|Previous Section||Home Page|
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : To the best of my knowledge, the answer is yes. The reserve powers are extremely important, and if grossly inadequate provision were made for pensions I would expect my right hon. and learned Friend to use them.
Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) : I was disappointed by the Minister's reply. It was full of even more weasel and imprecise words than usual. His speech was full of phrases such as, "All relevant circumstances will be taken into consideration"; "I am confident that" such and such a thing will not happen ; "I do not envisage" that this will occur ; "I fully realise that such may be the case"; "These will be taken into consideration"; "The means will be satisfactory"; and "This will be taken into account." I was left wondering exactly what he meant, and I am not sure whether the Minister realised what he was trying to say. What he did not give in response to the many points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) were absolute guarantees and reassurance for the people who work for the Scottish Transport Group. I hope that the Minister will go away to think about the matter and come back with some guarantees on the points that have been made. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East, the Minister said that the transitional arrangements will take between six and 16 months. He was rather vague about that, so my hon. Friend asked him more questions. Having said that he would be specific about six to 16 months, the Minister then said that he did not wish to use specific time periods when discussing the matter. What is the magic about the period chosen?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman was not a member of the Standing Committee, so he may be unaware that the disposal programme will start in the autumn and will continue for a considerable time. A crucial factor upon which it will depend is the speed at which management- employee buy-out teams can mount bids. Their interests will have to be taken into account.
Mr. Galbraith : Perhaps, not being a classics or English scholar, I have trouble putting my words into a form that the Minister can understand. I was trying to ask what was so specific about the period of 16 months. I admit that I was not on the Committee and that I am on a steeply rising part of the learning curve, but I shall reach the asymptote fairly soon. May I ask what is wrong with 15 months or 17 months?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : We consider a period of between six and 16 months altogether feasible. It seems reasonable to assume that the arrangements could be completed effectively within that time.
Mr. Galbraith : I do not wish to tease the Minister further. He is obviously in considerable difficulty, and as his PPS, the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is not yet here to assist him, I shall pass over the matter of the transitional period.
The Minister talked about the protection of pension rights. May we take it that that protection is absolute within the period of six to 16 months, although it may not be absolute outwith that period? Lord James Douglas- Hamilton indicated assent.
Mr. McAllion : Perhaps, through my hon. Friend, I could try to obtain some sympathy. The Minister did not answer me earlier when I tried to raise a point about the period of between six and 16 months. During that period the privatised company must come forward with a
Column 729proposal that the Secretary of State can accept, but included in the proposal must be an agreement between the trade unions and the employer about pension arrangements. If such an agreement cannot be reached within 16 months, must the trade unions collapse and accept whatever the employer insists on?
Mr. Galbraith : That is the crux. I was on the point of asking the Minister the same question. He tried to fudge the issue earlier by saying that he did not want to specify periods. Must this period last until an agreement is reached by both parties, or will it be a finite period at the end of which the unions must accept the propositions put forward by their employers? Would the Minister like to clarify that now, or would he prefer to wait for his PPS?
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) rose --
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : The hon. Gentleman asked what was so magical about the number 16. If he cares to count the number of persons in the Chamber, including you, Mr. Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means and his Clerk, he will find that there are 16.
Mr. Galbraith : That was an excellent contribution. I actually understood what the hon. and learned Gentleman said, which is unusual, although I do not think that it contributed much to the debate. Can the transitional period be extended for negotiation between union and employer? I shall be pleased to give way if the Minister wishes to provide some reassurance on the matter, but it appears that he does not wish to do so.
The question of retaining a national scheme rather than creating smaller schemes has already been touched on. I too have a Scottish Transport Group company in my constituency--Kelvin Scottish. Retaining a national scheme with 10,000 members, rather than creating a smaller one like the one on Tayside, would benefit all employees. The Minister did not give a clear response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East. What methods does he propose for consultation about transitional arrangements and pension schemes? We require a much more detailed answer before we can reassure those involved.
