§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Report received.
§ Clause 2 [County public transport plans]:
Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 3, line22, leave out ("1979") and insert ("1980").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to Clause 2 of the Transport Bill and to a matter which I mentioned during both Second Reading and the Committee stage; namely, the preparation of a TPP. May I open my remarks by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for her very helpful reply to the Amendment which I moved during the Committee stage. We have studied her reply with great care. Consultation has subsequently taken place with one individual county council and with the Association of County Councils which comprises no fewer than 39 councils in England, known as the shire councils, and seven county councils in Wales. It does not, of course, apply to the Metropolitan counties.
To refer to what the noble Baroness said regarding changing the date from the timing in the Bill to the revised date, may I draw noble Lord's attention to what the noble Baroness said at col. 147 on 27th June:
I appreciate that roughly nine months from now may seem a short time in which to consult
on and produce a public transport plan, but it has been emphasised in another place that we do not expect the first public transport plan to be a perfect and finished document. TPP needed a running-in period and public transport plans need the same sort of period".
We in this House recognise what the noble Baroness has said, but it may be of interest to know the reaction of one county council—Derbyshire County Council—to what the noble Baroness said, and perhaps I may be allowed to quote from a letter dated 5th July:
Our view is that an embryonic plan is not good enough and, further, that to prepare and publish the first plan by the 31st March 1979 and then prepare another plan by the 31st July 1979 will lead to confusion and uncertainty. Furthermore, it is believed that under these circumstances the possibility of disagreement between the parties involved will be increased, which might well be overcome or at least mitigated if one public transport plan were to be prepared in 1979, by 3Ist July, for eventual publication after undertaking the various consultations by the 31st March 1980. It is our belief that there is nothing to be lost and, indeed, everything to be gained by ensuring that the plan is properly prepared in the first instance, thus creating a firm, or at least firmer foundation on which to build future plans".
Here is a county council taking into consideration what the noble Baroness said during the Committee stage and deigning to disagree with that view.
I must confess that there is much to be said here for a pause for reconsideration. It is a complicated situation. Later in her remarks during the Committee stage the noble Baroness recognised that it was so and she said this:
A public transport plan which took on its final form by 31st July in the year before that to which it related might be looking distinctly out of date by the following April, the beginning of the year to which it applied; or, alternatively, it might be couched so tentatively as to be of little value to operators and users".—[Official Report; 27/6/78, col. 148.]
§ Here we are in a dilemma on the situation and I hope the Government will be able to put this in a somewhat simpler form. Perhaps I may be permitted to make some suggestions. I suggest to the Government that the best answer is couched in the Amendment: that is, to read "31st March 1980" in lieu of 1979. There may be one further proposal, which is not in the Amendment but which I would suggest to the noble Baroness across the Table of the House. It is that it may be possible to evolve a system whereby the plans are in such a format as to be in the shape of a loose-leaf volume. 1491 There will of course be a very large number of them, one for each county in England and one for each county in Wales. If it were possible to up-date this annually by a scheme for the replacement of perhaps one or more single leaves, it would be a very much better system and would avoid a great deal of reprinting and duplication of effort. We believe that the right run-in period would be to choose the date 31st March 1980. I beg to move.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt with a minor point compared with the one which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. I was for many years the leader of a large county council; indeed, I was the chairman of that county council. I forget the date on which county council elections were held every three years, but I have a feeling that it was in the period running up to 31st March because I remember that when we won the county council I took over on about the 1st April. If it be a fact, as apparently it is, that the election takes place in the period running up to 31st March, is it an appropriate date for us to insert in the Bill to be asking the council to draw up this plan with regard to motor transport in its county? This is a time when the political complexion of the council is in the melting pot and might suddenly change just before 31st March. I hope that point can be taken into consideration from the point of view of the smooth working of whatever scheme is adopted.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, in Committee, would have had the same effect as this Amendment; namely, to delay the introduction of the public transport plans. As he has quoted from me, I said on that occasion that we would view any delay with very great concern and I hoped that I had assured the noble Lord that we were not placing too great a burden on county councils by requiring the first plans to be prepared by 31st March 1979. The second plan, of course, is not to be prepared by the 31st July 1979; that is to be ready by the 31st March 1980. So they have not got this very short period between their first and second plans.
1492 The noble Lord wanted to have a running-in period for the new system. I agree with him. It is the nature of a public transport plan that it starts from where a county has got with discharging its public transport responsibilities, so that there is in any case a gradual build-up. Some counties will start with a comparatively well-developed plan of public transport policies; others, we know, have not got quite so far. But even the best plans are not going to be cut and dried proposals for years ahead. The plans are an annual statement of needs, problems, policies and objectives set against a five-year time-scale, and since public transport needs change, so too must the plans adapt to the changes that are needed.
So we have to accept that the first plans prepared by some counties will be embryonic—perhaps reflecting only a small advance on the content of their present TPPs. But in requiring an early plan we will make sure that the counties make a real start with their new duties right away. The plans that the counties publish by 31st March 1980—their second plans—will then be a better contribution towards improving pubic transport than if they were their first plans. By making the earliest practicable start county councils will begin to involve the operators, the other local authorities and the transport users that much sooner in their planning. The importance of wider consultation on public transport is something on which a number of noble Lords in this House from time to time have laid great weight. The sooner the countries start on that, the better, not least because the process of involving local people is something which obviously will take time.
I can follow that some counties might like, for understandable reasons, to have an extra year so that their first plans can be more polished. But the problems of public transport in many of our shire counties, to which the noble Lord referred, are becoming acute and we cannot afford this luxury of time. The formation of policies, as I have said, is to be an on-going process; the plan an expression of where it has reached at that particular time. We want the counties to begin their tasks right away, and indeed I believe that a number of counties have already started. The noble Lord made an interesting suggestion about using a loose-leaf volume. That is no problem 1493 at all; it is purely a matter for the counties to decide as to how they up-date their programme. It is a matter of mechanics for them, but because we want the counties to begin their task right away, I must ask the House not to accept this Amendment.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
My Lords, my noble friend is being far too modest in not replying to the point I raised with regard to the inconvenience of the date 31st March, a week or two after the political complexion of the council may have changed.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I apologise to my noble friend, while reminding him that we have had local government reorganisation and the elections are now held in May.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I have listened with close attention to the reply given by the noble Baroness, which follows closely on what she said at Committee stage. I believe that there is a difference of opinion which will be difficult to bridge. I think the noble Baroness is quite right when she says that there is overlapping. I do not use her exact words here but there is an overlapping of dates which will occur, whichever date we choose. Rather than go over this problem of the dates and associating it once again with the transport supplementary grant, I believe that the best solution would be for me to withdraw the Amendment and to rely upon the arrangements being made between the Department of Transport and the counties, and see what can be achieved by that method. I have pursued this matter with some diligence through three stages of the Bill and I hope the Government have taken on board the problem. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Viscount SIMON moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 4, line 3, at end insert—
("( ) In order to establish, for inclusion in the plan, what are the needs of the communities referred to in subsection (2)(a), the council
shall ascertain, in whatever manner they consider most appropriate, the views of parish councils (or parish meetings where no parish council exists) and in Wales community councils, and shall take these views into account in preparing the plan.").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, at the Committee stage I moved an Amendment to try to ensure that the parish councils, who are nearest to the roots, should be involved in the preparation of the plan by the counties. The noble Baroness raised certain very valid objections to that. She thought it imposed much too great a burden on the county councils. I had suggested, your Lordships may remember, ascertaining this information through the district councils. I accept that this involves a considerable amount of work. Having laid upon the county councils an obligation to ascertain the needs of the communities within the county she also thought that it was wrong to suggest how they should do it. So I have come back with the same object, but with a different method, and I think I have met the noble Baroness' objections.
The noble Baroness was good enough to call my attention and the attention of the Committee to Clause 2(2)(a). I find that this is in fact a much better peg upon which to hang my argument. Clause 2(2)(a) says that the plan-that is, the annual plan—
shall contain a review of the county's needs, and the needs of the communities comprised in it".
In passing, the noble Baroness speaking in Committee said that the clause provided that the county councils shall "review the needs" of the individual communities. With great respect, I think she has not quite correctly read what the clause says. What is says is that the plan shall include "a review of the needs". I suggest that, in that context, the word "review" is used in rather the same sense as we talk about a naval review, where all the ships are laid out and you can see them all at a glance if you are in the right place. But what is suggested here really is that there should be a comprehensive account of the needs of the communities. Even if I am wrong on that, and she says that it does mean a reappraisal, the position remains the same. How can the county review the needs of the communities unless they know what the needs of the communities are? It is all very well to say this would be a very difficult thing to find out,
but it seems to me that a duty is laid upon the councils to find it out.
§ In the Amendment I have now put down I have suggested that they should ascertain "in whatever manner they consider most appropriate" the views of the parish councils and the other bodies concerned. That seems to me to leave it entirely to them. If they say it is impossible to ascertain the needs by any means at all, then I would suggest to your Lordships they are really saying that it is impossible to comply with the Act, because you cannot review the needs of the communities unless you find out what those needs are. It was on those grounds that I thought I should come back with this proposition.
§ There has been a letter, which the noble Baroness has probably seen, from the Association of County Councils, objecting to the Amendment, and I have of course studied it with care, though in fact I received it only today; I make no complaint about that because the time has been short. There again they say that the counties will he informing themselves of the communities' views, where necessary by approaching parish councils. The only words on which I may differ from them are the words, "where necessary", because I would have thought it is necessary, if they have to ascertain the views, that they inform themselves what they are. I would hope that the noble Baroness might think the new wording I have proposed is quite harmless and that it just reminds county councils that, to get this position in proper perspective, they do really need to take account of the views of the individual communities. In this Amendment we are leaving it to them to do that in whatever way they think most appropriate. I beg to move.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord CLIFFORD of CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I wonder whether I might be permitted to support the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in his Amendment. I should declare my interest, in that I am the president of the Devonshire Association of Parish Councils. I support this on the basis of trying to get some consultation to the grassroots in this country on this Bill, which concerns the local small isolated communities. I consider the 1496 argument of the noble Baroness in Committee somewhat invalid. My council—I am referring to the Devonshire Association of Parish Councils—should be consulted. It would only mean the county council having to consult the equivalent of one extra district council. After all, the equivalent of one extra district council is nothing. Most district councils are now urban weighted vote-wise. Therefore, to my mind it is unfair to the grassroots—that is, the isolated parish councils, or parish meetings where there are no parish councils—if they are going to be left out. Otherwise, the present district councils will give weighted urban viewpoint.
I speak also as an ex-vice-president of the erstwhile Rural District Councils Association, and these are points that we brought up time and time again in the debates on local government reorganisation; that is, that the small isolated individual rural communities were going to he left out. To my mind, it is essential that the rural view is given, and this is what I think the noble Viscount's Amendment would achieve, After all, it would only formalise a practice which good county councils have carried out for many years. The county councils are now going political. Parish councils are still independent. District councils are beginning to go political, and county councils already have, to a large extent. I could tell your Lordships one or two stories on that score, but perhaps it would not be apposite on the present Amendment. Therefore, it is even more important that the grassroots be consulted, that the isolated communities should not feel even more isolated, or driven to one or other of the Party machines to try to get what they consider fair treatment.
As I pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, in my Question on the grant to the Beaford (population 360) village hall, there are 400 village halls in the County of Devon. They are all fairly isolated. Something should be put in to make the county councils, who are now getting more and more enmeshed in the political machines and the urban vote, consult, not every parish council but the Association of Parish Councils—and every county has an association of parish councils, so far as I know. It might not be a quick answer. Most of the 1497 councils, I know, meet only once a month, but that is no excuse for ruling out consultation with that body. There is a national council, too. They can get an answer a, quick as a district council with its urban base.
Finally, I would ask the noble Baroness to consider the effect—and transport comes into this—of the local snow blizzard that we had in the South-West last February when so many of these outlying areas were cut off, some for a matter of weeks. If I could illustrate the point I am trying to make to the Government, at the last annual general meeting of my parish council association we had all the complaints coming in about the drought during the previous two years. We heard how the centralised water authorities all combined and we heard all about standpipes and so on. The representatives of the local parish councils came up with the same stories: "Why didn't they use the old water suppy? Why didn't they use the such-and-such leat?" The reason they did not do so was that the centralised, nationalised council bodies do not have a clue about what takes place locally. It is only the local parish councillors who know.
In my particular case—this is only an example—there was a water supply on my property which, for 70 years, had provided the village of Kingsteignton with water. Ten years ago we were told: "We don't want any small suppliers any longer", and the supply was cut off. They were only paying about £400 a year, so it did not matter much to me. They turned off the supply and that was that. Throughout the whole of the drought that small reservoir was overflowing to the same extent as before. Daily I expected someone to come and look at it, because it was only a question of turning on a pipe to put the supply into the system again. However, nobody came. I knew about that supply and so did the local people. All the people in the parish knew about the local reserve water supply which they used to have before the monolithic modernisation was introduced.
Surely when supplying to transport we can allow the Amendment to be passed which would get the centralised county councils to consult the small isolated communities. Such consultation can be 1498 done so easily by going to the centralised body: we do not need to go to every single parish council. We would receive a lot of answers. We would have had a large number of answers to the drought problems in the South-West if they had bothered to consult the local parishes. I beg the Government to allow the Amendment because, if this provision is included, county councils will have considerably less trouble as regards any problems that arise on this basis in the future.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, I do not wish to delay the House, but this matter is important. Many of us have had the opportunity to live and work in rural areas. I had the privilege of representing a rural area, the majority of which covered 1,000 square miles. It was situated in the North-East of Staffordshire with some 3,000 farms and with rural parishes. If a plan is being prepared by the county, the county planning authority—the centre and focus of power in the county—can be situated 60 miles away and there are people in the planning authority who do not know particular highways and by-ways. During one notorious winter bread had to be dropped in one village which had the appropriate name of Flash and Longnor, where they used to mint illegal money. People living in the area knew that, despite the snow drifts—which in some cases were 30 feet deep—a way could probably have been found to that area without the loss of life which occurred when the plane which dropped the bread crashed.
Rural areas should be consulted. What is happening to British democracy? Indeed, what is happening to local democracy? Everything is being over-centralised and in this apotheosis of the electronic computer, human beings do not seem to count any more and there is the superficial god-like attitude of the central people that the centre knows best; the centre knows what it is doing. Nine times out of 10 it boggles every plan that it embarks upon so far as rural areas are concerned—for example, in connection with the distribution of food in winter time or taking a coffin to bury the dead.
