HC Deb 04 November 1975 vol 899 cc230-2

3.39 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Transport Act 1968 and the Road Traffic Acts 1960 and 1972. I recognise that the Bill which I seek leave to introduce has no prospect at this late stage of the Session of becoming law. This is one of the opportunities open to a private Member to draw the Government's attention to important topics. I am glad to see that the appropriate Minister is present.

I seek leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Transport Act 1968 and the Road Traffic Acts 1960 and 1972 in three important respects. I do so against a background of the growing costs of transport, especially in the rural areas, concern about which has been expressed from all sides of the House on many occasions. I refer not only to an increase in public transport costs but also to the increase in the costs of running the private car, the reduction in the number of public transport services available, the growing pressure on the finances of local authorities, which are unable to afford to maintain subsidies on bus services, and the fact that in the last decade the number of bus journeys has been reduced by the staggering figure of 34 per cent. The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has already drawn attention to the likelihood of further severe cutbacks in public transport road services.

The Road Traffic Act 1968 allows a discretion to the traffic commissioners to waive the need for a public service vehicle driving licence on vehicles carrying up to 12 passengers. The time has come to remove that discretion and, without any application to the traffic commissioners, to allow persons to drive vehicles carrying up to 15 passengers, because that is now the standard size of manufacture, without the need for a PSV licence.

The traffic commissioners should be enjoined to allow any operator on to a route which is not already served by public transport. Great work has been done in recent years by, for example, the Post Office in introducing mini-bus services. I notice that the sixty-second such service was recently introduced in Scotland. A great deal of red tape has to be gone through and a great deal of paper work has to be done before the services can be introduced, and I believe that the time has come to remove some of these restrictions.

My Bill would also have a side effect on the operation of buses by local education authorities. The present law is unduly restrictive and anomalous in declaring that if a local authority owns a vehicle the driver does not have to have a PSV licence, whereas a subcontractor driver must have a PSV licence. A case was recently drawn to my attention in which the school bus operator died one weekend and, so that his daughter—who did not have a PSV licence—could continue the service for the benefit of the community, the local education authority had to buy a bus quickly on Sunday. The time has long since passed for sweeping away some of these restrictions so as to enable mini-bus services to operate more freely in rural areas which have no other services.

Some of the provisions in my Bill were contained in a Government Bill which was proceeding through the House of Lords in 1973 and fell with the General Election of February 1974.

The second provision in my Bill is to increase the use of the vehicle which is popularly known as the moped but which exists nowhere in our statute law. I would remove entirely the need for a driving licence or a vehicle excise licence for powered bicycles up to 50 cc and I would impose a 30-mph speed limit on them. There would, of course, be a requirement for insurance. I suggest that the age at which these vehicles may be ridden should be reduced from 16 to 15 to assist those at the tail end of the school leaving age. That would merely be bringing our law into line with the practice adopted in several neighbouring European countries, and it would assist transport in both rural and urban areas. That provision would help to relieve traffic congestion and, last but not least, by encouraging the use of such vehicles, it would help to conserve fuel and energy.

Thirdly, my Bill seeks to require all bus operators to introduce no-smoking areas in buses. I know that this is an increasing and welcome practice on trains and aeroplanes. My constituents have complained to me that, for example, on the long-distance express buses between London and Scotland there is no such facility. Some people find it impossible to travel for that length of time in a bus filled with cigarette smoke. I have taken up this matter and the operators have refused to do anything about it. Therefore, the House must legislate to require such operators to provide at least one-third of the seats for those who wish to be free of polluted air on their journeys.

I ask leave to introduce my Bill so that the Government will know that the House hopes for action along these lines in the next Session of Parliament to the benefit of the travelling public.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Steel, Mr. Russell Johnston, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Pardoe, Mr. Beith, Mr. Penhaligon, Mr. Freud, Mr. Geraint Howells, Mr. Hooson and Mr. Stephen Ross.