HL Deb 15 July 1981 vol 422 cc1257-300

4.10 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Third Reading, resumed.

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 21, line 12, at end insert— ("(iv) the users of vehicles manufactured before 1965").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 6. During the Report stage on 8th July your Lordships will remember that I put a question to my noble friend the Minister, at col. 780 of the Official Report, about whether ancient cars—as I described them—would be subject to the clause under discussion. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford kindly came to the rescue and said that cars of before 1964 or 1965 would not be so affected. As it will be clear from the Report stage debate, I was really thinking of "vintage" cars, as they are commonly known, and I was not thinking of what I call relatively modern cars.

I have put down this amendment to try to clarify the matter and to satisfy myself and perhaps the House, because if the date of 1964–1965 is confirmed by the Government it seems to me that we are talking here about cars of (shall we say?) between 1950 and 1964, which are not all that old. Many of them are what one might describe vulgarly as "old bangers" and they are not very safe. I understand that with the type of car design which was used before it became compulsory to fit seat belts, the actual structure of the car would not always be suitable for seat belts. However, we are now to have a borderline. I imagine—and I should be grateful if my noble friend could confirm this—that the police will have no difficulty in identifying these vehicles because their number plates will show their age. Therefore, that is not a particular problem. However, it seems a little odd that the older and more unsafe cars may become popular and their prices may go up—I do not know what the Government think about this—because they will be in demand by people who do not want to use these things.

There is a degree of unfairness. If you are lucky enough to have a car that is rather old you do not have to bother with this new imposition, but if you have a car that is more modern and perhaps more reliable then you have to take note of this imposition. I do not know how much my noble friend will be able to tell me now, but there are some doubtful aspects that I hope that he will be able to clarify for me. It would seem to me that there is not much point in having this particular clause in the Bill if it cannot be a little more comprehensive and include the type of cars about which I am talking. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I had hoped that the provisions inserted in the Bill on Report to ensure that all the regulations made under this clause would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure might have enabled us to avoid going over some of the old ground. As I explained during the Committee stage, the Government would have no intention of requiring someone to wear a seat belt where there is no requirement to fit a belt. Therefore those travelling in vintage cars will not have to wear seat belts because none has to be fitted. I can assure my noble friend that his amendment really is not necessary.

Although, as the House knows, the Government are neutral on the issue of compulsion, I feel I should point out that amendments which have not been drafted by parliamentary counsel, however well intended, are likely to present difficulties for the courts. For example, this amendment might be interpreted as providing exemption for anyone who uses a pre-1965 vehicle, irrespective of the vehicle in which they are actually driving or riding. Moreover, it does not accurately cover all vehicles where compulsory fitting is already required. To do so it would need to refer to cars manufactured on or after 30th June, 1964, goods vehicles manufactured on or after 1st September, 1966 and three-wheeled vehicles manufactured on or after 1st March, 1970. I mention this just to show the difficulty that one can fall into. My noble friend Lord Mottistone is very experienced in bringing forward amendments, but even he can fall into a situation of this kind. Therefore, I hope that with the assurances I have given as regards what, in fact, is not required, he will feel at least satisfied as regards this amendment.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. Of course, this was a probing amendment and I put forward the excuse that we have had only one intermediate stage, as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said earlier, because this particular clause came into the Bill rather late in the day. However, the point is that I think my noble friend has answered the main features of what I had to say. I hope that in preparing the regulations the Government will take carefully into account the fact that there will be a degree of unfairness. As I have always said, it will be impossible to apply this particular clause fairly. If the Government really feel that to be so, then perhaps with all the safeguards that we are trying to get written into the Bill the thing may die. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 21, line 12, at end insert— ("(iv) any person holding a valid non-medical exemption certificate obtained from the Secretary of State upon payment of an annual fee equivalent to 25 per cent. of the sum payable for an annual Road Fund Licence for a motor car;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7. I agree most strongly with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, about the absolute necessity for gaining public consent for this highly controversial measure. This amendment is a last attempt to devise a means of securing this consent and so avoid the legacy of bitterness and resentment that will certainly otherwise ensue.

What I am suggesting in effect is that we de-criminalise the whole issue of compulsory seat belt wearing by substituting fiscal sanctions for penal sanctions. This is a principle that must surely appeal to the Conservative Party and, I should have thought, to other democratic parties as well. The method would be to put the undoubtedly pleasurable habit—pleasurable to many of us, at any rate—of driving unfettered on a par with the other pleasurable habits of smoking and drinking, both of which involve a very much greater risk to life and to health. (Your Lordships may not be aware that 50,000 people die every year from smoking cigarettes.)

The idea would be to allow those people who cannot obtain medical exemption certificates to buy exemption on non-medical grounds upon payment of one quarter of whatever the annual road fund licence fee happens to be at the time. At the moment it would be £17.50 for an individual; £35 for a husband and wife, assuming that both wanted to be exempted; and £70 for a family of four—that is, four adults all of whom wish to be exempted.

If, by any chance, all the 30 million drivers and regular passengers—because of course those people who did not travel in cars very often would not go to the expense of buying exemption—were to opt to pay their £17.50 (highly unlikely, I agree, but let us suppose that that were the case) then no less than £255 million per annum would be raised for the Exchequer. That would permit, for example, the rate of VAT to be reduced from 15 per cent. to 14 per cent. So far as the National Health Service is concerned it works out at three-quarters of a million pounds for every one of the 700 deaths per annum which seat belt compulsion would allegedly prevent, and about £50,000 per annum for each injury necessitating at least one night's stay in hospital. So it can be seen that the State and the National Health Service would profit very considerably. It is worth mentioning that smokers effectively contribute by excise duty on tobacco only £56,000 to the National Health Service for each death—less than 10 per cent. of what non-seat belt wearers would contribute.

I believe that this would satisfy the widest possible spectrum of public opinion—not only most of those who dislike compulsion. There would still be a few who would say, "Why can we not be treated like hang-gliding enthusiasts, pot-holers and those who indulge in point-to-point riding and so on and who pay no tax at all?" However, they are a minority on our side. It would also satisfy most of those who are for compulsion on the grounds that they do not, in theory, mind what other people do with their lives, but do object to having to contribute, through taxation, for their treatment on the National Health Service. I think that this is something which really would meet many people's desires and make the whole measure much more acceptable. I beg to move.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I should like to speak very briefly in support of this amendment, the attraction of which is to lessen the impact of the criminal law with all its problems of enforcement, which still bother me very greatly, and to return to a measure of individual decision in a way which would meet the argument that the costs of death and injury as a result of not wearing seat belts would be an extra burden on the community.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I should like to speak very briefly on this as well because at one point I had an idea of tabling an amendment on much the same lines. But, if I had done so, I would have made the conditions rather more strict, so that it was not just a question of paying £25 and getting your exemption; the exemption would probably have had to be carried on the person, witnessed by a commissioner for oaths, and so on.

The advantage of this is that it removes the objection that so many people have to making seat belts compulsory, which is the loss of personal freedom. I think that we are very late in the Bill for this sort of consideration, particularly the amendment as it stands at the moment. Therefore, may I simply suggest that the Government should consider it, but should consider giving themselves powers to introduce something on these lines, should it prove to be desirable, at a future date.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, briefly, much as I admired the arithmetic of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I found the basic argument to be quite wrong. It seems to me to be quite wrong that you can buy your way outside the law. I do not like this clause—and noble Lords know that. But I do not think that I could give any support to paying a fee, whatever it may be, thus buying myself outside the law.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is not this a case of buying yourself to freedom?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I can only admire the facile solution which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, seems to have found for the problems facing my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer I am sure that he will read with much interest the very substantial sums of money which the noble Lord's amendment would find.

I must confess—and I know the noble Lord well enough and he knows me well enough to know that I say this, perhaps, lightly—that I thought when I first saw the amendment that he was tabling it with tongue stuck firmly in cheek. All else apart, the effect of this amendment for what it would do to the basic proposition which your Lordships accepted—certainly it was self-evident, so far as I am concerned, although it may not be the noble Lord's intention—appears to provide for the issue of certificates of exemption from the law to anyone who is prepared to pay for the privilege. I think that the point made by my noble friend Lord Lucas was a fair one. Certainly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, made was another way of, if you like, coming at the problem. But any way you look at it, it is really saying that those who wish to pay for the privilege can do so. Indeed, if vehicle taxation were ever abolished at some time in the future, such exemptions might be free. I find the principle of exempting people from the law, if they are prepared to pay, rather extraordinary to say the least.

Compulsory seat belt wearing is presumably being proposed not only for the benefit of the individual, but for the benefit of the community as a whole. I should not have thought that an individual could claim to opt out simply because he thought that he was such a careful driver that he would never be involved in an accident and, therefore, never need the benefit of a seat belt. Accidents can happen to anyone and, if they do, the cost to the community as well as to the individual can be very high indeed. But, from a practical point of view, an exemption which anybody can obtain obviously weakens the potential effectiveness of compulsion.

I think that this amendment is on a par with some of the others which we were debating on Report and which, in fact, the noble Lord did not then press because he was, at least to some extent, satisfied that he would have the chance to look at the nuts and bolts, if I can put it that way, when we come to the regulations. I understand the great feeling of those who object to the principle of compulsion. I must repeat that the Government have taken a neutral line on this matter all along, and are still taking that line. But the House did come to a decision; it came to a decision after a full debate. It came to that conclusion and although I am certain that we shall probably never satisfy those who feel strongly to the contrary, nevertheless that was the conclusion reached. What will be said about the matter in another place will be for them to decide. But, so far as we are concerned, with this Bill in its present form as we are hoping to pass it forward, that is where we were, and that is where we are at present. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who is always reasonable as I well know in these matters, despite his inner feelings will say, "So be it". At least I invite him to do so.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could I make it clear that from my point of view at any rate the idea of paying was really in order to compensate for the extra cost to the nation of the injuries which would be incurred by not wearing safety belts. That was my thinking. I just wanted to put the record right on that point. It was not quite as the noble Lord had said with regard to the amendment.

Lord Monson

My Lords, first, may I take up the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. If my amendment were accepted, it would more than compensate the nation for any expense incurred by people not wearing seat belts. I suggest that the amounts are well above the actuarial amount that would be needed to compensate the National Health Service. The nation would make a large profit on the deal.

With regard to the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lord Bellwin, I regret to say that they have both missed the point. They object to people buying their way out of the law, but if this amendment were accepted it would not be the law, because those who took advantage of the exemption would be excluded by law. They objected to the idea of people buying a right to take a risk—that is what it boils down to. If non-smoking teetotallers were to object to this, I could understand it. But let me point out that every time any noble Lord lights up a cigarette or knocks back a double whisky he is effectively buying a right to take what is, statistically, a risk. A hundred times as many people die from drinking or smoking as die from not wearing seatbelts; they pay, through taxation—not as much as seat belt wearers would pay in proportion—but they pay in taxation for that right and some of what they pay goes to compensate the National Health Service.

I take the point that the noble Lord spotted, which I did not, that if the road fund licence were abolished, the amount payable by those who wish to be exempt would also vanish. Therefore, I accept that the amendment is defectively drafted. It is for that reason alone that I do not press it, because I know that there are many noble Lords who feel strongly about this. It seems to me to be something that, perhaps looked at in a more thorough fashion, could be dealt with under the regulations. But for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 8: Page 21, line 21, leave out from ( "but") to end of line 23 and insert ("notwithstanding any enactment or rule of law no person other than the person actually committing the contravention shall be guilty of an offence by reason of the contravention.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, noble Lords will recall that on Report we accepted an amendment to Clause 27 to ensure that each person was alone responsible for wearing or not wearing his seat belt. In other words, that a driver would not be responsible for his passenger or vice versa. As I mentioned at the time, the Government were concerned about the drafting and this amendment simply corrects it. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for that tidying-up operation, for which I am very grateful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 21, line 23, at end insert— ("( ) It shall be a defence to any prosecution brought under this section to establish that failure to comply with the requirement to wear a seat belt saved the life of the individual being prosecuted or materially lessened the severity of injuries sustained by him as a result of a road accident.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords this is a watered-down version, amended in the light of what was said last week, of an amendment which I moved last week which was meant to provide that anyone whose life had been saved or whose injury had been lessened as a result of not wearing a seat belt would escape prosecution. I think it is worth reiterating that this happens much more frequently than the pro-compulsion lobby has ever accepted.

