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Minister to look again at PTEs" powers

23rd February 1968
Page 26
Page 26, 23rd February 1968 — Minister to look again at PTEs" powers
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

• Mrs. Castle is to make a careful study of the Transport Bill to see whether—as the Tories claim—it will allow Passenger Transport Executives to run bus services to any spot in the country. This promise was made by Mr. Stephen Swingler, the Minister of State for Transport, after a long discussion during the Committee proceedings of the Bill.

Mr. Swingler agreed to see what could be done to make clear what power the PTEs would have, and what could be done to meet the Opposition when they insisted on trying to restrict the use of this power. "We shall look very carefully at all that has been said on the subject, and at a later date my Right Hon. Friend will make a statement about it."

In view of this promise the Tories withdrew an amendment designed to ensure that PTEs would not be able to operate anywhere.

Mr. Swingler pointed out that anything in regard to stage services outside the area of a PTA came under the judgment of the Traffic Commissioners—"a most important point". He noted that one of the circumstances in which PTEs could operate outside their areas was "in, connection with the exercise of their powers".

The greatest anxiety was caused to the Opposition because no attempt had been made to produce any factual basis for the way in which these authorities would run once they were set up, said Mr. Michael Heseltine (Cons., Tavistock). No public document of which he was aware gave a coherent, detailed analysis of what we could expect.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Labour) quoted reports that the optimum operating unit for a bus fleet was between 800 and 1,000 vehicles. That could not be achieved by many of the smaller local authorities, he said.

Replying to points made in the debate, Mrs. Castle said that the main bar to the full co-ordination of services had always been the differing financial responsibilities and viewpoints of the various operators. As long as they continued, as long as there was a differing financial interest and financial autonomy, then all experience showed that it would be impossible to achieve the fundamental co-ordination and reorganization which was necessary.

If public transport was to be integrated, said Mrs. Castle, we needed a fundamental reorganization of the kind outlined in the Manchester Rapid Transit Study.

She asked the Committee to reject the Tory amendment as a "piece of superficial thinking" —and this was done by 14 votes to 9.

The Tories also lost—by 15 votes to 9—an amendment which would have restricted the hiring out of vehicles by PTEs to those owned by them.

The Committee had a long discussion about the ancillary activities which the Bill proposes should be carried on by PTEs.

Answering criticisms, Mrs. Castle noted that the powers given to PTEs were permissive. It was merely a question of extending the rights of local authorities, and whether those rights should be used would be a matter for local decision and debate.

"One of the most monstrous pieces of legislation ever introduced to the House of Commons" was how Mr. Heseltine described the part of the Bill allowing a PTE to "construct, manufacture, produce, purchase, maintain and repair anything required for the purposes of their business".

The word "anything" had to be given time to percolate in its full enormity, he said. For example, this provision gave power to manufacture paint, paper, electric light bulbs and soap, to refine oil and to operate a steel works. One could go on anywhere one liked in the entire British economy. Although one part of the Bill stopped a PTE from selling, another part allowed it to form, promote and assist an outside company, which would have the power to sell.

Mrs. Castle retorted that the 1962 Transport Act had given similar powers to the transport boards and the THC.

The Tory amendment to eliminate the powers to construct, manufacture and produce was rejected by 17 votes to 13.

Answering further Tory anxieties, Mr. Swingler said that a PTE could not engage to form a company in manufacturing anything for sale to the public because it was not empowered to do so. It must be a company which carried on activities which the Executive could carry on.

Mr. Heseltine said there should be a separate trading account for each of the activities of a PTE and if the Authority wished to subsidize the activities of the PTE, it should have the power either to direct that profits from other activities should be used or that the executives should make precepts for the losses.

Mr. Stephen Swingler, Minister of State for Transport, said these bodies were not set up to make a profit. The Minister had reserve powers to direct the executive not to carry on unfair competition, where charges were lower than costs.

The voting was 17-13 against Mr. Heseltine's amendment.

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