HC Deb 29 November 1973 vol 865 cc732-49
Mr. Varley

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 8, leave out subsection (2).

It seeks to probe the intentions of the Government because we are concerned about the uses to which the subsection may be put. The Secretary of State was not sufficiently forthcoming in his explanation on Second Reading to allay some of our misgivings about what it could be used for. He said : Authority may be given for the relaxation of certain provisions relating to the operation of public service vehicles, thus enabling the most effective use to be made of the vehicles and the crews available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November 1973 ; Vol. 865, c. 46.] These are extensive powers, and they represent a massive intervention in the working and staffing of public service vehicles. We need some explanation before we can allow the powers to go through.

I refresh the memory of hon. Members about these powers. The Government seek to take powers for a person to use or cause or permit the use of, any vehicle on a road … without any licence, permit, agreement or consent otherwise required", to drive or act as conductor of a public service vehicle without being licensed to do so", and to permit a person to act, as the driver of a passenger vehicle without complying with the requirements of subsections (1) to (6) of section 96 of the Transport Act 1968". What exactly has the Minister in mind? If he had to use those powers in a semi-emergency situation, would he consult the trade unions involved? If he did not, there might be a great deal of trouble. He knows how sensitive members of trade unions are to the dilution of their work.

Most of the people who drive vehicles, particularly public service vehicles, have to have certain qualifications, to reach a standard of proficiency. To set aside those qualifications and standards is a matter which should concern us all.

Some of my hon. Friends have expressed to me the fear that the powers the Government seek in the subsection could be used for strike-breaking. I hope that the Minister can allay that fear. I hope that he can give a specific assurance that he does not have that in mind, and that the powers would not be used in such circumstances. He must know that the subsection is open to that interpretation.

There are other matters that I do not propose to go into now. One that I must mention is the safety of passengers. Passenger transport is a specialised activity. Those who are suitably qualified are responsible for the safety of many people.

Before we agree to the subsection, we need an adequate explanation from the Under-Secretary on those matters.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Keith Speed)

I thank the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) for the way in which he has explained his probing amendment. I can give him the assurance straight away that strike breaking was certainly not in our minds.

We are seeking to enable a more flexible use of public and private road transport, if a certain situation is reached, leading to greater utilisation of road transport. That would be particularly important in some rural areas and even in urban areas if there were petrol rationing and other things which might restrict people's mobility, particularly for getting to work.

Before my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State took action under the subsection there would certainly be consultation with the appropriate unions.

The hon. Gentleman has fairly described some of the important powers that can arise under the subsection. In fact, my right hon. and learned Friend would be working through the traffic commissioners, with one exception to which I shall come a little later. The traffic commissioners are statutory authorities throughout the country with great experience in licensing, road safety and the control of public transport.

11.0 p.m.

The authority to set aside the PSV requirements would be granted on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend by the chairmen of the traffic commissioners, the licensing authorities for the appropriate traffic area. The chairmen's staff are already responsible for the enforcement of safety provisions. It would be most unlikely, if there were to be flexibility and if the powers were to be used, that the public would be put at risk by the traffic commissioners.

If necessary, the relaxation would begin with the road service licensing provisions. That has nothing to do with safety. It would merely make it easier to short-circuit the present fairly complicated system of licensing so that additional services could be put on where they might be required. The technical requirements for vehicles would only be retaxed if it proved otherwise impossible to obtain sufficient vehicles complying with the statutory requirements. Where there is relaxation under the various Acts which have been quoted, it will be possible to use vehicles which may not comply with the standard amenity requirements. I refer, for example, to using school buses for normal stage carriage work.

It would not be open for anyone to run a bus service. That could be done only with the special authority of the traffic commissioners. Such authority would not be granted lightly. If, for example, there were conditions in which excursions and tours had to be restricted, it would be foolish not to have the power to enable operators of such services to use their surplus vehicles to ease the strain on regular public transport.

Private motorists would be enabled under the subsection to offer lifts and to charge for them. If this were done there would have to be a clear public warning—perhaps I should start to make the warning—that the insurance policies of private motorists do not normally cover carriage for hire or reward. Special provisions would have to be taken in such an event. Such provisions might be important for rural areas if the overall situation became very serious and it became necessary to invoke these powers.