I took the trouble of looking up before I came here this afternoon a debate we had early in 1977. In that debate, when only a relatively small number of noble Lords spoke, no less than 16 positive and definitive cases were cited of people whose lives had been saved by not wearing a belt. That was in one debate alone, and I exclude all the other debates we have had in this place and another place. What happens more often than not is that people are either thrown out on to the grass, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was or more frequently thrown into the back seat, or, if the car is an estate car, on to the back platform, in a collision when the front of the car is totally crushed. In those instances, as the law stands, such people would render themselves liable to prosecution on the grounds that clearly they had not been wearing their belt.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord on a point of order? Is not this exactly the same point raised earlier on the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk? This is substantially repeating an amendment, Amendment No. 53, which was debated on Report and answered by my noble friend Lord Bellwin, and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, thereupon withdrew.

This is directly in conflict with the recent advice from the Procedure Committee in January of this year with regard to this point. Perhaps it may be helpful for the House if I ask the Clerk if he will be good enough to read it out so that your Lordships can have it before them. Would it be agreeable if that were to be read out?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, if it may help the House, I have with me and could read out what was said. It is as follows: Amendments may be moved after the Third Reading has been agreed to and before the Motion ' that this Bill do now pass.' Notice must be given of them not later than the day preceding that on which they are to be moved (except in the case of privilege amendments) in sufficient time to enable them to be printed and circulated in the form in which it is proposed to move them. The principal purposes of amendments on Third Reading are to clarify any remaining uncertainties, to improve the drafting and to enable the Government to fulfil undertakings given at earlier stages of the Bill. It is considered undesirable that an issue which has been fully debated and decided upon a previous stage of a Bill should be reopened on Third Reading.

Lord Monson

This is not the same issue that has been debated before. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, knows that we have not effectively had a Committee stage on this clause. The Report stage had to be the Committee stage, and the Third Reading has perforce to be the Report stage. There is no way around it. This is a controversial matter and we have not had the number of stages that we would normally have.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, would the noble Lord kindly give way? The amendment which the noble Lord put down at Report stage was: It shall be a defence to any prosecution brought under this section to establish that failure to comply with the requirement to wear seat belts saved the life of at least one individual or materially lessened the severity of injuries sustained as a result of a road accident. That is very substantially the same as the noble Lord has down here. It was debated. Several noble Lords took part in it. My noble friend answered it, and the noble Lord thereupon withdraw. It really is an abuse of the Rules of the House for the noble Lord to persist with his amendment now.

Lord Monson

My Lords, if the noble Lord had allowed me to finish what I was going to say, I should have explained that it is not the same. My amendment on Report was criticised, very rightly, because it was too widely drafted. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and other noble Lords pointed out that if anybody anywhere in the country had been saved as a result of not wearing a seat belt this could be cited in defence by the person being prosecuted, which of course is much too wide. I had not intended that, and naturally I withdrew it because it was defectively drafted. This narrows it right down so that the defendant himself can cite in his defence only the fact that his own life was saved. He cannot even cite the experience of his wife or his son or daughter. It narrows it right down, and it applies only to incidents which take place after the coming into law of these provisions, so it is totally different; not the same at all. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, when we considered that I think I had better refer to as a similar amendment on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Spens, clearly explained why he thought the House should support that amendment, and I had every sympathy with the reasons he gave, as indeed I have sympathy with the basic point underlying this amendment. However, as I said last week, it is a difficult task, to say the least, to establish what might have happened in the event of an accident had, or had not, someone worn a seat belt. We must face the fact that there may well be unfortunate cases when one could speculate that if someone had not worn a seat belt then they might have been saved from the worst effects of the accident. But surely the point is that the number of such cases will be very few compared to those where the wearing of a seat belt would have saved death or injury, or would have had a significantly mitigating effect upon an accident situation.

We would be imposing an impossible burden on the courts by requiring them to decide on the merits of any defence in the complex area of accident investigation. Nor do I think that we should encourage people to feel safer without seat belts when, with the exception of rare cases, this is not so. The chance of someone benefiting once by not wearing a seat belt is small; the chances of them doing it twice are fairly minute. If someone felt so strongly about this, because of some previous experience, that it amounted to a medical condition, then I am sure that he, or she, would be able to obtain a medical certificate to exempt them from wearing a belt.

I hope that the noble Lord will think again about the desirability of this amendment. Throughout the whole of the seat belt aspects of this Bill again and again runs this thread of concern; the great dislike of compulsion that so many people have. I say again, and I know it is repetition, that one has to be sympathetic because it is not a right or wrong situation. It is a question of taking the overall balance. The Government stay neutral. I made my own position clear. My position was that I think that the balance just came down in favour of compulsion. I said so. But, having said that, I still think that we must consider all aspects of it, and we shall get plenty of chance to do this in detail when we come to the regulations in as reasonable—I use the word "reasonable "at the risk of its being quoted back at me by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—a way as possible, and I think that is what we shall do.

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would consider rephrasing an expression he used just now? He seemed to indicate that somebody who had been thrown out of a car because they were not wearing a seat belt, and thereby it saved their life, might be in such a mental state that they could get some sort of certificate for not wearing one in future. I think if my noble friend had been thrown out of a car he would not want to wear one again, and I am quite sure he would not regard himself in a mental state.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, with respect, I think that is semantics. I think that a mental state in the terms of a medical condition is something that the medical profession will advise us upon in due course. I am no more qualified to dissertate on that subject than, so far as I am aware, is my noble friend, although possibly he has the advantage of me in that way. I am trying hard in all this seat belt discussion to try to take an objective view about it because I realise how deeply felt are the feelings of those with both points of view. But if when we come to regulations we approach it in the right spirit, then we will get something that will at least be acceptable to just about everyone in your Lordships' House.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the Minister mentioned regulations, but this cannot be dealt with in that way. This is something quite separate and it is not a question of exemption: it merely excludes from prosecution those whose lives have been saved or whose injuries have been lessened. I have done my best to meet the wishes of the House, in that I entirely accept that the amendment I moved a week ago was too widely drawn and went too far. I have cut it down even further than I intended. Indeed, it is cut down so that it excludes anybody injured before the Bill becomes law.

I think it would be intolerable if people were to be prosecuted under such circumstances. The police would be duty bound to do so; they do not have discretion in these matters and while the magistrates might let them off with a very small fine, the law must still be upheld. I believe the "t' s" should be crossed and the "i' s" dotted and people given an absolute right to escape prosecution in these circumstances, and therefore I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

4.41 p.m.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 10: Page 21, leave out lines 41 to 45.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, during our debate last week it was agreed that the Secretary of State for Transport should provide Parliament with an opportunity to consider his proposals for the regulations to be made under this clause before they were laid. The Government have said on numerous occasions that they will be consulting widely about these regulations, and we were therefore happy to agree to the suggestion by my noble friend Lord Lucas that a document setting out these proposals should be made available to Parliament. Now, with the benefit of the wisdom of parliamentary counsel, I have prepared an amendment which will ensure that a statement is laid before Parliament and that there will be an opportunity for three months' discussion on the proposed regulations before they are laid before Parliament. These first regulations are the most important ones as they will set out who will be required to wear seat belts, when and under what circumstances they must be worn and who will be exempt.

As to the review of the regulations after a certain period of time, that is not a matter on which the Government would wish to express a view. Subparagraph (c) in Amendment No. 11 is tabled in my name to correct the drafting of the earlier amendment. The period of time for the review, following an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Inglewood, is a matter on which it was thought right to offer some advice. The review will be important because inevitably it will be a review not only of the regulations but of the success or otherwise of the compulsion itself. We think three years might be preferable to two because two would be too short a time to be able to form a judgment. The first year will inevitably be a running-in period and may not be typical and, more important, the casualty figures for the second year will not be available until well into the third year, so they would not be available for a review at the end of two years.

I know that my noble friend Lord Inglewood (who at the moment is not in his place) was pleased that his amendment had been accepted; he felt it was an indication, now that the House had come to a certain decision, of the Government taking a view which was by no means the last word. After all, how could anyone say that on this sort of subject one could take such a view? However, I think three years is a more practical term than two, and accordingly I hope the amendment will be accepted.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Bellwin has moved Amendment No. 10, I think it would be convenient for me to speak to Amendment No. 11 at the same time. My noble friend explained clearly the intent and content of the amendment, which meets totally the points made by my noble friend Lord Mottistone and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, at an earlier stage, and I know that my noble friend Lord Inglewood is grateful that the point he made has been embraced more accurately in this amendment, and therefore we are grateful to the Government.

Lord Monson

It might be convenient to the House, my Lords, if, while addressing some remarks to Amendment No. 10, I spoke at the same time to my Amendment No. 12, because I am not sure of the procedure if that amendment were agreed to. I should say at the outset in relation to Amendment No. 12 that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, certainly would have added his name to mine had he known about the Government's precise intentions rather earlier than last night when the Marshalled List had already been printed.

We were under the impression last week that the Government had accepted the period of two years, and perhaps that is why I appear to be reacting rather late in the day. I shall be very unhappy if the period is extended to three years, particularly as that was not the intention, as we understood it, last week. It is important to remember that this whole question of seat belts has never really been put before the public; it never appeared in any election manifesto, it was never mentioned in any party political broadcast, I do not think it appeared in any individual candidate's election address and it was certainly not a feature of the Queen's Speech.

I believe this matter should be in the forefront of people's minds at the next general election, so that they may give their verdict on it. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, about the figures for the second year not being available, but some interim figures will surely be available, and I think it right that the people should be able to express their opinion on it at about the end of 1983 or the beginning of 1984, when there will have to be a general election. If the pro-compulsion lobby are right in assuming that opposition to this measure will dwindle away, then they have absolutely nothing to worry about, because it will not make any difference to candidates in marginal seats. If, on the other hand, opposition is still as great as I suspect it will be, then it may make a difference in a number of marginal seats, depending on the candidates' attitudes to compulsion. If the pro-compulsion people have the courage of their convictions they will accept my amendment. If they resist it, I can only conclude that they are worried about the possible electoral consequences of compulsion.

Lord Bellwin

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, misses the whole point, my Lords, because this has nothing to do with elections. Indeed, the provision is not even basically in a Government clause; the provision was moved initially by my noble friend Lord Nugent and the Government took a neutral line on it. The House as a whole, right across party lines, voted on this issue and so far as I am aware the same will happen in another place. In no way is it a political issue, and to bring that aspect into it does not help the substance of the debate.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 22, line 6, at end insert— ("( ) In section 199 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 (exercise of regulation-making powers and Parliamentary control) the following subsection is inserted after subsection (2)— (2A) The following provisions apply to regulations made under section 33A above—

  1. (a) when the Secretary of State proposes to make the first regulations under that section he shall lay before each House of Parliament a statement explaining his proposals; and
  2. (b) no draft of those first regulations shall be laid before Parliament for approval under subsection (4) below until after the expiration of the period of three months beginning with the day on which the statement was laid (or, if the statement was laid on different days, with the later of the two days); and
  3. (c) at the end of the period of three years beginning with the day on which the first regulations under that section came into force, all regulations in force under that section shall expire unless their continuation in force has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament,"").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this, my Lords. I beg to move.