I hope that the Government will take notice of this Amendment. There are so many Members on the Opposition Benches that if they want to press this to a Division 1499 they can win without my vote. Therefore, I shall not walk in the Lobby with them. However, I hope that the Government will look at this Amendment because, in my view, this is a constructive Amendment worthy of consideration. I hope that my friend Lady Stedman will be able to say that the Government will look at this matter so that during the next stage we shall receive an answer which is more sympathetic than the Bill is at present.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
My Lords, carried away as I am by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, I should still like to ask the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, if, when he comes to wind up the debate on this Amendment, he could explain why subsection (4) does not wholly meet the main sense of his Amendment. In my view, it seems to meet not only his point but that of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, I am a little puzzled. I am deeply moved by the inefficiency that operates in the area of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, but it is understandable because there has been a Tory council there for generations. However, I must confess that it is a grave reflection upon their officials because, clearly, if there is a hardship—that is to say that when there is a drought they suffer and when there is too much water they suffer—they appear to suffer all the time. But what about the councillors whom they have elected? Do they not have a job?
We must address ourselves to the Amendment and how far it goes towards solving the problem. I am sure we should all accept that if the stories given to us are even 50 per cent. correct, something needs to be done about it. I suggest that the Bill itself imposes a duty upon district councils to consult. How many parish councils may there be in a district council's area? The Minister told us in Committee that in some areas it is quite frequent to find 30. Therefore, it seems to me that if this very woolly Amendment—woolly almost to the verge of being administratively barmy—were included in the Bill, the officials of the already inefficient councils (the centralised body of which the two previous speakers both complained, I am sure with justification), who are obviously 1500 not up to scratch, will spend the rest of their time, not putting things right when there is a drought or too much water, but in consultation.
I abhor liberalism and all that it stands for. I said that at an earlier stage and got myself into great trouble because I was specific in what I regarded as the regrettable influence of Liberalism on Toryism. I have respect for high Toryism but the wishy-washy cold cocoa version I have no respect for at all because it is basically barmy; it is verbal knitting. It does not mean a thing to impose a duty on a body to consult with a view to action as it may think appropriate. What in the name of goodness does that mean in practical terms?
Therefore, while I have the utmost sympathy with the object, this is not the way to secure it: it would be all consultation and no action. Given the choice, I prefer action to consultation. Therefore, I very much hope that without more ado we shall not waste our time on this matter, even though I am sure that all of us, however half-hearted we may be and whatever political philosophy we may have, are in sympathy with what the noble Viscount is seeking to do. However, I am completely sure that this is not the way to do it.
§ Lord CLITHEROE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said that in his view the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was unnecessary because of subsection (4). Subsection (4) does not mention parish meetings. Therefore, I prefer the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and shall be happy to support it. I should also like to say that there are counties in England—Lancashire is one—where there is close contact between the county council, the parish councils and the district councils.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I should like to open my remarks by declaring an interest because, like o the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, I am president of a county association of local councils, in my case Hereford and Worcester. Having discussed this Amendment with the Secretary of the National Association of Local Councils in London this morning I have come to the conclusion that, despite the fact that we have great sympathy 1501 with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, with great respect this does not seem to be the perfect answer to this problem.
Our attention has been drawn by the Association of County Councils to a very interesting computation of the number of parishes there are in counties throuhgout England and also the community councils in Wales. The figure varies quite enormously. Nobody has mentioned specifics so far, but I think that they emphasise the argument. The county with the minimum number of parishes is the Isle of Wight, with only 16, and the county with the maximum is North Yorkshire, with no fewer than 762 parishes. Some of those parishes are, in fact, urban boroughs; some are rural parishes. One entirely accepts what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said earlier, that the vast majority of parishes in both England and Wales are of a rural nature, but not all.
I believe that the Bill as drafted contains grounds for thinking that the situation will be manageable. I refer, of course, to Clause 2(3) which is quite specific. It says:When preparing or revising the plan"—and then there are qualifying remarks—the council shall enter into consultation with"—and then it cites various bodies. It includes the district councils in the county; and it adds a further caveat in subsection (4):To all those mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (3), and also to—(a) the county's parish and (in Wales) community councilsI accept what the noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe, said, that parish meetings are not included. I think it would be helpful if the Government could perhaps identify here whether the expression "parish" includes parish meetings, because in certain Acts it does. Perhaps we may be given an interpretation, because I think that it is a valuable and relevant point.
The other matter to which I must draw your Lordships' attention is, of course, that the districts, which are compelled by this section to be in consultation with the council, and the council, which is compelled to be in consultation with the districts, have the staff backup, which the parishes do not. I believe that, despite the blandishments of the noble Viscount, we should think very carefully about this 1502 matter, and I hope that he will not press the Amendment to a Division.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I hate to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, but I am also concerned with the Association of Parish Councils, as it was called. I think that we must concern ourselves particularly with the fact that they were the initiators of the original agitation about rural transport—it came from the grass roots. As a "townee" who lived in the country and who grew greatly to respect the strength of the parish meeting, I would certainly say that it should be included in any consultation. The noble Lord has just said—and the Minister will no doubt confirm this—that subsection (4) gives this provision. If that is so—and to take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, I would not like to appear barmy—why then, in one case do we get the phrase that they "discharge their responsibilities" by entering "into consultations", but in the second case we get the phrase that "they should be:afforded an opportunity of commenting on a preliminary draft of the plan"?If there is a subtle difference, I am not sure what it is. However, I know from many sad experiences in towns that to comment on a plan which is already formulated means that people tell you what they will do at the point they will do it. If you are in a deputation, you are very lucky if you change the plan. On the contrary, "consultation" surely means coming in when the plan is actually being formulated.
I think that the parish is the place that knows of the difficulty of rural transport, far more than the county council or district council. Indeed, they were the first sufferers from the British Rail plan, which I think we have now forgotten. Very many villages are almost entirely cut off, except for those people who are fortunate enough either to have a car or some kind of coach to help them. Therefore, I should like to know the difference and if, in fact, there are sheep in one section and goats in the other, perhaps we could have an amalgamation in accepting this Amendment.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has given your Lordships another opportunity to 1503 debate the role of parish councils in public transport planning. I believe that this is one aspect of the wider problem of involving people in local public transport issues; I am sure that there is no difference of opinion on all sides of the House about the importance of that. The practical question is how to achieve this end: how much can be done by legislation and what must be left to the good sense and initiative of those concerned locally.
We must remember the range of circumstances for which we are legislating in this Bill. The non-metropolitan counties embrace every type of settlement from major cities to the smallest rural hamlet. In everyday terms the transport issues of local communities range from complaints about particular bus services to the fact that there is no bus service at all in another part. I do not believe that people are unaware of local authorities' responsibilities for these matters—after all, county councils have had the responsibility of co-ordinating public transport since 1974. Nor are people slow to make their views known. As my noble friend Lady Phillips said, the pressure for rural transport came from the grass roots, from the parishes.
The defect which our proposals are designed to remedy, is that there is insufficient public knowledge of how the county councils see the issues and what they propose to do about them. In other words, it is not so much opportunities to express views which are needed, but some coherent proposals to focus local debate. That is the importance of a public transport plan which will be widely available to the public. This idea of local debate also reflects the nature of the plan. As I have said, this is not to be a plan which is prepared over a long period by an elaborate procedure involving public inquiries and appeals to central Government. Equally, it is not a plan which will pretend to solve all a county's public transport problems or set them within a rigid framework for years to come. But it will be an account of the current issues the lines on which they are being tackled and the way in which these matters are likely to develop over the next few years. All this is an attempt to devise some continuing process which mirrors the changing world of public transport.
1504 It follows from what I have said about the nature of the problem and our solution that a county council must involve people at any time it is necessary and in whatever way is best. The district councils will be expected to consult with their parish councils and their parish meetings, and the parish meetings and the parish councils will be specifically asked to comment on the initial plans when they are formed. We are not thinking only of parishes, but also of trade unions, transport users and any other bodies with a special interest in transport, and, indeed, of individuals. Events are not going to fit neatly into any annual planning cycle. Services can be debated and changed, proposals for community transport or experimental services can be brought forward at any time. So we must see a development of existing contacts between the county councils, other local authorities and all those concerned with public transport. It is only by accepting that this is a developing process that we can sensibly ask for the first plans to be published as early as March next year. These may be rudimentary plans based on present knowledge and the amount of consultation which limited time allows, but they will start the whole process of building up local relationships.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has referred to the communication which many of us have received from the Association of County Councils, and he quoted from it. I should like to quote further from it. They say that parish councils already have the right to comment under Clause 2(4), and that power will very adequately safeguard their position in so far as it has not already been looked after by their district council. It should be stressed that counties do not formulate their policies on transport, or on functions, on formal consultations alone. They have many specialist officers whose task it is to conduct surveys, et cetera, in the community to try to ascertain the needs of users of services. Bus operators are also increasingly becoming much more conscious of the need to find what users and potential users require, and county councillors are as much representative of the views of local people as district or parish councils, and they spend much of their time establishing what their communities require.
1505 Their last paragraph says that the Association—that is the Association of County Councils—believe that this Amendment will put an intolerable burden on the manpower resources of counties, would delay the production of plans, would result in the preparation and yearly amendment of plans as a primary activity rather than the implementation of policies. They hope that we will oppose it. Events are not going to fit neatly into any annual planning cycle, and it is only sensible that we should have as much consultation as we can at ground level.
I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, will accept the spirit of what I have said. The difference between us is one of means and not ends. I do not believe it will help to say in legislation that county councils must formally establish each year the views of all their many parishes—or parish meetings—which amount to several hundred in some counties. Many of them will in any case be content with the services they have, or reconciled to the absence of such services. As the noble Viscount recognised in the Second Reading debate this would be an immense task, and if we set counties an impracticable administrative task they will lose heart for the prime job of planning public transport. An injunction laid upon them to collect views once a year would also be less rewarding than the process I have outlined of developing continuing contacts between county councils and everyone else concerned with public transport, backed by the provision in the Bill that parishes and other interested bodies must be given an opportunity to comment on the draft public transport plan.
In short, my Lords, the Government view is that the answer lies not in elaborating the statutory framework but in explaining to all those who will be concerned with public transport planning how we think relationships should develop to meet local circumstances. That is something we will do in the Department of Transport circular which we shall be sending to local authorities and public transport operators when the Bill has been enacted. I will undertake to this House to see that this circular takes account of the points that have been made, and I hope that with that assurance the noble Viscount will agree to withdraw his Amendment.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, before the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, decides what he is going to do about this Amendment I hope that I may be permitted to say a word. We have just heard a formidable case against the Amendment presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, with her normal grace, efficiency and charm, so that it is hard to resurrect some of the points that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and my noble kinsman Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, put before the House earlier in the debate on this Bill.
This Bill erects an elaborate structure, and much of the debate about the Bill has not been about its purposes or its detailed content but the manner in which the structure can be made to work most efficiently. We have looked at the relationship of the county councils to the transport commissioners, and so on. Several noble Lords and noble Baronesses have stressed the need for feeling from the lowest level being allowed to percolate up to the top when plans are being made. Living in a rural parish in a new county, the County of Avon, which is trying to concoct a structure plan from that of previous counties, I am very conscious of the technical difficulties that many noble Lords have seen in putting this additional burden of consultation upon those who have to carry out the duties of running county council work, be they councillors or be they officials. At district council level the same difficulties apply.
I do not think that this is a subject—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, will forgive me—on which one can take a purely Party political view. It is a matter that your Lordships collectively are particularly qualified to look at in an all round way. Here we have something that is going to affect the lives of everybody—what is the best way of making sure that the public is truly served. On the one side there is the view of the Association of County Councils and district councils, and on the other side the case that I heard this morning from a colleague in another place, Mr. Newton, about a new plan that had come out for a bus route through a particular housing estate in his area that was going to be most dangerous for children, and nobody had been consulted as to whether that route should go through that housing estate.
1507 I shall not detain your Lordships any longer. If this Amendment goes into the Bill we are doing our job, which is to give the other place a chance to look at a proposal again. If it does not, we have had a useful discussion, and the noble Baroness has already said that it will be taken into account when the circular is being drafted. I hope that your Lordships will make up your minds individually and see how the balance of argument takes you. I think that this is a most valuable point to have discussed again, and I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, for giving us a further opportunity of looking at it.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I have listened with tremendous interest to this discussion. Before I come to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, may I reply to the other speakers. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, underlined the lack in certain cases of a proper relationship between county hall and the parishes. I am sure that in some counties it works very well; in others I suspect it is not as good. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, asked me why subsection (4) does not answer the question. I think that that question of his was admirably answered by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. Nobody can deny that the opportunity of making observations after a plan has been drafted is nothing like as good as consultation before the plan.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, said that he felt that this Amendment was typically liberally woolly. Well, I must say in justification of myself that it is a bit woolly but this is because the noble Baroness, on Committee stage, said that it is the county councils' responsibility and it would be quite wrong to usurp their functions by prescribing the way in which it should be done. That is why I used the words that they should do it in any way that they thought best. This covers all the different methods that have been suggested. They may use the district councils or, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, said, the elected representatives of the people—and I think that would be a very good way of doing it.
The noble Baroness said that many councils had specialist officers who were quite capable of finding out this position. That may be, in their case, the best way of finding it out. All I feel is that we want 1508 to say in the Bill that the needs of these communities must be found out. I should have been prepared to consider the argument that the Amendment was unnecessary, except that it seems to be necessary because of the immense amount of resistance that is given to the idea that the views of the parish councils ought to be considered. I will come in a moment to the letter from the county councils.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said this was not a perfect answer, and I could not agree more. I do not know that there is a perfect answer in this field, but if he has one to suggest I hope he will table it as an Amendment for Third Reading because I think we are all agreed there is a problem here and we want to find the right solution. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, made an excellent point which I think dealt with the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and I will say no more on that.
