HL Deb 01 March 1977 vol 380 cc505-32

2.56 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Stedman.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Public service vehicle licensing: designation of experimental areas]:

The Earl of KIMBERLEY moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 11, at end insert— ("(2A) After a period of 12 months from the first designation of an area under subsection (2) above, the area of a local authority may be designated by resolution of the local authority.").

The noble Earl said: With the permission of the Committee, I will speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 5, which are consequential. We hope by this series of Amendments to improve the Bill. They are in no way wrecking Amendments. We feel that if neighbouring local authorities, other than the original four which have designated areas, see after 12 months that satisfactory progress has been made with the original four, they too should be entitled to apply to the Secretary of State to do the same in their areas by their own resolutions. This, we feel, would be the right line to take because we should be giving to those local authorities—who, let us face it, must know the conditions better than Whitehall do—the opportunity to do what they think is best for their own ratepayers. This is in accordance with Section 203(1) of the Local Government Act 1972, which says: Within each non-metropolitan county, it shall be the duty—

  1. (a) of the county council, acting in consultation with persons providing bus services within the county and, so far as appropriate, with the Railways Board, to develop policies which will promote the provision of a co-ordinated and efficient system of public passenger transport to meet the needs of the county and, for that purpose, to take such steps to promote the co-ordination, amalgamation and re-organisation of road passenger transport undertakings in the county as appear to the county council to be desirable;
  2. (b) of each of the district councils in the county who are carrying on a road passenger transport undertaking to operate that undertaking in accordance with the policies developed by the county council as mentioned in paragraph (a) above…".
Under the present system it is not, in practical terms, the duty of the local authority to do that; central Government still retain the power. I say again, therefore, that this is not a wrecking Amendment but one that seeks merely to bring into effect that which was intended by the 1972 Act.

On Second Reading of this Bill, on 15th February, the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, said: …those areas which are not included in North Yorkshire, Devon, South Ayrshire and Dyfed will for the next two years be rather like Bisto kids wandering down the road on bare feet smelling the beautiful things that are happening next door to them."—[Official Report, 15/2/77; col. 1527.] I must say that we agree with the noble Lord and think that, unless the Amendment can be agreed to, a ludicrous situation could arise in which one county council wanted to be an experimental area and could not because it had not got permission and another which, for its own local reasons, did not want to, had to because Whitehall had decided that it should be. So, if we are dealing with local transport, we feel that it should be a local decision.


I should like first to congratulate the noble Earl on the ingenuity with which he has drafted the Amendment and his subsequent Amendments, most of which, as I think he will agree, depend on and follow from the first one. When I first read the Bill, it struck me, as I said on Second Reading, as a rather miserable little sprat of a measure which any fisherman would throw back into the water, not with any great hopes of its growing into anything worth while but simply because his self-respect would not allow him to keep it. Clearly, I did not reckon with the noble Earl. His Amendment is such a feat of Parliamentary drafting as almost to amount to prestidigitation. I should not have believed that it was possible to drive a coach and horses of this kind through a sprat, but that is what the noble Earl is trying to do with these Amendments.

I believe that we must consider whether the Bill is in fact suitable material for us to work on. We have to ask ourselves whether it is not such a poor thing to start off with that it would be more desirable to start from scratch, as it were, rather than to graft on to such an unworthy stock. I do not wish to hold the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, herself responsible for this. Indeed, she has given the impression that she personally was very much more flexible than some of her right honourable friends in another place and much more willing to listen to representations on the problems of rural transport. In particular, I welcomed her assurance that her right honourable friend the Secretary of State would be willing to consider further experimental areas if he received a request from county councils to do so.

But, for all the noble Baroness's personal flexibility, all the evidence suggests that this Government have shamefully neglected their responsibilities as regards rural transport. This is the more deplorable, as I said before, in that, when they came into office in February 1974, a measure was ready as part of the Road Traffic Act 1973 and had completed several of its stages during the previous Parliament. Despite what has been said about it, this would have done a great deal to relieve the transport problems of country areas by exempting mini-buses and similar vehicles from the public service licensing regulations.

The Government not only dropped the relevant clauses from that Act but they subsequently totally failed to bring forward any alternative measure to deal with rural transport problems. There are many persons and bodies in rural areas who would be more than willing to provide a transport service—the garage owner with a mini-bus, the voluntary organisations, the WRVS and many others. In other words, there are in the country willing buyers of transport and willing sellers. All that is preventing them from coming together is the licensing system and this Government's shameful and rather cynical neglect. This is even more deplorable, in that whereas, with most transport problems, we are talking in terms of hundreds of millions of pounds and huge commitments of public expenditure, here, as regards rural transport, it is merely a matter of allowing the effective use of existing resources.

I know that the noble Earl shares my views on this matter and I should like to express my wholehearted support for his efforts to broaden the Bill. However, I should like to ask him to withdraw his Amendment so that we can consider this matter more fully on Report. There are two main reasons for this: first, I think that it would only be reasonable to invite representations from the county councils which would be given increased powers under the noble Earl's Amendments and perhaps to consider with them what further changes they might like to see in these proposals.

Secondly, I should like to consider with the noble Earl whether we should go even further down the road which he has charted for us and seek to extend the provisions of the Bill to other classes of vehicle. This would amount to the revival of our proposals in the 1973 Act. I should therefore like to ask the noble Earl whether he will reculer pour mieux sauter. I hope that this does not strike him as over-cautious, but I am sure that he will agree that, having given clear notice of his intentions, thus concentrating the minds of all those involved, he should delay pressing home his attack until they have had a chance to respond.