Lord Monson moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 11, Amendment No. 12: In paragraph (c), line 1, leave out ("three") and insert ("two").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, although I have effectively spoken to this amendment, my being able to rise again gives me an opportunity to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. Seat belt compulsion is essentially a collectivist idea. One need only study the voting figures in both House of Parliament over the years to see that the majority of Conservatives have always opposed it, albeit with a recent majority slightly smaller than in the past, while the majority of people on the Left have always been in favour of it. Thus, whether or not one wishes to face the fact, it is essentially a political matter, because it is a question of people's ideas about individualism, collectivism, and so on. I believe we should stick to the decision that was taken—admittedly there was no vote on it—a week ago, when it was the general sense of people in the House that two years was the agreed time. I know that many noble Lords would have come along today had they realised that it was the intention to extend the period to three years. I think that we should test the opinion of the House on this matter. I beg to move.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I feel that I must say a few words in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on this point. I am sure that to most of us this question is the absolute opposite of a political decision. I agree with the noble Lord that many of my noble friends here and honourable friends in another place are opposed to the idea, but opinions go right across the board. I can think of many subjects that might be included in the manifestoes of the respective parties at the next election, but I do not think that this will be one of them, nor do I think that it will be one on which the nation decides who it wants to form the next Government.

I know of the passionate feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on this matter, and for him it really looms as priority No. 1, but for most of us it is a single, important matter with a complex of arguments which we have discussed here at great length, and its political significance is very small indeed, if it has any political significance at all. It is really in that spirit that we looked at this question. Clearly my noble friend Lord Bellwin has looked at it. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has looked at it, and evidently the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, has, but he has not at all taken a view about the period being three years instead of two years. On a pragmatic basis obviously three years will provide sufficient a test for us to sec how it all works out, whether it is working out satisfactorily, whether the regulations are satisfactory or whether they should be changed—indeed whether the scheme is workable at all. If the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is right, it will not be workable. But I do not believe that that will be the case.

In any event, three years is obviously a much better period than two years. A period of two years is not long enough properly to test the regulations. The first year will be concerned with running-in the scheme and in the second year it will begin to operate normally. Then there will be sufficient experience to say whether the regulations are sound or should be modified, or to take any other view. That is the sole purpose of changing the period. I am sure that noble Lords will not think it a practical point to decide on two years in order to coincide with the next general election. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, knows very well that I am in sympathy with him on most of the points here, but I agree with the Government amendment as it stands. I think that the great advantage of having three years before there is what will in effect be a review is that it will confirm even more strongly that the promoters of the clause were in fact at fault and that the casualty rate will be even more definitely confirmed as being quite unchanged or, if anything, slightly worse. Therefore it will be very helpful to us to have the three years evidence with which to shoot down the idea when the time comes.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, is quite wrong in thinking that I feel uniquely strongly about this matter; my bulging file of letters proves altogether otherwise. Of course, the question of seat belts will not appear in any political manifesto, because they all want to brush it under the carpet and will not want it as an election issue. My idea is that it should be in the forefront of people's minds and they should be able to make their choice. Of course it will not affect Parliament as a whole, but it might make a difference in a few marginal seats, depending on the views of candidates in those seats on the issue.

As for the idea that we should wait for three years, I can only ask why the noble Lord did not mention it at the time, when there was plenty of opportunity to do so. Several noble Lords have said to me that they think it wrong that the period of two years agreed to last week should be altered. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone; there is something to be said for it. But the overriding issue here is the one of not sticking to what we agreed to last week, and therefore I should like to press the amendment.

Amendment to the amendment negatived.

On Question, Amendment No. 11 agreed to.

4.55 p.m.

Viscount Cross moved Amendment No. 13: Page 22, leave out lines 7 to 14.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, to prevent any possible misunderstanding, may I say that this amendment is not the same as the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye on Report. It is about another matter altogether. I wished to speak on this question at the Committee stage, but unfortunately time did not allow—the vote had to be taken. I had an amendment on the Marshalled List at the Report stage, but unfortunately my amendment was defective.

The aim of this amendment is to do away entirely with any financial penalty for not wearing a seat belt, thus bringing forward the possibility of following the lead set by West Germany, where the law specifies that seat belts shall be worn, but where there are no financial penalties, although if anyone who is involved in an accident is not wearing a seat belt there are accepted reductions of compensation. I understand that this system has been in use in Germany since 1975 and that it is a great success. The RAC tells me that in West Germany the rate of wearing seat belts is very high, in particular on autobahns.

I think that the aim of Clause 27 of the Bill is to encourage people to wear seat belts, and therefore we should give serious consideration to the German system. Why do people wear seat belts in West Germany? I think that the reason is, in part, that it is the law that they should wear them, and being law-abiding citizens, many of them do wear them. It is also partly because there is an insurance penalty if they are not wearing a belt when involved in an accident. That approach could be described as the incentive of the carrot rather than the threat of the stick.

I shall not yet again go into all the many and varied arguments for and against the wearing of seat belts, but let it be said that the experts disagree, as is so often the case in these matters. One day there is a letter in The Times from a expert in favour of the wearing of seat belts. The following day in the same paper there is a letter from another expert against the wearing of seat belts. At the Committee stage in this House your Lordships' opinion was divided in the proportions of rather more than two-fifths against to rather less than three-fifths in favour. In a curious way, those figures might well reflect opinion in the country.

I consider that in the circumstances that I have described the German system is a brilliant compromise solution to the problem. It solves the complicated questions of exemptions and enforcement that we have been discussing and which will take up so much police time and court time. If I may say so, I feel that very many extremely sensible suggestions on the subject of seat belts have been made from all quarters of the House during the passage of the Bill through the Chamber; but do we really want to tie ourselves up in knots on the many questions of exemptions and enforcement when it is completely unnecessary to do so?

As to exemptions, anyone with a genuine case can obtain an exemption certificate from his doctor to satisfy his insurance company or the courts in the case of a claim for damages. What a pity that in our proposed new system we should create yet more motoring offences: failure to produce an exemption certificate within five days; failure to wear a belt. As to enforcement, in the German system the police encourage drivers to wear belts, but drivers are not harassed, and there is no impairment of police/public relations. Drivers are not stopped in the middle of the night in order to see whether they are wearing seat belts.

This country is a member of the EEC. Over the years much that is good and which has had its origins in this country has been adopted in many different parts of the world. On this occasion I suggest that we, in our turn, should give very serious consideration to the adoption of a successful system of seat belt wearing as practised by another member of the EEC, in this case West Germany. It could be that this matter will be taken up by an honourable Member in another place when the road safety provisions in this Bill are debated there shortly for the first time; and, later on, should the Government run into difficulties with exemptions and enforcement, should the seat belt provisions in this Bill prove too expensive or too complicated to operate, then I suggest very seriously that the West German seat belt wearing system might well prove to be the answer. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I do not want to press the point about what may or may not be in order for consideration at Third Reading, but the fact is that your Lordships clearly voted at Report stage to accept the maximum fine of £50, and to go over this once again really is taking us round the track once more. But I think I would still want myself to make one or two observations on what my noble friend has said. First, the wearing rate in West Germany is only 51 per cent., and it is therefore far lower than in those countries where there is a penalty; and I think that point ought to be made. Without going further—because I do not think it is right that we should—I would only say that this amendment would make a nonsense of the whole clause: and, of course, I certainly could not support what is in fact a wrecking amendment.

Viscount Cross

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for what he has said. The wearing rate on motorways in Germany is as high as 70 per cent., and I think that is very high. As this is the first time, I think, that the German system has been discussed in your Lordships' House, I should like to test the feeling of the House on the matter and to press my amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Clause 33 [New basis of vehicle excise duty for goods vehicles]:

5.3 p.m.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 24, line 42, at end insert— ("(7) In Part I paragraph 3(d) of Schedule 4 of the Vehicles (Excise) Act 1971 the following words shall be added: 'Provided that a vehicle not owned by a local authority shall not be chargeable by virtue of this Schedule solely by reason of its use for the conveyance of educational books, materials and equipment to and from or between educational establishments.'").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment relates to Clause 33, which provides for a new basis of excise duty in respect of goods vehicles. The Department of Transport has stated that where an estate car or hatch-back type of vehicle is used to transport goods in connection with business or trade, the vehicle must be classified as a goods vehicle and thus attract the higher rate of vehicle excise duty. This ruling has caused considerable concern, because the Department of Transport also state: Schools, colleges and universities are regarded for vehicle excise purposes as being engaged in trade or business. It follows that any goods vehicles used to convey goods or burden in connection with the business of such an establishment—i.e., the provision of an educational service—would be liable to the goods rate of vehicle excise duty, and any staff who use their own estate cars or hatch-backs to carry goods in connection with their work would need to license their vehicles at the goods rate".

When the question was posed to the department about the difference between these particular vehicles and, say, private saloon cars, it was stated—and again I quote: The discrimination between saloons and estates or hatch-backs is therefore a direct result of the different construction of these vehicles". Many teachers and others have been providing the use of their own vehicles to assist the smooth running of their work because of their interest in their teaching profession, and I should like to give three examples.

A teacher has to move from one building to another building of the same school—and this is quite a common occurrence now—when often that building is separate from the other building of the same school by, it may be, a mile or a mile and a half or even more. To carry out his teaching timetable he finds it desirable to take equipment for that purpose in his own personal car, which may be an estate or a hatch-back. Another teacher takes school equipment to be repaired or buys equipment to facilitate a lesson or series of lessons. These are just one-off occasions. A third example is that the education authority may organise courses of lectures whereby lecturers and equipment required are moved to a particular establishment so that in-training may proceed on the site. This has obvious advantages, not the least those of economy of cost and of the lecturers' time.

But the point is that in all these cases and in similar cases, if teachers, inspectors and others use their own private vehicles and they are of an estate or hatch-back type, then they are liable to pay goods vehicle excise duty on them. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has expressed very great concern with the situation, and there are already cases of teachers and others with such vehicles regrettably having to take the view that they will be unwilling to use their vehicles in this way. It is a blow at such persons providing this voluntary assistance in the interests of the educational service.

There is also the point that if these vehicles are to be classified as goods vehicles then undoubtedly this may have some effect on their insurance policies and premium rates. Therefore, what the amendment seeks to do is to meet this situation by removing the use of such vehicles in these ways from charge under the schedule. It seems a most reasonable thing to request; and, as I have said already, to continue with what will happen under the procedure outlined by the Department of Transport will really be a blow at teachers and others in the education profession being of help to their profession by using their own cars, if they are specified in these two particular categories, for the educational service. I beg to move.

Lord Somers

My Lords, while I can understand the anxiety of the noble Lord for the teaching profession, I can think of so many others where the same conditions would apply. How about the medical profession—a doctor carrying his own equipment in his car? How about members of the musical profession carrying their instruments in their cars? There are many other examples that I could think of. I do not know why the education profession—deeply though I feel for them, may I say—should have special exemption in this way.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I should perhaps note that we are in some danger here of becoming enmeshed in a particular fiscal matter outside the scope of the provisions of the Bill and our remit in these matters. Be that as it may, while I understand the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on this point, I cannot accept that a reduced vehicle excise duty burden on the lorries used by educational suppliers is appropriate.

There are two fundamental objections to this amendment. The first relates to the point which was touched upon a moment ago by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and that is simply equity. The Government are frequently pressed to grant exemption or relief for what might be called special cases in special circumstances. Each one is well argued, and on the face of it has merit. But were they accepted there would be a severe loss of Exchequer revenue which would then have to be made good by increases on other VED payers or increases elsewhere. On the other hand, singling out one case for special treatment would be equally unfair. Moreover, the position of educational suppliers does not seem to me to be at all different from that of those in many other businesses who at the present time may well be faced with difficult trading positions.

