§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, this is a short but important Bill, important not because it is one on which future historians will write books or make profound comments, except possibly by way of a footnote, but very important to certain groups in the population. These are particularly bodies concerned with education, with religion, with social welfare and with activities for the benefit of the community. Broadly speaking, they can be defined as voluntary and educational organisations.
These organisations use minibuses to carry their members or pupils. At present however if they should make a charge, no matter how small, for this service to cover the cost of the petrol of the minibus, its depreciation or maintenance, or even if a fund is set up to cover the costs of the minibus, the question of operating for hire or reward arises. The whole exercise comes within public service vehicle licensing under the Road Traffic Act 1960. This raises expense. It would mean that the driver would have to have a public service vehicle licence. The consequence has been that many voluntary organisations have, albeit in many cases unknowingly, been breaking the law by running their minibuses.
As a result of concern about this situation, the National Council of Social Service, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services and the National Association of Youth Clubs, set up a Working Party in 1976 to investigate the problem and to invite evidence from other interested organisations. The result was the report called A Fair Deal For Minibuses. The report recommended in principle that minibuses operated by voluntary bodies should be exempt from the public service vehicle licensing procedure.
This Bill gives practical effect to that main proposal. I was glad to take on its sponsorship from my honourable friend, David Hunt, who piloted it so skilfully in another place. I am very glad to say that it has Government support, and I should like to acknowledge immediately the great help 617 that I personally have received from the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and the officials of the Department of the Environment. I hope the Bill will have a speedy passage through this House. Not only do I believe that the principle is right, but it seems to me to be a common-sense solution to a very practical problem. At a time when we need to encourage and help voluntary organisations of all kinds that are doing such valuable work in the community, it makes economic sense to allow volunteers to run these buses and to make a charge to cover the cost. At this late hour, and when there are so many other speakers, I do not intend to illustrate the principle but I feel quite confident that every speaker will know particular groups who will illustrate the need for this Bill.
I should like now to turn to what the Bill proposes. Clause 1 removes from the scope of public service vehicle licensing vehicles carrying between eight and 16 passengers, exclusive of the driver, operating for hire or reward—that is the term used for making a charge—by bodies concerned with education, religion, social welfare or other activities for the benefit of the community. I have been asked what that last category means. It is a general category, intended to cover voluntary organisations which might not be quite specifically covered by the first three categories.
Those seeking to run a minibus under this provision must get a permit from the traffic commissioners to do so, though the Secretary of State may, by regulation, designate other bodies where appropriate. For example, one suggestion is that there might be a local voluntary organisation that might be able to issue the permits. Such bodies—either the Traffic Commissioners or another designated body—would need to have regard to any directions given by the Secretary of State on issuing the permit. Such regulations would be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure.
Clause 1(5) makes it clear that those vehicles which are excluded from the public service vehicle licensing procedure are not caught by the private hire licensing legislation, and as someone who was, a short while ago, involved in the intricacies of taxis and private hire vehicles, I am delighted to feel that it in no way applies to this Bill.
618 Clause 2 is concerned entirely with the form and content of the permit and with the provisions for the revocation of the permit. The permit must specify the body to whom it is issued and the vehicles to which it relates. It must contain conditions defining the classes of passengers who may be carried, and deal with other matters that may be laid down by the Secretary of State in regulations. There are provisions in it for the variation of conditions attaching to the permit, and for its revocation by the Traffic Commissioners or the issuing body. It will remain in force until the vehicle changes hands or, where issued by a body other than the Traffic Commissioners, that body ceases to be designated. The clause makes provision, where it seems appropriate, for the permit to be issued to a named individual on behalf of the body, rather than to the body itself.
The powers of the Secretary of State to make regulations are contained in Clause 3. That clause sets out, if I may put it in this way, how the scheme of permits will work. Under Clause 1, the Traffic Commissioners, or some other designated body, have power to issue a permit. Those powers are governed by regulations which come in the form of a permit—the fees to be charged, the documents, and so on, which are required to be carried by the vehicle, the conditions to be attached to the driver and, above all, the safety conditions of the vehicle itself. That last point, of course, is one of enormous importance and needs to be carefully considered in each case. In making the regulations, the Secretary of State will consult the list of persons or bodies listed in Clause 3(3). As will be apparent, this must include local authorities and other bodies which are interested in the permits that might be issued. Clause 4 is quite straightforward and is concerned entirely with interpretation.
