HL Deb 10 July 1985 vol 466 cc259-307

House again in Committee.

Clause 7 [Application of traffic regulation conditions to local services subject to registration under section 6]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 62: Page 7, line 38, leave out ("If").

The noble Lord said: With Amendment No. 62, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendments Nos. 63 to 65, 68, 76 to 80, 82 to 83, 86, 88, and 92 to 100. Amendment No. 63: Page 7, line 38, leave out ("asks him to exercise his powers under this section"). Amendment No. 64: Page 7, line 39, leave out ("the traffic commissioner for any traffic area"). Amendment No. 65: Page 8, line 4, leave out ("commissioner") and insert (authority"). Amendment No. 68: Page 8, line 11, leave out ("commissioner") and insert ("authority"). Amendment No. 76: Page 8, line 32, leave out ("the traffic commissioner for any traffic area") and insert ("any traffic authority"). Amendment No. 77: Page 8, line 34, leave out ("his") and insert ("its"). Amendment No. 78: Page 8, line 35, leave out ("he") and insert ("it"). Amendment No. 79: Page 8, line 36, leave out ("he") and insert ("it"). Amendment No. 80: Page 8, line 40, leave out ("commissioner") and insert ("authority"). Amendment No. 82: Page 8, line 42, leave out ("commissioner") and insert ("authority"). Amendment No. 83: Page 9, leave out lines 1 and 2. Amendment No. 86: Page 9, line 12, leave out ("commissioner") and insert ("authority"). Amendment No. 88: Page 9, line 13, leave out ("he") and insert ("it"). Amendment No. 92: Page 9, line 17, leave out ("him") and insert ("it"). Amendment No. 93: Page 9, line 18, leave out ("asking"). Amendment No. 94: Page 9, line 18, leave out ("commissioner to exercise his") and insert ("authority exercises its"). Amendment No. 95: Page 9, line 19, leave out ("a traffic authority") and insert ("it"). Amendment No. 96: Page 9, line 23, leave out ("commissioner in response to the request") and insert ("authority"). Amendment No. 97: Page 9, line 28, leave out ("commissioner") and insert ("authority"). Amendment No. 98: Page 9, line 29, leave out ("him") and insert ("them at their own instance or"). Amendment No. 99: Page 9, line 31, after ("any") insert ("other"). Amendment No. 100: Page 9, line 36, at end insert— ("( ) A traffic authority shall inform the traffic commissioner of all traffic regulation conditions it has determined in relation to its area and each traffic authority shall maintain a record of all traffic regulation conditions in force in its area and shall allow such records to be inspected at its offices by members of the public.").

The impulse behind this complicated series of amendments is one which I am sure will be attractive to the Government. It is an impulse to reduce bureaucracy, to reduce the complicated chain of responsibility and command which is implicit in the present provisions of the Bill as it stands; and to restore to democratically-elected local authorities the responsibilities that they have had in the past and ought to have in the future under the new status of the bus industry as it is proposed in the Bill. I hasten to say that this wish is in no way inimical to the intentions of the Bill. It is simply a matter of how the intentions of the Bill shall best be achieved.

Behind the series of amendments lies what I would not call a theory, but experience in practice, of the relationships between bus operation and the whole range of problems of transportation of which I have experience, particularly in urban areas, in which they mainly apply, but may well also apply in rural areas. I had the fortune or misfortune, for a number of years to be chairman of three of the four area boards of the Greater London Council responsible for transport and planning. A considerable part of the time of the Greater London Council in those areas was concerned with how best to provide mobility for the people of London, including both those who have cars and use cars in London, and those who do not have cars and are therefore reliant on their feet or on London Transport services.

The complexities of the inter-relationships between bus operation and traffic management in its wider sense are difficult to conceive unless one has actually been involved in it. Let me give an example of Romford town centre. I appreciate that the Bill does not cover London, but I can only talk from my own experience and I know that this experience is matched in our major cities. In order to have an effective, commercially viable town centre to many of the cities of this country, it is necessary to provide adequate movement for pedestrians. It is necessary to provide adequate car parking accommodation for those who wish or need to use their cars for shopping or for journeys to work. It is also necessary to provide adequate access by public transport, whether it be by bus or by Underground services.

This inevitably means that there will be conflicts in town centres for space. It inevitably means that when, for example, one wishes to pedestrianise a town centre one has to consider whether the pedestrianisation will apply purely to commercial vehicles and private cars, at what hours of the day it will apply, and whether it will apply to buses as well. One of the most successful examples of pedestrianisation, I suppose, is in Oxford. For many years now buses have been allowed to use areas of the town centre of Oxford which are not accessible to private cars during certain hours of the day. The responsibility for these complicated, difficult decisions, which encompass the provision of stopping places, encompass the waiting and parking restrictions, the provision of bus bays—or, as one of my former colleagues on the GLC who has also worked for London Transport used to call them, bus traps—is of great interest and importance to the people living in the area, both the passengers and the voters. It is impossible to separate one from the other. It is impossible to think about the operation of buses in a city centre without thinking about the interests of pedestrians and of car users and of commerce and industry using those town centres.

We do not have adequate experience from the trials that have taken place so far. I do not wish to go over past debates, but it is a matter of fact that in Hereford—which is the largest experiment of its kind—we are talking about a few dozen bus movements per day in the peak hours, whereas in a city like Leeds there are at least 500 bus movements in the course of a day. The effect on traffic congestion on the sensible use of limited road space of that large amount of bus operation is bound to be considerable. The hidden costs—in other words, the costs not taken into account in the sums, such as they are, which have been done in justification of this Bill—could be very considerable and could very well outweigh any benefits in saving in bus operation which the Government imagine will come from the Bill. Again, I shall not repeat the arguments about the amount of saving. Let us accept that there will be some. But let us also consider what other costs there may be because these costs could run into millions of pounds if changes in the efficient management of traffic in our cities involve us in millions of pounds of capital expenditure in order to cope with a less manageable, less well thought-out, use of limited road space.

The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that it is the democratically-elected traffic authorities in our cities which have the responsibility for traffic regulation conditions and ensure that those traffic regulation conditions apply to buses just as much as they apply to all other kinds of traffic. There is nothing revolutionary in this. Section 122 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act places a statutory duty on the highway and traffic authority to secure the expeditious and safe movement of traffic generally and also specifically identifies the importance of facilitating the passage of public service vehicles and the safety and convenience of persons using, or desiring to use, such vehicles.

In other words, the spirit behind this amendment is one which the Government have, within the last 12 or 18 months, already found to be acceptable and appropriate for city government in our cities throughout the land. There is nothing inimical again to Government policy in this attempt. What we are doing in these amendments is seeking to cut out the middle man, seeking to cut out the quite unnecessary consultation between traffic commissioners and traffic authorities; and to say that there should be direct contact between the democratically-elected traffic authorities and the bus operators who will work on the roads.

Bus operation is not separate—it can never be separate—from the economic or social life of our cities. It would be a fantasy to think that it could be run as if it were a manufacturing industry which does not have social obligations. The Government do not think so. There are many occasions in this Bill where the Government recognise the social responsibilities of bus operators. Surely it is the simplest, the most straight forward and the most logical thing to do. to see to it that democratically elected authorities should be those negotiating directly with the operators in order to secure the greatest good for the greatest number in our cities. I beg to move.

8 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Clause 7 was designed carefully to give the initiation of traffic regulation conditions to the county councils and their Scottish equivalents, with their great expertise and wide traffic management responsibilities, but to give the impartial traffic commissioners the responsibility for deciding whether they should be imposed and in what form. I think that this is the right balance. The noble Lord's amendment would destroy that balance. This is certainly not acceptable so far as trunk roads are concerned, which, as00000000000 the noble Lord will be aware, are the responsibility of my right honourable friend who is responsible for road traffic regulations. Nor do I think that it would be right elsewhere.

The spirit of the Bill is that any properly licensed bus operator should be able to provide services where he judges the market wants them. Traffic regulation conditions are an interference with this and are to be imposed only where the case for them is overriding to prevent danger to road users or unacceptable congestion. Traffic regulation conditions moreover, may, if necessary, discriminate between operators and may be used to allocate the use of bus stops in, say, very congested town centres. It is absolutely essential—and this is a very important point—that this allocation is done quite objectively and that operators have confidence in it. For that to be the case, I am sure that the allocation will have to be the responsibility of the traffic commissioner.

I am in no way denigrating county councils here. The fact is that they have many very important policy responsibilities other than traffic regulations. They will be subsidising non-commercial services through the tendering process and will be promoting public passenger transport more widely. Inevitably, therefore they may on occasion have a preference for one operator over another, so the unsubsidised operator might fear from the beginning of the process that it was biased against him. I do not think that that could be right; better to put the responsibility with the traffic commissioner, whose impartiality is accepted on all sides.

It is also worth remembering that these conditions are being made an integral part of the PSV operators' licensing system and will be imposed by the traffic commissioners on 0-licences. As such, it is right that their determination should also be for the commissioners. A partition of responsibility would lead to confusion. I should emphasise to the noble Lord that we are not interfering in any way with the powers that counties have had under the Road Traffic Regulation Act. Their powers will indeed have priority over traffic regulation conditions in the case of any conflict. I hope that with that reassurance the noble Lord may wish to withdraw the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not think I have ever heard a more revealing turn of phrase than that which the noble Lord has used in the context of the relationship between central and local government. He described the traffic commissioners as being impartial. The traffic commissioners are, of course, appointed by Whitehall, whereas the highway authorities are democratically elected by the people of our towns and cities. If to be central is to be impartial and to be democratically elected is to be partial, then the noble Lord and I are living in a different country. I cannot believe that the Government can be so openly centralist as to say that a traffic commissioner, because of his appointment by central government, is somehow more impartial than a democratically elected city or town council. The concept is totally foreign to everything that I have been brought up to understand about the nature of the relationship between central and local government in this country.

This amendment does not seek to make major changes in that constitutional relationship between central and local government. It seeks to simplify. It seeks to say that the traffic authorities which have, as the noble Lord said, overriding responsibilities which will remain shall deal directly with those who have responsibility for providing bus services on the streets which they share with commercial and private vehicles. There could not be a more gross example of the Government's misundertanding of the nature of our objection to this Bill than the speech which the noble Lord has made in reply to my amendment.

Lord Mottistone

Before my noble friend Lord Brabazon replies, one point that my noble friend made, which I think contradicts the theme of what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, of which I saw the force, is that subsection (1) states, "If a traffic authority asks him". So the initiation comes from the democratically elected body and then the traffic commissioner acts as an impartial authority for putting it into effect. I should have thought that that was the right balance and a much better balance than sweeping away the intervention, because it is not quite like that. It is not a middle-man situation. So I really think that the noble Lord might like to think about that.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It may be convenient if I reply to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, before giving way to the Minister. Of course, our amendments are designed to secure that Clause 7(1) should say—and I read it having excised those words which we seek to excise— A traffic authority in relation to a particular traffic problem may determine conditions (`traffic regulation conditions') which must be met in the provision of services in the area to which the conditions are expressed to apply. The noble Lord is quite right that there is still the possibility of a traffic authority expressing an opinion and taking part in the decision process about traffic regulation conditions. On that, I entirely agree with him. What I am asking is: Why should there be a middle-man? Why should there be a centrally appointed official who comes between the people and their buses?

Lord Mottistone

It is not a possibility. It is a requirement that the traffic authority, as the Bill is written, initiates this action.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It is indeed a requirement that this should take place, but that does not answer my question. I still ask why a centrally appointed official should come between the people who have the possibility of that requirement and the bus operators who serve their area. That is the question to which the Government must reply.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

With great respect, I think that, to use an unparliamentary term, the noble Lord is getting slightly hot under the collar. As I said, the local authorities still have the powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act to control access by buses, lorries and so on to certain parts of their town or city if they so wish. All I am saying is that under the traffic regulation conditions imposed by the traffic commissioner, as we propose, he is able to discriminate between one operator and another. That is why I say that he is impartial, in that he can say to one operator that he must use a bus stop at one end of the street and to another operator that he must use the bus stop at the other end of the street.

