§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee—(Baroness Stedman.)
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, before we move into Committee on the Bill, I wonder whether the Government can assure us that the Bill as received from another place is correctly printed? It has come to my attention that in another place on 17th May certain Amendments on the Bill were moved on Report. The reference is columns 695 onwards. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can give us the assurance that the errors lie in Hansard and not in the Bill?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me notice that he had found what he thought were defects in the Bill as we have it before us this afternoon. I would not go so far as to say that the defects are in Hansard. I think that the trouble perhaps lies in the way in which they report their proceedings in the Commons. In Hansard of 17th May, to which the noble Lord referred, the two points arise in columns 695 and 700. If we take those in conjunction with their Votes and Proceedings, their Order Paper and their Minutes of their meeting, we find later on that the first Amendment referred to was Amendment No. 18 which, on the advice of the Deputy Speaker, they took with Amendments Nos. 16 and 17. When we come to the Votes and Proceedings: 17th–18th May 1978 we find that Amendments Nos. 15 to 17 were made to the Bill, there being no reference to Amendment No. 18.
The Commons then went on to deal with Amendment No. 27, and again the 142 Deputy Speaker advised that this might also be taken in conjunction with other Amendments. When we come to the Votes and Proceedings we find that Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 were made to the Bill and they then moved on to Amendment No. 29. So the other Amendments were not made to the Bill; they were only considered at the same time as certain other groups of Amendments. I am categorically assured that as it stands before us this afternoon the Bill is in order.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I am sure that the House will be most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for assuring us that that is so. Perhaps we shall have to read our Minutes more carefully.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
My Lords, will efforts be made to make the Official Report really reflect whit is in the Bill, or will it be left in this rather ambiguous condition, which I he noble Baroness has just described?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, the Bill before us this afternoon is correct. Any ambiguity that has crept into it is in the reporting of the Commons proceedings on Report, when they were advised by the Deputy Speaker to group certain Amendments. The two Amendments at issue are those which were grouped and which were not, in fact, passed by the House of Commons. Therefore, they are not part of the Bill, are not included in it and the Bill as it is before us this afternoon is correct.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
My Lords, I am sorry to pursue this. Is the Bill at variance with the Minutes, as the Official Report is?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, with respect, the Bill is not at variance with the Minutes. The Minutes make it plain that the two Amendments that were being questioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, were not passed by the Commons. Therefore, the Bill is correct.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]143
§ Clause 1 [Passenger transport policies in county areas]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Lord TEVIOT
As a kick-off to the Committee's consideration of the Bill, there is a small but important matter that I hope the noble Baroness will be able to help me with. Where you have a case where a county council has, by its plans, imposed extra costs on a bus operator other than a district council, that operator should, like the district council, have a right to be compensated. This might arise because a new service has been introduced at their instigation which abstracts passengers from an existing service. The operator of that service should therefore be compensated for this, but he has no rights in the matter.
Another example which goes wider than the county public transport plan would be the establishment by a county of a pedestrian precinct resulting in considerable detours for existing bus services and loss of passengers, because the bus no longer went close enough to the shops. In these circumstances it seems only fair that, as with the district council undertaking, any other bus operators should be entitled to compensation. These matters are not easily resolved, and provisions similar to those in subsection (7) could, with advantage, be applied. The appointment of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy as arbitrator would ensure fair play for both sides. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give thought to this matter before the next stage.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this question. He is arguing that financial protections which are given to the district councils who incur losses in operating public passenger transport services in accordance with the counties' policies, ought to be extended to other operators. District councils who operate public transport services have a duty to operate them in accordance with the county council policy —Clause 1(1)(b). Their protection is that if in doing so they incur extra expenditure or get less revenue, then they can require the county council to reimburse them— 144 Clause 1(6). There is provision for arbitration if the two councils cannot agree the amount under Clause 1(7).
Subsections (1)(b), (6) and (7) in the Bill are re-enactments with only minor changes of the corresponding provisions in the Local Government Act 1972: Section 203, subsections (1)(b), (3) and (4).
The justification for the financial protection in subsections (6) and (7) stems from the duty imposed in (1)(b). The extension of this protection to other operators could not be justified unless the duty were similarly extended. A commercial operator who could not obtain satisfactory financial terms from the county council has the simple remedy of refusing to provide the service concerned. But to require undertakings (other than district councils) to operate in accordance with county council policies could only lead to confusion of aims and responsibilities. The duty and its corollary, the reimbursement of losses or expenditure in fulfilling it, makes sense in relation to local authorities working within similar financial frameworks and public duties but would run counter to a commercial operator operating with the purpose of making a profit. This applies to the National Bus Company, who have to operate on a commercial basis, except to the extent to which county councils are prepared to finance loss-making services. There would be practical confusion as well because any one NBC subsidiary normally operates in several counties, and therefore would have different responsibilities placed on it by different counties.
The essence of the proposal for public transport plans is that all public transport operators with their varying financial circumstances and disciplines should contribute under county leadership to the provision of a co-ordinated and efficient county passenger transport system giving the best possible services with the resources—both public and private—available. But this needs to be in co-operation within a broad statutory framework and not a straitjacket of detailed legal checks and balances. If the bus companies cooperate, if they are willing to work in with the county policies, then there are also checks and balances right through so that the policy is an effective one.
§ Lord TEVIOT
I thank the noble Baroness for that considerate reply. I shall read every word that she said. The alternatives to the operator who refuses to operate the service at all seem a bit drastic. Nevertheless, I shall read what the noble Baroness has said and probably have a word about it again.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [County public transport plans]:
§ 3.7 p.m.
Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 3, line 22, leave out ("31st March 1979") and insert ("31st July 1979").
§ The noble Lord said: We now move into Clause 2, which concerns county public transport plans. I shall be referring to the affairs and debates which took place in Standing Committee B in another place. I do so because in their discussions another place felt that the nomenclature of the system—that is, the public transport plan—was so closely akin to something that exists already, which is transport policies and programmes, that it was liable to confusion.
§ One of the principal aims of Clause 2 is to ensure publication of the public transport plan. This gives rise to a great deal of difficulty. I was glad to read in the proceedings of another place the explanations given by the noble Baroness's honourable friends because this is a matter of considerable public concern. The first problem we come up against is the nomenclature, to which I have referred. The second problem is the question of dates, to which the Amendment specifically refers.
§ It is clear from what has been discussed already that to work at all the system must give local authorities sufficient time to prepare their public transport plans. At the present moment under the existing system the transport policies and programmes are prepared for submission in July and, as we understand it—and I hope, if necessary, the noble Baroness will correct me here—one sector within that transport policies and programmes, which is the new public transport plan, is to be prepared, according to the Bill, not later than 31st March 1979. Every year it is to be up-dated at 12-monthly intervals.146
Let us first consider what county councils are being asked to do. Let us assume that this Bill reaches Royal Assent perhaps in the early part of August this year. Between now and August we may reach a different conclusion. However, let us assume that; and let us further assume that there will be approximately seven months in which to conclude the public transport plan. In addition to that, the Bill ensures the publication of that plan, and the words read:
not later than 31st March 1979, prepare and publish a public passenger transport plan for the succeeding period of 5 years; and"—
A further difficulty arises here because, as the Committee will be aware, the existing transport policies and programmes are submitted for three years, and so the new one, or the new sector, will be for a longer period, five years. and will overlap the existing one. Here we are in real difficulty; we are in difficulty on dates, on nomenclature and on what I termed on Second Reading a duo system, though I have been assured it is not a duo system.
§ I was, therefore, glad to read that the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Horam, said in another place on 14th February last that the Government would remain willing and able to alter the procedure to take account of the practical reality. I am glad the Minister was prepared to say that, because the practical reality is basically this: the Association of County Councils—all their members are acutely aware of the timing factor—know of the great burden which this new proposal will make on their limited resources. At present it is difficult to work within the context of what is termed the TSG, or transport supplementary grant, for the simple reason that it is available for only 12 months, and of course the new public transport plan is to run for five years. There is, therefore, no guarantee whatever that the proposals which are being put forward will see the light of day, nor is there any guarantee that the Government will accept them when they are put forward. I hope that at this stage the noble Baroness will be able to enlighten us further.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
As the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said, these two Amendments—the one before the Committee and the one following—hang 147 together, and the noble Lord has shown the concern which he expressed on Second Reading about the relationship between the public transport plans and the existing transport policies and programmes. I assume he accepts that both the TPPs and the public transport plan could cover the same five-year period from 1st April following, respectively, the submission and the publication of them. I am with him on that. Our intention is that there should be no conflict between the preparation of these two documents, but that they should be different aspects of the same process. On that basis his Amendments would have two effects. First, they would defer for a whole year the operation of public transport plans from 1979–80 to 1980–81. Second, they would mean that the public transport plan had to he published at least nine months before the year to which it relates, at the same time as the TPP is submitted to the Secretary of State, and not, as the Bill provides, at any time up to that year.
On the first of those, we would view with very great concern any delay in the introduction of public transport plans. I do not think anyone has seriously argued against them in principle. Indeed, some have criticised them for being no advance on what many counties are doing already. 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.
But, given that all counties will include a section on public transport in their TPPs, and that they will already have been in consultation with their main operators and with their district councils on the TPP, it does not seem too much to expect that over the next nine months they can develop what they have said there on public transport into an embryonic public transport plan such as we are asking for in the Bill, and I emphasise again that we expect the first plan to he no more than that. Given the serious position in which public transport stands at the 148 moment and the urgency of improved planning, I am sure that is a far better approach than to defer the system for a whole year in the hope that the first plan will then he a little nearer the ideal.
I am similarly concerned about the second effect of the Amendments, and perhaps I may explain the timetable for the preparation of TPPs and public transport plans as we see it. TPPs, which cover the range of transport, including public transport, deal with a five-year period beginning 1st April; that is, based on the normal central and local government financial year. Because my right honourable friend the Secretary of State needs to consider the proposals contained in TPPs as a basis for his decisions on the transport supplementary grant, they must be submitted to him by 31st July in the year before the first year to which they apply. He is then able to give his decisions on the transport supplementary grant, based on the TPPs, by December.
The corresponding public transport plan will cover the same five-year period, beginning 1st April, but it will he a more detailed document describing public transport needs and requirements and dealing with the ways in which a county's public transport policies set out in the TPP will be implemented, including particulars of the agreements made to secure that necessary but perhaps uneconomic services are provided. It may well need to contain more up-to-date information than the TPP and to take account of the Secretary of State's decisions on the transport supplementary grants, which will be made in December. In the changing circumstances of public transport and in view of the importance of the TSG and RSG settlements for counties' revenue support, it must surely be right to allow them to revise their public transport plans after they know the details of the settlement.
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. For this reason we wish to allow counties maximum flexibility in publishing their plans, and we do not seek to require 149 them to be published until immediately before the period to which they will apply. But we do not wish to prevent a county from publishing its plan at an earlier date if it wants to do this, and then perhaps to supplement it after the TSG settlement. We want to give counties the opportunity to decide for themselves how to carry out the requirements of this Bill.
Therefore, although I see that the noble Lord's Amendments were intended to be helpful, I must ask the Committee to resist them on the grounds that they would delay the operation of the system of public transport plans, that they would be liable to result in plans which could be out of date and were more generalised than the provisions of the Bill would permit, and that they would reduce the flexibility available to counties to decide as and when to publish their plans.
§ Lord SANDYS
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for enlightening the Committee and particularly myself on the question of timing. I think we had been under some misapprehension hitherto that the transport policies and programmes were for a three-year period, but she has confirmed that they are for a five-year period, so the two coincide. I wish to quote from what her right honourable friend Mr. Rodgers, Secretary of State for Transport, said in another place, because it was particularly relevant both to this and to other Amendments. He said:It came as a surprise to me that operators have to plan services in advance before county councils have determined their TPPs and decided how much to allocate. Operators are planning in the dark. It is even more of a surprise to me that operators, having planned in the dark and having then received assurances on the basis of a TPP that sums of money were to be made available, found that the money was not paid over".—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 14th February 1978, col. 246.]I think it is significant that here is the Secretary of State acknowledging the problem of financing a TPP system.
I take particular note of what the noble Baroness said in regard to this Amendment. She will be glad to know that I intend to withdraw it at this stage. But I believe that we are up against a very real problem here over the matter of the introduction of this particular clause, because, if I may be permitted to say so once more, it would be much easier if the 150 Government had a running-in period which, although backed by Statute, was not written into the clause with dates, as proposed now.
It would be perfectly possible, of course, to bring in an Amendment on Report which would permit the Secretary of State to introduce this particular measure—that is, the publication of the public passenger transport plans at a date suitable—and run the initial period by agreement with the county councils. Therefore, I take this opportunity of assuring the noble Baroness that. I shall return to this Amendment on Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Viscount SIMON moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 4, line 16, at end insert—
("( ) It shall he the duty of every district council, before engaging in the consultations referred to in subsection (3) above, to ascertain from each pariah council (or in Wales community council) within its area what are the special needs of that parish (or community) and to represent these to the County Council in the course of those discussions.").
§ The noble Viscount said: The purpose of this Amendment will, I think, be clear to your Lordships. I have put it down in an endeavour to provide some machinery by which the parish councils can be closely associated with the preparation of these plans. As I said on Second Reading, the inadequacy of public transport probably hits small and isolated parishes more than anyone else. It seems to me essential that they should have an opportunity of discussing their problems with somebody before the plans start to be put into some shape.
§ Under the Bill as it stands at present, as your Lordships are aware, the county council has a statutory duty to consult district councils. The parish and community councils in Wales come in later and are merely given the opportunity of commenting on a draft of the plan. As the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said of the previous Amendment, there will obviously be a time factor somewhere in this. The discussions must be pushed through with considerable urgency in order to keep to the dates which the 151 Government are proposing. I have a nasty feeling that the parish councils will find that by the time they are asked to comment the matter will have gone too far for their comment to be in any way effective.
§ The noble Baroness was good enough to write to me about this matter. I am grateful for her letter. I appreciate the real, practical difficulty in county councils having a duty to consult all the parish councils within their area. Thinking about this matter, and consulting one or two friends of mine who have acted as secretaries of parish councils, I thought that the best way to meet this would he to lay the duty upon the district councils to find out the particular troubles of their various parishes before they entered into consultation with the county council under this clause. That, quite simply, is the purpose of this Amendment. I think it more than probable that the noble Baroness, if she sets her mind to it—and I know that she is sympathetic to this idea—could think of a better way of doing it. That is why I have put this down, in some sense, as a probing Amendment: to allow the Government to tell us whether they can accept in principle that there should be better provision for the parish councils to be consulted. If between now and Report they can think out a better way of doing it than I, in my very inexperienced way, have suggested, I shall be very pleased. I beg to move.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I should like, on behalf of my noble friends on this side of the House, to support the spirit of this Amendment. Before I do so I should like to thank the noble Baroness for updating her Notes on Clauses, so that the latest edition arrived this morning. I am most grateful for it.
The object which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, seeks to achieve by Amendment No. 3 is not one that clashes with the main objective of the Bill. It does not seek in any way to alter the main thrust of the preparation of county transport plans, nor their execution. It is a complementary proposal for ensuring that at district council level those involved in parish council work have a chance of expressing their views and the views of those whose locality they represent.
152 Since one of the main targets of the Bill now before the Committee is to give a greater devolution of control over transport to authorities in the localities in which the transport actually runs, I would hope that the noble Baroness would feel able to accept the spirit in which this Amendment is moved. It may be that there are technical difficulties about the precise phraseology, but then Departments can always find difficulties about phraseology if they put their minds to it. I think that this is a worthy objective—not a major shift in the emphasis of the Bill that the Committee is now examining—and a worthwhile improvement in the various levels of consultations in which the counties will have to engage before the preparation of their plans. On behalf of my noble friends, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give a favourable answer to the Amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon.
§ Lord CLITHEROE
Before the noble Baroness replies, may I ask the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, the mover of this Amendment, to include parish meetings as well as parish councils? In small parishes there is no parish council but there is a parish meeting. The smaller parishes are very much affected in this matter.
§ Viscount SIMON
I cannot, of course, alter the Amendment that is now before the Committee, but I take the point, as I said earlier, that the small parishes are very likely to be affected. Perhaps if the noble Baroness is going to give further consideration to the matter, she will take that point on board.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his faith in the fact that I can perhaps find ways round problems. However, I really think that he has this afternoon opened up a problem which is not so much a difficulty of phraseology as a difficulty of sheer practical working. The noble Viscount drew attention to the need for the views of the parish and community councils, and indeed those of the parish meetings, to be taken into account when we are preparing these public transport plans. As he said, I have already written to him following his 153 comments on Second Reading. I have a good deal of personal sympathy with his point, but I still think that the somewhat heavyweight approach which is envisaged in the Amendment is perhaps not the right way to try to tackle the problem.
Clause 2(3) requires the counties, when preparing or revising their plans, to consult with the public passenger transport operators, the district councils, and certain other bodies if they are affected. This is clearly right because the plans must obviously take account not only of the views of the operators who have to provide the services but also those of the district councils, who are the local planning authorities, and are sometimes themselves the operators of the municipal bus services. However, in addition to these consultations, at Clause 2(4) the Bill also requires county councils to give parish and community councils and certain other bodies an opportunity to comment on the draft of the plan.
The noble Viscount has suggested that by that it might be difficult to get the plan altered and that there should be some way in which the parish or community councils or parish meetings might have influence in the framing of the plan. This would be quite impracticable if we required the councils to consult each individual parish and community council and each parish meeting in their area (there are often several hundreds in each county), and the proposed Amendment would be very nearly as cumbersome as its effect. Each individual parish or community council would have to be approached, and there are sometimes as many as 30 or so in any one district. The district council would then be obliged to represent their views to the county council irrespective of whether or not they agreed with them. Noble Lords will observe that the Bill already requires in Clause 2(2)(a) that county councils shall review the needs of individual communities, and it would be quite wrong to usurp their functions by prescribing the way in which this should be done.
Surely it is better to leave this to local initiative and the good sense of the authorities concerned. As I suggested in my letter to the noble Viscount, if a parish or community council feels it has a special interest in the public transport plan or 154 perhaps is able to make a practical contribution to local needs by organising a community bus or social car scheme, there is no reason why it should not put its views to the county council at the formative stage of plan preparation, either directly or through the district council. In this way, the task can be kept to manageable proportions.
There is one further aspect of public transport plans which we should not overlook in this context. Unlike other types of plan, such as a structure plan, which, once approved, is designed to re pain valid for some years, the public transport plan is to be subject to regular review and modification, where necessary each year. Their preparation will be an on-going and progressive process. So a parish which may have been missed out, or felt that it was missed out, in one year, for whatever reason, will be able to make the necessary representation and need not feel that its point has been irretrievably lost.
If we give this flexible approach to public transport planning, which is so important when the travelling habits of communities are ever changing, I am sure that no parish or community council need feel deprived of the opportunity to make its contribution. I appreciate the sentiments underlying the proposed Amendment, and I hope there will be the maximum consultation and that parish councils which feel really concerned about special points of public transport will have no hesitation in making these known to their county or their districts before the plan is formulated. I invite the noble Viscount to reconsider his Amendments and perhaps to agree that they are unnecessary and would be a little cumbersome to operate.
§ Viscount SIMON
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the explanation she has given. I cannot say that I am completely satisfied. It seems to me that the difficulty here is that parish councils, and still more parish meetings, are in many cases very small affairs. The noble Baroness speaks as though they will know that they have certain rights to make these representations, but I have a strong suspicion that unless somebody asks them they will not know. As I said, parish councils are not very large bodies and the clerk is often a hard-working housewife or whatever. I do not know that she will 155 be able to advise them that they can make representations to the county council about this or that in every case. That is why I thought it was right for the parish councils to receive some sort of a prod, and a prod from the district council seemed to me the best way to do it. There is the added point—and I think I made this briefly on Second Reading—that because district councils are so large, and because in many cases they include one or two quite large towns, there is the danger that the district council, sitting as such, does not fully reflect the rural nature of that large part of the district that is a rural area.
For these reasons, I thought it would be better that there should be some positive approach, and I do not feel that this is putting a very great burden on the district councils. The noble Baroness said—and I appreciate this—that, as the Amendment is drafted, they would have to put the views of the districts before the county council, whether or not they agreed with them. I see that there is a difficulty there. I had perhaps imagined that they would distil the views to some extent and perhaps match up suggestions that came from adjacent parishes. I certainly am not going to press this Amendment today and perhaps it will be possible between now and Report to have some further thought and discussion on the subject. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 4, line 43, at end insert—
("(8) In exercising their statutory functions in regard to public passenger transport services the traffic commisioners shall give precedence to the transport policies and plans of the local authorities formulated in accordance with sections 1 and 2 of this Act.").
§ The noble Lord said: We move on to an Amendment which is concerned with the consultation process. Here we are concerned with a body which is known as the traffic commissioners which came to life in 1930 under the Road Traffic Act of that year. This particular Amendment seeks to ensure that the traffic commissioners will have regard to the views of the county and all those who have 156 taken part in the discussion as a matter of precedence.
§ The placing of this Amendment in the Bill earlier on is done for a particular reason. Your Lordships will be aware that the traffic commissioners appear in Schedule 2 and are referred to at length in that Schedule, but we felt that in order to give precedence to this particular issue we ought to introduce it much earlier in the Bill to ensure that the counties, in bringing in their proposals, could feel some assurance that those proposals would have a satisfactory conclusion with the traffic commissioners. The traffic commissioners have long experience of the matter of routes. I referred to the fact that they came to life in 1930 at a time when the railways were being subjected to an increasing amount of penetration of their markets by road transport. The scene today is so entirely different, both through the growth in numbers of private cars and every form of road transport, that it is quite unrecognisable.
§ Nevertheless, the rôle of traffic commissioners in the field in which they are working—the field of safety and the allocation and determination of routes—is still very important. I think it should be a matter of particular public concern that their rô;le should be more accurately defined in regard to the counties. We believe that in proposing this Amendment we should take note of the fact that the traffic commissioners are still a very significant body, and we hope the Government will look upon this Amendment in the light of what I have said. I beg to move.
