HL Deb 13 May 1980 vol 409 cc204-46

House again in Committee.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 27: Page 7, line 12, leave out paragraph (c) and insert— (" (c) any objections or other representations made to the Commissioners in the prescribed manner by—

  1. (i) the chief officer of police of any police district in which the service is proposed to be provided;
  2. (ii) any of the local authorities concerned;
  3. (iii) any district council, any London borough council and the Common Council of the City of London;
  4. (iv) any person who is already providing road passenger transport facilities along or near to the route or any part of it;
  5. (v) any other person considered relevant by them.").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall, in dealing with this amendment, speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 28 and 40 which are consequential. Clause 5 (3) (b) provides that traffic commissioners, when considering and application for a road service licence, shall have regard to the transport policies or plans which have been made by the local authorities concerned and have been drawn to the commissioners' attention by those authorities".

The next paragraph defines the local authorities as being the county councils in England and Wales and the regional and islands councils in Scotland. Paragraph (c) further provides that traffic commissioners shall have regard to, any objections or other representations made to the commissioners",

which they, the commissioners, regard as relevant. We consider this to be most unsatisfactory and much too narrow. The persons and organisations entitled to make objections or other representations should, in our view, be more clearly defined and not be left for possible inclusion among those whom the commissioners consider to be relevant. The amendment seeks to right this position.

In addition to the county councils and Scottish local authorities defined in the clause, the amendment seeks to specify that included among those entitled to make representations and objections shall be the chief police officer of the area concerned, and not only the local authorities to which I have referred and which are mentioned in the Bill but also the district councils and London boroughs. The operators who are already providing passenger services along or near the route must, in our view, also be included. All the bodies which I have listed will have a direct interest, and in addition to the persons and bodies which are specified, the amendment also retains the umbrella provision for any other person the traffic commissioners consider to be relevant.

It will be noted that the amendment seeks to include district councils and the London borough councils, in addition to the counties and Scottish regional and islands councils. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of District Councils both want to ensure the fullest involvement of the district councils, and I have no doubt that they would support the amendment. It must be borne in mind that some 50 district councils have transport undertakings, but that all district councils will be directly involved in public transport services. For those reasons, I hope the Government will accept the amendment. I beg to move.


The amendment leaves the commissioners with a peculiar decision to make as to whether a person making a representation is a relevant person rather than whether the points being made are relevant. I think the noble Lord is making something of a mountain out of a molehill, if I may say so. The only purpose of the change made by the Bill is to ensure that the rights of individuals, parish councils, community groups and the like to make representations to the commissioners are no longer in doubt, as has sometimes been the case in the past. The new wording will have no adverse effect on the rights of local authorities or operators. There is no sinister motive behind the phrase "which in their opinion are relevant". This is common sense designed merely to prevent time-wasting debate which can occur when a person is putting forward arguments or presenting facts which have nothing to do with the question the commissioners are considering or which go beyond their jurisdiction. That is all that is envisaged, and I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.


The Local Government Act 1972 placed clear duties on the county council to promote the provision of a co-ordinated and efficient system of public transport to meet the needs of the county. As, therefore, they must provide a co-ordinated and efficient system, this provision is necessary. Further, under the Transport Act 1978 the metropolitan county council was given the duty of developing policies which would promote the provision of a coordinated and efficient system to meet the county's needs. For those reasons we should include a clear provision in the Bill so that those necessary needs, as outlined in the 1972 and 1978 Acts, can clearly he put into operation, with the representations as outlined in the amendment able to be put. I therefore hope the Government will consider the needs of the public services in this regard.

Viscount SIMON

I thought the Minister gave an adequate reply and, with respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, paragraph (b) directly draws to the attention of the commissioners any transport policies such as those of which she was speaking, as made by the local authorities concerned, which would include district authorities and county councils. I feel that the general expression in the clause as drafted is preferable to the amendment, which would tend to lead to the position that there might be people outside the list of five who could make relevant representations and they would be left out altogether.


The point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, is covered by the amendment stating (v) any other person considered relevant by them "— that is, considered relevant by the traffic commissioners. That provision was deliberately inserted so that nobody who should have an entitlement would be excluded. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said there was no sinister meaning in the wording of the clause. We are not suggesting there is; that is the last thing we would suggest. What we are suggesting is an improvement in the method of handling the whole matter. The noble Lord said the purpose of the clause as drafted was to avoid time-wasting debate. That is precisely what we are trying to do—by laying down specific bodies from whom the commissioners should be prepared to receive objections and representations—and any argument as to whether they are relevant would be avoided because the position would be clearly stated in the Bill. We are assisting the Government by trying to avoid time-wasting debate.

There is another point which cannot be denied. Unless our amendment is agreed, it is most improbable that the commissioners would feel that district councils and the London boroughs are not relevant, in so far as the local authorities which are specifically picked out are the county councils in England and Wales and the regional councils and the island councils in Scotland. Therefore, by our including in sub-paragraph (iii) the provision for the district councils and the London borough councils we are ensuring that their views will be heard. There seems to be every reason why our amendment should be agreed to. We are assisting the Government in what they are endeavouring to do, but we are clearly defining the rights of these people, and I imagine that that would be of great assistance to the traffic commissioners.


All I wish to add is that I have to stand on the point that the Bill says that the commissioners would have to have regard to any representations by whomsoever made provided that they were relevant to the application. I think that that covers the point all right. I feel that the noble Lord need have no fears on this matter, and we cannot accept the amendment.


My noble friend Lord Bellwin did not extend the point that he was making quite as far as he might have done. Is it not a fact that points relative to the commissioners' decision and inquiries may quite easily not come from relevant people in regard to the particular application?

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Attachment to road service licences of conditions as to matters other than fares]:

8.12 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 29: Page 7, line 36, leave out (" 5 (3) (a) to (c) ") and insert ("5 (3) (a), (aa) , (ab) , (b) and (c).").

The noble Lord said: The clause with which we are now concerned relates to the powers of the traffic commissioners to add to road service licences conditions, other than conditions on fares, as they may think fit, and we do not disagree with that. All the amendment seeks to do is to provide that the commissioners shall not exercise these powers without first considering any objections or representations received. The bodies from whom we say they should be prepared to consider objections and representations will be those listed in Clause 5, on which your Lordships have just decided. We regard this as a small but important amendment, and we trust that the noble Lord the Minister will be able to accept it.

Again this is a matter which, in the discussions in another place, the Secretary of State said can best be dealt with by regulations, but once more we make it quite clear here that as we are really saying that a matter should not be determined without consideration of objections and representations, this point should clearly be written into the Bill, because it is written into the Bill in many other clauses. Why can it not be done on this occasion? I hope that the noble Lord will accept the amendment.


I thought that when speaking to Amendment No. 26 I said that my comments then also applied to Amendment No. 29, and so I have nothing to add, other than to say that we cannot accept the amendment.


Perhaps I should apologise to the Committee. It is my intention not to move Amendment No. 29, because it was consequential. What I have spoken on is actually Amendment No. 30, which I should now like to move, if that is acceptable to the Committee. Amendment No. 29 is in fact not moved.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

8.15 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 30: Page 8, line 19, at end insert— ("The Commissioners shall exercise their powers under this subsection only after considering any objections or representations received from the bodies notified under section 5 (5) above.").

The noble Lord said: I beg formally to move Amendment No. 30.