My Lords, I am most gratified that this Bill should have attracted the interest of so many speakers this evening. There are far more than I expected, but I attribute that to the great interest of your Lordships in voluntary organisation, in church groups and in the welfare of the aged, the handicapped and many other bodies who will be able to make use of the provisions of the Bill. In an ideal world, of course, I would wish that it went further, but even with its limited application I believe it will be of enormous 619 value to great numbers of people. It is something which we can do to serve a practical purpose at the time of economic stringency.
I believe, therefore, is is something which will be welcomed in all parts of the House and I hope very much that it will have a speedy passage through your Lordships' House and on to the Statute Book. We are living in a somewhat uncertain world and it would be a pity if, for any reason, there was any delay so that it had to go back to another place. I hope, because the principle will be accepted by everybody, that we shall be able to carry it as it is. I do not want to speak at any length tonight; first, because of the hour and, secondly, because I want to give an opportunity to others to comment on the Bill. I do commend it to your Lordships, and I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Bareness Young.)
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I outline very briefly the Government's attitude to the Bill we are considering today. I want to say right at the beginning that the Government are concerned about the problems facing voluntary bodies, churches and schools in the provision of transport for their welfare and educational purposes. The noble Baroness, in introducing the Bill, has explained these fully and it would be superfluous for me to add to what she has said. I think your Lordships will all agree that here we have a particular and pressing problem which can and should be dealt with by separate legislation, without in any way prejudging the wider issues of bus licensing law generally.
Some of your Lordships may recall the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill which was recently considered by your Lordships' House, and be wondering how it fits in with the Bill we are discussing today. The two Bills deal with quite different aspects of the same complex of issues; there is no conflict between them. The Minibus Bill, as I have said, deals with a particular issue, and is not concerned with bus licensing as a whole. 620 The Government are tackling the broader problem of licensing pragmatically, aided by the findings from a programme of experiments which, with the help of the Experimental Areas Bill, will throw further light on the case for change in the licensing system, particularly with regard to rural areas.
I should now like to make a few brief comments on some particular aspects of the Bill. We would all agree that it is important that the Bill should protect the legitimate interests of commercial operators, particularly by preventing abuse by bogus organisations and the permit system will deal with this point. It is a valuable protection to have the Traffic Commissioners, with all their expertise in passenger transport, as the anchor point for the issue of permits to a variety of local bodies, among whom there is always the possibility of a bogus organisation appearing. With clearly identifiable national bodies the same problem does not arise, and it is clearly a good idea that the Secretary of State should be empowered to designate this kind of major body to issue permits, subject to safeguards, to their branch and affiliated organisations.
I should like to turn now to the subject of safety, because I know this will be of particular concern to many of your Lordships. I will look, first, at the safety of the vehicles on the road. I know that there has been some feeling, during the sponsors' consultations on the Bill, that all vehicles coming within scope should be subject to a special test laid down therein. In my view, this would be unnecessary. Safety on the road concerns all minibuses, not just those coming under the Bill, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has wide powers under the Road Traffic Act 1972 to make regulations concerning the testing and checking of different classes of vehicles. Safety requirements are, in fact, becoming more stringent for minibuses.
From 1st January this year all passenger vehicles licensed as private with 13 or more passenger seats have been required to take the new extended MOT test at a specially authorised testing station, which has the proper facilities for dealing with vehicles of this size: this means, in the great majority of cases, taking the test at 621 a Government testing station. Without a valid test certificate these vehicles cannot, of course, get a vehicle excise licence and hence cannot legally be used on the road. This requirement could be extended to all minibuses coming under the Bill. Furthermore, under EEC roadworthiness provisions, an annual test will in due course be required once a vehicle is a year old. All these matters raise issues of manpower and resources; we shall strive to achieve the optimum benefit to safety within the applicable constraints.