§ Lord TEVIOT
I am rather unhappy about this Amendment. It seems to me that it disregards the proposal in Schedule 2 to the Bill to amend Section 135 of the Road Traffic Act 1950, which is far more realistic in its approach to this matter. To go beyond the provisions of Section 135 will be to undermine the whole system of the traffic commissioners and road traffic licensing. In view of what I have already said on Second Reading, and what I shall say on the next Amendment regarding appeals to the Secretary of State, your Lordships will understand my hesitation regarding the way that some counties might exercise their power, and for this reason I believe that nothing should undermine the independence and the impartiality of the traffic commissioners.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
There must be something to be said for the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Sandys. He has emphasised the importance of the traffic commissioners, but I do not think that he has emphasised sufficiently that they have a dual rôle; they are also the licensing authority. It is in the exercise of this dual rôle that some confusion may exist, or might exist in the future; I am not suggesting that it necessarily exists now. Nevertheless, the joint responsibilities of that one body are sufficiently important for it to carry greater weight than is given in the Bill, and on balance I am in favour of my noble friend's Amendment.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
With this Amendment we return to a theme which was debated at much length at all stages of the proceedings in another place. The noble Lord has said that, although the Bill lays much stress on the new planning role which the Government expect the shire counties to fulfil, power in terms of licensing bus services still lies with the traffic commissioners, and that therefore there is a basic conflict of functions which remains unresolved. I think that he has misunderstood the essentially different roles of the county and the traffic commissioners. The county's duty is to plan the most effective public transport system which can be devised for its area, with the co-operation of the transport operators and the district councils, and in full consultation with all concerned, as the Bill provides. The traffic commissioners' role is quite distinct. It is a judicial function which requires the commissioners to consider the licence applications that come before them fully and impartially, taking due account of the evidence and of the often conflicting views of local authorities, operators, and local consumer groups.
In paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 we make it clear that the county's public transport plans and policies will be a significant element in the commissioners' deliberations, by specifying them as a factor which they must take into account. But they are not the only factor of which they must take account. Nor would it be right, as the noble Lord's Amendment would do, to say that this one factor should have precedence above all others, including the 158 public interest, the needs of the disabled, the suitability of the routes, and the transport requirements of the areas as a whole. This would make a complete nonsense of the traffic commissioners' judicial function, because in effect they would be bound to accede to the county's wishes regardless of all other considerations.
There is also an important practical consideration which militates against the Amendment. Buses are no respecters of county boundaries, and the network of bus services as a whole in any area is often such a complex inter-relationship of one service with another that what happens to one particular route can have widespread ramifications many miles away. To put it crudely, a change in one bus service to meet a particular local need can mean the loss or curtailment of another service, so that one group of transport users benefits at the expense of many others. It would be foolish and unrealistic to suppose that all counties will have the same public transport policies. There will inevitably be differences, and only the traffic commissioners, with their regional areas of responsibility, are really competent to reconcile all these different policies.
Where a county's plans have been well prepared, and where there has been full consultation, and agreement has been reached with the districts, the operators, and local consumer groups, than there will be no issue in dispute before the commissioners, and therefore no conflict between the plan and the licensing system. However, there may be cases where conflict remains on the plan, and there will also be cases where an issue arises which was not dealt with in the plan itself, but on which the county, nevertheless, has a policy which is not accepted by either the operators or the districts. The traffic commissioners have earned over the years among those who come before them a reputation for experience, good sense, and, most of all, complete impartiality. It is notable that in pressing for greater control over bus licensing, the Association of County Councils has neither the support of the Association of District Councils nor the Confederation of British Road Passenger Transport, which represents the operators. Nor have the various consumer bodies which have made representations to us pressed for any 159 greater powers to be given to the counties in the matter of licensing bus services.
We believe that the Bill as it stands strikes the right balance by recognising the planning role of the county as a vital factor which the commissioners must take into account in determining where the interest of the public lies—but it is not the only factor. The traffic commissioners must be able to retain their traditional judicial and impartial role. They cannot do this if the dice are already loaded in favour of the county, leaving any contrary views that might be expressed by the districts, the operators, or local consumer groups to be treated as purely secondary considerations. If a county is genuinely aggrieved by a decision of the traffic commissioners, then its remedy is simple. It can appeal to the Secretary of State. But in fact this right has so far been used only three times by counties since local government reorganisation. It was used once with regard to children's fares, by Lancashire; and once by Durham on the question of a terminal point for certain bus routes. Both appeals were dismissed. The third use was by Berkshire against a recent fares increase by London Country Buses, and this has yet to be determined. We do not think that the Amendment is necessary. We believe that the Bill is all right and that it will work as it stands.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I enjoyed that explanation because it made explicit the view of Her Majesty's Government about the Amendment which we are discussing. It did so in a very coherent and clear way, which is what we would expect from the noble Baroness. However, I must stress to your Lordships that I feel that the logic contained in the Bill itself—and we heard about this inherent logic on Second Reading—was not fully observed by the noble Baroness in arguing the case she has just put before us. At Second Reading the noble Baroness said, as reported at column 1558 of the Official Report:The Bill seeks not to impose on counties a whole new range of duties and powers, but to clarify and extend the responsibilities which they already have".In the Government's eyes the new structure for the evolution of county public transport plans, as contained in Clauses 1 to 4, puts this view into practice. A new structure is set up and, as we have heard 160 on previous Amendments, there is a continual process for the evolution and checking of transport plans which will suit a particular county. The county will take into consultation all those whose interests are likely to be affected, and who are listed in Clause 2(3)(a)(b) and (c).
There is an elaborate paraphernalia for the county to take full stock of the needs of the people within its boundaries and how these needs can best be met. The noble Baroness said earlier on Second Reading at column 1557, when discussing how travel patterns can be coped with while they are continually changing:This means not only proper planning; it means that someone somewhere has to take decisions. As the White Paper emphasised, this must be done locally, by people who are accountable locally, within a national framework of policy and allocation of resources".Thus, on the one hand, the noble Baroness was stressing the development of the functions of the counties, while, on the other hand, she was saying that where decisions must be taken, they should be taken locally. I hope that that is not a misinterpretation of the thrust of her argument on Second Reading.
These two points, with which I feel considerable sympathy, lead to the Amendment that my noble friend and I have put before the Committee this afternoon, because we respect the work of the traffic commissioners. They have a long history, and they are expert at coping with difficulties that arise across county boundaries. Although my noble friend Lord Teviot may not agree with me in anything else I say this afternoon, I hope we can agree that the traffic commissioners look at and take account of the difference between bus route boundaries and county boundaries. They are there; but alongside them, in their traditional judicial role in this new paraphernalia of planning, are the counties. My noble friends and I are concerned that we have two parallel systems for the evolution of the planning of transport. On the one hand, we have the new county structure as encouraged, developed and extended by the Government in the first part of this Bill; on the other hand, we have the traffic commissioners acting in their traditional way.
If the noble Baroness had found, as Amendment No. 4 before the Committee today, words which said, "The traffic commissioners shall do everything the 161 local authorities tell them to do", then could have understood the speech that she made to the Committee; but our Amendment does not use the words that were used in another place, nor does it impose upon the traffic commissioners a total obligation to agree with everything the counties may say. What it does is something rather more modest and something (and the noble Baroness may be surprised by this) that, in a constructive spirit, is attempting to make the proposals of the Bill work. We believe that, if this Bill is to set up this structure, it must be made to work, and we believe that the Amendment that we have put down will help it to do so. I hope the Committee will insist that it goes into the Bill.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG
I hope very much that, before taking the advice of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, your Lordships will look again at the logic behind what he is saying. On the one hand, you have the traffic commissioners fulfilling a statutory role. The extraordinary thing is that Lord O'Hagan wants to give these gentlemen, in the fulfilment of their statutory duty, orders as to what they should do. Because that is what the Amendment does: it orders them to give precedence to something which Lord O'Hagan wants to have precedence. It is true, I think, that Lord O'Hagan's muddle arises from the fact that he does not appreciate—and, listening to some of his speeches, I sometimes wonder whether he respects or recognises (perhaps that would be a fairer way to put it)—the difference between a statutory authority, on the one hand, and an elected authority, on the other.
The Secretary of State, for better or for worse, has chosen and has brought to Parliament proposals which require the elected bodies to prepare plans to deal with transport. In this connection, it was interesting that Lord O'Hagan supported the noble Viscount below the Gangway who wanted to go right down to the parish council, to the parish meeting, to consult. He wants—and this is the form of consultation and the form of planning that I welcome—to consult and to plan from the bottom up, through the elected bodies. I thought that the noble Baroness, in the course of her speech, recognised a fundamental defect 162 in that approach, because she said specifically that not every county authority would have the same sort of plans; so there will be County A doing this and County B doing that, and if County A does something it may well be at the expense of County B—and this is particularly unfortunate in the more remote areas. Somebody—and I am glad to see that Lord O'Hagan nods his head, because I am with him on this—has to do the sorting out. I should have thought that, ultimately—not necessarily at this stage but at the next—that sorting out must be done by the Secretary of State.
Later on, I am going to move an Amendment which tries to deal with this: so that, where I wish to ensure that the Secretary of State has the power to take a decision, he must, as it were, respond to the needs of public opinion as expressed by those bodies, for the test is where the shoe rubs. I want to do that, because I believe in the common sense of my fellow countrymen, as expressed through a public inquiry.
The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, will take me with him if he takes this Amendment back and, at Report sage, does what he wants to do but does it through the machinery of the public inquiry; by, as it were, forcing those who are engaged in the planning concept or its application to respond to the demands of public opinion through, I suggest, because I know of no better way, the public inquiry machinery. But I think the noble Lord shoots through his own goal (and I think he has done it more than once the score is probably 2-nil) when he wants to give a statutory body an order as to what they should do and, at the same time, to proclaim their independence. It seems to me that that cock will not fight. I think he is on to a good point, but, if I may say so, I think he needs to have a look at it again.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
Perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord and his kindly intervention. I am about to score 3-nil against myself, no doubt. I think the noble Lord will agree that all statutory bodies are set up by Parliament, and that, accordingly, if a statutory body is to be created, Parliament must create it. Therefore, as regards the fact that a statutory body may have its rules of procedure or its guidance varied from time to time, that can be done, can only be done and, 163 in my view, should only be done through Parliament. So I hope the noble Lord will not feel that there is anything too odd in Parliament expressing a view, as I hope it will, on the way in which the traffic commissioners should proceed.
The noble Lord made some play with the point that the counties, in preparing and putting forward their plans for transport within their own boundaries, might clash. I accept at once—and I did not say anything about it because I thought it was obvious—that they might, and will. It does not seem to me that it is beyond the traffic commissioners to cope with this sort of difficulty. They have always done so, and they will no doubt continue to do so. What my Amendment seeks to do is to ensure that when those who are in the locality and who evolve transport plans, as proposed by the Government in their own Bill—this is what they are driving at in the early part of the Bill, and the Committee will forgive me for repeating it—have made them, then they should be given due weight and attention by the traffic commissioners.
I do not feel at this stage in the proceedings that my attempt, and that of my noble friends, to tidy up the procedures as they have been developed and put forward in this Bill by linking what is prepared at county level more closely with the deliberations of the traffic commissioners, would be served by setting up a form of public inquiry, because I do not see how public inquiries such as those with which we are familiar under the Town and Country Planning Acts would really come into the sort of plan that has been set out in this Bill. I believe that the best way to get popular consent and popular approval for the type of plan which is most suitable to a locality, and to give the traffic commissioners the traditional authority and respect which they have now developed, is to put forward this Amendment and introduce it into the Bill. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, will say that I have now scored 7-nil against myself, but that is still my view and I hope that your Lordships will be with me.
§ Lord WIGG
I am sure that the noble Lord has got into double figures. But he has put it well, the difference between 164 us. Of course, Parliament enacts; and those who are appointed to carry out what Parliament wills are performing a statutory duty. But it is one thing to lay down what the job is and then to go and sit down alongside them and do it for them. That is what the noble Lord does. If the noble Lord will go away and recast his Amendment so that he tells the traffic commissioners perhaps to alter their job, to widen their job, that is one thing; but it is quite another to turn round to the traffic commissioners and say that Parliament is going to sit alongside them (for that is what this does) and say, when some undefined subject comes up, that they shall give precedence. It is all in one vague phrase: they shall give precedence. I trespass upon your Lordships' kindness to refer to the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, but he did the same thing. In his desire to stretch it, he used the words "special needs". He meant "needs". "Special" does not add to it; it detracts from it.
This is exactly what, in his own way, the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, has done. I think he is on to a very good point; but I am not sure, I do not have the technical knowledge to know, whether you can put the traffic commissioners as a watchdog over a planning concept which, as the Minister has explained, has been devised so that it can meet changing needs—and she stressed that the needs are changing all the time. And we know that: they are changing from month to month and certainly from year to year. I am reasonably certain that if this Amendment were accepted, it would not, as it were, give the traffic commissioners additional teeth but would probably draw some teeth that they already have.
Therefore I think—and this is a good Tory principle; in this I am a better Tory than he is—that if a thing is working then leave it alone unless you can be positive that you are putting in something better. I do not believe that this is better. With respect, I think that it needs a little more thought. I believe that between now and the Report stage noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite and their colleagues can probably do the trick. If they do that, I think it would add to the value of the Bill: but it must he in a form other than that which it is in now.
§ Lord SOMERS
Surely we all recognise the fact that there is a tendency for bureaucracy to ride roughshod over the public's wishes. It is a regrettable tendency, but it is there. So far as I can see, all that this Amendment does is to put a safeguard into the Bill to see that they do not. That being the case, I shall support it.
I should be happier if this Amendment used the words "to take account of" instead of "give precedence to". I cannot see how these people are going to give precedence to any particular plan as against their ordinary duties. Suppose that the circumstances are that the county plan provides for a bus service between "A" and "B" but that somebody who has been running a similar bus service on a slightly different route comes along and says, "We have run this service for ten years and we want to go on doing so.". You are ordering the traffic commissioners to give precedence to the new "A" to "B" route against the people who have been doing this for so long. I should have thought that that was a bit hard. If you simply use "take account of", I should be prepared to vote for it, but I am not keen on the present wording.
§ Lord SANDYS
My noble friend Lord Hawke has made a real point. I think there is another which I wish to bring up in regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has said. While recognising the value of the public inquiry, I think we should overload the situation here if we were to introduce, or suggest the introduction of, a public inquiry over a matter of this sort. Perhaps I can call in aid once more the noble Baroness's honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State. Mr. Horam said in another place (in the Official Report, col. 217, on February 14th):We do not want this to be an excessively bureaucratic procedure. We think that we have simplified the legislation as much as we can to achieve our objectives without placing unreasonable extra burdens on the county.It is a matter of getting the balance right. I am under no misapprehension at all that there is a very real difficulty over ensuring that the traffic commissioners fulfil their role and that, at the same time, the county fulfil theirs. I think we should give this matter further consideration.
§ Viscount SIMON
I have listened with great interest to the discussions between the two Front Benches. There was a very interesting observation of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, which I do not want to enter into, for he has a much greater knowledge of constitutional matters than I have. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said something with which I fully agree. As a matter of fact, the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, in one of his interventions on this Amendment, used the phrase: "the traffic commissioners should give the county plan due weight and attention". If that is what he had said in his Amendment, it would have looked very different from saying that they should "give it precedence".
In any case, during the Second Reading debate we had some discussion about the position of the traffic commissioners and I thought there was—I do not say "general agreement" but quite wide agreement that perhaps it would be better to leave the traffic commissioners where they are until we see how this new system works; then, if we find in the light of experience that we want to vary the functions of the traffic commissioners, that is a butter time to do it. I hope that the noble Lord will not press this Amendment at this stage.
§ Lord WIGG
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, had it right. It is a question of balance between an elected body, on the one hand, which has its job to do and a statutory body, on the other. I intervene once again only because I do not at this stage advocate a public inquiry. I was mentioning a public inquiry as a way of doing it. I stand by what I have said earlier. I think there is a principle involved here which is important. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, took it one stage further when he said that it needs balance between the two. If the right balance can be struck I think that it would strengthen the Bill; and I hope that is what is going to happen.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
With that expression of warmth and friendship from the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, what can I do but say that I am most grateful for the care and attention that has been given to this Amendment in its present form, slat I will give close study to everything that has been said by other Members of the Committee, for which I am most grateful; 167 and that I hope to return to the subject at Report stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask that between now and Report stage he looks at Schedule 2 to the Bill where we lay down, and stress, that the traffic commissioners shall have regard to what are the plans of the county brought before them. I would ask whether it is right that we should ask for these plans to take precedence over all the other things that the traffic commissioners must consider, including the needs of the disabled, the routing, et cetera. It is this question of precedence which is bothering many of us. I am grateful that the noble Lord is about to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord TEVIOT moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 4, line 43, at end insert—
("(8) Any of those mentioned in subsection (3) above may, if aggrieved by the contents of the plan, appeal to the Secretary of State:
(9) On an appeal under subsection (8) above to the extent that the Secretary of State is satisfied that the council have failed—
The noble Lord said: I appreciate that this might not commend itself in some quarters. However, the concept of public passenger transport plans accords with the Government view expressed in paragraph
42, and others, of the Transport Policy White Paper (Cmnd. 6836). This Bill seems not to take account of the opening words of that paragraph:
A balanced transport policy must draw on the best elements in planning while rejecting impracticable and unacceptable features. The Government will use its powers to provide a rational and consistent framework of policy for planning and consumer choice. Within this framework there is a case for better and more coherent planning for transport at the local level as part of the wider planning for the areas concerned and under local democratic control. The Transport Act of 1968 laid the foundations for the better co-ordination of transport in the large cities outside London, but a further advance is now needed".
The Government cannot claim the power to provide a consistent framework of transport policy and then abdicate their responsibilities. The White Paper recognises that in planning locally councils may lose sight of the wider implications of their policy. They may fail to appreciate either the effects of differing local policies on cross-boundary services, or the strategic decisions which have been fundamental in the provision of transport supplementary grant by central Government (and that it is equally true whichever political Party forms the Government). Such oversights could create considerable operational difficulties, to the detriment of the travelling public.
§ In another place, the noble Baroness's right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Rodgers, resisted an Amendment of this nature because, as I understand it, he felt he did not have sufficient local knowledge to make decisions of this nature. As I said on the Second Reading in your Lordships' House, this is a misunderstanding of the appeals procedure. He will merely be asked to bring objective judgment to bear on the case presented by the appellant and the county, both of whom are fully aware of the local issues. The Minister's objectivity will be his greatest asset. I stress that the present Amendment is deliberately limited in its application to avoid fatuous and time-wasting appeals. It is therefore directed to the needs of the situation—indeed, it reflects the Government's policy declared in the White Paper. I beg to move.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
This concept is contrary to the idea of the local option 169 and to the spirit of partnership which the Bill's proposals are designed to encourage. It would undermine the will to reach agreement locally on what are local issues. It is not a requirement of the Bill that public transport plans will be submitted for the Secretary of State's approval. The issues likely to be involved cannot be judged by reference to some central general criteria; they have to be set in the context of local travel patterns and resources. The Secretary of State would be put in a difficult, if not impossible, situation in judging the merits of an appeal for the reasons which he gave and which were quoted by the noble Lord; he would not have sufficient knowledge of all the local considerations. He would have to set up some sort of public inquiry to establish the facts and opinions as grounds for his decision and we would then be involved in much more elaborate and time-consuming planning.
Moreover, the provision of a formal right of appeal to the Secretary of State would seriously prejudice his existing quasi-judicial function in determining appeals from decisions of traffic commissioners. Many of the potential causes of dispute could be the subject of references to traffic commissioners. Schedule 2 to the Bill requires them to have regard, inter alia, to county policies and plans, but they will not be bound by them and must also take other factors into account, including the interests of the public. But if the Amendment were implemented and an appeal were submitted to the Secretary of State, he would perforce have to take a view of the plan, irrespective of whether he allowed the appeal and directed an amendment to be made to the plan.
This would place the traffic commissioners in some difficulty on a subsequent reference to them citing the provisions in the plan. Although they would still not be bound by the plan, they would be conscious that in determining an earlier appeal on the plan, the Secretary of State had expressed a view on it and this would colour their consideration of the case before them. Moreover, the parties before the traffic commissioners would then feel there was little point in appealing to the Secretary of State against the traffic commissioner's decision if he had, by 170 an earlier decision, in effect either endorsed the plan or amended it.
There is a case for appeals machinery with a plan designed to remain substantially unchanged for several years ahead, but these plans will be revised each year to meet changing circumstances. There must be forward planning but flexibility is also essential if planning is to stay in touch with the real world and the real needs of the people living in it. Transport problems must be the subject of continuing local debate about needs and resources. This means that the processes for consulting about public transport plans must be informal and cannot embrace formal, time-consuming procedures.
This question of appeals was extensively aired in another place. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State was sympathetic to the idea that those aggrieved by the plan should leave some way of registering their disagreement, but not to the provision of formal machinery of this kind. Instead, the Bill now includes—in Clause 2(5)—a requirement that the plan must give particulars of the county councils' consultations with these mentioned in subsection (3) and of the consideration which has been given to the views expressed. This seems a much more sensible approach. It will effectively demonstrate the degree of local support the county has for its plan and the extent of any disagreement. Both the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils have accepted this as a compromise. I hope the Committee will also accept that this is more in. the spirit of public transport planning envisaged in the Bill than the Amendment.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I hope that it will not distress my noble friends if I say that I agree with the noble Baroness. If we are seeking to improve this Bill in Committee in order to make the Bill work rather than wreck it or waste time by discussing matters which really cannot improve it, then I think there is a danger in my noble friend's Amendment. We have been talking on previous Amendments about the exact balance of authority between the county councils, which are elected, and statutory bodies like the traffic commissioners, and now we have 171 the Secretary of State brought into the arena.
I am very interested in the whole subject of appeals and inquiries. They are an essential safeguard to the proper democratic scrutiny of executive decisions, particularly those taken in connection with new roads or motorways. I do not approach this subject in the spirit of one who wishes to tidy awkward matters out of the way so that the public cannot see what is going on—quite the reverse. I believe that we must continually seek to improve our methods of making those who take decisions accountable—and preferably accountable in public. But if we are going to set up the elaborate structure which this Bill puts forward for the evolution of plans for transport within counties with the safeguards that the noble Baroness has mentioned in Clause 2(5), we shall be introducing an alien element if this appeal to the Secretary of State is brought into the Bill. These plans are not like planning decisions, which are taken once and for ever, or a motorway, which is built or not built. This is something which is constantly developing.