I must complain; the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has played a dirty trick. Assuming that he was addressing my noble friend Lord Bellwin, I was in a nice state of oblivion, thinking of the good dinner I had had, but now I find I have to answer the noble Lord. As I said to the noble Lord about 50 minutes ago, my answers to him this evening are somewhat on the lines of a theme song. This matter has been discussed at great length in another place by the noble Lord's honourable and right honourable friends and by my honourable and right honourable friends. We all agree that parties interested in the grant of a licence are obviously and most importantly interested in changes to the licence by variations in conditions. Regulations currently require commissioners either to publish proposals in Notices and Proceedings or to notify affected parties, and then to consider any objections or representations before taking further action. My right honourable friend the Minister undertook in another place to maintain that requirement in the regulations that he will shortly be drawing up. I repeat that assurance, as I have done on so many earlier amendments.

This amendment demonstrates how much better it is to proceed by way of regulations in such detailed matters, than to try to spell out everything in the main legislation. The amendment suggests, however inadvertently, that only the bodies notified under Clause 5 (5) should have the right to make representations, but that covers only the police and local authorities. When major changes in conditions are proposed, such as a major re-routing of the service, or the removal of conditions about stopping places, other transport providers, or the unions, or members of the public, may want to comment. In such cases the proposal will be published, a range of representations received, and if necessary, a public sitting held.

Of course in very minor cases—say, the moving of a stop 20 yards up or down the road—the operator will keep his passengers informed, and otherwise only those with traffic management responsibilities are likely to be interested. They will be notified of the proposed change by the commissioners. That is the sensible flexibility that the regulations allow. I apologise to noble Lords that so much of what I have to say sounds like a theme song. But there is this difference between us. We are all trying to get at the same thing, but we are each going about it in a different way, and we think that our way is the better way.


I appreciate that this matter has been discussed in another place, but of course that does not debar us from discussing it. We can make improvements which the other place has missed. In fact, even the Government are doing that, judging by the number of amendments—81 of them—to the Bill that they have proposed. So it is possible that we have found something that is wrong. I accept the assurance of the noble Lord that this matter will be covered in regulations, but if one looks through the Bill, one finds that the very provision for which we are asking here is written into other clauses: that the commissioners should not do this unless they consider objections and other representations. Whenever we ask that that should be included in the Bill, in the same way that it has been included by the Government in other clauses, we are told, "No". The matter is as simple as that.

In the light of what has been said, it is fairly clear that the Government are not going to move, and so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.


I wish to draw attention to the assurances that my noble friend the Minister has given in the other place and that I have given to your Lordships.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 31: After Clause 6, insert the following new clause: Carriage services competing with operators holding road service licences (. No express service or contract carriage service shall operate on a route which is served by public service vehicles operating under a Road Service Licence and supported by a transport supplementary grant and/or cross-subsidised under a passenger transport policy network agreement unless in the cases where cross-subsidy applies the prior agreement of the Traffic Commissioner is obtained and in the cases where transport supplementary grant applies the agreement of the local authority is obtained beforehand.")

The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to insert a new clause, and I think it is one that should apeal to the Government. I hope that I am not being too optimistic in saying that. It seeks to ensure—and other noble Lords on the Government Front Bench may be particularly interested in this—that payment of a transport supplementary grant is not wasted or its effect minimised by the effect of competing services. We want to make quite certain that public money is not wasted. I should think that in that respect both the Government and this side of the Committee are in complete agreement.

Many bus services operating under road service licences are supported by a transport supplementary grant arranged through the local authority concerned. Other services are supported by cross-subsidisation under a network agreement included in a passenger transport policy of the particular local authority. What the amendment seeks to do is to provide that in such cases no express or contract carriage service shall be allowed to operate on those routes unless prior agreement of the responsible authority is obtained. In the case of a transport cross-subsidisation agreement, we say there must be the agreement of the traffic commissioners; in the case of a transport supplementary grant, the agreement of the local authority shall be required. In other words, we are not providing for a veto; we are saying that it shall be subject to agreement. This seems to us to be a most sensible proposal. It is one which is going to ensure, as I have said already, that public money is not wasted, and I shall be very surprised if the Government feel they cannot accept this amendment.


I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he made his last observation before sitting down, because I have to tell him that in fact the Government cannot accept this proposal. They cannot accept what really is an attempt to reintroduce licensing controls on express services. The amendment also introduces new restrictions on contract carriage services, which even under the present system are not licensed. The Opposition clearly want to protect the local network, and I understand that; but the Government have made it clear all along that they are not out to destroy that network.

That is why licensing is being retained. It is being retained for all services which are part of that very network. I am confident that the distinction which has been drawn between express and stage carriage services does just that. I see no reason why, for example, a non-stop express bus from London to Manchester should damage the local buses stopping at villages that happen to be along the route. Contract carriages are also serving a quite different market. Similarly, we believe that commuter coaches will supplement regular services at peak periods, and will not damage the network.

The Opposition, as we have seen earlier on and doubtless will see again before this Bill is through, seem to be obsessed with cross-subsidisation and the present patterns of local authority support. It is right and proper for operators and county councils to take an objective and critical look at these patterns. The greater competition which I hope to see within the local services will be a better spur to improving services and efficiency than automatic and ever-increasing reliance on subsidy. I hope the noble Lord will feel that in all the circumstances he can withdraw his proposal. I beg to move.

8.23 p.m.


I wonder whether at some stage during this evening the Government will be prepared to admit that their judgment could be fallible. It would be a very touching exhibition of humility, and one that I think the Opposition and possibly noble Lords wherever they may sit might find rather welcome. We are not tonight debating the Government's philosophy, because, as my noble friend Lord Underhill made very clear this evening and I hope we both made clear when we addressed your Lordships' House on Second Reading, that philosophy, through the process of democracy, is the one that has to rule in this Bill. We accept that. What we are trying to do in Committee is to see whether there can be proper safeguards to ensure that that philosophy has the right effect for the travelling public and for those public operators who of necessity, and for the benefit of the travelling public, have to operate on non-economic routes.

I so well remember a Government committee on transport which sat some years ago of which I was honoured to be a member, where we considered in great detail—it happened to be dealing with London Transport—how we could possibly save the non-economic services from being adversely affected if we endeavoured to introduce reforms which included some measure of competition. On that committee, headed, I remember, by a gentleman not associated with the politics of the Right or of the Left—it was the very eminent Sir Paul Chambers, who was then (or subsequently; I cannot quite remember) chairman of ICI—we were very concerned to see that there were safeguards if our judgment and our recommendations were in fact not supported by events.

All that we are trying to do in this amendment (and I would ask the noble Lord the Minister to consider this very carefully if he would, if not tonight then in the intervening stage between now and Report) is to see that there are some safeguards, just in case the Government's optimistic view—that is, that cross-subsidisation is really not necessary, and that even if grants are not made the services on the non-economic routes will still be just as good, and the rural occupant and member of the public will be just as well served as he was before; indeed, he is going to be better served—turns out, in certain areas of the country, to be wrong.

All that we are doing by way of safeguard is to see that in one case the local authority responsible for the grant is first consulted and its consent obtained, and, in the case of cross-subsidisation, that the traffic commissioner, who would not be beset by any political bias at all or unduly imbued with the philosophy of either the Government or the Opposition, can have a chance to decide whether in fact the consumer public is being adversely affected. It is this righteous self-confidence of the Government in their philosophy that makes humble beings like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and myself quake, because we cannot be quite so positive, however much faith we have in our own beliefs.

It is therefore in the hope that the Government may feel that it is possible to fail in the views that they hold—sincerely, I am sure—that I ask the Minister to wear the cloak of humility for one moment and to say that he will think about this amendment.


I would have thought from all that had gone on earlier in the day that I had been wearing no other cloak. Indeed, it is not without some apprehension that I contemplate what my right honourable friend the Minister is going to say when he sees all those items marked down for him to look at. He will have to spend a lot of time doing the looking. I would hope that noble Lords might feel that, all else apart, the Government today at least, in your Lordships' Committee, have been indeed very willing to be concerned at many of the very fair and apposite points which have been made, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, himself.

