§ 3.23 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Belstead.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 16 [Taxis in England and Wales: control of numbers and application of taxi code to eight-seaters]:
The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham moved Amendment No. 140:
Page 17, line 44, at end insert—
("; or that they are satisfied that there is already a sufficient number of hackney carriages to satisfy the needs of their area.")
§ The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I am expressing not merely my own concern about the future of the taxi industry but also the grave concern expressed by the industry itself as well as by many members of the general public. The industry is, in my 619 view, quite right to be deeply worried about its own future. All this amendment seeks to do is to retain the power at present in the hands of local authorities in England and Wales to decide whether or not new applications for taxi licences should be granted. The taxi industry feels that it is the local authorities, in conjunction with the police and the industry, which know best what is required for their own area. That is a view which I entirely support. The system has worked well over the years, so why change something that is good, with which people are satisfied and that works well to serve the needs of the general public? I readily admit that all in the garden is not a bed of perfect roses, but surely a local problem should be dealt with by local authorities which best know local needs.
§ If my amendment fails then we have several changes to look forward to; changes that will not be anticipated with pleasure but with dread, and changes that will definitely not be in the public interest. If taxi deregulation takes place, there will be an immediate rush of applications for taxi licences. Local authorities will not be able to refuse any applicant provided he is judged to be of suitable character, and that could often prove to be very difficult for local authorities to assess due to the fact that certain information about individuals and their past records is, quite properly, a confidential matter. All these applicants would result in a huge increase in the number of taxis available. On the surface this might seem to be a desirable state of affairs, but underneath the surface there are many genuine problems which would certainly arise by creating a free open market in the manner proposed in the Bill.
§ The first effect would be the instant destruction of thousands of small businesses—businesses which have been established mostly by owner-drivers acting in good faith and operating under the present system. The investment involved in owning a taxi business varies tremendously from one area to another. It has evolved over the years through a value becoming attached to the plate, or hackney carriage licence, that each vehicle licensed by the local authority must have and display.
§ It is not the fault of the owner-drivers that bartered licences have been and are condoned by local authorities. Nevertheless, it is a fact of life. These businessmen made their investment in good faith, operating under present conditions. The value of this investment can be anything from a few hundred pounds up to £23,000, in a few rare cases, according to area and depending on how hard licences are to come by due to the strict controls exercised by local authorities. Licences are often handed down from father to son and remain in the family in the form of life savings. If the system is altered as proposed in the Bill, the investment made by owner-drivers must be honoured by the Government in full at current market prices before deregulation takes place. That is the very least that the Government should be prepared to do.
§ The Government repeat time and again their firm commitment to encourage and protect small businesses. A taxi cab without its licence has only the current value of what it would fetch on the second-hand vehicle market, which noble Lords must be 620 aware does not amount to much as most taxis do a very high mileage in a very short time.
§ Another effect of deregulation would be a marked increase in the number of declared bankruptcies, as many owner-drivers with perhaps one or two vehicles, when faced with the problem of having to compete with a vastly increased number of locally licensed cabs serving roughly the same number of potential customers, would find that there was not the business available that there had been. They would look elsewhere for employment. This would eventually result in each local area winding up with roughly the same number of licensed taxis as before but without the benefit of adequate controls. If we do not increase the overall size of the licensed taxi cake but at the same time greatly increase the total number of slices taken from it, those slices must inevitably be considerably smaller.
§ Not that the slices are particularly large and generous at present; the average taxi driver has to work long, hard hours to earn his living. The present average outside London is about 60 hours per week. Hire purchase payments on vehicles would fall behind, mortgages on houses would be put into jeopardy, and all that would happen would be that the rush of new applicants for licences would force out the already established holders of licences and we should be left with a new flock of owner-drivers who are without experience.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ I am convinced that the proposals contained in this Bill will result initially in the aims of the Government being realized—namely, that there will be a reduction of fares and more taxis available—but that this happy situation will be very short-lived. This has occurred wherever deregulation has been introduced. In American city after American city without exception deregulation has resulted in cut-throat competition, open taxi warfare, poorly serviced and maintained vehicles, a lower standard of driving, and passengers being "ripped off- in large numbers. Lower fares have resulted initially but in all cases they have quickly climbed back again to pre-deregulation levels and beyond.
I should like to quote from a letter to the National Federation to Taxicab Associations which was written by a traffic commissioner for the city of Indianapolis —which, incidentally, I have visited, as I have every major city in the United States. He says:
I was totally surprised to find out that the Government was thinking of deregulating the taxi industry in England. England has the best taxi service in the free world by industry standards. Why is it that the Government always wants to fix something that is not broken?
§ Must we as a nation always slavishly follow the United States, which very often has not proved the best example to others, and jump in with both our feet, even when the Americans have discovered that they had jumped into a quagmire? They have taken the trouble to warn us. Shall we blindly ignore all their warnings? In the provinces in England and Wales taxis are licensed under Section 37 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, which from time to time has been altered and amended to take into account all the progress that has been made since then. I think it says 621 a great deal for the people who drafted that piece of legislation that it still functions as well now as it did then.
§ The taxi industry is reasonably content with it and with the present status quo, which seems to work well. Why change it? We in this House are not in the business of destroying small business endeavours. We should be trying to do all we can to protect and encourage them, even if it means refusing to establish new ones which would be at the expense of those already in existence. I beg to move.
§ Lord Renton
While I welcome the intrinsic good sense of the amendment moved by the noble Earl, I am sorry to say that it does not cure the inherent defects of Clause 16, which I have given notice on the Marshalled List of my intention to oppose. I feel bound to say that adding the amendment of the noble Earl without deleting most of subsection (2) will add to the confusion which I shall be suggesting already exists within the clause.
Meanwhile, I wonder whether I may make just one or two very brief comments on the remarks made by the noble Earl, in what was a very interesting summary of an attitude which has also been expressed to me by a number of taxi drivers and owners or their representatives in my former constituency. The noble Earl says that the amendment is intended to retain the present power under the present law, but in fact his amendment will not retain the present power. It will change it and will change the way in which the power is exercised. The noble Earl referred to the desirability of not deregulating the issue of taxi licences. In fact Clause 16 does not deregulate it, but merely imposes a new system of regulation, and it does so in what I suggest are confusing terms.