I now come to the remarks of Lady Stedman. Lord O'Hagan said she made out a formidable case and I agree it sounded a bit formidable, but she was, I am sure unwittingly, doing what is an easy thing to do when making out a formidable case against an Amendment; namely, shooting down certain things which the Amendment does not say. She argued in favour of continuing discussions and said that they were much better than formal discussions once a year. The Amendment does not suggest there should be formal discussions once a year; it suggests that, by whatever means the county council think best, they will ascertain from the parish councils and small authorities what the needs are.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said the existing contacts should be developed, and I could not agree more. Where there are existing contacts with parish councils—and we have heard that in certain counties there are some, either directly or through the associations of parish councils—by all means let those existing contacts be developed, but can anybody put his hand on his heart and say there are no county councils where there are no existing contacts that enable a proper understanding of the needs of parish councils to be reflected in county hall? I accept from the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that that shows—I will not say 1509 which Party has elected the councillors to county hall—that some Party of which he does not approve has elected them. I am sure that it happens. It seems clear that it is laid down in the Bill that councils should in some way ascertain the needs of the communities (because if they do not do so they cannot fulfil the necessary provisions), but nobody has said how they propose to do that.
The letter from the County Councils' Association does not really help us in this. They just say it will be a tremendous amount of work; they raise the point that parish councils have the right to comment under Clause 2(4)—and I have tried to deal with that—and they rightly emphasise the number of parish councils there are. As I mentioned earlier, they themselves suggested that specialist officers could conduct surveys to ascertain the needs of users. If they do that and if they think that is the best way to do it, then they are complying with the spirit, indeed the letter, of the Amendment. Because there has been this furious
|Ailsa, M.||Gainford, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Airedale, L.||Greenway, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Grey, E.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Hampton, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Hatherton, L.||Seear, B. [Teller.]|
|Bledisloe, V.||Inglewood, L.||Selsdon, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Kimberley, E.||Sharples, B.|
|Cathcart, E.||Kinnaird, L.||Simon, V. [Teller.]|
|Chitnis, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Daventry, V.||McNair, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Mancroft, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Derwent, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Forester, L.||Melville, V.||Wade, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Monson, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Abinger, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L|
|Ampthill, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Rhodes, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Lee of Newton, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Listowel, E.||Segal, L.|
|Brimelow, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Stedman, B.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Brown, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Stone, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Maelor, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Collison, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Mishcon, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Fisher of Camden, L.||Morris, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Garner, L.||Mottistone, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Northfield, L.||Walston, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Oram, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Hale, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Hamnett, L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)||Wigg, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.|
§ resistance—I recognise that the noble Baroness has to speak on a brief from the Ministry of Transport, which is not her Department—perhaps they have been influenced by something the county councils have said, and we do not know what that might have been.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I thought the noble Baroness knew a lot about the subject, and I can only congratulate her on the way she has mastered it. Withdrawing the remark I made about it not being her Department, I still think it is right to write this consideration into the Bill.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 51; Non-Contents, 51.1511
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Segal)
My Lords, there have voted Contents, 51; Not-Contents, 51. There being an equality of votes, in accordance with Standing Order No. 53, which provides that no proposal to amend the Bill in the form which is before the House shall be agreed to unless there is a majority in favour of such Amendment, I declare the Amendment disagreed to.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Lord DE CLIFFORD moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 6, line 19, at end insert—
("(3) In considering matters to be included in the plan county councils shall consult with neighbouring county councils to ensure as a priority that standard concessionary fares are granted throughout routes which run through more than one county.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, after that very dramatic vote of the House I should like to draw your Lordships' attention once again to the matter which I raised on Committee. During the Committee stage the noble Baroness in her charming manner told me that I was trying to make county councils spend money which they did not have. I am coming back to this subject because I am not trying to make county councils spend money which they have not got. What I am trying to do is to ensure that when county councils draw up their plans for concessionary fares there shall not be gaps in the middle of routes which make it appear that people are going from a rich land to another land, and that the people who live in that other land cannot afford to pay to help their citizens to get these concessionary fares.
§ One of the things about which I feel very strongly is that the people who at the moment cannot get their concessionary fares are those who need them most. The people who get concessionary fares on through routes always get them because they are living in a rich council area, and the people who do not get them on these through routes, and who feel very strongly about this matter, are those for whom the councils say they cannot afford them. What I am asking here is that when councils consider concessionary fares in their plan, they shall give priority to the routes where concessionary fares are run by other counties, so that on one route we can have one standard concessionary fare for everyone. My Lords, I beg to move.1512
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, both the county and the district councils have powers to finance concessionary fares schemes but in practice the schemes are usually operated by the district councils. We know that there is a good deal of concern because travel concessions vary from one local authority to another, and we know too that problems do arise when passengers wish to make journeys that cross local authority boundaries, into areas with different concessionary schemes or none. We have asked local authorities to look at these problems in our recent circular on concessionary fares, and where an operator runs services in neighbouring authorities we have urged all these authorities to discuss the problems jointly with the operator. There will of course be more uniformity if all authorities bring their scheme up to the minimum of the half-fare concession which we have suggested in our circular.
The noble Lord asks that county councils should consult with their neighbours as a priority about this problem. We would argue that although the problem can be a serious one where a boundary, for example, divides a housing estate from its natural shopping centre, the problem is of much more limited concern where a long cross-country journey is involved, such as I believe was mentioned by the noble Lord at Committee stage, as to how we got from Ludlow to Birmingham with concessionary fares. The prime purpose of concessionary fares must be to cover the local journeys which are necessary to meet the day-to-day needs of the elderly and the handicapped, such as visits to the shops, the doctor, the post office, the hospital and so on. To cater for these trips must be our first priority and the additional funds which Government are making available are intended for that purpose.
Concessionary fares are not really intended for long-distance travel and the law confines those concessions to an authority's area and its "vicinity". In these days when resources are tight we should be doing the elderly and the handicapped little service if funds which are intended to help with daily needs had to he spread much more thinly to cater for long-distance travel. I would regret it if the noble Lord's Amendment distracted local authorities' attention from 1513 this basic need for the elderly and the handicapped. I do not wish to play down the problem he mentions, but I do not agree with him that this should be one of the top priorities of the counties. The first priority surely is to ensure that all pensioners have satisfactory concessionary fares for their local day-to-day journeys. At present, in more than 50 district council areas there are still no concessions at all and in more than 200 other districts they have concessions which meet less than half the cost of local bus fares—and that is the standard which we have urged local authorities to adopt.
I must ask noble Lords to reject this Amendment if the noble Lord insists on pressing it, because what we want to do is to encourage local authorities to put their own house in order before they turn to the problems of the long cross-country journeys.
§ Lord NORTHFIELD
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, could she not offer help in one respect to the noble Lord opposite? In some cases a situation exists where people live in the country—I am familiar with this problem in Ludlow and all that area of Shropshire and the Midlands—and the town to which they would travel daily for shopping is in another district. So they are crossing boundaries, even in a district. Would it not be helpful at least to provide for some co-ordination to meet my noble friend's own point; namely, that we should be as helpful as possible about what we might call daily travel, rather than long-distance travel, when it covers cross-border activity?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should say that this is the problem we have asked the local authorities to consider. Where it is necessary for their people to cross boundaries, they should have consultations with the other local authorities and with the bus operators. But we cannot ask local authorities, when they are so short of finance, and when we do not have any extra finance to give them, to use resources for concessionary fares for long-distance trips to the disadvantage of the elderly and the handicapped who want to get about on their shorter, local journeys.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, the Amendment raises one of the most 1514 intractable problems in the present set-up regarding transport. Indeed, concessionary fares might well be top of the list of problems which would be suitable for your Lordships to consider in a Select Committee dealing with transport. Concessionary fares involve all the most difficult problems concerning the differences between transport as a service which pays its way and local needs, whether immediate or more remote, as well as the relationships of county councils with transport undertakings.
The problem cannot be tackled piecemeal, because it goes to the heart of the manner in which we in this country administer our transport system, particularly our bus system. In previous debates on Amendments to the earlier part of the Bill we expressed concern about the extent of the bureaucracy created by the development of TPPs on the lines that the Government have suggested, and so I believe that it is very difficult to support a proposal which appears to increase the amount of burden placed on a county council without offering any commensurate amount of income to deal with the work that would be involved. Moreover, as the noble Baroness has said, there is a responsibility on district councils as well, and they are not mentioned in the Amendment.
Perhaps at some future date the inherent inconsistencies within our system of operating, concessionary fares will throw up a need to examine the present system and the way it is organised, because there are the anomalies which have been referred to by my noble friend, as well as by noble Lords and the noble Baroness on the other side of the House. I believe that while that situation exists, it would be wrong to write into the Bill a requirement that county councils, as a priority, should look at the concessionary fares anomalies that arise across borders, because I suspect that in many cases the anomalies arise because of the nature of the views of the different county councils. Different county councils take different attitudes as to what are their responsibilities in these matters, and I suspect that very often all the consultation in the world might not necessarily lead to a great change in their attitude.
This is a subject to which we can return at Third Reading. My noble friend Lord de Clifford is noted for his persistence in 1515 applying himself to any topic on which he begins to develop a line of thought. It strikes me that the present Amendment is defective because it does not include district councils, and it is rather difficult to give a precise meaning to the phrase "as a priority" which imposes on county councils an obligation which, presumably, would be answerable at law, that they might find very difficult to discharge, especially when there are other, more pressing requirements with which they have to deal. I am sympathetic towards the intention behind my noble friend's Amendment, but I am not convinced that in its present form it would make an enormous difference to the problems on which he has focused his attention in bringing the Amendment to the House.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the noble Baroness, who always puts her case so charmingly. She in fact said precisely what I had in mind and the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, also drew attention to the matter. I know that my Amendments are always defective because I am not very good at drafting them, but I am trying to get concessionary fares for local traffic on through routes. In my area there are people who have to travel from the area of one district council to that of another even to attend surgeries, and it seems completely incongruous that they cannot be granted concessionary fares while other people who travel the same distances on other routes can.
I am not trying to say that there should be concessionary fares the whole way on a through route from, say, Glasgow to Land's End. I was trying to say, though undoubtedly I have failed lamentably, that the local people who have to undertake local travel on through routes should be able to obtain concessionary fares which their neighbours may have. In view of what has been said, and bearing in mind in particular what the noble Baroness has said about drawing attention to this matter in letters to the councils, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 [Community bus services]:
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 5:1516
Page 6, line 32, at end insert—
("(2A) A community bus service may extend to the provision of excursions and tours as defined by section 159 of the 1968 Act.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it might be convenient to the House, especially at this late hour, if I speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 6 to 9, 12 and 16, as well as to No. 5, because they are all concerned with the same basic point. The main purpose of a community bus is to provide a regular public transport service to meet the everyday needs of the local people. But even with the economies that are achieved by using volunteer drivers rather than paid professionals, experience shows that the revenue from these basic stage services is not enough to meet all the costs of running the vehicle, in particular the capital cost and depreciation. So subsidy from the county council will be necessary. I am sure the House will agree that it should be kept as small as possible, for the morale of the organisers, as well as for the benefit of the ratepayers. The existing community bus groups have kept their overall deficit down by operating a few excursions and tours, and by contract hire on a very modest scale. The revenue they gain from these sources helps to subsidise the less remunerative, but essential, stage services which they run.
§ We had thought that Clause 5 was sufficiently widely drawn to allow the traffic commissioners to authorise the community bus to run excursions and tours, and certainly this had always been out intention. However, it now appears that the drafting could be more narrowly construed, and so we propose in Amendment No. 5, which is a largely technical Amendment, to make it absolutely clear that excursions and tours are in fact covered. At the same time it is becoming increasingly clear from the evidence we are now getting about the finances of community buses, that private hire is an equally important source of finance. As the clause is drawn at present, a community bus would still need PSV licences for the vehicle itself and the driver before it could undertake contract work. This is because the exemptions in subsection (4) apply only when the bus is being used in accordance with a road service licence, or a permit; and private hire is not authorised by a road service licence or a permit, but solely by PSV licences.1517
§ Although the community bus operators could have got round this obstacle by advertising their private hire services, or by some other technical device which would have required them to have a road service licence, we think that this is an unduly bureaucratic, and almost underhand, way of proceeding. So, even at this late stage, it is better to face the problem squarely and to provide for it specifically in this Bill. This we do in the new clause, Amendment No. 9, and in Amendments Nos. 6 and 8, which are simply paving Amendments to the new clause.
§ The new clause provides that the traffic commissioners can authorise the community bus to do private hire work, but incorporates a number of safeguards. The primary purpose of community bus groups is to provide stage services, and anything else must be ancillary to them. So, first, the community bus can do private hire work only if it is authorised to do so by the traffic commissioners, and they have powers under subsection (1) to impose such restrictions, if any, on the private hire operation as they think fit.
§ Secondly, subsection (2) provides that the vehicle used must be the same one which is used on a regular basis for the community bus service itself, so that the organisers cannot employ an additional vehicle solely for private hire work. Thirdly, subsection (3) provides that the traffic commissioners have to be satisfied before authorising operations as a contract carriage that this is reasonable in all the circumstances with a view to financial support of the community bus service.
§ The other Amendments to Clause 5 and the Amendments to Clause 7 and Schedule 2 are purely technical. They provide, for the avoidance of doubt, that the vehicle disc referred to in subsection (5) of Clause 5 has to be issued by the traffic commissioners, and that regulations made under Section 160 of the 1960 Act can cover the procedure governing applications for and the issue of the disc. The disc is the visible sign that the vehicle is properly authorised by the traffic commissioners, and it is particularly important that there should be no doubt about its authenticity if the community bus is also to be allowed to operate for private hire. These Amendments will widen the scope of the community 1518 bus's activities and improve its viability by further relaxations from licensing restrictions, while providing the necessary safeguards for existing operators, and I therefore commend them to the House. I beg to move Amendment No. 5.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
My Lords, I am sure that one can appreciate the purpose behind this Amendment and accept it, but there are one or two points which arise on it. I cannot understand why there should be the description in Amendment No. 9, where it says, in subsection (2):'The community bus' means any vehicle (being adapted to carry at least 8 and at most 16 passengers) …".When the noble Baroness winds up, could she explain the mystique of the number 16? It was not so very long ago that vehicles of this type had a carrying capacity of 14 passengers, but modern design and construction has enabled additional use to be made of space, and so one gets 16. In fact, most vehicles of this type carry 17 people if you include the driver. What actually is a passenger? Because if you have longitudinal seats, some people may say that, as they are not divided, schoolchildren may count as half, and so on.