So far as drivers are concerned, I agree that no special test for them should be necessary. I believe that the organisations covered by the Bill are, as a group, responsible people who take very great care over whom they allow to operate their minibuses. The vehicles covered by the Bill are essentially similar in handling characteristics to large family cars, and thus nothing more than the level of skill for the ordinary car licence seems to be called for. However, if hard evidence, or experience, suggests that a special test is after all desirable, there is in the Bill the provision that ensures my right honourable friend the Secretary of State can deal with the matter quickly, subject to the control of Parliament.
I should like to make one final point. The Bill can do nothing about EEC requirements. They have, I know, caused some concern, but they are entirely a matter for the Community. The Government are pressing for certain exemptions with private minibuses in mind, Negotiations are still continuing and the maximum size of such vehicles is still in considerable doubt. I should like, on behalf of the Government, to commend this Bill, sponsored so ably by the noble Baroness, to your Lordships' House and hope, for the sake of the many organisations which would benefit from its provisions, that it has the quickest possible passage to Royal Assent.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, I should like very briefly to welcome this Bill, the purpose of which has been so very clearly explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, amplified by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. When the Road Traffic Act 1930 was passed, its Promoters could scarcely have foreseen the development of 622 the minibus as we know it today, or the decline in public transport in rural areas which has taken place in recent years. We may well ask whether that Act, on which our present legislation is based, constitutes a satisfactory framework for road traffic legislation generally. But this is not the occasion to attempt to answer that question, though the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, has reminded us that modified licensing arrangements are to be tried out in experimental areas.
But we have had described to us how voluntary organisations—churches, schools, community groups, youth groups and organisations of that kind—are using the minibus for purposes of great social value to the community, and in this connection we have to bear in mind that in rural areas 30 per cent. of households are without cars. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, explained, these organisations cannot always meet costs out of their normal funds. They have, in many cases, to charge to cover their costs and, as she explained, when they do so they come up against the licensing laws.
In considering the licensing laws, we have to consider not only the cost of the licences, but the cost of the alterations required to a vehicle to comply with the licensing requirements and the fact that that cost is often greater than the value of the vehicle itself. The problem for the organisations has been to run a vehicle on an economic basis and remain within the law. Therefore, I support the proposal in the Bill for the Traffic Commissioners to be given power to issue permits exempting these organisations from the licensing procedure, and also the proposal to give similar powers to certain national organisations to be designated by the Minister.
The Bill insists that those receiving permits should in no way engage in a commercial activity, and that is right. But what is the effect, I wonder, of the phrase in Clause 1(1)(b), which reads as follows:… nor incidentally to an activity which is itself carried on with a view to profit".I wonder whether that might be rather restricting. If, for example, the organisers of a church garden fête being held to make a profit for church funds collected by means of a minibus, a party from an 623 old people's home, would that journey be incidental to an activity carried on with a view to profit?
It is clear that safety and competence of the driver are two matters the importance of which cannot be over-emphasised, and I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, had to say about this. In the report A Fair Deal for Minibuses, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred—the report which paved the way for this Bill—comprehensive proposals were put forward for dealing with the fitness of the vehicle and the proficiency of the driver. It is the view of the Government that no special provisions are necessary, though I should have preferred to see those provisions contained in the regulations which are to be made under the Bill to deal with these matters. To conclude, I believe that there is a genuine need for this Bill and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord ALLEN of ABBEYDALE
My Lords, I should like briefly to add to the welcome to this Bill, which I am very glad to know has been forthcoming both from the Government and from the Liberal Front Bench. It is a Bill which serves both to clarify the law and also to relax its requirements in relation to some very deserving activities—with due regard to safety, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, has explained.
I suppose that I ought to declare an interest of a kind, although certainly not a financial one, in that I have only just ceased to be chairman of the National Council of Social Service, a body which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, explained, played a substantial part in getting this proposal launched. The National Council, with its wide membership, was well placed to take delivery of the growing concern which was being expressed by voluntary bodies all over the country about the fact that their use of minibuses might be illegal, and in association with one of its associated bodies and one of its members, as named by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, a Working Party was set up in March of last year to go into the problem, as has been explained.
