HC Deb 29 May 1968 vol 765 cc1734-48


Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I beg to move Amendment No. 239, in page 89, line 19, at end insert: Provided that the licensing authority shall not revoke, suspend or curtail an operator's licence by reason of a conviction or prohibition contained in subsection 4(a), (f) and (g) unless he is satisfied that the record of the operator during the said period of five years constitutes a material danger to the public. This Clause which deals with revocation of operators' licences, is another which was never reached for discussion in Standing Committee. We agree with the Government that it is necessary to improve the standard of maintenance of vehicles. We believe that although the road haulage industry generally maintains its vehicles properly, there are some black sheep, and some of the figures given by the Minister last night do give cause for concern. We therefore support the Government's measures to strengthen enforcement of this branch of the law.

But some of the penalties in Clause 65 go a little too far. The Clause pro- vides that licences can be revoked if, at any time in a period of five years, which is a long time, an operator has been convicted of any of a number of offences, which are spelt out in subsection (4), in eight paragraphs. Paragraph (a) relates to convictions for maintenance, speed limits and licensing of drivers. Paragraph (b) concerns offences dealing with operators' licences. Paragraph (c) deals with offences relating to drivers' hours, paragraph (d) with offences under the Road Haulage Wages Act, 1938, for failure to pay drivers a proper remuneration, paragraph (e) with offences under the Customs and Excise Act of 1952 relating to unlawful use of rebated fuel, paragraph (f) with failure to keep proper inspection records for goods vehicles. Paragraph (g) deals with offences relating to the contravention of provisions restricting the waiting of vehicles and paragraph (h) with offences for using a vehicle on which a prohibition notice has been imposed. If, at any time in a period of five years before the revocation, an operator is convicted of any one of those offences, he can lose his licence.

Under the existing law, the 1960 Road Traffic Act, there is some limitation on power to revoke licences. Section 178(4) says: The licensing authority shall not give a direction under this section on a ground such as is referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (1) thereof unless he is satisfied that owing to the frequency of such convictions or prohibitions as are referred to in that paragraph, or the wilfulness of the act or omission leading to the conviction or prohibition in question, or the danger to the public involved in that act or omission, such a direction should be given. The offences referred to are set out in the 14th Schedule and relate to the maintenance of vehicles, limits of speed and weight of vehicles, drivers' hours and the keeping of records as to hours of work, journeys and other matters. So there is some limitation under the existing law. Unless some wilful act or some element of danger to the public can be shown, a licence cannot be revoked.

We believe that there should also be some limitation in this Bill. We are not dealing in this Amendment with every paragraph of subsection (4), since we realise that some of those offences are extremely serious and should carry automatic revocation—

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

The hon. Gentleman refers to automatic revocation, but if any action is proposed there must be a public hearing and there will be a right of appeal. There is great protection as well as what he is describing.

Mr. Awdry

Of course, it is within the discretion of the licensing authority, but it has the power, if, at any time in the previous five years, any of these offences is proved, to take away an operator's licence and to disqualify him permanently from holding one in future. That is a considerable power, and we should like it to be more selective.

We have chosen the less serious offences, namely, those contained in paragraphs (a), relating to maintenance, speed limits and licensing, (f), relating to failure to keep records of inspection, and (g), relating to unlawful waiting by vehicles. Of course, these can be serious and there may be cases in which it would be right that they carried revocation of a licence. But there may be some less serious cases in which no danger can be shown to have been caused to the public, and in these cases it would be wrong for a man to lose his livelihood. We therefore say that the licensing authority should not be able to revoke a licence under these three paragraphs unless it is satisfied that the record of the operator taken over a period of five years constitutes a material danger to the public. If it can be shown to a licensing authority that an operator is a danger to the public, then it may well be right that the operator should lose his licence. This is a strong power because the man will also lose his livelihood.

As I said at the outset, we have tabled the Amendment in a responsible way because we support the Government in the steps they are taking to strengthen the law dealing with operators who fail to maintain their vehicles. Having said that, we believe that the law would be slightly better if it could be shown to be really fair, and we consider that the penalties as provided are somewhat too stiff.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) say that he is in favour of strengthening the law in this respect to achieve a higher standard of road safety and of a system of quality licensing to raise the standards of the maintenance of vehicles and the administration of the system. We are now discussing the effectiveness of enforcing the law in these respects and the effectiveness of the penalties.