Pension schemes are vital to many of our constituents, and I should have thought that they would be of equal importance to Conservative Members in Scotland, who may soon have to look to their own pension schemes--although the Minister has reassured me that he may have other arrangements. That is why we are pursuing the matter in detail, particularly the transitional arrangements.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman has raised a relevant point. If difficulties arose in a specific case, extending the 16- month period would certainly be considered. The period may start at different times for different companies. It will start on the date of a company's privatisation and will last for at least six months, to ensure continuity of pension arrangements for employees, and up to 16 months, depending on the
Column 730circumstances of the company concerned. It is thought that 16 months should provide sufficient time for new pension arrangements to be set up, but if difficulties arose the powers in clause 12 would be available to the Secretary of State.
Mr. Galbraith : The Minister has certainly gone some way towards clarifying the position, and it would not be proper for me to be mean- spirited. His answer, however, was infected with the same problem of vague wording that has featured in all his replies. He says that the transitional period may be extended. Why can he not say that it will be extended? The Minister shakes his head. But who will decide whether the period "may" be extended? Will it be the Minister, the Secretary of State, the employers, the trade unions or some quango in which failed Tory Members of Parliament serve on inflated salaries? This is not merely a matter of semantics. Can the Minister not say "will" rather than "may"? Can he explain the difference between the two? Why cannot he be more specific?
Question put and negatived.
(1) There shall be established a body to be called the Scottish Bus Passengers' Consultative Committee,--
(2) It shall be the duty of the Scottish Bus Passengers' Consultative Committee
(a) to monitor the effects of this Act on bus passengers in Scotland ; and
(b) to make recommendations to bus operators and the Secretary of State regarding the effects of this Act on bus passengers in Scotland.
(3) The Secretary of State shall have the power to direct bus operators operating undertakings disposed of under this Act to implement any recommendations of the Scottish Bus Passengers' Consultative Committee.
(4) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament proposals for the establishment and composition of the Scottish Bus Passengers' Consultative Committee.'.
Brought up, and read the First time.
and representatives of consumer interests'.
No. 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, at end insert
in the interests of the transport user'.
No. 12, in page 2, line 29, at end insert
In so doing he shall give consideration to the interests of employees and the travelling public'.
No. 14, in clause 3, page 3, line 11, after State', insert and to the interests of the Transport Users Consultative Committee'.
Mr. Wilson : The new clause and amendments are primarily concerned with consumer interests. They assert the rights of those who use bus services to some form of protection and a place to go if their interests are not properly safeguarded.
New clause 5 proposes the establishment of a body, to be called the Scottish bus passengers' consultative committee, to monitor the effects of the legislation on passengers and to make recommendations to bus operators and the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State would have power to direct operators who are the beneficiaries of disposals under the legislation to
Column 731implement any of the committee's recommendations, and would lay before Parliament proposals for the establishment of composition of the committee. We are suggesting the establishment of what might be referred to in shorthand as "Ofbus", along the lines of Oftel and Ofgas. It is not short for "Come on, get off the bus"!
The proposal has a parallel in a new clause tabled in Committee by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) proposing that bus interests should come under the Scottish transport users consultative committee, as rail and ferry interests do at present.
I looked up just now to acknowledge the hon. Member for Dumfries, but, of course, it was a futile gesture because, once again, there is not a solitary Conservative member of the Standing Committee present other than the Minister and the Whip. Perhaps it is not surprising that the hon. Members for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) and for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) and those other hon. Members from other exotic places who served with us would not find it particularly attractive to participate in further debates on the Bill today. It is remarkable, however, that not a single Tory Member who represents Scotland has found it worthwhile to be here. We are sure that just as those Members' performance in the Committee will be noted, so their performance in the House today will be noted. Four English Tory Members were members of the Committee considering the Bill and we look forward with interest to see whether that number will rise to seven when we consider the Scottish education Bill because thefidelity of the hon. Member for Dumfries and the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) cannot be relied upon.
The concern about the privatisation of the Scottish Bus Group and its implications for its 10,000 workers felt on the Conservative Benches is demonstrated by the fact that no Back-Bench Conservative Member is present today. The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) took one look and retired whence he came. He made an important intervention when he counted the number of people present. It is perhaps surprising that he did not count and find that he had double the actual number present, but he, too, has departed.