Something else I should like to know arises on the same Amendment, in subsection (3). The noble Baroness said that there shall be provision to ensure that an additional vehicle is being used. What happens if this community bus service develops itself into something of a regular route, running operation? One can envisage three times a week shopping from an outlying village into the city. If for any reason that vehicle is off the road, does it mean that the licence-holder has to go to the commissioners and get a substitution, or will the permit be transferable to another vehicle which may be hired for the express purpose of carrying out the work which the community bus would normally do? One accepts, of course, quite easily, that there must be some provision to ensure that the licence is not extended until a whole fleet of buses is running, but there seems to be some little difficulty here and, particularly with the kind of people operating the service, this may prove too much of a drawback.
§ Lord TEVIOT
My Lords, I am in agreement with Amendment No. 5, but 1519 with Amendment No. 9, together with its appendages, Nos. 6 and 8, the paving Amendments, I am afraid I am not happy. It is unfortunate that an Amendment of this nature should come before your Lordships' House at this late stage of the Bill. I agree that to some extent this is the pot calling the kettle black, because I introduced some Amendments only at a late hour yeterday; so I cannot say very much other than what I have just said. I say this, not in the spirit of the Amendment, which is something with which we are all in sympathy, but because it cuts across a basic principle of licensing for public road transport. This introduces the idea of a licence for private hire work granted through the road service licensing system.
In Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1960, licensing is dealt with in two ways. First, the vehicle and its owner are approved by the means of a public service vehicle licence; but, then, if passengers are to be carried as separate fares, a superior form of licence, a road service licence, is also required. One deals with the vehicle, the other with its operation. In this Amendment we have a confusion of the two systems. It is as if the Government were to say to a motorist, "You do not need a vehicle Excise licence", which enables him to put the car on the road, "provided that your driving licence is endorsed to the effect that you have paid the equivalent duty". It seems to me that this is nonsense, but it is a close parallel to what is proposed today; that is to say, the community bus is excused from PSV licensing but can undertake the basic work of a PSV, which is private hire, provided it has a road service licence which is endorsed for that purpose.
Here, my Lords, I am going to make certain remarks which are perhaps out of character, for I feel rather strongly about what I am going to say. I submit that if I had produced an Amendment of this nature it would have been ridiculed by the Government, whose Parliamentary draftsmen seem to think that there is some special mystique (and I use that rather over-played word which my noble friend has just used) in the language they use which is not available to we lesser mortals. On the contrary, it seems to 1520 them that their words mean, like Humpty-Dumpty and Alice, just precisely what they intend them to mean—no more, no less. Here we have a good idea but a bad Amendment. More important, I suggest that the type of work which it is intended that these community buses should undertake to augment their revenue from such services is not in fact genuine private hire because it involves the payment of a contribution—in other words, a fare—by each person travelling on a journey. In truth, this is excursion travel, and it is already very well covered by Amendment No. 5, which I hope your Lordships will agree.
I submit that Amendment No. 9 and what goes with it is not necessary, and that the unsuspected implications of its devious logic require further consideration. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it so that we may all have the opportunity to consider the correct way to assist community buses to achieve the success that we all wish them.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, I should like to give a qualified welcome to the Amendments to which the noble Baroness has spoken. On the other hand, I am pleased that she has brought them forward, because I regard them as paving Amendments to my Amendment No. 11. The logic, about which she has talked so much at various stages of this Bill, in transport and in the transport policy of the Government, which moves her to introduce these Amendments, must lead on to her acceptance of Amendment No. 11. For that reason I am delighted.
I am also pleased that the Government are looking in detail at the best way of making the system of transport that we have in this country developed and evolved to cope with changed circumstances. In so far as these Amendments represent a development of view in the Department of Transport as to how the community buses can be made viable, I welcome that attitude. But I must share with my noble friends who have spoken a concern that a new part of the Bill of this complexity and importance is introduced at the Report stage in this house, because, as my noble friend Lord Teviot has said, there are many parts of it which need detailed examination. The Association of District Councils, for example, is not happy with 1521 some of the consequences it sees as likely to flow from this group of Amendments.
I will not weary the noble Baroness or the House with details as to their anxieties, but their anxieties are voluminous and not restricted to a single point. I do not wish to detain the House at this stage. We shall study with care what the noble Baroness has said, and what she will say in a minute or two, but it is difficult for those not in Government to cope with a complex group of Amendments of this sort at this stage of the Bill; and, therefore, while accepting the principle which she has said underlies this series of Amendments as something wholly praiseworthy, I hope it will be your Lordships' view that I can reserve our position on the Amendments themselves for we have not had time to look at them properly. Whereas the noble Baroness has a battalion of civil servants, we have only the backs of envelopes.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, suggested that it is wrong to introduce major changes at such a late stage and that it might have been better to wait and even perhaps legislate afresh on these points. But the problems of rural areas cannot wait, and I think we would rightly be accused of doing only half our job if we were to leave these problems unattended to. The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, gave a qualified welcome to it as tidying up the Bill and making it workable in principle.
The provisions on private hire are fully in accordance with the principle we have followed throughout of allowing as much flexibility as possible while enduring that adequate controls remain to prevent abuse. There are safeguards which will protect existing local operators and I am sure that the traffic commissioners can be trusted to discharge their functions impartially and wisely so that no one suffers, but the community as a whole benefits.
It is surely only natural that if the local Women's Institute—who may be very much involved themselves, even as drivers of the community bus—want to go on an outing and no services are available in the area, they should use their own community bus to do so and should be able to help subsidise or finance that service. That is what we are providing for, and I think it is a totally justifiable 1522 and indeed essential extension of the provisions that are already in the Bill.
Perhaps noble Lords have fears that, if we let the community buses run what may be termed contract service without having PSV licences, we might be creating unfair competition with the regular operators. This would be undesirable and it is not what we want to do. It would be wrong to permit a free for all. That is why we put the safeguards into the new clause and ensured that the community bus can only do contract work if the traffic commissioners are satisfied that this privilege is not going to be abused. We could have encouraged the community bus groups to find a way round the problem by some technical device which might have brought them within the scope of the road service licensing. But the question of private hire ought to be considered fully and openly, as it will be under the new clause. We did not want to do anything devious or underhand, which is why we brought in the new clause.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked what was the mystique about the limit of 16 seats. It is something like the mystique of the Parliamentary draftsmen where they have their own legal language. This is the only mystique about it. So far as the limit of 16 seats is concerned, this is the same as is imposed in Section 5(2) of the Minibus Act. The basic reason for this is that vehicles which are larger than 16 seats have different handling characteristics from those of the minibus and we do not think that the licence relaxations we propose in this Bill are appropriate for the larger vehicles.
The noble Lord also asked about the question of a new vehicle to replace the community bus which was off the road for any reason. There is no reason why the local community cannot apply to the traffic commissioners for more than one vehicle to he authorised to run on a regular community bus service, the second vehicle to be a standby vehicle. The point of the restriction which is put into the new clause is to provide that vehicles are used solely for the purpose of tours and excursions and solely for private hire. It does not preclude the possibility of a standby arrangement.
We accept that the industry has grown accustomed to the established procedure 1523 whereby it is the PSV licences alone which control private hire. They may fear that these new provisions are going to create some precedent for much wider changes in the licensing system. Such fears are groundless. The provisions are quite specific for the particular circumstances of the community bus. They have no wider connotation, and no wider connotation should be read into them.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 7, line 5, leave out ("in accordance with this section").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this Amendment. I beg to move.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 7, line 21, leave out from ("document") to ("used") in line 22 and insert ("issued by the traffic commissioners as may be prescribed for a vehicle").
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 7, line 25, leave out ("virtue of this section") and insert ("the road service licence or section 30 permit").
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 9:
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:
§ Use of community bus for contract work
§ (".—(1) A road service licence or section 30 permit authorising the provision of a community bus service may be granted so as to authorise the use of the community bus as a contract carriage, subject to such restrictions (if any) as the traffic commissioners think fit to impose.
§ (2) "The community bus" means any vehicle (being adapted to carry at least 8 and at most 16 passengers) which, whether or not belonging to the holders of the applicable road service licence or permit, is used on a regular basis for the purposes of the service.
§ (3) The licence or permit shall not be granted with an authorisation under subsection (1) unless the commissioners are satisfied that it is reasonable in all the circumstances with a view to financial support of the service.1524
§ (4) Section 5(4) and (5) of this Act apply to any use of the community bus as a contract carriage in the same way as they apply to any other use of it.
§ (5) This section and Part III of the 1960 Act shall be construed and have effect as if this section were contained in that Part of that Act.").
§ Clause 6 [Car-sharing for social and other purposes]:
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 9, line 6, at end insert—
(" (4) Section 145 of the 1972 Act shall be amended so as to add at the end of subsection 145(4)(b) the words "other than any such liability within the provisions of section 6 of and Schedule 1 to the Transport Act 1978 relating to car-sharing for social and other purposes".").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment takes us back into the area of the insurance provisions under the car-sharing arrangements. Your Lordships will probably recall that during the Committee stage I expressed some doubt as to the validity of the undertakings which were provided by the Motor Conference in respect of insurance in the case of car-sharing. I should say immediately that the Motor Conference have been most generous in explaining to me exactly what their undertakings meant and, to a very large extent, they satisfied me. However, probably like the noble Baroness, or somebody in her Department, I have attempted to find out what is an "element of profit".
§ It was upon that that I could foresee some disagreement at an unfortunate stage where perhaps a claim was made and the insurer might decide that this element of profit had been reached and therefore the insurance was invalidated. The noble Baroness probably had the same difficulty as I have. It is almost impossible to define. But, on the way, I found out that I was dealing with a very complicated matter. On the one hand, we have the insurance company's responsibility in the matter of the car-sharing insurance arrangements; and, on the other hand, we have the law.
§ If the local school should say to me: "Please will you take five or six children 1525 in your car to play rounders in the New Forest on Saturday afternoon? We will give you some petrol money", I am perfectly entitled to do that without breaching an element of profit. In the event of my having an accident and there being claims against me for death, disfigurement or injury to the children—which might amount to substantial sums of money which I do not have—the Motor Insurers' Bureau will cover me under their "safety net" arrangements. If my own personal policy is sufficiently wide, that may cover it also. But it is probable that my own insurance company and the Bureau may come to some arrangement.
§ However, suppose for example the insurance company say: "I am very sorry, Lucas, we do not think, because of the amount of money you had "—or for some other reason unknown at this moment—"that you were engaged in a proper car-sharing arrangement. Of course, we understand our responsibilities so far as third parties are concerned, so you do not have to worry about that. But, so far as you and your motor car are concerned, we are sorry but the policy is null and void". Whereupon, the policeman comes on the scene and says, "Lucas, you have caused a traffic offence. You have been involved in an accident and we are going to charge you with dangerous driving, with driving without due care and attention and, in addition, we are going to charge you with being in breach of the law in so far as you have invalidated insurance cover".
§ While the insurance company can be fairly generous in the attitude that they take towards any claim I may make, the policeman cannot be so generous; he has to accept the letter of the law. If I do not have an adequate insurance cover I shall have to be prosecuted and undoubtedly will be found guilty. From the information given to me and the advice that I have taken, I believe that this Amendment is intended to provide an addition to the basic requirement of insurance, in that anybody on a car-sharing arrangement, whether or not approved by an insurance company but certainly within the terms of the Bill, will be covered. That is all it attempts to do.
§ In some respects one can draw a parallel to the kind of discussion I imagine went 1526 on in the 1930s when the question of compulsory insurance was first discussed. Very many opinions were offered, suggestions were made, drawn and withdrawn. At the end of the day death and injury liability were the minimum that could be included. Insurance policies today are very complicated. They have changed enormously. There is little doubt in my mind that the average man or woman, on being asked one Friday night: "Could you take the kids to a party on Saturday? We will give you the petrol money", is unlikely to contact his insurance company or broker, even if he can get hold of them on a Saturday, and say, "If I take the children to a picnic am I covered under car-sharing arrangements?" Even if the answer is "No", he will still wonder whether he can do this. The majority of people will just go and do it.
§ This whole question of insurance was debated at great length in the other place in Standing Committee and during Report stage. I hold the view expressed by honourable friends that the Government have got themselves into something of a jam here. They have accepted the advice which the Motor Conference have given, of course, in very good faith. I do not think that they have thought the matter through. If they are going to make car-sharing arrangements, they should ensure that all those people who might reasonably expect to undertake this task should be covered by insurance. There is only one way to do it; that is, to have a statutory requirement as a basic minimum. It is upon that basis that I beg to move this Amendment.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
I listened with interest to the noble Lord's constructive Amendment. I grant that my noble friend, the Government and whoever may have to deal with this have a difficult problem. The insurance industry do not want to go beyond mere petrol money because they fear that there might be quasi-taxi operations with private car policies carrying passengers. Such operations might increase. Nevertheless, those operations are outside the relaxation allowed by the Amendment. They would include public service vehicles, Without knowing completely how this could be worked out, in view of the growth of the number of cars and the needs of rural 1527 areas, and the example which has been given regarding carrying children, there should be some insurance to enable an innocent person to be covered.
I do not think that this Amendment should be passed aside easily. I believe there is a reality in the enigma, conundrum or problem that is posed. I am not qualified in these matters and cannot think how we can find an answer to this problem. The last words uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that the Government may have got themselves into difficulties make me think that we should restudy the problem and see whether we can get effective cover for a person who is carrying out what is often a gracious job and helping in real difficulties. In nine times out of ten it would not be undertaken with the simple objective of making money. It could easily be proved if the object was to run as a private taxi service. Consequently, I hope that my noble friend would lend a sympathetic ear to the Amendment which has been so ably tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth.
§ Lord SANDYS
I should like to support my noble friend who has given us a clear illustration of the problem. I am glad that he is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. This continues a theme emphasised by the earlier Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon; that is, the need for reinforcing rural transport. In committee, we listened with interest to what the noble Baroness had to say in regard to the statement made by the Motor Insurers' Bureau.