For a long time we have had a licensing system within which licensing authorities have had the power to revoke, suspend or curtail licences for offences committed by the holders of carriers licences. The terms of the Clause appear in their present form precisely because of the contrast over the years between the number of offences which appear to have been committed—my right hon. Friend gave some figures to the House last night— and the number of occasions on which licensing authorities have used their power to revoke, suspend or curtail licences.

Hon. Members will be aware of the results of the roadside spot checks which the Minister of Transport has been conducting on vehicles. They will also be aware of the deplorable results that have sometimes hit the public between the eyes. These checks have shown up many defects. While many have been of a minor nature, we should never forget that between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. of the vehicles checked showed defects of one kind or another.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro) rose

Mr. Swingler

It is important that the point I am making is fully realised. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman shortly.

The roadside checks in recent times have shown that one goods vehicle in 10 is so unsafe as to merit an immediate prohibition on its use. This serious position has made an impact on us all.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the road hauliers have said that the roadside check is not all that it seems because the vehicles selected for spot-checking appear to be in need of checking? Would the hon. Gentleman agree that not every vehicle passing the check point has been checked?

Mr. Swingler

I wish to make it absolutely clear that I am referring to spot checks in the fullest sense of the term. This does not mean that every vehicle passing the check point has been checked. There are certain obvious mechanical difficulties about doing that. Nevertheless, there has not been the selectivity suggested by the hon. Gentleman. It can be taken that, while not every vehicle was checked, a genuine sample check has been taken. In any event, 10 per cent. of vehicles were found to be so defective that the inspector issued an immediate prohibition notice on their movement. This is a serious position and it is one of the reasons for the introduction of these additional measures.

Mr. Bessell

We must get this in proportion. When the spot checks were first introduced I, on behalf of my party —being responsible for transport, as I still am—spent 48 hours with one of the testing crews. The practice was to stop vehicles which appeared to be most unsuitable for the road. I assure the Minister that this was deliberately done.

Mr. Swingler

That may be so. Those carrying out the checks have discretion in this matter. I am informed that on some occasions a completely random sample has been taken, while on others an attempt has been made to stop all vehicles. Whatever the position, thousands of vehicles have unfortunately been found to be seriously defective, and no hon. Member will dispute that.

10.15 a.m.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

The Minister is being reasonable and as this is such an important point he is right to be firm. If he is basing these penalties on the results of these surveys—which he admits may have been biased [Interruption.]—I use the word "biased" not in an unpleasant way, in that certain vehicles were picked out because they appeared to have defects— surely he must take that into account when considering the strength of the penalties.

Mr. Swingler

Without arguing about the way in which these tests are carried out—I have no wish to go into the details of that now—it is indisputable that thousands of vehicles have, regrettably, been found to be seriously defective. There have been serious cases in the courts and many hon. Members have written to me about flagrant cases that have occurred and the serious impact that those cases have made on the public, who have said, "How is it possible for vehicles with such serious defects to be allowed to be driven freely on our roads until a scandalous accident takes place?"

I have had to consider all these matters. I have pointed to the contrast between the facts as they appear in this respect, about the need to raise the standards of the maintenance and efficiency of vehicles, and the extent to which the licensing authorities have used their power under the present law to revoke, suspend or curtail licences. Hon. Members who are acquainted with instances where licensing authorities have used that power under the present law will know that it has been used in only a very few cases.

In considering why this is the position, we can look at the answer given by the hon. Member for Chippenham—the answer given by the licensing authorities —that the present law contains the qualification that the licensing authority may not use this power unless … he is satisfied that owing to the frequency of convictions or prohibitions, or wilfulness of the act or omission leading to the conviction or prohibition in question or the danger to the public involved in that act or omission… Unless the licensing authority is satisfied on all those grounds then, under the present law, he may not use the power to revoke, suspend or curtail a licence. In other words, it is incontestible to those who have examined the law that licensing authorities themselves feel—on their interpretation of the law—that they are severely restricted in the use of the power to revoke, suspend or curtail even when confronted with facts about serious defects occurring in a large number of vehicles.

My difficulty in considering the Amendment is that it appears to be far too similar to the very inhibition in the present law that has caused licensing authorities to have doubts on the use of their power. It appears that the hon. Member for Chippenham is again saying that this power of revocation and suspension should not be used in the respects he has outlined unless there has been evidence of repeated and persistent misdemeanour over a period of years. We feel that that is not a step towards making the measures effective or towards giving licensing authorities the necessary discretion to use their power of revocation and suspension in the way that it should be used.