I believe he is more impartial, in that he can look at the matter perfectly objectively, whereas, as I pointed out, the county council could—I am sure that they would not—attempt to favour one operator over another. There is that danger. From the operator's point of view, I think he would definitely rather have the traffic commissioner taking those decisions, whereas the local authority under the Road Traffic Regulation Act has the powers in general terms to ban buses, allow buses or make pedestrian precincts etc.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will allow me also to intervene. It seems to me quite wrong to say that the local authority is just as detached as a traffic commissioner and that the contrast is between somebody appointed by local government and somebody appointed by central Government. Anyone who has been in local government knows, for example, that where the bus stops, where the crowd is and where the crush of traffic is—there are problems sometimes as to who is an operator and who is allowed to do it—are all matters of very great interest to local electors. If local government has this responsibility and is reflecting the will of the electors, it is inevitably involved in local politics, whereas the traffic commissioners, and traffic commissioners hitherto, have been able to stand back from that. I think that that is probably what my noble friend on the Front Bench was saying. That is how I understood him. I know that many local authorities are very sorry not to carry out what I think is a purely mechanical process as outlined in the Bill. If it is to be a mechanical process, it might be very much better done by the traffic commissioner. I know there is an argument, but I am inclined to come down on the side of the Bill in this respect.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, makes two extremely interesting points which deserve reply. The first is about the possibility of partiality on the part of the local authority. I perfectly accept that where there are municipal bus services in the classical sense it would be possible for a local authority, which has financial responsibility for those municipal bus services, to give preferential treatment to those bus services in comparison with private operators. But the whole intention of the Bill is that municipal bus services shall be at arm's length from the local authority, and therefore that presumption of partiality no longer applies.

The second interesting point which the noble Baroness makes is about the reference to the responsibility to electors, whose views will be expressed in the ballot box. That is exactly what I am talking about. That is exactly why I am saying that it is the democratically elected authority which will have the responsibility of standing up at election time and saying why they have authorised or permitted an arrangement of bus stops, an arrangement of access for buses to city centres, or whatever the issue may be, which is at variance with the wishes of the electors, who are also the bus passengers and the road users. That is the responsibility which democratically elected councils have at intervals; that is not any responsibility which traffic commissioners have, at intervals or at any time. That is the reason why it is important to have the democratic control of these matters in the hands of those who are responsible.

I should like to make an additional point. They are responsible not only for the regulation of bus services—that is one of the responsibilities of highway authorities—but also for the probably much more expensive, but equally important, other issues of transportation in our cities—the question of the size of road provision, the question of priorities in the use of our roads in the form of bus lanes, and so on. All of these matters, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, says, are matters of great local interest and importance. Can it be right that they should be the responsibility of unelected, centrally appointed traffic commissioners? I cannot believe that the Committee would wish that to be the case.

I think that the response of the Government has been totally inadequate on this matter. It may be that there are other ways in which we can express more effectively to a larger Committee our outrage at what is being proposed. On that basis only, and not on the basis of any concession or understanding from the Government of the issues involved, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Aylestone)

Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Lord Belstead


The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Noble Lords


On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendments Nos. 63 to 65 not moved.]

8.15 p.m.

Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 66: Page 8, line 8, leave out ("or")

The noble Lord said: I should like to propose that with Amendment No. 66 we take Amendment Nos. 67 and 69 to 75. Amendment No. 67: Page 8, line 9, at end insert— ("( ) prevent excessive environmental disturbance; or ( ) secure the appropriate use of bus stopping places."). Amendment No. 69: Page 8, line 16, leave out ("and"). Amendment No. 70: Page 8, line 17, at end insert— ("( ) pedestrians and person residing on or adjacent to the route of such services; and ( ) the efficient provision of public passenger transport services to meet requirements in the area."). Amendment No. 71: Page 8, line 18, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall"). Amendment No. 72: Page 8, line 20, at end insert (", taking into account the types of vehicle to be used and their suitability for the highways proposed."). Amendment No. 73: Page 8, line 21, after ("places") insert ("and termini"). Amendment No. 74: Page 8, line 23, after ("places") insert ("and termini"). Amendment No. 75: Page 8, line 24, after ("so") insert— ("( ) the availability of information on fares and timetables both on and off the vehicle;").

These amendments deal with the position of the wider public. The public were referred to earlier on in our debate on this Bill and defined as "the coach-travelling public". However, the public have other capacities as well. There are pedestrians and there are people who live in their homes. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that when the traffic commissioners address themselves to this question they take into account the environmental problems and they take into account the interests of pedestrians and persons residing on or adjacent to the route of the services on which they are expressing their opinions.

While we must all be in support of the provision of transport which will be economic, affordable and in the interests of the public, we must also consider the impact of the arrangements proposed in this Bill. Where there are environmental difficulties arising, where there are residents in the areas where these arrangements will create disturbances, it seems to us to be very clear that the traffic commissioners should be asked to take those into account. When we come to the second part of the Bill, which deals more specifically with London, we shall be raising this point more strongly, but we feel that it is desirable that at this stage we should suggest to the Government that they take into account the interests of the public in their other capacities—that is, other than simply the bus-travelling public—as pedestrians and as residents. We therefore suggest that it would make this Bill a much more effective piece of legislation if it were shown that all these other interests were taken into account. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

I have listened to the noble Lord with interest, and I recognise the strong feelings which the noble Lord has expressed: that the overall impact of bus operations on the environment of an area is something that the traffic commissioners ought to be able to address if the county councils apply to them to determine traffic regulation conditions on such a ground. If I may say so, I think that the words which the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, have chosen to use in Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 are helpful here. I should like to give an undertaking to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, to consider this amendment further and, if the noble Lord will agree, to come back after consultation with the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, with an appropriate amendment on that aspect of this set of amendments for the Report stage. The Government feel that the noble Lord is on to an important point.

Are we taking Amendments Nos. 69 to 75?

Lord Ezra


Lord Belstead

So far as the other points are concerned, to determine conditions on all of these matters would begin to take us into the danger of getting back to route licensing. Even under road service licensing, minor problems on bus stops and choice of routes are sorted out by negotiations and agreement between the operator, the local authorities and the police. I am sure that common sense will prevail in the future.

However, I take the point about the possibility of determining traffic conditions for termini and turning points where these are on a road. We have this in mind for the regulations under subsection (6)(d), and there will of course be full consultation on those regulations. As regards the fares and timetable information on the vehicle, we again propose to deal with this matter under the regulations. However, I must admit to the noble Lord that we do not have any plans to direct how operators ought to display those details off the vehicle. Nonetheless, I cannot believe that such details are to remain secret for very long. Operators will of course wish to publish their timetables as widely as possible in order to attract custom.

I hope that I have said enough to indicate to the noble Lord that we shall do our best to try to meet some of the points for regulations. I have given an undertaking to the noble Lord that we will try on the face of the Bill to meet the point made in Amendments Nos. 66 and 67. I hope the noble Lord will feel that my reply is of some help.

Lord Ezra

I should certainly like to thank the noble Lord the Minister for his very positive response and for the fact that the Government, in formulating this Bill, are prepared to take into account the interests of the public in all their capacities. I am sure that in showing details of fares and routes, a suitable solution will be found. On that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 67 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 68:

[Printed earlier: col. 260.]

The noble Lord said: I have been considering coolly and with some distaste the tactics of the Government on Amendments Nos. 62 to 65. When I sought the leave of the Committee to withdraw my amendment, that request was negatived from the Government Front Bench.

We have had this tactic before. We had it on the Local Government Bill. I understand the feeling that was behind it on the Local Government Bill, because then it was the feeling of noble Lords opposite that liberties were being taken with the timetable—to be candid about it, that amendments were being withdrawn in order to maximise the possibility of a vote at a particular time. Such a move is not foreign to either side of the Chamber. It is no secret that those of us who feel strongly about the issues we are debating seek to secure the maximum possible vote at the best possible time.

That cannot be the case in this instance. We had returned from an adjournment to debate a matter of some significance. I hope that I am not the only person to think that it is a matter of some significance. I am referring to the relationship between central and local government and the relationship between traffic authorities and traffic commissioners.

When I sought to withdraw the amendment without accepting the Government's arguments (and that is my privilege) my Motion was negatived. Such tactics have been the subject of representations from the Opposition to the Leader of the House on the Local Government Bill. It is my understanding that the Leader of the House indicated that such tactics should be used only in the most extreme cases, where there was the risk of an abuse of the procedures of the House. Under the circumstances, the attempt to prevent my noble friends and I from bringing forward such an amendment at Report stage is a misuse of the procedures of the House. I believe that we are not being well served by the tactic of negativing a Motion to withdraw an amendment. I beg leave to move Amendment No. 68 standing in my name.

8.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 68) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 35; Not-Contents, 65.

Airedale, L. Molloy, L.
Aylestone, L. Monkswell, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Mountevans, L.
Bottomley, L. Nicol, B. [Teller.]
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Perry of Walton, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Ezra, L. Raglan, L.
Grey, E. Roberthall, L.
Hall, V. Rochester, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Seear, B.
Jeger, B. Shepherd, L.
John-Mackie, L. Simon, V.
Kilbracken, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L. [Teller.]
Kilmarnock, L.
Kirkhill, L. White, B.
Kissin, L. Wigoder, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
McNair, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hives, L.
Arran, E. Hood, V.
Bauer, L. Hooper, B.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Belstead, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Lyell, L.
Bridgeman, V. McFadzean, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Caithness, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Morris, L.
Cathcart, E. Mottistone, L.
Chelmer, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cowley, E. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Crathorne, L. Newall, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Norfolk, D.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Rankeillour, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Renton, L.
Faithfull, B. Renwick, L.
Ferrier, L. Rochdale, V.
Gisborough, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Glenarthur, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Gowrie, E. Shannon, E.
Gridley, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Haig, E. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Halsbury, E. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Henley, L. Swinfen, L.
Swinton, E. [Teller.] Whitelaw, V.
Trefgarne, L. Wise, L.
Trumpington, B. Wynford, L.
Vaux of Harrowden, L. Young of Graffham, L.
Vickers, B. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Vinson, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.33 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 69 to 80 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

We now come to Amendment No. 81. If this amendment is carried, I cannot call Amendment No. 82.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 81: Page 8, line 41, leave out from beginning to ("received"), in line 43, and insert ("if he has").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendment No. 84.

Amendment No. 84: Page 9, line 8, leave out ("or (b)") and insert ("and the request has not been withdrawn.

(10) Subsection (9) above shall not apply where the traffic commissioner").

The present drafting of Clause 7(9) and (10) was adversely commented upon by traffic commissioners because it seemed to leave them with no discretion over the holding of inquiries. The presumption is heavily in favour of inquiries although in many cases, as experience with road service licensing suggests, it might be perfectly feasible for the traffic commissioner to determine generally acceptable traffic regulation conditions without an inquiry. Inquiries can be expensive and time-consuming, and a spate of them could cause a backlog of undecided cases.

The amendments are little more than drafting amendments, but shift the onus on the traffic authorities or operators affected to request an inquiry and allow the traffic commissioners not to hold an inquiry if the request is withdrawn—which may not infrequently happen. The rights of affected parties to insist on an inquiry remain intact. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment Nos. 82 and 83 not moved.]

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 84:

[Printed above.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Monk Bretton moved Amendment No. 85: Page 9, line 10, at end insert ("; or (c) has been required by the traffic authority to determine the conditions under subsection (10A) below. (10A) If a traffic authority is satisfied that a particular traffic problem is or is about to become so severe, and involves or will involve such danger to road users or such severe traffic congestion that traffic regulation conditions should be determined with immediate effect, the authority may deliver to the traffic commissioner for the area a notice requiring him to determine such appropriate traffic regulation conditions as the authority may specify in the notice; and subject to subsection (10B) below the conditions so specified shall be deemed to be determined by the traffic commissioner with immediate effect from the time of delivery to him. (10B) A traffic authority delivering a notice under subsection (10A) of this section shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable and appropriate to bring the conditions specified in the notice to the attention of every operator of a local service affected by the conditions; and in any proceedings under the 1981 Act in respect of an alleged contravention of such conditions it shall be a defence to prove that the defendant was not aware of those conditions.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to enable county councils, in really urgent cases, to serve a notice on the traffic commissioner specifying traffic regulations and conditions; which regulations and conditions should take effect immediately without having to await the traffic commissioner's decision.

The history of this is as follows. It is well known that many older town centres are not terribly well designed for our modern traffic. Trial experience—particularly the Hereford experiment—demonstrated the need to deal with problems arising from deregulated bus services. The county councils' existing traffic regulation powers were found to be too blunt an instrument for the task as they only enable whole categories of vehicles to be banned from using certain streets at particular times. Hence Clause 7 was introduced into the Bill to deal with that problem.

Clause 7 is broadly welcomed by highway authorities. The traffic commissioner is given power to regulate bus routes, stopping places, and so on. That is subject to inquiry. Subsection (10) gives the traffic commissioner power to act without inquiry where he is satisfied that conditions should be determined without delay.

It is here that the highway authorities have some anxieties. They foresee difficult situations arising, perhaps outside a major traffic attraction such as Marks and Spencer in the high street. They see these difficulties arising very rapidly. They feel that they are on the spot and will immediately be aware of the situation and that the traffic commissioner will not be on the spot. I believe that it has often been bandied around in discussions that the traffic commissioner for Oxford happens to reside by the seaside, in Eastbourne. Therefore delays are foreseen while the traffic commissioner decides, first, whether or not to hold an inquiry, and, secondly, then what to do. It is a very long way for the traffic commissioner to go to see for himself.