My noble friend Lord Teviot has put his finger on a most important anxiety: there is an increasing necessity for members of the public to be reassured that there are real safeguards and appeals built into any new form of executive or administrative machinery. That is the trend of public thinking and there must be response to it in a common sense way.
I respectfully suggest to my noble friend that, although the intention behind this Amendment is extremely estimable, it would not work; it would put the Secretary of State in a difficult if not impossible position. It might place the traffic commissioners in an awkward situation. I hope that, if between now and Report stage he can devise a different method for pursuing this same line of anxiety—one that we have been discussing across the floor of the Committee—as to how people can be satisfied that plans are really explained and justified to them, we can look at the situation at that time. Meanwhile, I very much hope that he will see fit to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Lord TEVIOT
I certainly will bear in mind what my noble friend has said and 172 I will consider it before the next stage, but I should like to say that I thought this was a perfectly sensible and reasoned Amendment. When the noble Baroness says that the Minister in another place would not know and would not be able to give a judgment himself and would have to have public inquiries, all that was being required was just objective judgment. Also, this Amendment would be limited so as to avoid bringing up, as I said, fatuous or time-wasting matters in any way. However, I do not wish to take up any more time of the Committee now. Between now and the next stage I shall read very carefully what has been said and think again about what might be done. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Agreements with operators]:
§ 4.21 p.m.
Lord TEVIOT moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 5, line 7, at end insert ("to the extent so required").
§ The noble Lord said: I hope that this Amendment will achieve more agreement. Subsection (1) of Clause 3, as at present worded, seems to create a black and white situation. It provides for the county council to enter into an agreement with an operator or operators in so far as it relates to the retention and financing of a bus service which, apart from the arrangement, would not be available. I understand this to mean that without the finance the service would be wholly withdrawn; but that is not necessarily the case. A situation might arise where a service could continue at a reduced level without county support, or it could survive if it were truncated by cutting off a seldom patronised diversion to a village. So it could be that a service would be available without the agreement, even if the level of service was not what was required by the county. It is to remove any doubt on this point that I beg to move this Amendment.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
The noble Lord's Amendment seeks, as he says, to 173 strengthen Clause 3(1) by ensuring that the county is going to support particular bus services sufficiently to enable them to be operated at the quality that is required. We agree with his intention, but I hope he will accept it from me that the Amendment is entirely unnecessary. The situation described by the noble Lord is covered by the clause. It already requires agreements to be made for, and support to be given to, the services which would not otherwise be provided, as required by the plan. While I approve the intention of the noble Lord which lies behind it, the Amendment really is unnecessary, because it is covered by the clause as it stands.
§ Lord TEVIOT
I thank the noble Baroness very much for that reply, but might I ask her to confirm the second point that I raised in the Amendment; namely, that it is unnecessary where you have a service which can continue without a grant just by snipping off bits here and there? If she can assure me on that point, I will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
It allows for the agreements to be made for services such as are required or that the county and the locality think are required. Whether they want to alter the route, to cut a bit or to add a bit, is a matter for the county to make representations on and to decide at local level; but there are no problems at all about the agreements.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I wonder whether I might ask the noble Baroness one question. I understand there is some anxiety about the capital debt obligations on the subsidies that county councils pay, for example, to the National Bus Company's subsidiaries. What I should like to know from the noble Baroness—and it may be that she will wish to reply to this at a later stage—is: In a situation where you have a subsidiary of the National Bus Company, is there any machinery for ensuring that supporting finance is 174 provided to cover any contributions in respect of this sort of transaction, when taking into account the commencing capital debt?
What I am really asking is this: Arc the Government satisfied that the Bill, as it stands, takes fully into account the difficulties that might arise when the National Bus Company's capital debt obligations are transferred through subsidies to the county councils? Could she perhaps look into this point and give us her comments later?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I will certainly look into it and let the noble Lord have some details about the matter; but any arrangements and agreements that are entered into by the county and submitted in their transport plans do then, if acceptable to the Secretary of State. become eligible for a transport supplementary grant, which covers the expenditure on that case. So far as any additional capital expenditure is concerned, I will certainly look into that and write to the noble Lord.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 4.28 p.m.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
May I ask the noble Baroness to give consideration to one point. I welcome very much this concessionary clause. We have at present the rather absurd situation where one county council grants concessionary fares and another one does not. Therefore an old-age pensioner, for example, can go half-way on a journey, say, from Birmingham to Ludlow, and then have to re-book to finish the journey to Ludlow, where no concessions are available.
My impression of this clause is that it involves rather a self-contained business for each council. Is there any method by which we can avoid these situations where there are through routes running from one major centre to another where different fares may apply? For instance, 175 perhaps we could ensure that if one council grants a concession, a little pressure could be brought to bear on the next council also to grant a concession. I am anxious to see that we do not have split fares on a straight run on a through bus route.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
The short answer is, No. We have given a lot of consideration to this and we have been under a lot of pressure to have a national scheme for concessionary fares—to have free travel, a percentage off, half fares and so on. We have eventually come firmly to the view that the question of concessionary fares is one for the individual counties to decide, having regard to their own resources and what they can afford. We are not at this stage prepared to accept or to advocate a national concessionary fares idea.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
Am I not right in suggesting that a view quite contrary to that expressed by the noble Baroness was given in another place by her right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education only days ago, during the course of a debate in which she suggested that the Department would propose concessionary fares schemes for schoolchildren. I am sure the noble Baroness will accept that I speak very much from memory. There was some reference to this being within the area of the Department of Transport. However, the Department of Education are taking this up. If I am right in my recollection of what was said, then it runs quite contrary to what the noble Baroness has said about national concessionary schemes. Perhaps she will be kind enough, if she is able, to put me right.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I should not dream of putting the noble Lord right. Concessionary fares for schoolchildren are a matter for local education authorities, and with public expenditure cuts many local education authorities have cut back on some of their concessionary fares for children, or have completely abolished them. This is a matter of what local education authorities can afford, in terms of their budgets. I am not passing the buck, or suggesting that one Department does not know what another Department is doing, but, as I said, concessionary fares for schoolchildren are a matter for 176 education authorities. How far she gets with concessionary fares for schoolchildren, is a question of what pressure the Secretary of State for Education can bring to bear on local education authorities. But at this point of time it is not part of the Bill.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
I am absolutely appalled by what the noble Baroness said to me. This is a typical example of the rich urban areas being able to run concessionary transport, but in the areas where it is wanted, which are the agricultural areas that are widely scattered, they are told, "If you cannot afford it, you cannot have it". These are the people who need it, not the people who live in the rich towns and travel short distances. The people in the agricultural areas go long distances. I am astonished at the noble Baroness's reply, and I shall have to give some thought to the matter before the next stage.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I am sorry that the noble Lord is disappointed, but it is for local authorities to look at their own resources and see where they can spend money and where they cannot. I am rather surprised at noble Lords opposite half-hinting that we ought to have these national concessionary fares when in the same breath they are voting for us to cut public expenditure. The two do not go side by side.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
The noble Baroness completely misunderstands me. I am not asking for large expenditure on concessionary fares. What I am saying is that it is absolutely absurd that you should run halfway through with a concessionary fare, but cannot get one for the other half, which is the area where it is needed. There should be some method, at least on through routes, of co-ordinating these matters.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 [Community bus services]:
§ 4.33 p.m.
Lord TEVIOT moved Amendment No 7:
Page 7, line 2, after ("available") insert ("or which could conveniently be adapted or extended").
§ The noble Lord said: This is merely a probing Amendment, which arises in 177 connection with permits under Section 30 of the 1968 Act, because that section is proposed to be amended to allow vehicles of any size, not only those adapted to carry up to 12 passengers, to be used under this system. I am not opposed to this extension, but I suggest that it calls for a greater degree of caution in issuing permits. The effect of this change could be far more serious for the conventional bus operators if a miscalculation were made. These remarks apply not only to community bus services but to any grant of a permit. In moving this Amendment, I ask the Government to consider this lest, unintentionally, the overall level of bus services available to the public should be adversely affected.
§ It seems to me that there should be a requirement for the adaptation of conventional services to be considered before a Section 30 permit is granted. It should also be ensured that existing operators are aware of the development and that applications for these permits should, in all cases, be published in Notices and Proceedings, as is already done in some traffic areas. Public hearings would not necessarily take place, but the traffic commissioners would be fully aware of the situation before making their decision. I therefore ask the noble Baroness whether she would give thought to this matter and come back with her own Amendment at a later stage. I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
The noble Lord has made some interesting points on this Amendment. I hope that he will not mind my starting off by telling him that his Amendment is technically defective, which is something that is often said in this House. The part of the subsection to which he has attached his Amendment is simply describing what is in subsection (2) of Section 30 of the 1968 Transport Act. Since the words in the noble Lord's Amendment were not in that subsection, I am advised that it is technically incorrect to add them here.
It is clear, however, from what the noble Lord has just said, that he intends to amend the wording of the 1968 Act to add a further condition upon which the traffic commissioners have to be satisfied before they can grant a Section 30 permit 178 to a community bus. We have a lot of sympathy with the view that it is not the business of community buses to compete with, or abstract from, existing stage services, and if the needs of the community can be met by ordinary commercial bus services, whether run by the National Bus Company or by independent operators, it is better for those needs to be met in that way.
I do not think that the present Section 30 needs strengthening to protect stage carriage operators from community buses. The permit system was introduced in 1968, and was never intended to be used where there is any competition. Its whole purpose is to provide a simplified and accelerated procedure where issues of competition do not arise. If there is the slightest shadow of doubt, the traffic area office always consult local operators, and if there appears to be any objection they refuse the Section 30 permit and invite the applicant to apply for a normal road service licence, which can of course be objected to in the ordinary way. The permit system has worked well since it was introduced—one example is the very extensive postbus service in Scotland—and there is no evidence that any of the services at present operating under permits are in any way detracting from the viability of other services.
If an existing operator felt that he could, to quote the Amendment, conveniently adapt or extend existing transport facilities to meet the reasonable needs of the proposed route, and drew this to the attention of the traffic commissioners, they would, under the present law, refuse le permit and require a road service licence application instead. In the light of what I have said, I hope that I have assuaged the noble Lord's fears and that he will withdraw his Amendment.
§ Lord TEVIOT
What the noble Baroness said was very clear and succinct, and I am happy with it. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 [Car-sharing for social and other purposes]:179
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ The noble Baroness said: This Amendment is purely technical. Clause 6(3) is intended to ensure that vehicles freed by the provisions of the Bill from public service vehicle licensing do not thereby become subject to hire car legislation. It is now clear that, for the sake of completeness, there should therefore be a reference to the provisions which are used to control private hire vehicles. The Amendment is purely technical and drafting. I beg to move.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I hope that I may take the opportunity of this technical Amendment to ask the noble Baroness whether she will be able, during the Committee stage, to bring us up to date with the current state of play about Amendments in the transport field as between the Wales Bill and this Bill. On Second Reading she said, at column 1621 of the Official Report of 9th June, that there were some Amendments which might have to be tabled to this Bill or the Wales Bill, or even the Scotland Bill. When I ask the noble Baroness whether she is sure that this Amendment should not be in the Scotland Bill. I am wondering whether she can tell us today what Amendments will be made in which Bill and when they will be ready, so that we can look at transport in a coherent and cohesive way.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My understanding is that it will not be necessary to amend this Bill and that it will be possible to make the necessary amendments, which I understand are much fewer than we thought they would be in the first place, to the appropriate Bills as they go through the House.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 6, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
I wonder whether I could press the noble Baroness to tell us a little more about the insurance arrangements that have 180 been entered into between the Government and the Motor Insurers' Bureau as a consequence of this clause. The noble Baroness will remember that both her noble friend Lord Davies of Leek and I raised this point at Second Reading. I understand that the bureau has given certain undertakings to the Government in relation to this matter. Indeed, I have—and no doubt the noble Baroness has it, too—a draft copy of these undertakings.
I am not very happy about this. As I said during Second Reading, insurance policies always worry me considerably; I have to look to see what I cannot understand, and then I fail to see that, also. There are three specific exclusions in the draft. First, the vehicle must not be constructed or adapted to carry more than seven passengers, excluding the driver. I feel that this could be very inhibiting, because designs change. Multi-use vehicles are very much more popular than they were a few years ago. It may well be that a man with a small vehicle, which he had licensed for carrying both goods and passengers, could very easily convert it from carrying goods to taking people to work in the morning by taking out, say, his concrete mixer and putting in seats. If undertakings like this are given and significant changes then take place, of course the insurance falls.
All of us can very easily understand the other exclusion: that passengers are not being carried in the course of a business of carrying passengers. However, when we come to the last exclusion, we find that the receipt of contributions will not be regarded as constituting the carriage of passengers for hire or reward, provided that:the total contributions received for the journey concerned do not involve an element of profit".May I ask the noble Baroness just what is an element of profit? It is all very well to speak about petrol and about using the guides of the RAC, the AA or other reputable bodies. Indeed, the RAC include a note about this. However, when the claim is made and the assessors and the adjusters get down to it, it is a very different question.
I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to assure the Committee that the Government will take into account the 181 comments which were previously made, and that at the Report stage they will be able to indicate just what kind of arrangement appears to be satisfactory to the Government. Indeed, I hope that the Government will be able to do so before Report because, in the event of my not receiving at least part of what I should like to receive, I shall have to consider what can be done by way of Amendment at Report.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I hope that I may be allowed to add a word during the consideration of this matter by the Committee. The subject of insurance when car sharing is involved is extremely difficult and complex; it is one that needs to be thoroughly considered before the Bill becomes an Act. If the Bill becomes an Act and the public at large are under the impression that it is now safe to "ply for hire"—I use that phrase in inverted commas and not in a technical sense—and they carry people about for money without any insurance difficulties having been ironed out beforehand, then we shall be heading for serious trouble.
I should like to echo what was said by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but in this way. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness said that she hoped to come back to the subject and to make a much more detailed statement by the time we reached the Committee stage. As I understand it, there has been a series of discussions in her Department between the different aspects of the insurance industry and other interested bodies. I have received a certain amount of information from a variety of quarters, and returned from a swift visit to Lloyd's only this morning. Movement is obviously occurring; the subject has not died. There is a desire to settle the question by the time the Bill reaches the Statute Book.
However, could the noble Baroness give to us a progress report? Since the Minister took up the subject originally with the insurance world, may I ask her what has been achieved? Is there anything clear which people already feel can be used, either statutorily or otherwise, as a system for ensuring that those who are encouraged to indulge in this new, now legal activity, as laid down by the Bill, will be safe when they do so and that 182 their passengers will also be safe? Following on from the questions which were asked by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, perhaps the noble Baroness could bring us up to date about the current state of play and about what remains to be done and will tell the Committee when it is hoped that a conclusion to this very difficult problem will be reached.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
As noble Lords have said, I expressed the hope at Second Reading that by the time we reached the Committee stage we should have something to tell your Lordships. I should like to take this opportunity formally to acquaint your Lordships with the outcome of the further consultations among the insurers to which I referred Lt Second Reading.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said, I—and, I am sure, other noble Lords as well—have seen the note from the Motor Insurer!,' Bureau on this subject, so what I have to say will not necessarily come as any wry great news to them. However, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport was given, a day or two age, by the Motor Insurers' Bureau, the draft of an undertaking that it will be prepared to provide when the Bill becomes law. I should like to go through it in detail, because I think that it is important. The draft undertaking states:The receipt of contributions as part of a car sharing arrangement for social or other similar purposes in respect of the carriage of passengers on a journey in a vehicle insured under a private car policy will not be regarded as constituting the carriage of passengers for hire or reward, or the use of the vehicle for hiring, provided that:A note is appended, which states:
- (a) the vehicle is not constructed or adapted to carry more than seven passengers, excluding the driver;
- (b) that the passengers are not being carried in the course of a business of carrying passengers; and
- (c) that the total contributions received for the journey concerned do not involve an element of profit".If in any doubt whether a car sharing arrangement is or is not covered by the terms of a private car policy, the policyholders concerned should make an inquiry of their motor insurers".I am sure that noble Lords will agree that this is a very satisfactory outcome of the consultations that have taken place.
183 I should like to add that the insurers have also agreed that in addition to the undertaking, which would be given publicity at the appropriate time, they will also tell policyholders of the undertaking when their policies come up for renewal or when new policies are taken out. These two things, taken together—the proposed undertaking and the notification to individual policyholders—meet fully, as we see it, all the points which were made in the debates on the issue in another place.
I hope that noble Lords will agree with me that the insurers have responded with sympathy and understanding to the urgings of Ministers and others to clarify the position of the private motorist. For their part, the Government are grateful to the insurers for the constructive way in which they have approached the matter, and I hope that the news will bring good tidings to your Lordships.
§ Viscount SIMON
I am sure that we shall all want to read what the noble Baroness has said about this. However, one phrase caught my ear, end I wonder whether the noble Baroness can help me about it. She spoke about the use of car sharing for social or similar purposes. May I ask the noble Baroness whether taking people to work would be a similar purpose to "social"?
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
I am sorry that the noble Baroness said that she hoped we should find her reading of this note to be satisfactory. I indicated when I opened the subject that I did not, and that for two particular reasons. At this stage I am prepared to discard the first reason, but I do not think that I can leave the second reason behind. It is that "total contributions … do not involve an element of profit". What is an element of profit? On page 3 of the motor insurers' note they say that they do not think that writing fixed mileage costs into the undertaking would be a sensible approach, and furthermore that the costs of running a car can show substantial disparities, and so on. However, the mileage costs published by the AA and the RAC could be regarded by insurers as a guide when dealing with inquiries from policy holders.
184 One of the troubles is that the inquiry will not come before but after the accident for which the claim is made. Then, as I have suggested, the assessors, the adjustors—all those extremely clever people who make their living by cutting down claims from insured persons (it is their job; it is fair enough) come into their own. It really is necessary for the Government to seek from the motor insurers some further explanation of what they mean by "an element of profit". This phrase is far too ragged and far too open. When, as today, we get premiums coming into three figures, when we get claims which are increasing and personal claims (which is where the damage is likely to occur) involving huge sums of money, I think that the insured person has an absolute right to know exactly what he is buying in his policy; but I fear that this is not provided.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I should like to thank the noble Baroness for the statement she has made, which is useful for putting on the record for everyone to see—the state that things have now reached. Is it the view of the Government that the matter is now concluded, or are there further steps which have to be taken before the Bill as it now is can become an Act and people can carry out the car-sharing provision with safety?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
We think that the motor insurers, with whom my colleague has been having consultations, have gone as far as or further than we had hoped when we set out on these consultations. I am not sure whether I can undertake to re-open negotiations with the motor insurers, but I will certainly take the point about what is "an element of profit" in order to see whether I can get some further clarification on its meaning, if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will be happy to accept that for the moment.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Lorries]:
§ 4.55 p.m.
Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 9, line 30, leave out ("56 to") and insert ("57,").
§ The noble Lord said: We now move into another and very distinct area of the Bill, that dealing with lorries. With the leave of the Committee, I think it will be more sensible if I discuss Amendment No. 29 with this Amendment No. 9, together with Amendments 10 and 31. Amendments 9 and 10 are really paving Amendments for Nos. 29 and 31 and both deal with very much the same problem. I think it would be convenient to the Minister and it might shorten our proceedings considerably, although it may well be that I shall wish to return to Amendment 31 separately later.
At Second Reading the noble Baroness said, in introducing this clause—and quote:
that is now Clause 8—
and Schedule 3 of the Bill are designed to widen and strengthen our present controls. They do so mainly by extending the catchment areas in which lorries can be diverted at the expense of their owners to testing stations and weighbridges",
I challenge the need for this provision. I think I can understand it, and perhaps it would be helpful to the Committee if I attempted to set the scene, as it were, for which this provision is required.
§ Currently, vehicles can be stopped and examined within a one-mile radius without any expense. Outside the one-mile radius expense may be incurred and compensation may be paid. In practice there are very few examinations outside the one-mile radius, because quite obviously the inspectorate do not wish to incur compensation claims. I ask the Committee to accept from me that I am as keen on road safety as any other noble Lord, but I think we have gone too far here. We are involved with a group of vehicles, about 650,000 of them, which have the lowest accident rate of all types of vehicles. In fact it is a falling rate, despite increased mileage. For example, goods vehicles over one-and-a-half tons in 1966 had 170 involvements in accidents per thousand million vehicle kilometres, and in 1976 only 89. To draw something of a parallel, in 1976 cars and taxis had 128 involvements. In fact, goods vehicles are at the bottom of the table, which includes cars, taxis, motor cycles, buses, coaches, and so on.
§ When we discussed this subject at Second Reading the noble Baroness, 186 on being challenged, said, "Well, there are very good reasons". She said that one in four vehicles that were stopped were found to be overweight. Of course I would argue exactly the other way: that three-quarters of the vehicles that were stopped were not overweight, which makes better reading from my point of view. In fact that one in four represents 6,000 vehicles—some 1 per cent. of the total vehicles that are involved in this matter. The noble Baroness said that one in five of 7,000 vehicles were diverted from roadside checks due to maintenance faults. That is 1,400, something like three per cent. of the total number of vehicles. We are speaking of a number of commercial vehicles that have an annual test failure rate of as low a figure as 21 per cent. That test involves some 72 items, and the vehicle can be failed outright for something as small as a cracked rear vision mirror, whereas motor-cars have a failure rate of something like 35 per cent., and their test does not include anywhere near as many items. So I think that when I described the measure as being a sledgehammer to crack a very small nut that was justified against the background.
