'(1) The operating centre of any authorised vehicle under a goods vehicle operator's licence granted under Part V of the Transport Act 1968 shall be the base or centre at which it is normally kept (whether or not it is also normally used from there); and accordingly, in section 92(1) of that Act (interpretation of Part V), for the definition of "operating centre" there shall be subsituted the following definition—
'operating centre', in relation to any vehicle, means the base or centre at which the vehicle is normally kept, and references to an operating centre of the holder of an operator's licence are references to any place which is an operating centre for authorised vehicles under the licence".
§ (2) The provisions set out in Part I of Schedule (Amendments of Transport Act 1968 relating to operators' licences) to this Act (which establish control by licensing authorities under Part V of the Transport Act 1968 over—
- (a) the places which may be used as operating centres for authorised vehicles under goods vehicle operators' licences granted under that Part of that Act; and
- (b) the use to which any such centre may be put for authorized vehicles under any operator's licence so granted; with a view to preventing or minimising any adverse effects on environmental conditions arising from the situation of any such centres or from their use as mentioned in paragraph (b) above) shall be inserted in Part V of that Act immediately after section 69.
§ (3) Part II of Schedule (Amendments of Transport Act 1968 relating to operators' licences) to this Act shall have effect for the purpose of making amendments of the provisions of the Transport Act 1968 relating to goods vehicles operators' licences supplementing the provisions set out in Part I of that Schedule. '.—[Mrs. Chalker.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
With this, we may take the following Government amendments Nos. 61, 72, 79, 81, 84 and 85.
§ Mrs. Chalker
This new clause and the associated new schedule are designed to strengthen the powers of the 705 licensing authorities to enable them to take adequately into account environmental considerations in dealing with licence applications from road haulage operators. This measure is an important element in our comprehensive approach to the wider problem of lorries and the environment, which has been long neglected.
I apologise for the length of the new clause and the associated schedule, but we wanted to make clear to all the important considerations that are involved for the environment, and to make as clear as can be made in our law those parts of the law to which the operators and others must adhere. We are doing all we can to achieve a more civilised development of freight transport and, with this new clause, to reduce the damaging effects of lorries on people and the environment.
The road haulage licensing system does not currently allow environmental considerations to be taken into account in the granting of licences. But we all know of the widespread concern that is caused by the activities of small operators, often with minimal facilities, whose base is often the roadside or who allow lorries to be parked overnight in residential streets, places for which they were not designed. As hon. Members know, the Road Traffic Act 1974 attempted to rectify this anomaly by providing that licensing authorities should satisfy themselves as to the suitability of the applicant's operating centre. This was intended to cover environmental suitability.
But a ruling of the transport tribunal in 1975 in the case of Cash and McCall vitiated the good intentions in this respect and had the effect of putting environmental considerations outside the powers of licensing authorities. Our intention with the new clause is to try to correct the position.
Clause 49 and schedule 4 contained proposals to strengthen the powers of licensing authorities in this respect. As I explained in Committee, since the Bill was published numerous representations had been made to the Government about the workability and practicability of some of those proposals. In particular, it was pointed out that the concept of an ancillary operating centre would make the licensing system unworkable. It could have meant that every supermarket or high street store receiving regular deliveries from a haulier would become subject to road haulage operator's licensing and that was no part of our intention. Schedule 4 was seriously deficient in some other respects and the new clause and schedule now tabled try to strike the right balance in the licensing system between the environmental considerations that we are now introducing for the first time and the legitimate interests of the responsible, established road haulier on whom we all depend in some way or another. That is what I assure the Committee.
The new clause is short. It redefines the operating centre of an authorised vehicle under a goods vehicle operator's licence as the place at which the vehicle is normally kept. That is in line with the position on public service vehicle licensing as introduced by the Transport Act 1980. It works well in respect of PSVs and we see no reason why it should not do so for road haulage vehicles. The key criterion is that it is the place where the vehicles are normally kept as part of the business of operating, as opposed to the existing definition in the 1968 Act of the place from which the vehicles are normally used.