We do not seek to lower the standard of driver licensing. I am sure that the unions would not want us to do so. We would contemplate such relaxation only as a temporary expedient under conditions of fuel rationing. It would be impossible to bring about a sharp increase in the number of drivers taking PSV tests so as to qualify for a licence. That should not prevent drivers of good record and suitable maturity, and perhaps those with previous suitable experience, such as those who have been under training or are under training in bus undertakings, from driving public service vehicles if their instructors consider them ready. There is no question of lowering the age below 21 years. This is all subject to the approval of the traffic commissioners. There is a safeguard because of the high standards and great experience of the commissioners. The same is true of conductors.

The approval of the traffic commissioners would be necessary outside the metropolitan area. The approval of the Metropolitan Commissioner of Police would be necessary within the metropolitan area of London. The relaxation of drivers' hours was mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Gorbals (Mr. McElhone) on Second Reading. The hon. Gentleman was talking about the relaxation of drivers' hours in relation to lorries and freight transport. That does not apply. We are talking only about passenger transport, which would be under the control of the traffic commissioners. The present limits on drivers' hours are a compromise and reflect social and safety considerations. It might well be that exceeding them by a small margin to give extra flexibility so that somebody could drive the last bus home, for example, might be helpful in the circumstances of emergency which we are considering.

There should be no safety problem. I hope, as do my right hon. and hon. Friends, that the existing public transport services would be able to cope with the need without resorting to these powers. However, we think that it is not fair to the public merely to leave the matter to chance. I hope that the Committee will agree that the assurances which I have given make for watertight provisions.

Mr. Leadbitter

I am not entirely convinced, although the Minister has gone some way towards persuading me of the Government's good intentions. It is a highly sensitive area, and members of the public will want to know why there is a possibility of the relaxation of licensing. The Minister said "If a certain situation were to be reached." That might mean anything.

In referring to Clause 4 the Secretary of State said : An example of the way in which a statutory obligation might be launched would be if there were a reduction in temperature in work rooms below a minimum level. There have always been ways of dealing with falling temperatures in schools and factories, but that has no relevance to the words of the Minister : "If a certain situation were to be reached".

Mr. Speed

My right hon. and learned Friend was not talking about subsection (2), which deals specifically with the transport implications of the clause. That is why I am answering rather than my hon. Friend. The Secretary of State was dealing with another part of the clause. I did not have in mind the temperature in offices, factories or anywhere else in replying to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Leadbitter

I can only refer to what the Secretary of State said, and his first words were : Clause 4 empowers me to authorise He went on to say : Authority may be given for the relaxation of certain provisions relating to the operation of public service vehicles and crews available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November 1973; Vol. 865, c. 46.] At the moment there are available a certain number of crews and transport operators functioning under statutory provisions. What does the provision mean if we are faced with fewer transport facilities because of the short supply of fuel?

The Secretary of State dwelt too much upon the situation within 24 hours of the miners' overtime ban. He did not dwell on coal stocks, because he made that position clear on 24th October. The Bill states in Clause 4 that, acting under the authority of the Secretary of State, a person may use or cause or permit the use of a contract carriage without any licence, permit, agreement or consent otherwise required. Subsection (2)(b) says that such a person may : drive or act as conductor of a public service vehicle without being licensed to do so". Subsection (2)(c) says that such a person may : act, or cause or permit a person to act, as the driver of a passenger vehicle without complying with the requirements of subsections (1) to (6) of section 96 of the Transport Act 1968. These are exclusions from statutory provisions enacted for the safety of the general public. People suddenly become qualified "if a certain situation is reached."

I am not persuaded by the cooing and wooing of the Saudi Arabian Petroleum Minister, nor the promises of the Libyan President, that we can at this stage readily agree to such people being so qualified unless the Minister gives an assurance, without equivocation, that such persons will not be used to combat legitimate strike action. If he can say so now our fears will be put aside. There should not be a suspicion of this when the Government are being charged with a national confrontation. Those who are important in providing us with fuel should not feel that there is something here which could beat them further into the ground.

If the Minister can give this assurance we shall be satisfied. If he can give a clearer assurance about the use of this clause than did the Secretary of State we shall be happier still.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Speed

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I thought I had dealt already with strikes. We seem to be in danger of getting ourselves into a paranoic state—

Mr. Leadbitter

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is a little unfair to accuse the Opposition of paranoia. We are anxious to help get this Bill through, if possible without amendment. The hon. Gentleman knows that.