624 But it is just worth recording that this Working Party did its work rather more quickly than some I know about. It put in its report last November, by a happy coincidence on the day of the ballot for Private Members' Bills in another place. As the noble Baroness has explained, the subject was taken up by Mr. David Hunt. The Department of Transport gave every help, and here we are, only some 15 months after the operation started, with a Bill which seems to me to meet the problem in a fairly satisfactory way, and with the added benefit of a simple Title compared with the much longer one conferred on the Bill at birth.
The case for the Bill has been very clearly put, but I should like to emphasise the point that the wide range of use covered by the Bill provides some illustration of the work which voluntary bodies are doing for the community, despite the financial problems they are facing —work which is not always appreciated so widely as it deserves. In some areas, for example, those who take the elderly or disabled by minibus to do, say, their shopping may be giving them their only journey outside their own homes. Youth groups going on educational visits, or members being taken to Church, are just two examples, drawn out of many, of services which simply could not be replaced if the voluntary bodies gave up. The local education authorities and the local social service departments would clearly not have either the money or the resources, or possibly the powers, to step into their place. I should also like to emphasise the point which has been made, that all of these voluntary organisations provide these services just at cost. They do not seek to make a profit; they aim only to meet their operating expenses.
Whether the EEC requirements, to which the noble Baroness referred, are more than a cloud on a distant horizon I do not know, but, be that as it may, there seems to me to be a clear and urgent need for the Bill. I share the hope that it can be passed speedily into law and that the necessary administrative arrangements can then be completed as soon as possible to enable it to be brought into force at an early date. My Lords, may I end by saying that the brevity of my remarks is in inverse proportion to the warmth of my welcome for the Bill.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Baroness BERKELEY
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lady Young and to thank her for introducing this Minibus Bill, for it will fill a much needed gap in rural life and will be of enormous help to the various organisations mentioned in it. The Bill will help these organisations to keep going and to expand their activities.
I am not quite clear, however, about the type of person who is to own and run a minibus. Will ownership be confined entirely to these voluntary organisations, or may the villagers join together to buy a bus by subscription and have it run by the parish or district council? It seems to me that the minibus ought to be used for other than voluntary organisation purposes and that the Bill restricts its use. Will its use include taking the elderly shopping and collecting their pensions? Many elderly people now need transport to the larger centres, because in many cases the village post office has come to an end and, alas! the village store is beginning to vanish, too. The elderly need help and assistance to go further afield.
I feel that the Bill needs a broader base so as to give more scope for the use of the minibus. I believe that where there is no other bus service it should be possible for the minibus to be hired for any reasonable purpose, either privately or by different organisations. If one organisation in a village possesses a minibus, will another organisation be allowed to hire or borrow it? Presumably the village would not need a fleet of minibuses. One minibus should be capable of serving the different organisations, especially to enable people to do the more necessary jobs, such as shopping. Can the Bill be amended to achieve this purpose? If it cannot be amended, half a loaf is nevertheless better than no bread, so I wish to lend my support to the Bill.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ The LORD BISHOP of ROCHESTER
My Lords, I should like to support the Bill which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has presented so cogently to your Lordships' House. I ought to begin by declaring an interest, or even a lack of interest. Those of us who now have to describe ourselves as two metres or more tall find any vehicle which describes itself 626 as "mini" as something to be avoided like the plague. But I do not speak for myself; I speak on behalf of the members of all the Churches and for Church youth organisations of all denominations who, without any deliberate intention of doing so, have found themselves running very near to the wind, so far as the law is concerned, by organising transport on a regular basis for their members.
Many of your Lordships will know that in many places the decline of public transport, particularly but not only on Sundays, is now such that movement is severely restricted for those who are without their own car. There is an increasing need, therefore, for arrangements to be made whereby members of congregations can be conveyed to and from their place of worship and to enable meetings of elderly people, mothers with children and youth groups to take place.