The rest of the clause simply introduces the new schedule, which sets out the provisions for controlling operating centres for goods vehicles on environmental 706 grounds. The provisions cover the places that may be used as operating centres and the use to which any such centre may be put, with a view to preventing or minimising adverse effects on environmental conditions. The new schedule differs significantly from the old one in that it does not attempt to weave the new provisions into the complex structure of the 1968 Act. Instead it sets out seven new sections, which would be inserted into the 1968 Act, incorporating the main environmental licensing provisions. The schedule is necessarily lengthy but I suggest that it is easier to understand than the old schedule. Of course, the new provisions must interlock with the existing provisions of the 1968 Act at various points and must remain consistent with them, but nevertheless they represent a comprehensible story in themselves. I hope that by putting that as a completely separate new schedule it will make it easier for everyone to understand and, therefore, for the law to be enforced and adhered to by operators.
The new schedule provides that operating centres for authorised vehicles must be specified in operator's licences. It extends the grounds on which existing statutory objectors may object, including environmental considerations. It also gives owners or occupiers of land in the vicinity of a proposed operating centre the right to make representations against the grant of the application on the same grounds.
The law as it stands does not distinguish between an application for a new licence and one for renewal of an existing licence which is time expired. Because of that, fears have been expressed that responsible existing operators could find themselves faced with onerous conditions, or even put out of business, when their licences come up for renewal because of factors not of their own making and over which they have no control, which may have arisen since the licence was first granted. There will, for example, be cases in which an existing operator who has been long established now finds himself surrounded by a new housing development. The people living in those houses would have known that that business was there. They chose to live there and it would be wrong to penalise the existing operator who was there first.
Let me make the Government's position on this aspect quite clear. It is no part of our intention that established, responsible road haulage operators should be driven out of business as a result of the new measures. In order to protect the legitimate interests of the responsible operator who is merely seeking to renew his time-expired licence, there is a provision in the schedule that will have the effect of preventing a licensing authority from refusing him a new licence on environmental grounds if there is no material change in the operations to be covered by the renewed licence. Parking considerations will be one exception to that rule. It is one of the main causes of annoyance in road haulage operations and there are special provisions for the licensing authority to consider the suitability of the parking arrangements at or in the vicinity of an operating centre in all licence applications.
Licensing authorities will also be empowered to attach conditions to a licence for the purposes of preventing or minimising adverse effects on the environment where they arise from the use of an operating centre. It has been represented to me that this power could be used to circumvent the protection otherwise afforded by the 707 schedule to existing operators of the sort that I have just described. It has, for example, been argued that a haulier whose business is in overnight delivery could be effectively stopped by the provision of a new condition attached to a renewed licence that his operating centre should not be used during the night.
That is not our intention. We are aiming to strike a balance between the legitimate interests of the road hauliers and the aspirations of everyone for a better environment. But we cannot lay down blanket considerations for all time and for all circumstances. The licensing authorities must form a balanced judgment in each case. They must act lawfully and take account of the relevant considerations that we shall prescribe in regulations. We cannot tell a licensing authority how to assess or apply the considerations because that would depend on circumstances. But we shall make it very clear that the licensing authority would be bound to take the nature of the business, and the past record of the operator, into account when attaching new conditions to a licence under the provisions of this schedule.
I recognise that some hon. Members have had only a few days to consider the new shape of our proposals, although we discussed them in Committee. We shall be very interested to have the views of the House on our approach. We are satisfied that it will achieve our objectives, but I am sure that it will be necessary to make some further minor changes to the proposals in the light of discussions. I am in no way saying that it is perfect even now, but we have spent much time and energy in trying to get it right. I should also mention that it has not been possible in the time available to include two desirable provisions, which I hope will not prove controversial. We have it in mind that national park planning boards and urban development corporations should be included as bodies able to make objections under the 1968 Act as amended. We also intend to repeal the provisions in the 1968 Act that have been superseded by European Community legislation already adopted in the House.
I am sure that our proposals now strike the right balance between the increasing importance of environmental considerations to everyone's way of life and the business considerations, which anyone in road haulage has to bear in mind in carrying on his existing activities reasonably and sensibly. We have tried to follow closely the recommendations of Sir Arthur Armitage in his report on "Lorries, People and the Environment". I believe that the right balance is being struck by the new clause, the associated amendments and the new schedule. I commend them to the House and hope that they will receive the support of the House.
Amendment No. 61 seeks to remove clause 49, which is replaced by new clause 5. Amendment No. 72 removes the existing schedule 4, which will be replaced by the new schedule. Amendment No. 79 covers the consequential repeals to the Transport Act 1968 in connection with the new schedule on the control of operating centres for goods vehicles on environmental grounds. Amendment No. 81 is a consequential repeal to schedule 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1974, in connection with the new schedule.