I fear we cannot do as he would like on this occasion. I take the point that there is always bound to be an element of uncertainty. Who would be so bold or so arrogant as to pretend otherwise? Whatever the noble Lord may say, it is not the Government's certainty that they are right: it is, on the other hand, their firm belief that the proposals that they are putting forward, and this Bill itself, are an attempt to do, as I think I said earlier in the day, something which has not been done before, at least to the extent that we are proposing it; and that really it is necessary, once and for all, to take legislation which was founded on 1930, 50 years ago, and which is no longer relevant to the present scene, and make an attempt to do something to improve that which so clearly needs to be improved. It is with that as the underlying philosophy that I find myself, not without regret on a personal note, unable to accede to the request of the so persuasive noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.


I have listened to my noble friend talking about our reforming the law of 50 years ago. Does he not agree that the 1960 Act was a very substantial reform and between 1960 and now there have been all sorts of other Acts; so that the 50-year-old reform argument, I am afraid, does not hold water?


I am not sure whether I am called upon to comment further. If I am, I would only say that I am conscious of the great knowledge which my noble friend Lord Teviot has and which I do not have. Nevertheless, one cannot get away from the fact that the basic principles at least stem back to 1930. If we are to argue about the intervening legislation of the last 50 years, I would concede that to him by all means.


The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, is in his most persuasive mood. I am delighted to see it. I follow the point that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, made. The question of 50 years does not arise. There was not the supplementary transport grant 50 years ago; there were not then county council transport policy plans. They came into operation only in recent years. That is why this amendment was put down. Therefore, we hope that the Government will consider it from that angle. We are not talking about the whole Government philosophy on road licensing. We are talking about particular cases where public money is involved in supplementary grants (which, I repeat, came in only in recent years) and where there are county transport policies affected which can have a great effect upon cross-subsidisation and upon other services. We are looking at these things in this amendment.

The points that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, made in his opening remarks about how certain services could affect stage services, are points which will be covered. I would refer the Committee to our amendment. We are not having a complete negative; it is not a veto. We are saying that these things shall not be done without agreement. If the traffic commissioners think there is no competition, okay! They will approve. If the county council concerned believe that there is no conflict with their policies, they will approve. Therefore, there seems no reason why the Government should not move in this direction; and in the absence of any assurances to the contrary, we will adhere to the amendment.


Before the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, does what he suggests he might do, why can he not for a moment be absolutely practical or pragmatic (I am never quite sure which word to use) about this? The truth is that you are not going to get agreement because there are two totally different interests; and those two interests are going to fight tooth and nail for their own ends. It is rather foolish to suggest that you can put into a Bill a phrase like, unless there is agreement", when you know that, in practice, no agreement will be reached. The interests are different and they counter entirely the kind of theme that lies behind my noble friend's argument; that is, a greater freedom of approach in these matters. The local authorities, particularly, are not going to give up any authority; they will hold on like leeches. They are not born of an entrepreneurial spirit; they like it the way it is; it does not disturb them. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I am afraid, is not likely to get far down this road for that one reason. The interests are too dyed in the wool to allow for anything that his suggested new clause would allow.

8.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 31) shall be agreed to?

Abinger, L. Elliot of Harwood, B. O'Hagan, L.
Airedale, L. Elton, L. Onslow, E.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Exeter, M. Reigate, L.
Auckland, L. Falkland, V. St. Aldwyn, E.
Barrington, V. Ferrier, L. St. Davids, V.
Bellwin, L. Feversham, L. Sandford, L.
Belstead, L. Fortescue, E. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Boyd of Merton, V. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Savile, L.
Bradford, E. Gainford, L. Seear, B.
Brookeborough, V. Glasgow, E. Selkirk, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Gowrie, E. Sempill, Ly.
Caithness, E. Gridley, L. Sharpies, B.
Carthcart, E. Grimstone of Westbury, L. Simon, V.
Clifford of Chudieigh, L. Holderness, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Clitheroe, L. Kimberley, E. Stamp, L.
Cockfield, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Strathclyde, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Long, V. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Sudeley, L.
Craigavon, V. McFadzean, L. Swinton, E.
Crathorne, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. Tranmire, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mansfield, E. Trefgarne, L.
de Clifford, L. Merrivale, L. Trenchard, V.
De La Warr, E. Morris, L. Trumpington, B.
Derwent, L. Mottistone, L. Vivian, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Wigoder, L.
Ellenborough, L. Yarborough, E.
Elles, B. Nugent of Guildford, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.42 p.m.

Clause 7 [Attachment to road service licences of conditions as to fares]:

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 32: Page 9, line 9, leave out (" not ").

The noble Lord said: May I speak on Amendment No. 33 as well as this amendment, since this amendment leads into Amendment No. 33? The amendment only comprises a few words but in our view it is of fundamental importance. I do not want to mislead the Committee as to its effect. Clause 7 deals with the Their Lordships divided: Contents, 36; Not-Contents, 80.

attachment to road service licences of conditions relating to fares or minimum or maximum fares. Subsection (3) provides that commissioners shall not exercise these powers unless they are satisfied that to do so is to protect the public from unreasonable action by the licence holder or to regulate competition between stage services. The amendment would drastically alter the position. It would provide that the traffic commissioners shall exercise these powers if they are satisfied on one or other of the two points.

Some noble Lords may say that this amendment will make no difference; but it will. By putting the matter in the affirmative and not the negative, the commissioners will be given an indication by Parliament to pay regard to a more positive criteria. This is in line with what the Government intend to do by changing the balance of granting licences to new applicants. We are doing the same thing regarding fares. I need not impress upon the Committee the importance of fares to the travelling public. We hope that the Minister will find it possible to accept this amendment.


I am afraid that the Government do not share the Opposition's enthusiasm for fares control. We believe that price controls, in general, fail to achieve their laudable purpose of keeping prices down, but simply add a further bureaucratic complication to the lives of those who are trying to run businesses. It is competition, not control, that keeps prices down. That is why we have abolished the Price Commission, and that is why we are getting rid of the automatic control of bus fares by the traffic commissioners. I am sure most noble Lords would be surprised at the detail of the present control, which is not merely of general fare levels or of rates per mile, but of every fare, of the discount on returns and on season tickets, and of the special rates for children. This control sometimes involves days of argument in public about the fares policy of a passenger transport executive; argument which is often sterile because that fares policy is determined by the democratically elected county council, and the proper place for it to be debated is in the council chamber, not before the traffic commissioners.

It might not unreasonably be asked: Why then are we not abolishing fares control altogether? It is because road service licensing can provide a monopoly on a route or group of routes to a licence holder, and monopolies can always be exploited; the traffic commissioners will be able to step in to prevent such exploitation. Moreover, road service licensing will regulate competition—if two operators share a route they may by their licences be required to run at the times that benefit the public most, and it may be necessary in such cases to prevent one from wrecking the other's operation by destructively undercutting it.

These are circumstances in which fares control is necessary and right; but we are convinced that they are the only such circumstances. This amendment would leave open the possibility of fares control in other circumstances, would widen the scope for argument on essentially political matters before the traffic commissioners, and would leave operators uncertain where they stood. The Government's position is clear, and so is the clause; the amendment would introduce confusion. I hope noble Lords opposite will feel able to withdraw it.


The Committee has been treated to another unequivocal example of the Government's philosophy, and I will not waste the time of the Committee by arguing about it. I only propose to argue about the meaning of the English language and to see whether the noble Lord is able an answer this question in the light of his philosophy.

I would ask him not to look at the notes of the clear speech that he has made but would he be satisfied if I ask him this question? Should the traffic commissioners exercise their powers regarding conditions of fares if the unbiased, objective traffic commissioners are satisfied that the proposed exercise of those powers regarding fares is essential in the interests of the public to protect the public from unreasonable use by the holder of the licence and his position as such or to regulate the form of competition?