I understand the susceptibilities of operators who do not want traffic regulation in the hands of the county councils, but the amendment provides for subsequent inquiry before the traffic commissioner if the county council has abused its position. I should have thought that this would satisfy commercial interests fairly well and that there is a great deal to be said for it from the point of view of administrative commonsense. I have a list of 15 non-metropolitan counties who have given this matter deep thought and reported their problems to the Association of County Councils, so I trust that my noble friend the Minister will look at this matter.

There is something that I have to add. What is not known about the registration procedure is the closeness with which the detail will be defined, by which I mean the detail on stopping places, frequency of stopping, etc. If these details are sufficiently closely defined, maybe the Bill will work as it is; but if the intention is to leave these details pretty flexible, I think the amendment begins to have considerably more merit. If these details are closely defined, it may not be necessary. Therefore I think this is a probing amendment and I shall await with interest what my noble friend the Minister may have to say about this problem. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Before the Minister receives the probe—or whatever it is that happens with a probe—perhaps I may add my support to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton. It is not as far-reaching as I should have wished on the amendments that I previously moved, but it tackles some of the problems which I confidently, fearfully if you like, foresee will arise in many of our town and city centres. May I draw particular attention to the following words in the amendment: That a particular traffic problem is or is about to become so severe, and involves or will involve such danger to road users or such severe traffic congestion that traffic regulation conditions should be determined". That I think is the important point; it introduces the possibility that traffic authorities, the democratically elected authorities—I shall not go back over that argument again—from their long experience and their wide-ranging responsibilities, have the ability to anticipate problems which perhaps the traffic commissioner, with his more limited range of experience and responsibility—and certainly more limited democratic responsibilities—cannot anticipate.

The advantage of the amendment that is now being moved is that the traffic authorities can anticipate the necessity for a traffic regulation condition and can issue a notice requiring a traffic commissioner to determine such appropriate traffic regulation conditions. This matter is an ongoing problem. It concerns central government and local government and has done for many years, since motor vehicles caused traffic problems in our town and city centres—and I do not doubt that it happened in the days of horse-drawn carriages as well. But it is important that we should have this power of immediacy. It is important that we should have the power to anticipate problems and not have them arise and then go through a complicated bureaucratic procedure in order to overcome them afterwards. Anybody who has travelled around central London, as I have—because I come from my place of work to the House every day by bus—can see the difficulties which are caused by the enormous explosion in the numbers of buses—sight-seeing buses which are three-quarters or nine-tenths empty, buses parked in front of our major architectural monuments, sightseeing coaches and foreign coaches parked at our bus stops. I ask Members of the Committee to look at the bottom of Whitehall at any time of the day, if you need to be convinced of that.

8.45 p.m.

In any competitive environment of the kind that the Government are envisaging, operators will be tempted to cut costs to the bone. A prospective operator has been overheard by a county council official to say: "Of course, as soon as we get deregulation, what we shall do is have our stopping places outside Marks and Spencer"—and who will stop them? Who will anticipate the problem which will inevitably arise? The high volume store or stop of course will be an attraction to an operator; but it may not be the best place for a bus to stop in traffic terms nor in bus operation terms. Who will stop the bus operator who wants to get back to his garage—a garage which may be a deserted field, as we know from the experience in Hereford? Who will stop him taking a short cut when he has only one or two paying customers left?

It is not a good enough argument to say that the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, Section 14, to which I referred, covers that point. I have no doubt that that will be the Government's argument, but Section 14 only covers the possibility of likely danger to the public or likely danger to the highway. The problems which the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, is anticipating and seeking to prevent are much more widespread than that. They are essential to the effective and economic running of our cities, and I hope that the Government will make sufficient concessions to him on this amendment to satisfy him or, if they do not, that he will pursue the matter.

Lord Belstead

I understand the concern that has prompted the amendment of my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton. My noble friend accepts reluctantly that the responsibility for traffic regulation conditions has to be with the traffic commissioner and that the commissioner should have discretion; but my noble friend, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, wants county councils to be able to get conditions imposed immediately when they are convinced that they are necessary, and for the commissioner's discretion to confirm, vary or revoke them afterwards.

I was able to move towards my noble friend's point of view on an earlier amendment today when we were talking about registration regarding making sure that the county councils are notified during the transitional period, as an experiment first of all, concurrently with the notification to the traffic commissioner.

However, I regret that I do not think that I can move towards my noble friend's point of view on this amendment because I honestly think that the proposal is unnecessary and that it is undesirable. I think the proposal is unnecessary because the commissioner does have the power to determine conditions immediately—that is in subsection 10(b) of Clause 7—and in a situation like that which my noble friend has described, I have no doubt that the commissioner will do so. I think it is undesirable because it would simply make the traffic commissioner into a rubber stamp. I assure noble Lords that the clause as it is drafted really is adequate. Traffic commissioners are reasonable and judicious people; and, incidentally, wherever they may live—I say this to my noble friend—they do have staff as well as manning the office. The clause means exactly what it says: that traffic commissioners may determine conditions without delay if satisfied that they ought to do so.

May I repeat the point which was made very well earlier on by my noble friend Lord Mottistone that it is the local authority, it is the county council, who must press the button to say that they want traffic regulation conditions to be imposed. It is the authority that really is in the driving seat so far as initiating action is concerned. But in the final analysis—and this can be done very quickly indeed under the urgency procedure of Clause 7(10)(b)—it is the traffic commissioner in his independent, semi-judicial position who takes the decision. I am sorry that I am being unhelpful on this, but I do not think that this is an amendment that the Government can support.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not want to detain the Committee, but before the noble Lord replies I should like to say a word or two more about local authority procedures and the way in which they work. If it is the responsibility of a local authority and it appears that something has to be done urgently, there are procedures within local authorities (county councils and so on) for taking chairman's action and doing something immediately. If it is a matter of going through a middle man—of making representations to a traffic commissioner—the Government must recognise that local authorities are heavily constrained legally to go through proper committee and council procedures. Even apart from the summer recess, a period of six or eight weeks may pass between the urgency of a problem being recognised and the possibility of a local authority formally making representations—pushing the button, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said—and something being done. That is why I moved the earlier amendments and sought to cut out the middle man. I do not seriously think that the Government have fully recognised the nature of local authority procedures, the possibilities of delay and the dangers of the procedures proposed in the Bill.

Lord Monk Bretton

I think that county councils could better anticipate their problems if the registration details are sufficiently close to the ground. I do not know whether my noble friend can do a bit more to indicate how detailed the registrations will be on stops, timings and so forth. That is what will determine the ease with which highway authorities can deal with the matter. Before we get on too far with the Bill more may be known about that. If so, so much the better.

Lord Belstead

I referred earlier today to the fact that we have said openly in the Notes on Clauses which noble Lords have that we envisage that the regulations for registration will provide that registration particulars should include information needed on stops, routes and timetables, to give three examples. I cannot help my noble friend very much further than that answer. The regulations will be the subject of consultation.

Lord Monk Bretton

Nevertheless, I thank my noble friend very much. That gives us all considerable food for thought meanwhile. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 86, 87 and 88 not moved.]

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 89: Page 9, line 14, after ("(a)") insert ("(i) or (iii)")

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I should like also to speak to Amendments Nos. 90, 91, 102, 103, 105 and 106. Amendment No. 90: Page 9, line 15, after ("above") insert ("or any other traffic authority affected by the conditions"). Amendment No. 91: Page 9, line 15, leave out from second ("the") to ("asked") in line 16 and insert ("prescribed period"). Amendment No. 102: Page 9, line 38, leave out ("any traffic area in"). Amendment No. 103: Page 9, line 39, leave out from ("county") to ("and"), in line 40. Amendment No. 105: Page 9, line 41, leave out ("any traffic area in"). Amendment No. 106: Page 9, line 42, leave out from ("area") to end of line 43.

These are essentially technical amendments. Where an inquiry is held under Clause 7(11) a traffic regulation condition will already be in force and the words, "likely to be affected", as in subsection (10), are inappropriate; "affected" is better. Since we are giving neighbouring traffic authorities the right to request an inquiry we must logically do so even if they are in a different traffic area. The amendments to subsection (16) achieve that aim. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 90:

[Printed above.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 91:

[Printed above.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 92 to 100 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 101:

Page 9, line 36, at end insert— ("( ) A traffic commissioner shall inform the traffic authority of all traffic regulation conditions he has determined in relation to the area of that authority, and each traffic authority shall maintain a record of all traffic regulation conditions in force in its area and shall allow such records to be inspected at its offices by members of the public.").

The noble Lord said: This, again, is a compromise—moderate and reasonable. It is not the ideal amendment that I, personally, would wish to move—I do not know what the noble Earl thinks—but I still think that it is worthy of discussion and of the Government's consideration. In Clause 7 as it now stands a traffic commissioner has to maintain a record of all the traffic regulation conditions in force in his area, but he does not have to inform the appropriate local authority. As I have said ad nauseam in the past hour or so, a local authority has very much wider responsibilities to the people living in its area, as well as to the bus passengers, than a traffic commissioner can have. If a local authority is to carry out those duties and its statutory duties with regard to the highway system effectively, it is necessary for that information to be relayed to the local authority.

Clause 6(9) requires that information on services shall be relayed to the local authority. Surely, therefore, it is consistent that information on the conditions determined should also be sent to the local authority—and I do not think that it is enough to say that it should be sent to the local authority. Whether it is on the face of the Bill or not, I believe that the local authority has concomitant obligations to convey the information which it would receive under the amendment to the public, to other operators and to everybody else who may be concerned. In the spirit of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act, recently passed, I think it is proper that there should be obligations on the local authorities as well.

At the Committee stage in another place the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, on behalf of the Government, offered to consider an amendment which: would require the traffic commissioner to notify traffic authorities of the conditions he determined". He undertook to come back to another place at Report stage. He did not do so; and the Government did not place such an amendment at Report stage. This amendment is an invitation to them to repair that omission and to make what seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable extension of obligations already recognised in other parts of the Bill. I beg to move.

Earl De La Warr

I support the amendment. It is about the least that one can do, and it is essential that this should be done. We have to devise methods of making absolutely sure that the public have ready access to these traffic regulations as and when they come out. For the traffic authority to send those to the local authority and for it to have to make them available to the public is the least that could happen for the sake of the travelling public.

I am not quite sure whether it follows that the information could be made available at district level. I do not think that it does, and therefore I am raising a slightly different point, but if the Committee does not mind I should like to raise it. The place where people go is the local town hall. That is normally a district. I throw that in when I say that this is the very least that should be done on behalf of operators and, more particularly, the travelling public.

9 p.m.

Lord Belstead

I have great pleasure in saying that I have been persuaded by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in moving this amendment, and the support of my noble friend Lord De La Warr in accepting the first half of the amendment. So far as doing something on the face of the Bill is concerned, it will not have escaped the Committee's notice that we are still under quite a lot of pressure on drafting. I really have not had the opportunity to discuss this with the parliamentary draftsmen. If the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and my noble friend are prepared to withdraw the amendment, I think it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I consult before Report stage and we bring forward an amendment which is agreed among us.

In addition to that, there is a further point—that is, that although the second half of the amendment may be very desirable I am not entirely sure that it is something that ought to be written on the face of the Bill. That is something I should like to think about a little more and I should like also to consult both noble Lords about it. However, I have great pleasure in accepting in principle the main thrust of this amendment.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

Before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether, for the sake of the people in the country, not only in England and Wales but also in Scotland, he will agree that all this information, which is so vital to the people in the country, miles away from everywhere and certainly a long way from town halls, should be put into the local post office. In Scotland that is very often the local grocer's shop too. It must be at the very basic level.

Lord Belstead

I shall look at that point. Of course we are talking about traffic regulation conditions which the operators need to take on board because it is they who will have to make sure that they do not contravene the traffic regulation conditions. I shall look into the point which my noble friend Lady Macleod has made.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That is the most gracious and least qualified response to an amendment that I have had in the course of this Bill. I certainly shall not kick it back in the face of the Government. I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for his acceptance of the principle behind the first half, by which I take it he means the first two-and-a-half lines, of the amendment. Perhaps I may add my urging to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, that there should be more wide publication of perhaps the relevant parts of the traffic regulation conditions so that people can actually get to see them. Indeed, that is what I was intending to say when I talked about the concomitant responsibilities of the local authorities themselves.

With those words, and with renewed gratitude to the noble Lord, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 102:

[Printed earlier; col. 275]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendment (No. 102): Page 9, line 38, leave out ("any traffic area in").

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 103:

[Printed earlier; col. 275]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendment (No. 103): Page 9, line 39, leave out from ("county") to ("and"), in line 40.