The new clause and the new schedule, together with the amendments, will do the job that we have all spoken about, but that has not been effectively achieved in the past. They also put right several small matters. I shall try 708 to deal with any questions that arise in the debate. We have sought to strike a balance—hon. Members will appreciate that it was not very easy—between the environmental considerations that are important not only in the home, but also sometimes at work, and the business considerations of the road haulage industry. It is a question not only of where road hauliers operate, but of the cost at which they can reasonably operate. If costs escalate, they will inevitably be passed on to the consumer. Nobody wants that.
I hope that the House will give new clause 5 a Second Reading and will accept the amendments and the new schedule.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
There will be a general welcome for new clause 5 and the associated amendments. The Road Haulage Association accepts that the suitability of an operating centre should be determined by reference to environmental considerations. Indeed, I am advised that the RHA made an unsuccessful attempt to establish that principle by appealing to the transport tribunal in the case of Cash and McCall. As the years go by, people become more and more sensitive to the environmental considerations attaching to operating centres for heavy goods vehicles and for the road haulage industry generally.
No doubt every hon. Member has received complaints from time to time about the hours that operators work. Depite assurances that vehicles will not return to the depot late at night or go out of the depot early in the morning, it is remarkable how often such assurances are subject to special considerations which seem almost to be the norm rather than the exception. Often, the type of operation can also cause problems. For example, I have received complaints from constituents about the loading of vehicles with substances that can easily be blown by the wind. When a coal lorry is loaded, dust can be blown across the road, into houses and even on to washing in the back green. If the loading of fertilisers is not properly controlled and there is the slightest breeze, dust can be scattered all over the place. On complaint being made, the company and the local authority will give assurances, yet nothing happens.
The same is true of maintenance requirements. Being a maintenance fitter by profession, I fully understand how something can happen to an engine, machine or vehicle that needs to be used as soon as possible. None of us would argue that no maintenance should be carried out after, for example, 8 pm or 9 pm. Circumstances may demand that the work be done. However, over the years we receive many complaints about repair work being done—especially body work, which makes the most noise—until midnight and beyond. Those living in the area may consider such work unnecessary.
I have given a general welcome to the new clause and the amendments, but there are one or two points of concern. How will new clause 5 and the schedule come into operation? Clearly, there must be an overlap period between the passing of the legislation and its operation. Those who have studied the Bill carefully advise me that, from the enactment of the Bill, virtually every operator will be operating illegally, because there are few areas in which conditions of operating are attached to the licence. Perhaps I have misread amendment No. 84. It begins:A person may not use a place in the area of any licensing authority as an operating centre for authorised vehicles under any operator's licence granted to him by that authority unless it is specified in that licence.709 I understood the Minister to say that there would be no difficulty with a new licence because the licensing authority could attach such reasonable conditions—according to the schedules—as are proper. However, I understand that conditions may be attached to the licence when it comes up for annual renewal. If so, whether the period of grace between now and the renewal of the licence is nine months or three months, I hope that licensing authorities that have had difficulties with operators will at least draw the operators' attention to the fact that the law has been changed and that, when the licence comes up for renewal, they might find a condition attached to it unless they put right the cause of the various complaints made over the years.
I do not know how the provision will work, but I hope that such action can be taken during the period of grace. There is nothing in the new clause or the schedule to say when the provision will come into operation. I assume that it will become effective when it has been given Royal Assent. There is always a period of grace to allow people to get hold of the Act and to read it. However, new clause 5 is not like the other provisions, which will not become effective for about two years. Presumably the new clause will apply immediately. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how it will operate and when it will come into operation.
I was worried about the Minister's reference to there being no material change. I understand that that provision is being inserted because the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association have expressed concern that well-established operators who have been in an area for a long time and have caused no trouble should not be penalised. One is always confronted with the classic case of the operator who has been in the area for a long time. Gradually, privately owned or local authority owned houses may be built and may encroach on the operator's premises. He will then find himself subject to many complaints, although the business has been running quite happily for years and has caused no trouble. In these circumstances, local authorities must be allowed to approach such matter in a sensible way. Where an encroachment by an operator has occurred on a housing estate or on residential accommodation, I hope that the authority will use its good offices to try to relocate the operator on an industrial estate where no problem would be caused.