§ During 1976–77 there were 88,000 roadside checks and of those 88,000 vehicle 95 per cent. were free of serious defect. I think when we talk about things like bad maintenance we should require the Government to set down quite clearly what is bad maintenance. Only a few years ago Bedford lorries were built with a fibre bush in the kingpin arrangement on the steering. Unhappily, these collapsed. It was well known to the inspectorate. When Bedfords of the particular class were called in they made a bee-line for this point, and the vehicle was automatically failed under bad maintenance. Subsequently that bush was replaced with a phosphor bronze bush and there were no problems. This is not strictly bad maintenance. I accept that the responsibility may still lie with the operator, but it is a misnomer to pop it into a bad maintenance category. Serious defects concern such things as tyres, brakes, steering and lighting—the same sort of serious defects that apply to motorcars. I think it is within that context that we should ask the Government to prove their case.
§ They say that one mile is insufficient to catch the "baddies." They say, in the notes which were provided, that the 187 sites for testing become too well known. Of course. And, believe me, in a five-mile radius the favourite spots will equally soon be known; there is no escaping that. If we are going to enlarge the catchment area, based on those figures, which I have given to the Committee, which are authenticated, we are going to catch an even greater number of people. We are going to send an even greater number to a weighbridge or testing station. The five miles, as I understand it, is five miles as the crow flies. That, I have been reliably informed by the transport industry, is more likely to be an effective 15 to 17 miles. At an operating cost of some 45 pence per mile, this can add £7 to £8 to a trip. The chances are, again based on the figures I have given, that the case will not be proven. So I cannot see why the industry should be put to that trouble.
§ I accept that standing in a roadway in inclement weather, in a lay-by perhaps, is not the best place for an inspector to be. Let me say here and now that I have heard nothing from the industry that indicates any displeasure or disagreement or dissatisfaction with the inspectorate. I accept that there are certain tests that cannot be undertaken in a lay-by and that it is necessary to send the vehicle to a testing station. There are only 70 testing stations in this country. So if we are going to get a greater number of vehicles going there we are going to increase the volume of traffic to those 70 points, and it may be with a defective vehicle or not. Again I can understand why it is the wish of the Department to use the testing stations. I believe I am right in saying that the cumulate deficit for testing stations is something like £5½ million. Certainly if they get more vehicles into them, for one reason or another—and we come later in this Bill to prescribe fees for the use of the testing station—that deficit could well be reduced.
§ What about weighbridges? There are insufficient weighbridges in the country to deal with this mass of work. Those that there are are more often than not open only during the hours from 8 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. There are very few weighbridges open at weekends, and very, very few public weighbridges open in unsocial hours. Haulage is a 24-hour business. 188 Lorries come off boats at very odd hours of the day and the night and proceed on their way. Factories now demand that deliveries are made within scheduled times, and these it is not always convenient to fit in with weighbridge facilities. Even so, there are cases where vehicles have been weighed at Dover with the Weighwrite machine, been passed, and then been found overweight some 30 or 40 miles up the road. This whole situation seems to me to be somewhat unfair.
§ I can understand the need to catch the "baddies"; everybody wants to catch them, including the hauliers, because it is the "baddies" who can cut the rate, and the "goodies" lose a certain amount of business. But we could provide roadside facilities to ensure a reasonable check—the portable devices, the dynamic weighing machines, the Weighwrite device; as long ago as 1975 the Department were discussing their use. Certainly one section of the industry do not like it. But, given that errors and tolerances could be agreed with the industry, the use of such devices would provide an adequate safeguard. The similarity is, of course, with the breathalyser—somebody is invited to blow into a bag and if it changes colour there is some reason to suppose something is wrong; the person goes to the police station and takes a full test. We could employ exactly the same method. The time element would be reduced considerably. The delay costs, the actual costs and the increased mileage costs to operators would also be reduced. Let us face it, any increase in cost of freight rates is in turn reflected in the cost of the goods or services being delivered. I believe that there are sufficient alternative methods that could be introduced without increasing this mileage clause.
§ I do not believe that is is necessary for me to prove anything to the Committee. I believe it is necessary for the Government to prove to the Committee that what they are proposing will do the job they say. I think they should explain exactly how they think it is going to do the job. They should explain to us exactly what cost is to be involved to the Government—the taxpayers—and to the industry in achieving their objectives. I do not believe that they proved this necessity at Second Reading, and it is for 189 this reason I put down the Amendment. I think I should say quite fairly to the noble Baroness that I am not at this moment considering withdrawing it. I really feel that I am entitled, and I think the industry is entitled, to a fairly in-depth explanation of the Government's thinking on this matter. I beg to move.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth as regards this Amendment and his other Amendments Nos. 29 and 31. I have a letter from an experienced transport operator which I received quite independently of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has told the Committee. Therefore, it is not collusion, but pure support.
The person who wrote to me made two points which are relevant to this particular Amendment. First, he said that when running to tight schedules on new hours and mileage the distance, and the time taken to travel one mile or five, can upset a complete operation. The fact is that the various new regulations make wasted time even more important than ever before. Therefore, it seems to me that this is an unsuitable moment to create what may be greater wasted time for transport operators, rather than the other way round.
Secondly, in a perfect world all regulations look as they should look. But it is a fact that we are all human and the operation of these regulations does not always turn out as the drafters of legislation intend. This point was touched on by my noble friend very briefly, but I should like to quote a particular story which has been provided to me and which will show your Lordships why the Bill, by extending the distance from one mile to five, could exacerbate the situation and cause even more waste of time.
Enclosed with the letter was Goods Vehicle Form 9, with which your Lordships may not be familiar. It is the form used when either the police or Ministry officials have a snap check on the road and find something wrong with a vehicle. This particular form was issued at I o'clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday. It relates to one tyre which did not have sufficient legal tread and some brakes which had been maladjusted. It so 190 happens that the trailer which was affected by this form was only five miles away from the nearest depot of the company concerned. So they took the trailer there and carried out repairs. They then presented it for clearance at the testing station, which was also nearby, at 4 p.m. They were informed that the station only cleared Goods Vehicle Form 9 on Tuesdays and Fridays. It was a Tuesday, but, as by the time they had told them that, it was after 4 o'clock, the station had finished for the day. As a result, they had a vehicle which they could not use for three days. That is ridiculous, but true. As the person who wrote this letter to me said,a great deal in any system is the people who operate it. You get awkward people in MOT examiners, the same as anywhere else. A GV9 can be issued for a lamp bulb unserviceable. Drivers carry spares and can repair in minutes to clear the vehicle there and then, but the examiner decides".It is important that I should add my contribution to this debate to show that there are two matters which must be dealt with. The new regulations must be taken into account and the sort c f example which I have quoted—as the rest of the letter says, it is sadly one of many examples that could have been provided—must also be taken into account. Therefore, it seems to me that the Government must think very seriously about whether they want to put extra restraints on industry at a time when the country can ill-afford extra restraints at extra cost and time unprofitably spent.
As my noble friend said, 95 per cent. of the sort of vehicles about which we are talking are trouble-free. Therefore, we are dealing with the 5 per cent. or less rogue fringe. It would seem to me that this really is a case of legislating for the lunatic fringe and I beg the Government to take note of the Amendment of my noble friend and give a jolly good explanation to satisfy us both.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has unveiled a most telling case for the prosecution of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, on this particular matter and I do not wish to detain the Committee from listening to what she has to say in mitigation of the Government's offences under this Bill. However, this particular subject involves the phrase which she herself used several 191 times on Second Reading. She said that this or that was a matter of "fine judgment". There are matters of fine judgment involved here because any noble Lord—or even the noble Baroness—who stood up in this House and could be seen to be putting forward proposals which might reduce road safety and the chances of people travelling about their lawful purposes without being killed or injured, would run very great risks.
Of course, in supporting the general thrust of the inquiry of my noble friend, one is so doing. However, to be asking the Government to be sure that their proposals are practical, thorough and in the interests of commerce and industry and therefore in the interests of lower cost to the consumer, is not necessarily the same, as being in the position of apparently wanting to relax controls on safety. That is not what my noble friend Lord Lucas is trying to do, nor my noble friend Lord Mottistone, nor I.
All vehicles must be in a respectable state so that their drivers can drive them properly. That view is shared in all parts of the Committee. But are the powers which the Government are now seeking to grant themselves under Schedule 3 really necessary? Was there not an undertaking in another place from the noble Baroness's right honourable friend Mr. Horam that there would be certain undertakings, guidelines and so on? If these are satisfactory, cannot they be written into the Bill and this particular part of the Schedule omitted? I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the noble Baroness must explain to the Committee exactly how it is that these proposals are justified. I hope that she will now take the opportunity to do so, because we need to be reassured that this is not another example of overenthusiastic over-legislation.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I am grateful for the responsible way in which noble Lords are dealing with the particular problem that is before us this afternoon. I think that I understood the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth to say that he is using Amendment No. 9, as the paving Amendment for Amendment No. 29 and Amendment No. 10 for Amendment No. 31, but that he wants a discussion on Amendment No. 31 when we reach that stage of the proceedings.
192 The present one-mile limit on the distance over which a vehicle may be diverted severely restricts the number of checkpoints which can be set up. That impedes the enforcement because first, some routes lie outside the catchment area of testing stations, and secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, says, the potential sites become well-known and tend to be avoided by drivers who have some doubts as to whether their vehicles may be defective. The extension to five miles of distance over which a vehicle may be diverted will help to overcome these difficulties. Greater flexibility in the choice of checkpoints will enable better use to be made of all our existing resources. The extension to a maximum of five miles is not likely to increase the time off the route by more than half an hour. While there will be additional costs for the haulage industry, these ought to be properly regarded by the industry as an element in its operations which is designed to help to ensure that they can be carried out with safety.
When would we use the powers? In rejecting an Amendment put down by the Opposition during the Third Reading in the Commons, which was designed to impose constraints on the circumstances in which an examiner could require the vehicle to be diverted by more than a mile and up to five miles, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, has said, my honourable friend Mr. Horam gave an assurance—which I am happy to repeat—first, that guidance would be given to examiners on the circumstances in which they should exercise the power of the extended diversions; secondly, that this guidance would incorporate the principle of diverting vehicles more than a mile only if it were justified by the nature of the examination needed or the conditions of weather or visibility; thirdly, that if it should ever be proposed to depart from this principle, the House would be the first to be told. I repeat those assurances to your Lordships this afternoon. There is a need for better use of our existing resources in enforcing control.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
If I may interrupt the noble Baroness, does that mean that she will be bringing forward an Amendment so that a Statutory Instrument will have to be laid to incorporate these regulations, so that both Houses of Parliament will be informed when the regulations are to be altered?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
No, it will be notes of guidance to the examiners, and when we propose to alter the notes of guidance we have given the undertaking to inform the House how we propose to alter such notes of guidance. It will not be by means of a Statutory Instrument.
So far as the roadside spot checks are concerned, we need a better use of the resources than we have at the moment in order to enforce the controls over those lorries which are badly maintained. The whole object here is concerned with road safety, not with getting at the hauliers or at how they are loading their lorries. It is a question of road safety.
The annual inspection of vehicles at the testing stations has led to an improvement in the situation. When the scheme was first introduced 33 per cent. of the total number of vehicles examined were found to be unfit. In 1976–77 that percentage had dropped to 21 per cent. out of an annual total of 875,911 lorries. But annual inspections of themselves are not enough. They need to be supplemented by spot checks at the roadside, at operators' premises or at the testing station. By 1976–77, there were 63,366 spot checks carried out at the roadside and, as a result of these, 12,111 or 19.1 per cent. of the vehicles were found to be unfit and their use on the road was prohibitied. In 1976–77, 53,374 spot checks were carried out by appointments at the operators' premises, and as a result 3,306 vehicles, or 6.2 per cent., were again found to be unfit and their use was prohibited.
In 1976–77, 7,326 checks were made and 10.3 per cent. of the vehicles stopped at the roadside were tested at testing stations following a diversion of the vehicles from their routes. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said, as a result 1,400 vehicles or 19.1 per cent. of those stopped were found to be unfit and their use was prohibited. In short, one in every five lorries diverted was unfit for service and was unfit to be on the road.
The power to direct a percentage of vehicles to testing stations, which amounts to only about 1 per cent. of the total fleet each year, is necessary because conditions of weather or visibility make an effective roadside check impracticable, or the facilities to undertake some tests—for example, those on headlamps and 194 brakes—are only readily available at the testing stations. Such stations are organised so as to deal with vehicles in numbers with the minimum of delay. I was somewhat concerned to hear the information that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, gave to the Committee, because the information that I had this morning was that there is no undue delay when one has to go back for rechecks; that one takes one's place in the queue of that day and does not need to make an appointment. If the noble Lord would let me have particulars of some of those cases, I shall certainly take them up and check them for my satisfaction, if not for his.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I shall certainly be willing to take that opportunity at the next stage of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to the accident involvement rate for heavy goods vehicles. It is less than that for cars. However, what we must accept is that the rate of accidents involving fatalities is higher with heavy goods vehicles than it is with cars. While they have fewer accidents, when heavy goods vehicles are so involved the accidents tend to be much worse. Of course, we catch only a very small proportion of the vehicles because we can inspect only a small proportion of them when they are travelling overnight as well as during the daytime. The vehicles are not prohibited just for bad maintenance, but because in the opinion of the inspector who has tested them they are dangerous and are unfit to be allowed on the road.
Under the existing law we can divert more than one mile to a weighbridge, but we are then liable for compensation; but we cannot divert more than one mile to a testing station. At this point of time we cannot even divert a lorry more than a mile to a testing station. So we have problems there. I accept that the noble Lord has a real concern about road safety; he has a real concern about the sort of limits that we are putting on the 195 heavy goods vehicles that are carrying, as it were, a lifeline around the roads of Britain. But we think that the checks that have been carried out up to date show that there is a need for this means of diversion of up to five miles in order to enable proper testing to take place. I hope that the noble Lord will not at this point press his Amendment. I should be very happy between now and the Report stage to have some further consultations with him. If I can produce any further evidence which might convince him more than I appear to have done at the moment, I should be happy to do so. I hope that he will not press his Amendment at this time.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
knew that I should be grateful to the noble Baroness because she puts her argument in such a nice way. But she did not convince me. She read out a string of figures which I shall look at tomorrow, and I shall produce the other side of the coin. Of course, we go on in this way; it depends which way we like to deal with the matter.
The noble Baroness made one or two points on which I should like to comment. She said that this increased opportunity is likely to involve the haulier in a delay of no more than half an hour. In January 1980 that will be one-sixteenth of the entire time that a driver can drive during any one period, because drivers' hours, currently 10 hours a day, under regulations, to which everybody has agreed, will then be reduced to eight hours. That is an enormous amount of time to be taken out of a driver's schedule. Based on the figures that I have given, that of the number of vehicles that are currently diverted, consequently, the increased number that will be diverted and found to be not overweight will add up to an enormous number of hours wasted at a great deal of expense.
The noble Baroness spoke about the assurances that her honourable friend gave in the Commons during the Third Reading of the Bill. I am surprised, in view of the vehemence with which the assurances have again been given, that something cannot be written into the Bill. Guidance to examiners is all very well. The industry is not unhappy about 196 them—it has a great deal of sympathy—but on a cold, wet November afternoon in the fog at 4.30 in the afternoon guidance can go out of the window. That is human nature.
There were some other aspects that the noble Baroness raised with regard to safety. I can only repeat that the industry has shown a remarkable example in terms of road safety. Of course I accept that when 32 tons is involved in an accident the effects are catastrophic, but it does not happen so often as with other forms of transport. I say categorically that, in the main, heavy goods drivers prevent more accidents than they get involved in. I am not happy with what the noble Baroness has been able to tell me. I feel, therefore, that I must ask the Committee to decide whether they prefer my arguments to those put forward by the noble Baroness. I therefore wish to press Amendment No. 9 at this stage.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
May I make one point? The noble Lord has come back on the question of drivers' hours and EEC regulations, and how much time will be taken up in diverting. My right honourable friend also had this point raised with him in another place and at that time—I repeat what he said—he said that he accepted that the time involved, both the driving time and the duty time, in the diversion of vehicles to weighbridges or testing stations by enforcement authorities, could cause difficulties to drivers whose vehicles were found not to be in default, if they are subsequently unable to reach their planned destination within the prescribed limits on drivers' hours or duty time. However, while this situation is not dealt with in terms in either the EEC regulation on drivers' hours or the provisions in the Transport Act 1968 on duty time limits, we think both could be construed as allowing the driver to exceed the limits in circumstances of this kind.
In fact, I understand that enforcement authorities agree in practice that such circumstances should be taken into account when considering whether a driver has infringed hours rules. At present, drivers who have been diverted will often, if they are likely to run out of time before 197 they reach their planned destination, ask the enforcement officer to annotate their logbook to the effect that they have been diverted in circumstances beyond their control and to give the time involved.
If the driver is subsequently stopped then the time taken by the diversion will normally be taken into account in the calculation of his driving time and his duty time. The police may of course make inquiries to ensure the logbook annotation is genuine, but there is no reason why this practice should change when the proposed new rules on permissible distance for diversions came into force. This may not alter the noble Lord's thinking, but it may allay some of his fears on the question of drivers' hours.
§ Lord WIGG
The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, said that the noble Baroness was in the dock, and he was interested to see how she would make out in the case against her. She is not in the dock this afternoon, and the Government are not in the dock this afternoon. If anyone is in the dock this afternoon it is the forces behind the case which has been ably put by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. This is an issue which affects every man, woman and child in these Islands. Any one of us, whether we drive a vehicle ourselves or walk in the streets, can become the victim—and as the noble Baroness said, when a lorry gets involved in an accident there is often more than one victim—of a badly maintained vehicle.
The Government would be failing in their duty if they did not ask this House
§ and another place to approve those measures which, in their judgment, they think are necessary in the public interest. The cost to the industry is ultimately not borne by the industry. It conies out of what firms earn from the public. If they do not earn enough and do not make a profit they do not stay in the business. So that cock does not fight. This is an issue of fundamental—
§ Lord WIGG
No, I will give way in a moment. I am not going to give way in the middle of a sentence. I repeat that the question of the cost to the industry is not a valid argument because the cost ultimately comes out of the pockets of the consumer. It must. If in fact the cost is such that it turns a profit-making organisation into a loss-making organisation, that organisation ceases to function. It would be the community that would suffer or benefit, and it is the community that should be safeguarded. That fact should be spelled out. I congratulate the Government. I hope they will stand fast on this issue and continue to introduce other measures if they think they are necessary to safeguard the public against badly maintained vehicles.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 9) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 76; Not-Contents, 76.199
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Exeter, M.||Newall, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Ferrier, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Alport, L.||Fortescue, E.||O'Hagan, L. [Teller.]|
|Barnby, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Gainford, L.||Romney, E.|
|Bolton, L.||Gisborough, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Bradford, E.||Gray, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Brentford, V.||Greenway, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Hawke, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Henley, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Hereford, V.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cockfield, L.||Howe, E.||Soames, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Inglewood, L.||Spens, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Killearn, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Kinnoull, E.||Thomas, L.|
|Cromartie, E.||Long, V.||Tranmire, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L. [Teller.]||Trefgarne, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Trenchard, V.|
|de Clifford, L.||Mancroft, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Denham, L.||Mansfield, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Middleton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Elles, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Morris, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Elton, L.||Mottistone, L.||Wise, L.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Hanworth, V.||Ritchie-Calder, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Henderson, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Seear, B.|
|Banks, L.||Jacques, L.||Segal, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Kings Norton, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Simon, V.|
|Brown, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Somers, L.|
|Collison, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Mackie of Benshie, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B|
|David, B.||Maelor, L.||Stone, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Melchett, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Monson, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Dowding, L.||Moyne, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Murray of Gravesend, L.||Wade, L.|
|Energlyn, L.||Norwich, V.||Walston, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Ogmore, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Gordon-Walker, L.||Oram, L.||White, B.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.||Wigg, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)||Wigoder, L.|
|Hale, L.||Phillips, B.||Winstanley, L.|
|Hamnett, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Hankey, L.||Rhodes, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Jacques)
There have voted Contents, 76; Not-Contents, 76. 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 Committee shall be agreed to unless there is a majority in favour of such Amendment, I declare the Amendment disagreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 10 not moved.]
§ 5.46 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 9, line 30, after ("of") insert (", and Schedule 4 to,").
§ The noble Baroness said: This Amendment makes good the omission of a necessary cross reference. Its purpose is purely technical and editorial.
§ 5.47 p.m.
Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 9, line 37, leave out subsection (2).
§ The noble Lord said: The Committee will probably be glad to know that this is nothing more than a probing Amendment. 200 I am particularly anxious to know why the Government feel it necessary that a vehicle requiring certification should have to be sent for examination or re-examination. In the notes which the noble Baroness kindly provided it was suggested that the reasons were where a vehicle had not been in use for a long time and was therefore not necessarily due for an annual test, or where a plate or certificate had become defaced, or some such cause. They went on to say that that would obviate some of the growing amount of paper work that was required under the present arrangements. I cannot quite see how any of this applies, and I hope the noble Baroness will provide the Committee with some figures to justify this change. I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
When a goods vehicle is presented at a testing station for its first test, a plate and a plating certificate are issued by the Department of Transport showing its maximum permissible load, in terms of its axle weight, gross weight and, in the case of a towing or towed vehicle, its train weight. These weights may not necessarily correspond with the design weights specified by the vehicle's manufacturer. Subsection (2) will empower the Secretary of State to require that a vehicle is examined or re-examined for any purpose of plating or certification.
201 There are three main circumstances in which the power, which will be permissive, is likely to be used. First, where the Secretary of State has been required on demand to replace a lost or defaced plate showing the maximum permissible load of a goods vehicle that has been out of service on the road for several years and has not been presented for annual tests; secondly, where there is a discrepancy between the details of the vehicle in the applications for a replacement plate and the Department's records, which may affect the plated weight; and thirdly, where the Department has good reason to believe that the vehicle has been modified and the modification has not been notified to the Secretary of State as required under Section 45(6)(a)(ii).
The effect of the obligation on the Secretary of State to replace a lost or defaced plate is that he must retain ad infinitum records of all goods vehicles for which he has at any time issued a plate or certificate. While I cannot give the noble Lord actual figures, I understand that the weight of paper is becoming rather embarrassing and much too much to handle. Maintaining this ever-increasing volume of records is a substantial task, and when the records relate to vehicles that are no longer used on the roads, then it is also wasteful.