I should like to take a moderate view of the Amendment and to speak to the Amendment itself. I take it that the Amendment is to take the responsibilities away from the Secretary of State and place them with the local authorities. That is absolutely fine, but I believe that there is one point that the noble Earl has missed although he showed his intention; he omitted the point that one route might cover more than one county council and that the county councils involved might have conflicting views or different needs. Although I am against bureacracy and red tape, I really think that the Secretary of State wants to cast a benevolent eye on the situation and assess the needs over all because, basically, one wants to see the Bill succeed. One wants to curb rural depopulation and to see those who are less fortunate and who do not have public transport services now to have them or to retain those that they have. But one wants a proper system devised after consultation. One does not want to see the wretched person waiting at the end of a lane expecting a scheduled service to come to pick him up. I know that in recent times certain bus companies with staff shortages have left people waiting and this seems to me to be a most deplorable state of affairs. Of late, the situation has been better, but there is a great need for improvement. This Bill must need improvement, but I am afraid that I cannot support the noble Earl's Amendment in this case.

Baroness STEDMAN

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, for accepting that I am sympathetic to the problems of rural transport and, indeed, I would go further and say so are some of my colleagues in another place who are also concerned with this Bill. We are concerned with the effect of rural depopulation and the effects of transport upon it.

This Amendment seems to be intended to provide that 12 months from the Secretary of State's first designation of an experimental area, the county council (which is the meaning of "local authority" in terms of the Bill) within whose area the experimental area is situated, may designate by resolution the remainder of the county as an experimental area. However, as drafted, the Amendment is ambiguous, and it could mean that, 12 months from the Secretary of State's first designation of an experimental area, any county council could designate by resolution the whole of its territory as an experimental area. Whichever meaning was intended, however, the Amendment is unacceptable to the Government. It is almost certainly outside the Long Title of the Bill.

I thought that I had emphasised in the Second Reading debate on 15th February that the Bill was not to be regarded as a blueprint for general changes to the licensing system. It is, rather, a logical follow-through from the Minister for Transport's Statement on 3rd December 1975 that there was no general agreement on what measures might be most useful in improving rural transport, or, in particular, what changes, if any, were needed in the present public service vehicle licensing system. The Bill's purpose is to allow the value and effects of certain modifications to this system to be monitored and assessed under carefully controlled conditions in selected areas. In this way, hard evidence can be assembled which will assist in a general review of the licensing system.

The Amendment is incompatible with this limited, essentially exploratory, purpose of the Bill. It would apply the experimental modifications to the licensing system over a wide area, before there had been time for any comprehensive assessment to be made of their value, or of any possible effects on existing public transport.

As I said in the Second Reading debate, we are not trying to override the powers and the duties of local authorities, and anything that we do will be carried out in the fullest consultation with them. We will also, of course, be open to suggestions for additional experimental areas which will be aimed at the purposes I have just outlined. But I think that we shall learn far more from careful testing of selected schemes within a relatively limited area, than from dissipating our resources by trying to monitor schemes throughout the whole of a county. It is, of course, open to any local authority to set up transport experiments of its own within the present licensing law.

So acceptance of the Amendment would change the whole nature of the Bill and I would hope that on reflection the noble Earl might consider withdrawing it. As I have said, we would consider further experimental areas for the purpose of the Bill. I should like to remind your Lordships that all the counties that are to take part in the experiment are volunteers; we are not dragooning anyone into them. The noble Earl referred to the fact that he was also speaking to Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 5. These are consequential upon what happens to Amendment No. 1, which I hope the Committee will reject, or the noble Earl will withdraw.


I thank the noble Baroness for her answers and comments. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that a little more time should be given so that representatives of county councils should be consulted, and also with a view to the point that the scheme could be extended to other vehicles, as the noble Lord said. I feel that there is some more homework to do on the Bill. As the noble Baroness said at Second Reading, it is not a blueprint and possibly more experimental areas could be included in the future. So I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.12 p.m.

The Earl of KIMBERLEY moved Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 15, leave out ("not exceeding two") and insert ("continuing for a minimum of five").

The noble Earl said: With the permission of the Committee I should like to take Amendment No. 6 with Amendment No. 4, as it is consequential upon it. I mentioned this matter to the noble Baroness before we came into the Chamber. The Amendment seeks to extend the experimental period from two to five years, and if, after five years, it has been found to be working, that, if possible, it should be for the local authority, and not Whitehall, to say whether it is good or bad. Our reasons for suggesting this course are that one does not really want any experiments. However, while accepting the fact that the Government have set their minds on an experimental period of time, we believe that the period should be sufficiently long to give the project a chance of being a success. We do not believe that two years is long enough a period to see what is to happen, in particular to see whether the full benefit of relaxing certain traffic regulations is achieved. As I said on Second Reading, no sensible businessman would consider risking possible capital and time for purely philanthropical reasons. We do not think that the degree of longevity of two years for the experiment is sufficient, because experiments have an unhappy habit of meeting with teething troubles. If by chance in one area the experiment was not going well, the unfortunate operator of the experiment may find himself stuck up a by-road with a flat tyre.