Further, I do not agree with the noble Earl when he says that the present system works well. It works very unevenly. I quite agree that in most places the number of taxi licences issued by the district councils corresponds broadly with public need, but there are other places such as Liverpool, for example, where in 1973 there were 300 taxis authorised but where there are now 1,500. The chief constable of Liverpool has complained of the problem which that number creates and the deterioration of the quality control which is inherent in the taxi licensing procedures.
So while I think we should be grateful to the noble Earl for drawing our attention to the fears of the taxi drivers and owners and for what he has said on this score, my plea to him is that he should not press his amendment this afternoon but join generally with the discussion on Clause 16 which I shall hope to open and on which other noble Lords may wish to make their views known, and I hope to press the Government to have a fresh look at it. We shall then come back to the matter at Report stage.
§ Lord Somers
I hesitate to disagree with such a speaker as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, but surely he is mistaken in saying that this clause does not deregulate the present system, since, if I read it aright, it says that a licence shall be granted more or less to anybody who applies for it, except under certain circumstances.
622 There can be very few of your Lordships who at one time or another have not depended upon a taxi. I do so regularly and in fact, apart from the railways, taxis are more or less my only method of transport. I think we should remember that taxi drivers are very special people. A taxi driver is not merely somebody who drives a car. To become a taxi driver requires a very stiff and very particular training. I once read a description of what that training involves, and it is extremely exhaustive and very taxing indeed. We do not want a lot of little minicabs driving around charging less than the standard taxi fares, and a lot of people who think that they will make their fortunes by saving a few pence waiting for a long time until they can find a minicab rather than taking a standard taxi. The taxi drivers themselves would find such a situation very difficult. Every taxi driver to whom I have spoken has been absolutely against the idea of the proliferation of non-qualified drivers.
If the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is right and this is not the place to press the amendment, I sincerely hope that the Committee will give serious thought to the problem and that we shall do something to protect taxi drivers. Incidentally, the noble Earl said something about making this country like America. I have lived in both countries. I pray to God that this country will never become like America!
§ Lord Denning
May I say a word or two? I would support the amendment wholeheartedly. If I understand its object, it is that we should keep the present position regarding our taxi drivers and not undermine it by unlicensed competition. To my mind the real trouble behind all this is that the whole clause is incomprehensible and one cannot understand the amendment without knowing the clause. I should like the amendment to be withdrawn and for us to have a full discussion on the next amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is to move to quash the whole clause.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I hesitate to discuss the clause and its comprehension with the noble and learned Lord, but my understanding of this amendment is that it is about the number of taxis that should be allowed and that refusal should not be on the grounds of the maximum number in a place, which would make this country like the United States of America. With the greatest respect to the noble Earl who moved the amendment, I must point out that there is not a limit on the number of taxis in Scotland. The only effect of that is that there is not a colossal value on the plates. If a taxi plate can be worth £23,000, it means that there are not enough taxis in the area for the people who want them. Taxi drivers in Scotland just do not know about plates and do not know that the situation is different in England.
I think that I am also right in saying that in London the number of taxis also is not limited, and so taxi drivers in London do not have that experience either. We are talking about the cities and towns in England and Wales where the number of taxis is limited and if there is a great dearth of taxis, there is a problem.
I do not think the grounds on which the noble Earl moved the amendment are absolutely correct. I do not know whether he has taken a taxi in either Edinburgh 623 or Glasgow, but I do not think he will find the cutthroat competition and the bad standards of driving that he fears. There really is not very much difference, except that there are rather more taxis than in some areas of England and Wales. I do not feel that this is probably the right amendment. I look forward to the full discussion mentioned by my noble friend Lord Renton, but on the grounds of my experience as a Scot I certainly could not support the amendment.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
In what parts of Scotland does the noble Baroness say that a plate for a taxi costs £23,000? I have frequently used taxis in Scotland. I understood her to say that if one wanted a taxi in Scotland, one had to pay £23,000 before you got the licence to run a taxi in a certain area. Surely that is not right. But perhaps I did not hear her correctly.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
Perhaps I may clarify it for my noble friend. The noble Earl who introduced the amendment said that a plate for a taxi in England or Wales could cost £23,000, which is a sign that there are too few taxis in those places. As far as I know, nowadays in Scotland there is no such thing as paying for a plate. Anybody, provided that he can fulfil all the other requirements, can drive a taxi. There is not a limit on numbers.
§ Lord Renton
It may help to limit our discussion if I were to have the temerity to point out that Clause 16 does not apply to Scotland or to the metropolis but only to the licensing of taxis in districts in England and Wales.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
Let me just take up one point that the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea, raised. He said that there would be an immediate rush for applications. One had a vision of the town halls being bombarded with people. I cannot believe that that will be the situation. If there is a rush, it will be by people who have assessed the market and see that there is a need for taxis. As my noble friend Lady Carnegy said, if people have to pay a large sum for a licence, that means that there are not enough taxis. That is a natural situation. I cannot believe that there will be more people applying for licences than the market will bear, and so there will not be a dramatic change.
The difference will be that the value of the licences which has crept in—it is not legislation which creates that—will be reduced. I can see that those who have them will mind. On the other hand, it will mean that the taxi load for that area will be that which the public wants to use. The object of this part of the Bill certainly is to satisfy the customers, and not to look after the people who run the taxis. Provided that all the safeguards are there to make sure that the taxis are of the right sort and get approval because the company will be run well, the taxis serviced properly and all that, it must be in the interests of the customer. I do not see why the subsection is necessary, and I take issue with my noble friend Lord Renton that the clause itself should be swept away. The point of the clause is to provide the opportunity for the right number of taxis to be available to satisfy the market. That seems wholly sensible.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
It is always a delicate matter to enter into the question of the taxi fleet. One is bound to stand on someone's toes. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, says, the clause does not apply to Scotland, but Scotland is given as an illustration in the Notes on Clauses. I am not sure whether we got it right in the Scottish civic government legislation in 1982, but I do not have the same experience as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy—that there is no sale of plates in Glasgow and Edinburgh. There is still a considerable sale, perhaps not at £23,000, but certainly at a fair figure.