Mr. Speed

I accept that. As I say, I thought that I had dealt with the strike situation. I assured the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) that there would be consultations with the trade unions before these provisions were introduced. I emphasised that there was no question of using these powers for strike breaking.

The Bill is designed to deal with the fuel situation that we face. It goes without saying that in that situation buses are on the whole more efficient users of oil fuel than a great many individual motor cars. One can see a situation developing—though we all hope that it will not—in which we face very severe fuel shortages. In such a situation it might be very much better to put buses on routes to take people about in both urban and rural areas because there might not be enough fuel for their private motor cars.

That being so, there is a shortage of bus and lorry drivers. But there are people who are skilled at driving vehicles of this sort. For example, many school buses are not driven by PSV licensed drivers. They do not have to be under our law. People driving works buses do not necessarily have to be PSV licensed. No one would claim that our schoolchildren are necessarily at risk thereby. The situation shows that they are not.

Facing a situation of severe stringency in fuel, the bus which is used to take children to school might thereafter be driven by the same driver to take people into nearby towns to do their shopping.

Another possibility is that in rural areas especially, where people have to drive 20 or 30 miles to work, motorists could club together on a regular basis to share the cost of one car instead of using four separate cars. They cannot do this at the moment under the law.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no intention to have strike breaking or to dilute or lower standards. We hope that these powers will not be used. But, faced with a situation where the private motorist might be up against it, we should be extremely foolish not have the flexibility to be able to use public and private transport to the full. That is the sole purpose of the subsection. There is no ulterior motive behind it.

Mr. Varley

I am grateful for those assurances. In the light of them, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 32, at end insert : '(d) permit the relaxation of regulations presently in force which have the effect of restricting certain activities of taxi cabs under the several Hackney Carriage Acts'. The amendment arises from representations made to me by the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, which is the largest organisation of independent taxi drivers, mainly in London, with a membership of more than 3,000. Its members have some ideas which they believe could contribute to fuel saving both now and if rationing should come.

The adoption of their suggestions, however, would mean relaxing some of the Hackney Carriage Acts before the introduction of rationing. I will put the suggestions to my hon. Friend in the hope that they fall upon receptive ears.

First, there should be a relaxation of the present prohibition on a taxi driver drawing up at, say, King's Cross station, where there is usually a long queue of passengers waiting for taxis, and, on being hailed by someone who says "Waterloo", calling out "Anyone else wanting Waterloo?" If there are two or three more persons waiting in the queue who wish to go to Waterloo, it would be much more economic in fuel terms that the taxi driver should be allowed to call out "Any more for Waterloo?", that those people should enter the taxi, and that the fare payable should be the fare shown on the meter plus the 3p per person extra charge. In order to allay suspicions, it would be necessary to have displayed on the window next to the meter a notice indicating that in a taxi so hired the only fare legally payable is that shown on the meter.

In tonight's Evening Standard this letter appears : I am a London cab driver and very often pick up one passenger who has become tired of waiting at a bus stop. Many others are left standing there. The Hackney Carriage laws prohibit us asking others to share the cab, though an individual may offer to do so. It would certainly be a neighbourly gesture. Perhaps many do not know how inexpensive it is for four persons to share a cab. My second suggestion leads on to the third. Drivers should be permitted to affix a notice to their cab in a position where it is visible to a potential hirer showing the area in which the cab's garage is situated. At present, that is not legal.

My third suggestion is that taxi drivers returning to their garages—under my previous suggestion a notice indicating the area of the garage would be displayed, and people would know that the taxi was going to Hackney, Cricklewood or Peckham, for example—should have the right to refuse to accept any hi rings not in the general direction of the garage, particularly during the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., which is the shift changeover period, and from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m., which again may be the end of a shift which finishes at about midnight. At present, again in certain circumstances, taxi drivers are unable to refuse to carry potential hirers. At a time when there is a need to conserve fuel, provided that the notice shows where the garage is and provided that the other conditions are fulfilled, it would make sense that taxi drivers should be able to say, particularly during those periods, that they can accept fares only if they are going in the direction of the taxi's garage.