The rules laid down for public service vehicles do not seem to be very apt where a small vehicle is not providing a public service for all comers but is, for example, taking the elderly and handicapped to social occasions, school and youth groups on expeditions and people to church who live too far away to walk. This question of distance is becoming quite acute in some areas, because the overheads involved in running organisations or in keeping buildings open, perhaps only for a few hours a week, have resulted in the closing down of certain facilities and, therefore, in the necessity for gathering people together over a much wider area. This is not all loss, by any means, for often a much more worthwhile occasion is able to take place.
The question of payment for transport in a minibus to or from a hall or church presents a number of anomalies. If the cost of the transport is met from general church funds, in the same way as other church expenses such as heating, lighting or the repair of the fabric, and if there is no connection between the contributions which the congregations make towards these general expenses and the transport which is made available, I believe that then it can probably be said that the vehicle is not carrying passengers for hire or reward. I understand, however, that the present law is breached not only where passengers pay directly for their transport, which is the simplest and easiest thing for 627 them always to do, but even when they make increased contributions to church funds in consideration of transport being made available.
This Bill will clearly facilitate what is, I believe, a very valuable form of community service to many lonely, aged and needy people as well as provide a considerable easing of many consciences, if it can become law, with the very important safeguards to which reference has already been made. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and give the Bill a Second Reading and speed it on its way.
§ 7.19 p.m.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, as your Lordships are probably aware, have initiated debates on rural transport and have continually spoken on rural transport. In principle, therefore, I welcome this Bill. I have, however, a rather suspicious mind, and when I read it I find myself in some doubt as to whether it is going to do what it is hoped that it will do. To start with, I dislike, as I think a number of your Lordships do, the awful bureaucratic hand which comes into the running of any transport Bill, and this Bill appears to have more bureaucrats than fleas on a hedgehog.
We start off with the Traffic Commissioners. I am a little doubtful about Traffic Commissioners; I am not over keen on the way they organise their transport, and I have great doubt as to whether Traffic Commissioners as such are the people to judge who is a body to run a minibus for the benefit of the community. Who is going to judge what bodies shall run transport for the benefit of the community? The Church obviously is one. I can think of hundreds, including the Boy Scouts and other boys' associations, but ultimately when we come to this we shall set some very peculiar people who might creep in. Are we to be in a position where (shall we say?) football supporters who go round creating hell everywhere, can get themselves organised with a minibus to go to football matches?
I know we should say that this is linked incidentally to an activity which is carried on with a view to profit, but I am with the noble Lord, Lord Banks: I should like to see, out in the country, pensioners as a 628 group enabled to have these minibuses to help their activities. Some of these rural areas have been so chopped off by the Traffic Commissioners from their bus routes that in a large number of cases they are practically paralysed from movement, as I think the right reverend Prelate said. These pensioners want movement; it is very good for them to get out. But if we say incidentally that an activity that is carried on with a view to profit must not be pursued, then you cannot even take your minibus to catch a bus on the main road which the Traffic Commissioners might want you to do instead of taking the bus to a market—which probably would be illegal because that is an activity for profit. Could they take a bus to catch a train? I do not know, but I should like it carefully considered to see whether this is not a fundamental weakness in the Bill.
Another point which has occurred to me concerns schools. In my area there is great alarm and distress about the extra charge on children, and that children have to walk down a very narrow road to their school. In principle, I should be most interested to know whether parent-teacher associations could organise a school bus to take these children to their school. It would keep them off the narrow roads such as that which is now used by a 35-seater bus, which allows, I think, three feet on either side of the road for those children who have to walk to school. If parent-teacher associations could do this, I think it would be very encouraging and I know it would be a great help for the children.
I have looked through this Bill and I regret to say that I still come back to the question of who is to say what group will run a bus service for the benefit of the community. Who is to say what is for the benefit of the community? Probably the Secretary of State might be able to say, but I still come back to the fact that in my view Traffic Commissioners are not the people to say what is for the benefit of the community. The Traffic Commissioners are there to see that the bus service they operate is run efficiently because they are the people who have been cutting the bus services all the way through. If we cannot link these things with a body operating for profit, then this Bill will not be very helpful.