We are in a dilemma. It is quite wrong that a plate should be given a value. In any case, it always has been illegal to sell them, but the practice has grown up over 30 or 40 years. In good faith people expected it to continue. It was a man's insurance for his widow if anything happened to him; and it went on until recently. Indeed, as far as I know, it is still going on. In Glasgow and Edinburgh most people, including the police, were certainly aware of it.
As a result of the civic government legislation, and perhaps because the districts are too small apart from the main conurbations, taxis from the districts all round Glasgow and Edinburgh spend a great deal of their time running empty. They can go into another district—normally the main conurbation or to the airport—but have to run back empty. Ultimately that means that it will be that much more difficult to make a living, and that could cause a reduction in the standard of the vehicles. That is my main worry and the reason why I should like us to take more time over this. The civic government legislation is relatively recent and the standard of most of the vehicles is still fairly good, but those taxis do not have the same standard of convenience as the black cabs.
That leads to the point that if we allow only the ordinary saloon car with the light on top to be used as a taxi, there will be fewer of the black cabs, which are much more expensive but much safer. Also we are hoping to get new cabs which will be even better and will be able to carry disabled people. All this will go if we do not take a very close look at this matter and if we allow far too many taxis on the road.
I am sure the noble Baroness must have been to Glasgow Airport, where every day there are enormous numbers of taxis lined up to take people into Glasgow. As I say, they return empty. If they take passengers outside the boundary of Paisley, they also return empty. This is bound to lead to a deterioration of standards because even with the best will in the world, it must be very difficult to make a living.
I do not see an easy solution to this problem. There must be some control over the numbers in order to keep up standards. However, at the same time I know that too much control can lead to difficulties such as we have had with selling plates. Therefore I hope that we can have a long discussion on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. What is really required is a general discussion on taxis. I have no easy solution and I should be very surprised if the Minister or anybody else has.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)
Perhaps at the outset I may say that I believe that this amendment would 625 weaken the provisions contained in Clause 16 to the point where the clause would have little, if any, effect. This would leave practically unchanged a most unsatisfactory aspect of taxi licensing in England and Wales. Perhaps I may first set out the purpose of the first part of Clause 16; that is, subsections (1), (2) and (3).
We believe that by using taxis to operate shared services as provided for in Clauses 10 to 12, which we have already considered, to fill the very real gap in passenger services that exists between the traditional exclusive taxi journey and the conventional bus service, demand for taxis will increase. However, the present licensing system in England (outside London) and in Wales—and I can confirm that this clause applies neither to London nor to Scotland—can severely restrict access to the taxi trade. Under the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847 district councils may set an arbitrary limit on the number of licences they issue. This leads to considerable variation between one area and another and means that licences attain a value of their own and change hands at substantial prices.
The licensing system is designed to protect the public, not to protect existing licence holders from competition from others qualified to enter the trade or to create a trade in licences. The Government can see little justification for continuing a system whereby entry to the trade is being determined by the time when a licence might come on to the market, the number of people selling a licence at that time, and the price that the new entrant is prepared to pay.
Our first inclination was to do away entirely with this restrictive control, but in view of the possibility that local circumstances may justify some continuing limitation or a gradual rather than a sudden increase, we have adopted a more cautious line. As provided for in this clause local authorities will retain the power to limit the number of taxi licences which they issue. That is a very important point. However, this may be done only if granting more licences would have an adverse affect upon the availability or cost of taxi services. Furthermore, an individual who is refused a licence on those grounds will have a right to appeal to the courts. In this way the decision will be retained at a local level, but the criteria to be applied will be laid down in statute.
The taxi trade fear that the market will be flooded by an influx of operators running low standard vehicles, to the extent that they can no longer make a living. But there is to be no lowering of quality standards. New entrants to the trade will be required to meet exactly the same standards as current licence holders.
As to the market argument, it has been established that in areas where the numbers of taxi licences are limited private hire car numbers (which are not controlled) increase to take up the remaining market for exclusive hire. But where taxi licences are not subject to limitation private hire numbers are comparatively low. Thus, market forces already operate in this trade, albeit in a distorted form, and I cannot see that relaxation of taxi quantity controls will result in a flood of additional vehicles. The new entrants are, I believe, likely to be existing taxi drivers, who have until now been prevented from owning their 626 own vehicles, and hire car operators willing to accept the more stringent taxi controls in return for the right to ply for hire. This will not increase the number of vehicles on the street at any one time, but it may result in a greater proportion of them being licensed as hackney carriages.
Turning to the question of plate values, in so tar as such values are associated with the goodwill value of a business arising from a body of regular customers and contracts, they will not be affected by this clause. However, in areas where these represent a scarcity value it may be accepted that they will be reduced by the issue of any further licences. But those who have bought licences under such circumstances have enjoyed the higher earnings, the expectation of which created these values in the first place. Moreover, they have taken a commercial risk in that the local authority could, at any time, issue more licences, and some have done so. But noble Lords will see from the provisions contained in this clause that we are not indifferent to the interests of the individuals concerned, and I submit that requiring district councils to be satisfied about the issue of further licences will result in a far more even provision of vehicles with far greater respect of market forces.
To negate this requirement, which would be the effect of this amendment, would preserve the present unsatisfactory situation, and I hope that the noble Earl will see fit not to press it.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
Before my noble friend sits down, may I ask him why in the London metropolitan area taxis are not affected by this Bill, as far as I am aware?
§ Lord Trefgarne
My noble friend is quite right; London taxis are not affected by this Bill. They are governed by different legislation which this Bill does not seek to address.
§ Lord Shepherd
But why not? If the noble Lord has made the case for England and Wales and benefits are to accrue, why cannot benefits accrue to London, even though the legislation is different?
§ Lord Trefgarne
As the noble Lord will be aware, the controls applied in London are quite different. There is in effect no numerical control on taxi licences in London. As the noble Lord is also aware, because I have referred to this at an earlier stage of the Bill, we are conducting a major review of taxi legislation, which is something rather different, and we expect to come forward with changes in due course.
§ The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham
I am most grateful to various noble Lords for their comments, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, when he said that every taxi driver is against deregulation. I am convinced that this is in fact true. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for the point that he made. He brought to the attention of the Committee the situation in Liverpool, where the local council in effect deregulated, thereby permitting the number of taxis to jump from 300 to round about 1,500 now, I think he said. This has resulted in a certain amount of, I suppose, physical chaos in Liverpool, as well as 627 personal inconvenience, in that there are not enough ranks to cope with these taxis suddenly available on the streets of Liverpool.