We envisage the operator probably being somebody in a sparsely populated area, operating the service for the scattered inhabitants. As I have already said, the service is not going to be operated out of love for one's fellow men. One hopes that it is to be carried out in order to run a profitable business. But at the same time in such circumstances the new transport system is to become an integral part of the life of the area, and in this country people take a long time to change their minds. If they have the opportunity of travelling in a mini bus instead of in their car quite a long time may pass before they decide to take that opportunity.

As I have said, capital and brains and time are not going to be wasted if, at the stroke of a pen at the end of two years, the whole idea may be obliterated. We think that the experiment will work and that it will be seen to work after a five-year period rather than after two years. We also believe firmly that after five years it should be up to the local authority to extend the time indefinitely, for the same reasons that I gave in relation to Amendment No. 1, and, first, to democratise transport decision-making away from nominated men to elected representatives. If the decision is taken by elected councillors and it is wrong, then they can be lobbied and can be voted against, and they alone can be held responsible for their decision. This decision would then not be irrevocable, whereas if it came centrally it may well be.


We on these benches find ourselves in a slight quandary in relation to this Amendment moved by the noble Earl. I regard this as an experimental Bill for an experimental time, as did the noble Baroness in introducing the Bill. In her Second Reading speech she said that she hoped that the provisions of the Bill could be applied on the ground by late summer of this year and that the interim conclusions could be drawn by this time next year. That is all to the good.

If by that time conclusions are beginning to be drawn, then by the end of a second year (which is what the Bill envisages) one would hope that the Government would be able to consider widening the field for a larger measure of statutory provision—another Bill, dealing with a wider field. I am not against anything that the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, is trying to say here. We are all after the same purpose: a widening of provision in certain areas for more people. But there is the question of whether the noble Earl is going about this the right way. We are slightly at a loose end in this Committee stage with going back to consult between now and the Report stage as to whether we are going to try to enlarge the Bill and make it a more permanent measure, or whether it is to be, as the Government originally envisaged, a temporary measure, as a mere stop-gap before a more important measure to deal with problems that come along. For that reason, although I go along with most of what the noble Earl said, I personally should not like people to think that this Bill would continue being experimental for five years. To that extent I am not over-keen on the Amendment moved by the noble Earl.


Coming from an area that will be affected by the Bill, I should like to ask the noble Baroness to consider whether one should not extend the period; I do not mean for quite so long as the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, wants, but for rather longer than a minimum of two years. After all, North Yorkshire is the largest county in England, and it takes time for Government Acts and regulations to be understood throughout the whole of that county, particularly in the hill areas. For myself, I should have thought that a period "not exceeding two years" was too short for this experiment.

I appreciate the point made by my noble friend Lord Mowbray in saying that this must be an experiment and that, as an experiment, it cannot be too long, but one has also to think of those who are going to operate the experiment. The small garage owners in the moorland areas must have some assurance that if they try to operate this experiment there will not be a sudden switch so that they will suffer a large financial loss as a result of it. For myself, I should have thought there was a good case for saying "not exceeding five years", if you like, but I would not quite agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, that it should be "a minimum of five years". After all, if the county council find the period of the authorisation too long, they have their own remedy because it is clearly laid down that they can revoke the authorisation themselves at any time which is convenient to them. I hope that before the Report stage the noble Baroness will have another look at this to see whether we cannot get some reasonable compromise upon this matter.

Baroness STEDMAN

At Second Reading I was berated by noble Lords opposite—by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, that we were not allowing long enough, and by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that we had been a long time coming to it and were now being too long about it. It seems to me that we cannot satisfy everybody, but we have tried to do our best. So far as the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, is concerned, the Bill in fact allows for the two years initially and for an extension of two years afterwards, so in a sense we have the compromise for which he has asked already written into the Bill.

We think that an initial minimum period of five years would be too long. We hope that the results of most of the experiments will be assessed within the two years; and, as I have said, there is provision for an extension in an area like North Yorkshire if we are not quite satisfied that we have the right answer. Perhaps, in the light of the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, in the Second Reading debate about the minimum period an entrepreneur would look for, I should emphasise again the modifications to licensing contained in the Bill. The vehicles involved in this Bill are private cars and mini-buses seating up to 12 passengers and commercial vehicles, such as hire cars, seating up to five passengers. In Clause 2(10) the Bill defines a private vehicle as one— not used for carrying passengers for hire or reward in the course of a passenger transport business". The kind of experiments which we are envisaging would be, for example, social car schemes within the catchment area of a hospital, where the passengers contribute to the costs, or outings for blind or handicapped people. The only commercial vehicles coming within the scope of this Bill would be taxis and hire cars which could be used more flexibly under its provisions than is possible under the present law. These vehicles would usually already operate in an experimental area before it was even designated. The experiments involving modification of licensing would not, therefore, need capital outlay from entrepreneurs before they could get off the ground. In these circumstances, the timescale envisaged in the Amendment is, we think, much too long. We want to aim to reach a decision much before that, and I think the provision of an initial experimental period of two years which can be extended if necessary accords far better with the flavour of the sort of operation we are conducting than the Amendment, which I hope the noble Earl, on reflection, might consider withdrawing.