The legislation affecting taxicabs, particularly in the Metropolitan Police District, is antiquated and cumbersome. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has the responsibility of answering on a point which is really a Home Office matter. If the Home Office had not been so dilatory, we might have had new legislation arising out of the Maxwell Stamp Report. The Home Office has not been more speedy. Perhaps I can enlist my hon. Friend's aid so that he will say to the Home Secretary that had certain legislation been enacted he would have been saved the necessity of trying to deal with this by emergency powers.

Mr. Speed

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) for his remarks. I am sure that he will not expect me to follow too closely the suggestion in his concluding sentences, but I agree that the hackney carriage laws are a veritable maze, lost in the mists of antiquity, and that does not make anybody's life much easier.

I add my thanks to the association and the taxi drivers who have written to my hon. Friend, because their action shows a constructive public-spirited approach to the problem that faces the country and, indeed, the Committee.

I, too, read the letter and saw the photograph in tonight's Evening Standard. I think that they highlight the point. I am advised that nothing in the present law prevents passengers from agreeing to share a taxi and paying separate fares, provided that it is not a regular arrangement. I have no doubt that that will often be done by voluntary agreement. It is true that a driver may not insist upon passengers sharing his taxi for separate fares, and my hon. Friend is on the point that he would like it to be the fare on the meter and get away from the separate fare provision.

I am advised that subsection (2)(a) will enable the Secretary of State to authorise a taxi to be used as a stage carriage in the same way as he will be able to authorise the use of private cars. That will meet my hon. Friend's first and fairly important point, and taxis will be able to carry up to four passengers for seperate fares or full fares.

I have to tell my hon. Friend that two other important points that he raised are not covered by the Bill as drafted, and I am advised that it would be difficult to deal with them in regulations issued by the Home Department. I can give my hon. Friend no firm assurance about this, as I am speaking for a Department in absentia. I shall have discussions with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Department. That is something which the Government would wish to consider very seriously, and I hope that it can be dealt with sympathetically.

With the assurance that perhaps the matter can be dealt with by an amendment in another place, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Finsberg

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said, but there is one matter about which I should like to be clear before I accede to his suggestion.

I understand that under subsection (2)(a) the Secretary of State—and I assume that this means the Secretary of State for the Home Department—will be entitled to make a regulation which would allow taxi drivers to do what I have suggested; namely, if passenger A wants to go to Waterloo, he can ask others whether they, too, want to go there.

On the assurance that that is so, and on the further assurance that my hon. Friend will consult Ministers in the Home Department to try to fill what appears to be a gap in the Bill and, if possible, deal with the matter in another place, I should wish to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Speed

The Secretary of State referred to here is my right hon. and learned Friend, but the matter would not be dealt with in the first place by way of a regulation. The subsection would first have to be enacted, and then the Secretary of State would deal with the matter in much the same way as he would deal with private vehicles, and I referred to this on the previous amendment. In other words, passengers would pay fares in private vehicles and taxis which would technically be carriers, without all the licensing procedure, and so on.

My hon. Friend wishes to go further, and I have said that we shall consider the matter sympathetically with a view to introducing an amendment in another place to meet his point.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Finsberg

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that further clarification. May I ask him one more point? Did he take on board the first thing I said—that I hoped it might not be necessary to wait for rationing to come before the subsection was activated?

Mr. Speed

I took that on board. My hon. Friend's amendment deals, however, with only a part of the subsection. As I said on the previous amendment, certainly our hope is that on the major aspects—that is, public transport and the private motor car—we would not have to take any action at all and probably a fairly serious situation would need to develop before action had to be taken.

The point made by my hon. Friend—this is why I want to have discussions with my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Home Office—is whether, even in the present situation, which may not be as dramatic as having to bring the subsection into effect there are ways in which we might help to conserve fuel in the taxi trade. This is something that we will discuss. The only point I would make is that the legislative maze might make it more difficult to achieve what either of us wishes to achieve.

Mr. Finsberg

In view of that extremely handsome assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Varley

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 4, line 6, leave out from 'to' to end of line 7 and insert : 'approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament'.

The First Deputy Chairman (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

With this amendment we may discuss Amendment No. 8, in Clause 5, page 4, line 15, at end insert : 'save that any order made under this Act pursuant to section 7 of that Act shall be subject to approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament'.