In the majority of cases an operator's business will not be confined to the area in which his premises are situated. For example, one does not have residential encroachment on to a pithead where an operator has been located nearby to pick up coal. Generally, road haulage premises can be relocated without dislocation to the business and without a great deal of extra cost, except for the cost of removal to a new site. One way in which a local authority can remove the nuisance, and at the same time perhaps acquire spare ground, is by relocating the operator on an industrial site—if possible, providing financial assistance towards the cost of the move.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
Has my hon. Friend considered that it may not be that houses have been built round the haulage operator's premises, but that the haulage operator, having been given a licence in the first place, has expanded or started to use larger, noisier lorries, or changed the nature of the goods that he carries? Following complaints, the local authority may tell 710 the operator that it is prepared to move him from the estate to new premises on an industrial estate. However, the operator may say that the rent is far too much and that if he is to be moved, he will require compensation. Does my hon. Friend understand that in such circumstances residents who have been complaining in the past and have not had anything done without what the local authorities call "undue compensation", will now be able to appeal to the licensing authorities so that, when the operator's licence is due for renewal, they will be able to attach conditions to the licence so that he has to put things right or move?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He brings me sharply to the point to which I was coming. Perhaps my hon. Friend felt that I was moving to it in a circulatory fashion. I was approaching that issue from the point of view of the operator who finds himself encircled and consequently feels threatened. Operators in such a position may need a financial incentive to move.
I was coming to the point about there being no material change. Does this go far enough for environmental protection? There must be many operators—I can name some in my constituency—about whom, almost from the day they were established in the area, there have been regular complaints. I give one example—perhaps not the best—in response to my hon. Friend's intervention. I have constituents who live near to what was once a thriving locomotive yard. It was a junction, with a big loco works, and a great amount of coal dust. The railway business changed from steam to diesel. Then, because of lack of traffic and the unfortunate downturn in the railway business, the depot was moved and a small industrial estate was erected in its place.
We thought that that was not too bad, because we had got rid of the stink from the steam engines and coal dust being scattered over the houses from coaling-up the engines. We thought that at least a small industrial estate would be all right. However, an operator is now using it as a base for fertilisers and coal. Lorries are continually entering and leaving the premises and are regularly "blown down" to clean them. The nuisance is back in a different form.
In such circumstances, where there have been longstanding complaints, it is possible that there has been no material change in, say, 10 years as far as the operator is concerned; but, from the day that the operator began, there was a nuisance which, despite all the protestations, has never been resolved because the operator has never been compelled to do anything.
The Under-Secretary said that, if there is no material change, the licensing authority cannot attach conditions to the licence. I hope that is not taken literally to mean that, if things were bad before but had not deteriorated, one cannot do anything about them. If there have been bad environmental conditions from the beginning, I hope that under new clause 5 and the schedule the licensing authority will have the right to say that if the operator had not handled matters properly the longstanding complaints must be remedied and it will attach conditions to the licence.
I hope that the new clause and the schedule will lead to a big improvement in environmental considerations. All of us are from time to time ambivalent about the use of heavy lorries. We understand the need for swift-moving 711 traffic. We cannot live without the lorry. At the same time, we are concerned about the' damage that lorries do to the roads. We are aware that noise, fumes and associated works can cause a great deal of distress.
It is not true to say that people choose to live where they do. Often the choice is limited. A person who has been waiting for a local authority house for 10 years might be told by the housing department that a house is available in, say, Smith Road, which he must take, or he will not get another house for a year, or heaven knows when. The applicant visits the house but he may not see the environmental damage on the other side of the road. He knows that there is a lorry depot there, but he does not actually sleep in the house before taking it over. If he subsequently complains, he will be told that he knew what the surroundings were like before he moved in.
I have a constituent who purchased a house near the local authority bus depot. He has frequently complained about unnecessary traffic going past his house. There is a better way in from the main road on the other side of the depot. When I took up the matter, I received the standard reply that he must have known when he bought his house that the depot was there and that it is too bad that buses pass his house at all hours of the day or night. That is nonsense. When a person buys a house he does not necessarily have the money to choose exactly where to live. He will purchase a house in the best place that his money will buy for him. Those facts should be taken into consideration. The individual should never be oppressed by the lorry. If the new clause helps to reduce that oppression, we shall welcome it and give it a fair wind.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
May I first express some unhappiness about the timing with which this bundle of new clauses, amendments and new schedule has been sprung upon us? It was not until Friday that I was able to read the new schedule proposed in amendment No. 84, and not until Friday evening that I was able to put together an amendment that I should like to have tabled—and there was little chance of that amendment being called with the timing of the debate this week. I hope that complicated measures that need careful study by hon. Members and by trade associations outside the House can be introduced with a little more warning if possible.