If the English language means what I believe it to mean, are the Government really saying that if the traffic commissioners are satisfied—and the language is expressed positively—it is essential in the interests of the public to do this, to exercise that power, that they should not do so? It is all very well for this expression of view about competition and all the rest of it; but if this clause is to mean anything at all, I repeat my question to the Minister: Would he not want the traffic commissioners to exercise their powers if they were satisfied, in the language of this amendment, that it was essential to do so in the interests of the public to protect the public? That is all this amendment says.

If the Minister wants to go on record to say that his philosophy—and that is what he was dealing with before—makes him feel that he would not want the traffic commissioners to act in those circumstances, I would be obliged if he would say so. It will be on the record and we shall all know exactly what he means.

Viscount SIMON

I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, would agree—because it seems to me this would bridge the gap between the two views—that you should add the words, at the end of the subsection, … and in no other circumstances.".


I believe that I speak for my noble friend Lord Underhill who moved this amendment when I say that if the Government would accept the amendment with those words added I am sure that we would regard it as a positive contribution to this Bill, because the language would be positive and everybody would know where they stood.


The clause as drafted leaves no doubt that fares control is a reserve power to be used only to prevent exploitation of a monopoly or destructive undercutting. The norm is to be freedom for the operator to fix his own fares in the light of his own commercial judgment and perhaps by revenue support from the local authority.

The amendment seems to be designed to reverse this and to leave the commissioners discretion to impose fares conditions at any time, while requiring them to do so in the specified circumstances. However, if that is its purpose it does not go far enough, since subsection (4) still directs the commissioners to remove fares condition except where they are satisfied that they are essential for the specific purposes. However, having said that, I feel it is possible that we might look again at the suggestion made by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, also intimated that in those circumstances he and presumably also the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, would feel prepared to withdraw the amendment, despite what I have said and despite my personal reservations, I would say that we will certainly look at this again along the lines suggested by the noble Viscount.


I am certain that we from this side would be very grateful to the noble Lord for the readiness he has displayed to have another look at this; otherwise, frankly, we would have had to decide not to withdraw the amendment because we would want to go on record as regards the Government's attitude on fares. But, in the light of the generous offer made, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment until a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

8.53 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 34: Page 9, line 32, at end insert— (" () In deciding whether it is essential in the interests of the public to exercise their powers under subsection (1) or (2) the traffic commissioners shall have regard to the duties imposed on—

  1. (a) passenger transport authorities and executives by section 9 of the Transport Act 1978;
  2. (b) non-metropolitan county councils by section 1 of the Transport Act 1978;
  3. (c) regional and islands councils by section 151 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973;
  4. (d) the National Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group by section 41 of the Transport Act 1968.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment relates to the question of the attachment to road service licences of conditions as to fares to be charged. The clause as drafted gives no guidance at all to traffic commissioners as to what they should take into consideration in exercising these powers. The amendment lists four groups of bodies on whom specific duties are placed by statute with regard to public transport. I will not go on at length, but I should like to point out one or two of those obligations. The Transport Act 1978 places on passenger transport authorities and executives duties with respect to the provision of properly integrated and efficient systems of public passenger transport to meet the needs of the area. Similar duties are placed on the non-metropolitan county councils and on the Scottish regional and islands councils by the respective Acts which are mentioned in the amendment.

The Transport Act 1968 places very definite responsibility upon both the National Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group. These are duties which I have mentioned only briefly and are such that they must be taken into consideration by traffic commissioners when considering conditions appertaining to fares. Because that is not made at all clear in the Bill, we hope the Government will accept this amendment.


I agree that it is right that the traffic commissioners should look at the statutory duties imposed by Parliament on operators and to which the noble Lord has drawn attention. I am sure they will, and that they will be very cautious before putting fares conditions on operators who are acting directly in accordance with decisions of elected councils or where fares have been agreed with them in the course of revenue support negotiations. They will not be easily swayed by pressure groups to impose conditions which would nullify decisions taken by these councils. But the essence of the Government's philosophy—about which we have heard so much this evening at least—on fares control, which I explained on the earlier amendments, is that there should be no interference except in specified circumstances where it is essential in the public interest.

I understand the fears of public operators that they might be restricted in ways which conflict with their other obligations, but I am sure their fears are unjustified. The power given in Clause 7 is simply too narrow to enable commissioners to impose fares conditions running counter to financial and co-ordination duties of operators. They are only concerned in fixing maximum fares with the use made by a licence-holder of the monopoly which a road service licence can give him. If he is not exploiting it against the interests of the public, the commissioners will not be concerned. I fear this is an amendment, also, which we cannot accept.


As somebody who once represented 1, 000 square miles with 3, 000 farms, 1, 400 of them under 20 acres, may I intervene and ask: How does one decide the public interest in local areas where there may be differences in the quality of a service because of hillside terrain above the 600 ft. contour, as compared with the plains? Arriving at this is a very esoteric phrase, "in the public interest".

Secondly, may I refer to the terrific time after World War I when we all sat here, effervescing with the joy of human understanding and comradeship, and agreed that a meal in a restaurant, "in the public interest", so that there would be no exploitation, would only cost five shillings. They arrived at that because of the spirit of brotherhood and even a spark of Christianity about it. We did not refer to this arid thing of" competition being the spice of life ", It was service to individuals, and in deciding what is in the public interest service is of paramount importance.


I am not sure how far I should indulge in what I should dearly like to do; namely, debate with the noble Lord the esoteric points he makes. Yes, I suppose that if you look back to the time that he mentioned there was a happier spirit prevailing; but might it not be said that had some of the things been done then that we are referring to now we would not have some of the problems that we have today? However, with respect, I think that we are moving off the point and certainly off the amendment. While I respect, as always, the points made by noble Lords opposite, so far as this amendment at least is concerned, I fear we can only resist it.


I am sorry the noble Lord feels that he cannot accept this and I would just draw attention to some words in the amendment: The traffic commissioners shall have regard … ". We are not saying they must carry out the views of these organisations mentioned. I should have thought it was common sense that they must have regard to the duties of passenger transport authorities and to those of the non-metropolitan county councils. They must have regard to the duties of the Scottish regional and islands councils and they must have regard to the obligations placed by Parliament on the National Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group. That is all we are saying—" shall have regard ". I bow to my noble friend Lord Mishcon on the interpretation of the Queen's English, but the phrase "shall have regard" still leaves it completely free for the traffic commissioners to make up their minds. I would once again appeal to the noble Lord to see if he can, on that basis, accept the amendment. If he cannot, we shall not press it to a Division, but we shall ask for it to be negatived so that that will appear on the record of proceedings.

On Question, amendment negatived.

9 p.m.

Lord TEVIOT moved Amendment No. 35: Page 10, line 3, at end insert— (" () Where the traffic commissioners have attached to a licence conditions or additional conditions as to fares, on supplying particulars in accordance with subsection (6) and on the expiration of the prescribed time, the holder of the licence may, unless a temporary dispensation to change the fares is granted under subsection (5), until such time as the application is disposed of, introduce the proposed changes to the extent that existing fares are increased or reduced by an average of not more than ten per cent.").

The noble Lord said: It has long been the plea of bus operators that they should be able to increase their fares, within reason, closely following increases in their costs, rather than have to wait until passengers have forgotten that there was ever a reason—fuel costs, wage awards, et cetera. Delay in getting approval has been as much as eight months, and by the time an increase is agreed, when inflation is high, another one is already needed, partly to cover operating losses because fares had not increased to balance increased costs.

