HL Deb 13 May 1980 vol 409 cc105-19

2.59 p.m.


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.—(Lord Bellwin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to. House in Committee accordingly. [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Preliminary]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


My Lords, this is an unusual clause and we on this side of the House could have moved an amendment to almost every subsection. It is not at this stage my purpose to go into another Second Reading debate, but I should like to make just three points. First, Part I of the Bill deals with the general question of transport licensing and conditions. Here I should like to say to noble Lords that there will be various provisions in the various clauses and in the amendments which will have some bearing on the rural areas. We would like to stress to noble Lords—I am certain they will take note themselves—that it may well be that what appears to be an advantage for rural areas may not be when one looks deeply into it. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will give very careful consideration to the various amendments as they come before the Committee

As regards Part II, dealing with the National Freight Corporation, I should like to say that it was made perfectly clear from this side of the House during the Second Reading debate that, while we strongly object to the Government's proposals, this is a matter which has been approved by a Division in the other place and, therefore, we shall not take any steps other than try to improve the decision on the freight corporation.

As regards Part III, which deals with the question of pensions arising from the Government's decision on the National Freight Corporation, we shall be moving various amendments. I should like to stress at this stage—and my noble friend Lord Mishcon will deal with this part of the Bill—that this is a completely non-political matter and we shall be dealing with it solely from the standpoint of the Government honouring their commitments and also from the standpoint of fairness and equity for those working in the freight corporation.

I thought it necessary to make those statements, but we shall not oppose the Motion that the clause shall stand part of the Bill.


It is rare for a Bill of this size not to have a whole host of amendments on Clause 1. However, there are one or two things to state or even pave the way for the rest of the Bill on the Question, That the clause stand part. Having had for some years a close and pleasant relationship with the industry, I feel that there is much that one can do to improve the Bill. I can say with great respect to its authors and to my noble friend Lord Bellwin, who has been so helpful, that I hope he will see fit to reconsider some of the points that will be raised in the form of amendments and even perhaps to accept some of the amendments themselves.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I hesitate to repeat a Second Reading speech or indeed make one. However I must reiterate that, while understanding the Government's intention, and particularly their desire to remove red tape, their belief that they will revitalise a declining industry by this measure is, sadly, a vain hope. Most important of ail, the bus and coach operators, whether they be from the National Bus Company, the municipal undertakings or the large number of "independents" are most alarmed by this Bill, especially the parts that concern road service licensing and trial areas. They are not alarmed just because they feel that the Bill will affect their business: above all they feel that it is unworkable and against the public interest which, in theory, is what the whole Bill is about.

Finally, I must say that I shall be supporting the amendments that have come from the Confederation of Passenger Transport—I have studied them most carefully—whether they be in my name or in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and his team. However, there are certain amendments being moved by the noble Lord that I shall oppose and no doubt he will do the same to some of mine.


I, too, do not intend to make any major observations or repeat what was said at the Second Reading of the Bill other than to say that, quite clearly, as your Lordships would expect, the Government feel that the measures in the Bill are indeed an attempt to improve something which clearly needs improving. This situation has existed, in the main, for as long as 50 years. There has been no major change in that time and it is now time for a change. I expect that, when the Bill finally goes through and receives Royal Assent, the legislation pertaining to road transport in this country will be much better than it is today.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Definition of "public service vehicle"]:

3.6 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 1: Page 3, line 15, leave out (" one or more ") and insert (" not more than five ").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1 and, with the leave of the Committee, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 5, which is consequential upon Amendment No. 1 being carried. I should make perfectly clear to your Lordships that we support car-sharing. In fact, proposals were developed by the last Government in respect of both community bus services and car-sharing. But it must be made absolutely clear that, when those proposals were introduced, the one objective was to encourage community self-help to tackle the needs that were obvious regarding the ordinary bus service which could not be reached. The proposals then were aimed mainly at the problem of the rural areas.

One gets the impression from the present Bill, and from the speeches in the Second Reading debate, that the Government tend to regard the question of car-sharing as a panacea for many of our public transport problems. The proposals in the Bill go much further than the previous legislation. First, advertising is somewhat extended, with complete freedom from any control by local authorities or the traffic commissioners. Shared taxis and hired cars under certain circumstances are now to be taken outside public service vehicle conditions.