I make it plain that, of course, all these are appealable. There is no question of arbitrary justice by a licensing authority. But we feel strongly that the authorities should be given wide discretion, in respect of serious offences which cause danger, death and disablement on the roads, to use their power to revoke licences or suspend them. If this qualification were inserted, it would be interpreted as more or less a repetition of the present law, and we know that disqualification under the present law has been little used, in spite of the considerable increase in the number of defective vehicles on the road.

For these reasons—because we want to get a serious strengthening of the law in this respect, because we trust the licensing authorities to use their power justly, because there is a system of appeal against any penalty handed out by a licensing authority—I ask the House to resist the Amendment.

Mr. Awdry

We do not intend to divide on the issue. No great point of principle is involved. It is really a question of judgment. We believe that the Amendment Would have made the Bill fairer. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 240, in page 89, line 36, leave out from 'section' to end of line 40.

No. 241, in line 45, leave out from 'direct' to 'that' in line 2 on page 90.— [Mr. Swingler.]

Mr. Carmichael

I beg to move Amendment No. 243, in page 91, line 12 to leave out 'said Act of' and to insert 'Road Safety Act'.

This is a drafting correction. The phrase, … the said Act of 1967… clearly referred to the Road Safety Act, 1967, which is mentioned in paragraph (f) of subsection (4), when paragraph (f) immediately preceded paragraph (h). But the new paragraph (g), containing a reference to the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967, was interposed in Committee, and the reference in paragraph (f) is now unclear. The Act referred to is, of course, the Road Safety Act 1967, and the Amendment makes this clear.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 244, in line 33, at end insert: 'but, notwithstanding section 57(1A)(b) of this Act, no other operator's licence held by the person in question shall authorise the use by him of any vehicle at a time when its operating centre is in an area in respect of which he is disqualified by virtue of the order'.—[Mr. Swingler.]

Mr. Swingler

I beg to move Amendment No. 245, in page 91, line 34, to leave out from 'authority' to 'licence' in line 45 and to insert: 'makes an order under subsection (5) of this section in respect of any person, the authority may direct that if that person, at any time or during such period as the authority may specify—

  1. (a) is a director of, or holds a controlling interest in—
    1. (i) a company which holds a licence of the kind to which the order in question applies; or
    2. (ii) a company of which such a company as aforesaid is a subsidiary; or
  2. (b) operates any goods vehicles in partnership with a person who hold such a licence,
    • that'.
The effect of this Amendment is to limit the use of the powers of Clause 65(6) to a case where a person has been disqualified under subsection (5) from holding an operator's licence; at present the powers of subsection (6) are available in any case where an operator's licence has been revoked. The powers themselves remain unchanged—that is, they give the licensing authority the right to revoke, suspend or curtail the operator's licence of a company or partnership with which is associated a person who has been disqualified from holding an operator's licence; in the case of companies, the association may be by way of a directorship or a controlling interest in the company itself or a holding company controlling that company.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Camichael

I begto move Amendment No. 246, in page92, line 6, to leave out from ' persons'to end of line 17 and insert: (7A) A licensing authority who has made an order or given a direction under subsection (5). (6) or (7) of this section may, in such circumstances as may be prescribed, cancel that order or direction. (8) A licensing authority shall not—

  1. (a)give a direction under subsection (1) or (2) of this section in respect of any licence; or
  2. (b)make an order or give a direction under subsection (5), (6) or (7) of this section in respect of any person,
    • without first holding a public inquiry if the holder of the licence or that person, as the case may be, requests him to hold such an inquiry.
The main change introduced is the new subsection (7A), which gives a power to the licensing authority to cancel, in prescribed circumstances, an order under subsection (5) or (7) disqualifying a person from holding an operator's licence, or any directions given under subsections (6) or (7) that a company's or partnership's licence may be liable to disciplinary action if a disqualified person is associated with them.

The lack of this power was a defect in the Clause, since there would have been no way in which such an order or direction could have been countermanded, however much circumstances might have changed over the years. This could have been particularly serious for a person disqualified without time limit. A magistrates' court may, in the circumstances set out in Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act, 1962, remove an order disqualifying a person for holding a driving licence; it seems more appropriate to follow the form of Section 19(4) of the Road Safety Act, 1967, which allows removal of a disqualification for holding a heavy goods vehicle driver's licence in prescribed circumstances.