With the Government's declared intention that the control of fares by traffic commissioners should be only a reserve power, seldom used, it may seem that the problem has been overcome. That is true only where fares are not controlled by a road service licence, and there is no way of knowing to what extent, now or in the future, it will be found necessary in practice, as opposed to the theory of the Bill, to control fares. In any event, where the commissioners do fix fares, the problem remains and the industry needs a relaxation. Such is the purpose of this new subsection.

The subsection would allow the movement of fares up or down, within an average of 10 per cent., but subject to safeguards. First, the operator would have to submit his application for increases to the traffic commissioners. It might be for more than 10 per cent., but he would still be limited to that figure as to the interim action he could take. Then, when the commissioners reached a decision on the application, that decision would be binding on the operator, even if it meant that he had to cancel the changes he had made under this subsection. The commissioners would still have the last word, subject to appeal to the Minister. After lodging his application to vary fares, the operator would still have to wait for the period to be prescribed for the purposes of subsection (6) before he could use the facility of this proposed subsection. That would give time for the traffic commissioners to intervene, if they thought it desirable. They might even give a dispensation under subsection (5), allowing the variation pending a full hearing of the application.

All these provisos and possibilities are covered in the proposed subsection, but, beyond that, it has the virtue of allowing prompt action when necessary and ensuring that the operator would not make unnecessary losses—losses which, in due course, would be passed on to the travelling public, or met by local authority revenue support—with interest to be covered on top of the actual loss of revenue. This is a slightly different amendment, and I hope that the Government will look at it kindly. I beg to move.


I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend. I always do have, as he does in regard to points which I raise. But I do not feel that, on the one hand, he can expect the Government to offer these opportunities to existing operators and potential new operators, and on the other hand, still expect to protect those who may be in business. My main objection to the proposed subsection is not to the safeguard as regards loss, while the commissioners may, or may not, be making up their minds, but to the fact that you cannot quantify the amount.

In the latter part of the amendment it is suggested that there should be a figure of 10 per cent. I should have thought, if my noble friend wishes to protect operators from circumstances over which they have no control, but which may force them out of business during the time in which a fare increase application is undergoing review, that it would be better if he framed an amendment in a rather different way from inserting a quantification.


I am obliged to my noble friend Lord Lucas for his comments. May I say at once: yes, the Government look kindly upon the amendment as put down, because we recognise that there is real concern here. There is concern, which shows behind this amendment, that the commissioners will use their reserve powers to impose conditions more liberal than is envisaged. Operators would continue then to be trapped in the delays of fares hearings and proceedings, while costs shoot up or opportunities are lost.

In considering this amendment, we must return to the basic principles of Clause 7. What the Bill provides is a "reserve power"—those are the operative words. The majority of operators will have no fare conditions in future. They will be able to raise their fares without commissioners' say-so, and without attendant delays. In such cases, the notification procedure in subsection (6) will be no more than that. No approval from the commissioners is being sought. So the amendment is directed only at operators whose fares have been controlled.

There are two ways in which this may happen: first, where it has been demonstrated that the public need protection against an operator taking advantage of his monopoly position. Surely it would be very odd to provide in the Bill a specific power to control fares in such a case, and then enable the operator to increase his fares by a fixed percentage, willy-nilly. I consider that an operator in that case must accept delays which may occur in the commissioners' consideration of an application for increase. Surely it is more confusing to the public and onerous to the operator if fares are raised only to be put down again by the commissioners a few weeks later.

The second case is imposition of fares conditions to prevent destructive undercutting between operators on a route. Here the point of attaching conditions is to set a minimum fare level. There will be no reason why the conditions attached should inhibit increases—only reductions in fares. But I ask your Lordships to remember that all the competing operators will be affected. No one will be able to steal a march on the rest.

Let us remember, also, that the system is not inflexible. If my noble friend Lord Teviot is worried that an operator will be unable to respond quickly to an unexpected and crippling increase in costs—for example, a doubling in OPEC oil prices—there are powers in subsection (5) temporarily to dispense with a condition. Clearly, in such cases the dispensation would be maintained until the normal procedures could be completed.

One is concerned. One has seen the report of what was said in another place on this same subject. One respects very much the views of my noble friend Lord Teviot. But I feel, all in all, on this occasion at least, that we cannot accept the amendment.


I put my name to this amendment because I felt a certain amount of sympathy for it, but having heard my noble friend the Minister's sweet reason on this I must confess that I am totally and completely swung round. On reflection, I really misunderstood the point underlying this part of the Bill. I am very much obliged for his clarification.


On this occasion, we on this side of the Committee cannot accept the full proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and the noble Lord, Lord Morris. We can readily understand the proposal but it appears to us that this is not the way to deal with the problem with which they feel they are confronted.

It appears to us that the proposal is being put forward because of possible delays in dealing with applications. We appreciate that in the amendment the increase of 10 per cent. in fares will only be temporary, until the application is disposed of, but we take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, that once an increase is put on it will be very, very difficult to take it off. We would prefer that consideration should be given to speeding up the process of consideration. It may be that the regulations which the noble Lord has talked so much about could adequately deal with the matter and so ensure that applications are speedily dealt with.

We sympathise with the reason for the amendment but we do not believe that this is the way to deal with the matter. We hope that the Government will feel able to give an undertaking to look at the whole procedure and see whether it can be speeded up so as to assist the operators.


Obviously I am not going to pursue this amendment. However, may I thank everybody who has spoken. I think they have a certain sympathy with the principle behind the amendment. It has been a pleasant, generous conversation—something one will look at. It is nice to know that there are these cosy safeguards. On that premise, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.10 p.m.

Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 36: Page 10, line 4, leave out (" without reasonable excuse ").

The noble Lord said: As I spoke to this amendment when I dealt with Amendment No. 20, I beg to move.


On precisely the same basis as was agreed between the noble Lord and myself, on behalf of the Opposition I propose to say nothing more.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 [Grant of road service licences for services on routes not otherwise served]:

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?

Viscount SIMON

May I ask a question on Clause 8? I find it difficult to understand subsection (l) (a) in particular. I am wondering whether the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill can explain what lies behind it. This clause provides that if there is an application for a road service licence where there are no existing satisfactory transport facilities, then the licence shall be granted. Then it goes on to say that the licence shall be granted unless the commissioners are satisfied that to do so would be against the interests of the public. I cannot conceivably see how it can be against the interests of the public to provide a service where there is not one already.


This clause replaces Section 30 of the Transport Act 1968, which provides for the issue of permits in lieu of road service licences. Originally it applied only to the use of school buses for adult passengers or to minibus services. The scope was extended in the 1978 Act by removing any limit on vehicle size. I applaud the philosophy behind these permits, which was to provide a quicker and simpler means of licensing services where the need was clearly greatest—on routes where no other service was available to the public. However, they have not been used as much as we all might have hoped. There has been a tendency for operators to go through the whole road service licence hoop instead. So clearly the special permits were not meeting the objective.

Moreover, there were certain oddities about the wording of Section 30. As we wanted to overhaul the legislation, it was clearly better to take the opportunity to sort out these inconsistencies. It seemed to us that we could usefully bring these kind of services back into the road service licensing system without losing sight of the objective—a speedier process from which all genuine candidates would benefit.

I believe that Clause 8 meets the objective. If the traffic commissioners are satisfied that no other transport facilities are available, they will simply grant the licence. There will be an opportunity for comment on applications for such a licence, but if the conditions laid down in the clause are fulfilled there will be no competing operators. It will certainly be a matter of fact in most cases whether there is another service on the route in question. If there is, then the commissioners will not issue a licence under this clause but will go on to consider the licence under the full procedure of Clause 5.

The words to which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred are concerned with the details of an application—stopping places and the like—where there could be separate questions of public interest. I assume that that is the problem which concerns the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and I hope that the explanation I have given as to the clause itself perhaps covers the point. If not, I shall be glad to have another shot at it.