All that the amendment proposes is that, for the purposes of car-sharing, instead of "one or more" passengers, as proposed in the Bill, there should be substituted the words "not more than five". It may be argued that the last Labour Government permitted car-sharing with capacity up to seven. However, that limit was to encourage social-sharing—that is, people getting together as friends and neighbours which frankly they will do and have done for very many years and I daresay most of your Lordships, like myself, have done this without legislation and with no worry at all.

The changes proposed in the Bill will introduce the danger, frankly, of "wide boys" coming in, and that is what we wish to avoid. We wish to avoid people who will come in and will be acting commercially and doing something illegal which it will be extremely difficult to prove. It is true to say that the bus operators and the taxi trade are extremely concerned about the principles in the Bill as they are laid down concerning car-sharing.

Few cars are constructed to take more than five passengers plus the driver. Therefore, our amendment is a safeguard and if the Government are—as I believe they are—primarily concerned with social car-sharing, we hope that they will accept this amendment. I beg to move.


I believe that this amendment is singularly lacking in common sense. Anyone who allows his car to be used, or who shares his car, will make absolutely certain that he will not have a whole gang of people jammed into the back of the car with all the damage that might ensue from that. I would suggest that for legislation to be introduced on a point like this brings it into serious disrepute. The eminent common sense of most people in these circumstances is quite adequate to handle this problem.


I have some sympathy with what lies behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. However, I feel that the Construction and Uses Regulations would take adequate care of any question of overloading. There are a number of vehicles that are constructed to carry more than five passengers and one driver, and one notable exception is the Peugeot family estate car which is a widely-used vehicle. Be that as it may, I think that it is rather irrelevant because, as I say, the Construction and Uses Regulations provide all that is required to minimise the number of people who would be carried in any vehicle at any one time.

Baroness STEDMAN

I should like to support my noble friend with regard to these amendments. I was privileged in the last Government to pilot through this House the Experimental Areas Bill and also to sit in on some of the working party meetings before that Bill was prepared for the statute book. When we were in Government we increased the number of people in cars from four to seven which this Bill is now increasing to eight. However, we brought in the car-sharing provision which was largely to meet the problems in the rural areas within our trial areas. With hindsight—and we can all be wiser with hindsight—we feel that perhaps five would have been a more practicable number and a more realistic number for the normal carrying capacity of cars at present. Under the previous Act seven was agreed to in order to encourage the social sharing of cars, and the amount of money to be paid by each passenger was something that would be decided among the participants in the car-sharing. The proposals before us this afternoon go much further than that. They will allow—and we shall come to this later—more advertising. They are also to be free of any control by local authorities and the commissioners, and could very well have the danger of turning car-sharing or small minibuses used for that purpose into a business operation.

On energy saving, I think that most people would agree that cars carrying five passengers rather than eight would mean that there would be less fuel consumption. If we are to increase to eight the number of passengers that may be carried, we shall allow unfair competition with theexistingtaxi and hire car businesses. We believe that five would improve the situation. It would not diminish the possibility of achieving the objective of this clause, to reduce congestion and to encourage the sharing of cars and the greater use of cars. But to leave the clause as it stands will undermine the existing provision of services.

The present law lays down a figure of four passengers for the hire car trade in London and five in the Provinces. Before they can do this, the drivers must pass very stringent tests and become suitably qualified. That safeguards the passengers. Yet as it stands the Bill says that for one or more passengers a driver must only have passed his driver's test. "One or more" is much too ambiguous a phrase to have in a statute. It means all things to all men, and we believe that five is much more specific and more intelligible to everyone.


I must say that this amendment seems to me to be unnecessary. The present threshold is seven seats, as has been said, and we are proposing a modest increase of one seat. I see no reason why a relatively small number of owners of very large cars or small minibuses should be excluded from private, non-commercial car-sharing simply because they may occasionally wish to give a lift. I believe that any fears of a threat to taxis or to public transport are exaggerated.

The proponents of this change want to stop someone from sharing costs with, say, six members of his tennis club if he takes them to a match in his minibus. It really is not on. I agree that there must be an upper limit. Indeed, there are arguments for a much higher limit which would encompass all minibuses, for instance, allowing a complete football team to be carried. But we have restricted the number to eight because eight paying passengers seems to us to be an acceptable maximum for a privately-owned vehicle. Any fewer would exclude the large cars, small minibuses, vans and other vehicles which private owners might occasionally want to use and which can be of real value in certain circumstances, as the Americans with their "van pooling" have shown.