Mr. Varley

The two amendments seek to change the procedure under which orders will have to be laid under this legislation from the negative to the affirmative procedure. If I can anticipate what the Minister will say in probably wanting to reject these amendments, it will be that it is necessary to maintain the negative procedure under these emergency provisions and in the emergency circumstances which have given rise to the Bill. I do not, however, think that it is an emergency in the sense of a situation in which the emergency laws are at present used. I shall seek to show the reason for this.

As I have said, the Bill gives the Government enormous powers. Subsection (4) even allows for the Counter-Inflation Act to be modified by order. On Second Reading the Secretary of State gave a formidable list of the powers available under, for example, Clause 5, and I should like to refresh hon. Members' memories on this matter.

The Secretary of State said : Clause 5 applies for the purposes of this Bill certain provisions of the Emergency Laws (Re-enactment and Repeals) Act 1964 which are necessary to supplement the Bill. These concern the nature of orders or directions made under the Bill ; procedures for notices, authorisations or documents ; the territorial extent of the Bill : and the definition of offences involving false documents or false statements. Power is also given for duly authorised officers, if necessary, to obtain documents, if necessary, by obtaining a search warrant. This power may be necessary for the enforcement, for instance of the rationing of petrol."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November 1973 ; Vol. 865 ; c. 46–7.] Those are very formidable powers.

Some of my hon. Friends have expressed amazement that in the Bill the Government have decided to take powers to modify the Counter-Inflation Act. We have been told again and again that that Act was sacrosanct and inviolable. Certainly, when we debate questions of pay and pay policy under that Act, Ministers repeatedly say that it cannot be changed. The Prime Minister said the same thing this afternoon concerning the current dispute in the mining industry, but I do not want to go into that at this point.

In the circumstances of the Bill, the Government should allow us to change their proposal and not use the negative procedure but let us have the affirmative procedure. It would be much better if the Government would tell us exactly what they seek to do when it is necessary to lay an order and present it to the House for approval. The negative procedure, which involves inevitable delays, even if Prayers are tabled by the Opposition, is not good enough in these circumstances. The Opposition would certainly be vigilant in the circumstances, but I do not think that vigilance is a substitute for frankness by the Government.

The Minister would agree that the Opposition have been extremely cooperative by allowing the Bill to go through all its remaining stages in one day and tabling the minimum of amendments, and up to now forcing no Divisions. We have done this in spite of the massive nature of the powers involved, and the least we can expect at this stage in the proceedings is that the Government will be much more forthcoming and accept the amendments. Otherwise, who knows?—there is still the possibility that we shall have to push the matter to the Division.

The Bill ought to be got through on the basis of a little give and take, and in respect of these amendments it is time for the Government to give a little. Certainly we should have some modifications, so that if it becomes necessary for orders to be laid they will be laid on the basis of the affirmative procedure, so that we can scrutinise them to a much greater extent than is possible under the procedure laid down in the Bill.

Mr. Emery

I say immediately that I thank the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) and his party for what he described—and I immediately accept—as the co-operative spirit in which they have dealt with the Committee stage of the Bill. I in no way took the veiled threat that he was using in his speech other than in the debating manner in which I am certain he was presenting it.

Of course I understand the conception of any Opposition about regulations of this sort in deciding whether this matter should be dealt with by affirmative or negative resolution of the House. I would point out, however, that in considering these resolutions we have attempted to take into account the fact that the situation in any fuel shortage must change from day to day and will obviously require speedy action—action involving altering the orders—and there is a possibility that a considerable amount of extra work would be laid on the House if we had to proceed purely by way of affirmative resolution.

I emphasise, however—I think I can give the hon. Member this assurance because it is part of the Bill, although he did not refer to it—that the factors concerning Clause 10, which would mean the resurrection of the Bill, must be dealt with by affirmative resolution. That is where we have tried to integrate the important constitutional side with questions that might be normal, currently running factors of the legislation if it had to be put into operation.

Mr. Palmer

Why is it necessary to have these powers resurrected? Why not let them run for a period and then come to an end?

Mr. Emery

The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to make that point in the debate that is yet to come. I do not want to take up time that should be devoted to that debate in answering this amendment.

Therefore, I come to what seems to me is not necessarily the overpowering argument that I should accept, but might be the overpowering argument for the hon. Member for Chesterfield. There is a very good precedent for the Government behaving in this way. The hon. Gentleman and I know it very well. I refer to the Control of Liquid Fuel Act 1967, which did very much what this Bill proposes to do. The 1967 Act, introduced and passed by the Labour Government, had very much the same powers as this Bill. We thought that in this instance their example might be followed.