I am also not very keen on the fact that apparently the Traffic Commissioners 629 can revoke a permit which they have granted, and I cannot see that there is in any way an appeal against any revocation they may make, however worthy the people who are running these services. So far as the Traffic Commissioners are concerned, I should like there to be some form of appeal against a decision; some words inserted to ensure that someone can appeal to the Secretary of State. I think it would be a very great advantage and it would give people more confidence in this Bill.
If properly organised and operated, and with the words in this Bill carefully scrutinised, I think we could have a very good Bill; but I should hate to see this Bill go through and be wrecked because the wording is such that people who should not operate these bus services can do so because they can claim that they are doing something for the benefit of the community. With those words I should like to assure my noble friend Lady Young that I shall have no hesitation in helping her to pass this Bill even though I may have doubts about it.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Baroness MACLEOD of BORVE
My Lords, I welcome this Bill wholeheartedly, because I feel that it is for the welfare of the community in the various villages and hamlets, which as we all know are becoming more and more depopulated by the local country community. The villages and hamlets are still populated, but in many cases they are now populated by people who treat the villages as country cottages, who come in by car for the weekends and do not take any part in village life. As one who was born and brought up where the nearest shop was five miles away, I feel that I have a little knowledge of this.
I feel that this Bill might well be the salvation and in some cases the resuscitation of village life, because it will mean that people will stay and live in the villages; they will be able to go out frequently as and when required. From reading the Bill, it seems to me—and I am afraid perhaps I have not gone into it quite as deeply as the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford—that organisations such as the parish council, the women's institute and other organisations within the village will be able to get together and not only buy a 630 bus but will also be able to use that bus for any and every pursuit that they wish. For instance, there is a village near my old home where they have one bus a week. The doctor comes on Wednesday to do a surgery but the bus comes on Tuesday. But now if the villagers are able to have their own bus they will be able to organise that the bus comes on Thursdays, perhaps on Mondays and perhaps on Saturdays, thereby helping all the villagers.
We all know the railways have been closed, far too many of them. The bus services have also been curtailed. One realises the reasons for this, One is, of course, that the big bus companies can in no way, and should not perhaps be able to, know the needs of the individual villagers. I think that this is what we have to get back to; that is, the needs not only of the elderly, but of those who perhaps are disabled or those who have no transport at all. One must realise that, in the depths of the Cotswolds, Wales, Cornwall, in places that are a long way from towns, a great number of people have been getting older and have not been able to get out. They have not been able to get to a shop; the only shop has been perhaps one brought round on a lorry or van. Unless they are able to be taken out by local relatives, or perhaps the Churches, they have been completely incarcerated for many years in these villages. I was so sorry that a clause in the Road Traffic Bill enabling minibuses to be started was deleted with the change of Government in 1974.
I hope this Bill is not too late to save the rural communities. I personally do not think it is. I certainly wish it very well. I should also like to say briefly that these buses—to my certain knowledge, having driven them—are very easy to drive. It certainly takes no particular ability to drive these minibuses. I hope that this Bill has a speedy passage through your Lordships' House.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON
My Lords, I must apologise that I did not put my name down to speak because I did not think it really necessary. It is probably not really necessary for me to speak. I should like, if it is not presumptuous, to congratulate my noble friend Lady 631 Young on the very succinct way in which she introduced this very worthy and useful little Bill. At the same time I should like once again, if it is necessary—I am sure it is not—gently to draw her attention to the remarks of my noble friend Lady Berkeley and the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, and also the wise words of Lord de Clifford on the Traffic Commissioners. I have drawn attention once or twice to this point, as the noble Baroness is aware. I am aware that the Government are doing something about the problem of rural transport, and I think it would be churlish of us not to be grateful for what they are doing to help with this little Bill. We are all waiting for bigger things soon. With that I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Young again on getting this little Bill so speedily before your Lordships' House.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate this evening and have unanimously supported this Bill. I realise that one should not on these occasions begin with an apology, but I did realise afterwards that I referred to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and her advisers from the Department of the Environment when I should have said Transport. I can only attribute this to being quite overcome by having such absolutely splendid help on a piece of legislation. I was thinking so much about the help I forgot the name of the place where it came from. I would not wish any discourtesy to the Department she represents. I would like to thank the noble Baroness for her speech and for filling in the background to these technical points so well.