As I said, there are arguments, to which I am not unattracted, for a higher threshold. But I accept eight, which is the exemption limit from much EEC bus legislation, as being a realistic level. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, implied that it was a panacea. We do not think that it would by any means be a panacea to all the problems; but why not do something to make things a little better? That is one of the intentions behind this proposal. The noble Lord also said that it introduced the danger of "wide boys" coming in. By increasing the number from seven to eight, will that suddenly make the "wide boys" come in? I wonder. I doubt it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, quite rightly reminded us that it was the previous Labour Government that increased the number from four to seven. We are now talking of eight and the Labour Party is talking of five. What is in a number? I think the point that a car carrying five passengers may use less fuel than one carrying eight is probably more than countered by the fact that a vehicle carrying eight passengers means, in theory at least, that the number of journeys required would be fewer. These points simply illustrate the whole irrelevance, if I may use the word, of the amendment. Before we are through with this Bill, we shall have discussed matters of considerable moment and importance. I should not have thought that this was one of the most important points. I ask your Lordships to resist the amendment.


It is not just a question of the overloading of the car, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chil-worth, suggested. We on this side of the Committee are worried that unless the Bill is carefully worded, there will be an encouragement for commercialisation to enter under a cloak. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said that he does not think that will arise. In discussions in another place a number of examples were given of trips to and from Heathrow, et cetera. We agree that we do not want to spend a great deal of your Lordships' time upon this matter. Therefore, I shall withdraw the amendment, but I hope that the Government will pay very careful attention to what may happen as a result of any extension, because if commercialisation under a cloak steps in, I hope that they will be bold enough to deal with the situation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.16 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 2: Page 3, line 20, after (" journey") insert (" but shall not include any element of profit ").

The noble Lord said: The subsection in question sets out the costs which, within the Bill, can be met for car-sharing; that is the running costs for a journey, and inclusion of an appropriate amount for depreciation and general wear. From the Second Reading debate there would appear to be general agreement on all sides that although this type of social car-sharing should be encouraged—although we all accept that it does not necessarily meet all the needs of the rural areas—no one should make a profit from it. I think that there is general agreement on that. The problem is that the definition of costs is so wide that we seek to include in the Bill the words: "but shall not include any element of profit"'.

On Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, observed that there was an impression that the Bill had been introduced in something of a rush. When the relevant clause was in the original Bill it was proposed that the Minister would have power to give directions by order to fix the amount of costs for journeys of different lengths and for cars of different descriptions. How any department or Minister could have put forward such a ridiculous, foolish proposal, frankly we just could not understand.

It was realised in the other place that this was a nonsense and it was removed from the original draft of the Bill. During the Committee stage in another place on 22nd January the Secretary of State said at column 409: But if the indication in Clause 2 is not adequate, we shall certainly consider whether it will be spelled out with more clarity and whether we should include a few more obvious examples of costs in order to give the courts the guidance that my honourable friend, with his experience of advocacy, considers is required ".

He added: This is an amendment which in many ways I should like to accept ".

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will appreciate that we are putting forward something which has the general sympathy of the Secretary of State and that, as there is a general desire that there should be no element of profit at all in this car-sharing proposal, our amendment will be accepted.


I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for reminding me of a statement I made on Second Reading, that I thought that possibly the Government had introduced the Bill in something of a rush. But it seems to me that perhaps the noble Lord and his colleagues have introduced this amendment in something of a rush. As I read it, it suggests that the words: but shall not include any element of profit be included. But, having regard to the wording of the clause itself, is the amendment really necessary? The last few lines of the subsection read: and for the purposes of paragraph (a) the running costs of a vehicle … shall be taken to include an appropriate amount in respect of depreciation and general wear ". That is all that should be included. I can quite understand that it is rather difficult to assess what is an appropriate amount in respect of depreciation and general wear, but perhaps the driver may be influenced by the small amount that your Lordships have in relation to their costs of running a car. It seems to me that this amendment is quite unnecessary.


I speak as a somewhat indifferent accountant on this amendment. I believe that this amendment flies in the face of reality, because the test of profit, among other things, is indeed almost beyond the measure of an accountant, let alone anybody else. Who is going to measure this element of profit anyway? Primarily on the grounds of necessity this amendment should fail.