So far as the other, consequential Amendment, No. 6, is concerned, perhaps I may speak to that at the same time. The effect of this Amendment would be to remove the power of the Secretary of State to extend or further extend by order the period of the original designation by up to two years at a time. In its place, a local authority, after a period of live years from the passing of the Act, may extend by resolution a designation made either by order of the Secretary of State or by resolution of the local authority. We think that conferring on local authorities the power to extend by resolution the life of experimental areas indefinitely conflicts fundamentally with the whole purpose of this Bill; and, taken with other, related Amendments, it would effectively remove the Secretary of State's control over the experiments. I must stress yet again that the purpose of the experiments is to provide detailed evidence of the value and effect of the licensing modifications contained in this Bill, which can be used in considering whether there should be general changes in the licensing law; and, if I may say so once again, this Bill is not a blueprint for any such changes.

We also think that Amendment No. 6 would furthermore give to county councils the power to operate a modified version of the public service vehicle licensing law, and this would clearly cause quite considerable confusion and uncertainty. I accept that the noble Earl is worried about this part of it, but I think there will be no problems with it when this Bill is on the Statute Book.


I wonder if there is not some difficulty about the original two-year period in which to try out the experiment, simply because if, as I understand the Bill, no further order is made then the experiment will lapse at the end of the two years. That means that the period of the experiment so far as its assessment is concerned must be less than two years. I wonder whether the noble Baroness could tell us how she envisages the assessments being made, because quite obviously the extension order must be made, as the Bill is drafted, before the first two-year period elapses. This seems to me to be rather tight, and I wonder whether the noble Baroness could look at this. It means that an experiment may be running for 18 months; there is then an assessment; it takes time; the order lapses, and there is no power to renew it.

Baroness STEDMAN

We are working through Working Parties in the four designated experimental areas at this point of time, in consultation with local authorities, with all the people who are operating public transport, and so on, in the areas; and, as I said during the Second Reading debate, we are hoping to come to some interim conclusions within a year of starting the experiment. I am sure that if, at the end of that year, there is no clear picture emerging, then advice from the Working Party would be taken as to whether my Secretary of State ought to be considering extending the period. I am sure it is not proposed that we should wait right until the end of the two years; and the fact that we are hoping to have some sort of interim report from these areas within a year, I should have thought safeguarded that. But I will certainly take it back and ask my Secretary of State to have a look at it.


I am very grateful once again to the noble Baroness for her thoughts on these two Amendments. I do not particularly like what the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, said about five years perhaps being the maximum as opposed to two years being the minimum, and then the noble Baroness said that the period can always be extended for two years. Personally, I should be very happy if some form of compromise could be reached. It may be that the experimental period should be three years. As the noble Baroness has said that she will discuss this question further with the Secretary of State, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.29 p.m.

The Earl of KIMBERLEY moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, line 10, at end insert— ("(5A) Before extending a period in accordance with subsection (4A) above, a local authority shall consult with such organisations as appear to be appropriate as representing persons providing or employed in the provision of public passenger transport services in the area.").

The noble Earl said: This Amendment is a very short one, and I feel that most noble Lords will probably agree with it. It is merely to guarantee that a local authority will consult with all interested parties before coming to a decision, if it was allowed to, to extend the experimental period indefinitely, and that this consultation will be of the same order as that which the central Government go through when creating an experimental area in the first place. I beg to move.


I think that the same points arise on Amendment No. 7 as on Amendment No. 6. For the same reasons, therefore, I am afraid it is unacceptable to the Government.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Powers of local authorities in relation to experimental areas]:

3.30 p.m.

The Earl of KIMBERLEY moved Amendment No. 9: Page 3, line 6, leave out subsection (7).

The noble Earl said: In moving this Amendment, may I, at the same time, speak to Amendments Nos. 13, 14, 15, 17, 19 and 20 which are consequential? These Amendments are aimed at removing some of the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene in the decision-making of local authorities. The reasons have been spelt out and gone into previously. In view of the fact that I have not moved some of the previous Amendments, I may say that the only reason I move this one is that we still feel very strongly on these Benches that local knowledge should be in a position of authority on such matters as local routes and frequencies. We are worried that Whitehall may, for want of a better word, dictate, and cancel decisions which county halls and town halls, because they know what they are talking about, have made. The idea of these Amendments is simply to help guarantee a rational and serviceable transport system in the rural areas and perhaps in some way to help to curb or lessen this unfortunate bureaucratic desire of central Government to have their finger in every pie. We feel strongly that more power should be given to local authorities over matters like this; that the power of Whitehall is too great; and that it would be to everybody's benefit if it were slightly reduced.


I think this Amendment comes into somewhat the same category as the earlier ones which the noble Earl withdrew on the understanding that we should need further conversations with the local authorities concerned before proceeding further. I should like to have the certainty in my heart that they wanted this. After all, if everything is shoved back on to the local authorities, the responsibility for finance, too, may fall on their shoulders—and this they might not want. The Secretary of State is a useful whipping boy in that respect and he is also a person who is better positioned, speaking from the Government angle, to co-ordinate and view the whole spectrum which, I think, must be desirable. Although I agree that the local authorities know what is best for them, I still think there should be some form of general umbrella cover over the whole spectrum. I would hope that the noble Earl would withdraw this Amendment on the same grounds as the earlier ones pending a further discussion with the local authorities.

Baroness STEDMAN

May I reiterate what I said earlier? The local authorities who are concerned in these experiments are volunteers; they are not dragooned into doing it. They will be consulted and will give approval before anything takes effect in their areas.