The noble Baroness set out the statement, which went a certain distance; but as with all insurance policies, there was some small print at the end. I should like to emphasise this, because it relates quite particularly to what my noble friend said. This was the note that was appended, if I may be allowed to quote it again:If in any doubt whether a car-sharing arrangement is or is not covered by the terms of a private car policy the policy holders concerned should make an inquiry of their motor insurance".That is the very problem that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, identified so clearly with his excellent example of an every-day occurrence. The very business of contacting an insurance broker or the company itself lays a very considerable 1528 time problem on the person who has been asked to undertake a journey, perhaps at very short notice. The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will overcome this and, as he rightly said, will give statutory backing to the provisions. I believe it deserves very serious consideration.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I am always willing to give serious consideration to points raised from the Benches opposite and we have given a lot of consideration since the Committee stage to this question of insurance. I was happy to learn tonight from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that he was at any rate reasonably reassured following his discussions with the Motor Conference and that he accepted our view that the proposals made do meet the need for clarification as far as private motorists arc concerned. However, I believe he is still concerned about the question that he raised at Committee stage as to what is an element of profit and how one describes it. He, as I have, has come to the conclusion that it is a very difficult thing to define and to describe.
We have given a lot of thought to it and we do not think we should be rendering any real service by seeking to insist on a very high degree of precision at the global level, as it were, as to what constitutes an element of profit. We need to look at the matter in the context of the way in which the motor insurance industry works. I am indebted to the Motor Conference for having supplied me with some information about this. It will be known already to some of your Lordships, but I think it does bear repetition because it illustrates the problems that are inherent in generalisations about insurance. Incidentally, it highlights the very considerable achievement of the insurers in coming forward at all with the undertaking about car sharing.
As I understand it, there are approximately 65 insurance companies and groups of companies transacting motor insurance business and 39 syndicates at Lloyd's. Each is an independent entity from the point of view of the rates of premium they charge, the cover given by their policies, and their methods of operation. This independence is very jealously preserved and competition between them ensures that the motoring public has an adequate 1529 choice of insurance covers at reasonable rates of premium.
Despite this independence, I understand that almost all the motor insurance companies and all Lloyd's syndicates belong to trade associations which are, in the case of companies, the British Insurance Association and the Accident Offices Association and, in the case of syndicates, Lloyd's Motor Underwriters' Associations. All motor insurers also subscribe to the Motor Insurers' Bureau, which was set up to enter into certain agreements with the Government relating to cases involving uninsured motorists and untraced motorists. The Accident Offices Association and Lloyd's Motor Underwriters' Association exist for the advancement and protection of the interests of their members on matters of common concern in relation to the technical and commercial aspects of motor insurance. While they do not encroach into the area of rates of premium or the cover given for the premiums charged by their members, they do provide a forum for the discussion of matters—such as legislation—which affect all motor insurers in equal measure. The Motor Conference acts as a market forum representing both insurance companies and Lloyd's Syndicates in the form of a Standing Joint Committee of the AOA and LMUA, much in the same way as the touring clubs come together in the Standing Joint Committee of the AA and RAC.
Noble Lords will appreciate—as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, does—that against this background there are difficulties in drafting criteria that would be universally applicable and leave no need at all for exercise of judgment in relation to the circumstances of any one of a myriad of private contracts. As I understand it, what the insurers have therefore done is to pinpoint a factor that in a general sense would separate the typical situation, where a motorist gives people lifts from motives of neighbourliness and they contribute their share of the costs, from that where he stands to gain financially from sharing his car. As they see it, the facts of the particular case are, as always, what matters, however precise the general formula under which the question has to be posed and answered. I can see that the greater the precision, the more difficult it is to reach an equitable and commonsense 1530 answer in the marginal case—and the more marginal cases arise.
I am satisfied that the ordinary motorist will have no real problem in grasping what the undertaking is driving at, or in deciding whether he ought to have a word with his insurers to be on the safe side. I am sure that public-spirited people, like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, do not just once in a lifetime take other people's children to play rounders in the New Forest, and this is something he will have checked with his insurers. The insurers, on their side, agree that they will tell every policy-holder about the undertaking, as their policies come up for renewal, that passengers are required by the present law to he covered by insurance against personal injury, whatever the use of the vehicle or the conditions under which people are carried. Neither the provisions of this Bill nor the proposed Amendment would have any effect upon these requirements.
I hope that, in the light of these considerations and the explanations as to how the motor insurance business does work, the formula in the undertaking will be accepted as a sensible and workable one and ought in practice to cause no difficulty to the ordinary motorist. I hope, in the light of that, the noble Lord might consider withdrawing his Amendment.
§ Viscount SIMON
Before the noble Baroness sits down, there is one aspect I should like to ask about. She referred to the drivers offering lifts and said that they should not gain any financial advantage. That seems to me a little different from the suggestion here that it should not contain an element of profit. After all, if someone is driving from A to B anyway, if he gives three people a lift and they contribute to his petrol, he is getting a financial advantage. He cannot avoid it.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
That is illustrative of the difficulties we get into in trying to define an element of profit or a financial advantage. There are marginal cases and it is very difficult. We think the motor insurers' industry have gone as far as they can in the undertaking which they have given to us, and, in fact, as I said on Second Reading, they have gone further than we had hoped in our initial negotiations with them. I hope noble Lords 1531 will accept that the Amendment would not alter the terms of the Bill, that the motor insurers are satisfied and that the Department is satisfied that they have covered the points we wanted them to cover.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
I thank the noble Baroness for her response, which I must say is perhaps a little as I would have anticipated. She is certainly right in her understanding that, to a degree, the Motor Conference had satisfied me, particularly so far as large claims for third parties were concerned. My noble friend Lord Sandys referred again to the small print—this caveat right at the end, which suggests that the insured shall check with his company. Again, the noble Baroness referred to that when she said that the insurance companies have agreed to advise their clients, on renewal or at some convenient time before, that they should check this point. However, if you did all the things that you are exhorted to do on the pieces of paper that float through the letterbox during the lifetime of an average person, concerning gas, electricity, fire insurance, theft and so on—that is a fair mouthful, without even stopping to think—you would be running round asking people things every day. No, of course, the truth is that people do not do this. The truth is that they never realise that they should have done it, until it is too late. That is what really happens.
On a rather kinder note, if I were in the insurance business I would recruit the noble Baroness as soon as she left the Front Bench—and let us hope that she and her colleagues leave it fairly shortly—into the insurance world, because I have never heard such a splendid sales pitch for the insurance industry as she has given. It was absolutely magnificent. But she did not answer, in any shape or form, the point that I made; that is, where does a man stand vis-à-vis the law, in the event of the insurance company saying "I am sorry, but you are not covered under this car-sharing arrangement, because XYZ caveat" or something else "has not been adhered to"; and if a policeman comes along and says" "I am sorry, but you cannot drive your motor car without proper insurance. I must prosecute you"?
I do not want to delay the House, but I am sufficiently confident that the 1532 Government have not thought this through. They have not even offered to give further consideration to this matter. They think that the insurance companies, through the Motor Conference, have done all that, and more than, they should be required to do, and that the average motorist would he adequately covered. I am not so satisfied, and I do not believe that my noble friends on this side of the House think so either. I suspect that there may be at least one noble Lord on the other side of the House who would like to agree with me. Therefore, I feel that I shall have to press the Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 9, line 6, at end insert—
("(4) For the purposes of Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1960 a private vehicle shall not be treated as being a public service vehicle by reason only of the carriage, otherwise than in the course of a passenger transport business, of passengers in consideration of payment in respect of, or contributions in cash or in kind towards the expenses incurred in the provision or maintenance of, or of fuel for, the vehicle.
In this subsection "private vehicle" and "passenger transport business" have the meanings given by section 2(9) of the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Act 1977.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to the topic of car-sharing, and this time under a slightly different heading. In their White Paper (Cmnd. 6836) the present Government said that, in addition, the legislation will remove restrictions which make it illegal for car drivers,
…to make charges when they give lifts. These restrictions have probably had little effect, in practice, on private arrangements between neighbours. Rut they prevent the taking of payment for such organised arrangements as the Women's Royal Voluntary Service social car schemes. Payments by passengers could not only help to finance such schemes but also make them more acceptable to people using them".
We are all familiar with the sight of endless queues of cars coming into major towns and cities, with one person in the driving seat and all around him vacant seats in which passengers could be sitting. It is the Government's policy that car drivers can make charges for the lifts that they give, and it is to overcome the wasted numbers of journeys undertaken by motorists, with empty passenger seats around them, causing traffic queues and
congestion, that I am seeking to insert this Amendment into the Bill.
§ The Amendment as drafted is complex and is not at all easy to understand. I readily admit that if the mystique of the Parliamentary draftsman—as my noble friend Lord Teviot described it—had been applied to the purposes for which I am moving this Amendment, it would no doubt have been clearer. But what I have tried to do is to use the Government's language. I have used the wording from the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Act 1977, because that is a recent Act and it is an Act which this Government introduced. By using their words, I have sought to extend their policy which I have outlined by reading from their White Paper. I want to make it possible for commercial car-sharing to be within the ambit of the Bill.
§ Earlier on in our proceedings, we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, how the Government have decided that a certain amount of fund-raising activities should be permitted to community buses. They have decided that that is the right thing to do and they are doing it. We have agreed to the Amendments. On the other side of the fence, it is right that, if a new type of arrangement is to be allowed by this Bill—that is, car-sharing—as well as the statutory bodies, the local authorities and the voluntary schemes, there should be some freedom for private enterprise to experiment, to "have a go", to take on problems that have not been dealt with by the existing transport services. This is a principle in which the Government themselves believe. They introduced the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Act. This proposal is an attempt to take that view further and to make legal car-sharing on a commercial basis. It fits in with the Bill and I hope that the Government will accept it. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord TEVIOT
My Lords. I am extremely sorry, but I am afraid that I am unhappy about my noble friend's Amendment, as I was with the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 9, although for rather different reasons. First, it seems to me that the proposed subsection covers, and goes beyond, the remainder of the provisions in Clause 6 and Schedule 1. It 1534 offers carte blanche for a private motorist to undermine the bus and coach industry in this country, which is hardly the intention of the Bill. As I recall, the noble Baroness assured the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in Committee that this Bill would enable people to convey their fellows to and from their work. I am not sure whether she was right, and I am still seeking further advice on this point.
Nevertheless, if the Bill were to confer this freedom, the present Amendment would enable anyone to buy an old double-decker bus in which, apart from driving himself to work, he could convey perhaps 50 or 60 of his fellow workers. It seems to me that if the noble Baroness was right in the distinction between social and business transport—and until the contrary is shown to be the case I must accept that she is right—such an operation is quite within the terms of the Amendment, though I am sure that it was not in the mind of my noble friend. The Amendment goes altogether too far and I hope that, on consideration, he will withdraw it.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, the noble Lord indicated that in putting down this Amendment he was seeking to ensure that the Bill reflected what the White Paper on Transport Policy last year said as to the Government's intentions on car-sharing. The noble Lord and I must read different things in, or into, the White Paper. Paragraph 155 said,…the legislation that the Government will bring forward will remove restrictions which make it illegal for car owners to make a charge when they give lifts".
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I said that it was,illegal for car owners to make a charge when they give lifts".It went on to explain that, in practice, these restrictions probably had little effect on private arrangements between neighbours, but did inhibit organised social car schemes such as those run by the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. As I explained during the Second Reading of the Bill in this House, Clause 6 and Schedule 1 achieve what the White Paper proposed; first, by removing the historical 1535 anomaly that forbids regular informal car-sharing for payment; and, secondly by allowing social car schemes to be advertised.
So far as car-sharing is concerned, the Bill's provisions already cover the area with which the Amendment seems to be concerned, and without the rather complex wording about contributions to expenses. They simply provide a revised set of conditions to be fulfilled in order to qualify for the exemption from public service vehicle licensing, which is conferred on smaller vehicles carrying fare-paying passengers by Section 118(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1960. As for the ordinary private motorist who wants to share his car and his costs, the conditions are: no more than seven passengers, and no advertisement to the public, except where, in the case of a social car scheme, the local authority and the traffic commissioners have given their consents.
But there is a sting in the tail of the Amendment. The noble Lord says that he has taken the definition of a "private vehicle" from the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Act. The proposed new subsection seeks to give its own form of licensing exemption to vehicles seating up to 16 passengers. This is not something which the Government are advocating, although it is something which was urged upon us during debates on the Bill in another place.
Perhaps some noble Lords think that private vehicle size is not significant and that we ought to give the same treatment to minibuses as to cars, but there are significant differences between the two kinds of vehicles and they are, in effect, recognised by the different provisions in the Bill. Clause 5, on community bus services, deals with minibuses. So far as seating capacity is concerned, noble Lords will notice that minibuses start where the car leaves off. This is not pure coincidence. The clause recognises that minibuses, because of their size, have a far greater potential to affect ordinary licensed bus services when they are used for other than purely personal transport and must remain subject to road service licensing control. In this way, the traffic commissioners can consider on its merits the case for their use in particular circumstances where they are able to fill a need.
1536 Clause 5 also recognises that certain safety requirements over and above those that are applicable to cars are desirable, and it makes provision for standards to be prescribed for both drivers and vehicles. In a similar way, the Minibus Act 1977, which governs the use of these vehicles for specialised groups of people by voluntary bodies and such-like organisations, provides for driver and vehicle standards to be laid down. We were told in the other place that "van-pooling", which I understand is a transatlantic way of describing some applications of minibus sharing, has many virtues to commend it; but conditions in other countries are not necessarily the same as they are here, and we should be wary of drawing conclusions that take account of different circumstances. In this Bill, we must pay regard to our own situation in assessing the value of particular forms of transport provision.
I suggest to your Lordships that. this Amendment would confuse the situation in regard to car-sharing. We also think that it would destroy the concept of the community bus which is embodied in the Bill for the sake of extremely doubtful and perhaps even illusory advantages. It is not an Amendment which I can commend to the House, and I hope that the noble Lord will either take it back for further consideration or withdraw it altogether.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, I think that the Government are adopting a rather blinkered attitude to this subject. When it comes to community buses, their thoughts progress and they take some note of points that are brought to their attention, but when it comes to something that is outside the public sector they shut the door much harder, fiercer and tighter. While I appreciate that whatever is contained in the Bill will have an effect on the existing transport provision and that any Amendments made to the Bill will affect the balance of advantage gained by particular types of operator, I do not think that the argument of the noble Baroness against a commercial type of car-sharing is by any means compatible with the arguments that she advanced earlier in the evening about extending community bus services. The argument which the noble Baroness is putting forward is quite plain. It is one rule for those who arc part of the existing structure of local or central 1537 Government and another for everybody else. The Government will encourage the one to experiment but not the other.