The consumer interests that we wish to protect through the new clause and the associated amendments are many and varied. We have the support of every consumer body and of everyone who studied the bus privatisation and deregulation that took place in England and Wales. Those studies reached the conclusion that, whatever else is served by privatisation and deregulation, it is not the interests of the consumer. The Scottish Consumer Council commissioned a report on the impact of deregulation and, in passing, it commented on the implications once privatisation took place. That study clearly demonstrated that there were no proven benefits for consumers and that if such benefits were to be achieved they must be written into legislation. Similarly, the Transport 2000 group, which has done a great deal of work on this matter, has discovered beyond doubt that the interests of consumers in England and Wales have not been protected by privatisation.
The Scottish Consumer Council has criticised Scottish bus services generally for being unsatisfactory, particularly in providing timetables and other information, especially at bus stops. At the Consumer Congress conference held in July 1988 a resolution was passed calling for an enforceable code of good practice for the operation and
Column 732provision of public transport. That code was to be developed to ensure that public transport met the needs of all passengers, including the disabled and that it worked efficiently in the consumers' interest.
The Consumer Congress called for a working party to draft a code of good practice and it was intended that that working party should make use of the information generated by the 1988 transport workshop, whose discussions were reported to the congress. The idea was that there should be a checklist of consumer interests. The Consumer Congress was anxious to introduce good practices to cover such things as access, choice, information, safety and redress. We would expect regulations to be drawn up under those headings in the hope that the privatised companies would be obliged to act upon them.
As in so many other instances, we, at least, are not prepared to rely upon hope. We want something written into the Bill that makes it likely that some of the consumer safeguards will become a reality. We should not have to rely on the private sector to assist in providing facilities, especially as currently in many cases it does not provide such facilities. If facilities were not provided or routes were withdrawn or changed at short notice consumers should have a statutory right to go to a statutory body to seek redress. That body should be created by the Bill.
As I said in Committee, the lack of redress in terms of the activities of bus companies compared to the activities of rail or ferry operators represents a great anomaly. If British Rail wants to withdraw a service it must make an application to do so, which is considered, and the same thing applies to ferry services. Once again, I remind the Minister of the problems into which the Government ran when they first tried to dip their toes in the water of ferry privatisation with the Gourock-Dunoon service. That was a classic example of the consumers of transport services having their say and, as a result of the strength of public opinion--assisted by the process of a public inquiry carried out by the Scottish transport users consultative committee--forcing a reversal of Government policy. Consumers can have their say regarding ferry services, and, theoretically, regarding rail services, but the anomaly is that they have no say regarding bus services. There is no regulatory body to which people can go to subject the operators' proposals to the necessary scrutiny in the public interest, particularly in the consumers' interest.
Protection is needed for the disabled--their needs are a good reason for a code of conduct to exist--and it should be statutorily enforceable. In Committee, we discussed the report of the disabled persons transport advisory committee many times. There was general agreement that the recommendations put forward in that report were excellent, compassionate and necessary to protect the interests of the disabled. If those recommendations were sensitively applied they would greatly enhance the prospects and ability of disabled people to enjoy the benefits of public transport by travelling wherever bus routes may take them. Currently, physically disabled people--
r selected it. He has not done so and, therefore, it would be out of order for the hon. Gentleman to pursue his present line of argument under this new clause Mr. Wilson : I am grateful for yourguidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I assure you that I am talking about the disabled only in terms of the general need for consumer protection, which is encompassed in new clause 5.
The Scottish bus passengers consultative committee proposed in new clause 5 would consider the needs of the disabled if representations were made to it. Provisions for the disabled should also be contained in the code of conduct that we have asked to be drawn up. In view of what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall keep my remarks on this subject brief but I hope that other hon. Members will also refer to the disabled persons transport advisory committee report that I mentioned.
In Committee when we discussed the needs of the disabled and the need for a code of good practice, the Minister's response, as it was to everything else to do with consumer interest, was "It will be all right on the night". The Minister used such phrases as "We hope", "We will advise", or "We will suggest" that private operators should take account of the consumer interest. The Scottish Consumer Council, Transport 2000, BusWatch and so on have urged that consumer interests should be statutorily enforceable by the Bill, but the Minister has rejected such recommendations. On the basis of the English experience of privatisation, it is clear that unless such provisions are written into the Bill, consumer interests will not be considered by the bus companies. Currently, there is no source of redress to which the travelling public can go.