So far as Amendment No. 9 is concerned, this subsection of the Bill is intended to ensure that experiments in designated areas involving the grant of authorisations are carried out under strictly controlled conditions so that any necessary safeguards can be built in and the most effective use made of the powers and resources available. We are going to try out different forms of experiment in different areas. This will assist in achieving the objective of collecting and assessing the maximum amount of evidence possible on the effect of the revised arrangements that we might want to make under the Bill. To remove these powers would defeat one of the fundamental objects of the Bill. I must stress again that the Bill is concerned with experiments only and is not a blueprint for general changes in the licensing laws.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 delete Paragraphs 6(1)(b) and 6(2) of the Schedule which provide that the local authority must vary any conditions attached to a special authorisation if so directed by the Secretary of State; and that the local authority must have the approval of the Secretary of State for all variations of conditions attached to special authorisations which they themselves wish to make. These provisions are intended to ensure that experimental arrangements are, as the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, has said, properly controlled and monitored Without them the experiments would be less useful and it would be harder to obtain exactly the right permutation of conditions on authorisations.

On Amendments Nos. 13 and 14, the noble Earl said in the Second Reading debate that: Surely, once a decision has been taken on where the experimental area is to be located, the town hall must be allowed to deal with its own bus routes and local transport problems without Whitehall constantly looking over its shoulder".—[Official Report, 15/2/77; col. 1526.] However, experiments under the Bill are intended to provide evidence that will assist in considering whether general changes should be made in the licensing system. This is essentially the field for central Government and not local government. An experiment in one area may need to be handled differently from that in another to provide complementary of confirmatory information. Everything will be done in the fullest co-operation with the local authorities. Indeed, as I have said in reply to an earlier question, the programme of rural experiments is being run under the control of local working groups representing both tiers of local government together with both sides of the industry and a variety of voluntary bodies. But the experiments must take place on a controlled basis if they are to serve their purpose properly.

On Amendments Nos. 15 and 16, again these would negate the Secretary of State's control over the experiments. Abuse of authorisations, for instance, while not appearing to do much harm in local terms, could seriously falsify the conclusions which we could draw from a particular experiment.

Amendments Nos. 17, 19 and 20, are consequential on earlier ones moved by the noble Earl seeking to remove the powers of the Secretary of State to revoke authorisations. I am afraid that I am in danger of losing what appears to be my reputation for flexibility but if the noble Earl does not withdraw the Amendments I must urge the Committee to reject them.


Once again I thank the noble Baroness for putting all her facts so lucidly and, if I may say so, very helpfully. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that we have time between now and the next stage for consultation with the local authorities. In view of the fact that it is an experimental scheme and not a permanent scheme and, as I should like to reiterate, in view of the helpful and sound statements made by the noble Baroness, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.40 p.m.

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON moved Amendment No. 10.

Page 4, line 14, at end insert— ("(11) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (9) of this section it shall be lawful for the authorities so empowered by section 138 of the Transport Act 1968, to make arrangements as therein provided for the granting of travel concessions with persons operating vehicles under the provisions of an authorisation granted under this section.").

The noble Lord said: The reason why my noble friend and I put down this Amendment is simply to ensure that these experimental transport services should, wherever possible, be treated on all fours with ordinary public transport. Therefore, if there are to be concessionary fares for the one, then there ought to be the same for the other. If this is not the case, it will, it seems to me, diminish the whole value of the experiment. The elderly are, perhaps, the largest single category who might be expected to use these transport services; and a transport service substantially designed for the elderly which does not make provision for the extension of a concessionary fare system available to the same elderly people on other services in the same county seems to be a nonsense. I beg to move.

Viscount AMORY

I should like very strongly to support what my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton has said. Some noble Lords may feel that what we are discussing at the present time are trifles; but those who live in rural areas know that lack of rural transport is a very serious handicap indeed for those who are not fortunate enough to have cars. Most of these experimental areas are places of great natural beauty. Noble Lords may feel that those who live in them are extremely fortunate. I am not sure whether I have an interest to declare; I do not know whether I live in the part of Devon to be covered by the experimental area. I am not sure whether my noble friend who is in the Chair is fortunate enough to live in another area. Looking at the flower in his buttonhole today, I am sure that he lives in an area of great natural beauty. No doubt when he left his ancestral home he plucked his buttonhole from one of the rural hedges there, as I could have done this morning when I left my home. I want to make the point—it is probably unnecessary—that while these things may seem trifles, they can be important to the people who live in those areas.

It is difficult to feel wild enthusiasm for this Bill. It is something of a mouse of a Bill, after a good many consultations of a rather desultory nature which have preceded it over the past few years. It is a small step in the right direction, and the local authorities which are to be entrusted with the authorisation probably feel that it is worth supporting so far as it goes. Apart from the Greater London Council, it is the county councils in England and Wales which will be the authorising authorities in the experimental areas designated by the Secretary of State.

County councils with large rural areas are desperately keen to bring into being whatever practical and economic means can be found of supplementing the ordinary licensed public services. They feel that while this is a small step in the right direction, there seem to be a few unnecessary restrictions in it. This Amendment and one other which my noble friend is going to bring forward later, suggest that there are two restrictions which could easily be removed, and it would seem a sensible step to do just that.

