with guaranteed rights for employees and passengers, create an integrated transport system, ensure that services are maintained, protect the needs of individuals and groups, including the handicapped and women, and protect people in remoter parts of Scotland. All the amendments have been swept to one side by the Government. Without exception, all those amendments, which were fair and desirable, were turned down. That is disappointing.
The Government have always used their English majority, whether in Committee or on the Floor of the House, to force legislation on Scotland. If we had any choice about it, the Scots would never accept it. Scotland has rejected the Government's measures. The Government have no mandate to put them forward. If this measure were discussed in a purely Scottish forum, it would be rejected.
The Government have shown a closed mind in promoting the legislation. They are lumping English legislation--matters which are designed purely for England--on to Scotland without any real thought. We have had yuppie education, yuppie health and now we are getting yuppie transport. [Interruption.] Some of the yuppies have just arrived. The legislation was not designed with Scotland in mind. I am glad to see some English Members present. They have not been present for any part of the debate, but they
Column 805have turned up at the last minute to vote. That proves the point that I am trying to make. The Government are using their English majority to force the legislation through. They have again refused to understand the needs of Scottish transport users. We expect no better from the Government. We have received various reassurances from the Minister. I hope that the future does not prove him wrong, but I suspect that it will prove him and the legislation to be misguided. 10.4 pm
Mr. Bill Walker : I welcome the Bill and the Third Reading debate, and I do so on a special day for me. This is my 60th birthday. I will long remember the Third Reading debate, having had the opportunity to serve on two Standing Committees at the same time and the challenges that that presents, particularly when one has moved amendments and wishes to speak in both Committees. It is quite challenging. That is why I welcome this opportunity to say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that, contrary to some of the views expressed by the Opposition, there is no question but that employees of Strathtay are keen to become shareholders in the company where they work. I have no doubt that they represent a changing view. It is one of the Government's successes that we have made ordinary working people realise the value of having shares in the company where they work. That has been made possible by the sort of legislation that the Government have been putting through. Employee-management buy-outs are popular, and even the trade unions have had to accept that. In addition, the Bill provides the opportunity for the control and ownership of the SBG to be transferred to Scotland. I am optimistic that not only will management-employee buy-outs be successful, but that other Scottish companies in the bus and coach industry will have the opportunities to acquire parts of it.
All that means that Scotland can look forward to owning and running the buses that we have, knowing full well that the people working on them are probably shareholders and will have the interests of the passengers at heart. That is what this is all about.
I wish to answer the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), who said that one point has not been answered. He asked what the position was of a company which says in its bid that it will operate a concessionary fares scheme, but fails to do so in practice. While there is no statutory sanction, there could well be a contractual obligation and commitment in the sale agreement. I shall certainly look into that point further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir. H. Monro) spoke about better bus services and the Bill being a change for the better. He stressed the importance and value of bus stations, and we shall bear that in mind.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North asked whether Kenneth Ryden was involved in Southampton.
Column 806To the best of our knowledge, it was not, but we shall check up on that. He asked who the two new appointees were to the board. One is David Erdal who is chairman of Tullis Russell, the paper makers in Fife. He has introduced an employee share ownership plan to his company. It is the first in Scotland and his contribution to the board will be invaluable, especially on the issue of employee participation. The second appointee is Mr. Robert Temple, formerly finance director of Distillers.
It has been pointed out that only one amendment has been granted.
Mr. Wilson : Before the Minister moves on, we should have more information about those appointments. The first sounds reasonable, but the second is mysterious to say the least. One hopes that the connection between Distillers and bus operating is limited. Since the STG will probably disappear well within two years, why were those gentlemen appointed for two years? Will there be any follow-on into the membership of the CalMac board?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Names have not yet been considered, so I cannot say who will be appointed to the CalMac board. The former finance director of Distillers will have expert knowledge on what bids and mergers are about. That and his financial expertise will be useful.
A considerable number of commitments--
Mr. Wilson rose--
Commitments have been given to consult the Scottish Consumer Council and the Rural Forum. That has been arranged and there will be a meeting with them on 27 February. There have been comments about further meetings with the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and I have offered to meet Mr. Stevenson of the Transport and General Workers Union. I said that I would try to obtain information about the action taken by bus operators to implement the recommended bus specifications, and I reported to the Committee on the information that I had obtained. I made it clear that I had followed up with the Scottish Development Agency the need for management-employee buy-out teams to receive the same treatment as any other applicant for assistance from the SDA.
We gave an undertaking to the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) to look for candidates for the CalMac board among residents of the islands, and we shall of course do that. The Bill offers significant opportunities to those involved in the bus industry in Scotland. It will provide the opportunity for more competition. It will offer the opportunity for management-employee buy-outs, for management and employees to own the companies in which they work. It will offer the chance of greater local responsiveness. There will be a new board for CalMac and a fresh look at the company's operations against the background of our continuing commitment to the present quality of services to the islands.
Column 807I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time : The House divided : Ayes 192, Noes 113.
Division No. 106] [10.10 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Browne, John (Winchester)
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)