Viscount SIMON

I am grateful to the noble Lord, but I am bound to say that I still do not understand it at all. The first part of the clause stipulates that, the traffic commissioners are satisfied that there are no other transport facilities available to meet the reasonable needs of the route ", so the question of whether there is any other service running seems to be dealt with before we get there. It then goes on to say that they will issue the licence unless they are satisfied that it is against the public interest. I do not know whether it is worth pursuing this any further; it must mean something.


I take the point made by the noble Viscount and that he is not satisfied in connection with this, so may I undertake to take this away and deal with it separately for him?


I hesitate to intervene in such a helpful observation from the Minister, of which there have not been too many this evening, although each time he answers he does it with such grace, but the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was kind enough to assist us on these Benches before and I wonder whether, with the agreement of the Minister and so that there is no misunderstanding, I may endeavour to answer his question and then the Minister may see whether he agrees with my answer.

It is perfectly true that Clause 8 deals with a situation where there is not sufficient transport facility in an area and then goes on to say that "the commissioners shall grant the applicant a road service licence in respect of that route", but the words to which the noble Viscount has omitted to pay attention are the following words: and shall do so in accordance with the application except to the extent that they are satisfied that to do so would be against the interests of the public ". So, whereas the principle of the application being made where transport is not available will normally lead to a licence being granted, it may be that there are requests made in the application which will be contrary to the interests of the public, and in those circumstances the traffic commissioners will be allowed to refuse the application.


I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. That seems to me to be entirely the point and, should there be anything to add later, I shall be glad to do so.


There is just one circumstance that I can see in which it definitely would not be in the interests of the public if the applicant should apply for a service where there is no service in existence. That is a service which would undoubtedly be a loss-making one and would have to draw upon public funds. The traffic commissioners would have to weigh up that balance and they might well come to the conclusion that it would be against the interests of the public to draw upon public funds in those circumstances.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Grant of road service licences for certain excursions or tours]:

9.18 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 37: Page 10, line 36, leave out (" either ").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 37, and I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 39, as No. 37 merely leads in to No. 39.


With great respect, would it not help to take No. 38, too?


No. I am sorry but it is a separate principle which I should like to deal with separately, if I may. Amendment No. 37 is concerned with simplifying licensing procedures for excursions or tours within the 30-mile radius. The longer tours are now, of course, to be completely de-licensed. Clause 9 (1) (a) rightly provides that to benefit from the simplified procedures the traffic commissioners must be satisfied that the excursion or tour would not compete directly with existing licensed services. I should like to comment in passing that that is the very thing which we have been trying to get inserted in a number of other clauses, but it has been resisted. Yet here we have it quite clearly that it must not compete directly with existing licensed services. That is reasonable because tours or excursions can compete with regular scheduled services. Why, therefore, is it considered sensible to allow direct competition if the proposed service of tours or excursions is to intend what in the Bill are called "special events"? That surely is illogical and inequitable.


The noble Lord is talking about Amendment No. 37 but he is speaking about "directly" the whole time and that is in Amendment No. 38, which he said he was not going to speak to.


I am referring to the question of excursions and tours—paragraph (b) and the question of "directly" is a separate matter which I should prefer to move in my own way, separately. It deals with a separate point. My speeches are separate, and it may be that noble Lords can separate theirs. I want to keep to this one particular issue and I am certain that noble Lords will understand the reason.

A further point is surely the difficulty of determining what is a "special event". There is no attempt to define "special event" in the various interpretations given in Clause 36. Paragraph 1 of the Twelfth Schedule to the 1960 Road Traffic Act refers to: The journey on which the passengers are being carried must be made on the occasion of a race meeting, public gathering or other like special occasion". I would ask the noble Lord, is there any difference between "special occasion", as in the 1960 Act, and "special event", as used in the Bill now before us? Is there any particular significance in this change of word?

I am no legal expert, as your Lordships will understand, but I am informed that in Maffhafy and Dobson on Road Traffic, which I am given to understand is the leading legal work in this field, various High Court actions are quoted, which suggest there have been legal arguments as to what is a "special occasion". For instance, in one action it was held that regular trips to the home matches of a football club were special occasions. It is open to speculation as to whether Blackpool illuminations, although not a special occasion, might possibly be a special event. The position is so uncertain and confused that I am wondering whether it would not be more simple to omit these two lines from the Bill, as we are suggesting. The provisions of paragraph (a) are sufficiently wide to give the traffic commissioners all the flexibility they require, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that the traffic commissioners can be relied upon to administer the provisions for excursions and tours as set out in this clause in the public interest without the complications and the uncertainties introduced into the Bill by this description of "special event", as well as the point which I have made about the inequitable position of this in relation to the other points in paragraph (a) . I beg to move.


I think the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, hit the nail on the head when he referred to the number of actions in the High Court which attempted to define what "occasion" meant, which is the word used in the previous legislation. For that reason I rather welcome the word "event". I am not a lawyer; I may have got this absolutely wrong, but I think the test of what an occasion is is a subjective test; namely, what is an occasion to one person may not be an occasion to another person. But an event is a question of fact; the test for deciding what an event is would presumably be one of reasonableness and it is perfectly capable of legal tests. In that respect I think the use of the word "event" should be welcomed rather than not, and I am looking forward to Lord Mishcon knocking me about on this one.


I do assure the noble Lord that I could never do anything as unkind as that, nor would I be intellectually capable of doing it so far as he is concerned. I would merely pose to him the rather interesting question as to whether he would describe the noble Minister opposite giving way to a point of the Opposition as a "special occasion" or a "special event"?


That is very much a subjective test, and it is purely a question of fact whether I would welcome it.


I think it would be a very special occasion to be celebrated as a special event in a feast day of the Christian Church. I do apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for trying to persuade him to speak to Amendment No. 38 as well as Nos. 37 and 39. Of course, he had every right to do it the way he did. I do not really see a great difference in principle, but I do beg his pardon if I tried to put thoughts into his mind which he did not want put there.

We think these amendments will rather severely restrict the traffic commissioners, which noble Lords opposite up to now have been rather keen not to do. During this debate the noble Lord has referred to legal argument and, with so much legal talent on my left and opposite me, I am rather frightened, like my noble friend Lord Bellwin, when legal argument starts buzzing about because I know straight away that I am out of my depth. However, I am advised that what is or is not a special event relates to a provision in the Road Traffic Act 1960 under which licences were not required by vehicles with under eight passengers, carrying people on the occasion of a race meeting, public gathering or other special occasion. There was much litigation on this point, but that, I am advised, is irrelevant to the present provision which leaves it clearly to the traffic commissioners to determine what is or is not a special event.

Let me first explain the Government's position on excursions and tours. I have done so briefly before on a different point, but I shall now do so again on this point. We do not believe that the licensing of leisure, sight-seeing and similar services, is necessary or desirable in the public interest. We would like to have been able to free them entirely from the control of the traffic commissioners and, as I said earlier, we have done so for long-distance excursions and tours. But we realise that if local excursions are free of all control, the protection of ordinary stage carriage services, for which road service licensing is being maintained, could be undermanned by, for instance, shopping excursions taking traffic on profitable days away from the network operator. It would be impossible to define unequivocally in legislation which services required licences and which did not, without leaving loopholes, and perhaps provoking unproductive litigation.

We have, therefore, left it to the discretion of the traffic commissioners to determine which services need control as part of the stage carriage network and which do not. The clause lays down guidance for the commissioners. If they are satisfied that a proposal passes one of the two tests in the clause, they will grant a licence automatically and with no conditions. If not, they will deal with the application in the normal way under Clause 5. Before deciding whether an application should be granted automatically the commissioners will take into account all relevant factors and will normally publish them in notices and proceedings. They will not take account solely of what the applicant says.