The exercise of the powers sought will enable the Department to destroy the records of goods vehicles that have not been submitted for HGV tests for three years, and therefore can reasonably be assumed to have been withdrawn from service on the roads. The number of instances where vehicles are brought back into service after such a gap will be relatively small, so the burden on the industry will, in such cases, be small. But what is important is just the sheer weight of records which appear to us to be out of date. If the vehicle has not come back for testing over a period of three years, there must be some very good reason for it not still being on the road.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
I thank the noble Baroness for that explanation. She will forgive me, I hope, if I am somewhat tart in saying that of course she has not provided any figures. She says "The Department think "or" We think. "We do not know—and should 202 know—the numbers of vehicles that are involved. If the problem is the pure weight of masses of paper—I take it that she means by weight, mass—of course we may always get rid of that by recording on microfilm. That still does not overcome the problem, however. No doubt, if we adopted that suggestion, there would be an additional fee for microfilming the records, or something like that.
I am not terribly happy, to be quite honest. Again, I do not think that the Government have justified this. They can produce neither facts nor figures. It is opinion and nothing else. I really cannot see the point at this stage of keeping the Committee longer on it. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.
§ 5.53 p.m.
Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 13
After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:
§ Drivers' hours (EEC rules)
(". In section 96 of the 1968 Act (restrictions on drivers' hours), after subsection (11A) (added by the European Communities Act 1972, with a view to penalising contraventions of the applicable Community rules), there shall be inserted—
(11B) But a person shall not he liable to be convicted under subsection (11A) if—
§ The noble Lord said: I can assure the Committee that this Amendment is really quite simple. Under the Transport Act 1968, drivers' hours are prescribed, and there is no quarrel here at all. The 1976 drivers' ages and hours of work legislation, however, amended the 1968 Act, and introduced Community rules on drivers' hours. This Amendment to the 1968 Act became effective through a commencement order in January of this year. This resulted in denying to owners, operators and employers, the use of the statutory defence clauses, which were contained in the 1968 Act, where the vehicles to which the Community rules are applied are involved. Vehicles in use—but outside 203 the Community rules—may still use the defence, but those within the Community rules may not.
§ This Amendment seeks to reinstate the statutory defence clauses that have been in force for something over 40 years. It include those vehicles that are now subject to the Community rules. There are no changes in the presentation of the Amendment from that which obtained before. The onus of proof rests entirely with the employer. I do not think that the Committee need find anything with which to argue. I understand that the industry has consulted the Government. The Department has indicated a favourable approach to this Amendment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
The noble Lord is sitting tight in his seat. May I say that we accept this Amendment?
§ Clause 9 [Control of off-street parking]:
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 10, line 13, leave out ("and") and insert—
("save that the said Schedule 5 shall be read and have effect as if there had been inserted therein a requirement that in cases where the Minister has received a copy of representations objecting to draft regulations, which have not been withdrawn he shall, after consultation with persons appearing to him to be affected by such regulations select and appoint a person to hold a public inquiry in connection with the matter and such regulations".).
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment is related to the control of off-street parking. Clause 9 proposes that an Order in Council will enable the operation of public off-street parking to be regulated in English and Welsh counties by the county councils, and in Scottish regions and islands areas by the regional or Islands Councils. The Government proposals are made clear in Clause 9(2) and are governed in the case of Greater London by what was contained in Section 36 of the Transport (London) Act 1969. It is important, therefore, to see what happend to the regulations as far as London is concerned, because it governs my attitude and, I think, the attitude of Lord O'Hagan and his noble friends.204
§ No action was taken in relation to the Greater London provisions until, I think, October 1976, when an order was made by the Greater London Council for car parking licensing schemes in respect of Westminster, Camden and Hammersmith. These created, to put it mildly, very considerable opposition. I understand that there were 4,600 objections. The representations were received by the Greater London Council and sent to the Secretary of State for Transport for his consideration.
On 14th January 1977 the Greater London Council was informed by the Secretary of State as follows:
Having carefully considered both your Council's draft regulations and the representations received, the Secretary of State has decided not to issue a direction under the provisions of paragraph 3 of Schedule 5 to the Act.".
The reply of the Secretary of State meant that the Greater London Council could make regulations—and they did—without modifications. What happened eventually was that there was a change in the political control of the Greater London Council and the regulations were rescinded. However, it is a fact that an order was made governing these very important areas in the centre of London. Despite considerable opposition, had it not been for the change in political direction, the Secretary of State having refused to intervene, the regulations would have become law. I for one would have been one of the victims.
§ However, my own attitude towards this matter is more particularly based on my experience as a Member of another place. In consequence, I suppose, of one being in a place a long time one neither loses habits nor contacts that one builds up. That is true of a Member of Parliament. From time to time, right down to the past few days, I have been the recipient of complaints from people who live not very far from where I happen to have a flat in London, about the transport arrangements—if I may so describe them—in Westminster. To the annoyance of some of your Lordships, I ventured to give my experiences on Second Reading. They did not regard it as wholly relevant, but I do. For me transport is one subject and has to be looked at as one subject, and it is my belief that it cannot he handled on an ideological basis. The problem is too complex: it is changing all the time, and what may be right today has to be modified 205 tomorrow. One must look at it right across the board.
§ I mention a fact, which may be of interest to some of your Lordships who are present today but were not present on that Friday. Here, in this great city of Westminster, as a result of the lack of powers or failure to act on the part of the local authorities, there is now not one single garage that can tow away a broken car or carry out repairs. Such garages have almost all gone, and if there are one or two left they are in the process of going. That comes about because the council do not look at the problem as a whole. Of course the Westminster Council in these matters is under the control of the Greater London Council.
§ But it does not end there. This is an area where property is being developed, so garages that were operating from mews premises can no longer afford to carry on. Indeed, I made an approach to the clerk, the chief executive, and told him about the troubles of a garage which was the last one in the process of going—how I had gone to the Church Commissioners. I think Lord Thomson holds the post as Commissioner of Works, and he and the chief executives made representations and the answer that they got from the authorities was, "Well, we are doing what we can; we are going to find them premises in Maida Vale"—as if finding premises in Maida Vale was of any help to the many Members of Parliament, and maybe also to Members of your Lordships' House, who had used the garages in Horseferry Road and beyond and now will not be able to do so.
§ I therefore hold a view born not only of that experience but of my experience as a constituency Member of what happened in this case. The powers that the Greater London Council took in the 1906 Act were necessary. Particularly in congested urban areas it is necessary that there should be an authority whose supreme duty it is to look at the problem right across the board from the point of view of the public interest. The profit motive and the financial convenience of this or that firm are subordinate to the fact that the public interest must prevail.
§ I have made inquiries of the Minister and I want to pay my tribute—one that has been paid by many noble Lords— 206 to the noble Baroness who is responsible as spokesman for the Government today. She has been most helpful. She has taken aboard and has listened to what I have had to say and I gather from those conversations that the Government do not envisage using the powers in Clause 9 to licence privately operated public car parks outside the most congested urban areas. That accords with my own thinking. I think it is necessary for London and almost certainly necessary for other great conurbations such as Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and the like. However, one wonders, if that view is right—and the Minister can confirm or deny it—why the Bill is not amended, or would the noble Baroness be willing to conceive an Amendment that would limit the powers of Clause 9 to the congested urban areas?
§ I have had some experience and have often come forward with suggestions which sound very good and convincing to myself, but one comes up against the hurdle of the Parliamentary draftsmen. How can this be drafted in such a way as to do what I want but will not at some time in the future land somebody in the courts or lead to endless disputes? I am quite sure that the powers ought to be possessed in a very limited number of cases. I suspect that there are difficulties in that direction, so I have gene for a safeguard, the basic principle being that the public interest must prevail. The public interest must rest with the Secretary of State, not least of all for the reasons mentioned by the noble Baroness, which are that one is likely to come up against areas in which, as it were, the problem extends across the board. The difficulties brought by the motor-car and the transport problems are no respecters of British local government areas; they go right across the board and this is another argument as to why they have to be looked at across the board.
§ My safeguard is this: I have a fundamental faith in the common sense of my fellow countrymen and, if any individual is aggrieved, what he wants to know is that his case is going to be conveyed speedily and efficiently to the point where a decision is taken. He wants it clone out in the open because the final court is public opinion. I suggest, with respect, that the Secretary of State made a very grave error when, having received information 207 that there were 4,600 objectors he proceeded to act without due regard to the impact of those 4,600. If he had ordered a public inquiry, much of today's opposition would not have found expression.
§ What I would like to do is to make it mandatory for the Secretary of State, when he gets representations following proposals for the control of parking areas, to call a public inquiry so that the public at large who will be affected, not only in terms of cost but in terms of convenience—and, if I may use a racing expression, they are going to get a run for their money—will know not only that the Secretary of State will be fair (as he will be) but he will be seen to be fair. The public inquiry is the answer that I put to your Lordships for consideration.
§ I want to make one other point. The question of parking is a very pressing one. When I was driving into London this morning we were almost at a standstill right across the centre of London. The time is coming when we will come to a standstill. I do not believe that this can be solved by one agency alone. It cannot be solved by the entrepreneur on his own or by the public department. The public authority is too rigid in its approach; the entrepreneur has to get a return on his investment, he has to make a profit and the public have got to know both in terms of cost and service that they are getting a square deal. What I want to see happen and what I believe the British economy needs is a partnership between those who share my political philosophy, who believe that the present state of technological advance demands an element of planning and also the advantage of the pricing system as an instrument.
§ There is no basic contradiction between the concept of planning and using the pricing system. That is what I believe that the Conservative Government tried to do. They used the parking meter in an attempt to solve the parking problem through the use of the pricing system. There is no alternative except a vast bureaucracy which is going to say, "This car goes in and that car stays out. You come in between nine and ten o'clock and you go out between four and five"—with a host of officials enforcing it. I do not want that. Therefore, I believe that the parking meter must be used, and that, regrettably, prices 208 must be put up to ensure that there are not given more permits than there are places, which is happening in Westminster at present. if this occurs, there is chaos. There must be a plan. It must be conceived in the public interest. The Secretary of State must be the final arbiter. The responsibility for its application must be a partnership. It must be an effective and equal partnership, with equal rights and equal safeguards, between, on the one hand, the public authority, and, on the other, the entrepreneur.
§ I very much hope that the Committee will agree to the retention of Clause 9 in some form. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to accept the principle—even though there may be weaknesses in my argument, as I am sure there are—and we can come back to this at the Report stage and do better. The control of parking spaces is essential in terms of the public interest. It involves a vital problem in the congested urban areas. The clause itself goes too wide. However, I would not attempt to narrow it; but if other noble Lords can find a method by which to do so, then good luck to them! I believe that the clause should stay, but there must be safeguards in the public interest. The essential safeguard is the public inquiry, conducted in the open. The Secretary of State must accept some form of assurance to meet the rights of the aggrieved individual, or aggrieved individuals if the representation is in a collective sense. I beg to move.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
I was most interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Wigg said about the Amendment. In the past I have been concerned with parking regulations in central London. and so I am well aware of the usefulness to a local authority of the power which we are discussing. I believe that the proposals put forward by my noble friend Lord Wigg are extremely interesting. My fear is that the Amendment, as drafted, may be open to misinterpretation, because it asks for a mandatory public inquiry if there are objections, and it does not quantify the nature or the weight of the objections. This is a particular aspect of the Amendment which would have to be looked at during a later stage.
I should very much regret it if the Committee proceed to agree with the later 209 Amendment, set down by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, which would completely remove Clause 9, because I believe that the powers in the clause are most necessary in tightly congested urban areas, as described by my noble friend Lord Wigg. London has these powers now, and to my mind there is no reason why other highly congested urban areas should not have the same powers as well. My view would tend to be that we should support an amended form of the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Wigg.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
In the interests of saving time I wish to reserve my comments on Clause 9 until we consider whether the clause shall stand part of the Bill. If such a clause is to remain—and I hope that it will not—it may be necessary to bring in procedure of the kind described by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. My suspicion is that the system set out in the clause is liable to lead to such difficulties that a review provision of this kind, with a safeguard of an appeal to the Minister, would be unlikely to make any contribution. Here I refer to words used by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. He may not have been using them in the sense of referring directly to Clause 9 itself, but he talked about a vast bureaucracy which would say that this car went in and that car goes out. That is what Clause 9 is all about, and one cannot cure it by amending it in this particular way.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
At Second Reading it was obvious that Clause 9 of the Bill would be one of our headaches when we reached this stage. The clause extends to all county councils, and regional councils in Scotland, the discretionary powers which the GLC now has to control privately-operated public car parks by licensing. These powers already contain safeguards which ensure that no licensing scheme can be introduced without full consultation with representative organisations, and without ensuring that the Secretary of State is aware of the proposals, and has an opportunity to intervene. The council must give public notice of its intention to make regulations and send a draft of them, and subsequently copies of any objections it receives, to the Secretary of State. He may then give the council a direction not to make the regulations without his consent, and he 210 may require the regulations to be modified, but before giving his decision he may hold a public inquiry.
The Secretary of State's course of action would in practice depend on the nature of the representations. If there were little or no objection, he might choose not to intervene, but if there were considerable opposition to the scheme, as opposed to the principle of licensing, he would be more likely to order a public inquiry, or refuse to consent to the regulations. When the GLC proposed to make regulations at the end of 1976, the Secretary of State decided not to intervene or to hold a public inquiry, largely because he held that the objections were in substance objections to the licensing powers which Parliament had specifically y granted to the GLC. It seems sensible to keep the Secretary of State's options open, and to leave him with discretion as to whether or not to hold a public inquiry w hen draft regulations are published.
A public inquiry must be hell if a car park operator is aggrieved by the decision of the licensing authority about the terms of his licence, or by refusal to grant one, and he requests an inquiry. However, the Secretary of State is not required to entertain the appeal if the decision flows directly from the regulations themselves; that is, if the appeal is based on objections to the licensing scheme. The 1969 Act also makes provision for compensation to be paid where an operator suffers as a result of licensing, and any dispute as to the amount of compensation has to he decided by the Lands Tribunal.
I have had correspondence with many noble Lords since Second Reading, and I have talked to some of them about this matter. The 1969 Act provides for the public inquiry to be mandatory in certain circumstances. Under the provisions of Part III of Schedule 5, if an operator appeals to the Secretary of State against a decision of a licensing authority—whether it be to refuse, or to revoke a licence, or to impose onerous conditions in a licence—a public inquiry or a hearing must he held if the operator or the local authority requests one. The Act also makes provision for compensation to be paid where an operator suffers as a result of licensing.
The Government do not envisage that the powers to license privately Operated car parks will he needed outside the most 211 congested urban centres, and this will be made plain in advice which the Department will issue to the local authorities. If the authority proposes to license car parks outside such areas, there would clearly be a strong case for the Secretary of State to exercise one of the options which he has under Part I of Schedule 5: for example, to order the regulations to be modified or not to be made. We do not expect that the control over public available parking space will be widely used, but it will be a valuable addition to local authorities' traffic management powers where there are terribly congested areas. These discretionary licensing powers are unlikely to be needed outside the very hard-pressed city centres in our large conurbations, and this is the point we are going to make very plain in our advice to local authorities.
Clearly, the case for the Secretary of State to intervene at the draft regulations stage would be strong if an authority were attempting to use the powers contrary to the advice which they had been given. I hope this has satisfied my noble friend. We have had talks and long correspondence about it, and I hope that at last we have reached something which is acceptable to him and to the Committee.
§ Lord WIGG
Would the noble Baroness be good enough to amplify the use of the word "advice"? Twice she mentioned "advice". This could take the form, not quite of advice: it could be a Statutory Instrument, it could be an announcement which she would make known to your Lordships' House. On the other hand, it could be an addendum to a Christmas card. I should like to know what form it is going to take.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I am sure my right honourable friend is not proposing to send out Christmas cards with the advice once this Bill becomes law. What normally happens in cases like this is that where local authorities are involved the Secretary of State has to decide what means he will use in order to give the necessary advice to the local authorities and to the organisations concerned. I think it would be a little premature at this point of time to say whether it will be by Statutory Instrument, whether it will be by a letter to the local authorities or 212 how it will be done, but we are aware of the problems. We certainly do not want all local authorities to take this up, but only those where it is necessary to solve their traffic problems in the really congested urban areas.
§ Lord WIGG
The one comment I want to make is this. I think there is a great deal in the point made by my noble friend, that the weakness is that I have not limited the point of pressure, as it were. I would ask the noble Baroness to reconsider it between now and Report stage, to see whether, while retaining the nub of Clause 9—and I regard that as essential—there is a form of words which could be used and which would limit the area over which the powers would be exercised, a formula which would, as it were, rule out objections to the principle of licensing to which she referred. I must say that that came as rather a surprise—the 4,600, the large majority of the representations being related to licensing per se. I quite agree that they should go.
I wonder whether a form of words could be found which would achieve that and, at the same time, make it mandatory upon the Secretary of State, where objections are coming in on a very large scale, as I believe happened in October 1976, then to accept the obligation to order a public inquiry. Or, at the last throw, could he make it clear in the form of advice, where representations were received, not on terms of licensing, as it were, but in respect of the merit of the proposals, whether lie would in normal circumstances order a public inquiry. I am suggesting that we should go to a sort of half-way house between "may" and "shall". I want "shall", the Minister has "may", and apparently never the twain shall meet. I am still hoping that we shall have a little less "may" and a little more "shall". If the noble Baroness could go even some way to meet me, I should be quite content to withdraw the Amendment and then see what could he produced between now and Report stage.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I do not think that at this stage I could go further than say that I will certainly look between now and Report stage, and consult with my advisers, to see whether it is possible to tighten up the definition of "congested", 213 and I will certainly ask my right honourable friend whether he is yet in a position to say by what means he will distribute the advice which we are proposing to give to local authorities. Whether that goes far enough for my noble friend is for him to say.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I am afraid I must trouble your Lordships to think about the future of Clause 9—and I hope it will soon have no future, just a past. I do not attempt to tackle this clause in a frivolous vein. If I had felt like putting down frivolous Amendments to this Bill there is plenty of scope for a whole series of nit-picking points. As the noble Baroness may have noticed, the number of Amendments coming forward from the Front Bench on this side of the Committee has not been conspicuous, and that is because I and my noble friends felt it would be better to concentrate on those few points which we considered of most importance.
It may not seem to a casual observer, or to a Member of the Committee who has drifted into the Chamber because he has nothing better to do, that a clause devoted to the subject of off-street parking and a system for its better regulating, particularly in our greater cities, is a subject over which there could be much controversy, but I should like to explain why, at least to me, it is. I would begin by saying that I do not regard this simply as a matter of transport. I think it goes wider. A friend who will no doubt become known to noble Lords opposite and on this side in years to come has just written a book about Conservatism called Binding the Leviathan. It is the Leviathan of the State, at both local level and at central level, which is one of the main 214 burdens and banes of the modern citizen. What we have in this clause is a particularly unpleasant and insidious form of extension and penetration of official bureaucracy and Nosey Parkerdom into our everyday life.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who I am very glad is here today to take part in the debate, I hope, will no doubt feel from his experience that it is useful for a certain number of larger local authorities to have the sort of powers which are laid down in this Bill. These powers are not being used at the moment, as I understand it. The present membership of the Greater London Council does not like them, does not use them and has no intention of using them, so they are not being used at the moment. It is no good saying that these powers are merely permissive, because you do not give a Minister or a Secretary of State power to do something unless you intend that he may at some point use that power. You do not give somebody a legislative weapon unless you intend him to use it at some point.
Therefore, what we have had so far in the case of the powers which were described very fully by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in the debate on his previous Amendment, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, is one council which has changed its mind owing to a change in Party political circumstances and has not now any intention of using those powers. So there is not much experience to recommend whether or not those powers are a good idea, and the only authority that has them has decided not to use them. On the other hand, there is the strong opposition of the Automobile Association, the strong opposition of the RAC, there are many other bodies and interests which are not happy at the prospect of these controls and there is the "futility", as the RAC describe it, of the Nottingham zone and colour scheme which was a similar scheme aimed at intervention in parking control, more or less on the lines that may be allowed under this particular clause. I say that subject to correction.
These powers have not been used extensively. The place where they were allowed to be used, stopped using them; they were not particularly useful there. Although they are said to be permissive they will, no doubt, he used; and the 215 noble Baroness herself said at the Second Reading on 9th June (Official Report, col. 1563):My right honourable friend has not sought at this stage to legislate on private non-residential parking. These provisions"—that is, the provisions before you in this clause—are solely to control privately-operated public car parks".It is clear that it is the Government's policy that what is in this Bill is merely a first step to a wider system of control. We have no confidence in a wider system on the rather shaky foundations I have so far described, bearing in mind what the RAC call the "futility of excessively restrictive methods", as has been demonstrated by the Nottingham zone and colour scheme. A Transport Road and Research Laboratory report reveals that £280,000 was wasted on what they call "this objectionable experiment".
The proposals in this clause do not have a healthy history. If they had, it might he that the wider objections against them have no real grounds. But I believe that there are wider objections. I believe that especially in this Committee we need to look very carefully at the creeping extension of local government and central Government control. We need to say, when the sort of powers contained within this clause are before us: "Are they really necessary? Would they really benefit the average citizen of the average large city? What is the likely cost? How many officials will be involved? What will be the burden on the average person trying to park? Will businesses be helped or hindered?" Some businessmen are frightened about the prospects that this sort of parking control could usher in. Is the overall effect likely to result in more interference in the liberty of the individual or not? The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, may laugh, but this is very serious. It is the increasing control by the tiniest methods that add up to 1984.
§ Lord WIGG
I agree absolutely; but how, as a driver in London, can you talk about the liberty of the individual when you can sit in the same spot breathing in the fumes from one of the defective lorries of which there are many—and which I always seem to get close to me! Do not talk to me about the liberty of the subject!
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I will not answer the noble Lord by speculating on how many permits he might need, how many officials he might need to visit or on how many council doors he might have to knock on if this system is introduced. I will leave that to his fertile imagination.