3.21 p.m.


I must say that this amendment seems to me to be unnecessary. "The running costs of the vehicle" in this clause means precisely what it says; that is, the costs attributable to the vehicles only—petrol, oil, insurance and so on—and not costs in respect of any labour or profit element. If the passenger's contributions do not exceed the vehicle costs, there will be no element of profit. To add on a specific reference to "profit" is thus an unnecessary complication.

The Government see the removal of the final unnecessary obstacles to car-sharing as a very positive step, and one on which we hope to build in the months to come. Car-sharing can save energy and reduce congestion, and it can widen the choices open to people; car-sharing to and from work can often be the sensible thing for all concerned, and in rural areas the WRVS have already shown what a boon it can be to those who would otherwise be housebound. We refuse to look at it in a negative light, as a competitor with buses and trains, but see it as another mode of transport capable of development to the benefit of all.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to a comment made in another place by my honourable friend. We have not finally closed our minds to a more comprehensive definition of "running costs". In addition to depreciation and general wear, we could add on such items as road tax and insurance, but once we start to list items the problem is deciding where to stop. Company cars, of course, present special difficulties in any allocation of costs. I shall, however, take note of what has been said today and consider whether the present drafting is entirely adequate.

I was amused when the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said that the Bill had been introduced in a rush, quoting the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. All I can say is that it may or may not have been introduced in a rush, I do not know; but after 110 hours of solid debate in another place it can no longer be said not to have been considered. Therefore, any criticism that may—and I say "may"—have been apposite previously no longer applies. I am grateful for the observations and support from the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, and my noble friend Lord Morris. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw this amendment.


Before that possibly inevitable course takes place, may I address myself to the comments just made by the noble Minister. I am sure that the Committee would agree that it is a wrong and certainly foolish thing to introduce into an Act of Parliament something so uncertain that it is not capable of practical interpretation. If somebody does it, I am afraid that they must be accused of a rushed job, even if the rushed job has taken 110 hours to achieve.

I ask your Lordships to look at what the average member of the public providing, we would hope, a social service and not a commercial one, has to do in order to comply with this clause as at present worded. I take from the noble Minister some of the things that he said. Presumably the driver has to compute the cost of the road fund licence; the cost of the petrol likely to be consumed on a journey; make an assessment that I would love to hazard not one single Member of your Lordships' House could make at this moment, namely, an allowance for half-an-hour's journey to cover the depreciation and wear of a vehicle which one of your Lordships may own. This is an impossible provision for any practical application.

This amendment can be termed a probing amendment, but the one thing that at least it makes certain is that if somebody makes a completely extravagant calculation in regard to depreciation and wear and the amount of petrol that may be consumed and the cost of the road fund licence apportioned to a journey, at least a court, or any other authority trying to interpret this provision, will say, "You must have known. The words are there that you were not to have an element of profit, and on any reasonable look at the calculation you have made there is, and you must have known it, an element of profit".

Leave those words out and, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran (and he knows how much respect I have for him) to leave this clause as it is—and I challenge the Minister to say otherwise—produces a calculation which is impossible, and whatever defendant, however much of a wide or a narrow boy he may be, who comes before any authority will at least have to meet the challenge of, "You must have known there was an element of profit." Whereas, at the present moment, whatever calculation he produces would presumably satisfy this paragraph.


All I can do to be helpful on this point is to repeat what I said a few moments ago; namely, I recognise, and I think anyone would, the problems that exist in trying to define profit and costs. Therefore, I said, and I repeat, we have not finally closed our minds to a more comprehensive definition of "running costs", but we recognise in saying that the great difficulties that there are. I said, and I repeat, that we shall take note of what has been said today and consider whether the drafting is entirely adequate. Beyond that I fear I cannot go.


I appreciate the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, that they will take note of what we have said. If it was a matter left to he and I, I am sure that we should have no problem at all, because we would not trouble to charge depreciation, or anything. Under the circumstances, we withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.28 p.m.

Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 3: Page 3, line 26, at end insert— (" () Section 145 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 shall be amended so as to add at the end of subsection 145 (4) (A) the words "other than any such liability within the provisions of section 6 of and Schedule 1 to the Transport Act 1978 relating to car-sharing for social and other purposes ".").