On Second Reading I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether these measures would be retrospective. Relying more on his sense of natural justice than on a detailed appraisal of the Bill he said that they would not. His hon. and learned Friend the then Parliamentary Secretary, now Minister for Health, in replying to the debate corrected that impression and pointed out that there would be an element of retrospection. The Government later promised to try to remedy that and the bundle of measures now before us is an attempt at that remedy.
The measures do not succeed for two reasons. I start with the lesser of the two. Section 69B, subsection (3) of the new schedule deals with environmental nuisance caused by parking. Subsection (4) by inference deals with all other kinds of environmental nuisance. Subsection (5) makes it clear that where there has been no material change in operating circumstances, environmental considerations cannot be used to block the reissue of a licence. It makes it clear that the environmental 712 considerations referred to are those contained in subsection (4). In other words, parking nuisance considerations can be used to block the reissue of a licence. Indeed, my hon. Friend made that clear when introducing this new schedule.
Parking is a vague word. It does not just apply to the leaving of a vehicle in a certain place for a certain period, but also to the manoeuvring in and out of that position. It can fairly be said in the English language "I drove over the police constable's foot while I was parking a vehicle." Although this may be thought to be a quibbling point, it will be argued extensively, I would say, that 70 or 80 per cent. of a road haulier's operations at his operating centre relate to the parking of his vehicles. Vehicles are parked while being worked upon. They are parked while goods are being taken off or loaded. They are parked while being driven in late at night, and parked when they are started up the next morning. Therefore, the ability to use parking nuisance as a reason for denying the reissue of a licence will be a handle on which any local authority, should it wish, can base the denial of the reissue of that licence.
That is my minor objection, because I do not believe that local authorities will need to use so much ingenuity or reach for that handle. There is a much easier handle that they can use in section 69C, which allows a local authority to attach conditions to the issue of a licence.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) suggested that even where there had been no material change it might be a good idea if local authorities could attach conditions. The answer to that argument is that under this new schedule local authorities will be able to attach new conditions even where there is no material change. The prohibition on retrospection applies only to refusal to issue a licence. It does not apply to the attachment of conditions.
It has already occurred to the Road Haulage Association that a local authority that simply wishes to prevent a road haulier from carrying on business from his operating centre can do so by attaching conditions that are effectively impossible to carry out. It can attach conditions about the type of vehicles that he may use, or conditions as to the hours during which he may use them. It will not be difficult for a local authority that is so minded to close down a business or severely restrict it by the attachment of conditions.
Implicitly, my hon. Friend recognised that fact in her opening speech, when she said that the Government were relying on local authorities to be fair and to take a balanced view. Most local authorities will be fair and take a balanced view, but not all. For example, members of the GLC are on record as saying that they do not want any lorries beyond a certain size coming into the Greater London area.
I am particularly worried about my hon. Friend's remarks about the national parks. A local authority has a duty to weigh the arguments in favour of the operator and those in favour of the environment and to take a balanced view. It may or may not do so, but clearly it has a duty to do so. The national parks have a different kind of duty. If I were the director of a national park, my fair aim would be to try to encourage road hauliers not to operate from within the national park. My view would be that it would be better if operating centres were situated around the national parks rather than in them. I would be right to use my influence to try to encourage operators to move their business from within the park and to go into areas around 713 the park. It would not be wrong for a national park operator to take that view, but it would be wrong for the Government to give the national parks the right to impose their views in such cases. I do not think that a national park can be expected, or relied upon, to take a balanced view.
A lot has been said against lorry drivers and the operating centres. As a result, hon. Members have ignored the contribution that the smaller lorry businesses make to the economy and commerce of an area. They have also not taken account of the services that they provide and the contribution that they make to employment. It is not right to suggest that the Road Haulage Association is happy with these measures. It is quite clear that it is not happy that the element of retrospection has effectively been removed.
For all those reasons, I believe that the element of retrospection remains. I shall not make a long speech of a jurisprudential nature about why retrospection is wrong. It is not always wrong, but when someone has set up a business in good faith and it is operating, we should think carefully before removing or qualifying that permission.
