HC Deb 20 February 1967 vol 741 cc1289-94
Mr. Swingler

I beg to move Amendment No. 24, in page 15, to leave out lines 32 to 44 and to insert: (2) The Minister may by regulations require that prescribed alterations in any of the relevant aspects of design, construction, equipment or marking made to any vehicle for which a manufacturer's certificate or a Minister's approval certificate is issued shall, subject to any exemption granted under the next following subsection, be notified to the Minister. (3) The Minister may by notice in writing given to the manufacturer of goods vehicles or to the owner of a vehicle for which a Minister's approval certificate is issued—

  1. (a) direct that any specified alteration in any of the said aspects to a vehicle to which the direction relates shall be notified to the Minister;
  2. (b) exempt a vehicle to which the notice relates from all or any of the requirements of regulations under the last foregoing subsection, subject to compliance with any conditions specified in the notice.
(4) Without prejudice to the provisions of section 12 of this Act, the Minister may by regulations require that a manufacturer's certificate or Minister's approval certificate issued for any vehicle shall specify the regulations if any applicable to the vehicle under subsection (2) of this section at the time of the issue of the certificate, any additional alteration to that vehicle required by any direction under the last foregoing subsection to be notified to the Minister and any exemption applicable to that vehicle under that subsection. This may appear a formidable and complicated Amendment, but I hope to be able to explain it briefly. It arises from our discussions with manufacturers, operators' associations and trade unions about the question of type approval of vehicles. Indeed, the Amendment is proposed as a result of suggestions by representatives of manufacturers and other associations that the requirement to notify alterations to type approved vehicles should, as far as possible, be laid down in regulations. This would bring the requirement into line with similar requirements under the provisions of Clause 8 referring to alterations affecting plated weights. These notifiable alterations affecting plated weights have to be laid down by regulation.

To make doubly sure that the owner understands his obligation to notify alterations, the organisations which we have consulted agree that there is a case for a power, which the Amendment proposes to give, to require a manufacturer's certificate, or the corresponding certificate issued by the Ministry to non-massproduced vehicles, to contain a reference to the regulations applicable to the vehicle concerning notification of alterations.

The proposed Amendment contains a power to modify by ad hoc direction the obligations of general regulations regarding notifiable alterations. The modification could be by way of adding to the list of notifiable alterations or by way of giving an exemption from any or all of the notification obligations. The manufacturer's certificate of conformity, in such a case, would have to set out the direction in full. It is not thought that this would be an unnecessary burden upon manufacturers, because the power to make ad hoc directions is regarded as essentially a reserve power. It is hoped that it would not be necessary to use it unduly frequently, but only time and experience of the operation of the type approval scheme will provide the answer to this.

10.30 p.m.

Finally, the modifications by ad hoc direction are not likely to be of the same voluminous nature as the general regulations applicable to notifiable alterations. It has been suggested by interested organisations, and the Department is looking into the suggestion, which, prima facie, is a sensible one, that a guide to type approval be issued once the Bill is passed. This guide would set out for the benefit of operators of goods vehicles and others concerned the action which they might need to take in differing circumstances. It would be much on the lines of similar pamphlets issued in respect of, for instance, the National Insurance Acts by what is now the Department for Social Security.

That is the scope of the Amendment, and I hope it will have the agreement of the House.

Mr. Galbraith

I would like to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary just one or two questions, because this involves alterations, and in Committee I said I hoped that the need to notify alterations was not going to involve operators in a lot of unproductive paper work, and the Minister seemed at that stage to agree with me and said there was a possible danger of unnecessary bureaucratic proliferation of paper, and the whole matter was under discussion. He has now produced his proposal, and the Amendment refers to "prescribed alterations".

Yet surely the important thing is not so much the nature of the alterations as the effect which an alteration is likely to have on the performance, and hence on the safety, of the lorry. It is that, the performance and safety of the lorry, rather than the alteration itself, which we must keep our eye upon, otherwise there will be an endless amount of paper work. For example, brakes are very important. Will the operator have to seek approval before he changes his brake linings, or will he have those brake linings decided for him, or is this something he may do without notification? All that matters, it seems to me, is the effectiveness of the brakes; it is performance which counts.