Baroness Vickers moved Amendment No 104: Page 9, line 39, after ("county") insert ("or district").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 104. This Bill gives a number of powers to county councils, presumably because they are seen as subsidising authorities and the powers are complementary, especially in Clause 61, to the subsidising process. However, district councils may also subsidise, and in Devon the county council has a positive policy of no subsidy in urban areas. Hence the powers need to be concurrent to ensure their even application across the country.

Clause 7 quite properly allows county councils to ask traffic commissioners to apply conditions as to the stopping places of buses and to how long and when they may stop. Without this, we would see traffic chaos. An example of the problem can be found by considering the possible consequences of the Bill. For instance, if one takes the main cities, such as Plymouth, with the Royal Parade, and Bristol, with its shopping centre, these are all very popular places for the termination of buses. They can currently handle a large volume of bus movements.

The bus movements and operations must be done by local people. The bus operators have set up an integrated timetable and allocated routes and stops to take account of actual departure times. This balance can be easily lost if new operators are to independently use stops at the same time as other existing or competing bus operators. The effect on traffic flow of several buses coming to a halt in different places at different times, which bear no relationship to each other, would mean that many city centres and main thoroughfares would quickly become blocked.

I am sure we all therefore welcome the restrictions which the clause would permit. However, it is suggested that only county councils should be able to ask the traffic commissioner to exercise his powers to apply these conditions. With regard to Devon, the county council officers are 45 miles away from Plymouth. I think most noble Lords will agree that there is a need to move quickly when congestion occurs. The city council on the spot therefore can readily see the problem.

The amendment would only provide that district councils as well as counties should have the power to ask the traffic commissioner—that is what I want to emphasise: to ask the traffic commissioner—to apply conditions to stopping places. It will not lead to any more restrictions on the bus market as the traffic commissioner will still have to decide, regardless of who asks. We are only asking that the district councils shall be allowed to ask. The traffic commissioner can see whether this is a reasonable question and whether it has been asked by the local people.

Since the traffic commissioner is to decide conditions, he would have regard to the fact that the county councils and the highway authorities are not themselves significant in the context of making this request to him. I think it is a practical suggestion, because traffic piles up very quickly in seaside towns which have a great many tourists in the summer, and in other towns. One wants to clear it quickly. If my noble friend can say that the district councils can apply to the traffic commissioner, that would be a great help to all concerned. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

My noble friend Lady Vickers is very appealing and I know that she has a very close connection with a great district council and city in the West Country. I shall reveal to my noble friend that we have indeed considered carefully whether the districts should be the relevant traffic authority in this clause and should have the right to seek traffic regulation conditions. So far as the Government are concerned, we decided against doing so when drafting the Bill not because of the county councils paying subsidies—indeed, district councils can pay subsidies—but because the Road Traffic Regulations Act functions remain the responsibility of the county council and not the district council. Even when those functions are exercised through the districts, it is the county council which is the Road Traffic Act authority.

While it is absolutely understandable—and my noble friend said this in moving the amendment—that district councils when they have agency agreements may consider that they have a reasonable case for being the traffic authority under this clause, I have to remind my noble friend that those arrangements can be ended, new ones can be created and that really it would be very difficult to have two traffic authorities in respect of the same area. I ask my noble friend to consider what would happen if the county council decided that it wanted to apply for traffic regulation conditions because it considered that there was a serious congestion problem, and the district council decided that there was not a serious congestion problem and that it did not want any such application to be made. I think that it would put the traffic commissioner into a very difficult position.

In my view, a single channel for requests to the commissioner is essential for the efficient dispatch of business. Indeed, as that is the case which has been put to me again and again over the last half an hour or so, I should not want to jeopardise any opportunities for dispatching the business of either imposing or not imposing traffic regulation conditions. Therefore, I am saying to my noble friend that I really think that there is genuine difficulty in saying that you can have twin sources of decision as to whether or not an application should be made for traffic regulation conditions. If those twin sources decided to disagree, it would be a recipe for very great confusion, and we certainly do not want that.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Before the noble Baroness replies, may I make another perhaps sour or cynical remark about local government? It is well known that counties of one political persuasion are not particularly attracted to the propositions of district councils within their area which are of another political persuasion. I am not making a point about one party or another. Those of us who have served in local government know that that is the case. I am not convinced by the noble Lord's reply. I am not convinced that there would not be a protection in the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, for those who found themselves in districts which were at political odds with the county council.

Baroness Vickers

I am very disappointed at my noble friend's reply. It is very difficult with a distance of 45 miles to get a quick answer. Anyway, the district council is on the spot and can see the congestion from the civic centre windows. Surely there is no reason why it should not apply and try to get the matter settled as quickly as possible? I am sorry to have to say that I shall try to bring forward something more amenable to my noble friend in the future. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 105:

[Printed earlier; col. 275]

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment and Amendment No. 106, with Amendment No. 89. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendment (No. 105): Page 9, line 41, leave out ("traffic area in").

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 106:

[Printed earlier; col. 275]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendment (No. 106): Page 9, line 42, leave out from ("area") to end of line 43.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Monk Bretton moved Amendment No. 107:

After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:

(" Restriction conditions.

.—(1) At the request of any local authority, the traffic commissioner for any traffic area may determine conditions ("restriction conditions") which must be met in the provision, in the area to which the conditions are expressed to apply, of local services which are subject to registration under section 6 of this Act.

(2) The area to which restriction conditions may be expressed to apply is—

  1. (a) the route, or any part of the route, of any social bus service of which the local authority making the request secures the provision pursuant to subsections (5) or (6) of section 61 of this Act, and
  2. (b) such adjacent roads, if any, as the commissioner at the request of the authority may determine,
in so far as they fall within the traffic area of the traffic commissioner determining them.

(3) Restriction conditions shall have the effect of prohibiting any operator, other than an operator who has entered into an agreement under section 61 of this Act in respect of the area to which they apply, from operating a local service with a stopping place in that area at such times as may be specified in the conditions.

(4) No traffic commissioner shall determine restriction conditions unless he is satisfied, after considering—

  1. (a) the interests of the operators of local services operated in that area and of prospective operators of such services;
  2. (b) the interests of those who are, or are likely to be, users of such services; and
  3. 281
  4. (c) the costs likely to be incurred by the local authority making the request, any other local authority and any body providing transport by means of money provided by Parliament,
that the conditions which he proposes to determine are required in order to prevent the use of public money in a way which does not secure effective value.

(5) Before determining any restriction conditions, a traffic commissioner, if so requested (within the prescribed period) by any of the persons mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (4) above, shall hold an inquiry.

(6) Restriction conditions may make different provision with respect to the operation of any service to which they apply during different periods of the year, on different days of the week, or at different times during any period of 24 hours.

(7) A traffic commissioner may vary or revoke any restriction conditions determined by him on being requested to do so by—

  1. (a) any local authority; or
  2. (b) the operator of any local service affected by the conditions.

(8) A traffic commissioner shall maintain a record of all restriction conditions in force in his area and shall allow the record to be inspected at all reasonable times by members of the public, on payment of the prescribed fee.

(9) Regulations under this section may make provision for limiting the aggregate area in respect of which a local authority may make requests under subsection (1) of this section, and may make different provision for different classes of local authority.

(10) In this section— local authority" means—

  1. (a) In relation to any traffic area in England and Wales, the council of any county or non-metropolitan district which lies wholly or in part within that area;
  2. (b) in relation to any traffic area in Scotland, the regional or island council;
social bus service" means—
  1. (a) a local service having a stopping place in a rural area as defined by regulations made under this section; or
  2. (b) such other classes of service as may be prescribed by regulations made under this section.")

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 107, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 108, 109, 111, 112, 113, 114 and 115. Amendment No. 108: Clause 8, page 10, line 1, leave out ("traffic regulation") Amendment No. 109: page 10, line 2, leave out ("section 7") and insert ("sections 7 or (Restriction conditions)") Amendment No. 111: page 10, line 12, leave out ("traffic regulation") Amendment No. 112: page 10, line 20, leave out ("traffic regulation") Amendment No. 113: page 10, line 34, leave out ("traffic regulation") Amendment No. 114: Clause 9, page 10, line 45, leave out ("traffic regulation") Amendment No. 115: page 10, line 46, leave out ("section 7") and insert ("sections 7 or (Restriction conditions)")

The purpose of this new clause after Clause 7 is to provide selective protection for subsidised services against competition on the roads; in other words, a reserve power to meet situations where it is found that the shoe pinches, which I envisage will be primarily in rural areas and semi-rural areas.

I understand that this amendment is supported by all members of the Association of County Councils, including those who support the general principle of deregulation: in other words, the Government's friends among shire county councillors; those people who are anxious to support this Bill and who wish to see it work, and work well. The amendment therefore is in no way intended as an attack on the central thrust of the Bill. Its proponents prefer to see it as a matter of administrative prudence that such reserve powers as are proposed in the amendment should exist.

9.15 p.m.

I want to say a word or two about the need for the amendment. There is evidence from shire counties that operating savings under the Bill in rural services may well, in a number of cases, be considerably less than Government estimates. The Association of County Councils has plenty of examples of individual difficulties of which I hope my noble friend the Minister is aware. I am sure that he is aware of some of them. I shall not go into that now but there is information that could be supplied.

There is a knowledge that existing cross-subsidy in shire counties is generally greater because the shire counties have been more successful in holding subsidy expenditure in check. I have in mind to mention one statistic here. I understand that 20 per cent. of all the subsidy handed out to buses is handed out by the county councils and that it goes to 60 per cent. of the population. Therefore, one must bear in mind the amount of subsidy which goes to the other 40 per cent. of the population.

There is a knowledge that the degree of cross-subsidy varies substantially from area to area, and that this means that there are likely to be some notable variations in the effect of the Bill from one rural area to another when cross-subsidy goes. Of course cross-subsidy is extremely difficult to estimate, and the answer really is that nobody knows with any great precision, as again they do not know with any great precision from area to area what economies are going to be possible.

However, enough appears to be known to indicate the need to proceed with caution. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, when he spoke at Second Reading on 11th June, put his finger on the right spot when he said that he thought the troubles were going to be primarily in the rural and semi-rural areas. I would say that the theory that cost savings would cancel out loss of cross-subsidy is too much of a generalisation, and I prefer not to rely on this being so in all areas.

It appears that it is in these rural areas, or more particularly in the semi-rural ones, where the difficulties could most likely begin, and the form of this will be increases in cost of subsidy due to competition on parts of routes or at certain times of day. To those who say in that case that you must be subsidising a route unnecessarily, I must point to the need for the subsidised route to provide a reasonable destination, otherwise it is only too likely to be badly patronised.

Therefore, there is a choice of evils here for county councils. It is as follows: to go on to the preferred destination with the risk that they get, in the vernacular, creamed off, or to stop before the destination and find that their service loses goodwill and passengers through delay, inconvenience, and unpopularity. Either choice is likely to lead to the same problem of increased subsidy anywhere. That increase in subsidy is certainly of no benefit to the ratepayer and it does not appear to be of any benefit to the passenger. It is for that reason that it is not unreasonable to endeavour to put some limit upon it.

There will be increased costs to the local authority not merely in subsidising the bus services, but other costs could also be affected: the cost of the education service transport, cost to the Department of Health, and so on. The amendment admittedly keeps some degree of on route cross-subsidy which is criticised by some of the purists. But is this an unreasonable thing to do? We shall keep a degree of commercial cross-subsidy in any case. I feel that it is a sensible commercial decision made on behalf of the public in general by local authorities if a certain degree of on route subsidy is retained; but it it a pretty small degree, too.

This amendment or something on these lines was moved in another place. It was less tightly drawn than this, but even so I am not sure that it received quite the degree of justice and consideration that it should have received. What happened was that there was a Conservative who spied a Trojan bus, the PTEs did not relish the thought of Trojan buses that much either, and the amendment was lost somewhere between that Scylla and Charybdis. I think it deserves another look. I take the remark of the Minister's right honourable friend in another place that it is undesirable to protect routes which may prove not to need protection. I agree, but I believe the amendment as drafted should avoid that problem.

As a result of this new clause as now written I think we can be sure that no Trojan busmen can charge around unfettered in large conurbations because they can only operate in such areas as defined by the Secretary of State in regulations under subsection (9) of the new clause. These regulations could follow the Secretary of State's definition of rural areas or—and possibly more flexibly—towns of such size as he considered appropriate. These buses would even then have no privileges unless they satisfied the stringent conditions—I trust they are stringent enough and if they are not they should so be made—of subsection (4) of the new clause. The kind of privilege that I envisage such a service might be awarded under the new clause might, for example, be this: the traffic commissioner might say that there should be restriction of competition on part of the route, say within half an hour either side of the time the scheduled service operates. That is the kind of degree of effect I should expect the amendment to have.