In Committee the alternative proposal advanced by the hon. Member for Dumfries was for the powers of the Scottish transport users consultative committee to be extended. At that time the hon. Gentleman expressed the hope that between then and Report his hon. Friend the Minister would look into the matter, talk to his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and decide that it was more logical to have one body looking after all transport issues in Scotland. As the hon. Member for Dumfries is not in the Chamber to press his point, I shall charitably do it for him. Will the Minister tell us whether any such discussions have taken place and, if so, what were the conclusions? Because of privatisation, a separate regulatory consumer body is desirable, but we certainly regard the extension of bus powers to the Scottish transport users consultative committee as better than nothing.
Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : I support the new clause because it is essential for bus users to have their interests protected. I hope that the Minister will make clear what happened to the idea of his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) about extending the remit of the Scottish transport users consultative committee to include buses. I am not sure why the Minister would not take that on board. Had that something to do with the traffic commissioners or with the Department of Trade and Industry? If so, it is deplorable because I should prefer the remit to be allocated, as it were, by the Secretary of State for Scotland or by the Minister.
I agree with the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that it is regrettable that there is no umbrella
Column 734body to oversee all modes of transport in Scotland. Many journeys contain an element of bus travel and it is essential that bus, ferry, train and even air services should be co- ordinated to give the best possible connections to passengers whose journeys require the use of more than one form of transport.
Many of the remote areas of Scotland have aging populations and many such people do not have the use of cars. In Committee we talked about the needs of women returning home late at night and of the problems encountered by mothers with young children transferring from one mode of transport to another. As I say, we need an integrated service.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I was listening carefully to the hon. Lady before the hon. Gentleman intervened. I draw to the attention of the House that the new clause deals with a Scottish bus passengers' consultative committee. I hope that hon. Members will confine themselves to talking about bus passengers.
Mrs. Michie : I note your ruling about sticking to the new clause, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I can assure you that I have no intention of straying into the question of the location of the headquarters of Caledonian MacBrayne.
I reiterate that we should have a Scottish bus passengers' consultative committee and I am trying to relate the new clause to my belief that we should have an overall consultative committee. It would be much more sensible to have a body responsible for surveying all transport activity in Scotland because there is no organisation with responsibility for doing that. We shall have the Scottish TUCC and if the Minister accepts the new clause we shall have another body responsible for the buses. The users of Scotland's buses should be able to turn to one body which oversees the other modes of transport. Perhaps that role for the Scottish TUCC is being rejected because on many occasions it has been reactive rather than taking the initiative.
Will the Minister explain why we do not have an overall monitoring system to ensure that transport users get value for money and that there is a proper service, especially for those in rural areas? If the Minister cannot answer that, I shall support the clause.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : I fully support the new clause and the related amendments. The changes that are taking place, especially in relation to bus passengers, are wide and varied and are becoming more important as each week goes by. The deregulation of buses has led to a great diminution in the service, especially at weekends and at night when people in rural and city areas feel isolated.
The use of buses is becoming even more important in relation to rail transport. No doubt, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will wonder how rail transport could relate to the Scottish bus passengers' consultative committee. It is precisely because of Government policy. It will be within the memory of the House--although the memories of Conservative Membes are probably as blank as Conservative Benches--that about five and a half years ago the right hon. Member for Cirencester and
Column 735Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), when he was the Secretary of State for Transport, implemented a very novel idea. It was about the relationship between the Government and the transport industries and the Government and the rail industry in particular.
The right hon. Gentleman started the process of the three-year letters of intent in which the relationship between the Government and British Rail was clearly set out. It is well known that I disliked what was in the first three-year letter of intent, but I wholly approved of the principle. It is worth repeating that it stripped for ever from folklore the idea that British Rail was wholly independent and could do what it liked, that the Government had no connection with it and were not concerned in the day-to- day running of its affairs, and that there was a chasm between British Rail and the Government. The right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury made clear that British Rail did what it was told. Certainly there is much discussion and bargaining about how much money is available, but, essentially, British Rail does what it is told.