I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Banks. He did ask about a particular point. He asked what is meant in Clause 1(1)(b) in which those activities which are excluded from the Bill are defined; that is, the vehicle is not being used for carrying members of the public at large,nor with a view to profit nor incidentally to an activity which is itself carried on with a view to profit".He asked me the meaning of that last statement. It is intended to exclude nonprofit making bodies set up by commercial 632 concerns; that is, if a concern is a profit-making body it cannot have some kind of non-profit making body running minibuses in connection with its business. That is what it is intended to mean.
I should particularly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, for his remarks. We are most grateful for his speaking on behalf of the National Council of Social Service. I believe it will be very important that voluntary organisations shall know that this Bill is on the Statute Book, and publicity will be very important in getting it known. It is very reassuring to know that the noble Lord has spoken in this debate and has the Bill at heart, and can use his influence in this regard.
My noble friend Lady Berkeley, whom I was very glad to hear speaking this evening, asked me whether or not it would be possible for more than one organisation to be authorised to use a minibus under this Bill, and the answer is yes. Unfortunately, I am bound to tell her that, much as I would like to extend the provisions of this Bill to all the activities she enumerated to help people in country areas, these are in fact outside the provisions of the Bill. It applies only to those organisations named in Clause 1.
I must also regretfully say this to my noble friend Lady Macleod. She will, of course, be very glad to know that it will apply to the disabled and voluntary organisations to do with the disabled. It cannot just be run by a parish council as part of their public transport service. Much as I should like to see extensions, this is the way the Bill will work. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, who said it is better to get something on the Statute Book than!to seek perfection. As a practical politician, I always believe that half a loaf, or even three-quarters as I think we might claim, is better than no bread at all. This Bill does have a fairly restrictive use, but nevertheless I think it will be valuable. I am, of course, very glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester spoke. Of course, in regard to the particular groups of people to whom he referred, people going to church, running a minibus, particularly to collect the elderly in rural areas, would be very helpful indeed; and this will be covered by the provisions of the Bill.
633 My noble friend Lord de Clifford is not, I think, quite as against the Bill as he would lead us to believe; indeed he accepted it in principle. I think when he complains about it he is probably finding it as difficult as I do to read the Bill. I have always regretted that when I was an undergraduate I did not read law because it certainly would have made my life much easier. When one comes to study the Bill, which has quite a straightforward purpose, it is much more complicated than it looks at first sight, and it seems the more one looks at it the more complicated it becomes. Nevertheless, as I have been assured by those responsible and knowledgeable about these matters, the Bill is in order and confirmed by the officials of the Department of Transport (so that I can get that in correctly); I think we must accept that it must remain as it is, because any change will cause confusion and make it incorrect. We would not wish something to go on the Statute Book which is not in order.
On the point about who will judge whether or not someone is to have a permit, an organisation will apply to the Traffic Commissioners, who will have to take into account, within the regulations laid down by the Secretary of State, whether the vehicle comes up to standard, whether the organisation is correct. I see no reason to suppose that it will be a very complicated procedure, because I believe that, once the Bill goes on the Statute Book, everyone will want to see that it works correctly. If a permit is revoked, it will clearly be because the organisation or the vehicle or the driver does not meet one of the requirements in the Bill. I think to include a statutory right of appeal would be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut; perhaps "nut" is the right word in connection with a minibus.
If the minibus itself does not come up to the correct safety requirements, clearly once the safety requirements were met the permit could be given again. But there must be a safeguard to make sure that the body applying for the permit is one that is properly constituted and that the driver and the vehicle meet the necessary requirements. I hope that I have answered all the points that have been raised. Once again, may I say how grateful I am to noble Lords for coming here this evening and supporting the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.