I should like to add a few further comments about the intended working of the amendment. It should give power to the Secretary of State to prevent a county council seeking protection of its whole network or of anything except specific subsidised routes or smaller networks. In my view, the restrictive conditions should not be used unnecessarily. Under subsection (4) another operator could say that he could provide the service more cheaply. If so, the traffic commissioner would not make an order for a restrictive condition. This would let in the other operator. I think that the amendment will safely avoid the traffic commissioner receiving an inundation of requests, which I am sure is important; and I think and trust also that the new clause indicates with adequate clarity the basis upon which requests for protection would be determined.

Finally, in order to avoid the expense and difficulty of quasi-judicial procedure, we have tried to make arrangements for a simple and cheap decision to be reached by an independent party; namely, the traffic commissioner. Then, hopefully, judicial proceedings would be avoided unless anyone wished to appeal to the traffic tribunal. I think the amendment is an earnest attempt to lay at rest the interface difficulties between the competitive and the subsidised systems. As the Committee knows, this interface is difficult to determine. It is mobile, it is mobile at different times of the day, week and year, and commercial pressures will move it about, too. I hope that my noble friend will give this amendment most careful consideration. I hope very much that he will take it away and consider it, at least. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I hope that the last words of the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, were listened to by the Minister: that he would take it away and look at it and not make a hasty decision tonight; because I think this is a subject that is going to come up again and again. It came up earlier today, when we were discussing Amendment No. 51; it was raised in the Commons Committee, and I do not think that it is something that is going to be easily pushed off.

I recognise what the Minister said earlier—that there are great boundary problems of definition—and I do not think that anyone would doubt that. When it was discussed in the Commons, the Secretary of State argued that any restriction would introduce an element of protection and thereby deny the whole concept of competition. He said that passengers would have a better service because more buses will pass by. This is an interesting reflection on one of the key features of the Hereford trial area—and not in this Bill—which was that some protection for subsidised services was given. In that trial area it was achieved by contractually prohibiting the operator of a subsidised service from then competing on another subsidised service. So an operator, presumably, could not pick up even a school contract and the use that as a basis for competition which would simply increase the burden of the county council elsewhere. If he did this he would lose his contract.

There have been a number of other examples of this, of attempted protection, because of the situation. The temptation to try to pick up other contracts was so evident that efforts were made in the trial area to ensure that this would not happen. I think that the idea of creaming off is likely to be greatest at peak times, or immediately before and after, or on a seasonal service. This is particularly likely when the service may be run from premises in conjunction with a school contract.

I thought it was a rather interesting point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, when he used a possible defence and a possible way of controlling competition in this particular area not in geographical terms but in time terms. He suggested that if there was a delay—a period of, say, half an hour before and after a subsidised service—no other service could use that period. I do not say it is necessarily the right way, but I would suggest that it is a little more positive than the answer we got from the Minister when he was dealing with Amendment No. 51. There was a certain amount of novelty in it which makes it worth looking at.

9.30 p.m.

In Norfolk last year there were certain exchanges in looking at some of these services. The independents took on 26 routes because the county council gave financial guarantees: that is, the county council took the risk of any failures as regards the service. That is what will happen in tendering. Therefore we need to ensure that the county council or the local authority who are willing to subsidise the services are given some kind of safeguards. If they are not, the county council will be unwilling to take on any subsidised service, and really in a period of rate grant penalties that reluctance will be even greater.

At a conference in Nottingham last year the counties of Hereford and Worcester were represented. We have heard a lot of them in the past few weeks, and one of their representatives said: It has been widely advocated that there should be safeguards against the possible 'creaming off' of traffic from subsidised services under contract. Safeguards are a more reasonable approach than the termination of contract in such circumstances, but that is not inconsistent with the concept of deregulation, since all operators would have had an opportunity to compete for the contract and an operator so minded could have offered to perform the service without subsidy in the first instance. That would be if the operator felt there was some way of providing a service without requiring a subsidy because he saw other ways of expanding his service perhaps by taking school contracts or something of that kind and he would have been able to do it. This new clause is restricted to rural services and I think it meets the point that the county surveyor, who was responsible for the Hereford trial, made in the quotation that I have just given.

This is something which will scare off many operators from going for non-commercial services. I do not have the same confidence that the Minister seems to have that there would be an easy way round this. He believes that there are difficulties in him drawing the lines in order to satisfy the conditions of the earlier amendment and of this amendment. I think there are great difficulties if he does not find a way, by some means or other, to help the local authority and the operator who is willing to take a contract of a non-commercial service.

I do hope he will take this matter back with him. I know it has been raised several times and probably the department have been looking at it very carefully. However in today's debate it has been raised even more sharply, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton. I hope the Minister will realise that many of us think this is one of the crunch questions in the whole of this Bill: trying to provide services in areas where there is not sufficient population to support a commercial service.

Earl De La Warr

I have consistently during this Bill laboured the point that one of the great dangers is that there would not be enough money available either to the shire counties or to the authorities in the conurbations to subsidise services on the scale which might be needed. But at the same time—and this may surprise my noble friend—I have not been convinced that commercial competition on would-be tendered routes is anything like the danger that people have suggested.

I think that the dangers come from all sorts of other things, such as the counties having other priorities and the Government wishing to cut down Government subsidies in the metropolitan counties and rate-capping them traffic-wise at the same time. This tends to be a bit of an excuse. I do not find any real danger as regards the amount of money that might be required by counties on account of the fact that would-be tenderers would "jack-up the ante" because they were frightened that they might get subsequent competition.

I do not think that what I have said—even though, as I say, it may surprise my noble friend—need be thought to be running counter to my much more general argument. As for this amendment, it has been said more than once that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. To me, this amendment bears all the marks of being the result of a tug-of-war between various interests, particularly on the Association of County Councils, who could not make up their minds what they wanted. I do not think much of it; and I certainly could not support it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I do not know whether I agree that the amendment of my noble friend looks like a camel designed by a tug-of-war: but I think it does not sit very well within the whole notion of the Bill. I do not say that on grounds of theory at all, but on totally pragmatic grounds. I can understand why the county councils have suggested this. They are genuinely worried that their ratepayers' money will get into trouble in the new system. They want quite genuinely to protect their ratepayers' money. But I go along with my noble friend Lord de la Warr, and I do not think, in practice, that this will be the problem which they fear.

I should also suggest to noble Lords that it is not fair on anybody involved to suggest that subsidised routes should have some protection in this way. One would, in fact, be protecting one contractor who is subsidised against another who is not, looking at the whole of the concept. In fact, a subsidised contractor taken on to do this will look at the route that he is taking on, will appreciate that there could be a threat here and there of somebody coming in to take on the more profitable part of the operation, will think what he would do in that case, and will allow for it. Local authorities are very much at the mercy, in rural areas, of one, two or three contractors. Very often there is only one who is prepared to do it. But they will in fact "up" their price, "up" the subsidy they ask for, in order to allow for this if it happens.

I do not believe that the contractors will in fact be so daft as local authorities are afraid they will be. There is also the question of all the other parts of the routes. This route about which we are thinking is probably not isolated. It will not be just one route where, in the middle, somebody might come along and, as we say, cream off some of the route. There will be other routes coming in at a tangent. There will be other possibilities for routes. If the taxi part of the Bill goes through there may be taxis operating bus routes. There will be all sorts of things happening which are quite new.

There will also be a possibility—and already this is very often exercised—of break clauses so that contractors can get out of their contract during the course of it, if problems like this arise. There will probably also be a need to renegotiate the school bus side of it into the changed circumstance. So we are envisaging something which is quite new to local authorities—a completely different role for them, a completely different system serving the public.

Picturing the area that I know, I think that the problems which arise will, in the end, cost a local authority a lot less than protecting a fairly high subsidy which it would have to give in order to cover all the possibilities for all subsidised routes that are required. I believe that at the end of the day not an enormous amount of ratepayers' money will go wrong because of this possibility, and that a great deal will go right. It is in a sense a guess, but I think that it is a guess which is good enough to rely on in the Bill.

Lord Belstead

As my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton said in moving this amendment, he has made an earnest attempt in bringing forward this amendment to give protection to subsidised services in rural areas. I agree with my noble friend that we must have workable arrangements in the future to secure those services, because in too many parts of the country we have seen our rural buses disappearing. I believe that the Bill gives hope for reversing that trend.

By comparison, I really do not think that this amendment has struck the right answer, for the way in which it would give protection is to say that if a subsidised rural service is running, its route or indeed its adjacent routes can be declared in effect off-limits for any other buses. However, the routes of bus services are rarely entirely separate one from another. They are bound to converge, for instance, on the run into towns or even on the routes outside town centres; and protecting a subsidised route which travels from village to village may be possible only at the expense of a more direct inter-town service. It is exactly that kind of protection which has been turning passengers away from using local buses over the years.

In distinction to that, it has been the freeing of longer distance coach travel which has brought passengers back into that particular form of transportation. The problem which I have just tried to outline, about the fact that once you start to try to protect bus services of any kind you find that you are affecting other bus services in a detrimental way, is inherent in this whole area. Competing services are absolutely bound to use either the same routes or parts of the same routes.

If I may now talk in rather more practical terms, it would be unthinkable to ban buses from being allowed to stop in a street just because a subsidised service happened to be using that route. So we have a paradox here and this is why we have a difficulty. Protection can only really work without damaging effect to the customers where competition is least likely to occur. Let us remember all the time that we are not talking in the context of local bus services which are stuffed full of passengers. We are talking in the context of a local bus system in this country which, despite devoted staff and careful management, has been losing passengers in enormous numbers over the years.

9.45 p.m.

In this amendment my noble friend has attempted to set out some stringent conditions for protection, and he has very carefully tried, I admit, to limit the extent to which an authority could use these powers. I understand the concern of county councils; it is quite genuine. I was interested that, despite the fact that my noble friend Lord De La Warr has been not uncritical of the Bill and also has great experience of public transport and considerable sympathy for the position of rural bus services, he said that he felt that this amendment really would not do.

By way of illustration, let us just imagine for a moment that we are all in the place of the traffic commissioner who is suddenly faced with the demand from a local authority under this amendment to impose restriction conditions in a real situation. Indeed, I am choosing a situation which my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton actually described to me at a meeting which he and I had only about two weeks ago. Suppose there is a bus service subsidised by my noble friend's county council running from the Sussex village of Ringmer to Brighton and passing through the market town of Lewes on the way. Suppose, following deregulation, an operator wished to start a commercial service to run from the outskirts of Brighton back into the town but using the end of the same route of that Ringmer-Brighton subsidised service. Suppose another operator also wished to start another commercial service from a housing estate just outside Lewes into the town, also using a bit of the same route of that Ringmer-Brighton subsidised service. Imagine our role as traffic commissioners in deciding whether or not to impose restriction conditions on those two commercial services.

We would have to weigh up exactly the same arguments as the traffic commissioner has to weigh up now when he is considering a road service licence. The determining factor would finally be not the best value for passengers but the best value for those services supported from the public purse. The end of the story would be, as it so often is now, that the commercial services would be told to disappear. Indeed, without meaning to do so, this new clause is very much more damaging than road service licensing. After all, under a road service licence it is difficult for an operator to get started, but once he has a licence he can look forward to running his buses more or less as a right. But under my noble friend's new clause an operator could find that he is suddenly stopped from running a lucrative part of his route simply because the local authority subsequently starts a subsidised service on, or indeed even near, the same route. Imagine how the passengers would feel when the bus that they had been used to catching passes them by because the local authority has said that it was forbidden to stop along that route any more.

I really do not think that there is the difficulty that my noble friend is forecasting in this whole area. I was most interested that, with my noble friend's knowledge of local authority work north of the Border, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, pointed out that when an operator bids for a subsidy he will have assessed the revenue that he can expect to earn with an eye as to where the competition is already running or from where it may suddenly appear. Anyway, anyone who gets a subsidy is going to have an absolute headstart over anyone else. It is true that unexpected competition could appear if the county council has misjudged the market and is in fact seeking to subsidise a service which can be run commercially anyway. Such cases are bound to occur, and prudent local authorities and prudent operators will see to it that they have suitable break clauses in their contracts.

Finally, I must reject the argument that a deregulated system will be more expensive for local authorities. This matter is one we debated at considerable length earlier this afternoon in connection with Amendments Nos. 45 and 61 of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. On this particular point, I would only say to my noble friend that there is compelling evidence that reductions in costs in a deregulated system will balance out removal of hidden cross-subsidy and give a much better service to passengers into the bargain.

I shall say also that if any noble Lord thinks that hidden cross-subsidy is some splendid panacea which we will lose, and that that will be a tragedy, then he ought to have heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, a former Minister of Transport, who exposed hidden cross-subsidy for what it is—something which we would do well to get rid of if we can possibly do so.