I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, who professed not to understand the whole clause. I must say I rather share that view. I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister, Lord Trefgarne. On Wednesday of last week, 10th July, in Hansard, at col. 296, the noble Lord said: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".Is the noble Lord able to confirm that a full review will take place? Is he able to confirm that possibly a Bill will result from that consultation and review? If that is so, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I hasten to confirm what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, a moment ago. We propose to undertake a major review of taxi and hire-car legislation. I imagine that this will lead to legislation. But, naturally, that will depend, in the end, on the outcome of the review that we undertake. The noble Lord also referred to the position in Liverpool. I am not sure that I agree that chaos and disorder have resulted from the changes that took place there. While there have certainly been a significant number of taxis licensed in Liverpool, this, we believe, has been largely at the expense of hire-cars whose numbers have significantly reduced at the same time. We believe that this shows how market forces are already working in the right direction.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 16 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Renton
I rise formally to oppose the Motion that the clause stand part, but I hasten to assure your Lordships that this is a peg on which to hang what I think both sides of the Committee agree is a necessary discussion of a very confusing clause. At this stage, subject to the replies that are given, I do not propose to divide the Committee. There is a further reason for our discussing the clause which has not so far been mentioned. It is that in another place the matter was briefly discussed in Standing Committee when I think it was Clause 14. At that time, the Secretary of State said that he would like to consider the matter further and come back to it at Report stage. Alas, at Report stage, although my honourable friend Mr. Colin Shepherd, the Member for Hereford, did table some amendments, he could not move them because the clause was guillotined at Report stage. So, in effect, your Lordships have a responsibility that does not always arise here.
I suggest to your Lordships that this clause is confusing in its intention. The difference between the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and myself is some evidence of that. I wish to assure the noble Lord that in spite of 628 what is said in the explanatory note, this clause does purport to reintroduce regulation but it does so in a somewhat oblique manner and by the use of a double negative. That is, of course, unsatisfactory in itself.
But, quite apart from the substance of the matter, with which I shall have to deal a little more, the drafting of the whole of the clause is really a notorious example in all four of its subsections of unnecessary legislation by reference and done only partly by textual amendment. For that reason alone I hope that the Government will wish to take it back. I could not think better of them if they failed to do so.
I should like to remind your Lordships of the position that we are reaching. The present system, to be replaced by another control, is based on Section 37 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 passed nearly 60 years before the first motor vehicles were allowed on our roads preceded by a red flag. Since then, that section of the Act of 1847 has been amended by the Public Health Act 1875 and by the Local Government Act 1972. The Government are proposing to amend that ancient Act still further in this clause.
The district councils now have a discretion to license as many taxis "as they think fit"—those are the statutory words—so long as certain conditions are met. But, as I ventured to point out when we were discussing the noble Earl's amendment, the system has been administered unevenly and not fully to the satisfaction of taxi owners or the public. This is especially so in rural places where taxi owners have drawn my attention to the unsatisfactory situation and also to their fears about the effect of Clause 16 so far as they can fathom the meaning of the clause.
The clause as drafted will require district councils to decide several difficult questions. I do not wish to overstate them by saying that they are quite incomprehensible, but the clause does take a bit of understanding. Section 37 of the 1847 Act is to be amended so that the district council cannot refuse a licence for the purpose of limiting the number of hackney carriages unless, or, if your Lordships prefer it, the expression "if…not", they are satisfied that the grant of a licence would have an adverse affect on the general availability to the public of services of hackney carriages within a distance, not mentioned in the Bill but a distance that will at some future date have to be prescribed by regulations made under Clause 117 of the Bill. The question arises of how they are to satisfy themselves about the effect on general availability to the public of the services. On whom will the burden of proof lie? What evidence will be required? Will the applicants or anyone opposing them be entitled to cross-examine that evidence? These are the practical factors on which we are entitled to answers and which we should bear in mind.
The next question that arises is perhaps a little more difficult. What effect would the grant of a licence have on the cost of providing those services? As mentioned on the previous amendment, one wonders whether that means the cost to the operator only, including his cost of applying for the service. Does it mean the effect on the costs of all operators within the area prescribed? Or does it include the cost to the public of the taxi fares and the effect of the grant of the licence, therefore, upon the fares charged? We are entitled to be told what all that means. Again, what evidence will be required 629 to enable district councillors, most of whom will be laymen and not accountants, to decide this question of the effect on cost?
The last thing that I would wish, as a supporter of the Government broadly in favour of the Bill, is to be merely negative. I suggest that my noble friends take away this unsatisfactory clause and consider a better way of trying to achieve their purpose. The noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, did a great service in putting forward a possible formula, if he will forgive my using that expression. It is very sensible that the local authorities should be,satisfied that there is already a sufficient number of hackney carriages to satisfy the needs of their area"—the needs of the taxi-using public in the area.
That is one suggestion. A less good one, I must confess, that I thought of putting before your Lordships and derived from previous experience of this branch of the law, comes in Section 135 of the Road Traffic Act 1960 which was of course to a considerable extent a re-enactment of the original Act of 1930 dealing with the licensing of buses. Any noble Lord is entitled to say, "Yes, but different considerations apply as between taxis, even with the extended coverage of vehicles carrying eight persons or less, compared with the road service licences granted for buses".
But there is one factor in common and it is as follows. Section 135(2)(b) refers to:the extent, if any, to which the needs of the proposed routes or any of them are already adequately served".For "route" read "area". Paragraph (c) reads:the extent to which the proposed service is necessary or desirable in the public interest".Therefore, if the Government were not attracted by the excellent simplicity of the noble Earl's amendment they might care to refer back to Section 135 of the 1960 Act.
I do not think that I need take up time, except merely to invite noble Lords' attention to the terms of subsections (3) and (4), which contain forbidding examples of legislation by reference. I suggest that, rather than have this clause with its four subsections as it is, it would be far better not to introduce this new system (and it is a new system) merely by tinkering about with the existing law, but to repeal the provisions of the existing law, which have become obsolete, and to re-enact them afresh in simple terms which we can all understand.