The second three-year letter of intent was provided by the right hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore) who is now the Secretary of State for Social Security. An important part of that letter which impinges directly on new clause 5, and makes it essential that the new clause is accepted, was that the right hon. Gentleman said that before British Rail made any investment plans for rural areas it should consider bus substitution. It is perfectly clear what that meant. There was to be no investment in lines to help rural passengers, many of whom were denied easy access to hospitals, doctors' surgeries, pharmacies, dental facilities and leisure and recreation. Many of them were also completely cut off from the normal trading conditions that enable people to exercise choice. The Government are keen on people exercising choice when buying the weekly groceries, but such choice is removed from people who live in rural areas and depend on public transport.
The role of the bus becomes much more important if rail services disappear and are to be replaced by bus services. Part of the three-year letter of intent went so far as to say--this is quite astonishing--that for an initial period, which as far as I can recollect was never defined, British Rail should subsidise bus services because buses were being subsitituted for trains. That was a novel concept for the Government to put forward. In some circumstances I would have welcomed such a discussion. If British Rail is under pressure to increase the frequency of its service, there is a case for a co-ordinated transport system operating bus and rail services. If there is a need for transport when it is not convenient to run rail services, or if only a certain number of trains can run on a line because goods trains and passenger services cannot operate at the same time-- although perhaps British Rail should be more innovative in its mix of passenger and freight
services--perhaps it is a good idea for British Rail and the bus services-- as they are today, not as they will be affected by the Bill--to get together.
There are many examples of how different services should work together and how passengers' interests would be better served if there were a body to decide whether the bus companies are carrying out their responsibilities. In the village of Portlethen, some 15 miles outside Aberdeen,
Column 736the main line station was closed many years ago as it was said to be uneconomic. The nearest main road is three or four miles away, but the buses would not leave the main road to drop passengers at Portlethen village because the bus companies said that it was uneconomic. As the years went by, the village of Portlethen grew, partly due to the oil industry, and became a greater commuter catchment area, and better transport links became vital. After all the years in which we pressed British Rail to open the station and the bus company to allow buses to come down into Portlethen village, when the station was reopened, the bus companies suddenly decided that buses would come down off the main road and start a service to compete with British Rail. That seemed to be nonsense. There were difficulties for British Rail passengers and bus passengers. While all that agitation was going on a dual carriageway had been built between Aberdeen and Stonehaven. Instead of providing a service when it was most needed, the bus companies and British Rail were persuaded to provide services only when the road network made it less attractive for people to use public transport if private transport was available. In such a situation we would expect the Scottish bus passengers' consultative committee to step in and examine the proposals.
It is difficult enough to persuade publicly owned companies to provide bus services to replace rail services when an element of public subsidy is available, at least in theory if not in practice. As hon. Members who are present know, the way in which transport subsidies and grants are provided in Scotland is quite different from the system in the rest of the country. Transport does not appear as a separate item, but as part of the overall block grant to regional authorities. Therefore, it is difficult to know how much money is being provided, and whether a regional authority is using the money allocated for transport in the block grant for transport matters. That is difficult enough for a publicly owned company with a social responsibility. Whatever anyone might say about private companies, they do not have a social responsibility. Their responsibility is to make the maximum profit for their owners. Therefore, they will be ruthless in cutting services that do not pay. If they have come to an arrangement with British Rail under the bus substitution programme and they consider that they are not getting enough money, there will be no cosy chats or friendly discussions in the board room; they will be absolutely ruthless and cut the services.
It is fashionable to say that transport has changed dramatically over the past decade or so, and no one would deny that. Of course modes of transport have changed and people's personal choices have widened. There is no doubt that the advent of the motor car and the provision of better roads-- although in my part of the world we would argue strongly for road improvement--mean that people exercise greater personal choice. Therefore, it is fair to ask why we are so keen on public transport if all experience over the past decade or so shows a fall in rail and bus passenger services and traffic in rural areas and in cities. Things have changed and unemployment has hit people extremely hard and reduced their ability to buy cars. The Scottish bus passengers' consultative committee would be an excellent way of examining what happens.