Mr. G. Campbell

In taking out a large section of subsection (7), the Government have not reproduced the rights of appeal which are in the Bill as drafted. The words in question are: … and any person in relation to whom these powers are exercised … shall have the same rights of appeal in respect thereof as the holder of the licence or special authorisation …". Those words are not reproduced in the Amendment. Perhaps this is provided for in another part of the Bill as amended, but I should be grateful for an explanation.

Mr. Carmichael

Perhaps I should have gone on to explain this, but we are dealing with a very technical and complicated Amendment. However, if the hon. Gentleman will study the Government Amendment No. 252, with which we are shortly to deal, he will see that his question is answered and that provision is made for appeal.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 247, in page 92, line 19, leave out ' the foregoing provisions 'and insert: 'subsection (1), (2), (5), (6) or (7)'.—[Mr. Carmichael.]

Mr. G. Campbell

I beg to move Amendment No. 248, in page 92, line 21, leave out ' Minister' and insert ' Transport Tribunal'.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment I understand that it would be convenient to discuss the following Opposition Amendments: No. 250, in line 25, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'Tribunal'.

No. 251, in line 26, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'Tribunal'.

No. 252, in line 44, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'Transport Tribunal'.

No. 254, in page 93, line 5, leave out from 'appeal' to end of line and insert: 'under this section the Transport Tribunal'. No. 255, in line 6, leave out 'he' and insert 'it'.

No. 256, in line 8, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'Transport Tribunal'.

No. 257, in line 9, leave out from 'manner' to end of line 33.

No. 299, in page 103, line 13, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'Transport Tribunal'.

No. 300, in line 17, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'Tribunal'.

No. 301, in line 18, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'Tribunal'.

No. 302, in line 28, at end insert: 'or (c) being a holder of a special authorisation, is aggrieved by any direction or order of the licensing authority under subsections (1) to (4) of section 75 of of this Act,'. No. 303, in line 39, leave out subsection (3).

Mr. Campbell

We thought it convenient that all these Amendments should be considered together, Mr. Speaker, because they are all on the same point, although they arise on different parts of the Bill. They concern the question of whether appeals should be to the Minister or to the Transport Tribunal. Besides the appeals under the quality licensing part of the Bill, with which we are dealing at the moment, there is also appeal under the quantity licensing part later in the Bill, in Clause 75. We believe that it is wrong that an appeal should be to the Minister for two main reasons. First, the Minister gives general directions to licensing authorities and he is, or should be, a maker of policies. We believe it wrong that the policy-maker should also be the court of final appeal. We believe that appeals should go to a practical body concerned with the equity of the cases with which it is dealing, and that that body should not be connected with policy making. The Minister is bound to be connected with policy making on different methods of transport.

10.30 a.m.

The second point concerns time. Those in trade and industry with whom we have discussed this point are certain that if the appeal is to the Minister there will be delays of many months before there is a finding. They believe that the Departmental system is such, and Ministers so hard pressed with other business, that it could be a very long time before the results of appeals are known.

The composition of the Transport Tribunal under the Bill is to be roughly the same as that of the existing tribunal. The workings of the existing tribunal are understood by trade and industry, and it is broadly acceptable as an appeal body.

The curious paradox in the Bill is that under Clause 75 the Government have provided for the Transport Tribunal to deal with some appeals. Therefore, they recognise it still as an appeal body. Those appeals are concerned with revocation and suspension of special authorisations, the name for the licences under quantity licensing, to which we are coming shortly. Therefore, I ask the Government why they are making arrangements for the Transport Tribunal to deal with some of the appeals and for other appeals to be dealt with by the Minister. This is a new idea.

This is not a matter simply affecting the road haulage industry; it will affect trade and industry of a wide character. Everyone using vehicles will come within the quality licensing system; that is, broadly over 30 cwts. unladen or over 3½ tons plated weight. The operators of vehicles, from the farmer to the trader, will be concerned in these appeals. If the system of quality licensing is to be acceptable and is to be reasonably efficient, it must be a system to which confidence will be attached by those using it. If the appeals are concentrated on the Transport Tribunal this will make the whole system much more acceptable to those who have to use it.

I recognise that the Minister may say that there will be more work involved in these appeals than the Transport Tribunal has at present. I would be ready for any changes that may be necessary to deal with that. But that does not alter the total number of appeals which are likely to come forward. They presumably will be the same. Therefore, we believe it would be better for this body, which is recognised as the appropriate body for these appeals, to deal with them.

Mr. Manuel

One of the strong points which the hon. Gentleman was making was that, because the Minister would be associated with the legislation, it would be better if appeals went to the Transport Tribunal. Would he apply the same argument to appeals to the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland?