There are many houses that should never have been built, but we would not contemplate withdrawing planning permission and suggesting that they be razed to the ground. Many lorry businesses should never really have started up where they are, but we should think carefully about trying to drum them out of town. I am afraid that these measures will give authorities that are so minded the opportunity to drum such operators out of town.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that, so far as I can see, nothing in this bundle of amendments affects the operator's right of appeal under section 70 of the 1968 Act. I take his point that a licensing authority might be unreasonable in the conditions that it lays down, but there is always the right of appeal. I do not believe that there is retrospection in the sense mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I believe that what he is really talking about is the attachment of new conditions.
§ Mr. Parris
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There is always a right of appeal. However, I am always unhappy about legislation that is likely to give rise to many appeals and that leaves with future Secretaries of State effectively policy control over how they decide those appeals.
As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North said, the most civilised option of all is to persuade a lorry operator to move his business to a place where he will cause less environmental nuisance. That is the civilised option wherever possible. But I take my own constituency of West Derbyshire, part of which is a national park, as an example. There is nowhere else for lorry operators to go. I know that if the local authority could suggest another site, many of those lorry operators would happily move to it. Unhappily, there is no such other site, and I believe that similar conditions will obtain in many other parts of the country.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I welcome the new schedule, the new clause and the deletion of clause 49. However, I should like to raise two matters that affect my constituency. The first—and the amendments that we are now discussing will help in this case—relates to a large bus company which exists cheek by jowl with a number of long-established residential houses and which in recent 714 years has been used by an increasing number of buses because of the closure of depots elsewhere. I hope that this group of amendments will make it possible for local residents to have more defences against the filth, noise, dirt and general misery of life resulting from the activities of these vehicles.
I have been in touch with the chairman of the National Bus Company as well as with the local authority ir, an endeavour to secure adequate sound-proofing of the windows for residential houses, but without success. I hope that in some respects the Bill will make life easier for local residents affected by a noisy, dirty and busy garage of this nature and a little harder for bus companies such as the NBC to pollute the district in the way that they are doing.
My second point relates to a properly licensed heavy lorry depot in my constituency which is not in receipt of local authority planning permission.
There are six pages in the new schedule which the House will approve in due course. There is a great deal about the responsibilities of the licensing authority to establish environmental need, consider the environmental impact, and so on, but nowhere is there any reference to the view of the local authority.
I wonder how the vehicle licensing authority will establish whether premises are unsuitable on environmental grounds. The licensing authority may be an expert in that area, as in many other areas, but I should have thought that, on environmental grounds, the people who should decide matters in the interests of the local residents are those in the local planning authority. At the least, surely their opinion should be asked. I have just picked up a copy of this group of amendments, but nowhere in the several pages of the new schedule do I see any reference to the opinion of the local planning authority being sought, which is essential.
Section 69E states that residents will be notified of an application by an insertion in a local paper circulating in the district. I wonder whether that is adequate. In most districts there are a couple of local papers, one an evening paper and one a weekly paper. At a little extra cost, but at the same time providing a great deal of additional reassurance to local inhabitants, all the local papers in the district should have that insertion.
What happens when a goods vehicle operating centre is not in receipt of planning permission, yet has the necessary licence from the licensing authority? In the case that I have in mind a great deal of difficulty has been caused because the company received consent from the local planning authority only for the use of light vehicles, yet vehicles of all sizes are being operated from the depot, which is causing much concern and is against the intentions of the local authority.
I suggest to my hon. Friend that while planning permission is perhaps not absolutely necessary for any existing licence, where new licences are brought into effect, or are applied for, the relevant planning permission from the local authority should be synonymous with an application to the licensing authority, or at the very least the opinion of the local planning authority should be requested so that the views of residents in the district who are most affected are properly considered at the right time.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I shall do my best to deal with all the comments that have been made by hon. Members and my hon. Friends in this short debate. I shall deal with them in the order of the questions asked.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) felt able to give the new clause a fairly warm welcome. He asked about the coming into operation of new clause 5. I refer him to clauses 57(2) and 57(5). That part of the Bill cites the coming into operation of the Bill as an Act of Parliament. Under subsections (2) and (5) the hon. Gentleman will find everything that is necessary to take us through a transitional period and to allow us to bring in the new provisions on operators' licences as smoothly as possible.
The hon. Gentleman was right to say that the new applicant for a licence would be covered by the new provisions. That will be good. For people who have a time-expired licence, it may come up after a year or a longer period. While I am sure that everything will be done to bring the provisions of the new Act to the notice of operators whose licence period is not time-expired, I undertake to bring them within the scope of the Act only when the licence comes up for time-expired renewal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North referred to material change. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) also intervened in the debate. I accept that people would like to see material change defined specifically, but it is not possible, even with the most formidable team of parliamentary draftsmen, to think of all the possible scenarios. We have already had four or five examples. I could add examples from my area, where I know there have been problems. To put all that into law would give us a major problem.