I accept that this is a bit of a late night, last minute Amendment and that it is by no means perfect; it has plenty of things wrong with it. I shall certainly take it away and have a think about what the noble Baroness has told the House tonight. However, I warn your Lordships collectively that the smoke thrown up either by existing operators or by the transport department about this subject needs to he penetrated, because it conceals an antipathy towards schemes similar to that which has already been developed by the local authority for one particular area and which is considered to be quite compatible with existing arrangements. I can tell the noble Baroness that I have no commercial interest in this scheme.
I feel that we should take the opportunity that this Bill provides to look at a whole range of new transport mechanisms to deal with new transport needs. In the meanwhile, I shall keep my temper and withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 7 [Road service licences and permits]:
§ 7.46 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 9, line 12, after ("commissioners") insert ("and related matters").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I spoke to this Amendment when I moved Amendment No. 5. I beg to move.
Lord O'HAGAN moved Amendment No. 13:
After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:
§ National policy for inland waterway transport
§ ". It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to promote a national policy for the use of inland waterways for commercial transport and to devise a standard technique and standard criteria for the appraisal of all forms of transport investment, including waterways.".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall be brief. Inland waterways have no friends in Government circles, to the extent 1538 that they do not fit in. They are neither transport nor environment, and they do not seem to be on the top of anybody's in-tray so far as urgent activity is concerned. This is a miscellaneous provisions Bill dealing with transport. Although its Long Title may not directly include what I have put down on the Marshalled List, there is a crying need for action, because waterway transport is still useful. An explosive report was published in another place by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries which, so far as I can make out, is not composed entirely of Members of the Conservative Party. It made some very stringent criticisms of the use being made of waterway transport. There is, I understand, a lack of urgency on the part of the Government as to what should be done about our waterways. As long ago as June of last year there were informal discussions in Brussels about a proposal that might help the waterways in South Yorkshire, but the Government would not move. I understand that they have taken no action.
Our inland waterways still provide a very important, though minor part of our public transport system, particularly freight. They also play an important part in exports, in that many of them are used for part of the journey that certain manufactured goods take to other countries. These inland waterways are part of our transport system, but they are neglected and more attention needs to be given to them. Mr. Shore said recently in another place:
I accept that a successful extension of the canal system would give a welcome economic boost and a psychological stimulus to the area".
He was speaking of the area in Yorkshire that I have already mentioned.
§ This is a general problem. We have nearly 1,000 miles of inland waterways in this country, and they seem to be in need of further attention from Parliament and the Government if they are not to fall into decay. My new clause represents a development of the thinking behind the clause which was inserted in the Bill during the Committee stage here, when an Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Cockfield laid a statutory duty upon British Rail. My new clause would lay a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to get on with the job. At the moment there is inactivity.1539
§ A recent White Paper published in June by the Government—British Waterways Board (Cmnd. 7248)—reveals that prolonged thought regarding this same area of Sheffield and South Yorkshire has gone on in the Government, who claim to have been asking for new evidence and investigating it, but nothing has happened.
§ This Amendment will not solve all the problems of the waterways, nor will it find more money. However, the Amendment makes it clear that concerted thought regarding the problems with which our inland waterways are faced is a responsibility of the Government. The second part, about which I am not as happy as I am about the first part, asks for a technique to be evolved for the appraisal of transport investment to provide the Department with a tool which they can justify publicly for the amount that they invest in particular types of transport, because at the moment there is a difference between the investment in roads and the investment in water when the question of interest is considered. I understand that roads are interest free and water is not, and it is that type of anomaly that would need to be investigated under the procedure I am suggesting.
§ This is a declaratory clause with all the faults and virtues that such clauses have. It is an attempt to give a set of priorities to the Secretary of State. I am sure there are plenty of things wrong with its wording, but it attempts to give more support to those who are concerned about our inland wateways and feel that they should be preserved, developed and. if need be, extended. I beg to move.
§ Lord COCKFIELD
My Lords, should like to support my noble friend on this Amendment. The position of the British Waterways Board as a whole is not a happy one. Last year their total turnover was £10 million and on that they succeeded in making a loss of £12 million. These are not very large figures but as a rate of loss this must rank pretty high even among the nationalised industries. But if one dissects the figures one ends up with a very different picture because two-thirds of the total loss is made on what might very broadly be described as non-commercial activities, 1540 the amenity activities, the cruising waterways, and so on. If one looks at the commercial activities of the British Waterways Board one sees that these account for only one-third of the total loss and indeed in the case of their freight services—that is the actual transport, the warehousing, the provision of dock services and so forth—they actually made a small profit.
The Government's policy, as set out in the document headed The Water Industry in England and Wales: The Next Steps, dated July 1977, is apparently to transfer the activities of the British Waterways Board to a proposed national water authority. While there may be strong arguments in favour of transferring what might be described as the amenity activities of the British Waterways Board to a new water authority, it seems very strange to propose transferring their commercial transport activities, which frankly ought to be looked at in terms of part of our overall transport activities in this country and not as part of our water supply. Quite simply, the purpose of this Amendment is to direct the attention of the Secretary of State to the development of the inland waterways so far as their commercial transport aspects are concerned. Despite the fact that, looking at the commercial activities as a whole, they show a loss, I think it would be quite wrong to write them off as something which can be abandoned. It is only right that we should make every effort possible to develop a proper inland water transport system, and the object of this Amendment is to pave the way for doing just that.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I should just like to say very briefly, subject of course to what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, has to say (and this being the Report stage I think that I have to speak before she does) that if the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, would take his Amendment away and bring back on Third Reading only the first half of it, I would advise my noble friends to support it. But I think the second half raises such a wide issue that it is really not very suitable for inclusion in a Bill of this kind.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I am sorry to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, make the strictures which he did only a 1541 few seconds ago because this Amendment commends itself to these Benches very considerably. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Cockfield said what he did about the need for commercial development of the waterways. From looking at the White Paper Transport Policy, Cmnd. 6836, it is quite evident what a gap there is. We turn to chapter 7, which concerns freight, and we find there is scarcely a mention of the problem of the waterways until we reach paragraph 191. In that particular paragraph the Government are in a state of apology. They have every reason to be in a state of apology because it concerns a particular case, already referred to by my noble friend Lord O'Hagan: namely, the question of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire waterway.
This is something that I think should be placed clearly on the record because here were 18 miles of viable waterway which could have been a very useful commercial undertaking. It was a situation in which funds could have been made available, and indeed lengthy discussions took place on this very matter. But ultimately it was set aside for a whole host of reasons which it would be tedious to recite now. One of the principal reasons was that the Waterways Board were asked for no less a sum than 15 per cent. on their money. This was much too great an obligation to be placed on the Waterways Board, and the project fell into disuse. It has been set aside. Exactly the same thing has happened, for somewhat different reasons, to an even more interesting project which was the British Waterways docks at Immingham, which was concerned with a project called BACAT, largely concerning a mother ship loading barges on top. This ingenious device is a method used considerably on the larger waterways on the Continent and it would have increased substantially the commercial viability of British waterways in this country and the exchange with our European partners. There is no mention of BACAT or Immingham in the freight document; nor is there in the White Paper, Cmnd. 6876, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, The Water Industry in England and Wales: The Next Steps. This is a pity and it is quite definitely a gap in the commercial possibilities of our waterways 1542 and the very strong need for development, and I hope that the Government will respond to this Amendment.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will feel disposed to press this Amendment notwithstanding what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has said. Surely it is a good point to have this in the Bill at this stage. There is still one more stage to go, and if the Government do not like the text they can table an Amendment to put it straight, but for the various reasons which my noble friends have advanced the principle seems to me to be unanswerable.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, this Amendment raises matters which have been very much to the fore lately in another place. The Government's policy in relation to the commercial use of waterways was set out in the White Paper on Transport Policy, which we published last year, and in our observations on the Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, which was only published last month. The two issues which are referred to in the Amendment were discussed at some length in those documents. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and other noble Lords have said we are concerned about inland waterways; we have not just abandoned them. We see them as practicable for freight transport and we are anxious to see that sort of development.
What my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is looking for now is for the British Waterways Board to bring forward its proposals for the promotion and the development of these activities, and then we shall look at them as sympathetically as possible in the terms of the responsibilities for resource allocation and investment appraisal in the public sector as a whole. The Government will clearly need to have the best possible evidence about the likely traffic for any new facility, but where we are convinced of the potential of any project and resources can be made available there will he every possibility of its gaining approval.
As to the appraisal of investment in transport, it is the Government's policy that competition between the different modes of freight transport should be fair, and that they should operate without 1543 subsidy. The application of this policy and the measurement of returns from investment must take account of the fact that the different modes pay for their infrastructure in different ways. The cost of providing and maintaining commercial inland waterways is part of the costs of the Board, who can adapt their charges to users to reflect the quality of services and facilities which they provide. The cost of roads falls on central and local government, but the taxes on road users serve in a general way as a price system for the use of the roads. Such essential differences in finance and operation mean that it is simply not possible to devise, as the noble Lord would have us do, astandard technique and standard criteria for the appraisal of all forms of transport investment".We are not unsympathetic to the objects that underlie this Amendment. But hope it will be recognised, in view of what I have just said, that the first part of the Amendment would serve no useful purpose and the second part of it would impose on the Secretary of State a duty which it is not possible for him to fulfil. The British Waterways Boad have put proposals to the Government for the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation and these are under fresh consideration by the Government at present. I hope the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press this Amendment. I would suggest to him that it is perhaps not appropriate to add it to this Transport Bill. The Government did issue in 1977 a White Paper on water which covered the future of the waterways as part of the water industry. The legislation that is foreshadowed in that White Paper would I think provide a much more appropriate context for a much more detailed debate on this subject and the enactment of any suitable statutory pro-
§ vision that had to follow. I hope the noble Lord will think about it and might be persuaded to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, which, as always, was careful and showed every sign of deep thought given to the topic; but I thought it was the worst answer she had given us today. I admit that there is something to be said against the second part of my Amendment, and when, as I hope, shortly we pass this Amendment it will be open to noble Lords on the Liberal Benches and elsewhere to put down Amendments to alter what I have on the Marshalled List. This is my first attempt and of course it will not be perfect. But, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone said, it is much more important to stand aside from the wording and look at the principle, and the principle of the matter is quite clear. Whatever Transport Bills the noble Baroness thinks will come or may come, this is the Bill we are dealing with now. It should say something about waterways. It should impose this sort of duty. Whatever the prospects for the future may be, I do not think that your Lordships should stop and, while the inland waterways system deteriorates, stand and wait for another Bill that this Government may or may not introduce. The right thing to do is to put the provision in the Bill now, and perhaps amend the Long Title afterwards. But, first of all, let us put it in the Bill.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 13) shall he aggreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 30.
|Bacon, B.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Segal, L.|
|Birk, B.||Lee of Newton, L,||Stedman, B.|
|Blyton, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stone, L.|
|Collison, L.||Maelor, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Mishcon, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Noel-Baker, L.||Walston, L.|
|Fisher of Camden, L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Hale, L.||Phillips, B.||Whaddon, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Hood, V.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 20 [Transport supplementary grant]:
§ 8.12 p.m.
Lord O'HAGAN moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 16, line 41, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 44.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is merely a consequential Amendment following the Amendments that were passed during Committee stage. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 [Amendments about road service licences and permits]:
Lord TEVIOT moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 20, line 13, at end insert ("but shall have particular regard to the co-ordination and efficiency of the general provision of passenger services by road and, if the applicant is not the holder of a public service vehicle licence, to the matters specified in section 35(2) of the Transport Act 1968").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 15. Although I have never been happy about new Section (2D) to Section 135 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, I have not previously found a form of words that I have felt able to suggest to your Lordships' House. That is why I have not introduced it at an earlier stage. In the present Amendment I believe that we have a practical answer.
§ As originally enacted, when the traffic commissioners consider whether or not to grant a road service licence of any type, be it stage, express or excursion and tour, Section 135 prescribes the same criteria. Although I believe that the Amendments to that Section contained in the Bill are largely cosmetic, possibly seeking a psychological change in attitudes, certain of the 1546 new criteria are hardly relevant to coach touring holidays. Nevertheless, merely omitting them, as compared with the present requirements, does leave something of a vacuum. Here I feel that I should explain something of the importance of licensing for coach tours and I hope that your Lordships will bear with me.
§ We must remember that when such massive holiday organisations as Clarksons, Court Line and Horizon Holidays crashed, misery and despair was caused to many families and individuals. At the same time many other smaller tour operators went into liquidation, without being able to honour their commitments to their clients which did not receive publicity from the media. This lack of stability in the package holiday industry, despite the efforts of its national association, led the Government to introduce statutory controls, notably the Air Travel Reserve Fund. This holiday industry was built of speculative middle men who merely arranged facilities provided by others. It was precisely that which led to their financial instability.
§ I should contrast that with the situation in the coach touring industry which was, after all, the effective starting point of the package holiday between the wars. Although catastrophe followed catastrophe in other branches of the package holiday operation, the coach industry experienced the failure of just one medium-sized company which sold its holidays almost exclusively in America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I believe, and the industry assures me that this is so, that its stable position was built upon the road service licensing of its tours. It is for that reason that I believe that the present Transport Bill should make a reasonable provision for the protection of the British public in this area.
§ Your Lordships will realise that in the new subsection (2A) the main consideration is that the traffic commissioners shall 1547 have regard to the interests of the public. That is absolutely right and it is, of course, what they have always sought to do. However, these words are imprecise and I submit to your Lordships that certain further guidance is called for. In the Amendment which I commend to your Lordships there are two elements. The first, is that these coach tours should not be seen in isolation from the remainder of public passenger transport services by road. It is true that the days of cross-subsidisation within the industry have largely passed, but we should not wholly disregard the interrelationship of different aspects of the business which, together, make it viable. In many cases the suggested words may not be applicable. I only say that, where they are applicable, it is in the public interest that the commissioners should have regard to them.
§ The second element of this Amendment relates directly to the position I have explained in the package holiday industry in general. It considers the possibility, in the new circumstances which will be created by the Bill when it is enacted, that speculators will seek to move in on the coach tour market. They will book hotel accommodation, no doubt arrange visits to places of interest and then seek to hire coaches. The providers of all those services will be offered contracts for seemingly large amounts, but when related to the individual service given it is probable that a sorry picture of low price, low quality service, will emerge. This is not idle talk because the results of such operations have been seen in practice in continental Europe.