Mr. Campbell

I was not talking about the legislation. I said "policy making". After all, the Minister is supposed to decide policies. He may introduce legislation, and that is what we are coping with now. That is one of the results of policy decisions. I think the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) must be referring to appeals concerning criminal offences, and so on. They are of an entirely different character. The decisions which will have to be taken on quality licensing or quantity licensing, to which we will come later, will be technical and complicated decisions weighing up various factors in accordance, as we think, with rather vague criteria. This is different from appeals for clemency and other appeals which go to the Secretary of State for Scotland or to the Home Secretary. I think that I have answered the hon. Gentleman on that point and also made plain to the House why not only we on this side, but all those with whom we have consulted in various trades and over a wide range of industry, would prefer the Transport Tribunal.

Mr. Swingler

Under our system there is provision in a number of cases for appeal to the Minister of Transport. There are many cases in which my right hon. Friend is called upon to act in a quasi-judicial capacity in determining arguments. For example, appeals from licensing authorities on bus fares have to be determined by my right hon. Friend in his quasi-judicial capacity. Another example concerns the car testing scheme. If disciplinary action is taken against a garage proprietor, who is an approved examiner of cars under the car testing scheme, an appeal lies to my right hon. Friend.

In the proposals in the Bill we made a distinction between appeals involving safety factors and appeals involving economic matters. That is the answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell). We have said that in the case of quantity licensing, as we all call it, appeals should lie to the Transport Tribunal, because these involve the determination of certain economic matters connected with the proposed criteria of reliability, cost and matters of that kind. In the case of appeals concerning quality licensing, the main point is road safety. My right hon. Friend is the Minister for road safety. He is charged with the responsibility for promoting policies to raise the standard of road safety. We thought, therefore, that it was appropriate that the Minister should have the opportunity to influence the safety standards of the road transport industry by the determination of appeals on quality licensing. We thought that that might be a legitimate or desirable object.

We all recognise that the Transport Tribunal is a highly responsible body. It has a vast knowledge of the road transport industry. It has existed for a long period of time under our licensing system and has vast experience in dealing with road transport matters. Our view was not determined by the volume of work. However, we recognise there are many complicated matters involved in the introduction of the quality licensing system.

In the Bill we are freeing 900,000 vehicles from licensing. That is, more than half the vehicles in the road transport industry will no longer be subject to licensing, so there will be a certain diminution of work in that respect.

I appreciate the arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend has studied the Amendments put down by the Opposition on this point and has considered the matter. I know that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that many consequential Amendments, which naturally he has not been able to devise, will be required if this is accepted. My right hon. Friend has asked me to say that he will consider sympathetically the point made by the hon. Gentleman, and that it is more than likely that when the Bill reaches another place he will put down the necessary Amendment to meet the hon. Gentleman's point and direct all appeals to the Transport Tribunal.

Mr. Awdry

Is the Minister saying that we can expect an Amendment along the lines of that tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) to be introduced in another place?

Mr. Swingler


Mr. G. Campbell

If I heard the Minister aright, it sounds as though the Government are prepared to accept the Amendment in principle and make these appeals to the Transport Tribunal rather than to the Minister.

The Minister made one statement about which I am a little uncertain. He said that in quantity licensing the Government had decided to make the appeals to the Transport Tribunal, but in quality licensing the Minister ought to be allowed to intervene. Under quantity licensing there are appeals to both the Minister and the Tribunal. Under Clause 75 they are to the Minister, and under Clause 76 to the Tribunal. That is one thing which made us realise that the Government had not drawn a clear distinction between quality licensing and quantity licensing, which is what the Minister was explaining.

We are, naturally, pleased that the Government have accepted our arguments, and I hope that as I say this the Minister will indicate assent that the Government have undertaken to intro- duce an Amendment in another place to make all these appeals referable to the Transport Tribunal and not to the Minister.

Mr. Swingler indicated assent.

Mr. Campbell

In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 249, in page 92, line 25 after 'licence' insert: 'or, as the case may be, the person in respect of whom the direction or order was given or made under any of those subsections'.

No. 252, in page 92, line 37, leave out from second ' or ' to second ' or ' in line 40 and insert: (aa) being the holder of an operator's licence in respect of which, or a person in respect of whom, a direction or order has been given or made under section 57(5) or 65(1) to (7) of this Act:.—[Mr. Swingler.]

Forward to