The noble Lord said

In moving this amendment, I do so with some diffidence in that it is precisely the same amendment that was set down in 1978 when we discussed car-sharing in principle. In effect, the argument I put forward today is almost the same as that which I put forward two years ago, but it does have somewhat more meaning in that Her Majesty's Government, by virtue of the provisions of this Bill, are to encourage a wider use of car-sharing. They have also extended the number of people who may be taken into a motor car on a sharing basis. Nevertheless, there are certain elements of confusion that arise.

At Second Reading on 24th April my noble friend Lord Bellwin referred to this matter, and said at column 924 of the Official Report: At present, the law is complicated and not well understood ". He then goes on to say, referring to the 1978 Transport Bill: Encouragement for car-sharing was generally welcomed, although some doubts were expressed about the insurance position and the undertaking given by the Motor Conference. I can assure your Lordships that that undertaking has given rise to no problems during the two years or so it has been operating, and that the Motor Conference has assured us that the removal of restrictions on advertising by this Bill will not affect its policy ". I was delighted to hear that, but yesterday afternoon my noble friend Lord Gowrie replied to a Question on car sharing from my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, who had asked: My Lords, would my noble friend give some assurance to certain people who are a little anxious as to whether their insurance covers passengers whom they may pick up as they travel to work? Is this covered in normal practice? The response of my noble friend Lord Gowrie was: My Lords, that depends on the precise insurance arrangements which individuals have with their own companies. There is no blanket arrangement there, because some individuals are insured only for third party. So everybody should be most careful to check up as to what their precise insurance arrangements are ".—[Official Report, 12/5/80; col. 4.] That is precisely the point at which difficulties arise because when in 1978 we discussed this matter and the undertaking was given—I shall not read the whole of the undertaking because it is set out in Hansard —there was this caveat right at the end: If in any doubt whether the car-sharing arrangement is or is not covered by the terms of a private car policy, the policy-holders concerned should make inquiry of their motor insurance ". There was also the undertaking that the principle involved in applying insurance where car-sharing was being undertaken would be drawn to the notice of insured persons at the next renewal. I wonder how many noble Lords saw on their last renewal notices any note of warning in regard to this matter. I certainly did not, and my inquiries yesterday of two brokers and five individuals drew this reply, "I do not know what you mean. I thought it would be all right as it always has been". When I asked what they meant by "as it always has been", the reply was, "As when I take the tennis club or the football chaps to a match, or to here, there or anywhere else".

That is not good enough, and in any event the undertaking is now out of date by virtue of the number of passengers who are allowed to be carried. I shall not weary the Committee by giving one instance after another of argument and hassle, discussion and negotiation, that occurs particularly with motor insurance, and invariably after a claim has been made—that is, after an accident has occurred or, indeed, after a prosecution for an offence with regard to insurance. I say not too unkindly that insurance companies are great hagglers. They are great negotiators who have assessors and loss adjusters. These are men for whom the average domestic policy-holder is no match, and it is the average domestic policy-holder who will be the person most likely to engage in car-sharing.

If, as my noble friend Lord Bellwin said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, the Bill is to remove the last obstacles to car-sharing, then that obstacle in regard to insurance must also be removed. There can be no reason whatever why the insurance companies should not be required to include full cover, as provided by the law, for those engaged in car-sharing. It would be for the insurance company to show proof that the policy was invalidated either by carrying more people or charging too much. They have the probability (not the possibility) in the event of a court appearance of gathering together that information which will prove or disprove whether there is an element of profit or whether the payment made is just a contribution towards running costs. It would not be possible for the average motorist to provide that information. Nor, indeed, would it be possible, as we have found in recent years, for the average motorist to bring to the court his argument with the insurance company; that is far too expensive. In respect of those claims of which I have knowledge, invariably the policy-holder backs off and settles for what the insurance company offers him.

This is the case where the original 1930 provision, that insurance shall as a minimum provide for compensation for passenger and third-party liability in the event of an accident, should be included in the event of car-sharing, and that is what the amendment would do. This is not a light matter, and, while I regret delaying my noble friend the Leader of the House who has a Statement to make, this is not a matter which should be passed over as lightly as perhaps the Committee dealt with the first two amendments, and I urge that the subject be given some careful consideration. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says in answer and to any comments that other noble Lords will make. I beg to move.


I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.