§ Lord Denning
When we discussed the earlier amendment in the name of the noble Earl, I asked: what is the effect of this amendment? As we listened to the reply on behalf of the Government I asked: what is the effect of this clause? This clause is virtually unintelligible to any ordinary member of the public. It is our duty to consider it and to understand it, and if any noble Lords read that clause, I am sure that they will not understand one word of it unless they, first, find somewhere the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, which was passed in the days of hackney carriages and horses and carts, long before we had any motor-cars at all.
In my home I have the best law library of any individual in the country. I am not speaking about the 630 colleges and universities. In my library I do not have that Act. I have all the Acts from 1863, but I do not have the 1847 Act. When I come here I have to look in the Library and try to find it. When I have found it, just to take Section 37, I have to go all through that section and I have to strike out certain words: "such number of", or "as they think fit". I have to cross out those first. Then I have to say that:The grant of a licence… shall not be refused… unlessthis, that and the other. When I get to subsection (3), it must be construed "for all purposes", as it would be in any other enactment. It does not tell me what are the other enactments, and it also says:the provisions made by or under any enactments which apply to motor vehicles".In other words, there are dozens of other enactments.
After legislation such as this is passed the law publishers have to go through all the machinery which I have just described; and they make a fortune doing it. They have to take the original section, insert the amendments and look at all possible other enactments; and they have to put in footnotes. Eventually only in the publishers' edition of the Statutes of England can you find it. You will not find it in the Stationery Office edition. A whole corps of trained lawyers is needed in the publishers' office to try to make this intelligible.
In spite of that it will not be intelligible to any ordinary layman, to the judges or, if I may say so, to the lawyers. It will be as obscure as those Rent Acts. The great judge, Lord Justice Scrutton, said, when he found it so obscure, that he wished he could order the costs to be paid by the draftsmen and by the Members of Parliament who were responsible for passing those Acts.
I make this protest seriously. As noble Lords know, my noble friend Lord Renton prepared an excellent Command Paper on the preparation of legislation, which dealt with how it has been ignored and how it should be obeyed. The Government should take this clause away. I do not say that the objectives are quite good because I do not yet understand them. I should like to see a new clause placed before your Lordships which is applicable to the modern day, not to 1847. I should like to see the problems of today put forward in simple language so that your Lordships can properly debate the clause and can properly understand its effect, and so that ordinary people can understand it. I do not ask the Committee to reject this clause altogether, but I ask the Committee to take it away and make a better job of it.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
There is probably not much that ought to be said after those remarks from the noble and learned Lord, but I should like to take the opportunity to remind your Lordships of the Renton Report of some years ago which castigated those who were responsible for incomprehensible law. Since that time the legislative habits of Ministers and others have not changed much and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has said—and it does not need me to repeat his words—this clause is a masterpiece of obscurity.
631 However, I am of a very charitable disposition and I think it would be a pity if, without searching for a copy of the Bill, readers of Hansard were to be denied the privilege of easily digesting subsection (3). Therefore, I propose to read it:(3) Without prejudice to section 20(2) of the Interpretation Act 1978 (references to an enactment to include references to that enactment as extended or applied by or under any other enactment), the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 is amended by subsection (1) above for all purposes for which it applies (and accordingly, as it has effect as incorporated, extended or applied by or under any other enactment).At that moment the brackets are closed and there is mercifully a fullstop.
I really believe that there ought to be some suitable prize inaugurated for presentation to those who are judged to have been responsible in any capacity for something so opaque as that. I can only say that I have had many opportunities of being deeply impressed by the sagacity of my noble friend who is to answer this short debate, and I cannot believe that he would be so swept away by any emotion which would be sufficient to over-rule that sagacity as to allow him to defend this awful claptrap.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My noble friend has said that he is offering a prize. Perhaps it will be appropriate if I rise to claim that prize in the hope that I shall be able to assist your Lordships' Committee to some extent. The words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, are of course always listened to with the closest attention in your Lordships' Committee. However, I think that the purport of what the noble and learned Lord said this afternoon was broadly to the effect that, unless all the statutes referred to in legislation before your Lordships were contained in the noble and learned Lord's library, they were not appropriate for inclusion in such legislation.
Of course I admit that the 1847 Act referred to in this legislation is an Act 140 or so years old and doubtless needs some overhaul. Indeed, at an earlier stage during the passage of this Bill, and again quite recently, I said that the Government had it in mind to look at the taxi and hire-car legislation very carefully, and I fancy that the 1847 Act is one of those that will come under that scrutiny.
However, the purport of this Bill is not fundamentally to affect the taxi and hire-car legislation. In essence it is to deal with the buses legislation. What we are doing in a large number of areas is to allow a much more ready access to what in the past has been regarded as bus traffic by vehicles which are not buses but which we nowadays regard as either hire-cars or taxis.
We have not, however, allowed a total, unfettered access to this new market. Hire-cars in particular are almost totally free of control at the present time. What we have said is that taxis, which are subject to a considerable measure of control, ought to be allowed into the so-called bus trade, and essentially that is what we are providing for in this clause and in the other parts of the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Renton is a renowned expert in the drafting of legislation and in the work of the draftsmen. When he comes to your Lordships' House 632 complaining about the wording of particular clauses it behoves Ministers at the Government Dispatch Box to listen carefully to his words. I am convinced that the purport of the clause we have before us is what we intend it to be and that it will have the desired effect.
My noble friend Lord Peyton referred to some of the more obscure terms which appear, particularly in subsection (3) of the clause. I would not want to pretend that we have necessarily got it right and perfect. I would not want to pretend that everything that we bring before your Lordships is correct to the nearest dot or to the crossing of every t. Perhaps I may give my noble friend Lord Renton this assurance. If he will agree that this clause should now stand part of the Bill, I shall certainly be willing to have discussions with my noble friend between now and the next stage of the Bill to see whether there are any detailed improvements to the drafting that we can agree between us and to bring them forward at the next stage.
§ Lord Shepherd
The noble Lord referred in an earlier exchange to the Government giving, I think, urgent consideration to all the legislation concerning taxis and hire-cars. According to my memory successive Governments have said exactly the same thing. All of them have baulked at the enormity—I think that is the best word—of the problem of redrafting legislation for the present day.