I quite appreciate that a fundamental alteration should be notified, so far as that alteration and modification go, and I see a vehicle should be submitted for replating certificates; but I should like the Minister to confirm that he does not intend going beyond that, and is not going to impose on the operators a burden which will require them to complete forms every time they put their vehicles in a garage to have new parts fitted. I am sure he does not intend that; at least, I hope he does not; but I should like him to confirm it in the House.

Just one other point I would raise with him. I see that the details of what are required are not only to be made by regulations which, properly, come to be laid before the House, but there is also in the new subsection (3) a reference to the Minister's direction. I do not know, but this is probably not at all sinister; but what does "direction" mean? I would be grateful if he would tell me whether this means some whim of the Minister is to have the force of law or whether this is just another way of saying that there will be an order placed before the House. If the Minister could say a few words on these points I would be grateful to him.

Mr. Graham Page

May I support the last point which my hon. Friend has just made? The Amendment is not at all clear as to how the Minister will carry out the obligations or rights under these three proposed new subsections. The Amendment starts off by saying that The Minister may by regulations require that prescribed alterations and so on. We see in Clause 26 what is meant by "prescribed". It means prescribed by regulations made by the Minister". We are then told in subsection (6) of Clause 26 that the regulation-making power of the Minister is as it is under Section 260 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960. That means that such regulations must come before the House with the normal power of Members praying against them and the power of this House to annul them. So the Minister first makes the regulations and places them before the House, and they are subject to the negative procedure, but then, having made those regulations with the force of law, he can by the stroke of a pen, as I understand the Clause, nullify them either by directions or by exemptions.

I do not wish to make it an elaborate business for the Minister to give simple little exemptions in cases where this is necessary, but let us get it clear how far he will go in setting aside regulations which will have been approved by the House by their lying on the Table for 40 days or even by a Prayer against them being rejected. If the Minister is to make regulations and then set them aside by directions or exceptions, it seems rather a farce. We ought to look closely at, and have a careful explanation of, the subsections before we agree to them.

Mr. Swingler

I am sorry if I did not fully explain this. It is a complicated matter, I agree. I shall endeavour to answer the questions that have been asked.

The point is that general regulations must and will be made. There will be general regulations imposing a particular set of type approval requirements on new vehicles of a given class, but once these general regulations have been made, models falling within the given class may be exceptional—here we are dealing with exceptional vehicles but perhaps individual prototypes—in that either they need not be subject to as many requirements about notification of alterations as others or they may be capable of additional alterations requiring notification beyond those set out in the general regulations.

In our conception as a result of our consultations with those interested in this, we cannot have a situation where the regulations generally have continually to be changed every time some exceptional model or component is type approved within the framework of a given set of type approval performance requirements. That is why these Amendments contain a power to modify by an ad hoc direction the application of the general regulations which will continue to apply regarding notifiable alterations. As I said, modification by an ad hoc direction by my right hon. Friend could be by way of either adding to the list of notifiable alterations or giving an exemption to any or all of the notifications. But I emphasise that here we are concerned with non-mass-produced vehicles.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) raised the question of the burden of these regulations upon manufacturers. I give an assurance straight away that it is not our intention to burden diesel operators, nor to burden the Ministry of Transport, by imposing requirements to notify comparatively trivial alterations such as normal replacement of parts. The notifiable alterations will be structural alterations affecting the plated weights or the performance re- quirements imposed by type approval regulations. The regulations will deal with such things as the chassis frame construction, the braking system, tyres and wheel equipment, loadings of axles, suspension systems, and so on.

Any regulations will be subject under Clause 26(6) to prior consultation with the interested organisations. We shall therefore endeavour to meet what will undoubtedly be the desire of the interested organisations not to tie themselves up with over-complex or detailed regulations in trying to deal with what all must admit is a novel and difficult matter.

I hope, on the basis of these assurances, that the House will accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.