Therefore, the new provisions, particularly in the new schedule, do not attempt to define the concept precisely. I was at pains to say that we felt that it was better to leave the judgment to the licensing authority, which will be best placed to take account of all the facts with which it is presented in each case.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South gave an example which would mean that there had been a material change with regard to the new provisions. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North also gave such an example. In both cases there would have been material change, as far as one can judge. There may be mitigating circumstances, but there is the appeals system under the 1968 Act. Therefore, it is important that we get the judgment about material change into law, albeit we are dependent upon the licensing authorities for the operation of that.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North talked about the need to mitigate the environmental problems being caused by an existing user, even if no material change is proposed. I know that it is complicated and long, but if the hon. Gentleman reads section 69C he will find that the point is covered. The environmental problems are to be mitigated by an existing user even if there is no material change.
That is one of the reasons why the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association advised hon. Members that there should be an amendment to take account of it. We do not need that amendment. As ever, however, we shall have a further look at section 69C to 716 ensure that we can cope with the mitigation of environmental problems that are caused by existing users even where there is no material change.
I now come to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris). I shall deal first with the timing of amendments. We tried to achieve a three-week gap between the ending of the Committee stage and Report. We have just managed that. Throughout the time when we discussed possible changes to the original clause and schedule and now, there has been continuous consultation. I am sorry that it was not possible to table new clause 5, the amendments and the new schedule before the end of last week. I understand that that was done on Thursday, if not Wednesday. We wanted to take into account the very interests of which my hon. Friend spoke. We have a fair balance, although I make it clear that some minor adjustments might still be outstanding.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, dealt with retrospection. We now have a remedy for it. I am sorry that I cannot agree that we have failed to do so. In tackling the new schedule we have tried not to go back for the existing haulage operator, but to show that if there has been a material change between the operation under the existing licence and the application for the renewal of a licence on the expiry of the time clause on the existing one, the provision can be used only in those circumstances.
I said that there was a need to mitigate the environmental problem. We have tried to cope with the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) described. That is when a problem which has already occurred grows up between the time of the original granting of the licence and the application for renewal and has not been coped with by the other planning considerations. I shall return to that.
It is important that we judge the licensing authority and the local authority separately. The licensing authority operates the licensing system that permits the vehicle operator to operate. A local authority has the power to object to the licensing authority about the operation. Local authorities are often one of the objectors when an existing vehicle operator puts in for a renewal of his licence. The local authority also has an important part to play in planning approval.
I was concerned to hear the case cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough about the depot for heavy goods vehicles which he said had recieved permission only for the use of light vehicles but was now using heavier ones. If that change has taken place, it is -material. If planning approval is lacking for the type of trade now being carried out, the licensing authority will be able to take account of that when considering the licence application. If planning approval is already present, it can still be taken into account when there is material change. The Bill is, therefore, a step forward to deal with the problem that my hon. Friend raised.
§ Mr. Parris
It would be helpful if my hon. Friend would make it clear, as I think she implies, that if a local authority used the power to impose conditions upon an operator effectively to prevent him from carrying on his operation or to make it impossible for him to continue in business in the way in which he previously had, that would be an abuse of the powers offered under section 69C.
§ Mrs. Chalker
My hon. Friend refers to the misuse of powers in section 69C, which I suppose in some circumstances could occur. Indeed he cited one particularly notorious authority. I believe, however, that if there were an attempt to misuse the powers of section 69C, that would be taken into account by the licensing authority when the application for relicensing the vehicle was heard. That is separate from the local authority's role, which would be to make its objection. Under other Acts of Parliament, the local authority could object to the use of land, but that would be a matter for the local authority planning committee, whereas here we are dealing with the licence to operate heavy goods vehicles.
My hon. Friend referred to an amendment in his name which, due to the complications of the schedule with the new clause, was starred and therefore not moved. He wished to prevent the refusal of a licence on grounds of parking if the applicant could show that granting the application would not result in a material change of an operating centre or its use. My hon. Friend's amendment would have created a slight inconsistency, however, as under subsection (3) of section 69B the licensing authority could refuse a licence on the ground of parking even if there had been no material change.