The question of equity apart, the amendment would lead to more complex VED administration and enforcement at a time when the Government are taking steps to streamline the operation of the tax and cut out bureaucracy. I hope that the noble Lord can accept these very real difficulties of principle and of practicability which the amendment poses. The Government are, I can assure your Lordships, sympathetic to the underlying question of provision of books and equipment for schools. In that context, I should perhaps note that the Government's rate support grant settlement for 1981–82 allows for an increase—not a decrease—in local authority spending on books and equipment of 2 per cent. in real terms. Similar increases for later years are included in the Government's public expenditure plans. But it is of course for local authorities and schools themselves to determine their priorities within the resources made available to them. I hope that the noble Lord will accept these observations on his amendment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am extremely disappointed with the Minister's reply. It will be recalled of course that I spoke in support at Committee stage of the downplating of lorries under this same clause in support of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on the basis of equity and fairness. If there are other categories which ought also to be considered, that is a matter which could be adjusted when Lords amendments go to another place. It should not affect this particular amendment which is trying to deal with the question of justice. To suggest that this is to be looked at from the aspect of loss of revenue appears a farfetched argument.

We are talking about a simple way for teachers to help the pupils and the smooth running of their educational work. If they refuse to do this because of the extra goods duties then somebody has to provide goods vehicles to move the equipment from one part of a comprehensive school to another. When we are talking about wiping out bureaucracy, my amendment would do that. What will happen if teachers say that they are not prepared to have this additional goods duty placed upon them? Either the equipment will not be moved from one part of the building to another, under the three examples I have given, or the LEA will have to meet quite considerable costs in providing goods vehicles to do it.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way for a moment. I should have said that the position of estate cars being used for this purpose is something we would be willing to look at.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am delighted to have that assurance. On that basis, I readily withdraw the amendment. The noble Lord said "estate cars". Will he look at the hatch-back as well? They are both in the same position. With that assurance, I readily beg leave to withdraw and hope that something may happen.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.13 p.m.

Clause 35 [Charges for licensing of cabs and cab drivers]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 26, line 14, at end insert— ("( ) Subsections (3) to (5) of section 70 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 shall apply in relation to licences issued under the said Act of 1847 as they apply to licences issued under the said Act of 1976.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment relates to provision for a possible increase which could take place under the terms of the Bill for licence fees relating to taxi cabs. We have had this discussed at both Committee and Report stages and each time I have changed the amendment in order to meet criticisms that have been levelled. I withdrew the amendment at Report stage and urged the Government to make the same provisions for district councils which function under the 1847 Act as function under the 1976 Act for some district councils. That would then meet my wishes. What I have attempted to do today is precisely that. Under the 1976 Act the taxi trade may object to the district council on any licence fees that the council may wish to introduce, whereas those district councils that function under the 1847 Act have no possible basis at all to raise an objection. Under the Bill there could be increases in licence fees.

I want to thank the noble Earl, Lord Avon, for a letter which he sent following the Report stage. He emphasises two or three points and particularly that the elaborate procedures under the 1976 Act are such that the Government would not wish to have repeated under the 1847 Act measures. I must ask one simple question, with respect: If that is the case, why did not the Government introduce an amendment to this clause to improve the procedures under the 1976 Act? The position has been left entirely as it is. Therefore, we are faced with a situation that if one is in the taxi trade in a district council which has adopted the 1976 provisions, one can object, That is the law which the Government do not propose to change even though they say it is an elaborate procedure.

If you are in a district council which functions under the 1847 Act you cannot have any basis for objection to the same district council. That seems to be completely inequitable and completely unfair. If the Government feel that the 1976 provisions are too complicated, then really the Government under this clause ought to change (which they would have power to do) the provisions of the 1976 Act. To have certain district councils where one procedure obtains and another where it does not obtain seems unreal and unfair.

The letter which the noble Earl kindly sent to me emphasises that it would be possible for the matter to be raised with the district auditor. That cannot be done until the auditor has audited the local authority accounts, which could be 15 months or so after the increase has been made. Also we have reference to the fact that it could be possible, if action was not taken by the council, to go to the courts. Surely, we do not want to have that elaborate procedure. There is a right of objection to the district council which wishes to implement an increase where the 1976 Act provisions obtain. All I am asking for in this amendment is that exactly the same procedure should be laid down for those district councils that function in this respect under the 1847 Act. That seems completely equitable and fair, and if we do not have that then frankly there are going to be a lot of district councils functioning under different laws regarding appeals and one section of the taxi trade will be treated differently from other parts of the country. I beg to move.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, briefly, I should like to support the noble Lord and congratulate him on the energy with which he has pursued this issue and the energy with which he pursued many other issues under this Bill. I believe that there is a case of equity as the noble Lord has expressed. If my noble friend cannot accept the amendment, I hope he will say he will look at the case as I feel that he should.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, with permission, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 16 as well as this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is certainly most persistent and I entirely endorse what my noble friend Lord Kinnoull has said about his endeavours while we have been going through this Bill. At every stage he has sought doggedly to restrict the powers of licensing authorities to charge economic licence fees. I fully appreciate that he has the interests of the taxi trade at heart. I know that the trade is worried lest it be required to pay excessive licence fees.

It was in recognition of this worry that, at the Report stage, we moved an amendment making it absolutely explicit that a licensing authority may not charge a taxi licence fee greater than is necessary to cover its reasonable costs. Although, as I have said, I think I have a good understanding of the arguments that the noble Lord puts forward, beyond that I fear I cannot go. The Government's whole policy on local authority charges is directed towards removing unnecessary restrictions. Indeed, that was the very purpose of this clause. The proposals put forward now would take us in the other direction. As I shall try, briefly, to show, I am convinced that they are unnecessary.

The complicated procedures for notification and for the hearing of representations by district councils whenever they wish to charge licence fees in excees of £25 set out, as the noble Lord said, in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, are no longer appropriate. They merely impose additional costs on local authorities without significantly benefiting the trade. Indeed, in the long run, the trade is probably the loser since these extra costs have to be passed on through it to its customers. Furthermore, I really cannot see that a statutory right to make representations to the very authority whose decision is being objected to would add to the trade's ability to further its interests. As has been said more than once before, the trade has never shown any signs of being unwilling or unable to make its views abundantly plain if it dislikes a decision taken by a licensing authority.

The noble Lord's second amendment, to make it a duty for a council to supply details of the costs on which its licence fee is based, appears eminently reasonable on the face of it, so I hope he will not think that I am being churlish in having to resist it. But resist it I do—even at that risk. For local authorities are, in the great majority, responsible and reasonable bodies. The noble Lord spoke, in our debate on Report, of authorities who had refused to give a break-down of their costs. I accept that there may be some which may have done so, just as I accept that there may be a minority who in the past have set fees at a level which could not strictly be justified on the basis of their costs.

I have no doubt that most local authorities would do their best to be helpful in explaining the general basis of their charges. Because a minority might not, this amendment would apply to all the necessity so to maintain their accounts as to be able to supply at any time a break-down of costs, including apportionment of administration costs. While this would, of course, be feasible, it would be bound to add to authorities' general costs at a time when the Government's concern has been to limit and reduce local government expenditure.

The purpose of seeking details of costs is to check the reasonableness of the licence fee charged. Both my noble friend Lord Avon and I have explained in letters to the noble Lord that there already exists ample protection for taxi operators who suspect that a licence fee is excessive. Though it was already implicit in the law, the Government amendment which was accepted at Report stage has made clear that charges not firmly based on local authorities' actual costs are ultra vires. It is open to any local government elector whose interests are affected by the level of a licence fee to challenge his local authority's accounts by raising a formal objection at audit (or the matter could be drawn to the auditor's attention at any time). If, on examination, the auditor judged that the authority's charges were excessive, he would raise the matter with the council. If the circumstances warranted it, he could record the issues in his statutory report, which is a public document and which could provide a basis for the taxi trade to bring a case before the courts against the council.

That is the long-standing method by which the interests of the public are protected, in whatever field of local government operations. There is no separate provision for the man who thinks the local swimming bath charges are high to demand a break-down of the authority's costs in providing the bath: no separate provision for the market-stall holder to demand a break-down of costs of provision of the market; no separate provision for the applicant for planning permission to demand an analysis of the costs of the planning department: frankly, nor should there be. Similarly with taxi licence charges. This amendment might be the thin end of a very thick wedge, and, while I do not suggest that the wedge would necessarily be driven into the thick end, it seems to me undesirable even to introduce it.

The amendment is also to some extent defective, in that the word "details" is so vague as to render the enquirer's purpose unenforceable. I apologise for having gone on at some length, but I know how deeply the noble Lord feels and therefore I feel obliged so to do. I appreciate that my arguments will probably not convince him, though I am always hopeful. They must, however, be seen in a much wider context than the issue of taxi licence fees. The noble Lord's proposals would represent an undesirable precedent that could have serious repercussions right across the field of local government charges.

In case the noble Lord is not aware of it, I would want to say before I sit down, hopefully in a helpful way, that the Home Office are preparing a consultation paper on the 1976 Act, and that I should have thought that when that comes forth there would be an opportunity for the noble Lord, or anyone else concerned, to take up matters arising out of the working of that Act. So I hope that, with at least a helpful ending to my remarks, the noble Lord may be at least partially satisfied.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am in some difficulty because I have not spoken at all on Amendment No. 16. I confined myself entirely to Amendment No. 15 because I thought there were two different principles involved. Therefore, before I sit down perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words on Amendment No. 16.

The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said that my efforts had been to try to restrict the powers of local authorities to charge proper licence fees—not at all: that has not been my purpose. My purpose has been to ensure that there is fairness to all the taxi trade and that they will all have equal opportunity to make objections. I have not argued about whether it is right to increase fees because everybody knows, as the Minister pointed out at Committee stage, that the licence fee under the 1847 Act is something like half a crown, and therefore that has got to be dealt with. But I wanted those authorities where it is as low as that to have the same right of objection as the 1976 ones. I am delighted to be told at this late stage that there is going to be a consultative paper—

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way perhaps I may give him some information which is helpful. Perhaps I should explain that the point I was making about the 1976 Act concerned consultations about the taxi trade that were going to take place. I do not want to mislead the noble Lord.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I cannot imagine a consultation in connection with the 1976 Act dealing with the taxi trade not covering the very point I have in mind. Therefore, while it does not fully satisfy me, we can come back later to this question of equity. But I would urge that, if the Government propose to amend the 1976 provisions, we must have something which dealt with the whole of the country together and, if the Government's proposals are not adequate, we can fight it on the basis of the whole country, whereas at the moment it deals only with some of the district councils; and nobody can possibly justify that.

If I may, I should like to say a few words on Amendment No. 16, because here again, as the noble Lord has rightly said, a promise was made at Committee stage to bring forward some clarification of the costs which a council could take into consideration in fixing licence fees. I pointed out at the Report stage that the words which were brought in then in the Government's amendment were exactly the same words as are at present in Section 70 of the 1976 Act. I am not arguing whether or not that is correct. It is because of the way that has been implemented by councils that the taxi trade was very concerned; and this Amendment No. 16 was seeking to say: "These are the costs which a council may take into consideration under points A, B and C, but, where an applicant or licence-holder feels aggrieved and wants to know the details, he should be able to get them from the licensing authority, the district council."