Similarly, as regards special events, the intention is to provide a rapid and sure licensing procedure for the genuine trip organiser not providing any kind of regular service or an excursion; for example, an excursion to the Trooping the Colour, the Cup Final or the Derby—I see that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, is not present!

The commissioners will have to be satisfied before they grant an automatic licence under subsection (1) (b) that the service is only going to a special event, and second that it operates only to enable passengers to attend such special events. Of course, what is or is not a special event is open to debate at the edges, but the traffic commissioners are skilled at exercising their discretion in such matters and if they are in doubt they will not, in the terms of the clause, be satisfied about the nature of the service and so will not grant an automatic licence.

I hesitate to say so, but the commissioners are pawns in this debate as far as I can see. Noble Lords opposite have been arguing half the time that we are not giving the commissioners enough powers and now in this particular amendment they are saying that they do not want them to have powers. Noble Lords opposite cannot have it every way. We are saying that the commissioners are perfectly normal beings to be trusted; but in this case noble Lords opposite are for once trying to say, so far as I can see, that they are not to be trusted. I hope my explanations will satisfy noble Lords that this amendment is not a good thing.


I had intended to enter this discussion, but as it went on and we had this rather amusing repartee, I thought that I would keep quiet. However, I am afraid that my noble friend's answer has made me rise to my feet. Despite what he says, it seems wholly unnecessary to make specific reference to special events, when the existing provisions of paragraph (a) can equally cover that situation. There are two factors here—I do not know whether this has been adequtaely dealt with—first, the uncertainty of the meaning of the words "special event", which we have been into; secondly, the failure to protect existing public services, which may depend on the fares collected on these occasions, to retain overall viability. Even should the traffic commissioners decide that they could not apply Clause 9, with its simplified procedures the operator still has the opportunity to apply for a road service licence in the normal way.

We are all agreed, or should be all agreed, that to streamline the licensing system is necessary, but, as one has commented before, there is no point in retaining the licensing of services at all if the system is riddled with exemptions. The Bill recognises that the licensing is still necessary and Amendments Nos. 37 and 39 find a practical balance, truly in accordance with the intentions of the Bill.

9.32 p.m.


I think that your Lordships noticed earlier that the Government were very interested in this Bill being extremely clear and that it should not contain superfluous words which were capable either of being dealt with in regulations or which were unnecessary in any event. I shall not repeat the arguments in regard to paragraph (a) , including anything which might be inferred from paragraph (b) , and therefore enabling the traffic commissioners to grant a licence in these circumstances, as mentioned in this clause.

Without being pedantic I want to suggest to the Minister that he may care to have another thought because, indeed, as worded here and with the addition of paragraph (b) , there is undoubtedly an addition of words which I should have thought do not carry the matter any further, but which have the great disadvantage of leading to disputes in the future, certainly in law. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, gave us the benefit of his view in regard to the difference between events and occasions. I do not intend to follow him down that rather rocky path. I wish to refer the Minister—if he, in his kindness, would look carefully at the wording of the clause—to the quandary which he is presenting. First, in this clause there is no appeal, unlike the position in regard to other clauses. The Minister may have felt—and I say this with great deference—that because there was no appeal, it would mean that whatever the traffic commissioners decided in regard to this matter would be final and there would never be any further dispute. But that is not so by the addition of paragraph (b) for the reason that the clause is worded, not with discretion granted to the commissioners, but in a mandatory fashion.

If the Minister would be kind enough to look at page 11 of the Bill, in the third line he will see the words: the commissioners shall grant the applicant if either paragraph (a) and any of the conditions in paragraph (a) apply, or if paragraph (b) —the paragraph we are talking about—applies. That means that if an applicant comes before the commissioners and says, "I call this a special event" and the commissioners say, "We are very sorry, but we do not regard it as a special event", that is a matter—even though there is no appeal—which can then be litigated upon on the ground that the applicant can say to the court, "The commissioners failed to carry out a mandatory injunction given to them under this Act. Court, this is what I wanted in regard to this excursion or tour, which was under the limit; they should have granted me a licence because this was a special event".

I should have thought that the last thing in the world we want to do is to walk into litigation of this nature. The Minister was very frank about his lack of legal knowledge, but, if I may say so, the way in which he attunes himself to legal problems is such that might be envied by many lawyers. I do not think it fair that one should throw at him in the course of Committee an argument of this kind without his having the benefit of advice.

I say to him most seriously that to include paragraph (b) without a definition of "special events" and to make it mandatory is something which is asking for trouble. I therefore ask whether he will take this matter back and obtain the appropriate advice, and perhaps be able to guide the House further in regard to this matter on Report stage, after receipt of that advice.

9.36 p.m.


I would be less than honest if I let the beguiling and charming manner of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, lead me to say that I would take it back and have it looked at, because I must be quite honest and say this is not something which I am in the least bit able to take back and have looked at. We think that the commissioners are competent to do this. They themselves have to be satisfied that it is a special event, and therefore it is within their competence.

The noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Underhill, are casting doubt as to whether the traffic commissioners are able to decide what is a special event. Earlier, in my first speech,] answered the question about special events and special occasions, and it is not going to cause legal problems. The noble Lord is so clever that he can argue, I am sure, that white is black and that special events are common events. I cannot argue with him, as I have said, but I believe that I would be dishonest to say that I could take it back. If he wants to defy me, he must take the issue to a Division.


Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I was not endeavouring to defy him. I was not endeavouring to prove that white was black. I was merely endeavouring to help the Committee. It may be that my view is a wrong one. It is a view that I respectfully put forward to the Committee without any pomposity at all. It was not a question of saying whether or not the traffic commissioners can decide what is a special event. Nor was it an accusation that the traffic commissioners would either refuse or grant if they had such an application before them.

I am envisaging no doubt about the traffic commissioners, but an applicant making a request for a licence under this subsection being told by the traffic com- missioners that the application was refused; it is an application based on paragraph (b) a special event—and the traffic commissioners do not think that it is a special event and then the matter is litigated without any definition in this Bill at all as to what a "special event" is. This, in my respectful submission, is asking for trouble. I cannot make the case any further. I am not an expert guiding the Minister; I am merely putting forward a humble view. If he decides that he does not even want to consider the matter further or think about it, I am in his hands.

Viscount SIMON

May I suggest to the Committee that there is another aspect to this clause which I think has not been touched upon. It was suggested earlier that a service vehicle going to a special event—we are talking roughly about special events—could be equally authorised under paragraph (a) as well as paragraph (b) . Let us take a case which is familiar to many of us. There might be a special match at the Chelsea football ground, but there are in fact London buses which pass the door of the Chelsea football ground. Therefore, under paragraph (a) you could not grant a licence under this simplified procedure to anyone going to the Chelsea football ground.


I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, as he knows. Having said that, I do not believe that there is any chance of it being looked at. I will of course look at what he has said. I will have it discussed by the experts, the officials, and if there is anything in the noble Lord's arguments of course we will have a look at it behind the scenes. I merely do not want to give any impression that I am going to come back with anything, but I will have it looked at.


May I ask whether there was any reason why they changed the test from "occasion" to "events"? I think it would be most helpful to this Committee to know. I am not suggesting that there is anything sinister about it. I would very much like to know, for my own purposes, the reason why they changed the test of "occasion" to "event".


I am afraid I am not able to satisfy my noble friend. I am merely told that there was much litigation on the point and that it is irrelevant to the present situation. However, I will try to find out and write to my noble friend, and if he wants the letter put in the Library, I will have that done.