I do not want to detain the Committee for too long. I suggest that the Government have admitted that these proposals are the thin end of a rather wider wedge to empower local authorities, where they want to, to interfere in parking. Of course, the local authorities must deal with traffic problems—I accept that—but many of those most affected by the problem, such as the RAC and the AA, do not feel that these proposals are an advance. They see them as a reverse. The experience we have had of over-ambitious schemes of this sort in Nottingham is bad. London has given up the powers it had. There are a whole variety of special interests, different groups of one sort or another, who are worried that the sort of regulations that might come about under these controls—the parking space may be open on only certain days of the week or for fixed hours—need to be satisfied. Would the local authorities really be in a position to satisfy all these anxieties without employing a vast crowd of extremely expensive officials? I think that the best and kindest course to take with this clause is to send it to the everlasting sleeping ground where dead clauses go. I beg to move that this Committee now kills it off.
§ Baroness DARCY DE KNAYTH
I should like to give further support to Lord O'Hagan's Amendment, partly for the reasons that he has given and particularly because if Clause 9 stands part of the Bill I see in it the very real danger of a great reduction in the liberty of disabled people. The regulation of traffic in urban areas in respect of privately-operated off-street public car parks is to be affected by raising charges or limiting the hours of opening to force people to use public transport. But disabled drivers and passengers cannot be forced on to public transport; they are unable to use it because it is physically impossible for them to do so. Where alternative on-street parking is not made available to them or 217 where they are not exempted from charges, disabled commuters run a very real risk of no longer being able to go out to work.
At present, four inner London boroughs do not recognise the orange badge scheme—they provide badges only for those disabled drivers and passengers who live or have a permanent place of work in their areas. These are the City of London, the City of Westminster, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and part of Camden. They do this on the ground that they are congested urban areas. Disabled drivers and disabled passengers are thus being deprived of their right as citizens to visit these areas, to shop or to fulfil other domestic and business duties.
The powers to impose further indiscriminate traffic measures to be given by this clause to the local authorities could similarly curtail the freedom of movement of disabled people in other cities, notwithstanding the fact that the orange badge is recognised in those areas. The point is that people who cannot walk or hop on a bus or cycle have to resort to private motoring to get into or about cities. If they are prevented from parking their cars by financial or physical means their entry to or movement within the cities is impossible.
Where local authorities are given such sweeping powers the careless exercise of which could seriously affect the freedom of movement of disabled people within cities, I think that they must be put under a statutory duty to ensure that their actions under these powers do not adversely affect the disabled. I understand from the chairman of the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled—and this was in a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport—that the Government are unwilling to safeguard the interests of disabled people in this way and wish merely to emit weak exhortatory noises in the form of guidelines. Such an approach, I am sure the Committee will agree, has seldom if ever proved adequate with any but the most enlightened of local authorities.
We cannot allow the freedom of movement of disabled people to be curtailed in this way. Is it not totally illogical to rehabilitate the disabled, to retrain them, to improve access for them, to go some way towards providing them with mobility 218 and, at the last count, to prohibit them from parking so that they cannot go to work or carry out their everyday business? The Silver Jubilee Access Campaign over the past year has done much work towards improving access and public feeling; and we had Access Week about three weeks ago. All this work promises to be very fruitful. Are we to risk i s abortion by allowing Clause 9 to stand part of the Bill?
It may be that the noble Baroness, who, as others have said before me I know, is always very reasonable and, where possible, obliging, will be able to offer some form of safeguard for disabled drivers and disabled passengers to be written into the Bill. But unless she can offer something very much stronger than the issue of guidelines I shall have no choice but to follow the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, if he decides to press his Amendment to a Division—as, I hope, will all noble Lords who feel that disabled drivers and disabled passengers should enjoy at least the same amount of freedom as their fellow citizens.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
I rise to support my noble friend in his Amendment from the rather narrower point of view, that of the motor car and motorist. For those years that I have been involved in matters motoring, I have always been surprised at the fact that so few bodies will come to accept that motor cars are not the prerogative of the luxury classes. Motor cars are used by all kinds of people for all sorts of purposes. There is an increasing growth of their use and numbers. Yet, there has never been in any area in which I have lived or worked what I call a proper acceptance of the role of the motor car. The measures contained in this Bill illustrate this. As I said in Second Reading, it is quite a negative approach. It is the kind of approach that one normally meets from a number of transport engineers whose problem is traffic engineering or traffic management. One so often hears: "It is very difficult; what we want to do is keep them out". That is instead of regarding the whole exercise as one of superb opportunity for the brilliance of road traffic engineering and management.
219 I thank the noble Baroness very much for her letter which she wrote to me after the Second Reading. I am sorry to have to make one quotation to support my argument. The noble Baroness writes:The ability to license privately operated public car parks should enable local authorities to deter non-essential private car use at peak periods: this can be a major cause of congestion adversely affecting essential business users".This is exactly the kind of attitude about which I am complaining. Here is a Minister who wants to deter a use. There should be traffic engineering schemes to encourage the general use.
The noble Baroness wrote:…it will be for individual local authorities to decide whether they should be used in their own areas; we do not believe that they will be needed outside the most congested urban centres".How many authorities do the Government suppose might avail themselves of this opportunity? How many of those local authorities, having availed themselves of the opportunity, are likely to pay more than lip service to the guidelines because they already have their own pet charging systems, hours systems and so on?
Here is an area where a private enterprise advantage can be laid alongside a local authority facility to the mutual benefit of all. I can see no conceivable reason whatsoever for giving these powers to authorities. No good will come of it; indeed, I rather suspect exactly the reverse. Motor cars seem to arouse the deepest passions in people. Deprivation of a right to go here or there arouses quite terrible passions in people. When somebody says: "You may not go there between 8 o'clock and 10 o'clock in the morning because that is for an essential business user", who quantifies an essential business user? Who quantifies my essential need to go into town in peak hours? I gave an example during Second Reading. That is a non-essential use if a reasonable and adequate public service were provided. But that is not so, and I become a nonessential user taking up space on the roadway. I decide, having travelled into town, to pursue another job as I take up parking space. I think that I should have the right to choose my place and how much I pay out of what is going to be offered to me. It is for those very limited and somewhat selfish reasons that I support my noble friend.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
The point at issue surely is the question of movement in our inner cities. It is not a question of local authorities being bloody minded and wanting to deter motorists from using their cars, but accepting the fact that there are more people who want to use their cars than can be coped with by the road systems in the inner areas. The GLC has been trying over a considerable number of years to reduce the number of car parking spaces in central London, initially in collaboration with the local authorities in the central areas. This was done by removing a number of parking meters in the central area and other car parking spaces under their control. This was before we came to the 1976 situation and was part of a strategy to improve movement. That was a very positive strategy by the GLC at that time: a strategy attempting to remove the nonessential user, which in GLC terms was defined as somebody who had two calls to make during the day, and trying to persuade commuters to move on to the public transport system. Therefore this was a very positive approach and was in no way, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has suggested, a negative approach. It was something which was trying to improve the fluidity in the centre of our city, trying to help and improve the business community in our city as a whole. Therefore the fact that these additional powers were necessary was something which was very right and proper.
Regarding remarks made by the noble Baroness, I have very great sympathy with her point that the central London boroughs have not recognised the orange badge scheme. It is obviously clear that adequate arrangements must be made for the disabled. Indeed, I would say to her that the greater fluidity of movement would be of particular help to the essential disabled user. Therefore she should welcome some of the aspects of this particular clause. It would be regrettable if the clause were removed from the Bill. I regard it as the thin end of a different wedge: the thin end of a wedge trying to get the earlier 1969 Act repealed and deprive the GLC of the powers which it now has. I hope that the Committee will resist this plea from the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, to delete the clause. 221 I hope that we can have Lord Wigg's Amendment and provide proper arrangements for public inquiries.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lord WIGG
I should like to support the noble Baroness in her plea for facilities for the disabled. It is a matter of great regret that the problem has not been tackled already by the local authorities. But the noble Baroness should think again before supporting the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, in his Amendment. The remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, underlined the fact that the removal of this clause does not deal with the motor car as a vehicle. One of the most extraordinary things is the prayers in aid from those two organisations—to one of which, to my intense regret, I subscribe—the RAC and the AA. Two more bureaucratically and inefficiently run organisations I have never met. They are even worse than the Army at its worst—and that is saying something. Why should organisations which are concerned with the motor car as a vehicle—something that goes—spend their time on duplicating a letter to deal with a motor car, not when it goes but when it stops?
This clause is wholly concerned with the motor-car but not as a vehicle at all. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is up the pole! It does not deal with the motor-car as an instrument. The fact is that the motor-car will either go or stop; but in London at any given moment in time there are more people who want to stop than who want to go, and so the ultimate logic of it is that nobody goes. We all stop. We had a wonderful example of that this morning, right across London. Even though the police were called out to control it, the traffic had come nearly to a full-stop.
If this clause is taken out and if the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is right, the Conservative Party are hell-bent on relying entirely upon the market place. All I can say to the well-wishers of the Conservative Party is that they should pray that they lose the Election, because if they win and put that into operation, if one has the patience to watch what happens, it will be real fun! They are living in a world which has long gone, 222 and even the present world is passing from us. Those of us who work now are going to be very fortunate in the future because a revolution has taken place which we do not recognise, and the motor-car is only part of it.
In all the great cities of the world one sees the same problems; the problems of congestion and pollution. Some of your Lordships may have been 40 miles at sea outside Los Angeles and seen the great cloud of pollution that hangs over that city. In all the cities along the Pacific seaboard there is the same problem. It has become utterly unmanageable. What we have tried in this country is control by a democratic method. That is what I cannot understand: it was a Conservative Government which put its money on the pricing system. It introduced meters and said, "if you come in you are going to pay" That seems to me the way to tackle it: but, like it or not, that is the road down which we have gone. And now suddenly we are asked to throw all that away, to remove the discipline of the Secretary of State or of the local authority and leave it to the utterly inadequate resources of one of the partners.
I want a partnership; I want, on the one hand, the State (as expressed through the State and its smaller brother, the local authority) and, on the other hand, the entrepreneur, working together. I readily agree—I made the point on Second Reading—that the entrepreneur who takes a site and develops it finds that that is a costly business. It is a large capital investment, and he is entitled to expect to get his money back. He is entitled to expect that not only will he recoup his outlay but that he will make a reasonable profit; and in return for that he gives a service and makes a charge. All very proper; that is the way to guarantee the freedom of the individual and also to guarantee the service.
I understand the joint thinking of the RAC and the AA—and their combined thinking is not an arithmetical but a geometrical process along the road to idiocy—which says, "Just throw everything on one side: do nothing; leave it; and it will all come right on the day." Your Lordships can underline that by going into the Lobbies tonight in support of the suggestion to tear up what is a sensible reserve power. The powers should 223 be held in reserve for those areas where they need to be applied, with safeguards for the interests of the entrepreneur and, so far as is humanly possible, with safeguards for the liberty of the subject. All that I agree with: but to throw away the planning concept, in favour of what?—nihilism—is just plain barmy, and I will have nothing to do with it.
§ Viscount SIMON
I shall speak only very briefly. This is an extremely difficult subject, I find. I have been impressed by a great deal that has been said on both sides of the Committee in very different terms. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, describing to us what the Greater London Council was trying to do. So far as I understood him, he said they had the idea of reducing the number of parking spaces in order to increase the flow of traffic. But surely the result of decreasing the number of parking spaces is that you have more and more cars going round and round St. James's Square, waiting for somebody to move. I do not know that you really increase the amount of rolling traffic, unless it is the rather useless traffic.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
I think the experience very simply is that if you take out a large number of parking spaces and if on the first occasion somebody does exactly what the noble Viscount has suggested, on the second occasion he does not bring his car in.
§ Viscount SIMON
Some people may be more logical than I am. But, generally speaking, I came into the Committee feeling that I would support the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, in this suggestion that we should reject Clause 9. I am still minded to do that, really from this consideration. We have had a great many difficulties outlined. The noble Baroness has been very helpful in suggesting that it does not really mean this and promising that guidance will be given, and so on. The noble Baroness who spoke on behalf of the disabled moved us all, I am sure, and I hope very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, will find it in her heart to be able to do something to meet the points that were made.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has made some very important points about a 224 proper method of appeal against decisions. I wonder whether the Committee would not be wise to follow the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and reject Clause 9, and then invite the noble Baroness to bring in another Clause 9, in which she meets the very real criticisms that have been made. I do not know whether that would be possible, but I should like to suggest that we make it possible for her to do that by rejecting this clause.
§ Earl HOWE
I fully support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. I am not going to add to what has already been said, but I should like to point out that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has made the most astonishing and ridiculous remarks about the RAC and the Automobile Association. So far as the RAC is concerned, he obviously speaks with no proof and with no knowledge at all. He pretends to be a member of one or other of the organisations and then tries to pull them to pieces. I can only say that both of them represent something like 5 million motorists, and that they are a great success and much respected. I expect that shortly he will make an apology to me by letter.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
It was in June 1977 that the Government White Paper announced that it was our intention to consult on legislation to enable the county and regional councils to license the privately operated public parks. This power is a logical extension of local authorities' traffic management powers, particularly where POPP constitutes a substantial proportion of the public parking space that is generally available. The powers are entirely discretionary and it will be for the local authorities concerned to decide whether their use is appropriate, in the light of their local traffic conditions and their ideas of traffic management, As I have said before this afternoon, we do not expect them to be needed or to be used outside the most congested urban centres.
The local authority associations have generally welcomed the extension of their 225 powers of off-street parking as a useful traffic management tool, and in response to an earlier consultation paper which we sent out in the summer of 1976 on the control of the private non-residential parking, a number of the major authorities, including Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire County Councils, spontaneously pointed out to us their lack of control over POPP as a gap in their powers which they thought should be filled before they had any more powers to control the PNR.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
Would the noble Baroness like to make a spot-check on how many Members of the Committee know what POPP is, apart from the drink?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I thought, having said "privately operated public parks" once in full, that noble Lords would then understand and I need not say that at every point. PNR is the private non-residential parking spaces. But those are the major authorities who said that they thought that their lack of control over POPP was a gap in their powers which ought to be filled, before they sought any powers, or were given any powers, to control PNR. If local authorities' traffic management policies are to be effective, they need to be able to control all publicly available parking space, and to apply a consistent charging policy throughout their areas. The result will not inevitably be higher charges, particularly for short-term parkers.
We heard about the GLC. The 1969 Act powers were not invoked before 1976, partly because of the effects of earlier price control policies, and partly because the GLC were exploring other means of restraint at the time. The then Labour GLC made regulations in 1976, but these were revoked soon after they came into force in 1977 by the new Conservative GLC. But the GLC has made no approach to the Department seeking the repeal of their 1969 Act. Indeed, in their response to the Department's consultation paper, the present GLC said that other authorities might find the ability to license POPP helpful in their own circumstances.
I was asked which towns were likely to be thinking of using their powers under Clause 9. That, of course, we cannot say, but what I can tell your Lordships is 226 that those towns where POPP represents a sizeable proportion of the public parking stock include Bristol, Brighton, Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham, Reading, Leeds and Sheffield. I should have thought that those, with the larger conurbations, were of the kind of size or had conditions where they would be likely to try to invoke these powers. It has been suggested that perhaps POPP is just the thin end of the wedge; and the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, referred to the comment made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that he was not seeking at this stage to legislate to control PNR. That is still the case. POPP is quite different from PNR, because that is publicly available parking space while PNR is not publicly available.
We have the different roles of the counties and the district councils. Since the reorganisation of local government in 1974, it has been the county council, as highway authority, that has, in general, been responsible for on-street parking, while district councils usually take the lead in providing and operating off-street car parks. The division of powers in London is slightly different, because the London boroughs have wider powers than the usual district councils. Since the county council is responsible For traffic management policies, of which parking and waiting restrictions on the highway are an important element, it makes sense for these functions to be with one authority; and the scale of highway functions makes them appropriate for action on a countywide basis.
Clause 9 provides for enabling county councils to make regulations to set the parameters within which licensing shall take place, and in so doing they will ensure that the terms and conditions of licences are consistent with their traffic management policies. But the mechanics of issuing licences and stipulating terms and conditions is best left to the district councils, and that is what we are proposing. The Secretary of State is at present considering with the local authority associations whether the present division of transport functions between county and district authorities could be improved. However, this Bill is not the forum for discussion about the allocation of functions between authorities.
227 Authorities are not expected to license privately operated public off-street car parks outside the most congested areas. The licensing scheme will apply only to those car parks that are available to the public for payment. Many small privately operated car parks are reserved exclusively for contract parking, and these are not open to the public for payment. It is the provisions of the 1969 Act which are to be extended, and not the former GLC regulations. What we are proposing under Clause 9 is not to give other counties the powers in the GLC regulations, but that each county council should use the powers of the 1969 Act to make regulations that are appropriate for their local conditions.
The noble Baroness inquired about the provisions for the disabled, and referred to the fact that some of her colleagues had written to my right honourable friend. The Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled have represented to the Secretary of State that restrictions on off-street car parking at certain times of the day could prevent access to town centres, or their work, by disabled motorists who could neither walk nor use public transport, and they requested an amendment to place local authorities under a duty to safeguard the interests of disabled motorists. We have resisted proposals at this stage to amend the 1969 Act powers, on the grounds that they have already been extensively debated in Parliament and not found defective in practice, since they have never been used. To accede to the request of the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled would be to depart from that principle. The powers already provide that before making regulations a county council must consult representative organisations. This gives organisations such as the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled the opportunity to ensure that their views are made known to the authority before any licensing scheme can be introduced, and a local authority can require special provision to be made for the disabled as a condition of the licence.
The Secretary of State shares, as we all do, the concern of the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled that the special needs of the disabled should be properly considered. Accordingly, in the 228 advice which the Department will be issuing to local authorities about the licensing of privately operated public car parks, local authorities will be asked to consider the needs of the disabled. The noble Baroness referred to this letter, but did not feel that we had gone far enough, and thought that we ought to be going further at this time. I am not in a position tonight to say how much further we can go, but I share her concern, and that of all noble Lords, that the disabled should be properly catered for.
I am willing to take this back and have further discussions with my advisers to see whether there is any way by which we can strengthen the claim of the disabled for special consideration, but more than that I am not able to promise the noble Baroness or the Committee this evening. This Bill was debated in Committee in the other place for eight days, and they did not remove Clause 9. It was debated in another place on the Floor of the House, and they did not remove Clause 9. I hope that the noble Lord opposite will think very carefully before he takes us into the Division Lobby. If there is a need to amend Clause 9, and noble Lords can find ways of amending it, there will be an opportunity at the Report stage to put down further Amendments. But I think that it would be to the detriment of the Bill if this Committee tonight agreed to take out Clause 9.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I hope that I may, on behalf of my noble friends on this side, thank the noble Baroness for her usual efficient and thorough answers to points that Members of the Committee have put up. But the comprehensive nature of what she had to say, which I shall read with great interest when it is printed in Hansard, does not really alter the point which my noble friends and I have tried to bring to her attention tonight. The noble Baroness spoke of what happened in another place in Committee and on the Floor of the House. We are a different House, and while we exist we should carry out a different function.
Our main function, in passing Amendments to Bills, is to give Members of another place the opportunity to take a second look, to have a second thought, to re-examine their proposals and to decide whether they are really worth having. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, 229 the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and many of my noble friends have brought forward different points about this clause that have given them pause for thought. It is a clause that is not intrinsic to the whole Bill, and the Bill will be better off without it. Let us get rid of it.
§ Resolved in the negative, and Clause 9 disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 10 [Bicycles]:
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
May I raise two points on Clause 10 with the noble Baroness. I believe that all noble Lords welcome the inclusion of this clause. I should like to ask the noble Baroness
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 39; Not-Contents, 74.229
|Aylestone, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Hale, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Collison, L.||Henderson, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|David, B.||Kirkhill, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stone, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Maelor, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller]|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Melchett, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Fulton, L.||Murray of Gravesend, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Northfield, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Gordon-Walker, L.||Oram, L.||Wigg, L.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)||Winterbottom, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Exeter, M.||Moyne, L.|
|Alport, L.||Forester, L.||Newall, L.|
|Amory, V.||Fortescue, E.||Norwich, V.|
|Auckland, L.||Gisborough, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Gray, L.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Greenway, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Sandys, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Hampton, L.||Seear, B.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Harvington, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Hereford, V.||Simon, V.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.||Somers, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Howe, E.||Spens, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Killearn, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Thomas, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Long, V.||Thurso, V.|
|Crathorne, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Cromartie, E.||Mackie of Benshie, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Mansfield, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Daventry, V.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Vivian, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Morris, L.||Wade, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mottistone, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Elles, B.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Elton, L.||Wise, L.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.|
§ how, the local authority having provided a bicycle park, the cyclists are to get to that park. Although the local authority have powers to provide cycle lanes, it appears that these powers are not very often used. Because of the general congestion of the roads, it seems to be more difficult to get to the end of the journey where there is, so to speak, a haven.
§ To illustrate the point which I am trying to make with a certain amount of seriousness, where I live in Hampshire there is a new roadway, known as the 231 Western Approaches, which comes over Totton Causeway. Part of this new roadway has been built and its building has taken away the cycle lane, which will not, apparently, be provided elsewhere. The result is that at peak hours a number of people from the Totton area using bicycles into the new container berths are deprived of their safe way, because at those hours the traffic density is fairly formidable. Consequently, cyclists are using the pavement. Because of the traffic density, there are very few pedestrains. Therefore, the pavements are not used by pedestrians but they are used by cyclists, who are now committing an offence and are being prosecuted.
§ After asking some oblique questions about the cycle way, I understand that it is not to be reinstated. I realise that the noble Baroness cannot give me a specific answer because I did not give her notice that I intended to ask a specific question. However, it seems to me that in giving guidance to local authorities as to the best way of implementing the clause, this would be a good opportunity to re-emphasise their responsibility to provide cycle ways down which cyclists can safely bicycle to reach, as I say, the haven of the new parking place.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I take note of the noble Lord's point. In Clause 10 we are removing any doubt as to whether those authorities that have powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act to provide parking places can, in the exercise of those powers, also provide stands and racks for bicycles within the boundaries of the highway. Up to this point there has been some question as to whether bicycle racks are street furniture and, therefore, must have a specific Vote or whether they can be classed as parks for bicycles, as we do with car parks. This is intended to clear up that point.