In response to the noises we make about services disappearing, cuts in services and increased fares, the Minister might say that we are speculating. He might say, as he constantly says, "Don't worry, the market will provide. It will be taken care of. If there are enough
Column 737passengers there will be enough buses, and if there are enough buses there will be enough passengers." That is a nice simple equation, but it does not work. I know that the Minister is a fair- minded man and I fear very much for his future. If the Prime Minister reads the debate in Committee and sees the praise that I heaped on the Minister during those 12 sittings, the Minister will be next for the chop in the reshuffle, and I would not want that to happen to him.
The Minister is a fair-minded man, so he is bound to accept that there are genuine worries. We are not scaremongering. It is too easy to say that the Opposition are just scaremongering and making it all up, and it will not be as bad as we fear. I hope that it will not be as bad as I fear, but experience of the National Bus Company in England and Wales shows that it was worse than we feared. The services were cut so drastically that at the time no one in their right mind would have forecast that they would become so bad. Without scaremongering, we fear very much for the needs of bus passengers. Not knowing which companies will take over, and not knowing whether they will simply speculate on the available properties, it is essential that there is a back stop. It can do no harm ; it can do only good. I do not know why the Minister, having listened to the arguments of my hon. Friends, has not leapt to his feet to say that he accepts the new clause. We could save a lot of time and move on to other things. The Minister ought to accept the new clause. We would be delighted, and I expect that would blight his future even more, but it is essential that we have a mechanism to check on what is happening so that there is information and a body to which people can bring their grievances so that matters are properly set out and, more important, rectified before damage is done.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : The Government are taking us into unknown waters with the changes in the legislation. Who knows what the exact situation will be and what problems will arise as those changes are forced upon the Scottish people who did not want them in the first place? However, it is quite clear that there will be major difficulties for travellers in Scotland. Certainly the first signs from other areas in which the Government have been allowed to carry out such schemes show that there will be considerable problems for transport users when the changes are introduced.
We are entitled to ask who will look after the public interest and consider the problems for individual travellers. The new clause seeks to address that specific problem. A Scottish bus passengers' consultative committee would be one mechanism by which any problems caused by the changes could be examined from the point of view of the users of the transport system in Scotland. At least there would be an assured mechanism which could be guaranteed to represent the interests and needs of travellers. The new clause seeks to give the Committee reasonable duties, and surely seeking to monitor the effects of the legislation is a necessary and useful function for such a committee. We are entitled to ask who will perform that task if there is no consultative committee. What assurances can the Minister give the Scottish travelling public? Who will make the necessary recommendations if problems arise--as they surely will? A consultative committee would be an assured way of helping the travelling public, but without it the problem
Column 738will be passed to the Government. In that event, how would they expect to protect the consumer? Before the afternoon is out, I hope that we shall hear from the Minister how the Government propose to do that and how effective his alternative--if it exists--will be. The new clause will allow a consultative committee to make recommendations to bus operators and to the Secretary of State about the effect of the Act on bus passengers in Scotland. If no such committee is formed, who or what will make those recommendations? The new clause also seeks to create a fair and reasonble assured mechanism to protect the rights of travellers under the new system. If the Minister cannot reassure us and explain how he intends to achieve those objectives, he should accept our proposals.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : When this legislation was presented to the Chamber some weeks ago, I inquired of the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last attempted to board a bus whilst trying to fold a pushchair, with an infant in one arm and a toddler held by the other hand. I am still waiting for an answer. Since the Ministers presenting this legislation hardly ever travel by bus, the least they can do is to listen to those who do so daily.
I would go further--I am not sure whether my hon. Friends presented such an amendment but it was not called--and ask that such a consultative committee comprise a large number of women bus users. I am sure that the proposers of the new clause would agree with that because women tend to use buses more than men, for two main reasons. First, even if a household owns a car, typically, the car is used by the husband going to work in the morning. The wife, presumably looking after the children, gets about by bus with whatever inconvenience that entails, such as the lack of public transport at less busy periods.