I indicated examples where one district council—I have been given the names of another seven but I shall not mention them here—had likewise refused to give this information. It is not a question of waiting for the auditor or taking cases to court: we want to avoid that if possible. One would have thought that it was not bureaucratic but common sense, because it might well be that when a licensee got the information he might decide not to press the matter further—he might be satisfied with the break-down of costs. But there have been complaints that in some cases the department responsible for this has been built up unnecessarily and that in some cases it would appear that too high a proportion of the salary of part-time officers has been placed in this particular department whereas it should have been spread over a number of other departments.

If a licensee or an applicant wanted to check that, that, he could only go to the council. When he got the information, he might decide to drop the business and not take it any further, without having to worry about checking with the district auditor 15 or 18 months afterwards. Therefore, I should have thought that this amendment was assisting in the reduction of bureaucracy, rather than adding to it.

Before I sit down, I should apologise to the noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, whose names appear on the Marshalled List in support of Amendment No. 15. Much as I appreciate their support on other matters, on this occasion there was a mistake by the printers. I do not know whether by leave of the House, the Minister wants to reply to my points on Amendment No. 16, because I have not given him the opportunity to reply to them before.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, I am not sure whether we are completely in order, but, if we are discussing Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 together, there is one point which I should like to put to the Minister before he replies. He mentioned in his anticipatory statement about No. 16, that it would put councils to a great deal of trouble to have to work out these detailed figures. But, surely, they have to work out these detailed figures in order to fulfil their obligation not to charge more than the cost, do they not?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, may I say, first, that I apologise for speaking to Amendment No. 16. I thought that it had been agreed beforehand and, as I gather that it had not been agreed, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. There was no intention to put them together on any other basis.

May I say briefly, on one or two points that have been made, that I thought the amendment that we brought forward at Report stage clarified very much the fact that local authorities can base their fees only on their actual costs. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asked how local authorities will calculate their costs separately, if they have to justify them later on. I can tell him from my own experience that the point I was making earlier, about the need for other services having their costs calculated, is one thing. But the great difficulty in these matters is not simply that you ascertain how many people are working on the preparation of something; it is what you apportion to each separate function.

They will have to be able to do that in this case, and that information will have to be available in case anybody wants to have it. There is no problem in doing that; there is only the problem of the precedent that is created if one insists on doing it in this way, because one would then have to apply it to all the other services. That is the difficulty.

For example, one has only to bring in the auditor, if an authority is proving reticent. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, talked about those authorities who are refusing to give information. I would only repeat that it is an option for anyone to request the auditor, at any time, to look at something which he may have grounds for feeling is ultra vires. Those are very serious matters for local authorities, and they do not take them lightly. So I hope that the authorities to which the noble Lord referred will take note of what has been said and will act accordingly.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, if I may say one or two further words, I recall that under the Local Government Act the Government are insisting on a supply of information; for example, on direct works departments. The Government say that they want the information and they will then decide what to do about certain things. These licence-holders want the information so that they can decide. I hope that this may be included in the consultation document on the 1976 provisions, because it is part of them. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Clause 38 [Fires caused by railway engines]:

5.35 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 17: Page 27, line 33, leave out from ("engines)") to ("or") in line 34 and insert ("in subsection (3) for the words "two hundred pounds" there is substituted "£3,000").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment brings to finality a number of debates which we have had throughout the stages of this Bill, with regard to provisions of the 1905 Railway Fires Act, as amended by the 1923 Act. Your Lordships will probably remember that we have discussed raising the limit of absolute liability from £200 to something more appropriate to present day times; that is, £3,000. This amendment seeks to do that.

I understand that the Government have now accepted the principle involved. Indeed, I have to thank my noble friend and the department for the conversations and exchange of letters with regard to this matter which will bring it to a conclusion. I do not think I need to detain your Lordships by explaining it further. But it may be as well if I say that Amendment No. 26 is consequential upon this amendment being accepted by your Lordships. My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, without going into detail, which I do not think my noble friend requires me to do, I am glad to say that we are pleased to accept this amendment and I gladly pay tribute to his assiduity in pushing this forward.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 18: Page 27, line 36, leave out second ("subsection").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, if I may, I should like to speak to this amendment and Amendment No. 19 together. Amendment No. 18 is, in fact, consequential upon Amendment No. 19. It is a purely drafting amendment which will delete the word "subsection" in line 36 of page 27. This will be necessary, because Amendment No. 19, if it is agreed, will insert a further subsection (3B) into Section 1 of the 1905 Act. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 27, line 39, at end insert— ("(3B) In the application of subsection (3) above to Northern Ireland for the reference to the Secretary of State there shall be substituted a reference to the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland and any order made by the Department under that subsection—

  1. (a) shall be made by statutory rule for the purposes of the Statutory Rules (Northern Ireland) Order 1979; and
  2. (b) shall be subject to negative resolution as defined by section 41(6) of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 as if it were a statutory instrument within the meaning of that Act.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 40 [Repeals]:

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 20: Page 28, line 26, after ("Schedule") insert ("so far as relates to—

  1. (a) the Railway Fires Act (1905) Amendment Act 1923; and
  2. (b) the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981,
comes into force on the passing of this Act and otherwise").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these amendments are necessary to enable repeals in Schedule 12 relating to the Railway Fires Act (1905) Amendment Act 1923 and to the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 to come into force on the passing of the Transport Act, without the need for a statutory instrument. There will be no reason for delay once the Bill becomes law. The amendments are technicalities. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 41 [Northern Ireland]:

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 28, line 42, at end insert— ("(ee) Part III of Schedule 12 and section 40 so far as relating to the Railway Fires Act (1905) Amendment Act 1923;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this small amendment is consequential on the amendment to Clause 40. It ensures that Clause 40, so far as it relates to the Railway Fires Act (1905) Amendment Act 1923 and to the corresponding part of Schedule 12, extends to Northern Ireland. My Lords, the amendment is also a technicality. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Powers of Associated British Ports]:

Viscount Simon moved Amendment No. 22: Page 36, leave out lines 16 to 18.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I hope that I am in order in moving this amendment on Third Reading, because it is for the purpose of clarifying an uncertainty. It is the same amendment which I moved at the Report stage and which I withdrew, after having explained its purpose and after having given the noble Lord the Minister some facts and some arguments which 1 think he had not heard before. He kindly undertook to talk to his colleagues and to bring to their notice the points that had been made. This he has done and this morning I received a letter from him, for which I extend my thanks. As I feared, the noble Lord the Minister replied that the Government were still resisting the amendment.

I have only one or two short comments to make. First, I understand that Associated British Ports, as a statutory undertaking, must be given explicit powers in this Bill; powers which in the case of a Companies' Act company would be included in the memorandum and articles of association. There is no dispute about that. If Associated British Ports want the power to set up as a ships' agency, then this power must be set out in Schedule 3. All along my argument has been that ABP do not need this power, that it is inappropriate and indeed that it is undesirable that port authorities should act as agents for shipowners. An agent has to negotiate with the port authority and may perhaps become involved in a dispute with the port authority, and how could that situation work satisfactorily?

The Minister may not yet have seen a letter from E. H. Mundy and Company, a leading firm of ships' agents in London, to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, which sets out the position very clearly. I was very glad to see that a working concern such as this company, with which I am not acquainted although its name is well known to me, took the same view as I did. I am still not sure that the noble Lord, the Minister, has fully understood the point and no doubt this is because I have been ineffective in making it. In a letter I have received this morning, the noble Lord the Minister states: They (Associated British Ports) have given categorical assurances that they will not impose any particular agency on port users who will be completely free to employ whichever ships' agents they wish to provide the services they want. In doing so, port users will doubtless have regard to the likelihood of any conflict of interests on the part of a ship's agent employed by the port authority".

There is no question of a ship's agent being employed by the port authority. The provision in the Bill is that the port authority may itself act as a ships' agent. Frankly I do not understand the sentence I quoted from the Minister's letter and I wonder whether he does, I have every sympathy with him, because I realise that he has been dealing very effectively with a Bill for a department in which he himself does not serve. I can appreciate how difficult it must be working to departmental briefs and being given no room to manoeuvre. But I wonder what is meant by the sentence I quoted. The Minister's letter goes on: In view of these assurances and the economic reality that Associated British Port's best interest will lie in ensuring the best services for its customers, any conflict of interests is likely to be theoretical rather than real". Of course Associated British Ports will offer their customers the best services they can, but there will be occasions when the port authority, for some good reason of its own, does not wish to give the ship precisely what it is seeking in the way of facilities or services. I presume that a small department would have to be set up, staffed by people who are experienced in ship agency work, and I do not understand how a small department of that kind could possibly carry as much weight with the general management of the port authority—which, after all, will be the department's overall boss—as would an outside body.

Moreover, as I said at Report stage, it is not only a question of conflict of interests. May there not also be some confusion about responsibilities? If a mishap arises there may be doubt whether the action taken or not taken which was the cause of the mishap was so taken or not taken by the port authority as such or by the port authority as the agent for the ship. The answer to that question will of course determine where large liabilities may lie one way or the other. Before deciding what to do with this amendment, I shall be glad to hear what comments the noble Lord the Minister has to make.

Lord Mottistone

I should like to speak briefly in support of the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. As my noble friend the Minister will recall, his reply when I moved a similar amendment at Report stage was so frustrating that in desperation I put my amendment to a Division. In fact this was a very unwise thing to have done, and I know that, but it was done in an attempt to demonstrate to my noble friend that I cannot understand why the Government cannot see the arguments which have been put forward so cogently by the noble Viscount on two occasions and which he has now amplified very well.

There is really no justification for introducing this new provision, which the Government admit is a new provision. It is something that the British Transport Docks Board did not have, did not need, and did not want. If my noble friend has not been given the good advice to accept this amendment, can he tell me whether the Government could inject an amendment when this Bill goes to the other place, if they see the point by then? If not, we shall be a little desperate, because this is really quite an important point and for some reason, very good arguments in its favour do not seem to be accepted.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, we have gone into this matter in considerable depth, but I wish to spend a little longer replying now than my noble friend the Chief Whip—who has just entered the Chamber—would want me to do; I feel obliged to do so because of the concern which has been expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and by my noble friend Lord Mottistone. If I go into the matter in some depth, my remarks will go on the record and that may be helpful. To take the question asked by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, I can only comment that, as always, everything that is said will be carefully considered and whether or not the other place will wish to do something is for the other place to decide—I cannot say.

I hope that the House will be content if I speak to Amendments No. 22 and No. 22A, which both deal with ships' agency. We have discussed on a previous occasion the power which the Bill will give to Associated British Ports to undertake the activities of a ship's agent. On the second of those occasions, at Report stage, I promised to bring to my colleagues' attention the points which had been raised in order to find out whether they felt we should do something different. However, I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon and my noble friend will not be too disappointed at having received my letter in the one case, and in the other case at hearing me say that the Government have come to the conclusion that the extension of Associated British Ports' powers to acting as a ships' agency is reasonable and logical.

The noble Viscount expressed his concern about possible conflicts of interest which might arise on the part of a ship's agency employed by the port authority. Your Lordships will be aware that British Transport Docks Board has gone to considerable lengths to reassure existing ships' agents and ports users that it does not propose to enter into ships' agency activities in a big way. Many of your Lordships may recall, for example, that during Report stage I read out quite a long joint statement which the BTDB made with the General Council of British Shipping. That statement made it clear that BTDB still viewed the operation of its ports as its primary objective and proposed to undertake ships' agency work only where there was a gap in the existing services which ABP could advantageously fill. The position of port users will be further protected by the economic reality that ABP's best interest will always lie in providing the best possible service for its customers, thereby retaining their custom and ensuring an adequate return to the private sector shareholders who will control the business. In these circumstances, I believe that any conflict of interest is likely to be theoretical rather than real.