While I would not in any way challenge what the noble Lord has said—that the Government are seriously concerned about existing legislation and should like to see change—I have to be honest with your Lordships' Committee and say, looking around, that I do not suppose that many of us will see it. Successive Governments have baulked at it, and I think that future Governments will equally find that it is in such a mire that it is beyond the use of valuable time within a department and also perhaps in Parliament.
The noble Lord asked his noble friend Lord Renton whether he would consider withdrawing his opposition to the clause. That is a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I suppose for your Lordships' Committee, too. God forbid that as a busman I should speak out in any way in support of the taxi industry, but the taxi industry—if it is an industry—provides an important social amenity not only in London but also throughout urban and even rural areas. I understand what the Government have in mind. It is, quite logically, an extension of freedom for taxi operators to meet what some have called the hole that will be created within the present rural scene when deregulation of buses takes place.
I would not disagree with the Government that taxis have a part to play, and certainly within the intentions of this clause the Government wish so to provide. But in your Lordships' House recently strange attitudes have been taken to amendments moved, or Motions put, and withdrawn. My noble friend had an unfortunate experience only the other evening when he sought to withdraw an amendment and noble Lords opposite refused him the right to withdraw it because they thought that he intended to buy time and bring it back on Report. I have no idea what my noble friend had in mind.
633 On the other hand, Ministers—just as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said only just now—give an undertaking to consider a matter and to come back. We have to accept that, in the same way that we have accepted it for many years, as a genuine statement by the Minister. It is the same when a Minister says, "I will undertake to do this", as when my noble friends on this side of the Committee, or indeed noble Lords on the other side, say that they wish to withdraw an amendment for further consideration in the light of what the Minister has said, and we have to take it on face value.
My anxiety is that if the noble Lord, Lord Renton, declines to press his opposition to the clause standing part—we shall talk about the merits of that in a moment—and if his discussions, or the discussions that he may have with other Members of your Lordships' House, do not provide the right solution to meet the situation does that mean that he is precluded from making the same move on Report or at Third Reading, whichever is most appropriate? This is important.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I believe that I can help the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in this matter. The position now is—and as always I speak subject to correction in these rather detailed matters—that the Lord Chairman will put the Question that this clause shall stand part of the Bill, and it is open to my noble friend Lord Renton to oppose that Motion if he thinks fit or not, as the case may be. Nothing that he may do, or not do, today would prevent him from tabling a Motion, as he would have to do at Report stage, to leave out this clause if it is in the Bill at that time.
§ Lord Shepherd
The noble Lord has only reminded me of the position that I knew of when in a different situation sitting on the Bench opposite. But there has been a change in your Lordships' House, in that things done in Committee which have been resolved or withdrawn should not automatically be understood to be able to be moved at a later stage of the Bill. I think that is correct. That is one issue; though my memory goes back to some other debates we have had.
Your Lordships are being invited by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to vote this clause into the Bill as it now stands, with all the destructive criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and others. Would it not be helpful to the Committee for the noble Lord, Lord Trefgame—and we are not arguing as to the principle of what the Government have in mind; we are concerned about the drafting—to take this clause away? Then the Government could bring it forward in due course, because in the light of all our discussions it is clear that the clause as drafted is not acceptable. It would therefore be helpful if the noble Lord would meet the genuine concern that has been expressed in all quarters and not insist on this clause standing part of the Bill but come back with it—and even in its present form if it cannot be done in any other way. I suspect that in the light of what the two noble and learned Lords have said, this action would be for the benefit of the Bill and for those who have to operate the Bill: the taxi drivers, the taxi owners and the 634 authorities. It would be serving them well if this clause could be redrafted so that everyone knew exactly what it meant.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
Whichever course is taken, there will be ministerial consideration of this clause. I should like to draw attention to two points on subsection (3) about which the noble Lord. Lord Peyton, was so entertaining. The first is that Clause 16(1) amends the 1847 Act. Subsection (3) says in line 3 that that amendment shall operate:for all purposes for which it applies".Perhaps in due course it will be considered whether those words are necessary. At the moment I cannot see why the amendment should not operate for all purposes for which it applies. There are the last words in brackets in lines 5 to 7 and again I cannot see why those are necessary in view of Section 20(2) of the Interpretation Act. I merely raise that point because one way or the other it is clear that this clause will be reconsidered.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I am bound to say that I should prefer that this clause remained in the Bill. The points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, are something that I should like to consider. I have given my noble friend Lord Renton a very clear assurance, which I am happy to repeat, that I shall consider in detail the points he raised and discuss them with him to see whether there are any detailed amendments we can agree between us that should be made to this clause. I remain of the view that the purpose of the clause is clear and highly desirable, and it is for that reason that I invite your Lordships to agree that it should remain part of the Bill.
§ Lord Renton
I should like to say how grateful I am to all those noble Lords who spoke after I did in this really valuable discussion. I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne for saying that he will take this clause away, discuss it with his colleagues and that we can perhaps look forward—I trust that we can look forward; there will be a row if we cannot—to something more sensible when we come to Report stage.
Perhaps I may briefly help by recapitulating because it follows upon the discussions we have had. First the matter must be completely redrafted. Secondly, it must be redrafted by repeal and fresh drafting and not by legislation by reference. Lastly, and by no means least, I hope that the Government will consider the desirability—I shall explain the reason for "desirability" in a moment—when they are having this rewritten of rewriting it in a way which gives assurance and satisfaction to the taxi drivers, to district councillors and to the public. The clause fails to give satisfaction to any of those three groups at the moment.
I remind the Government that the new position to be occupied by the taxi drivers, especially in rural communities, is vital to the whole scheme of the Bill. If they do not get the position right with regard to the taxi drivers they will have a serious defect in the outcome of their legislation. Therefore they might as well put forward a scheme that will allay the fears of 635 the taxi drivers, which will encourage them to apply for licences and will encourage them also in the belief that there will not be a flooding of their market. Nobody can be expected, even in the free society in which I very strongly believe as a bit of a Right-winger, to operate in a society in which there is a kind of situation condemned by the chief constable of Liverpool.