Secondly, since women are generally lower paid than men--earning on average about three-quarters of men's pay--they are less likely to be able to afford cars. This is obviously well known, because car advertisements in glossy magazines are clearly, on the whole, addressed to men, not women, car buyers.
The least that the Government should do when designing the legislation is to address the needs of women bus users. They should think not only of convenience, especially for women who have young children to look after, but of safety. The Government cannot be unaware that women are frightened to travel alone at night in isolated places, to wait in bus depots where no staff are present, or to be dropped off at bus-rail links at isolated railway stations where there is no one to guard them against possible danger. The point is frequently made that if bus fares were set at a reasonable level, buses would be used more often and public safety would be greater. Conservative Members tend to ignore the dangers for women bus users because there are so few women amongst them--at the moment there are no women at all on the Government Benches. The Government perhaps ignore the need for safety, but many women take it very seriously. Surveys demonstrate that 88 per cent. of women feel that it is unsafe to walk alone on the streets at night, which shows that a great public need is being ignored.
Column 7395.15 pm
My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) mentioned the needs of disabled passengers, and clearly the Bill should represent the needs of bus users who suffer from any form of physical disability. Those needs are largely ignored. Disabled people find that they have to put a great deal of effort into making various authorities meet their ordinary everyday needs. At this stage, we have an opportunity to ensure that the legislation will allow their voices to be heard through formal channels so that they do not have to resort to the usual practice of writing to the appropriate organisations. Such methods do not give their cause sufficient weight, but a consultative committee would ensure that disabled people have a strong voice in these matters. That should not be a matter of controversy and I hope that the Minister will consider it.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : The new clause offers Scottish people the opportunity to have at least some confidence in the Government's attitude to the privatisation of the bus service. We know that the recent privatisation of bus services has led to escalating prices, a lowering of standards and customers' complaints being ignored. That was all in aid of the companies' desperate need to make massive profits.
I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the call from the Opposition and ensure that when privatisation takes place, the golden opportunity will not be missed to set up the Scottish bus passenger consultative committee, which, we hope, will examine customers' complaints and safeguard their interests. It is obvious that the Government have a chance to consider what they are proposing. If they really mean to improve transport in Scotland, why are they frightened of agreeing to the new clause?
At present, many bus companies operate routes that are subsidised by local authorities. They also run timetables that attempt to meet the needs of the local people. The fare structures have also been closely examined.
I believe that the consultative committee will be able to ensure that bus routes serve local areas and communities. It can also examine timetables to ensure that bus companies operate not only at peak times but at midday or at other times when people wish to travel to doctors, hospitals or services that may be situated in the centres of population in cities and towns.
As the Minister knows, I live in a rural area and if I want to go to hospital I first have to go to Paisley. What a disaster it would be if the local bus company decided not to run bus services after about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. What would happen to the elderly and the disabled who are invariably given appointments at off-peak times? Most doctors and consultants in hospitals try to make appointments for people in work at a time when they will not lose too much money.
Correct timetabling in rural areas is essential to ensure that people get to work on time, and the consultative committee could examine such matters. The fare structure is also extremely important. The Government talk about competition, but what chance is there for competition in rural areas where there is perhaps only one bus every hour, or every two or three hours? Passengers have a gun at their head and are told they must pay a certain amount. If they do not, they cannot travel. Such a system punishes the
Column 740elderly and the unemployed who are on fixed incomes, and the disabled who, we all know, live well below the poverty level. A consultative committee could also investigate the quality of the buses. I hope that privatisation will not lead to the kind of things that happened after deregulation. Some buses are hardly fit for the road. I am not alleging that they are mechanically unsafe, but when people go to parties or dances they find that some of the buses are not clean and up to the standard that they had come to expect when buses were under local authority control. Some buses are absolutely filthy. They are not kept thoroughly clean, as they were when they were looked after by the local authorities. Since deregulation, buses are only trying to get from A to B as fast as possible in order to make as much profit as possible. The Bill could lead to exactly the same kind of problem. A consultative committee could investigate the quality of buses.