I should like to take this opportunity to reply also to the points which my noble friends Lord Mottistone and Lord Lucas of Chilworth raised at the Report stage. My noble friend Lord Mottistone expressed concern about whether BTDB proposed to use their ship's agency powers to engage in the chartering of ships. I hope he will be reassured by the fact that it is my understanding that such chartering would normally be undertaken by a chartered shipbroker and that it would not come within the scope of ABP's power to undertake the activities of a ship's agent.

My noble friend Lord Mottistone also expressed his anxiety lest I thought there was an exact comparison to be made between Schedule 3, paragraph 4, of the Bill and the memorandum and articles of association of a private sector company involved in ship's agency work. Such a comparison of course is not exact and the important comparison to which I had wanted to draw attention is one of principle. This is that a private sector company is empowered to do whatever its memorandum and articles of association authorise, subject only of course to the general laws of the country. On the other hand, ABP, as a statutory corporation, has no memorandum and articles of association and will only be empowered to do those things which its statute expressly allows. Hence, Schedules 2 and 3 achieve for ABP what the memorandum and articles of association achieve for a company. The schedules go no further than a private company's memorandum and articles and confer no special privileges on ABP either in respect of ship's agency or any other power.

My noble friend Lord Mottistone saw a danger of a ship's agent employed by ABP joining his colleagues on strike and so depriving ship's masters of the ability to have their ships redirected to ports free of industrial action. I believe his fears are misplaced. BTDB's management have never gone on strike and it is fair to assume that port services not dependent on registered dockworkers would always be maintained as they have been in the past. So those who rely on the service of ship's agents have little to fear from this viewpoint, though it is, of course, a factor which they will be free, if they think it necessary, to take into account in appointing an agent.

My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth took the industrial relations point further by suggesting that BTDB's assurances about the use they expected to make of their ship's agency powers might be more welcome if backed up by similar assurances on behalf of the employees' side of the docks industry. Even if theoretically possible, it would I think be unfair to expect the BTDB management to subject their assurances, or any other business arrangements they make, to detailed scrutiny and, implicitly, consultation with their employees. They are not a co-operative and, therefore, responsibility for the business must reside with the management who will in turn be answerable to the shareholders. I think, therefore, that only management itself can ever be in a position to give assurances about the use of their ship's agency powers.

Finally, I should like to emphasise once again that BTDB have gone a long way to reassure those concerned that they do not intend to enter into the ship's agency business in a big way and that they have no intention of jeopardising the independent status of existing ship's agents or taking business away from them. I do not want to repeat all those assurances, but I should like to say that the reconstituted BTDB will not engage in any of their new ancillary activities unless circumstances fully justify it and they accept that it could well be in the best interests of their customers for a gap in the ship's agency services at a port to be filled by an existing member of the profession. In these circumstances they have said that they would be happy to initiate any liaison needed to achieve this. On the other hand, there may be instances in which a service would be provided more appropriately by ABP itself. In the Government's view, ABP should not be denied the flexibility accorded to other private sector businesses to respond to changing circumstances, and it should be left to them to exercise their new powers in a sensible and commercially effective manner in the best interests of its ports and its customers.

The Government have given full and careful consideration to ABP's powers and I hope that the comments which T have made today will help to reassure those of your Lordships who have expressed concern about the new ship's agency power. To the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who has pressed this all the way from the start, I should like to say that I hope that, if not fully, he will be at least partially reassured by what I have said.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for the very full reply lie has given. I cannot say that I find it entirely satisfactory, but there it is. In the early part of his reply, I think when answering the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, the noble Lord said that of course he could not say what would happen in another place: that it was up to them. If we do not pass the amendment, there is no possi- bility of the other place doing anything about it. This is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, was making; we should pass the amendment here and then the other place can either remove it or alter it. If we do not pass the amendment here, there is no possibility of the other place doing anything.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, if I may speak again on that point, I went on to say that, while we could not accept the amendment, the other place would read very carefully, as we always do, what has been said, and, if that should be an influence upon their thinking, they would know what to do. However, so far as this House is concerned, we cannot accept the amendment.

Viscount Simon

With great respect, I do not think that the noble Lord has got it right. They can read what we say and it may affect their thinking, but there is no means by which the other place can introduce into a Bill which has already been through that place an amendment which they have not got.

Lord Bellwin

Yes, my Lords, that is absolutely right. I apologise to the House.

Viscount Simon

Apart from that, once again the noble Lord gave us a very full explanation of the Government's view. Part of it was similar to the letter which he wrote to me. I invited the noble Lord to tell us whether he understood that curious sentence which I read out when I moved the amendment and which I could not understand. He read it out again, but he did not make any comment upon that reference to the likelihood of a conflict of interest on the part of a ship's agent employed by the port authority. I do not know how it has got into the text; it has nothing to do with what we are considering. Again, I am afraid it suggests to me—I have the greatest sympathy for the noble Lord, who is clearly having to speak on information given to him by another department—that the point has not really been understood. Nevertheless, I do not feel that this is a matter of such enormous importance that we should delay the House any longer or go to a Division. In all the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Mottistone had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 22A:

Page 36, leave out lines 17 and 18 and insert— ("The Associated British Ports may act as ships' agents in any of its harbours providing that the services of a Chartered Shipbroker are not available at that harbour.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux, who, sadly, had to leave the House before we reached Amendment No. 22A, asked me to look after his amendment. I was very much reassured by what my noble friend said in answer to Amendment No. 22, and I thank him very much for certain parts of it. I therefore do not wish to move this amendment.

Schedule 5 [Provisions supplementing ss. 15 to 17]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 49, line 27, at end insert— ("(2) The Secretary of State shall after a period of twelve months from the day appointed under subsection (1) of section 15, present a report of the carrying into effect of section 15 and this Schedule and the exercise of the functions conferred or imposed on him by or by virtue of that section or this Schedule").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I briefly explain the purpose of this amendment The Bill proposes the abolition of the National Ports Council. In the light of that, I proposed during the Committee stage that we should agree to the establishment of a National Ports Authority. After an explanation had been given, that amendment was withdrawn. This matter was brought forward again at the Report stage. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, explained then that research and training, which are responsibilities of the National Ports Council, and also assistance to harbour authorities in the exercise of their functions, would be made the responsibility of the industry itself through the British Ports Association. He also pointed out that the Secretary of State is to take over two functions—collection of port statistics and decisions on objections to port dues—and that the other functions will be repealed or their scope reduced.

All the amendment says is that if that is to be the situation on the passage of this Bill then, at the end of a period of 12 months from the appointed day, the Secretary of State should present a report on how all these matters have been carried into effect—in other words, how the research and training and the other matters going to the British Ports Association have been carried through; how he has carried through the duties which he is now going to assume and also what has been the effect of scrapping some of the duties of the National Ports Council which will not be carried out by anyone in future, so that Parliament may consider the matter. It seems an eminently reasonable amendment. We ought to know the effects of all these decisions which will be made if the House agrees to the abolition of the National Ports Council, and I hope the Minister will feel able to accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said in regard to this amendment. He will know that I do not share his pessimistic view of my right honourable friend's ability to carry out his responsibilities effectively after the abolition of the National Ports Council. But I do not believe that a report of the sort provided for in the amendment offers the best way of informing Parliament of how he is exercising his responsibilities. Many opportunities arise in practice, whether through questions, statements or debates, to discuss ports matters. If noble Lords, or honourable Members in another place, wish to discuss the ports industry, the Government's ports policy or indeed more specific questions, my right honourable friend and his colleagues welcome the opportunity of such discussions. They can take place on the issues of the day and be relevant to current problems. This is likely to provide the basis for a more worthwhile discussion than a single report 12 months after the Appointed Day on a rather limited aspect of my right honourable friend's responsibilities.

I do not need to describe to your Lordships at this late stage the provisions of Section 15 and Schedule 5, but I should explain that they are mostly concerned with the detailed arrangements for the abolition of the National Ports Council. I described at Report stage what was to happen to the Council's functions and also the role of the Secretary of State. Schedule 5 transfers to the Secretary of State the duty to decide objections against ship, passenger and goods dues and the power to collect port statistics. It also makes him responsible for administering the Council's staff compensation and pension scheme, responsibilities which the Public Trustee is to carry out on his behalf. But most of the Secretary of State's responsibilities derive directly from the Harbours Act 1964.

To sum up, I do not believe that a formal report a year after the Council is wound up is necessary. Nor do I think that a report on the rather limited issues covered in the amendment as drafted would assist Parliament. But my right honourable friend and his colleagues welcome occasions for debate on important matters of ports policy and I have no doubt that such opportunities will continue to arise.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I should point out that all the words in the amendment after the word "report "on the third line of the proposed subsection (2) are actual words taken from the subsection in question. I am disappointed with the reply because I think it would be helpful if we knew how the carrying out of those things was working out in practice. But in the light of what the noble Lord has said, he can rest assured that I shall have discussions with my honourable friends in another place and I am certain that they will follow up the suggestions he has made. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 6 [Amendments of the Harbours Act 1964]:

6.4 p.m.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 65, line 19, leave out subparagraph (3) and insert—

("(3) For section 31(1) (right of objection to ship, passenger and goods dues) there is substituted— (1) Subject to the following provisions of this Act charges to which this section applies are ship, passenger and goods dues and cargo handling charges. (1A) In this section "cargo handling charges" means charges for loading, unloading and handling goods where such services are supplied by a harbour authority or its agents or a subsidiary or associated body or person and there is no other supplier of such services at the dock quay or wharf at which the particular services are provided or no other supplier other than the harbour authority, its agent or a subsidiary or associated body or person and where there is no reasonable opportunity for a person desiring to use such services to obtain such services from any other harbour authority").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will be brief on this amendment. Noble Lords may say that they have heard this before, but in actual fact the amendment has now been revised for a second time because of points raised by the Ministers who have replied to the amendments. Because of changed conditions since the Harbours Act 1964 came into effect—and it is generally agreed by the Ministers and everybody that in many harbours the harbour authority is now the sole employer of dock labour—we sought to extend the right of appeal by port users to cover these other charges in addition to the ship, passenger and goods dues.

At the Committee stage it was pointed out to me by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who resisted the amendment, that there was no case for extending the appeal because there were no monopoly conditions in existence, but that if there were monopoly conditions the matter would be looked at again. Thereupon at the Report stage I tabled an amendment to provide for an appeal where there were monopoly conditions. Again it was pointed out to me by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that this would not be acceptable, as there was no monopoly condition, because a port user could go to another port. In fact there are certain port users who would find that extremely difficult; particularly those who are using the waterways and who find it necessary to come out to the Humber Estuary or to the Trent.

Therefore, added to this amendment now are the words: and where there is no reasonable opportunity for a person desiring to use such services to obtain such services from any other harbour authority". Accordingly it seems that we have met all the conditions: that there should be no appeal except where the port harbour authority is the sole provider of the services and where it is not reasonable for the port users to go anywhere else. That seems to have met every single point of criticism put up by the Ministers at the other two stages of the Bill and I hope they will now consider that I have framed an amendment which meets all their requirements and which they can accept. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, on this occasion I will not repeat the reasons why the Government are not prepared to accept an extension of the provisions of Section 31 of the Harbour Act to cover all port charges, because we spoke on this at much length during the earlier stages and it is recorded in Hansard. I would rather confine myself now to the particular circumstances of this amendment, which of course is a very restrictive one. The amendment would in certain circumstances extend the existing right of appeal against ship, passengers and goods dues to cargo handling services. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has explained, these circumstances are where the services are provided at a port by one supplier and there are no other suppliers available, and where in addition the user has no reasonable opportunity of taking his business to another port.