As we know, parking is one of the main causes of annoyance when it occurs in the wrong place or at the wrong time. I accept that 70 per cent.—I believe that that was the figure that my hon. Friend gave—of a road haulage operator's business may be concerned with static parking and deparking, as I believe it is called in other countries. If there is to be a vast increase in the number of vehicles parking and unparking, or a great deal of moving about, I think that there is a material change. I think that that was my hon. Friend's concern. The important point here is that we want special conditions for the licensing authorities to consider the suitability of all parking arrangements "at or in the vicintiy" for all licence applications. The new shedule is designed to provide quite widely for the very instance that my hon. Friend cited.
I know that the industry sees a need for special parking arrangements. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North said, sometimes the provisions do not cover vehicles being loaded with a fine-grained material which may blow about. In one such instance in my constituency the local authority made it a condition of planning permission that the operation of loading and unloading these parked vehicles should happen in closed conditions so that material was not blown about to the annoyance of nearby residents.
That was under local authority planning acts, not under the licensing proposals. As the two are so closely interwoven, however, I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend that, in one way or another, the considerations that he has raised and his wish to ensure that the smaller road haulage businesses are not unreasonably affected by the environmental considerations will be catered for, not only by the provisions of the new clause, the schedule and the amendments, but by the other laws under which the local authority operates and the appeal procedures that have operated for a long while but which do not cover the environmental considerations that we are discussing.
The conditions about which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West was worried could not be imposed so as to be inconsistent with the granting of the licence. I am assured that the provision contained in the 718 schedule, combined with the local authority planning laws, means that there cannot be the inconsistency of which he spoke.
If everything goes wrong for the small haulier, his appeal is not to the Secretary of State. It is not to a political body or person, but to the Transport Tribunal and then, perhaps, to the High Court for a judicial review. It is outside political consideration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough asked about the increased number of buses using a depot. I am sorry to tell him that buses do not come within this provision. It may be that the provision can be extended to cover bus depots. We are dealing specifically with heavy goods vehicles and the loading of road haulage vehicles.
My hon. Friend also asked about local planning authorities. The link for which he was asking with the planning system, which stands side by side with the licensing system, might complicate the issue further. Once there is planning permission, or existing rights, the intensity of the use of the site will be a matter for the licensing authority's consideration in the issue of the licence to the vehicle operators. I do not think that there are any conflicts with the planning system, but I shall reread with care what my hon. Friends have said and take the view of the Department of the Environment.
In my haste to dispatch this group of amendments clearly, I omitted to mention amendment No. 85. In one sense it is a minor amendment to the title of the Bill, consequential upon the new clause and schedule. Although it is a formal amendment, without it we would be lost. I hope that hon. Members will realise that I intended to refer to amendment No. 85 in the long list that I read out.
The hon. Members for Aberdeen, North and for Sunderland, South raised the question of no material change in the operation. I have already referred to the instances that they gave and said that in both cases there would be a material change. Even in the case of a new development around the existing operator centre, where the operator is not responsible for the nuisance that he may be causing to the surrounding houses, I do not think that it is unreasonable to suggest that ways should be sought of gradually reducing the level of nuisance.
The nature of the business and new developments in technology which may be appropriate should be taken into account. However, conditions that materially affect the operation of the business, or prevent its being carried out, would be inappropriate and open to challenge at a higher level. Therefore, in drafting the regulations under the Bill we shall seek to ensure that the provisions are not open to abuse.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) asked about relocation on new industrial sites. Many local authorities seek to do that, because in recent years they have become much more conversant than hitherto with the setting up of separate industrial sites. That is a matter for them. The powers in section 69C are there to try to mitigate an environmental problem even where there has been no material change. It is a sensible move in favour of the people whose homes are there. The changes in our society and the increased pressure for environmental considerations to be taken into account make the whole package sensible.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West that I do not believe that the powers in the new clause 719 and schedule will harm the small lorry's contribution. He did not want the national parks planning board to impose its views. It will have the chance to object, which it does not have now, but it is still up to the licensing authority—an independent body—to decide whether that objection should be upheld. The smaller road haulage businesses which make a large contribution to our society and to keeping down of the cost of goods, will welcome the sensible balance between environmental considerations, which every household has the right to hope and work for, and the economic considerations, which we must be mindful of in the operation of the road haulage business. I hope that the House at the right time will give the new clause and eventually the amendments to the Bill and the new schedule a fair wind.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.