It is not merely drafting that I hope my noble friend is taking away, but I trust that he will be taking a fresh look at the way in which the policy is contrived.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Before my noble friend withdraws his opposition to the clause standing part of the Bill, perhaps I may say that surely nobody has understood this clause. I bet that if I took my noble friend Lord Trefgarne into the bar and asked: "Please take me gently through this clause" he could not do so. He has been given a perfectly sound brief saying that he can, and we all have to believe it. But it is pure and utter gobbledegook. If it is such gobbledegook as this would it not be so much better for him to say "Yes, it is gobbledegook. We made a botch up. We have to come back anyway. Let us take it away, sit down and rewrite it."? That would make so much more sense than pretending that one can amend gobbledegook into less gobbledegook. I honestly and genuinely do not believe it. I may now be forced to buy the 1847 Carriage Act for bedside light reading because this clause is such rubbish. Surely it would be better to take the clause away, accept the noble Lord's opposition to it and rewrite it. Then we can all go away happy.
§ Lord Renton
I am not pressing your Lordships to say that the clause shall not stand part of the Bill. That is not our custom when assurances such as this have been given. It gives rise to a lot of administrative trouble in renumbering all the later clauses, so I should not wish to be associated with that suggestion.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I am grateful to my noble friend for those last remarks. I want to say again that what we are seeking to do here is to ensure that the bus trade—if I may call it that—is more freely available to a large number of vehicles than it is at present. The total deregulation of the taxi trade is not what we are about in this clause or in this Bill. I should not wish to bring forward a proposal of that kind. If there are some corrections, amendments or improvements that we can make to the drafting of this clause, I shall be happy to discuss those with my noble friend Lord Renton. We have some time between this and the next stage. There will be ample opportunity for my noble friend and I and our advisers to get together. I am happy to give the assurance that we shall do so.
§ Clause 16 agreed to.
§ Clause 17 [London taxi and taxi driver licensing: appeals]:
Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 141A:
Page 18, line 29, leave out ("resides") and insert ("is licensed").
The noble Lord said: We have just spent one-and-a-half hours on two amendments and I hope that we need spend only about two minutes on Amendments
No. 141A and 141B—since it might be convenient to your Lordships' Committee to take them together.
Amendment No. 141B: Page 18, line 39, leave out ("resides") and insert ("is licensed").
§ This covers the protection of individual operators against the arbitrary action of bodies which determine drivers' terms and conditions of employment, and is therefore to be welcomed. However, there is the curious anomaly that the magistrates' court to which under Clause 17(2)(b) an appeal may be made has to be in the area in which a person resides. That seems a little odd. If, for instance, you are a publican and you are taken to court or wish to go to court, you go to court in the area in which the licence has been issued and not that in which you reside. It is true that many taxi drivers—this refers to the metropolitan area—who operate under licences in the metropolitan area live outside the Greater London area. The subsection means that their representatives, the police and other authorities will have to travel outside the London area to areas where the drivers reside. It seems to me extremely curious. Would it not be better to have the magistrates' court in the area in which the person is licensed to operate? I beg to move.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I am bound to say that I had some difficulty in understanding precisely what the noble Lord had in mind regarding this amendment. These drivers and their vehicles are licensed to ply for hire throughout London, which of course covers many petty sessions areas. On the basis that the driver intends to refer to the petty sessions area in which the licence is issued and that happens to be the area in which the Public Carrige Office is located, we have no objection in principle to the proposed change, though that would have to be made clear in the drafting. In addition, I would certainly wish to consult those with responsibility for the magistrates' courts. If in the light of that forthcoming response, the noble Lord would care to withdraw the amendment, I should be happy to discuss the detail with him and perhaps come forward with something more appropriate at the next stage.
§ Lord Tordoff
I am most grateful to the noble Lord and in view of what he has said I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 141B not moved.]
The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 141:
Page 19, line 3, at end insert (", but without prejudice to the exercise in the meantime of any power of the licensing authority to revoke the existing licence.").
§ The noble Earl said: This is a technical amendment. As currently drafted, this clause would render a licence that has been extended pending the disposal of an application for renewal or pending an appeal made under this clause immune from disciplinary action by the Assistant Commissioner. This is obviously an undesirable feature, which this amendment rectifies. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.637
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 142:
§ After Clause 17, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Use etc. of private hire cars in London for carrying passengers at separate fares.
§ . Private hire cars operating in London will be permitted to carry passengers at separate fares provided their vehicle taxation class is Hackney, and that a plate is affixed to the vehicle in accordance with Customs and Excise Act 1971.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move this amendment in the place of my noble friend Lord Bethell, who is away on his European duties and unable to be with us today. This amendment was expected to have been moved by Mr. Michael Portillo in another place, but it was not reached owing to an unfortunate occurrence in Standing Committee. Also, I am happy to say that the honourable gentleman has kindly passed his notes on to me and they will be much more effective than any notes I would have been able to produce myself.
§ We are blessed in London with a highly effective and professional taxi service, properly known as hackney carriages but more commonly known as black cabs, though some of them now come in either ginger or puce. We are also blessed with a dynamic private car hire sector. The two co-exist. The private hire-cars came into existence to fill the gap in the market. They are distinct. The taxi drivers undergo rigorous training to acquire their knowledge and are subject to strict standards for both themselves and their vehicles, even including the cleanliness of their cabs. Hire-cars have no such standards, but an essential difference is that they cannot ply for hire on the streets. There is no intention to change that. There will still be strict differentiation between them. Nevertheless they compete fiercely on telephone bookings.
§ The present situation provides equilibrium and symmetry; but this Bill rather disturbs the balance. First, it allows London taxis to carry passengers at separate fares. For example, taxis could come down to a place on the outskirts of London, such as Southgate, and carry them at separate fares. Another example I have been given concerns cabs in Watford which could advertise in a newspaper to carry people to London Airport. I am quite sure that many examples of this kind could be found all round the perimeter of London. Under Clause 10 people could be picked up from their homes—Hadley Wood is another example I have been given—and transported to Heathrow.
§ Under this Bill private hire-car operators in London cannot carry passengers at separate fares because they are not licensed. This new clause addresses that point. It provides that they should be licensed and thus automatically benefit from the Bill. I am told that my noble friend might be liable to argue that it is too complicated to bring private hire into licensing; but that cannot be a good reason when this Bill sets up a new, unfair position.