§ The operation of extended tours should be the cream of the services offered by the coaching industry. At present the operators prove their fitness and the suitability of their vehicles when they obtain a PSV licence from the traffic commissioners. Then they go through the further procedure of obtaining a road service licence. As I have said, for the extended tour one expects to find the best of all the PSV operators providing the service. If, however, as seems quite possible under the present proposals of the Bill, non-licensed tour operators seek to come into this business and use coaches provided by other firms, then I submit that they have no reasonable control of the overall operation and that there should be applied to them the same criteria as are 1548 applied to the applicant for a PSV licence; that is, that the commissioners should have regard to the previous conduct of the applicant in any business involving transport operation. Then, it is extremely relevant that the tour operator should be responsible for ensuring that the law on drivers' hours is observed. Next, which again is particularly important in connection with extended tours, the arrangements for maintenance of the vehicles should be adequate for that purpose. Finally, the commissioners consider the financial resources of the applicant. I submit that all those matters are extremely relevant to the operation of tours which can be offered to the British public with reasonable confidence. I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I do not want to be unkind, but this Amendment is regressive, restrictive and, in my view, unnecessary. It is also inconsistent with the provisions of the Bill as it stands at present. Subsection (2D), which was inserted by a Government Amendment during the Report stage in another place—an Amendment which had the clear support of the Opposition Front Bench—provides that in considering applications for extended tours the traffic commissioners are not required to take into account those criteria in subsections (2A)(a) to (c) which are concerned primarily with the need to ensure a co-ordinated and efficient network of public transport services.
This Amendment, albeit in different words, would have the effect of bringing back those matters which it has been agreed are not relevant to the consideration of extended tours. The noble Lord has argued that there is a need for some operators to balance and to some extent finance their stage services by their extended tours and by linking up with the package holiday tours. But it cannot be demonstrated that any revenue from extended tours is being ploughed back into stage services or improving the services offered to the public in general. The holiday package tours and extended tours are quite separate and a highly specialised form of bus operation; there is no link between them and the main network of conventional stage and express services. These long-distance tours have no real bearing on the ordinary network of local services.
1549 But the Amendment goes even further. It is designed to impose additional restrictions on top of those which are already in the existing legislation. The vehicles used on extended tours must already have PSV licences and before granting such licences the traffic commissioners have to be satisfied that the operator is a fit person and that all the requirements in Section 35(2) of the 1968 Act have been fulfilled. I accept entirely that these standards are essential for the safety and comfort of the passengers. The PSV licensing system will ensure that they are still met.
But the Amendment would also provide that the person who has the road service licence to operate the extended tours has to meet the same criteria as the operator who supplies the vehicles to him. I believe that this restriction is wrong in principle. As the licensing system stands at present, the responsibility is quite clearly placed on the operator who holds the PSV licence to ensure that his vehicles conform with all the requirements. This Amendment will divide and weaken that responsibility by sharing it with the tour operator. I believe that is fundamentally wrong and that it will strike at a very important principle of the PSV licensing system. It is normal practice within the licensing system for operators who hold road service licences to hire vehicles from a PSV operator from time to time. This important flexibility which the system offers would now be curtailed by the Amendment, which imports into the consideration of an application for extended tours the question whether the applicant meets criteria which it is the responsibility of the PSV operator and his alone to meet.
I do not accept that more protection is needed for existing operators or that the very modest degree of relaxation that we have allowed in subsection (2D) will lead to any dire consequences. The noble Lord has spoken of the need to protect consumers from unscrupulous operators, and has mentioned cases where tour operators have collapsed and the public has suffered because the safeguards were not there. I accept and share his concern, but certainly no one can criticise this Government's record on consumer protection or doubt our commitment. But I suggest that the noble Lord's concern 1550 is misdirected because the safeguards are all there at present in the exiting licensing system. The provisions in Schedule 2 do not create a free-for-all for extended tours. Existing operators can still object to applications for new services and can quite properly raise the question of the fitness of the operator and his ability to provide a proper service to the public. The real question is whether we trust the traffic commissioners. As has so often been said in previous debates, there must be a limit to the extent to which we hedge the traffic commissioners about with detailed statutory requirements which, in effect, negate their independent status and go some way towards diminishing their discretion. The noble Lord has until now been a stout advocate of the traffic commissioners. I hope that he will see that what he is proposing will do nothing but undermine that independence. Perhaps on reconsideration he might withdraw his Amendment.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, I am not particularly happy about having to intervene between my noble and expert friend Lord Teviot and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, on this highly complicated point. It is very much a matter of the balance which any Bill of this nature gives to the different aspects of the regulations which affect bus operators. I think that the noble Baroness has dealt with this complex question in a way that would repay study. Although I am sure that there are several points in her answer which my noble friend will find highly unsatisfactory, I hope that at this stage he will be prepared to look at what the noble Baroness said, and perhaps return to the matter at a later stage of the Bill.
§ Lord TEVIOT
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving that very explicit reply. I am afraid that I do not agree with very much that she said. I did not think that one was being over-restrictive; I thought that one was being unnecessarily restrictive, for the reasons I outlined. I think that it is still rather dangerous to leave this out. However, on the advice of my noble friend I shall not push this matter now. I shall try to consider something at a later stage, or have further consultations behind the scenes, rather than on the Floor of the House.
I am certainly not attacking the Government over their record on consumer protection 1551 because I think that the record of both sides of the House has been excellent. The Government have some stalwart Members on their Back-Benches who have upheld consumer protection for years. Also, I have no intention of undermining the traffic commissioners, whom I have mentioned both in the Scotland Bill and here. However, again on the advice of my noble friend I see no point in pursuing this now. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 20, line 37, at end insert—
("4A. In section 160(1) (general power to make regulations for purposes of Part 111 of the Act), after paragraph (c) insert—
("(cc) applications for, and issue of, the disc or other document required, under section 5(5) of the Transport Act 1978, in connection with a community bus service".").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I spoke to this Amendment when I dealt with Amendment No. 5. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 8.26 p.m.
Lord TEVIOT moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 20, line 42, at end insert ("and in subsection (2) (requirements for grant of permit), after the words "unless they" insert "have published details of the application and not less than 14 days thereafter".").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, again I apologise for introducing this Amendment at such a late stage in the proceedings of the Bill. However, like the Government, I do not always find it easy to spot all the deficiencies in a Bill when it is first published. Neither do I have a Department to do my devilling. The proposed Amendment does not ask much of the traffic commissioners or the applicant for a Section 30 permit. I understand that purely on a voluntary basis the commissioners in at least one traffic area have already published these applications, and it is normal practice for them to publish in Notices and Proceedings before a permit is granted. The reason for asking for this to be made a requirement rather than as a 1552 voluntary move is due to the increase in the size of vehicle which may operate under a Section 30 permit, and the consequent greater possibility of abstraction from existing services.
§ I stress that this is merely a safeguard and its intention is to protect the majority public interest. It is possible for a new service to be introduced for the benefit of its passengers, but if it attracts even a relatively small number from some other existing service, the damage could be sufficient to jeopardise that existing service. If it is lost, the last state for the community as a whole could be worse than the first.
§ It is not intended that the full procedures of road service licensing should be introduced. The very reason for Section 30 permits was to allow a simplified procedure, and that is right. However, publication of a Section 30 permit application would permit an existing operator to draw to the attention of the Commissioners the possible effect that the grant of a permit might have on his operations. The commissioners may not issue a permit unless they are satisfied that there are no other transport facilities available to meet the reasonable needs of the proposed route. Publication of an application will ensure that they have the necessary knowledge to make a decision in this respect. This is significant because larger vehicles are required only if a greater number of passengers is to be carried. That implies a larger catchment area for the route and makes it all important that the commissioners should be well informed regarding the possible effect on alternative facilities. The Amendment provides a small but important section of wider public interest. I beg to move.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, this Amendment was urged upon us most persuasively and in the most reasonable terms by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot. He has suggested that existing operators are not in any sense trying to turn the clock back by returning to the full road service licensing system with its complex and time consuming panoply of objections, public sittings and so on. But we should not be under any misapprehension about the effect of this Amendment. The philosophy behind the permit system is quite 1553 simple. In return for a very tightly drawn restriction on the cases in which permits can be granted—that is, only those cases where "there are no other transport facilities available to meet the reasonable needs of the proposed route"—the permit system dispenses with all those road service licensing procedures, including prior publication of the details of the application, which are designed to provide the traffic commissioners with the means of determining applications where there is a genuine dispute about the effect of the proposed service. In effect the permit system, with all the advantages it provides in terms of simplicity and speed can only be used where the traffic commissioners have satisfied themselves that there is no risk whatever of any harmful effect to existing services. The system has worked well and almost without criticism since it was introduced in 1968.
The noble Lord has suggested that by removing the size restriction so that vehicles of any size can be granted a permit we are opening the door to possible abuse. But I cannot see that the size of vehicles is relevant. The real question is whether the traffic commissioners, with their vast experience of bus operations in their area and their reputation for fairness and impartiality, can be trusted to judge when the permit system should be used and when the full road service licensing procedure would be more appropriate. If the traffic commissioners have any doubt about the effect on existing services they will, I am sure, take steps to ensure that those doubts are resolved. They may very well decide to consult the other operators informally and they may even in some cases decide to publish the application. But in most cases there will be no reasonable doubt that the service is filling a complete void, and to impose a requirement to publish in every case makes no allowance for the commissioners' good sense and makes a system whose virtue we hoped was its simplicity and speed unnecessarily cumbersome and bureaucratic. I hope that the noble Lord will think that I have made some good points, and that he may be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Teviot decides what to do about his Amendment, which is a well-intentioned one and moved in very 1554 reasonable terms, as the noble Baroness acknowledged, may I say that I think we are up against a particular dilemma over the role of the traffic commissioners. I hope that my noble friend will feel disposed to withdraw the Amendment. It appears that, although the Section 30 permit would give rise to some complications, so far as we can see there does seem a very strong reason for keeping a not too close bureaucratic hold.
§ Lord TEVIOT
My Lords, I feel less happy with those remarks of my noble friend than I did with those of my other noble friend on my last Amendment.
§ Lord TEVIOT
My Lords, I should be delighted. My noble friend has not done so. This was a perfectly straightforward, simple Amendment, and I think there should be the safeguard in this Bill. The Amendment does not ask for very much. It is not very restrictive. It is not cumbersome. I know that the noble Baroness accepted the argument that I was not wishing to go back to the bad old days, but I feel that people should be aware of what is going on. Therefore, I am going to press this Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Schedule 3 [Amendments about lorries]:
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 21, line 6, at end insert—
("Provided that the goods vehicle examiner or the constable in uniform before requiring any person in charge of a goods vehicle to proceed to a place more than one mile from where the requirement is made, shall first be satisfied that there are good reasons to believe that the vehicle is not in a fit and serviceable condition.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this Amendment I return to the problem and the difficulties associated with diverting lorries. Your Lordships will recall that it was agreed during Committee stage that lorries could be diverted within up to a five-mile radius for further inspection in the event of there being a suspicion that that vehicle was badly 1555 maintained. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Baroness and I exchanged a wide variety of figures, none of which was really contested because we agreed that there were quite a large number of vehicles that were not well maintained.
§ I argued then that the increase in area would involve a very large number of vehicles being sent to testing stations for examination which were not defaulters. In fact, a mathematical genius has described to me that the catchment area of a one mile restriction is about 3.14 square miles; that of a five mile diversion is more likely to be a 78.53 square mile catchment area—an increase of some 25 times.
§ If one considers that in this increased catchment area much the same proportion of vehicles is going to be found defective out of the vastly increased number that are likely to be netted, I have arrived at a figure that suggests to me that if only double the number of vehicles were brought in for inspection—but feel that more likely 20 times as many might be brought in because the facility is that much easier for the examiner—something like 11,200, or possibly as many as 110,000 vehicles, may be sent to a testing station and found to be clear.
§ We described during the Committee stage the kinds of difficulties and expenses that might be involved. The noble Baroness in fact gave certain assurances that examiners would have set down in guidelines strictures advising them when they should send a vehicle to a testing station involved in the five mile diversion. I was not happy at that time with the answer, and I notice that in the House of Commons proceedings at Committee stage in March a similar Amendment to the one I have down was answered by the Under-Secretary of State who, in effect, said that he had sympathy with the intention behind the Amendment but was unable to accept it because there was a possibility that the Department might be sued.
§ I imagine that the expression "might be sued" could be construed in exactly the same way as we have talked about there being a claim for compensation. Surely, if a Department commits an error and a plaintiff feels it advisable to go to law and sues, that is fair and reasonable and there can be no way in which the Department of 1556 Transport can protect itself against it. However, the Under-Secretary did agree that he would give further consideration to it. My understanding is that the industry and the Department met and, to all intents and purposes, agreed a formula—agreed what common ground there was—and an Amendment was later tabled. However, that was not accepted by the Government, even though apparently the departmental advisers had suggested that it met their requirements. Instead, assurances were given.
§ That is all very well, and while in Committee we spent most of our time discussing those who infringe the regulation, this Amendment is designed to protect those who do not, and on the Government's figures there are more who do not than do infringe them. It seems only reasonable, therefore, that there should be incorporated in the Bill some protection for these people, and the Amendment merely provides that the examiner should first be satisfied there are good reasons to believe that the vehicle is not in a fit and serviceable condition.
§ As I should not like to debate exactly how one can determine whether or not an examiner is satisfied, I suggest that an Amendment of this kind puts an obligation on the examiner that a guideline does not put on him to think not once but twice before sending a vehicle on a five-mile diversion to a testing station. The Amendment could do no harm to anybody, though it could relieve what I believe will be some congestion at testing stations—and I remind your Lordships that there are only 70 of them—by ensuring that the examiner really satisfies himself that there is a defect which warrants further inspection. For these reasons—the protection of the innocent rather than providing any umbrella or cloak under which miscreants may crawl—I move the Amendment.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
My Lords, the important factor to bear in mind here is the potentially greater number of vehicles that may be sent to testing stations and, as I see it, the Amendment underpins the assurance that vehicles will not be sent in except when the person authorised to send them in is really sure that he is doing something necessary. The difference between a one-mile and a 25-mile radius, 1557 as my noble friend showed through his arithmetic, is that the larger is 25 times as great. On a later Amendment we will return to a point which I raised in Committee and I can pursue it then. In the meantime, I suggest that, so far as one can gather, there could be a fair number of what one might call trivial faults capable of being repaired very quickly and easily but which could lead to lorries being sent to testing stations. I am not sure that, in order to protect the public and the rest, which is all very laudable, the Government have not worked themselves into a position of having too much power to send people away from their commercial routes without having sufficient restraint on those who exercise that power on their behalf. The Amendment would be useful in imposing that restraint.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, it would seem that in tabling the Amendment noble Lords opposite have accepted the need for goods vehicles to be diverted over distances greater than one mile to testing station for their mechanical condition to be inspected. The basic object of extending the power of diversion to testing stations is to strengthen the arrangements for enforcing the law on the mechanical condition of vehicles, and that object would be undermined if we insisted that before any diversion of more than one mile was ordered, the examiner or constable, as the case may be, should be satisfied there are good reasons to believe that the vehicle diverted is not in a sound condition.