I feel that my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton has been rather forced into something of a grudging admission to have another look at this matter. I should like to feel, because I have some sympathy—no more than sympathy—with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that my noble friend's looking will be most generously founded so that we may all know that the point has been thoroughly examined; and perhaps we may be given a very full answer on Report.


I said, without giving any promises at all, that T would have it looked at; and that I will do. As I said, if the letter is of sufficient interest I will have a copy of it put in the Library, or alternatively it could be sent to noble Lords who are interested. I cannot promise there will be any concession, because my advice is that we are fairly convinced that we are right in this case.


I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, for his assurance that he will have a careful look at the matter. We, too, will look at it with our advisers, and, when we come to Report, if the Government feel they cannot move on it, we may then have to consider the position. In the light of the noble Lord's assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.42 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 38: Page 10, line 37, leave out (" directly ").

The noble Lord said: I am sorry that I had to insist on dealing with this amendment separately, but, as I briefly comment on it, noble Lords will understand why I was so insistent. It deals with the same general issue as the previous amendment. We consider it not sufficient to provide that the proposed service must not compete directly with any other licensed service. It is possible that a proposed new service could compete indirectly, and there are various examples I could give but with which I shall not weary your Lordships at this hour; it is clear that there could be circumstances where there could be competition of an indirect character.

In our view, the word "directly" is far too restrictive. There will be cases where the commissioners might wish to feel that there is undesirable competition, against the public interest, but which is not strictly direct competition. The amendment meets the situation merely by deleting the word "directly". That would leave the commissioners with sole power to decide, in their wisdom, whether the competition is direct or indirect, and that is the simple point of the amendment. I beg to move.


As I said on the last amendment, I am convinced that the procedure provided in the clause gives ample protection for local bus services and that what the amendment seeks would increase licensing controls and bureaucracy to no purpose and make the man who wants to provide simple leisure services go through quite unnecessary hoops. Deleting the word "directly" enormously increases the scope for argument. There is some sort of competition between very distant things—for example, between the cinema and home decorating—and an excursion to a place of interest can attract some people who would otherwise go to bingo or travel on the local bus. But so can a television programme. The word "directly" prevents such far-fetched arguments from being relevant. I hope the noble Lord will see the force of these rather simple points and will withdraw the amendment.


I find it very difficult to follow the logic in the Government's case in relation to the Bill. On the previous amendment the argument was that we could safely leave this matter to the commissioners. That is what I want to do. Let us leave it to the commissioners. We should take out the word "directly", and the commissioners can then decide whether direct competition is injurious, or whether indirect competition is injurious. It would appear to me that the logic is in the case that we are putting forward, and I can see no reason at all why the noble Lord should not agree, because, like him, I want to give complete freedom to the commissioners to make up their minds in the light of all the circumstances.


I should like to put a point to the noble Lord before he sits down. In his opening remarks he said that this amendment was very similar to the previous amendment. My noble friend has agreed to look again at the previous amendment, and I really feel that the noble Lord is asking too much indulgence of the Committee.


With all due respect to the noble Lord, this is a separate matter. That is why I wanted the two issues discussed separately. Previously, we were discussing solely whether or not the commissioners should be bound to give a licence in the case of an excursion or tour. We dealt with that, thanks to the attitude adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton. The present amendment deals with another instruction to the commissioners: that they shall take into consideration only direct competition. All we are saying in the amendment is that the word "directly" should be left out and the commissioners could then take into consideration whether there is competition, direct or indirect. That would appear to me to be a most sensible matter for us to leave to the commissioners to decide. We shall not press the matter to a Division, but I do not propose to withdraw the amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendment No. 39 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Revocation and suspension of road service licences]:

[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]

9.47 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?


If I may take up the time of the Committee, I rather suspect that this may be the concluding clause for this evening. At any rate I hope so, and I am sure that my noble friend hopes so. During Second Reading I raised some points with regard to the revocation of licences. Clause 10 (1) gives the traffic commissioners the power to revoke or suspend a licence, whereas I believe that subsection (2) of the same clause virtually takes away this power, because it severely restricts the grounds on which the revocation or suspension can be made.

There are a number of questions which one might ask. Who is to say what constitutes sufficient frequency of the breach of conditions? Who is to say what is the danger to the public? In my view it would be far more sensible if we were to adopt the principle obtaining in the Transport Act 1968. Admittedly Section 69 of that Act deals more with commercial vehicle licences, but it lists the grounds upon which revocation or suspension should be made. I find that in Clause 22 of this Bill, which deals with PSV operator's licences, grounds for revocation or suspension in that case are given, and its seems to me that there is an anomaly here. Why can we not accept the listing in Section 69 of the 1968 Act, which in effect meets fairly well all those grounds which normally arise? It seems to me that for the clause to remain as it now stands leaves the matter in a rather lukewarm position. In other words, no one really knows where he is, to where he might go, or from where he might come. I put the matter in that particular way because it is about as indirect as that.

I think that my noble friend will not mind my raising this matter, because on Second Reading I gave notice that this was a point that I should want to discuss at the Committee stage. I do not want to make an issue of it at this time of night, but I should like my noble friend, if he can, to give me some kind of explanation as to why we are adopting this attitude in this particular Bill. If, however, he is not able to do that this evening I shall quite understand, perhaps, in which case he will write to me. But I have to say that I am rather relying upon the reply, whether it should come tonight or in a day or two's time, to decide upon my action as to an amendment during the further stages of the Bill.


It may be convenient in what may be the closing hour of today's session of the Committee if I, too, put a question to the Minister, not for answer today but in case he may care to look at it. I have not had the opportunity, if I may be very frank with the Committee, to do any research upon this. As a matter of fact, the point occurred to me only while I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in regard to his point. But I observed that Clause 10 (1) says that a road fund licence may be revoked or suspended by the traffic commissioners who granted the licence". It may very well be that there is an easy answer to this one, and that traffic commissioners are in some way denned in the Bill so that one avoids the absurd position that no power of revocation remains because one of the traffic commissioners has died or has been pensioned off, or for some reason does not attend the application to revoke. But at first sight—and that is all I am saying—it does look rather an extraordinary provision that it is only the traffic commissioners who granted the licence who can revoke it. As I say, there may be a definition of traffic commissioners which says that it is the traffic commissioners for that area, whoever they may be, and that may cover the point; but as I am not aware of that at the moment, I thought it might help if at least I raised the point, however absurd the point may turn out to be.


Before my noble friend replies, I think the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said in his opening remarks "road fund licence". I am sure he did not mean that, and that he meant "road service licence". We must get this absolutely right, so that there is no confusion.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord. That is obviously what I meant.


Before my noble friend responds, I may be completely wrong but I believe that, in law, the traffic commissioners are an office, and not persons.


First, let me hasten to assure my noble friend Lord Lucas that the last thing I would do when discussing the Transport Bill is to castigate him. I might take a different view, perhaps, when we come to some later legislation that may come into your Lordships' House, but so far as this Bill is concerned "castigation" cannot be the right word.

I was assured that this was a very uncontroversial clause. It would seem that this is in fact not quite so. However, what I would say on it is this, that we all accept that commissioners must be able to revoke or suspend a licence when an operator has breached, wilfully, frequently or with danger to the public, the conditions which have been attached to it. I would not have thought, though, that there are points of substance on which we need disagree. There are no major differences from the existing procedure. Some of the procedure is of course laid down in regulations, and this we will continue.

At this stage I cannot add a great deal to cover the depth of the points which I think have been made, but I indeed hope that this clause will be accepted. I certainly undertake again to look very carefully indeed at what has been said, and if it may be that there are still matters of concern to your Lordships then I am sure that there are various ways in which they can be raised and discussed. But for the moment, I think, that, again, is probably as far as I can go.

Clause 10 agreed to.


I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.