HC Deb 07 November 1979 vol 973 cc386-7
7. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is satisfied that existing regulations governing the safety requirements of coaches available for public hire are adequate.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Generally, yes, but my right hon. Friend is preparing certain improvements in relation to future production of new vehicles on braking standards, emergency exits and strength of superstructures.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful reply. Will he confirm that in relaxing bus and coach licensing laws, which I support warmly, he will do nothing to imperil the safety of passengers?

Mr. Clarke

I am happy to give that assurance. Our proposals will not weaken the quality control that is exercised through the licensing system. It is the quantity side of the system which is too restrictive and out of date for modern requirements.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Is the Minister aware that a large number of coaches for public hire that are used in the evenings, and sometimes return in the early hours of the morning, are driven by people who have done a full day's work in another capacity? Is he satisfied that the safety regulations are adequate in that respect?

Mr. Clarke

I accept that the hon. Gentleman points out a weakness in the drivers' hours regulations. At the moment, they take no account of that factor. It is difficult to devise a workable system to cover the problem, but we are anxious to have a look at any worthwhile suggestions to improve the matter.

Mr. Moate

Will my hon. Friend go further than he did in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and say that, when he encourages further competition in excursion, express and tour services, he will bear in mind that more rigorous safety standards than apply at the moment are needed? Will he give consideration to improving general safety standards for the protection of the public against sub-standard and badly maintained vehicles?

Mr. Clarke

The details will have to await the publication of the Bill. However, I assure my hon. Friend that we do not propose to weaken the requirements on operators. They should be capable of maintaining their fleets in a proper condition. The inspection of vehicles to ensure that they are fit for public service will not be weakened.