The term "good reasons" is open to a diversity of interpretation and dispute, and in practice it is not realistic to insist in effect that before an examiner diverts a vehicle he must form a prima facie view on its fitness or unfitness. Some items or functions of a vehicle have to be properly tested before any view can be formed of their adequacy; for example, the condition of complex braking systems. The incorporation of any such formula in the statute could expose the examiner to the risk of proceedings on the grounds that he had not exercised his discretion reasonably. That possibility in turn might prove a significant deterrent to exercise of the powers at all.
Our intention is not to divert more 1558 vehicles to testing stations. What we are asking for is more flexibility and scope for manoeuvre in choosing which to divert and from where, because too many drivers are now wise to what are our checking points. It is not possible to define in the statute the considerations which would justify the examiner to order the diversion, but we have made clear our intention of issuing guidance to examiners on the use of powers to divert more than one mile. That guidance would be based on the principle of diverting vehicles where this is necessary because of conditions of weather or visibility or because of the examination thought to be necessary. And we would advise examiners that in deciding when an examination was necessary they must have in mind some factor or factors warranting further examination. A purely random diversion of vehicles would be wrong and would not be encouraged by the Department.
We certainly had some discussions and the offiicals had a suggestion for a formula with the road hauliers on the sort of criteria that might justify diversions, but having had further thoughts about it we have thought it better to do it by administrative rules and not by a formula in the Bill. We still think that all this can be best done by administrative guidance and not by inclusion in the statute. It is possible to say in an administrative note, "Don't divert a vehicle more than one mile, unless you have a suspicion that all may not be well with it", but that sort of thing cannot be converted into a statutory test and any attempt to do so would sterilise the use of the power.
The Government's view still is that it would be wrong to impose a statutory limitation of the kind proposed by the Amendment and, as we have emphasised before, the right way of securing the proper exercise of the new powers is, we think, by administrative guidance. We have already indicated the principles which would underlie that guidance and an undertaking has been given that Parliament would be told if it were proposed to depart from those principles; and we still think we have enough safeguards in those assurances.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, supported by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, has put forward a reasonable case 1559 and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, has given a reasonable answer. This is a subject on which it is possible for people with the best of intentions to hold differing views. There is an aspect of the matter, however, which causes me some anxiety. As I understand from what Lord Lucas said, at one point the Government were discussing with those most concerned the possibility of incorporating some rule in the legislation. Those being consulted presumed that there was at least a chance that this would happen. If such a course had been followed—whether it was right or wrong is irrelevant for the point I am making—it would have been discussed by Parliament: it would have been subject to detailed scrutiny; it would have been part of this Bill and we could have amended it or looked at it. What the noble Baroness is saying is that to do what my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth wants to do is too restrictive. It is not flexible enough and it shifts the onus a bit too far away, although she appreciates the nature of his concern.
My noble friend has been forced to put forward his Amendment in this form because of what the noble Baroness has said seems to the Government to be the best procedure; that is, to do it by administrative means. That may well be fine for the Government but it is not very good for Parliament because "administrative means" means that Parliament cannot look at what the Government are going to do. That is something which, whenever it happens, one has to be anxious about because, however much administrative means can deal with a problem to the satisfaction of a Department, the use of that procedure does mean that it falls outside the purview of the Parliamentary procedures.
If my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth withdraws his Amendment now, as I suspect might well he the best thing to do, he has no knowledge of what the Government are going to put in its place. He has had some expressions of hope that it will work out. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether the guidelines that she has been talking about are in a sufficiently advanced form of development and drafting to be sent to my noble friend so that he could study them before the Bill leaves Parliament? If that was the case, then I should have thought that 1560 most of these worries could he cleared up at least, because we could then see what was actually going to be applied by the inspectors in the particular case. Would the noble Baroness respond to that point?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, we said at Second Reading that we would lay down certain principles of an administrative nature and that we would come back to Parliament if we proposed to depart from those principles. I am not in a position to say off-the-cuff just how far those concerned have got in working out what those principles will be. I will certainly make inquiries to see whether I can get any further details for the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. Perhaps we have even got them. I understand we are still consulting with the road hauliers on the guidelines that we are going to put forward. They are not yet drafted, but if we have any indication of the sort of thing that is to be put in I will certainly let the noble Lords know before the next stage of the Bill.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
My Lords, time moves on, but there are one or two points which the noble Baroness mentioned, particularly this catchment area. There can be no doubt that if the catchment area is increased more motor vehicles will he stopped and, let us face it, this is something of a random exercise. Certainly the industry has a great spirit of camaraderie and it does not take very long before all and sundry know where the checking point is going to be. Quite honestly, my Lords, even if it is increased to 75 square miles it will not be too long before the knowledge filters through.
The point is that within the one-mile diversionary exercise some 5,800 vehicles last year were sent for testing for no good reason at all. Only 1,200—and these are the noble Baroness's own figures, which I have checked—out of the 7,000 that were sent were found to be defective. I do not think it is fair that 5,800 on last year's figures and an indeterminate number on next year's figures should be sent. The figure could be as high as 110,000; I do not think it is likely to be, but it could be. I suspect it could well be that some 38,000 vehicles will be sent. That is a huge 1561 number of vehicles being diverted, and it is only reasonable that when we are putting certain regulations into law we should tell the readers of those regulations exactly why things are going to happen and under what circumstances.
I am no great believer in guidelines. I do not wish flatly to contradict the noble Baroness, but certainly up to a very short while ago it was my understanding that the industry's conversations with the Department on the guidelines were at a stalemate. I do not think it is any good saying: "We are going to produce these guidelines and if we depart from them we will come and tell Parliament". I must press the noble Baroness to produce something that we can look at before the next stage, so that if it is not completely satisfactory then I would have the chance of reintroducing this protective Amendment at the later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.57 p.m.
Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 21, line 46, leave out from ("rates;") to end of line 47.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not think I need keep your Lordships very long. This one deals with the matter that we raised at Committee when I asked about "and payment of the fee may be required to be made in advance". The noble Baroness did promise, in her response to my noble friend Lord O'Hagan, that she would write to me. She has indeed written to me and as I understand the position, payment in advance" means cash on delivery—cash being cash or an acceptable cheque. It does not mean and will not mean—and this is the question I ask—that a form will have to be filled in and payment made some days in advance. One can readily accept that if a driver arrives and he can be accommodated in an hour, or half an hour, or indeed in ten minutes, he may be required to complete a form and hand over some money. That is cash on delivery in my language, not cash in advance. If my understanding of what the noble Baroness has said in her letter to me is correct, then I shall be quite happy. I beg to move.1562
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I can be very brief on this Amendment. "Payment in advance" means no more than that when a vehicle is presented, payment may be requested before the examination takes place—not days before, but when the vehicle is presented.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that perfectly satisfactory answer. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 21, line 47, at end insert—
("Provided that such fees shall not exceed those prescribed for annual testing.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment again stems from questions raised during Committee stage about what were to be the prescribed fees. There had been no indication given, no linking the fees for a re-examination. Perhaps I should remind your Lordships that we are talking here not of the annual test or the plating test, but about a new measure, that fees shall be required on occasions when a motor lorry is the subject of a prohibition notice and it goes to the testing station with a view to having that notice removed.
§ My Amendment merely sets down the understanding which I have reached from the letter to which I referred earlier, that the fees will be those in line with—at any rate, certainly not exceeding—the fees charged for the annual test. I believe that if this is the case, it is quite fair because the examination for removing a GV 9 is exactly the same, and therefore a similar fee is payable. However, on the assumption that that understanding is correct, I cannot see why the amount in question, or an amount linking it to the annual test, cannot be included. Why has there to be the description of a "prescribed fee", which, it seems to me, would leave the matter open in such a way that the fee could be altered, by means of, I suppose, a Statutory Instrument or a regulation? I accept also what the noble Baroness says in her letter to the effect that it is not wished to make another punishment out of this provision; it is merely a fee for doing a job of work. 1563 There are two questions here: what is the fee to be; and why can the fee rate not be embodied in the Bill? I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, the Secretary of State has in mind that the fees prescribed for payment when a vehicle is required to be brought to a testing station with a view to the removal of a prohibition, shall be the same as those charged when a vehicle is presented for its annual test. No penal element would be included. The present level of fees is £12.50 for a motor vehicle, and £7 for a trailer; and if a re-test is needed, the figures are £7 and £4.50 respectively. We are disposed to accept the substance of the noble Lord's Amendment, but we wish to obtain further advice on the form of the Amendment. If in the light of legal advice which we are taking, an appropriate Government Amendment cannot be tabled at a later stage, I will certainly write and explain the circumstances to the noble Lord. We are looking at this question, and we are making our best endeavours to produce something for the next stage.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
My Lords, I am terribly thrilled by that kind of answer, and obviously it would be quite wrong for me to pursue any other course than to await with keen interest the response from the Government, which I hope will meet the requirement. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.3 p.m.
Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 22, line 12, at end insert ("(after the 31st December 1979, 1 mile).").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is a little more difficult, in that it deals with the question of vehicles diverted to a weighbridge or other suitable place for weighing on the suspicion that they may be overweight. Again I wish to use the Government's own figures. From what was said during Second Reading and reiterated at the Committee stage, it was established that last year one in four of 25,000 vehicles that were diverted were found to be overweight. This means that three out 1564 of four were not overweight. During the Committee stage I suggested that, for a variety of reasons, this particular measure was not necessary and would impose harshly upon another group of innocent hauliers.
§ I have been over that part of the argument in the case of the badly maintained vehicle. The same principle applies here with one distinction; namely, there has been developed the dynamic weighing machine. A number of these machines are used experimentally in the country at present, and I understand that there has been a considerable degree of acceptance of them by both the industry and the Department. It is my further understanding that as far back as 1975 the Department engaged in conversations with the industry regarding the use of these weighing machines, the idea being that up and down the country suitable lay-bys were to be constructed and connections made for a portable instrument to be plugged in so that the vehicle could be tested at the roadside. Currently examiners are very good in that they seem to have a "nose" for an over-weight vehicle, and they send it off to a weighbridge or testing station.
§ In Committee I described many of the difficulties regarding weighbridges, as well as many of the difficulties which hauliers face when they take vehicles off ships, not knowing exactly what the consigner had put on them elsewhere. It seems to me that if the Government are to pursue the use of the dynamic weighing machine—which, as I say, has received a wide degree of acceptance in the industry—the little pockets of objection could easily be removed, and then the five-mile diversion would not be needed.
§ The Amendment is intended to jog the Government to say two things: first, what they are to do about dynamic weighing machines; and, secondly—having established, as we probably will, that dynamic weighing machines are to be brought in—that there are 18 months in which to do this, from now until the end of 1979. I also hope it can be said that at that time, when there will be in various parts of the country a number of sites which can do the job, it will be no longer necessary for vehicles suspected of being overweight to be diverted in those cases 1565 for more than one mile. That is what lies behind the Amendment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I accept the reasonable way in which the noble Lord has presented his Amendment, and I accept, too, his assertion that it is only a jogging Amendment. However, our need to extend to five miles the distance over which a vehicle may be diverted to a weighbridge without compensation cannot be considered as a temporary one—not at this stage; nor is it the kind of situation in which one needs a temporary trial of new arrangements before deciding whether to make them permanent. The extent of overloading and the lack of suitably sited weighbridges make it essential that the present powers should be extended.
It is true that we are in process of supplementing the facilities provided by our permanent weightbridges. We have indeed implemented a programme for the installation of transportable axle weighers. They have the following advantages. They can be established on prepared sites in very close proximity to important lorry routes, and so avoid the problems associated with diversions to weighbridges; they give a better indication than weighbridges of the axle weight actually transmitted to the road; the rate at which vehicles can be checked is higher than at weighbridges; the preparation of alternative sites enables the same equipment to be used at more than one location in response to changed traffic flows; and, perhaps even more important, they are cheaper than weighbridges.
The site preparation costs roughly £15,000 per installation, so the programme must be spread over several years. Fifty installations by 1983 will be used to plug the gaps in the present system, and we shall be concentrating first on the main ferry ports dealing with international traffic. Consequently, the main effort on enforcement weighing will have to continue to be based on weighbridges for some years to come. For this reason, a limitation of the extended power to a life of about one year, which the noble Lord is proposing, would at this point in time be totally unacceptable.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
My Lords, I quite appreciate that answer. 1566 It could not be good sense to impose a time limit. However, would the noble Baroness be prepared to say whether, on completion of the programme in 1983, which would supplement the weighbridges, it may be prudent at that time to reconsider the use of the weighbridge, which causes what I have always called the excessive diversionary power? Because if we move forward into what perhaps one might call an advanced technology in weighing, it seems rather odd to have running in tandem (or is it in parallel?) different criteria which could bear harshly on a certain section of the industry, while those surrounding, if you like, the ferry ports, who have the advantage of the dynamic weigher, are not so penalised. There must be some kind of equality. I wonder whether the noble Baroness could say anything at all about that aspect of the use of these two measures.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord would not expect me to be in a position to commit whatever Party may be in Government in 1983. All I can say is that if my Party is in Government, as I confidently expect it will be, then, when we have reached saturation point with these weighbridges, obviously it is something we would be prepared to reconsider. But at this point of time I cannot commit either side to what will happen in 1983.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
My Lords, this is no time to conjecture upon that. Each of us has our own ideas as to what will happen and when it will happen. So far as the use of weighbridges and dynamic weighers are concerned, I think it would be best if I left the matter exactly as it is, and beg leave of the House to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.