The Minister knows of my concern about the attitude of this Government and previous Governments and that of the people of Britain towards the disabled. We treat them lamentably. The new clause would provide a golden opportunity for the consultative committee to ensure that bus companies carry out recommendations that would ensure that the elderly and the disabled can travel on buses in Scotland in comparative safety. It could also consider what type of adaptations and timetables should be introduced to meet the needs of the disabled.
The Minister has been praised in the debate. He has been described as a caring individual. I believe that he is. The new clause provides him with an opportunity to prove that he is a caring individual. It is clear, however, that the Minister has been browbeaten by his superiors who have said to him, "No, Minister, you will not look after the needs of the elderly, the disabled and the unemployed. You will look after the fast buck merchants who are waiting to come in to steal and cheat and to deal in a shoddy, grasping way with bus companies that have been made successful by the local authorities." The Minister has an opportunity to stand up and be counted by the travelling, suffering public in Scotland. The new clause provides him with an opportunity to ensure that Scottish people are provided with a consultative committee of men and women who will look after the public's interests and recommend to bus operators what they ought to do to improve services. If the bus operators do not accept its recommendations, the consultative committee should be able to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to take action. I ask the Minister to support the new clause. It would provide the people of Scotland with at least the hope that after privatisation they will have decent bus services. Otherwise, I am convinced that bus services in Scotland will continue to deteriorate.
Mr. McAllion : I support the establishment of the kind of body that is outlined in new clause 5. I am sure that all 62 Opposition Members with Scottish constituencies support the establishment of a Scottish bus passengers' consultative committee. I suspect that a number of Conservative Members support the establishment of such a committee--most likely the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the hon. Members for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang). If they were here, I am sure that they would support new clause 5. The
Column 741reason that they are not here is that they feel that they would have to vote for new clause 5 if they were here, so they have absented themselves from the debate.
The heart of new clause 5 is subsection (2). It refers to the duty being placed on the new committee
" (a) to monitor the effects of this Act on bus passengers in Scotland ; and
(b) to make recommendations to bus operators and the Secretary of State regarding the effects of this Act on bus passengers in Scotland."
If we examine the provisions of the Bill, we realise that there is a great need for such a committee to protect the interests of bus users.
Clause 2 sets out the objectives of disposal. They are to promote competition, to bring private sector bus operators into the market and put them in charge of what are now public sector subsidiaries. The changes would have a detrimental effect on bus passengers. Control of subsidiary companies could pass into the hands of an owner who is outwith the local area. Nothing in the Bill guarantees that management and employee bids will be successful. Somebody could come along from outwith the region, or even from outwith Scotland or the United Kingdom, and take over a bus company.
If that happened, there could be a number of consequences. There could be asset stripping, with the new owner selling bus stations for a quick profit. The result would be a deterioration of services in all the ways that my hon. Friends have pointed out--the cleanliness of the buses, the regularity of services and the kind of facilities that are made available to the unemployed, women, the elderly and the disabled.
It is important to establish a committee to monitor these matters, because of what has happened since the deregulation of bus services in Scotland in 1985. Under the Act, regional councils no longer have the power to co- ordinate bus services in their area, with the result that gaps have begun to open up in the bus network throughout Scotland. For example, in Dundee the Tayside Public Transport Company, which is still owned by the regional council, has been forced, under the provisions of the 1985 Act, to alter some of the services and make them commercial. The No. 17 service to Whitfield in Dundee used to operate a two-way pattern which suited everyone ; because of cross-subsidy, the public transport company was able to maintain that service. However, the pattern of service has had to be changed to make the service commercial and profitable. The bus, therefore, no longer goes along Summerfield terrace, with the result that 50 old-age pensioners have had to draw up a petition to try to persuade the public transport company to reinstate the two-way pattern. However, the company's hands are tied because the Government insist that the main consideration must be that bus services are commercially profitable. Consequently, the 50 old-age pensioners have a 10-minute walk to catch the local bus, whereas previously they could catch it near their front door. That is the reality of Government interference in the way that bus networks are run in Scotland. It is important, therefore, that there should be a committee, with consumer representatives on it, that can give advice to, and be consulted by, the Government. It is important that it should also have teeth.
Subsection (3) of the new clause says :