Our ports industry is a highly competitive one, with a large number of individual ports providing a wide range of services and facilities and competing for a limited amount of trade. A user is, generally, free to choose the port to which he takes his business; if he is dissatisfied with the service provided he can take his business to another port. We regularly read of examples of this. Moreover there is no basis on which a statutory cargo handling monopoly can exist in the industry. There are ports at which there is only one employer of stevedoring labour. But any person or company may provide cargo handling services at a port, provided that at ports covered by Part I of the Docks and Harbours Act 1966—that is at the "Scheme Ports"—he first obtains a licence to employ registered dock workers. This is of course the very point made at Report by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. I was grateful to him for having raised it then and I regret that we may have misunderstood it at that time. The trend is to a reduction in the number of firms providing stevedoring services, but there is certainly not a statutory monopoly.

I have no evidence that the combination of circumstances which is envisaged in the amendment exists in practice within the ports industry. Although the canal traffic, for example, from South to West Yorkshire must use the Humber or the lower Trent, the BTDB does not have a cargo-handling monopoly there. On the other hand, where there is a cargo-handling monopoly at a port, we are not aware of a captive market. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has raised an interesting point, but I do not think it is one which arises in practice. I do not think we can do anything about the noble Lord's amendment: all we can do is to take note of what has been said, not with a view to altering it in another place, as I said earlier, but with a view generally as to where we go from here. I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful with regard to this amendment, which I recognise is one that the noble Lord felt might be accepted, but that is the position as I understand it.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I wonder whether I might put just two or three points. In the first place, what the amendment is saying is that where the port authority is the only employer and where there is no reasonable opportunity for the port user to go anywhere else, there should be the right of appeal. Therefore, it is not a question of whether at this stage there is such a port, but it could be in the near future. The National Waterways Transport Association have expressed real concern about this and they represent the independent private freight operators on our waterways, and a number of freight operators have expressed concern about it. Under the Bill the British Transport Docks Board will go out of existence and Associated British Ports will come in as a private company, controlling those particular harbours and docks in the Humber Estuary and the Trent. Therefore, there could be conditions of monopoly on both the points raised in this amendment. I wonder whether that is fully appreciated. I know it is no good asking the Government to take it back because there is no opportunity to take it back; either we do not proceed with the amendment, or alternatively the Government are prepared to accept it and then possibly, if they wish to improve it in the other place, they could do so.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I fear, however helpful one wants to be, I am not in a position to accept it.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, this is one of the issues on which we feel very strongly, but in view of the Government's refusal to reconsider I do not think we will press it to a Division. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 8 [Provisions substituted for ss. 6 to 12 of the Road Traffic Act 1972]:

6.12 p.m.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 73, line 15, leave out subparagraph (6) and insert— ("(6) Subject to the following provisions of this subsection, of any two specimens of breath provided by any person in pursuance of this section that with the lower proportion of alcohol in the breath shall be used and the other shall be disregarded; however—

  1. (a) The person who provided the specimen with the lower proportion of alcohol may claim that it should be replaced by such a specimen as may be required under subsection (4), and if he then provides such a specimen neither specimen of breath shall be used;
  2. (b) After the expiration of the period of one year from the coming into force of this Part of the Act both Houses of Parliament may resolve that as from a date specified in the resolutions paragraph (c) of this subsection shall apply in place of paragraph (a) above;
  3. (c) If the specimen with the lower proportion of alcohol contains no more than 50 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, the person who provided it may claim that it should be replaced by such a specimen as may be required under subsection (4), and if he then provides such a specimen neither specimen of breath shall be used").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, here again is a matter which has been before your Lordships on other occasions, but it is now in a completely different form. Even at this hour I think I should explain in some detail precisely what the differences are. In Committee an amendment was proposed with a view to substituting completely paragraph 8 of Schedule 8 and having a completely different wording, the main purpose being to provide that in every case where a driver is alleged to be above the limit of alcohol he should always have the option of a blood test. Because of arguments put forward, that the amendment was too comprehensive and other arguments, that amendment was withdrawn.

At Report stage there was a simple amendment which dealt solely with the one central issue of the optional blood test. On that occasion there was widespread support from your Lordships; some 97 noble Lords went into the Division Lobby in favour of the proposal, and it was defeated by only 14 votes. If that amendment had been carried it would have meant that the change proposed in the amendment would have been a permanent one until other primary legislation was introduced. It may well be that a number of noble Lords did not wish to do that but were nevertheless sympathetic to the idea of the optional blood test in the immediate period. As one noble Lord said in another debate, the important thing is to get the consent of the public for the introduction of any great new innovation.

The only part of the amendment which is new—all the other parts of the amendment are words taken from the existing paragraph in Schedule 8; they are all existing words but put round in a different form—is sub-paragraph (b). The effect of the amendment would be that a person would always have the opportunity to claim to replace the breath specimen by the blood specimen, or in certain circumstances a urine sample. But after the end of one year if circumstances necessitate a change both Houses of Parliament may by resolution drop that provision, which is what is set out in paragraph (a), and substitute for it paragraph (c), which would revert the position to exactly that proposed in the existing Bill.

I will not go into all the arguments which have been made previously, but I should say that this new amendment has the full and complete support of the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club. At Report stage the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said that the amendment that was moved then would drive a coach and horses through the drink and drive proposals in the Bill. That argument cannot possibly obtain with this amendment because after 12 months the position could revert to what the Government wish, if it was thought the circumstances justified it, merely by the passing of a suitable resolution through both Houses.

At Report stage it was stressed that the three motoring organisations, including the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, held the view that only a relatively small number of motorists are likely to avail themselves of the blood option; and that was also the view expressed by the Blennerhassett Committee, who recommended exactly what is proposed in the amendment regarding the optional blood test. But I am not basing the argument on the question of numbers; I am not using the numbers argument. Nevertheless, it is worth while repeating to your Lordships that Northern Ireland has had the evidential breath analysis for some 12 years, and I am informed on very good authority that never have more than 10 per cent. ever asked for the optional blood test. At the moment it is running at a figure of 3 per cent. As I say, I am not going to stand on the numbers argument on this question, but it is very interesting to look at these figures, and there is no reason why those figures should not obtain in this country.

The point I would emphasise is that the introduction of the evidential breath test and the machine readings is something totally new. If we want this to be freely accepted the way to do it, surely, is by providing the option of the alternative blood test where it is required. But I emphasise that the difference between this amendment and the amendment which was moved at Report is that it is not suggested that this should obtain permanently if the circumstances justify a change. It would mean that if at the end of one year the Government find that so many people are requesting the alternative blood option they could introduce the resolution suggested here in both Houses; it could then revert to paragraph (c), which is exactly what the Government want in the existing Bill.

If, on the other hand, numbers are found to be infinitesimal because the Government's publicity about the effectiveness of the machine reading has been so generally accepted that few people want the alternative option, then the Government can say, "We will let it continue, or they can say, "It is obviously not required and we can drop that and adopt paragraph (c)". Therefore this is, I believe, a constructive amendment. It provides for us to get over this first period, where there is a new innovation, where we need to get public assent, where we need to get good police-public relations, which is continually emphasised in this House and elsewhere. It would give the opportunity after one year for the position to revert to what the Government wish, if the circumstances justify that, without the need to introduce new primary legislation; it could be done by resolution of both Houses.

I hope the Government will take the view that this meets the overwhelming desire of many noble Lords who voted for the other amendment, and maybe of others who would have supported it if they realised it would not be for many years but that there would be an opportunity to reconsider it in 12 months, which is what is provided here.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I feel I must say a word here in support of my noble friend Lord Bellwin, sorry though I am to find myself in conflict with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who has been such a valued and stalwart supporter of mine through much of this Bill. The fact is that we really did decide this issue at Report stage, and, as the noble Lord reminded us, we divided on it. He made out a very attractive case and the result was that he got a great many people into the Lobby with him. It is the type of case which one can always make out very persuasively, because it seems to give an option which gives a rather serious matter a merciful application, and I can understand that.

However, my noble friend has to explain that in practice, certainly in the early years, it is almost certain that the majority of motorists would go for the option—they have nothing to lose by it—and that if they did so, the whole administrative system would break down. That is the dilemma. I am perfectly certain that if the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, were sitting in the seat of my noble friend Lord Bellwin, he would be saying exactly the same as my noble friend. The problem here is to make the new system work and to try to make the law with regard to drink and driving more effective, which I know is what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, wants.

Those were the very cogent reasons that were advanced last time. If I may say so, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is rather stretching the recent new rule of order that came into operation at the beginning of this year, and was quoted earlier, in taking us round this course again. It is true that he has introduced an ingenious new feature of the provision, which would allow the Houses of Parliament to reverse their order after a year if they found that it was not working, but I cannot imagine how that looks constitutionally. It sounds very unattractive to me and I have never heard of it before, but no doubt my noble friend Lord Bellwin will inform the House about it. I hope very much indeed that after the House has heard what my noble friend Lord Bellwin has to say, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will not feel disposed to press his amendment.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, not for the first time, because I, too, would have wanted to say that we had a very full debate on this whole question during the Report stage. There was indeed a large turn-out for the vote, although I acknowledge that the result was as the noble Lord said. But what in fact the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is now saying ostensibly is that we should not restrict the right to a further blood test until some experience has been gained in the operation of the breath machines and public confidence has been established in them. However, what he in fact is saying is, "Let us adopt the procedure which was defeated on Report, and not until after a year—and only after a year—will it be permissible for the Government to seek to reintroduce the procedure which was accepted on Report".

I shall not say a great deal on this matter except to pick out one or two points which the noble Lord made. First, I said on Report that since the Blennerhassett recommendations the technology of breath analysis has advanced a great deal. In Northern Ireland, I understand that there are, in fact, two offences—the major and the minor offence—and it is for the minor offence only that a small proportion opt to have a blood test.

I believe, exactly as my noble friend Lord Nugent said, that a person who is found to be over the limit on the breath machine, faced with an option to take a blood test, must surely take a blood test. He is faced with being off the road for 12 months, so why should he not take up an option which may throw up something different? In fairness, it should also be pointed out that the new procedures give more scope to the person so affected than do the present procedures. At present, if you are shown, by a blood test, to have over 80 milligrams then that is all there is to it. What we are saying now is that because the breath machine—and no one is querying its accuracy because it was generally shown in the examples which noble Lords have had the opportunity to see as being pretty accurate—is a machine and there may be some inaccuracy in it, we shall go further, and say that if someone has up to 50 microgrammes (which is equivalent of up to 115 milligrammes in relation to blood) then he may have the option to have a blood test. We shall allow for that. That really goes much further than the present provision and in that way we are allowing for any of the eventualities. I should have thought that that was a very fair safeguard to those who might be concerned about this matter.

We are all trying to bring into this drink/driving legislation something that will materially affect the position so as to make it more of a penalty, because we are all so very concerned at what is happening on the roads, and no one more so than the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, himself. Therefore, we do have a safeguard and we have a bigger safeguard even than we have now. In view of that, and the impracticality of doing what the noble Lord suggests with the 12-month procedure on which we came to a conclusion previously, I think that the noble Lord should let the clause stand as it is.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, responds, and notwithstanding the niceties which have been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, I feel bound to say something since I have put my name to the amendment. I support the general tenor of the amendment and at the same time accept what my noble friend Lord Bell-win has said. I hope that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will not feel the necessity to press this amendment. However, I must say to my noble friend that we are not concerned with noble Lords who have had the benefit of widespread discussion and demonstration of some of the machinery that might be used in these tests. I am not here to cast any doubt upon the accuracy of those machines. But what I am saying is that it is all the other people—and of course in these arguments it is never oneself; it is always the other people—who have to be convinced.

