HC Deb 26 October 1982 vol 29 cc909-12


Lords amendment: No. 2, in page 8, line 36, leave out "(where appropriate)".

Mrs. Chalker

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 4 and 121.

Mrs. Chalker

Amendment No. 4 deletes a provision which has caused some concern. I should like to make it clear why the Government have made this amendment, because it is for purely technical reasons.

The provision which this amendment deletes was intended to allow the Secretary of State to transfer to authorised inspectors further functions which appear to him to be connected with the testing functions listed in clause 9. The original thinking behind this was that the Secretary of State would want to authorise inspectors to carry out such functions which were related to existing statutory functions but which were not themselves the subject of statute—such as the issue of plates to goods vehicles; and that he might want to transfer further minor or ancillary statutory functions to authorised inspectors. It was thought that the provision would allow this to be done.

I should like to make it clear that this provision was not intended to allow the approved testing authority to conduct related commercial activities, and the deletion of the subparagraph makes no difference to the position in that respect. The amendment therefore is not about ruling out commercial activities. What it does is to delete a provision which I am now advised was simply unnecessary and had no substantive effect.

The other two amendments are merely consequential changes to the drafting of another part of clause 9 and of schedule 5. I hope that this explains the amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 9, line 41, at end insert— The carrying out or supervision of examinations and the issue or refusal of certificates under section 10 (certificates of conformity to type for public service vehicles).

Mrs. Chalker

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 5 to 9, the amendment to the proposed Lords amendment No. 9, standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), and Lords amendments Nos 18 to 21, 120 and 122.

Mrs. Chalker

I would not want the House to believe that the length of these amendments indicates a substantial revision of the Bill. They do not. In fact they leave the Bill almost unaltered, but they make a sensible addition to the list of functions which may be carried out by the approved testing authority and its inspectors. This is the type certification of passenger service vehicles that may be useful in special circumstances. As there is much for the House to get through tonight, I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied with this assurance. I shall, of course, be happy to elaborate further or to answer any points of detail that may be raised.

Mr. Booth

I wish to speak to my proposed amendment to Lords amendment No. 9.

The Minister says that the only substantial change in this set of amendments is a sensible increase in the functions that may be allocated from Government test centres to private operators. The Opposition's view expressed in our amendment is to the contrary in the sense that we believe that the one addition to the functions that can be transferred is significant. It should certainly be retained in Government hands.

The Lords amendment would alter section 10 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 in such a way as to enable type approval to be carried out by a prescribed testing authority. I do not wish to enter into the mechanics of how test authorities prescribe. It is sufficient for the purposes of the case that I wish to deploy to say that the authority prescribed would, by the nature of the Lords amendment, have to be something other than a Government test station, or a station solely in control of the Government and of Department of Transport officials. It would be a place that could then proceed to deal with type approval.

It is my contention that type approval is important in the whole issue of public service vehicles safety and that it is of the utmost importance that there should be the highest standards, the greatest impartiality and total freedom from any vested financial interests in the outcome unduly influencing a decision. Once a vehicle is type approved, although it is subject to annual tests and may be tested to see whether certain aspects of the vehicle comply with the construction and use regulations, it is nevertheless deemed to be a type that is safe to be used on the roads. Any additional number can be made and sold without anyone being able to challenge the basic presumption that the vehicles are safe unless the Secretary of State, having learnt that umpteen of them have crashed due to a basic design defect, withdraws the type approval.

Incidentally, if a function could be transferred by the amendment to the prescribed authority, it means that the prescribed authority would be allowed to withdraw the type approval. Our view is that withdrawal in those circumstances would show a serious defect in the initial type approval procedure. We have to be as sure as is humanly possible that initial type approval checks out every aspect of a vehicle that might contribute intrinsically to its safety for the purpose of carrying passengers.

I turn now to the financial interests involved in type approval. The first financial interest is clearly that of the manufacturer. The manufacturer of a bus wants to sell the bus. He wants to sell it as widely as possible and therefore has a clear and proper interest in the sense of being able to sell it and secure type approval. The operator who wishes to buy the bus has a clear concern that the vehicle is type approved and that once it is approved that approval will not be withdrawn. If it is withdrawn, he has vehicles on his hands that he cannot use for carrying passengers.

The operator is concerned about other aspects of finance that relate to type approval. He is concerned to obtain the vehicle with the cheapest operating costs. At a time when a number of coach companies have gone bankrupt, this is an important consideration. The operator is also concerned about the maintenance costs of the vehicle and about its initial cost. Any combination of these things may be determined by initial design and thereby caught up on the whole question of type approval.

The Opposition see another difficulty in turning over type approval to a prescribed authority, being someone other than a Government-run test station with the highest technical standards and high standards of impartiality. Foreign vehicles and buses used on our roads have to go through our type approval procedure. There has been a considerable rise in recent years in the number of foreign vehicles operating on British roads. Buses are produced in a number of European and Scandinavian countries. I make no reflection upon them. They are, undoubtedly, produced, in the first instance, to meet the requirements of their own country. A wider market is then sought.

The manufacturers, like the operators, are subject to the financial considerations that I have mentioned. Whatever else we may feel about turning over other test functions to the private sector—the Opposition have many objections—it is most unfortunate that at this late stage of the Bill we should come to consider another extension of functions to be transferred. I hope that the House will support our amendment to the Lords amendment.

Our amendment is a compromise. If carried, it would not prevent the Secretary of State turning over type approval to another body. It would, however, ensure that if he took such action he would only be able to turn it over to another body that did not engage in any other form of commercial activity. This is the minimum protection that the House should attach to such a transfer of provisions. I hope, therefore, that our amendment commends itself to the House.

Mrs. Chalker

The right hon. Gentleman was right to point out that type approval is what I would term the birth certificate of a vehicle. I must emphasise that the Lords amendment that he seeks to amend interferes in no way with the annual testing of public service vehicles. The right hon. Gentleman made some remarks about financial interests and foreign vehicles. Clause 9 already provides for type approval to be carried out by authorised inspectors. Some public service vehicles—they are a minority—are very much a standard type which can conveniently be certified in batches just as type approval operates on motor cars.

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern about conflicting financial interests but his anxieties over foreign vehicles are misplaced. If there is any doubt about safety, they will not have type approval whether this is operated by my Department or by a body authorised to undertake not only type approval but also the annual testing of public service vehicles. The right hon. Gentleman's anxieties are unfounded. His amendment is not correctly drafted but that is a minor point in relation to his concern for safe vehicles. My concern is also for safe vehicles. We would not be asking the House to agree to Lords amendment No. 9 authorising a separate body, such as Lloyd's Register Vehicle Testing Authority, unless we were in a position to say that it was going to a body with no commercial interest and a body in whose integrity the Government had total confidence.

5 pm

It will not have escaped the notice of right hon. Gentlemen that the final say on who does the work does not rest on a whim of the Government. Parliament must approve not only the testing authority but the functions that it must carry out. Therefore, the House will have the final say. I hope that, on the basis of what I have said, the right hon. Gentleman will not press his amendment to Lords amendment No. 9.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 4 to 8 agreed to.

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