I am able to answer the argument for the amendment with that degree of coperation for which the hon. Gentleman asked. Perhaps he will now feel able, and think it right, to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Biffen

I know that I shall never be welcomed in the Highlands and Islands in view of the rate of progress we are making.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Biffen

Indeed, I am inspired to make this point by the very presence of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart), because he and his party have been wholehearted and consistent in their opposition to British membership of the European Economic Community. Therefore, I should have expected that he, rather than myself, would have risen to inquire whether the power to relax statutory obligations in any way clashed with obligations that arise from regulations made by the European Communities in pursuit of a harmonised transport policy.

This is no idle and esoteric speculation, because the Bill is required to run until 30th November 1974 and can remain, to the alarm of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), in perpetuity thereafter. There can be no doubt that a harmonised transport policy would touch precisely on the range of restrictions, some of which are referred to more specifically in the clause.

The Committee may reasonably look for an explanation from my hon. Friends, first, whether they think that any of the existing regulations under a common transport policy might conceivably clash with the objectives and aspirations set out in Clause 4, and, secondly, whether in the preparatory investigatory work that they must be doing in Brussels, they know of any proposals being formulated or canvassed by the Commission that are likely to result in regulations that will make the putting into effect of the clause that much more difficult.

What the Committee, the hon. Member for the Western Isles, myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, and certainly the Opposition Front Bench would like to know is whether, if there is a conflict, national law will be preeminent.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Biffen

I am delighted to hear that. I am sure that the hon. Member for the Western Isles will feel almost stirred to his feet to add a few words of endorsement to my remarks and then no doubt the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) will be able to make his remarks subsequently.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I intended to intervene, but I had no intention of making a speech. I should like to make two points. First, the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) was being even more excessively hypothetical than normal because there is no common transport policy.

Secondly, he was being irrelevant, because the Bill does not deal with the relationship between Britain and the Community and the power of this Parliament to deal with sovereignty or any such matters whatsoever.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Biffen

That was not an entirely appropriate contribution for the hon. Gentleman to make. It fell somewhat below the standard of close reasoning which I have come to expect from him. My point was that the Bill runs specifically, in Clause 8, until 30th November 1974. If we are to deduce from the hon. Gentleman's intervention that there is no prospect of even some embryonic common transport policy by the end of 1974, that is an interesting contribution to our increasing knowledge of the shambles that proceeds under the guise of the Common Market and Community institutions.

But what cannot be discounted is that we are rapidly seeking to set aside law for specific purposes and for identifiable periods because of some intervening emergency of some sort. The whole thing happened with the counter-inflation legislation, which put the first question mark over the supremacy of Community law. One is entitled to ask whether at some stage there will be a common transport policy. I have no views about it, but the hon. Member for Inverness may be right that there will be no such thing as even an embryonic common transport policy by the end of 1974. If there is such a policy, undoubtedly regulations would be made under it. It is feasible and reasonable to assume that those regulations could well have something of the character of the national legislation which is referred to, such as, for example, the Road Traffic Act 1972, the Road Traffic Act 1960 or the Transport Act 1968.

It is perfectly reasonable to inquire whether, if that situation arises, Clause 4 would override any such regulation.

Mr. Boardman

I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) for raising such interesting points. He will forgive me if I do not speculate, on the narrow point which we are debating, on the time scale and content of future proposals that might come from within the Community. It is sufficient to say that the clause, which gives power to the Secretary of State to lay orders under certain circumstances, would, if those circumstances arose, take full account of whatever other factors were relevant, be they proposals, legislation or conditions in the Community or elsewhere.

But it is convenient, perhaps, my hon. Friend having raised the point, if I tell the Committee that one aspect of the Bill is that it enables us to fulfil requirements of the EEC Council Directive 73/238 of 24th July 1973. That is that member States shall provide for powers to draw on stocks, allot stocks to consumers, allocate supplies, restrict consumption and regulate oil prices. So that is covered, as an incidental, by the Bill.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand why I do not speculate further as to possible changes in transport policy that might arise at some future date.

Question put and agreed to

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill

Clauses 5 to 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill

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