I realise that we can argue about this point until we are blue in the face. I would only add that the available evidence from the trial areas has proved one thing—that is, that county councils can get their services for less of ratepayers' money, or indeed get more services for the same expense if that is what they wish.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour for pointing out the dangers of this amendment, and for the very fair way in which my noble friend Lord De La Warr also drew attention to its dangers. However, I am sorry—and I mean this quite genuinely—not to be able to accept the argument of my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton. Although he has indeed produced a very closely thought out amendment—indeed, an amendment of almost Byzantine complexity—it really will not do. I ask my noble friend to think carefully about the arguments which I have sought to put forward in reply, and I would ask him also not to press his amendment.

Lord Monkswell

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he will clarify one point for me. He mentioned hidden cross-subsidy as though it were some monstrous evil. That may be so, but can he explain to the Committee whether it is the fact that it is hidden which is monstrous, or that it exists at all?

Lord Belstead

I do not think that I used the word "monstrous" or "evil", but I did indeed use the word "hidden". I used the word "hidden" because, as I said earlier, a former very distinguished Minister of Transport, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who was in his place earlier, exposed in a few sentences the difficulties of hidden cross-subsidy.

In essence, the noble Lord said in his speech earlier this afternoon that the difficulty was that nobody has the slightest idea of where the cross-subsidy is going; and that even if one could find out where it is going, it is not going on socially desirable objectives. It is something that simply goes on services according to how the operator thinks the cross-subsidy should work. It was on those grounds that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, attacked it. It is in the noble Lord's absence, I must make it clear, that I attack it on those grounds too.

Lord Shepherd

The noble Lord cannot get away with that, even if we can forgive him at this fairly late hour. What was said by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, was not as just stated by the noble Lord. Lord Belstead.

The truth of the matter is—and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. would agree with me, as would any other former Ministers of Transport who may be present—that cross-subsidy has become institutionalised. It has been a conspiracy of central Government and local government, using the traffic commissioners and using the device of cross-subsidy with the operator, to provide socially desirable, uneconomic services on as wide a spread as possible within the locality.

The truth is that if the operator can get the money for the benefit of cross-subsidy—and it is for the operator to decide how he intends to use it—he could distribute it as profits. But there are statutory duties imposed upon all operators, certainly public operators, to consult and co-operate. As I said, there has been a conspiracy over many years and cross-subsidy has emerged.

I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that while cross-subsidy may not be evil it has, over the years, grown too big. Cross-subsidy has grown too big alongside ordinary central Government Section 1 grants, but it has grown in a way that the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, is concerned about. The sole purpose of tabling Amendent No. 61 was to give time to remove the enormity of cross-subsidy out of the system by a pragmatic approach.

I have spoken longer than I intended but I could not let the noble Lord get away with pleading the case of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, because it is not true.

Lord Belstead

The one point on which I was perhaps right is that we can argue cross-subsidy until we are blue in the face. However, I must say to both noble Lords opposite, and to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in particular, that if the argument now on this amendment is that we need the amendment in order to preserve cross-subsidy, that is an argument which strikes at the very principles of the Bill. My understanding of my noble friend's amendment, which I still find unacceptable, is that it is an amendment which is needed to prevent a certain element of creaming-off. I do not accept that argument, but that was my understanding of the effect of the amendment.

If it is understood by noble Lords on the Opposition Benches that this is an amendment which is needed to preserve cross-subsidy then I must say absolutely clearly that the effect of the amendment will be to damage the best services, to drive passengers away from using buses and to deny the industry the opportunity of escaping from the cycle of decline from which we are seeking to rescue it.

Lord Monkswell

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has not answered my question and I think it would be useful for the Committee to know—

Lord Mottistone

Perhaps I may intervene to suggest to the noble Lord that to swan into the end of a debate, pick up a single phrase and start teasing it just to pursue his little argument, when we have been here concentrating on this amendment for 44 minutes, is outside the keepings of how the Committee behaves, according to my understanding. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow us to get on with the amendment.

Lord Monkswell

I take note of the noble Lord's comment.

Lord Mottistone

Thank goodness for that.

Lord Monkswell

I think that the Government's position is still unclear as to whether they are against hidden cross-subsidy or against cross-subsidy per se.

Lord Tordoff

I wish to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said. If the noble Lord had come in for the full Committee stage of the Bill he would perhaps understand what is going on. Since he has not been here I believe that he should listen and reserve his judgment for a later stage of the Bill.

Lord Monk Bretton

On Monday evening I was a little heartened by what my noble friend the Minister said in reply to my noble friend Lady Vickers on her Amendment No. 2. He said that, it is right that we should be concerned with what the future will be for low spending authorities in a deregulated system".—[Official Report, 8/7/85; col. 27.] I am afraid his reply this evening to this amendment has not lived up to that faint ray of hope.

10 p.m.

I felt that this amendment of mine would help to eke out the £50 million bastion, mostly over four years, that is being provided to deal with the problems that are likely to arise. I think that one of the reasons for a difference of opinion about the cost savings that are possible is really that a good many county councils have already made part of the Hereford-type economies, even under present legislation. At any rate I think it is a very difficult and complex question to argue about very much further.

I shall just mention that I had thought that under the amendment a commercial service could challenge the need for or the level of a local subsidy, but I am sure it would be best to study what my noble friend the Minister has said, and what other noble Lords have contributed to the debate on this amendment, for which I thank them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 [Enforcement of traffic regulation conditions, etc.]

[Amendments Nos. 108 and 109 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Earl Cathcart)

In calling Amendment No. 110, I should inform the Committee that, if it is agreed, I cannot call Amendment No. 111.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 110: Page 10, line 12, leave out from ("who") to first ("to") in line 15 and insert ("is aware of traffic regulation conditions which apply to licences or permits granted by another commissioner it shall be his duty")

The noble Lord said: This is a very simple amendment after the last rather exhausting one. It is merely to confirm that, as it is at present in the Bill, it is the duty of the traffic commissioner in determining traffic regulation conditions to inform the traffic commissioner who granted the operator's licence if he is in a different area. It is merely to allow the traffic commissioner to tell other traffic commissioners in adjoining areas that an operator's licence has been granted. Such a situation cannot arise very frequently, as there are only nine districts in the whole of the country. While there are obviously cross-boundaries, they will not occur very frequently. I hope that this will be a helpful amendment and that the Government will accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for explaining the amendment, because I must admit that I was not quite sure what he was actually getting at in moving it. Perhaps I may explain that an operator's licence issued by any traffic commissioner is valid throughout Great Britain. An operator needs a licence from each commissioner in whose area he has an operating centre, but he can run services in an area in which he does not have an operating centre. It is easy to see that where somone has his base close to the boundary between two traffic areas he can be running services in the area in which he does not have a base and hence his operator's licence.

It is essential that traffic regulation conditions should be imposed on the operator's licences of all operators running services affected by the condition. The Bill therefore provides that where the commissioner who determined the condition and the commissioner who granted the relevant licence are different, the former commissioner shall send the necessary details to the latter commissioner for imposition on the relevant licence. The proposed amendment seems aimed to shift the duty from the commissioner who made the determination to the commissioner who granted the licence. I see no need for the Bill to impose any duty on a commissioner to do that which he obviously must do as a matter of practice. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with that explanation.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I think there is a complication here. The Minister seems to have been satisfied, but the point raised, whether it is the first or the second traffic commissioner who should transmit the information, is something I shall take away and look at. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 111 to 113 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Appeals against traffic regulation condition]:

[Amendments Nos. 114 and 115 not moved.]

Lord Shepherd

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 116: Page 10, line 46, leave out ("or")

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 116 to 121 would have been consequential on Amendment No. 61 had it been agreed to. Since it was not, I do not intend to move those amendments.

[Amendments Nos. 116 to 121 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 122:

After Clause 9 insert the following new clause:

("Publication of information.

.—(1) Each traffic commissioner shall cause to be issued not less frequently than weekly during the transitional period and fornightly thereafter a statement to be known as "Notices and Proceedings" which shall include (unless previously notified therein) details of—

  1. (a) the registration by him of any service in accordance with section 6 of this Act or any variation or cancellation of any such registration;
  2. (b) any traffic regulation conditions determined by him under section 7 of this Act;
  3. (c) any application to him for the grant of a permit under section 20 or section 21 of this Act or the grant variation or revocation by him of any such permit;
  4. (d) any application made to him under the 1981 Act for the grant of a PSV operator's licence or the grant, revocation, suspension, curtailment or variation by him of any such licence;
  5. (e) any conditions attached by him on the grant of a PSV operator's licence under the Act of 1981; and such other information as may be prescribed.

(2) Copies of Notices and Proceedings shall be published to such people as may be prescribed and made available by the traffic commissioner by whom they are issued for inspection at the offices of that commissioner free of charge and the said commissioner shall supply copies thereof to any persons requiring such copies on payment of such fee as may be prescribed.

(3) In this section the expression "the transitional period" has the meaning given by paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 5 to this Act.")

The noble Lord said: In moving this useful amendment I know that I have in principle the support of Her Majesty's Government. It is their declared intention to publish information regarding the introduction and variation of services, so that those who have a need for that information are able to come to respond to it and, after considering it, to take that action which is appropriate to themselves as local authorities or operators.

Unfortunately, although the intention is clear we have no provision in this Bill to ensure that intentions are turned into actions. Therefore, one feels that it is necessary to bring forward this amendment giving a clear requirement and indicating those matters which are to be published in the document long known as Notices and Proceedings, or colloquially as N & Ps, which is published fortnightly. I do not want to confuse scholars with N & Qs, which are quite different.

As your Lordships are aware, I have spent much time since last autumn in discussing the substance of this Bill with operators in the industry, with local authorities and with users. It is as a result of those consultations that I have presumed to set out in my amendment those matters which require to be published in Notices and Proceedings. I emphasise that it is the people who will rely upon this document (a document which the Government intend to be published) who have told me what it must contain if it is to be of any practical value to them. I cannot think that there will be a better source for recognising those needs, and, if this is the information needed, it must be given.

Furthermore, I should be grateful to my noble friend if he could give some indication of the amount of detail that could be set out in N & Ps regarding registration of services. In that respect the amendment speaks for itself. It seeks publication of essential details of registrations, variations or cancellations; of traffic regulation conditions determined by traffic commissioners; relevant information in respect of minibus permits; and details regarding PSV operators' licences—which will become of greater importance following the abolition of road service licensing.

This is an exercise which will pay for itself because most operators, local authorities and others purchase at a commercial price the issues of N & Ps which are appropriate to their needs. In short, this is a necessary provision of information if this Bill, when enacted, is to work in practice. It embodies a principle supported by the Government and covers those matters which are vital to the users of this publication. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

I agree with almost all that my noble friend has said. Notices and Proceedings belongs essentially to road service licensing, but it is our intention to continue such a publication after deregulation. There will be statutory requirements for the notification of registrations, and a publication of that kind will enable the commissioners to discharge those requirements sufficiently. However, my noble friend asked what detail of registrations will be published. I do not think that I can add to what I said earlier this evening about the detail of the registrations at the present time. We shall obviously have to consult further. It is also our intention that information about traffic regulation conditions and applications for public service vehicle operators' licences should be published in this format.

There is one paragraph in my noble friend's new clause that I feel I must resist. I do not think we ought to require the commissioners to publish the mini-bus permits they issue when so many mini-bus permits are not issued by them at all. The mini-bus permit, which we shall no doubt be debating later on, is not some kind of a second-class licence: it is an exemption, and is in a quite different category.

I am interested in my noble friend's idea of weekly publication during the transition. There will certainly need to be some special arrangements to deal with the quite exceptional prospect of having to register every local service in a matter of months. However, I think it may be preferable to authorise one or two special editions which may well enjoy wider than usual circulation. Perhaps this is a point to which we can return when we turn to Schedule 5.

Therefore, at the end of this part of the Bill it gives me pleasure to say that with the exception of paragraph (c) I feel that in this new clause my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, are making out a good case. I should like to accept the principle of the amendment, except for paragraph (c). I hope that on that undertaking both noble Lords will agree to withdraw the amendment so that we can consult on bringing forward a suitable amendment at Report stage.

Lord Tordoff

In response to that, all I can say is that silence is clearly golden.

Lord Teviot

I shall also follow that. I am grateful to my noble friend. I shall look into paragraph (c) of the amendment. Perhaps there will be a change after we discuss the amendments next Tuesday, or whenever. I am very grateful to my noble friend. I agree with him that before we move on to the subject of taxis it is pleasant that this part of the Bill should end on such a happy note. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 [Immediate hiring of taxis at separate fares]:

Lord Shepherd moved Amendment No. 123: Page 12, line 14, after ("without") insert (", subject to subsection (1A),".)