The object of this Amendment is to enable local authorities, if they so wish and think it would be appropriate to do so, to make the same travel concessions in the case of these supplementary services in the experimental areas as they already have the power to make with the licensed services. As the Bill is drafted, Clause 2(9) would preclude the granting of concessionary fares in the case of experimental area vehicles. In short, this would seem a pity as the need in appropriate cases for travel concessions would appear to be identical, whether in the case of supplementary services or of a licensed service.

If the Amendment is accepted, then it would not be prejudging any case because the decision whether or not to authorise the service, whether or not to grant concessionary powers, would remain under the control of the authorities. I hope that the noble Baroness will think that this is a sensible move in the direction of making workable various means which are at present unorthodox, and therefore it is entirely right that experiments should be carried out. I should have thought that the spirit of the proposal was that experiments should be carried out in an informal way, in order to bring a better service to those who need it so badly in very remote rural areas. I beg to support the Amendment which my noble friend has proposed.

Baroness STEDMAN

I do not come from an area of great natural beauty—at least, it is not classed as one. But I do come from the wide open spaces of the Fens and therefore I have first-hand experience of some of the transport problems of the people near to my home town. As I sought to emphasise on Second Reading, the Bill is concerned with experiments which are intended to provide evidence that can be used in considering whether there should be changes in general licensing law. The Government are sponsoring a series of rural transport experiments and experiments under this Bill will be included in that series. The Government would therefore normally expect themselves to be meeting any costs of this kind during the currency of the experiment.

It could be that a local authority, despite current financial stringency, would think it right to provide travel concessions on authorised journeys on the same footing as on the other services operating in their area. It would be for the local authority to decide whether such concessions should be offered. If they did, it might be possible for the concessions to be provided without this Amendment. That is a point we should like to look at, along with the detailed drafting if this Amendment is indeed necessary.

At the same time, we shall give further consideration to what has been said, and we shall look more widely at the powers of local authorities to continue support for a service under the Bill if they felt that to be necessary after the period of the Government experimental support was over. But at the moment I would rather that it was left as it is on the undertaking that we shall give it further consideration.


How specific is the noble Baroness being? Is she saying that if she finds that what my noble friend desires with this Amendment can be done without it, then perhaps she could explain that to the Committee, and that will be that. Or is she saying that if she finds that this particular concession is not covered, she will accept the Amendment or something like it? How specific is she being? She seemed to me to be offering something which seemed rather loose.

Baroness STEDMAN

I am sorry if I gave that impression. I was attempting to say that we do not think that this Amendment is necessary. We think that the Bill as it stands enables local authorities to extend their concessionary fares to cover these vehicles as well. If we find that our interpretation is wrong, we shall have to look at it again and come back with some redrafting at a later stage. But we expect that it covers the point raised by the noble Lord.


It only remains for me to thank my noble friends Lord Amory and Lord Harmar-Nicholls. My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls asked the question that I wanted to ask. I understand from the noble Baroness that the intention of the Government is to meet completely the spirit behind this Amendment and that if they find it deficient some form of Government Amendment will be put down at a later stage. I thank the Government very much and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Short title, interpretation and extent]:

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 11:

Page 4, line 29, at end insert— ("(4) This Act shall cease to have effect at the expiration of a period of three years beginning with the date on which the Act shall come into force").

The noble Lord said: My original purpose in putting down this Amendment on the Marshalled List was to make statutory provision for concentrating the Secretary of State's mind. I wished to ensure that if this Bill reached the Statute Book it would not give the Government an open-ended excuse to continue indefinitely with the same delaying tactics which have, up to now, been employed. Also, this Amendment was by way of a self-denying ordinance. I am sure that all will agree with me when I say that long before the three years we shall have a change of Government, and expiration of the Act would have the effect of concentrating the mind of the next Conservative Government and inducing them to hasten on legislation to put rural transport on a sound, permanent footing. However, in the light of Lord Kimberley's Amendments, I have clearly been too indulgent in the lavish time-scale that I have allowed the Government, in view of the noble Earl's injunction on the Government to concentrate their minds by the time of the Report stage in your Lordships' House. Therefore, at least for the time being, I will not move the Amendment.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Schedule [Authorisations under Section 2]:

3.50 p.m.

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON moved Amendment No. 12: Page 5, line 6, leave out head (a).

The noble Lord said: There are two reasons for getting rid of this head from the Schedule. The first is, to say the least, that it is infelicitously drafted. If we were tamely to allow this particular example of jargonese to find its way on to the Statute Book, Sir Ernest Gowers will have lived in vain. Indeed, the very fact that such noxious, tortured prose should even be offered for your Lordships' approval suggests that Sir Ernest was less successful than one might have wished in his efforts to promote a clear meaning being expressed in clear language. I would submit that even if this head contained the most desirable imaginable legislative proposal, we should tell the noble Baroness to take it away and bring it back at Report stage, properly drafted.

My objection to this paragraph is not solely stylistic. Its content is well suited to its form: suspicious, mean-minded and curmudgeonly restrictive in crabbed, contorted prose. Given that all these experiments will be rigidly controlled by the county councils and by the Working Group under the Secretary of State, it is surely unnecessary to prevent the feeder services which these words would stifle. The purpose of new development in rural transport is to complement existing public transport. Therefore, co-operation between PSV licence-holders and voluntary groups should be encouraged and not restricted. Such co-operation would (a) improve the finances of local bus companies; (b) greatly further the provision of new transport; and, lastly, enable the voluntary groups to use the maintenance and service facilities of the bus operators. These experiments, as I have said many times, were conceived in the most niggardly spirit and I would suggest that we could at least ensure that they are implemented in a reasonably generous manner. I beg to move.