The Blennerhassett Report has been with us for some years and we have now approached at this stage of this Bill the provisions which are to implement part of that Report. These proposals are somewhat contrary to Blennerhassett. I am suggesting, therefore, that it may be prudent if the Government were to make haste more slowly in this matter. I do not believe that many of the general motoring public who may be inclined to drink at one and the same time are fully conversant with that which the law is proposing. I am suggesting, therefore, that a very heavy programme of publicity be set up before this part of the Bill conies into force so that people are assured, at least to some extent, of (a) what their rights are and (b) the accuracy of the machine which will determine their guilt or otherwise. I would ask my noble friend to have regard to what I can only describe again as a public relations exercise, because it is the public who must be convinced, not, frankly, your Lordships.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but I note also his plea for me not to press this matter to a Division. I recognise that the basic issue was debated and went to a Division at the Report stage, although, as I have emphasised, I think that there is a complete change in what is being proposed in this amendment. Before I decide which step I shall take, we must consider that, despite the machines having advanced since Blennerhassett, it was the principle that Blennerhassett was advancing, for the very reasons that I have advanced the principle, and the fact that we need to get this so freely accepted. One way in which to get it freely accepted I am certain, would be to provide the machinery which is suggested in the amendment. I am certain that the motoring organisations are not asking for the optional blood test because they believe that there will be tens of thousands who will rush in and demand it. I do not believe that the motoring associations would be so foolish as to ask for that. They themselves want to encourage the general acceptance of the new procedure and the machines. I am in some difficulty, in so far as we had a vote on this issue last time, and I do not want to waste the time of the House or to intrude upon the general kindness of the House in letting me bring forward this matter again.

The other point I want to make is that this afternoon we have already passed a Government amendment which suggests that a certain measure shall not continue beyond two years unless there is an affirmative resolution. I am almost trying to do the same thing in half the time, in 12 months instead of two years, and to say that you have power to go back to what you want. That seems to me to be a most sensible procedure. But as it will appear if I divide the House that I shall possibly be asking for defeat and be most unpopular, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment. However, I should like to emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has said: that the Government must not assume that they can ride roughshod over this and that there will be ready acceptance. I believe that there will be acceptance if the Government handle it properly, and that is what my amendment sought to provide. However, in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 12 [Repeals]:

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 26: Page 93, line 27, column 3, at beginning insert ("Section 1.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have spoken to this amendment. It is consequential upon Amendment No. 17. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 94, line 9, at end insert—

("1981 c. 14. The Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981. In Schedule 7, paragraph 24.
In Schedule 8, in the entry relating to the Transport Act 1968, the words "In section 145, subsection (2)".")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is purely a technical amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.33 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In all, we have spent many hours debating this Bill. I am told that 273 amendments have been tabled and—and this is significant—more than 80 amendments to the Bill have been agreed to. Apart from minor technical amendments, of which I am glad to say that there have been relatively few, the main amendments to which we have agreed have been to the road safety provisions.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank, first, my noble friends Lord Avon and Lord Skelmersdale and my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate, who were very helpful to me as we went through the Bill. Not for the first time, I am deeply grateful to them. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for the major role which he has played in the Bill. I hope that he will think that it has been worth while, in that some of his amendments did get through, although I know that I always disappoint him in the ones that I am not able to accept. Likewise, to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon—who is always so very cautious, very careful and usually so right in the points that he makes—I also regret that I am not always able to accept as many amendments as I might, personally, sometimes like to accept.

It would be invidious of me to mention many other names, but I should certainly want to refer to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, who carried through a very significant measure on the seat belts issue. Whether or not one agrees with that, it is right and proper that we should pay tribute to him for the way in which he has persevered for so long in something in which he believes and which he has managed to convince your Lordships to accept. I should also like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lucas, who is always so knowledgeable in the whole transport area, and to my noble friend Lord Mottistone. He and I do not always see eye to eye, but he, too, has somehow found a way to get through many amendments.

I think that this is a good Bill. I am happy to conclude it by saying that it is the second Transport Bill that it has been my privilege to pilot through. We have covered a wide range of topics. We have put some excellent new road safety regulations on to the statute book and I think that everyone will benefit from that. It has been a great pleasure for me, and I hope your Lordships will now agree that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bellwin.)

Lord Underhill

My Lords, first, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the way in which he has piloted the Bill through this House. I suppose one can say that it is always a pleasure to do business with him. Sometimes his manner is so disarming that he gets away with things that he should not, but he is always helpful in giving full and detailed explanations. He was also greatly helped by his team of Ministers, to whom I am certain the House is grateful. I have been appreciative of the various letters which have been sent by the noble Lord and by his noble friends on various matters which have arisen.

Needless to say, although some good improvements have been made in Part IV of the Bill, naturally I am disappointed at there being no changes whatever in Parts I, II and This may be because of the highly political content of the Bill, the fact that it reflects a complete Conservative doctrinaire attitude adopted in Parts I, II and III, in which we were unable to make any move. In particular, I was sorry that we could get no assurance from the Government that the proposals for the BR subsidiaries will not go beyond the four named. We shall have to watch this matter very carefully, because any movement in the British Rail engineering would, in my view, be a great tragedy.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said, the House has benefited considerably from the discussions on the road safety clauses. We said on Second Reading—I think that many noble Lords expressed this view—that there would be some lengthy debates on a number of the provisions. These have been contentious in some forms, but they have been completely free of politics, and on this side we have not allowed politics to enter at all into the road safety provisions.

I am grateful that a number of the amendments, which various noble Lords have moved, have been accepted. In other cases the Government have been prepared to listen to the voice of the House—not on every issue, as has been evidenced this afternoon, but on a number of issues—and I believe that in that respect we have improved the Bill. I should also like to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, because I believe that he has been assiduous in trying to get through the particular item on which I gave him some support. I think that the praise is mainly due to him. I can only hope that the other House takes the same view. I believe that the road safety provisions will be of great help to us. I am sorry that one or two other provisions have not been adopted, but I believe that the other House will see that since the Bill left them, the provisions of Part IV have been greatly improved, although I am sorry that there were not some equally reasonable improvements made to Parts I, II and III.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I also should like to thank my noble friend Lord Bellwin for his able conduct of this long and difficult Bill. I would also congratulate my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport for finding time to legislate on road safety. It does not get much attention in this busy world, but, of course, the annual toll on the roads is gigantic. Some quarter of a million people are killed or injured each year. It is an enormous figure, and we all too easily become used to it. Therefore, any Minister who is prepared to find the time and the energy to legislate in this field is much to be thanked.

I suppose that the responsibilities that some of us have in this field bring home the impact of road safety, and that certainly causes me to feel that I must make a move to try to reduce the toll. However, I should like to pay a tribute to the medical profession and to the nursing profession who have played such a large part in the campaign that I have been waging for the compulsory wearing of seat belts. The BMA's and the Royal College of Nursing's massive support with RoSPA has, I think, begun to change opinion in the community and certainly in this House. Doctors and nurses, of course, have the harrowing task of treating the injured from road accidents, and all too often those with head and face injuries could have been saved had they been wearing a seat belt. Therefore, it is not surprising that those great professions have weighed in strongly in support of the measure. I should like to express my thanks especially to the noble Lords, Lord Porritt and Lord Richardson, who unfortunately are not here. They have been very helpful to me. I am sure that this has been one of the major factors of our success.

I should like to say to my noble friends who are opponents of the Bill—and many of them are—who base their case on defence of the liberty of the subject that not only do I sympathise with their point of view but it was indeed the major inspiration which moved me to enter political life some 30 years ago. It continues to be so, but I see its interpretation not in terms of black and white but in terms of humanity, and in this case the saving of life and suffering for thousands of people seems to me to justify the minor concession involved. But I recognise that this must be a matter of personal judgment, and I certainly respect the strongly-held feelings of my noble friends.

The Bill now goes to another place carrying our amendments. This will give the elected House the chance to vote on this issue on the Floor of the House. I hope and believe that the supporters will carry the day.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend Lord Nugent will forgive me if I do not add my congratulations to others upon his success in Clause 27. I remain opposed to the principle of compulsion. However, I am happy to join him in congratulating my noble friend Lord Bellwin on his conduct of this Bill.

May I confine myself to the road safety aspects? I believe that this is Lord Bellwin's first road safety Bill —in fact it is the first road safety Bill for some years in your Lordships' House. How he has managed with good humour and charm throughout all these hours, I do not know. However, perhaps next time he comes to deal with road safety he will realise that motor cars and motoring, and all its aspects, raise great passions in your Lordships' House and are not to be dealt with too lightly. Obviously there are in the road safety section of the Bill innumerable advantages to be gained in the future along the lines of safety, saving lives and reducing the number of serious injuries. I feel confident that your Lordships' House has, under the guidance of my noble friend and his colleagues, done a worthwhile service.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, may I add a few words from these Benches in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and his colleagues for what they have done, although I have not always agreed with it? I am left with two worries on this Bill. One is Clause 3. We are told that there are plenty of precedents for the Secretary of State having powers to override, in this case, the British Railways Board. I feel that Clause 3 will only be a success to the extent that it is never used. If it is used to any great extent, or even only a few times, we shall find it difficult to get the best people to serve on nationalised industry boards, and if they are there we shall find it difficult to keep them there.

At one stage during the discussion the Minister let a cat out of his briefcase. If I do him an injustice I apologise, because I have not been able to pick up the reference. Once in justifying these powers of the Secretary of State he said in effect, if my memory is correct, that the Secretary of State could not let the Railways Board get away with failing to implement the policy of the Government to privatise. That suggested to me that privatising was being pursued as a dogma and not for any good economic reason. If there was a good economic reason for privatising in any particular case, of course the Railways Board would be happy to do it. It seemed to me a slight slip on the part of the noble Lord, who hardly ever makes a slip at all. After all, in the case of the Scottish hotels, the Railways Board saw that it was to its advantage to pursue privatisation, and it did it.

The other more important thing that worries me—and it is a very worrying point—is the still unanswered question as to what happens to the proceeds of the sale of subsidiaries or part of the undertaking. Will they be available to British Rail for capital expenditure in addition to whatever sum the Government would have been willing to make available under the external finance limit? I think we would all agree that when any undertaking is in urgent need of capital investment, as British Rail obviously is, and sells capital assets, the receipts should be ploughed back into new capital projects. If that does not happen, if the result of recovering this money is that the external finance limit is cut, then British Rail gets no advantage from this process at all. The undertaking will be no better off, but will have lost the cash flow that the subsidiary was previously generating.

I recall that, on one occasion when we were discussing this matter, the Minister made the point that it is cheaper for British Rail to use its own money for capital expenditure than to borrow. That, of course, is obviously so, but, as I see it, British Rail in the near to middle future is never likely to have all the resources available that it needs for investment. If it so happened in some particular year that there were non-financial restraints on the amount that it could spend upon capital projects, then no doubt British Rail would use its own money first before it borrowed. But I do not think it is very likely to happen, because I can hardly foresee a position in which it will not in fact need all the money it can possibly get, whether from its internal resources or within its external finance limits.

One last word about seat belts. I voted against Lord Nugent's amendment. Most of my noble friends voted for it. I fully accept the decision in the House, and hope that the same decision will be reached in another place. But it is a rather curious position that we have here an important amendment in a Government Bill put forward by a Private Member of your Lordships' House. The amendment is only an enabling provision, and in due course the real impact will come when regulations are brought forward. That of course will he a Government affair when the regulations are brought forward.

But the Secretary of State, when he comes to make the regulations, will find that he is already restricted in what he does by certain things which have been written in already—that exceptions shall be given to this, that or the other category. It was natural after that had been done that other noble Lords should try to get other things written into the Bill. I am glad they were not. I am only worried that the restrictions already written into the Bill may inhibit the Secretary of State from doing what he really wants to do when he comes to make the regulations.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.