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 123 and to speak to Amendment No. 124. Amendment No. 124: Page 12, line 19, at end insert— ("(1A) Notwithstanding subsection (1)(a) a licensed taxi permitted to carry passengers for hire or reward at separate fares under subsection (1) shall be regarded as a public service vehicle for the purposes of Part VI of the Transport Act 1968 and related legislation.") I can be brief. I think it will be agreed that all drivers of vehicles used for the conveyance of passengers for either hire or reward should, in the interests of road safety, be subject to the provisions of Part 6 of the 1968 Act, which deals with the control of drivers' hours.

While this view applies to taxi operations in general, the current amendment relates merely to the proposed new ability of taxis to carry passengers at separate fares, under clause 10, and seeks to bring the use of vehicles under this clause within the scope of the drivers' hours provisions of the 1968 Act. A similar amendment is proposed in respect of Clause 11. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

In moving this amendment, the noble Lord said that he was speaking also to Amendment No. 124. However, I believe the noble Lord will agree that very similar arguments apply to Amendment Nos. 132 and 133. If the noble Lord agrees, I should like to reply to all four amendments. Amendment No. 132: Clause 11, page 13, line 39, after ("without") insert (", subject to subsection (2A).") Amendment No. 133: page 14, line 11, at end insert— (" (2A) Notwithstanding subsection (1)(a) a licensed taxi or licensed hire car permitted to carry passengers for hire or reward at separate fares under subsection (1) shall be regarded as a public service vehicle for the purposes of Part VI of the Transport Act 1968 and related legislation".) Amendments Nos. 123 and 124 would have the effect of making taxis shared under the provisions of this clause subject to the domestic drivers' hours rules. Amendments Nos. 132 and 133 would have the same effect for taxis and hire cars shared under the provisions of Clause 11; that is to say, the pre-booked sharing arrangements.

Since my remarks apply equally to both clauses, I shall as I said earlier, discuss them together. Such rules apply to bus driving in order to protect the safety of passengers. Some of your Lordships, in tabling these amendments, may have thought that this would be necessary for these new kinds of service. We are of course concerned to ensure the safety of passengers on all forms of passenger transport. However, there is no evidence of problems which would indicate a need for drivers' hours controls on taxi operation. Although many taxi drivers work quite long hours, their working day, unlike that of a bus driver, is generally interspersed with periods of rest.

The provision of shared services under Clauses 10 and 11 requires a form of operation which is little different from that of exclusive taxi and hire-car services. When operating a regular registered service under the provisions of Clause 12, these vehicles will, like buses, be subject to the drivers' hours rules. However, for the types of service which we are currently considering, such control is not, we believe, necessary.

If noble Lords can produce any convincing evidence to show that drivers' hours controls are necessary for taxi drivers, we shall certainly consider it in the full review that we shall be undertaking of taxi and hire-car legislation. However, I believe that it would be illogical that taxis and hire cars should be controlled in this way only when they are being shared. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that explanation and will not press his amendment.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Shepherd

The noble Lord has undertaken to examine the matter further and so shall I. My understanding is that some of the taxis are subject to drivers' hours rules. The purpose of the amendment was to bring in line the new extension in the Bill. I shall check my information if the noble Lord will take note of what I have said and see whether I am right or wrong. I hope that the Minister will agree that the new change—I shall not say an unwelcome change—in the Bill gives flexibility for the people living in the country. On the other hand, we do not want to put passengers at risk in regard to safety with drivers working unacceptable hours. If the noble Lord will do what I shall do and check his source of information, we could perhaps have further words later—not necessarily in your Lordships' House but elsewhere—to see whether there is agreement between us. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 124 not moved.]

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 125: Page 12, line 34, at end insert ("with the agreement of the county council whose area includes the area of the licensing authority")

The noble Lord said: I move this amendment in order to get some guidance from the Minister. I am concerned about the difficulty into which an openly subsidised service may be placed if, for instance, a local authority decided that a particular village had to have a service provided, but it was loss-making. Let us suppose that they were willing to pay a certain amount for the service and that someone tendered for the service relying on the fact that it had, perhaps, two fairly good evenings per week which were compensation. Let us suppose that he tendered on the basis that he would have a half-full bus twice a week, and that then somebody came in with a taxi. I do not know how you would get over that situation.

When I look at the amendment I can see the great pitfalls for someone tendering in a situation where people are allowed to share taxi fares. Perhaps the Minister would give me the views of his department. Having read the amendment carefully, I cannot really see a way around the situation. I move the amendment only in the hope that the Minister will be able to give me some information. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has said because he has elucidated the situation for me. When the noble Lord moved the amendment, he introduced many points which I had not realised were intended to be covered. The amendment is tabled in the name of fair competition and the maintenance of quality and safety standards. In our view, it is both unnecessary and misconceived for two reasons: first, that taxis are subject to lower standards of quality control than are buses; and, secondly, that making the sharing of taxis subject to the agreement of the county council would in some way improve the situation.

Taxis are licensed by district councils who have adequate powers to ensure that they are operated safely, and that is why we have restricted the provision of this type of service to licensed vehicles. Furthermore, when providing a shared service, taxis will be subject to additional regulation as provided for in subsection (6) of this clause and to overriding regulations made by the Secretary of State under subsection (5). There are certainly sufficient powers to ensure the safe operation of these services.

To make that operation conditional on the agreement of county councils could in no way improve safety standards. It is the traffic commissioner, not the county council, who is responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of bus operations. The county councils license neither buses nor taxis, have no powers to carry out checks on these vehicles, and would be in no position to assess their safety. This amendment achieves one thing. It would achieve a conflict of responsibility between the two tiers of local government, and I am sure that that is not what the noble Lord wanted.

Lord Tordoff

That is a fair response to the amendment as it stands, but I am not sure that it deals with the problem underlying this question. There is a problem of subsidised services being undermined by shared taxi services, and particularly in rural areas. Would the Minister care to think about it again and perhaps at a later stage come back and give us some further information on that problem? I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, wishes to press this amendment to any sort of decision tonight, but there are worries in this area that all of us feel.

The Earl of Caithness

I think there was a misconception that it was on safety arising from the way the amendment was worded, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, was on a subsidy point. County councils are given no powers in the Bill to veto bus services. The concept of such veto is contrary to the fair competition spirit of this Bill, but notwithstanding what I have said I shall look at the points that the noble Lord raised when he moved the amendment. In the meantime, I hope he will withdraw it.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The point of the lower standard is, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, that taking a cheaper vehicle, or a vehicle that is cheaper to run, could exploit in rural areas any good traffic which would be much more expensive for the local authorities since they would be subsidising much heavier and much more expensive vehicles. There is a point there. Although the amendment talks about safety standards, they are obviously reflected in costs. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 125A: Page 12, line 36, leave out ("at least ten per cent. of the taxi licences issued") and insert ("a simple majority of the licences issued to drivers and proprietors.")

The noble Lord said: This is really a probing amendment. It touches on the trigger mechanism for the introduction of the cab-sharing scheme, which noble Lords who have read the Bill will realise can be triggered at a request of a mere 10 per cent. of the licence holders. We all know that the Secretary of State is going to trigger this scheme anyway, but we just wonder why 10 per cent. is the figure put in.

If we are talking about getting the genuine feeling of the taxi people, then presumably it would make sense to have a majority of those people triggering this scheme. It is a probing amendment, but it would be interesting to know why the Bill says 10 per cent. and not 50 per cent. plus. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

I think there may be a misunderstanding about the way that Clause l0(4) will operate. Your Lordships may therefore find it helpful if before addressing this amendment I outline how this provision will work.

Subsection (4) was introduced by amendment in another place with the aim of preventing a taxi licensing authority from blocking the wishes of its local taxi trade by refusing to set up a taxi sharing scheme. I think that your Lordships will agree that that would be undesirable and that the provision serves a useful purpose. It achieves that purpose by requiring a district council to set up a scheme if requested to do so by the holders of at least 10 per cent. of all taxi vehicle licences. The threshold of 10 per cent. was chosen to prevent a handful of taxi operators from requiring the licensing authority to go to the lengths of setting up a scheme when there were an insufficient number of proprietors willing to participate to provide a proper service.

Let me say what that means. First, it is not a consultation requirement. Arrangements for consultation will be laid down by the Secretary of State in regulations made under subsection (8). It does not restrict the right of a licensing authority to act to set up a scheme. It limits their right to refuse to act. Secondly, it confers no power on the taxi trade to determine the nature of the taxi sharing scheme. They may require only that some such scheme be made. It will be for the licensing authority to determine the details (subject of course to the test of reasonableness) and following consultation.

Finally, in each area there will be only one scheme. It may include several different services but technically these will all form part of the same scheme. Thus, once a scheme is in place subsection (4) will become redundant; its purpose will have been achieved. Consequently in London, which I believe may be the noble Lord's main concern, this subsection is most unlikely ever to be called upon. The Secretary of State would not have gone to the lengths of including Clause 10 in the Bill only to decline to make a scheme for London, where he is the authority.

This explanation may be sufficient to allay the noble Lord's concerns and I hope that, in the light of what I have said, he may consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Tordoff

I am grateful to the noble Lord. That helps to elucidate the situation. I still am not sure that 10 per cent. is necessarily the right figure, but who knows? I should certainly like to read what the Minister said, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 126: Page 12, line 36, after second ("the") insert ("current").

The noble Earl said: This amendment and Amendments Nos. 127, 128, 129, 130 and 131 are minor and technical, and therefore it may be for the Committee's convenience if I deal with them together. Amendment No. 127: Page 13, line 8, before ("Any") insert ("Subject to subsection (5) above,"). Amendment No. 128: Page 13, line 12, leave out ("licensed"). Amendment No. 129: Page 13, line 18, leave out ("licensed"). Amendment No. 130: Page 13, line 22, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 23 and insert ("Except in the case of a scheme made by the Secretary of State, any scheme under this section"). Amendment No. 131: Page 13, line 31, leave out ("licensed").

The first amendment, No. 126, ensures that only current licences are taken into account in arriving at the figure of 10 per cent. Clearly lapsed licences should not influence whether or not a taxi-sharing scheme should be set up. The second amendment, No. 127, makes clear that the provisions of any scheme made under this clause will be subject to the regulations made by the Secretary of State in accordance with the provisions of subsection (5)(c).

The third set of amendments, Nos. 128, 129 and 131, eliminates from the various places in the clause the unnecessary qualification of "taxi" as "licensed taxi". Subsections (1) and (2)(b) make clear that this clause applies only to licensed taxis.

Finally, Amendment No. 130 brings the variation of a scheme by the Secretary of State into line with the making of such a scheme—neither being subject to the prescribed procedures. A scheme made by the Secretary of State would be made by order and would therefore be subject to different procedures than apply to one made by resolution by a district council. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 126A:

Page 132, line 37, at end insert— ("(4A) In relation to the London taxi area, the licensing authority shall consult with the recognised body for the London Taxi Trade.").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if we deal also with Amendment No. 129A, which is consequential upon this amendment.

Amendment No. 129A: Page 13, line 21, at end insert ("subject to the same tests of consultation as stated in subsections (4) and (4A) above.")

The noble Earl may have answered this question in saying that Clause 4 does not constitute a consultative scheme, but I wonder whether it might not be possible to have a consultative process within this scheme, in which case the recognised bodies of the London taxi trade would be the obvious people to consult on this matter. The noble Earl may have partially dealt with this in reply to my questions on the earlier amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

I have covered some of this ground, and I can assure the noble Lord that such consultations as he requires have already taken place between officials at the Department of Transport and the London trade (that is, the London taxicab trade) on this particular matter. Indeed, the London trade have always been consulted about matters affecting taxi operations in London, and I see no reason why this situation should change. Given that, I believe that the noble Lord's amendment is unnecessary. Consultation is existing and will continue.

Lord Tordoff

I am sure that the people involved will be grateful for that assurance, and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 126B: Page 12, line 40, at end insert ("and such places designated for the immediate hire of taxis at separate fares shall be physically separate from places for hiring at single fares.")

The noble Lord said: This touches a rather different matter. There are going to be differences between cabs for individual hire and cabs for shared hire. I think there are going to be green lights on the latter. But I ask your Lordships to consider the situation at some of our great railway terminals, where some cabs are for shared hire and some for individual hire. One sees the situation of the Japanese tourist coming here and not quite knowing which cab is which, and the sight of cabbies toting up and down the ranks to fill their cabs to go from Victoria to Euston or from Waterloo to Heathrow, or whatever. It seems to me that unless there is some separation between the two sorts of cabs on a purely physical basis, chaos is going to ensue, particularly at our major terminals. I wonder whether the noble Earl would care to comment on that situation, and how they propose to resolve it. This, again, is a probing amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mottistone

The amendment seems a very sensible one to me.