I share the noble Lord's concern about making provision for cyclists. Indeed, my colleagues in the Department do so as well. Perhaps I am fortunate, in that I come from a town which has a new town grafted on to it. Cycle ways are built into it which are now being extended throughout the old town. This scheme is working, but there are some minor difficulties in an old city. Nevertheless, it can be done and I am quite sure that 232 the Department is for ever reminding local authorities that they have the power to provide cycle lanes and that the Department will do what it can to encourage local authorities to provide them.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ 7.22 p.m.
Lord COCKFIELD moved Amendment No. 16:
Before Clause 11, insert the following new clause:
§ Duty of British Railways Board
§ (".It shall be the duty of the British Railways Board to run all sections of its business in such a way so as to improve the service to its customers, reduce its costs, improve its productivity, increase its efficiency and reduce its reliance upon subsidies or grants whether under this Act or any other measure.").
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment pursues the point that I made in the course of the Second Reading debate—namely, that neither the Bill nor the directive issued by the Secretary of State under the 1974 Act contain any requirement on the Railways Board to run the railways efficiently or economically. This seems to me to be an extraordinary omission in a Bill which makes £3,000 million of public money available for the Railways Board as a subsidy towards running the passenger services. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, has kindly written to me about the comments I made in the course of the Second Reading debate but, for reasons which I shall explain, I think it is important to pursue this matter. I think none of us is under any doubt about how important a sum such as £3,000 million is. Even if one looks at the £403 million which is the Railways Board claim for the current year, this comfortably exceeds the £370 million that the reduction of one penny in the basic rate of income tax has cost and which has caused the Government so much grief and anxiety in another place.
It is instructive to look at the history of this matter. We start with the Transport Act of 1947, which set up the British Transport Commission and was in fact the Act which nationalised the railways. This contained two relevant provisions. I do not propose to read them in full: I shall quote only the relevant words in the sections. In Section 3(1), it states:
It shall be the general duty of the Commission … to provide … an efficient, adequate, economical and properly integrated system of public inland transport".
I stress the words "efficient" and "economical." In Section 3(4) —and again I quote—it provides:
the Commission shall so conduct that undertaking … as to secure that the revenue of the Commission is not less than sufficient for making provision for the meeting of charges properly chargeable to revenue, taking one year with another".
The next major enactment was the Transport Act of 1962, which contained two similar provisions. In Section 3(1), it states:
It shall be the duty of the Railways Board … to provide railway services in Great Britain and … to have due regard … to efficiency, economy and safety of operation".
Again, there are the two words "efficiency" and "economy." Section 18(1) contains the provision that the boards should break even, taking one year with another. The next major enactment was the Transport Act of 1968 which, in Section 41(2), said:
It shall be the duty of each of the authorities"—
and perhaps I may interpose that subsection (1) of that section defined "authority" to include the Railways Board—
… so to perform their functions … as to secure that the combined revenues of the authority and of their subsidiaries … are not less than sufficient to meet their combined charges properly chargeable to revenue account, taking one year with another".
In 1974 there was a dramatic change. The Railways Act of that year provided for subsidies amounting to £1,500 million, but without any requirement on the railways to operate efficiently or economically. Nor did the directive issued by the Secretary of State under that Act say a word about it. Indeed—and I think this point is important—the impression that would be given to the ordinary reader by reading the Transport Act 1974 was that the subsidy of £1,500 million was in some way a burden imposed upon this country by the EEC. That impression is given also in the Railways Boards Annual Report—and I quote:
Such obligations may be maintained in so far as they are essential in order to ensure the provision of adequate passenger services".
What the Railways Board did not quote was the paragraph which immediately preceded that and I shall therefore quote it for them. This comes from Regulation 1191/69. It reads as follows:
Member States shall terminate all obligations inherent in the concept of a public service as defined in this Regulation".
In other words, the broad intention of the EEC Regulation was not to extend public service obligations but to restrict or even terminate them. That point is in fact reinforced by the preamble, which is written in a very peculiar form of pidgin-English—and I agree that the Government at least had no responsibility for that. It says:
One of the objectives of the common transport policy is to eliminate disparities liable to cause substantial distortion",
and it goes on to say that the disparities are those caused by the public service obligation.
§ The simple truth of the matter is that the Government used the EEC regulation which was designed to achieve one purpose, to do precisely the opposite. I have no doubt that this is a perfectly legitimate piece of political nimble-footedness; nevertheless it is apt to give rise to misunderstanding and my feeling in the light of this is that the 1974 Act is not a good precedent to follow. It is not a good precedent for another reason, which is that in 1974 and 1975 we were going through an era in which public expenditure was rising very rapidly. It rose so rapidly that in the end it caused grave embarrassment to the Government. This is not a Party political point, because the Government went through great anguish trying to get the level of public expenditure down again and the need to control public expenditure is a matter which is common ground between both Parties, although the emphasis may differ as between one Party and the other.
§ I believe that it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that, as a quid pro quo for the Bill, for the public making available to British Rail subsidies totalling £3,000 million, there should be a clearly spelled out obligation imposed on British Rail to operate their business efficiently and economically. In this connection I seriously suggest that we should put behind us the bad precedent of 1974; that we should reaffirm the good precedent of 1947, in an Act passed by a Labour Government; that we should follow the precedent of 1962, which was an Act passed by a Conservative Government; that we should follow the precedent of 1968, another Act passed by a Labour 235 Government—I am trying to be entirely impartial; the Labour Party score two to one—and that we should insert in this Bill a clear statement of the obligations of the Railways Board. This the proposed new clause does. I beg to move.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
Before speaking on the noble Lord's Amendment, I should like to take the opportunity, in the context of this debate on support for British Rail, to clarify a point I made in opening the Second Reading debate on 9th June. I spoke on that occasion about the elimination of British Rail's freight deficit. To correct any misunderstanding, I should say that it is this Government's policy that British Rail's non-passenger rail businesses must pay their way. I am pleased to say that the British Railways Board have this year eliminated the need for Governmnt subsidy for any part of their business other than the passenger railways. Last year, for freight and parcels businesses, they managed to contain the need for temporary subsidy to well within the ceiling set by the Government. This year the Board expect to manage without Government assistance, and it is their expectation that this will remain the position in future years.
I recognise the fundamental concern expressed in this new clause, and I am sure it is shared on all sides of the Committee. A large nationalised industry is charged with a vital national task for which it requires a considerable annual subsidy. We all want to be sure that we get the best possible service for the smallest possible subsidy, and we know that the heart of the matter is efficiency and improved productivity. But however we may enshrine these principles in legislation—and Section 3 of the Transport Act 1962 already placed a duty on the Railways Board "to have due regard … to efficiency, economy and safety"—efficiency and productivity basically stem from good management. They are achieved by finding good managers and creating conditions in which their skills can flourish. That implies clearly defined objectives, a relationship with Government based on confidence and understanding, a stable financial framework and the right incentives.
236 The Government's policy towards the railways is founded on these principles, and we are fortunate in having Sir Peter Parker as chairman of the British Railways Board. He has demonstrated a sense of realism and purpose, and has accepted that, although the railways have a vital role to play in the social and economic life of the nation, the nation does not owe them a living. He has repeatedly stressed the central importance of productivity for the long-term health of the railways. In his commentary in the Board's annual report for 1977 he says that the Board were encouraged by the way in which they have moved towards a positive and constructive relationship with the Department of Transport, and he spoke of the Government's White Paper on Transport Policy as bringing a message of new certainty to the railways.
It was in that White Paper that the Government said that in the next few years the Board would need to pursue vigorously measures for increasing efficiency and reducing costs, and it set the Railways Board the broad financial objective of reducing subsidy on revenue account for the operation of passenger services by £20 million by the end of the decade.
Since the Board are already constrained by the public service obligation to operate their railway passenger system so as to provide a public service which is comparable generally with that provided at the end of 1974, they have a strong incentive to increase their efficiency and productivity. Indeed since 1975 they have reduced their requirement for passenger support, in real terms, by 12 per cent. This is a significant achievement. And, with the co-operation of the railway trade unions, the number of staff employed has been reduced by over 12,000 since the end of 1975.
The Government and the Railways Board are well aware of the need to strive to achieve all the objects embodied in the new clause. It is a hard road and it will mean some very difficult choices. The Government have every confidence in Sir Peter Parker and the members of the British Railways Board. The Board already accept, I am sure, the duties, that would be imposed on them by the new clause. While I recognise and share, as do my colleagues, the very well-meaning concern of the noble Lord that the rail 237 ways, like every other public enterprise, should provide a better service at a lower cost, I believe that will be achieved not by statutory exhortation, not by a new clause added to this Bill, but by good management and by good Government. I hope the noble Lord will not press this Amendment.
§ Lord SANDYS
I rise to support my noble friend in his Amendment. Many of us in your Lordships' House are railway enthusiasts and no doubt travel regularly. The noble Lord's Amendment is, quite frankly, an Amendment which I think the noble Baroness should perhaps think of accepting, as she did with such grace our Amendment No. 13. It is an Amendment which commends itself on these grounds. It is a declaratory clause and a declaratory clause is, to use an expression, a piety; it is a counsel of perfection, it sets a standard.
Here I think my noble friend has put his hand on something very important. We would all agree with the noble Baroness when she says that the central importance is to improve productivity; but while she has stressed that the public service obligation is sufficient, I think it goes very much deeper than that. I would suggest to the noble Baroness that what we seek is something which is more akin to an account of stewardship. My noble friend has been through every Transport Act since 1947, every Act which concerns British Rail. He has done it with great objectivity, laying stress upon the number of occasions on which the Government of the day, very often a Labour Government, have thought fit to include a declaratory clause of some description. The noble Baroness is saying now that, because conditions are created by the current chairman of British Rail, it is really unnecessary to include a declaratory clause in the present Bill. She rests her argument on past Acts and the public service obligation.
§ I think one thing which is very clear about the whole ethos of stewardship is a need for renewal. It struck me at the time when the four railway companies handed over to British Rail, or British Railways as it was then. They produced a pictorial document which I remember very well, which was called An Account of our Stewardship. I am sure many railway enthusiasts will remember it. It was an account of how the four railway companies had come through the war years and had handed over four going concerns to British Railways in 1947. We believe that this ongoing commitment is something which the Railways Board should welcome, and to include this in the Bill would be a very small amendment.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I have nothing more to add. We think that this is superfluous. We accept what is behind it, but we think that it is superfluous because the duty has already been placed on the British Railways Board under the 1962 Act.
§ Lord COCKFIELD
With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, the point that I was making was that the long tradition had been broken in 1974. It was broken in unfortunate circumstances, and I believe that we ought to re-establish the old sense of orthodoxy in these matters. As the noble Baroness will know, Governments come and go and, equally, I suppose, chairmen of the British Railways Board come and go. In my view there is really on substitute for an absolutely clear statutory declaration as to what are the aims and duties of the British Railways Board. In those circumstances, I feel that I must press the Amendment.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 16) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 36.239
|Auckland, L.||Denham, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mansfield, E.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Elton, L.||Monson, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Fortescue, E.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Cathcart, E.||Gisborough, L.||Morris, L.|
|Cockfield. L. [Teller.]||Greenway, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Hereford, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Cromartie, E.||Killearn, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Kinnaird, L.||Newall, L. [Teller.]|
|de Clifford, L.||Long, V.||O'Hagan, L.|
|O'Neill of the Maine, L.||Strathclyde, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Thomas, W.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Sandy, L.||Tweeddale, M.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Selkirk, E.||Vickers, B.||Wise, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Seear, B.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Segal, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Simon, V.|
|Collison, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|David, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stone, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Maelor, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Melchett, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Murray of Gravesend, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Peart, L.(L. Privy Seal.)||Thurso, V.|
|Hale, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Wade, L.|
|Hamnett, L.||Rhodes, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Hampton, L.||Ritchie-Calder, L.||White, B.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
Lord COCKFIELD moved Amendment No. 17:
After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:
§ Additional information to be included in Annual Report
§ (".In respect of any year or other period after the end of 1978 in which a payment has been made to British Rail under section 3(2) of the Railways Act 1974 as amended, the Railways Board shall, without prejudice to any other information which may be required, include in its report under section 4(5) of the Railways Act 1974 the following information in relation to the railways business:
- (a) a detailed statement of revenue and costs under such headings as the Secretary of State shall specify for the railways business as a whole and for each region and principal service separately together with comparative figures for the previous year and an explanation of the differences between the two years, the statement to indicate also the surplus or deficit on each region and each principal service separately;
- (b) an analysis of productivity for the railways business as a whole and for each region and principal service separately indicating what changes if any have occurred during the period in question together with an explanation of the progress or lack of progress made during the period; and
- (c) a financial plan for the succeeding period of five years indicating in addition to any other information that may be specified by the Secretary of State what payments the Board plans to claim under section 3(2) of the Railways Act 1974 as amended, how these payments are estimated to be made up, for the business as a whole and for each region and each principal service
240 separately and including also particulars of the Board's plans to improve productivity and increase efficiency.").
The noble Lord said: This is the second Amendment in my name, which pursues another point that I raised in the course of the Second Reading debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, has written to me about this. I greatly appreciate what she says and I shall deal with the points she raises in my speech. The basic point I make is that if the public are to provide this amount of money, amounting to £3,000 million, it is essential that they should be satisfied that the money has been properly spent. This, indeed, is recognised by British Rail themselves. On page 11 of their latest annual report they emphasise:
… the value of an open style of management and greater disclosure to Parliament and the public".
§ The new clause is linked to the need to justify the public paying the money. The requirements imposed by the clause relate only to periods when the subsidy is being received. It is closely and directly linked, therefore, to the payment of subsidy. May I begin by saying that no business of the size and complexity of British Rail could possibly be run without a management information service which provides the kind of information which is set out in this proposed new clause.
§ The clause contains three paragraphs and I shall take them in order. The first paragraph requires a detailed statement of revenue and costs, and surpluses or deficits for each region and for each of the principal services. The object of this is to see what services and what regions are profitable, and what regions and what 241 services are not profitable. This is designed to show where the subsidy is in fact going. The cost analysis specified by the new clause will also provide valuable clues as to the reasons why some regions and some services are profitable and other regions and other services are not profitable. It will provide guidance as to marketing policy and the success or failure of particular policies.
§ On page 15 of their latest annual report the Railways Board say that they propose providing some information of this sort. But it appears that the information is to be restricted to services and excludes regions; and the information is promised only "within the next three to four years". I suggest to noble Lords that this is not really good enough. We have waited for 30 years since the railways were nationalised. It is now four years since the 1974 Transport Act was passed. The money provided in that Act is nearly exhausted, and we are now asked to wait for another three to four years before this essential information is provided. May I also ask—If I am correct in the way in which I have read the annual report—why is the information to be confined to principal services and why are regions excluded? There is already some information in the annual report about regions, and it seems to me to be reasonable that all this information should be given in relation to the regions.
§ One of the most valuable tools of management is what is known as "inter-firm comparisons"; that is, you compare the way in which your firm is operating—what is its level of costs in particular areas—with the experience of other firms. There is clearly no firm with which British Rail could be directly compared, and the nearest approach that one could get to an "inter-firm comparison" for British Rail is a comparison between the various regions.
Paragraph (b) of the new clause requires a productivity analysis on similar lines. I need hardly stress the importance of productivity. The noble Baroness herself referred to it directly in her speech. We had a debate on it in your Lordships' House last week; we have another such debate next week. The chairman of British Rail himself, on page 7 of the latest report, says:
Raising productivity is a priority that will not go away".
Further down on the same page he refers to:
Our intention to move towards more disclosure and more effective monitoring".
Paragraph (b) of the new clause is therefore designed to help the chairman of British Rail to move in the direction in which he obviously wants to go.
Paragraph (c) of the new clause reflects the fact that no business can be run properly and efficiently without a financial plan for the future. I am in fact indebted to the Government for Clause 2 of the present Bill, on which paragraph (c) of my new clause is modelled. If the Government feel that it is reasonable that every non-metropolitan county council ought to produce a five-year plan, including—and I now quote Clause 2(2)(c) of the Bill:
estimates of the financial resources required … with proposals for obtaining such resources"—
surely it is reasonable that British Rail should do the same.
§ Finally, I should like to make two points. In her letter to me the noble Baroness has said that British Rail give an immense amount of information in their annual report, and she said they give more information than is required by statute. They do, of course, give a very great deal of information and one must pay tribute to them for it. It is a most interesting and informative report. The trouble is that it is not always very easy to pull together the various strands of information; nor is it easy to see exactly what is happening in particular areas of the railways operation.
It is true that the information given is in excess of the statutory requirement, but I suggest that that is really quite beside the point. The statutory requirement is to be found in Section 4(5)(a) of he Railways Act 1974. This provides that British Rail shall produce:
such information as the Secretary of State may from time to time specify".
§ So to defend the lack of information on the basis that it is not required by statute is merely to say that the Secretary of State has failed to require British Rail to produce the information. Therefore, this clause is designed to help the Secretary of State by imposing the obligation to produce 243 the information in any year in which a subsidy is drawn.
§ I want to make one other point. My own view is that on broad constitutional grounds discretion given to Ministers, which goes wider than is absolutely essential, is not a very good thing. People tend to argue that either the discretion is not properly used or it is not used at all, and examples of this will be so familiar to your Lordships that I need not quote specific instances. I suggest that it is always very much better for the requirements to be set out clearly and positively in the statute itself, so that the subject, as well as the Minister, knows exactly what his rights and duties are. This is what the new clause sets out to do. I beg to move.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
The noble Lord has shown in his speech and the very careful wording of his new clause a wholly praiseworthy concern to be satisfied that British Railways Board gives a full account of its need for passenger support and its use of the money paid by the Government, and he calls for rather more information than any shareholder would expect to see published in company accounts. But that is understandable. The railways are more important to society and the economy than most private companies, and their passenger operations require a considerable annual subsidy. I hope to convince him, however, that his new clause is unnecessary, since much of the information he calls for is already provided, and that where information is not provided then there are good reasons for this.
The noble Lord has drawn our attention to the British Railways Report and Accounts for 1977 and has commended that document to your Lordships' House. I would also call attention to the Government's response to the Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries on the role of British Rail in public transport. Both of them contain a great deal of information about the railways. In their response to the Report of the Select Committee the Government said that they agree that Parliament and the public would be better informed if more details of the public service obligation 244 grant were published, and that after discussion with the Board they have agreed to give Parliament a breakdown of the Board's claim for grant each year when that claim is accepted, usually in the spring.
There follow three tables setting out the Board's forecast of passenger railway business sector costs and revenue and support requirements for 1977. Similar information for 1978 was published in the Official Report of 3rd May as part of a Written Answer by my right honourable friend this year. The same figures are also set out on page 12 of the British Railways Board's Report and Accounts for 1977 alongside comparable figures showing the estimated results for 1977. We have at our disposal now three sets of figures for the passenger railway. The forecast for 1977, the estimated results for the same year, and the forecast for 1978.
There is more. On page 47 of the Board's Report and Accounts noble Lords will find the railways' operating account, which shows that, after Government payments, there was an operating surplus in 1977 of over £44 million compared with £101,000 in 1976. The new clause would seek an explanation of the changes from one year to another. There are many reasons for this commendable success and they will be found within the pages of the Annual Report and Accounts.
I hope I have convinced the noble Lord that the financial information for the whole railway sought in this new clause is already made available, and indeed the published information for the passenger business sectors goes further than required in the new clause. But the new clause also seeks a breakdown of information by regions and principal services. Although British Rail is organised administratively into regions and divisions, and although expenditure budgets are compiled for regions and divisions, no attempt is made to analyse the expenditure in terms of regional net profit and loss accounts. The assets provided by the region contribute to the profitability of services which are not regional, nor are earnings assessed regionally. It would therefore he impracticable to provide a full regional analysis in the form sought.
The new clause also calls for information about principal services. Information on 245 the direct costs and revenues of principal services is, of course, available to the Board. But the allocation of indirect costs to individual services, for instance for track and signalling and for administration, presents great difficulties. Even by 1981, after the Board expect to have developed their system of avoidable costing to the point where they will be able to attribute some, but not all, of the indirect costs to the different business activities, it will not be possible to judge whether individual services are profitable or unprofitable, although it will then be possible to say what contribution a service makes to the residual total of indirect costs.
I now turn to the question of productivity. The Board is very aware of the need to convince us all that it is using its physical and manpower assets efficiently. The need, of course, applies to all the nationalised industries, and in the recent White Paper on the Nationalised Industries (Cmnd. 7131) the Government said they would require industries to publish key performance indicators. We are now discussing with the Board how best they can fulfil the requirements of that White Paper in future Reports and Accounts, but noble Lords will note that the 1977 Report and Accounts provides a good deal of information on performance and productivity.
On page 14 the Board have taken the first step in publishing performance indicators which include measures of labour productivity and a look back over the last ten years. They show some important improvements. There are also several pages of information on staff numbers, and receipts and traffic in the section on statistics (pages 63–69). The Nationalised Industries White Paper shows, I suggest, that the Government is aware of the need to publish more information; and the latest Report and Accounts shows that the Board are moving steadily along this path.
The third part of the new clause refers to the Board's financial plan for railway business, and the noble Lord has argued persuasively for disclosure of this plan, or large parts of it. It may help if I explain the Government's policy on nationalised industry plans and the present position so far as plans for the railways are concerned. The planning of any nationalised industry requires a dialogue 246 between the industry and the Government—in the case of British Rail the Board look to the Government for guidance on economic prospects, on the social objectives underlying the payment of grant and on the financial objectives for sectors of the business. This is recognised in the recent White Paper on the Nationalised Industries, which goes on to say:… so that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, and the public, can be better informed of the industries' objectives the Government has asked them to publish in their annual reports and accounts a summary of the broad objectives in their corporate plan, and the main points in any major review, and any Government response to them".The British Railways Board expects to be able to send us a corporate plan later this year, one component of which would be a rail plan, and we should expect to see the publication in the Board's report and accounts next year of the broad objectives contained in that plan. But in this new clause the noble Lord is calling for details of the Board's requirements for support and of their plans to improve productivity and increase efficiency. We have already given the Board a broad objective for the passenger business in financial terms, which is to contain and then to reduce subsidy to the revenue account for the operation of the passenger railway system. In the White Paper The Government's Expenditure Plans 1978–79 to 1981–82 (Cmnd. 7049) the provision for passenger subsidies to the British Railways Board shows a reduction from £341 million in 1978–79 to £318 million in 1981–82 at 1977 survey prices. This is the framework within which the Board must plan.
