HC Deb 21 October 1982 vol 29 cc635-7

11. 50 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

I beg to move,

That the Motor Vehicle (Tests) (Extension) Order 1982, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd June, be approved.

The order is part of a package of measures implementing the European Community directive on roadworthiness testing. The roadworthiness directive is probably not bedside reading for all hon. Members, so it may be helpful if I remind the House briefly of what it is, before explaining where the extension order fits into the wider scheme of things.

The roadworthiness directive is designed basically to harmonise testing arrangements for commercial vehicles in member States. It deals with the testing of lorries, buses and coaches, taxis and ambulances. It does not affect private cars, but it does cover large passenger vehicles—those with more than eight passenger seats—whether or not they are used for hire or reward. The measures we are talking about tonight therefore apply to vehicles such as works buses as well as to buses and coaches which carry fare paying passengers.

The directive does not specify in detail how tests are to be carried out. That is done nationally. It does, however, list the items which are to be tested—brakes, steering, lights and so on—and it requires that tests must be carried out annually, starting when the vehicle is one year old. It provides the basic framework of requirements which have to be embodied in the testing arrangements in each member State. Member States are free to impose more stringent requirements if they wish, but the directive lays down the minimum. It is on the whole a rather modest and sensible measure, and one which should bring some useful gains in road safety in many parts of the Community.

In this country our testing arrangements are already comprehensive, and for the most part already meet—or even exceed—the requirements of the directive. The inspection of public service vehicles goes back many years to between the wars. I shall not go over the history of this matter, but in general it is fair to say that our standards are at least as good as those in the rest of Europe.

We have had to make a few changes. The main one, which hon. Members with an interest in the bus industry will be well aware of, has been the introduction of a new formal annual testing scheme for public service vehicles, to replace the informal inspection system which we operated. The arrangements for that scheme were set out in the Motor Vehicle (Tests) Regulations 1981, which were accepted by the House last year.

The other principal change which we are having to make to implement the directive deals with the age at which vehicles have to be tested for the first time, and that is what this order is about. I have said that the roadworthiness directive requires vehicles within its scope to be tested annually starting at one year old. We are already home and dry with goods vehicles. Annual tests, starting at one year old, have been required for goods vehicles since the scheme was introduced in 1968. But the other categories of vehicles to which the directive applies come under a different testing scheme in a different legislative framework. Taxis, ambulances, big passenger vehicles which are not PSVs, and private cars all come under the Ministry of Transport scheme. That scheme requires the first test to take place at three years old, not one year old. In order to comply with the directive, we have to ensure in future—from 1 January 1983—that all taxis, ambulances and large passenger vehicles, as well as PSVs, have their first test by the time of the vehicle's first birthday. That is what the order achieves.

I know that the order seems complicated. In fact, it is simple in its achievement. Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 which deals with compulsory test certificates for specified classes of vehicles, provides the teeth for the MOT test system. It makes it an offence to use a vehicle on the road that has not got a valid test certificate if it comes within the specified category.

Hon. Members will also know that the age for the first test under the MOT scheme has been progressively reduced from the original 10 years to the present three years, in each case by means of a Motor Vehicles (Extension) Order, much like the present one. The last was passed by the House in 1966.

The new order before the House revokes the earlier one. It brings down the age of first test from three years to one year for the roadworthiness directive vehicles—taxis, ambulances and passenger vehicles with more than eight passenger seats. Formally speaking, public service vehicles are under the same regime. They also come under section 44 of the 1972 Act. The provision therefore applies to them although the arrangements for carrying out the test are quite different.

The order begins on 1 January 1983. From that date, any vehicle which is within one of the specified categories and is more than a year old must have a test certificate. I can perhaps assure any hon. Member who feels that this is a short deadline that our intention to bring in the order was widely publicised in 1981 and that arrangements for testing vehicles in order to meet the proposed new requirements have been operating throughout the whole of this year. I must emphasise again that private cars are not involved. Hon. Members will see that article 5 of the order provides for the three-year period to continue in force for all vehicles except the special roadworthiness directive categories. For private cars there is absolutely no change. Indeed, apart from the new testing regime for public service vehicles, there is not much change at all.

I hope that, on the information I have given, the House will feel itself able to approve the order.

11. 56 pm

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The Opposition welcome the provisions of the order as—I suppose this is becoming a hackneyed phrase—a positive contribution to road safety. We appreciate the reasons for the introduction of the order and give our full support. We welcome the order even though some of the provisions, as the Minister has fairly stated, are unnecessary or even redundant. For example, taxis are already required to be tested at least once a year. In some areas, testing for taxis is required as often as every three months. It is interesting to recall that police authorities in Scotland—I daresay this also applies in England—are already issuing what are called certificates of compliance with the EEC directive.

As the Minister fairly stated, the intention to apply the directive from 1 January 1983 has been well canvassed. All the authorities are aware of it. I wish therefore to ask in all seriousness why it is necessary for the order to contain the obscure language which states: This Order shall come into operation on the fifteenth day after the day on which it is approved by resoltuion of each House of Parliament.

Why could it not simply have stated the date of 1 January 1983? The formal instruction given in Government Departments is that a positive order should include this general phrase just in case the deadline is missed. In this case, it should have been possible to use clear language. I hope that the Minister will therefore do better next time.

A similar order was last debated in 1968. On that occasion, the speech of the principal Opposition spokesman took four minutes. I do not know whether I have broken that record. I wish, however, to commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order 1982, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd June, be approved.