Viscount AMORY

Again, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton in what he has said. This Amendment refers to feeder services authorised in experimental areas to supplement existing licensed passenger vehicle services or new licensed passenger vehicle services. But I understand that the subsection as drafted would preclude such feeder services from being authorised if they involve vehicles belonging to a licence holder to supplement his own licensed service. I do not know whether that preclusion is because the idea is not liked that the licence holder might make some additional profit from running feeder services for his own services; but I would suggest that if that is the objection it is irrelevant, because what we are really out for is additional supplementary services. Provided the price is economical for those who use the service, it does not seem to me to matter very much whether or not that results in additional profit to somebody. Therefore, as drafted, this subsection would seem to be rather out of line with the spirit and the objects of the Bill.

Any risk that a licence holder might avoid the necessity of licensing a feeder service, which otherwise he might be willing to run as a licensed service, I should have thought would be amply covered by the fact that the control is firmly in the hands of the county councils. They decide, on the advice they are given from their Working Parties, whether, in the light of all the circumstances, to authorise such an additional feeder service. No doubt all applications for such services would be carefully scrutinised. I ventured to look inquiringly at the noble Baroness before we came into the Chamber, asking her, with a twinkle in my eye, whether she was going to be nice to me. She assured me she was going to be very kind but was not going to give me anything. I would only say that I am very susceptible to kindness, but I am still more susceptible, having an acquisitive spirit, to being given something. I hope that this Amendment will seem to the noble Baroness to be fully in accordance with the spirit and intentions of the Bill, and that she will accept the Amendment put forward by my noble friend.


Before the noble Baroness replies may I join with my noble friends in supporting this Bill. I agree with my noble friend Lord Mowbray that this is a most niggardly part of the Schedule. I was under the impression that at last we had a little light starting over something which ought to have been hatched years ago. It has now been hatched, and what do we find?—the one set of people who could really help if difficulties arose within an area are specifically precluded. I should have thought it was to the advantage of the county councils and of public transport to have feeder services organised. If we cannot do it one way, why flatly forbid it to be done in any way at all? I hope the noble Baroness will make some concession on this matter.


On reading the Bill, I am rather reminded of what happens in one's own business. You take a decision to do something which is practical and commonsensical, and then invariably you pass the matter to your lawyer to put into words the general proposition that you, as a businessman, had thought of. It invariably comes back to you with one or two pedantic little points which, in theory, may have something in them, but which really cut across the effect of the general proposition you had decided upon. Head (a) which my noble friend wants removed comes into that category. It is completely contrary to the spirit of the Bill. I should have thought that if this experiment is to produce successful and satisfactory results, it ought to have all the freedom we can give it, without cutting across the general principle. This head that my noble friend wants to remove really does cut across the general spirit of the Bill in a pedantic manner. I would say it is a little bit that has been written by a lawyer and that he is a particularly pedantic sort of lawyer. If I am correct in my interpretation, I think it would be in the interests of everybody if the noble Baroness could recommend her colleagues to withdraw it from the Bill. That would leave the Bill much more practical in its effect.


Before the noble Baroness replies, I wonder whether she would look at this aspect of the matter. If an operator provided a school bus service and is paid by the county education authority for it, would this head (a) preclude the vehicle which is used for a school bus service being used during another part of the day to provide the kind of travel facilities envisaged by the Bill in the experimental period? If so, then surely it would be highly undesirable to retain this part in the Schedule. We want, if we can, these bus services to be permitted to take passengers. That is one way of dealing with some of the problems in rural areas, where people want to go into the market town at about the same time as the school bus goes. I would ask the noble Baroness to look very carefully at this wording, which is really quite unnecessary. If we want something like that there need be no general authorisation: the local authority and the Minister can together provide a special authorisation in a particular instance.


I should like briefly to put a point here because I think it is important. Having once represented an area of nearly 1,000 square miles with 3,000 farms in it and school services, I think there is something here that may have been forgotten. This head states: a journey…must not be made…if the vehicle is owned by,…the holder of the licence or any person who receives any remuneration…". That could eliminate somebody who did not own a bus. But if, at a farmyard, I said to a bus owner: "Look, you can leave your bus here until the school finishes at half-past three in the winter. I will charge you ten shillings a week and guarantee that the bus will not be interfered with in this farmyard, so that you can go to the village school when school is over", and I decided that this might be a good job to get into and bought a 12-seater bus, I would be prevented from doing that under this Bill and thus would be modifying the experiment, and not working towards its success in a country area. It is as simple as that.

Baroness STEDMAN

This condition was included because it was considered that, like the others, it would provide reassurance to the bus industry on the question of abuse of the authorisation system. The effect of this Amendment would be to remove one of the safeguards against misuse of the provisions about general authorisations. Sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph 1 of the Schedule provides that a vehicle operating under a general authorisation must not be used to extend a service provided under a road service licence, if the authorised vehicle is owned, or made available, by the holder of the road service licence.

The reason for its inclusion is to prevent licensed operators from using general authorisations, covering their own private vehicles, to operate feeder services to their licensed services. Operators should have no difficulty in going through the normal licensing channels if they see a need for extension of their services in this way. The wording——

Viscount AMORY

I am so sorry. I interrupted the Baroness in the middle of a sentence, and I did not mean to do that.