The Earl of Caithness

This amendment to Clause 10 would force any taxi-licensing authority making a scheme for shared taxi services to designate separate ranks for shared and exclusive taxi services. I can fully understand the concern that has led to this amendment being tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and so ably supported by my noble friend Lord Mottistone. The taxi trade, especially in London, can envisage problems occurring at what are now very busy and congested taxi ranks if shared services were also permitted to operate from them. A shared taxi waiting for second or subsequent fares might block such a rank. However, I am sure that noble Lords can think of a great many taxi ranks where no such problems would occur. Moreover, there may be places where there is simply insufficient road space to allow the designation of two ranks. It may be sensible in some cases to designate separate ranks, and the clause as it stands does not prevent this. I am sure we can rely on the licensing authorities, in consultation with their local taxi trade, to locate and designate such ranks as are necessary without this extra restraint. The powers are already there for them to do so, and we are sure that they will. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this. I think the matter is taken care of in the Bill.

Lord Tordoff

I wish I could believe that it was taken care of in the Bill, because there are stations in London where it is quite easy to segregate these things. Waterloo is a case in point. It is much more difficult at Victoria; and at Euston, where there are barriers, it is almost impossible. Clearly, I am not going to press this tonight, but I would ask the noble Earl to go back to his ministerial friends and say that there is a practical problem here which I do not think they have solved. I am overwhelmed by the support of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. It is late at night, and I am grateful for it. Nevertheless, on the understanding that the noble Earl will look at this problem again in purely practical terms, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Lord Belstead moved Amendments Nos. 127, 128 and 129:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendments (Nos. 127 to 129): Page 13, line 8, before ("Any") insert ("Subject to subsection (5) above,") Page 13, line 12, leave out ("licensed"). Page 13, line 18, leave out ("licensed").

[Amendment No. 129A not moved.]

Lord Belstead moved Amendments Nos. 130 and 131:

[Printed earlier.]

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendments (Nos. 130 and 131): Page 13, line 22, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 23 and insert (" Except in the case of a scheme made by the Secretary of State, any scheme under this section") Page 13, line 31, leave out ("licensed").

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 [Advance booking of taxis and hire cares at separate fares]:

[Amendment No. 132 not moved.]

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 132A: Page 14, line 7, leave out subsection (2)(b).

The noble Lord said: Again, this is a probing amendment but I believe it raises an important problem, a human problem. The clause is concerned with the consent given by a hirer, and I should say that this amendment should read: "leave out subsection 2(b)" and not the whole of subsection (2) of Clause 11.

This clause is concerned with consent given by a hirer when booking to share a ride. A number of us are concerned about the contractual position of the hirer. I would ask your Lordships to consider the situation when somebody rings up to hire a taxi or hire car on a shared basis. The vehicle arrives at the door and the hirer—who may be a young girl, an old lady or whoever—gets to the cab and finds inside the cab already, sharing their cab, someone to whom they take an instant dislike. It may perhaps be someone who is slightly inebriated or someone they do not like the look of and do not wish to travel with. So they refuse to get into the cab.

What I am asking is: what is their contractual position if they refuse to get into the cab? Have they a contract with the cab hire firm that they have to fulfil? Are they likely to be subject to penalties if they do not get into that cab? Those are the questions that lie behind this amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for explaining the thought behind the amendment. As he points out, the amendment as it stands does not cover the point that he was raising. I would say to him that I should like to consider with my noble friends and the department the exact point that he has raised, and perhaps I can write to him and we can discuss this at a later stage. I assure him that I shall look at it again.

Lord Tordoff

I am most grateful to the noble Earl. As I say, it was a device to ask an important question on a human basis. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 133 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Use of taxis in providing local service]:

Lord Shepherd moved Amendment No. 134:

Page 14, line 12, leave out subsection (1) and insert— (" (1) Where the holder of a taxi licence wishes to use one or more licensed taxis to provide a local service he may apply to the appropriate traffic commissioner for a PSV operator's licence to be issued to him for this purpose only under Part 11 of the 1981 Act".)

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 134 and to speak to Nos. 135, 136 and 138.

Amendment No. 135: Page 14, line 21, leave out ("restricted")

Amendment No. 136: Page 15, line 1, after ("licences") insert ("or such lower number as the traffic commissioner may determine")

Amendment No. 138: Page 15, leave out lines 17 and 18.

In the Bill as at present drafted, there is no requirement that any person wishing to run licensed taxis on registered local bus services has to satisfy the commissioner to hold or retain a public service vehicle operator's licence, in accordance with Section 14 of the 1981 Act. Therefore he will not be required to satisfy the commissioner of any of the following: first, his good repute; secondly, his appropriate financial standing; thirdly, his professional competence; fourthly, that he has adequate facilities or arrangements for vehicle maintenance; and, lastly, that he has adequate arrangements for securing compliance with the law relating to the driving and operation of vehicles used under the licence.

I suggest that it is imperative that all operators of registered local bus services should be required to meet adequate quality and safety standards. It is therefore to be regretted that taxi operators who wish to operate registered services have been omitted from the provisions of the Bill. The number of vehicles permitted should, in my view, be the number for which the operator holds taxi licences, or those which he is deemed by the commissioner to be capable of operating satisfactorily, whichever is the lower, and in line with Clause 24(1) there should be a maximum of only two vehicles authorised should the requested licence be a restricted one not requiring the taxi operator to satisfy the commissioner as to his professional competence.

The second half of this amendment is aimed by the deletion of subsection (10)(a) at bringing the obligation to the operator of taxis on registered local bus services into line with the holders of PSV operators' licences generally, including the requirement that the drivers of vehicles should hold PSV drivers' licences.

Quite apart from the safety and quality considerations it should not be overlooked that the less demanding standards that would have to be met by taxi operators who intend to run local bus services under the provisions within the Bill as they stand could, and certainly would, represent unfair competition to other public service vehicle operators who are obliged to meet very stringent standards to the full. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

This clause makes provision for the proprietor of a licensed taxi to hold a special public service vehicle operator's licence the grant of which takes account of the fact that he has already satisfied a licensing authority of his suitability to operate the vehicle in question as a taxi and the restricted use to which the licence will be put. When operating such a service the fitness of the driver and the quality of the vehicle will be regulated by the taxi licensing authority while the provision of the service will be regulated by the traffic commissioner under the registration requirements of this part of the Bill.

These amendments may have been tabled under the misconception that taxis are subject to lower safety and quality standards than are buses, thus resulting in unfair competition and even putting the public at risk. This is not the case. And, indeed, these are exactly the concerns which led us to restrict this type of operation to licensed taxis. To put your Lordships' minds at rest on this issue, perhaps I may outline briefly the quality controls to which taxis are subject.

Responsibility for licensing in London is delegated by the Secretary of State to the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and is carried out on his behalf by the Public Carriage Office. A taxi vehicle licence may only be granted to a vehicle which meets the metropolitan conditions of fitness. These run to some 40 detailed conditions which can only be met by a purpose-built vehicle. Furthermore, the vehicle must be fit for public use and properly insured. The PCO inspect licensed taxis annually (when their licences are renewed) and at random at other times during the year and following any repair of accident damage to a vehicle. Stop notices are issued to prevent the use of any taxi that does not meet these exacting standards. In 1984, 3,251 such notices were issued. A taxi vehicle licence can only be issued to an applicant who is over 21 and who is a fit and proper person—that is, of good character, of good business repute and financially sound. There are provisions for the withdrawal of a taxi licence if the proprietor breaches the required standards.

Turning now to taxi drivers, such a licence may be issued only to a person over 21 years of age who is again of good character and fit to act as a taxi driver. London taxi drivers have to pass a special driving test and "the knowledge" which is a detailed knowledge of the streets of London, taking over a year to acquire—something no PSV driver ever has to do. There are extensive provisions for the suspension or revocation of the licence of a driver who misbehaves.

Similarly in Scotland the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 contains very clear and strict conditions governing the quality and safety of taxis. Conditions are laid down as to the suitability of the vehicle and its fitness, and the repute and fitness of the proprietor and the driver.

10.45 p.m.

In England (outside London) and in Wales, taxis are licensed by District Councils under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 or that Act as amended by the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, or under local powers. Section 4 of the 1976 Act enables a district council to attach to a taxi licence such conditions as it considers reasonably necessary—a very sweeping power. The 1976 Act also contains specific powers in Sections 50 and 60 for the inspection of taxis and, if necessary, the suspension, revocation or refusal of a licence. Section 57 enables a district council to require such information from applicants for licences as they consider reasonably necessary to enable them to determine whether the licence should he granted or any conditions should be attached to it. The Town Police Clauses Act 1847, enables a district council to make by-laws regulating the conduct of proprietors and drivers, the manner in which taxis are to be provided and equipped, and their inspection for safety maintenance.

Finally, all licensed taxis must pass the department's annual test of roadworthiness or an equivalent examination every year, regardless of the age of the vehicle, and under the provisions to which I have already referred a taxi licensing authority can suspend or revoke the licence of any taxi which is found to be unfit for use.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will agree that there is really no need to require what is already a highly controlled industry additionally to comply with a very similar set of controls in order to operate local services. In the light of those considerations I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Shepherd

I listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and— I have to be frank and open—I think I am satisfied. I shall take just one precaution. I shall read with great care the report of what he has said. There seemed to be just a slight difference between the very strong standards in London, which we all know about, and Scotland, and those in the rest of England and Wales. But I think I got enough of the drift of what the noble Lord said to leave me satisfied with his response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 not moved.]

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 137:

Page 15, line 14, at end insert— ("(9A) For the purposes of section 12(3) of the 1981 Act (which provides that where two or more PSV operator's licences are held they must be granted by traffic commissioners for different traffic areas), special licences shall be disregarded. (9B) A person may hold more than one special licence but shall not at the same time hold more than one such licence granted by the traffic commissioner for a particular traffic area.")

The noble Earl said: This is a technical amendment. Without it, a person who operates with a public service vehicle opeator's licence and who also runs taxis would not be able to hold a special PSV operator's licence under Clause 12 in respect of taxis in order to use them to operate a registered local service. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 138 not moved.]

Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 13 [Provisions supplementary to sections 10 to 12]:

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 139: Page 15, line 25, at end insert ("; and such an order may include regulations with regard to maintenance and drivers' hours.")

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment and it is on very much the same lines as No. 134, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. Indeed, the answer to Amendment No. 134 provides the answer to most of this amendment. The reason for it is partly the safety of the passengers and partly the question of competition with the buses. But the one point which my noble friend the Minister did not make, because the amendment did not require it, was the question of drivers' hours. It strikes me that under the new arrangements taxi drivers, with their greater freedom, particularly where they are running on what is the equivalent of bus routes, may not be subject to the same limitations on drivers' hours as are the heavier vehicles, and it might be a good thing if they were.

My amendment puts the responsibility for including these in regulations on the Secretary of State so as to cover the whole country. We know about London, because we travel about in taxis, and we have heard that Scotland is much the same. But the answer given to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was not authentic enough with regard to the other local authorities. There might be room within the regulation to which Clause 13 refers to have something rather more stringent with regard to these particular points. I should be grateful if my noble friend can clarify this. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

As regards drivers' hours for taxi drivers, there is already a provision contained in the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 for a district council to make by-laws controlling the hours during which a taxi driver may exercise his calling. Very few, however, have found a need or chosen to do so. This view is supported by available accident statistics which do not indicate that there is a need to apply drivers' hours rules to taxi services.

As I explained when we were debating some earlier amendments, although many taxi drivers work long hours their working day is interspersed with long periods of rest. The operation of shared services under Clauses 10 and 11 would be little different from the operation of exclusive taxi and hire car services. Drivers' hours controls for this type of service would therefore be unnecessary. With this reassurance I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mottistone

Yes. I am 90 per cent. pleased, but I have exactly the same reservations as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I shall read what my noble friend has said to both me and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and reserve the right to come back on Report if I am not happy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Tordoff

I have given an indication that I wish to oppose the Question that the clause stand part. Again, this is very much of a probe, particularly relating to subsections (2)(b) and (c) of Clause 13, which appear to allow the Secretary of State to amend licence conditions, particularly for drivers in London—it is drivers in London who are worried about this—who at present have the right to refuse a fare over six miles. It seems to them that under this clause the Secretary of State would have the right to require a driver to accept any hiring. That would be a very significant change in their normal mode of operation.

It also seems that under the clause there could be an arbitrary interference with fares. There is no consultation built into this clause, and consultation with the trade ought to be envisaged. Nor is there any room for parliamentary debate on this clause. It seems to be a slightly draconian measure. Although at the end of the day I shall not press the clause out of existence, even if I could, I should be grateful if the noble Lord could answer those very genuine worries of people in the taxi trade in the London area.

Lord Trefgarne

Perhaps I may help the noble Lord very swiftly. The noble Lord may not have at his fingertips the provision of the London Cab Act 1968 which I believe provides a power for both the functions to which the noble Lord has referred.

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clauses 14 and 15 agreed to.

Lord Denham

I think it is generally agreed that this is as far as we can usefully go tonight. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.