HL Deb 29 June 1983 vol 443 cc245-7

2.58 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the present situation concerning the proposed transfer to the private sector of the testing of heavy goods vehicles and passenger vehicles.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, good progress has been made in the negotiations with Lloyd's Register of Shipping for the transfer of vehicle testing to Lloyd's Register Vehicle Testing Authority. These include the arrangements for the transfer of staff and assets, the terms for occupation of the testing stations, the conditions under which the new body will be authorised to carry out vehicle testing, and financial matters.

There have also been consultations with the trade unions on the terms and conditions of employment for staff who transfer to the new authority and about the special payments they will receive on leaving the Civil Service to compensate for any worsening in their terms of employment. The trade unions are now consulting their members on the Department's offer of special compensation, and they will report back on 6th July.

Because of the need for the unions to consult widely and because of the delay of some weeks caused as a result of the election process, it will now not be possible to effect the transfer on 1st July, as we had hoped. I shall hope to be able to tell your Lordships a new date for transfer quite shortly.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, while I welcome the fact that the unions are being consulted, which I hope other sections of society will follow very carefully, particularly in view of the debate to follow, can the Minister say whether there have been any problems or difficulties which have arisen in these negotiations with Lloyd's Register, because it is now nearly 12 months since discussions started? If there are hindrances from a body which does not seem to be over-enthusiastic about taking over these responsibilities, would it not have been best to leave the testing where it is, as is desired by all operators, haulage and public service, in both the private sector and the public sector?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will, I am quite sure, recall that negotiations opened in June of 1981, with an approach to Lloyd's, and seriously in May 1982. It was, of course, only in the Transport Act 1982, which was passed by your Lordships in October of that year, that the full proposals of the Government were made known. So far as I am aware, there are no difficulties with these negotiations, to which the noble Lord has quite properly drawn your Lordships' attention, that cannot be overcome. So far as I am aware, Lloyd's remain extremely keen and are pursuing the negotiations for transfer with energy and enthusiasm.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, is there not a possibility that the public suspects there are quite a few vehicles escaping the necessary tests? In other words, there are not enough testing stations. If what is suggested in the Question were to come about, would it result in more loopholes being closed, or not?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will recall that there are 91 stations and that there are about a thousand people engaged in testing. Only those vehicles which are operating illegally would escape the testing. The Government have always felt that a transfer into the private sector would bring about greater efficiency. It would perhaps enable this particular job to be done rather better than it can be done under Government auspices. I do not believe that, after transfer, there would necessarily be any more, but perhaps no less, vehicle operators who slip through the net of testing.