Baroness STEDMAN

The wording of the sub-paragraph reflects that in paragraph 6 of the Twelfth Schedule to the Road Traffic Act 1960. This is appropriate, because that part of the Twelfth Schedule is dealing with the conditions under which small vehicles may carry passengers at separate fares without becoming liable to PSV licensing. The purpose of the general authorisation under this Bill is to extend the existing exemption so as to allow lift-giving against payment to take place regularly, where it is of an informal, over-the-fence variety. Under the existing exemption, the giving of lifts in this way must not occur frequently or as a matter of routine, which is a severe restriction on the sharing of cars on a good neighbour basis. If the noble Viscount will let me finish, I shall probably satisfy him in the end. The conditions that attach to a general authorisation——

Viscount AMORY

I hasten to leave the Chamber. I will do anything, if the noble Baroness can assure me of that.

Baroness STEDMAN

The noble Viscount makes me blush. The conditions that attach to a general authorisation by virtue of paragraph 1 of the Schedule are designed to delineate the extent of the additional flexibility, which the general authorisation will give to people who are not commercial operators, and who could not by any reasonable stretch of the imagination be expected to go through the PSV licensing system to get authority to accept a contribution to their petrol costs from friends and neighbours. But any commercial operator knows what the licensing system is all about and conducts his day-to-day business within it. He ought not to be given the opportunity of keeping a vehicle aside, as a private vehicle, to use under a general authorisation to feed passengers into his licensed services, and this is a possibility which would be opened up by this Amendment.

There is no reason why a licensed operator should not be joined with private people in applications for special authorisations, but paragraph 1 of the Schedule to which this Amendment is attached applies only to general authorisations. As regards the question whether we are preventing school buses from being used, the answer is: No, we are not preventing school buses from being used. They can get a Section 30 permit now under the existing laws, and we hope that where it is possible more and more will be used in that way. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.


The noble Baroness has given some com-fort and, if it can be done under special authorisation, that is something. But I should like very much to take this back and look at it. Of course county councils, as local authorities, will have to be consulted in any event, so the abuse would be apparent. I should like to read carefully what she has said. I should also like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, how pleased I am to see a further advent of daffodils, including those behind him on the Benches opposite. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.5 p.m.

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 7, line 39, at end insert— ("( ) Not Jess than twenty one days before passing such a resolution the local authority shall give notice of its intention to consider a resolution under this paragraph in one or more local newspapers circulating in the experimental area to which, or to one or more parts of which, the authorisation applies or would apply as the case may be and before so resolving shall take into account any representations received from any such organisations or bodies as are referred to in section 1(5)").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that, if they do take place, these experiments are conducted in as generous and effective a manner as possible. Surely, the more publicity they get in the local areas the better. This is probably a consideration which escaped the Department of Transport. They seem only too ready to forget that they are dealing with human beings, who have to be informed of what is happening, and not with laboratory animals. The Department also seem to have ignored the possibility that some of those living in the experimental areas might have some positive proposals to make as to how these experiments should be conducted, amd might even have some good ideas which had escaped the Department's omniscience. This Amendment makes explicit provision for those directly affected by the experiments to be both informed and consulted. I beg to move.


I agree with my noble friend, and hope that the noble Baroness will accept this Amendment. The Bill will be enhanced if it includes this provision, and people should be given the chance of having these 21 days which are very necessary.

Baroness STEDMAN

The point of this Amendment is not one which was raised during the wide consultation that preceded the Bill. The general authorisation does have, as it were, a blanket effect, and there may be a case for advance publicity of the kind that seems to be envisaged by the Amendment. I would be reluctant to see additional procedures that might delay the introduction of experiments, but I do not think there should be any great risk of that in the noble Lord's proposal.

The drafting of this present Amendment may not be entirely satisfactory from a technical standpoint, but there should be no insuperable drafting problem if the principle is clearly understood and agreed. The Government would be prepared to consider bringing forward an Amendment if that is what is wanted. Before deciding whether to table such an Amendment, however, the Government would wish to know the views of all the interests concerned. These might most conveniently be sought at a forthcoming meeting, towards the end of this month, of the steering committee which is overseeing the series of sponsored experiments, and on which all interests concerned are represented. On the basis of that assurance, I would invite the noble Lord to withdraw his Amendment.


May I interrupt for one moment? Would it not be possible to follow up the suggestion in the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, by putting notices in existing public transport so that people who already travel on it will know that it is happening, even if they do not read newspapers?

Baroness STEDMAN

I should not like to commit myself completely at this stage, but I should be happy to take it back and consult with the Steering Committee as to how we could best deal with this point.


Although we are in the season of Lent, I think I should say, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, because I am most grateful for what the noble Baroness has said. I gladly welcome her offer and all I would say is this. She has said that there is to be consultation with the people concerned, but I would point out that the people who will not be consulted are the elderly and infirm in their houses. It must be remembered that they are the ones whom we are trying to help, and it is very difficult if they can never be consulted. The only drawback that I can see, from the county council's point of view, is that there will be an infinitesimal amount of advertising in local newspapers but, although I know that local newspapers tend to hold local authorities slightly to ransom over charges, by and large, that would be a small price to pay. Again, I thank the noble Baroness and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.