I am quite sure that noble Lords would agree with me that we want British Rail, within the constraints imposed by the public service obligation, to operate commercially. We have already told the Board that they should expect no subsidy for their non-passenger business from the beginning of this year. And we have said that we consider that Inter-City services should pay their way. The Board will not meet these financial obligations unless they act commercially and we must remember, when we call for information about the Board's plans, that it would not be reasonable to expect them to disclose information which might weaken that commercial position.
On the matter of plans to improve productivity and increase efficiency, I 247 once again refer to the White Paper on Nationalised Industries, which says:There are obvious difficulties for any industry, whether nationalised or private sector, in predicting the path of all its key performance indicators in future years; and any industry has to be ready to respond to circumstances by changing priorities within its overall objectives. The Government believes, nevertheless, that the nationalised industries should be prepared to make public suitable aims in terms of performance and service, and it has asked them to do this in their reports and accounts".British Rail have therefore been asked to publish performance indicators—and, as I have already remarked, the Board's 1977 Report and Accounts contains a foretaste of what these might be. We shall be discussing with the Board how these might be developed, and in due course we should expect them to be supported by an explanation of significant trends.
The Government largely endorse the intention of the new clause; if the noble Lord and I appear to differ, it is not about the ends but about the means. I cannot accept that greater openness about the railways' business can best be achieved by this clause. I have explained that to a large extent where the information is available it is already published, or that publication is being actively discussed with British Railways Board. But in some respects the information is simply not available; in others its disclosure, without a great deal of detailed supporting analysis, could be misleading.
Disclosure of information is, by its nature, a sensitive topic, but I am sure noble Lords will realise, from a reading of the 1977 Report and Accounts, that much has been done by the Board to show, in Sir Peter Parker's own words… in a clearer, cleaner way what deal it is that the railways have with society".I believe that much more can be achieved by the close co-operation of the Government and the Board within the clear framework of Government policy than can be achieved by new, necessarily inflexible, legislation. I hope the noble Lord will not press the Amendment.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
The noble Baroness has given a very comprehensive reply which I am sure contains much food for thought; we will study it and perhaps return to the matter on Report. There were some individual items, for example 248 the question of the regions, which I found most interesting and which we will need to look at again if the course pursued by my noble friend Lord Cockfield is to be taken any further. Meanwhile, we will study what the noble Baroness said, and I wish to thank her and her Department for the thorough answer she has given to the points made on this Amendment.
§ Lord COCKFIELD
I too am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the detailed and comprehensive reply she gave to the comments I made. I would only make the point that every major private sector company must face this problem of information being alleged to be difficult to obtain or to be unobtainable, and in the end they must solve these problems. My suspicion is that before many years are out British Rail will find that they will not only have to solve them but will no doubt solve them. As my noble friend Lord O'Hagan said, the Minister has given us a great deal to think about. We will study what she said with great care. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 12 [Transfer of controlling interest in Freightliners Limited]:
§ 8.13 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 11, line 35, leave out ("1st July 1978 ("the transfer date")") and insert ("the appointed day").
§ The noble Baroness said: It might be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed at the same time the following Amendments: Nos. 19, 20, 22, 24, 25 and 26, which are all concerned with the same point. The NFC financial reconstruction and the transfer of Freightliners were intended to take place on 1st July 1978. However, it is now clear that the Bill cannot be expected to be enacted by this date. It would not be appropriate for the transfer of Freightliners or the extinguishment of a portion of NFC's capital debt, which partly relates to the transfer of Freightliners, to take place retrospectively. It is therefore necessary to amend the date of 1st July 1978 in Clauses 12 and 14.
§ Clause 21(1) already provides for the Secretary of State to make an order 249 appointing a day for the coming into force of these clauses. Under the terms of the Amendments, the transfer of Freightliners and the extinguishment of debt would then take place on that day. It is envisaged that the Secretary of State would make an order under Clause 21(1) for these clauses shortly after enactment.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
Any Amendment which prevents the possibility of retrospective legislation must be right; I therefore support this Amendment and the others to which the noble Baroness referred.
§ 8.15 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 11, line 38, leave out ("date") and insert ("day").
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 11, line 40, leave out ("date") and insert ("day").
§ 8.16 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 12, line 11, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 12.
§ The noble Baroness said: It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I spoke at the same time to Amendment No. 23. This is a technical Amendment, to ensure there is no doubt about the consequences for pensions on the transfer of Freightliners Limited from the National Freight Corporation to the Railways Board. It is a long-established principle of pensions arrangements as they apply to the nationalised transport industries that the pension rights of an employee are preserved if he is transferred from one of the industries to another. Sections 136(2) and 136(4) of the Transport Act 1968 contain provisions which ensure this.
§ If the Amendment were not made, there could be a doubt as to whether Section 136(2) and (4) of the 1968 Act applied in the case of the trasfer of Freightliners Limited to BRB. The 250 reason for this is that Freightliners Limited is at present a joint subsidiary of NFC and BRB, NFC being the majority shareholder; Freightliners Limited is therefore already a subsidiary of BRB. In Section 51(5) of the Transport Act 1968 there is a provision that for the purposes of certain provisions of that Act, which include Section 136, a joint subsidiary of two transport authorities is to be regarded as a subsidiary of each of these authorities. By amending the Bill so as to provide that, for the purposes of Clause 12, Freightliners Limited shall not be regarded as a subsidiary of BRB until the transfer date, any doubts about the manner of the application of Section 136 of the 1968 Act will be removed.
§ Lord BANKS
We accept that the pension schemes and those pensions which depend on them should be preserved by this means.
§ 8.18 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 12, line 18, leave out ("transfer date") and insert ("appointed day").
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 12, line 22, at end insert—
("(3A) Section 136(2) and (4) of the 1968 Act (transfers in connection with pension schemes and preservation of pension rights) apply in the same way; and for the purposes of section 136(4)(c), Freightliners Limited is to be treated (despite section 51(5) of that Act, which made it a joint subsidiary both of the British Railways Board and N.F.C.) as having become a subsidiary of the British Railways Board only on the appointed day.").
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 24:
Page 13, line 21, at end insert—
("(7) In this section "the appointed day" means the day appointed under section 21(1) below for the coming into force of this section.").
§ On Question, Whether Clause 12, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?251
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
In asking the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, about the transfer, I would remind her that I drew attention to this issue on Second Reading. Why have Freightliners Limited, a subsidiary of BR but with NFC owning the majority share, to be transferred? What are the advantages, and to whom do they accrue? I understand that NFC are still opposed and that Freightliners Limited have made a small profit.
I can appreciate the argument that British Rail would wish to operate a total road-rail service, but if Freightliners Limited are embraced in British Rail, there is a probability, notwithstanding what the noble Baroness said in answer to my noble friend Lord Cockfield on Amendment No. 17, that Freightliners could lose their identity in the mishmash of the whole of British Rail. So far as the freight haulage industry is concerned, any comparison of freight rates which they currently can make would then be denied to them; and of course there is bound to be a little thought that any industry which relies to some extent on public funding can increase its business at the cost of its competitors because it is supported by its subsidy.
That is one side of the argument. On the other side, it is my understanding that Mr. Peter Parker said that Freightliners is to be operated as a separate unit. If that is his intention, fine. It is not, certainly, for me—neither do I think it is for the Committee—to determine how Mr. Peter Parker, chairman of British Rail, runs the business put under his charge. If it is to be run as a separate unit, why cannot it remain as a separate unit, as it stands now—that is, as a separate trading entity under NFC, with British Rail deriving those benefits that come from its share?
I started by asking why Freightliners should be transferred. I end, having put two points of view, again by asking, Why? What is the necessity for transferring it? Could the noble Baroness explain why the Government feel it is necessary?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
I shall do my best. The ownership of Freightliners has been the subject of prolonged public debate. I am sure all noble Lords will 252 agree that a firm decision now on the future of the company is essential for its future success. At present the ownership is divided between the two major public corporations, the National Freight Corporation and the British Railways Board, both of whom have enormous expertise in their own sectors of the transport world. The question is, which one should control Freightliners to give it the best prospects of a sound commercial future?
Over the past few years British Rail has shown that it is capable of providing freight services that make excellent commercial sense. That is shown not least by the fact that its need for grant, which was £66 million as recently as 1975, will have been entirely eliminated by this year. It has done this by providing services that are competitive and by effectively marketing their advantages to customers. The services that it has built up in this way have enabled the railways to meet the needs of heavy industry and, with the introduction of Speedlink, to develop modern streamlined services for the general merchandise market. The Speedlink services and Freightliners are increasingly complementary. It makes sense that they should be marketed as a package by British Rail's Freight Corporation organisation. There is no doubt that Freightliners will be able to act in a fully commercial fashion under British Rail. The chairman of the British Railways Board has stated that he intends to build on the strength of the Freightliner company, retaining the characteristics of an independent profit centre, and a very high degree of delegated responsibility and authority. I hope that answers the noble Lord's points.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
The noble Baroness knows very well that it has answered my points—and has answered them quite delightfully. However, I have just one small question. When the noble Baroness was dealing with Amendments Nos. 16 and 17, I understood her to say that the accounting that would be reported in the annual report would pay due regard to the separate entities. Therefore, I imagine that Freightliners, its activities, profitability and turnover, will be separately monitored. In that case the fears, as it were, of the other side of industry will not be realised, as it will be able to monitor those aspects.
253 In conclusion, I should like to say that I understand that most sections of the industry fully endorse exactly what the noble Baroness said. The Speedlink service is a huge success, and is much used by the other side of industry. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that British Rail does look set for taking its fair share of the business. I do not believe that any noble Lord on this side of the Committee wished to deny the railways a proper and increasing share of freight. I do not think that there has ever been an argument that road haulage should deny the railways their rightful opportunity if they set their house in order and if they provide the kind of service that the customer wants. It is only the lack of that service in recent years which has perhaps added to the expansion of road freightage. I hope, therefore, that, under the present chairman, British Rails' success can go from strength to strength.
§ Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 13 agreed to.
§ Clause 14 [Reduction of capital debt]:
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 13, line 30, leave out ("1st July 1978") and insert ("the day appointed under section 21(1) below for the coming into force of this section")
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 13, line 31, leave out ("date") and insert ("day").
§ Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 15 and 16 agreed to
§ Clause 17 [17. Provisions supplementary to s. 16]:
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 27:
Page 15, line 31, at beginning insert—
("pension" and" pension scheme "mean the same as in the 1962 Act and").
§ The noble Baroness said: This again is a purely technical Amendment. It provides for the definition of "pension" and "pension scheme" in Section 92(1) of the Transport Act 1972 to apply to the 254 interpretation of the clauses of the Bill, Clauses 16 and 17, which provide for funding NFC's historic pension liabilities. These are the definitions which apply for the interpretation of corresponding provisions in the Railways Act 1974. The Amendment is needed to ensure that the funding schemes for the National Freight Corporation and British Railways Board schemes are on a consistent basis. I beg to move.
§ Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 18 [Travel concessions for transferred employees]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 18 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Viscount SIMON
I wanted to ask one question on Clause 18 before it stands part. I am sorry that I have not given notice of it to the noble Baroness. If she cannot reply off her capacious cuff I shall well understand it. I cannot understand why this clause is necessary. As I see it, there are numbers of employees of the National Freight Corporation in these other bodies who were formerly British Rail employees. They have carried with them the right to the travel concessions which they would have had under British Rail. Would it not be much simpler to give them a little card to say "I am an ex-British Rail employee", and let them take it to the railway station and obtain the concession, instead of going through the business of getting it from someone else who has to recover the amount from the Treasury?
§ Baroness STEDMAN
It is not quite as simple as that. Under Sections 4 and 5 of, and Schedule 4 to, the 1968 Act, a considerable number of British Rail staff were transferred to subsidiaries of the Corporation, when it took over the control of Freightliners and National Carriers. The retired employees continued to be eligible for their concessions, though at a reduced level—concessions covering in many cases, wives and families, as well as employees who transferred, widows and retired employees. When the British Rail staff were transferred under the 1968 Act they retained their previous conditions of service including their travel 255 concessions. The Corporation and the former rail subsidiaries took over the responsibility for the cost of those concessions in respect of the staff transferred to them. They are made by the Corporation and National Carriers to the British Railway Board and the London Transport Executive, and at present amount to about £1½ million a year. The intention of the clause is that the Secretary of State should have power to reimburse the Corporation for the payments made in future. The Secretary of State must have Treasury approval for the reimbursement, and he may impose such terms as, with the approval of the Treasury, he considers appropriate. That is the reason for putting the clause in the Bill.
§ Clause 18 agreed to.
§ Clause 19 to 21 agreed to.
§ Clause 22 [Citation and extent]:
§ 8.30 p.m.
Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 28:
Page 18, line 23, leave out ("3") and insert ("4").
§ The noble Baroness said: Clause 4 (Concessionary fare schemes) was added to the Bill to require all those county councils who have to prepare and publish annual public passenger transport plans to include in them certain material about travel concession schemes. Clause 22 lays down that the requirements about county transport planning in Clauses 1 and 3 of the Bill do not apply to Scotland and Clause 4 should likewise be disapplied. The Amendment secures this.
§ Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
§ Schedule 3 [Amendments about Lorries]:
§ [Amendment No. 29 not moved.]
Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 30:
Page 22, line 46, leave out from ("rates") to end of line 47.
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment deals with a section that refers to the charging of fees and the method of payment in respect of vehicles brought to a testing station for inspection with a view to 256 removal of a prohibition. There are two kinds of prohibitions called GV 160, which is mainly for matters of overweight, and it is very seldom that a vehicle will be directed to a testing station for examination to prove that the overweight has been remedied. It is more than likely that a vehicle will be sent to the station for removal of a GV 9. This is the form of prohibition used in cases of maintenance. In fact this is the prohibition note to which my noble friend Lord Mottistone referred when we were discussing the major part of Schedule 3.
§ Currently GV 9s are issued. These are prohibition notices broadly under two headings—"Immediate" or "delayed". If it is an "Immediate" the repair can be effected by the roadside or the vehicle can be towed away and repaired in a garage. Subsequently the inspector who issued the prohibition notice is asked to make a further inspection with a view to issuing a GV 10—that is, a removal of the prohibition notice. In many instances the inspector may go to the premises, or he and the operator may find a common meeting place. This subsection provides that the inspector can direct the vehicle to go to a testing station, in which case the full rigours of the test are undertaken. One can see the good sense in that, but, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone pointed out, there can be delays.
§ One of the most common causes for the issue of a GV 9, a prohibition notice, is smoke. Smoke is that indefinable, non-measurable nuisance that inspectors are fairly fond of, and often it is a minor adjustment, perhaps the replacement of a fuel pump or replacement and/or adjustment of an injector, which can be effected in a matter of hours. The current practice is that, having effected the repair, the owner phones the station and says, "I have finished this. May I come in?" Normally the man says, "Yes, come down, stand in the queue and we will get through". According to my noble friend, there appears to be at least one station that does not adopt this way of dealing with them. They deal with GV 10s on certain days.
§ It would appear to me—and this is really the point of my Amendment—that if we have to make an appointment and pay in advance, further delays will occur. Already the issue of a GV 9 can bring proceedings in a court under the 257 construction and uses provision. That is penalty one. Penalty 2 is that the vehicle has to be taken out of service and may be delayed during repair and/or—and this is important—awaiting a suitable appointment for clearance. That is the second penalty. The third penalty that applies both in the case of the GV 160 and the GV 9 is that these matters are reported to the licensing authority. They go in the folder, and if there are too many GV 9s or GV 160s the licensing authority can call the operator to task. Various formalities are gone through but the licensing authority has the right to revoke or suspend the licence, thus depriving the operator of an earning capacity.
There are these three penalties, and do not let us forget that there is no independent appeal. Any appeal against a GV 9 is referred to the senior mechanical inspector and I understand that invariably he finds in favour of his inspector. The operator is not allowed an independent engineer; he is not allowed an independent source of appeal. So his penalties are virtually pre-set at the moment of the offence. I should like to know exactly what the payment of fees for inspection means. It says
in accordance with prescribed scales and rates";
but there are not any at the moment, so presumably they will have to be made for inspections at testing station for the issue of a GV 10. I should further like to know exactly what is meant by,
and payment of the fee may be required to be made in advance".
I can see great difficulties here. I do not wish to be difficult about this matter or to delay the Committee, but I think the industry has a perfect right to understand what is meant, and that is the purpose of this Amendment which I now beg to move.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I think my noble friend has a point here, particularly on the advance payment of the sums in question; and if the noble Baroness is going to write to my noble friend rather than delay the Committee further, I hope she will be good enough to send me a copy of the letter as well. There is one rhetorical question which I should like to put to the noble Baroness in celebration of this enjoyable Committee stage. The question is: Why did she miss her train? 258 Why are we all here at quarter to nine, instead of finishing at quarter past eight? Because a noble and absent Lord has delayed the proceedings and then gone off. It is a great pity if the further stages of this Bill are going to continue to be delayed by the noble Lord who comes here, makes a row, causes a nuisance and then, if I may coin a phrase, "wiggers off". We deprecate the noble Lord's continual malevolent interference in this Bill, and I hope that if he is going to continue to participate he will speed things up or else be more constructive.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
In defence of my noble friend, who has been accused of causing a nuisance and going off, I wish to say that I consider that he had valid points to raise, and he raised them. Perhaps some of us have spoken for longer than we should have done on many of the clauses, and this would be a contributory reason for our being here at this time of the evening when we had hoped that we might have finished by about half past six. None the less we are getting to the end of the Committee stage now. With regard to the Amendment before the Committee, I am sure the noble Lord will understand if I say that I will write to him. on his detailed questions. I shall send copies of the correspondence to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in order to let them know what is happening, and to ensure that they, and I, are clear in our minds before the Report stage.
With regard to the Amendment itself, I should say that the existing plating and testing scheme requires payment of fees in advance in all cases, whether the vehicle is brought to the testing station for inspection, or the operator merely wants to replace a mislaid document. Billing customers for payment in arrears—and especially where dealing with the reluctant payer—could be time consuming, and could prove expensive. As the scheme is required to be self-financing the extra cost would have to be passed on to the non-offending section of the industry. That is the reason for the inclusion of the provision in the Schedule.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
I apologise to the Committee—and I mean this sincerely, because I also want to go 259 home tonight, and I have to travel 60 or 70 miles—but I must say that the noble Baroness has not answered the question. I wish to refer to the difference between plating and testing, and the payment of fees in advance. An operator will know when he is to offer a vehicle for plating. He will know when his vehicle is due for testing. He will fill in the appropriate form, and make an appointment. He will send the money with the application for the appointment. He does not know when he is to get a GV 9—I actually believe this. He certainly does not know when he is to complete the repair and request a GV 10. Therefore, the parallel which the noble Baroness draws is not in fact parallel; it is divergent. In one case the person concerned knows when he is going, and so he can write and pay in advance, but in the other case, it is not known. The noble Baroness might say in her letter: "Ah, but payment in advance means that the chap says, ' come along at 4 o'clock and bring the money with you '." I could quite understand that.
I quite accept that there should be no credit facilities, which would be expensive. I quite accept —and the industry accepts—that if one commits an offence one must pay. This may be the fourth penalty one has to pay—I refer to a fee for getting a GV 10, whereas today one does not pay. I am quite happy to beg leave to withdraw the Amendment on the basis that the noble Baroness has offered to write to me, but what the noble Baroness has to say will govern whether I return to this matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.43 p.m.
Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 31:
Page 23, leave out lines 10 to 21.
§ The noble Lord said: We discussed this matter at an earlier stage, but I gave notice that I might wish to return to it, and I shall now do so quite briefly. In dealing with earlier clauses, the noble Baroness said that guidance would be issued to the inspector with regard to the five-mile limit. This provision appears to deal with matters which are more likely to occur in rural and country areas, where weighbridges and testing stations are not 260 so readily available as they are in urban areas; hence the necessity for providing designated areas. I think that that is a fair understanding of the situation. Can the noble Baroness assure the Committee that in framing the guidelines due regard will be paid to the very nature of the work that is carried out in rural areas? I particularly have in mind pea harvesting, which is so very crucial, as well as beet harvesting, and similar activities. I also wish to ask the noble Baroness to bear in mind that nowadays planning requirements are fairly stringent, and the environmental lobbies—particularly the Council for the Protection of Rural England—make great play regarding the siting of particular farm buildings. One thinks of the very large grain silos. In these circumstances, more traffic—and heavy traffic—has to travel farther than it otherwise would, and has to use roads which are not primarily designed for its use. If the noble Baroness can give me an assurance on this it would be very helpful to the industries concerned.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
The noble Lord will know that since Second Reading I have had consultations with some of his colleagues on the very point that he has raised his evening. I understand that it is felt that on occasions our examiners are perhaps a little too strict, do not have too much care about the loads which the vehicles are carrying, and perhaps do not show quite enough sense, and that they have directed loads of peas, sugar beet and other goods away from where they were heading. I understand that this happens only in very rare cases. Such incidents are not general; indeed, there has been great praise of our examiners during our discussions on the Bill today. However, we are proposing to send out guidelines, and we shall ask all our examiners to be aware of the fact that some lorries may be carrying livestock or perishable goods. We shall ask them to be as reasonable as they can about such matters.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. As the last speaker during this stage of the Bill it falls to me, on behalf of my noble friends and other Members of the Committee, to thank her very much for the great attention that she has paid to all that we have said. 261 The noble Baroness has been in attendance on us for 6¾ hours. She must be Tuesday's child full of grace. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 3 agreed to.
§ Remaining Schedule agreed to.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
Before the Bill is reported to the House, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his kind words. I also wish to express my appreciation, as well as that of my Department, of the way in which noble Lords have consulted us and given us an opportunity to try to sort out some of their problems before we arrived at the Committee stage. I am most grateful for the co-operation we have had from both Benches opposite.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I do not wish to prolong the proceedings; I wish to say merely that I am looking forward to the next stage of the Bill.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.
§ 8.48 p.m.