§ In wrestling with that problem I considered an amendment excluding London, but that would not solve the problems of taxis from outside and the licensing of mini-bus operations running unscheduled services bookable by telephone, like Vulcan Crown. Therefore, I propose a form of licensing to bring them into the Bill. The only instrument to hand is the hackney plate, which of course is quite distinct from that borne by black cabs on hackney carriages, which 638 is available today. At present those who have a hackney plate are exempted, in common with taxi drivers, from wearing seat belts.
I should make it clear that there is no intention to restrict current holders of hackney plates. The intention is to make it possible for any private hire operator to come in with a licensing system and so be able to compete fairly. Your Lordships may argue that it would be quite wrong to provide hire-cars with this badge of respectability unless we are also willing to introduce a measure of regulation. That I would agree to; and that is the purpose of my other new clause which I shall now explain and which is covered by Amendment No. 143.
Amendment No. 143: After Clause 17, insert the following new clause—
§ ("Control of private hire cars in London
§ .—(1) The Secretary of State may by order introduce regulations to control the operation of private hire cars in London in line with the existing regulations applying to the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ (2) London means the Metropolitan and City of London police areas.").
§ The aim of this new clause is to put hire-cars and taxis on an equal footing. This brings up the question of how hire-cars could be licensed. This new clause provides that the Secretary of State may make regulations governing hire-cars. It does not attempt to put those regulations into primary legislation. It could be argued that it is not satisfactory to put such detailed regulations into an order, but I can see no reason why that should not be done.
§ I gather that some people might be somewhat uneasy about an additional proposed regulation being put into what might be called a liberalising Bill, but certain points have to be addressed here. On the whole, the private hire-car trade is very reputable and it plays a key role in London life, serving not merely the general public but also hospitals, involving the movement of patients, doctors, nursing staff, wheelchair patients and so on. One very good example occurred when the Israeli Ambassador, Mr. Argor, was shot by Arab agents. He was taken to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in Queen Square, WC1. Within minutes, eight private hire-cars sent by the firm which serves that hospital were rushing in eight different directions to collect from their homes surgeons, nursing staff, supplies of blood plasma from the blood bank, and so on. All these arrived at the hospital in record time. Hire-cars are also engaged by the prison services, social services and ambulance services.
§ Equally there is an unpleasant tail end to this trade. A hire-car trade is an ideal place for criminals to hide out and to operate. It is ideal for organised crime, vice, drug trafficking and even terrorism. All these activities may now be going on within the trade.
§ More prosaically, passengers who book a hire-car run two risks, first, with poorly maintained vehicles, and, secondly, with drivers who may have a criminal record; and I am told that some lady passengers may feel ill at ease or possibly at danger. This makes a case for regulation. That is the wish of the Private Hire Car Association, which has campaigned for many years on the subject. In particular, I think that one must pay tribute to the honourable Member Sir John Page who 639 has championed the cause of the private hire operators. In view of all these points I commend these two new clauses and amendments to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I shall speak first to Amendment No. 142. It proposes that although not licensed, some of these vehicles should be allowed to carry passengers at separate fares. First I should like to consider whether, in principle, sharing should be extended to these unlicensed vehicles. Since 1930 a fundamental principle of passenger transport has been that only vehicles subject to quality control should be permitted to carry passengers at separate fares, and such vehicles were generally subject to licensing long before that. We would, I believe, need very compelling grounds to breach that principle. In London there may be as many as 30,000 hire-cars—more than double the number of taxis. I think that it is agreed that it would not be right to extend sharing to the whole of the trade.
Instead, my noble friend is proposing that any unlicensed hire-car may be used for sharing provided it is taxed at the hackney rate. Let me explain what this means. The hackney rate of vehicle excise duty is available to any vehicle, be it taxi, bus, or hire car, which is used solely for hire and reward. It is not a quality licensing system. If a vehicle is used privately at any time, it must be taxed at the full rate and indeed some 20 per cent. of the London taxi trade do not take advantage of this reduced rate of taxation (which, incidentally, is £50 instead of £100) because they wish to use their cab as a private vehicle at weekends. The figures held indicate that less than 10 per cent. of London's hire-cars are taxed at this rate. These are no doubt operated by the larger firms.
As I understand it, the thinking behind this new clause is that it is unfair on the hire-car trade for licensed taxis to be able to provide the service while they cannot, and yet its effect would be to give this right to the 10 per cent. of large firms while excluding the remainder. I believe that that would be less than fair, particularly since this special group would not have to meet the licensing standards of the taxi trade with whom they would wish to complete.
If there were substantial scope for such services, these operators could have brought themselves under the PSV licensing system which for these small vehicles is not too onerous. So I would, with respect to my noble friend, suggest that these operators really are not at an unfair disadvantage with respect to their competitors.
Finally, I should like to comment on the suggestion that the hackney licence plate will enable the customer to ensure that he is legitimately being offered a shared service. But, by definition, these vehicles are booked in advance and the prospective traveller will have no way of knowing whether or not he is being offered a legal service.
I therefore believe that the amendment of my noble friend is misguided. It is tabled no doubt with the honourable aim of making competition fairer, but it would I think result in a less fair system. The question of sharing of London's hire-cars should be considered as an aspect of the possible licensing of those vehicles which should form part of the major review of this 640 legislation to which I have already referred. But this brings us to the next new clause, and I would strongly recommend that the Committee does not adopt this partial solution.
Perhaps I may now turn to the specific point to which my noble friend has referred about unfair competition from cross-border hirings. He referred particularly to the problems of Harrow, as it relates to Watford. As the law stands, provided the booking office is in the area where the vehicle is licensed, the hiring is deemed to have been made in that area and the vehicle may be sent to a neighbouring area to pick up a passenger. This applies throughout the country to both taxis and hire-cars. These licensing areas are very small, being confined to the area of a single district council. To limit the area in which passengers may be picked up would severely restrict these operations and could drive out of business firms which are located on the border of their area. It would be equivalent to confining a London hire-car operator to the borough in which his premises are located. I do not think my noble friend would want to see that.
Even if the restriction on hiring in London was limited to shared services, its effect would be to deprive those living in the peripheral area of this type of service. Quite frankly, I cannot see great scope for a hire-car operator based outside London to combine several telephone bookings for journeys from the same place in London to be made at the same time. I do not believe that such hirings would be so numerous as to have any significant effect on London hire-car operators.
However, I am clear that my noble friend has a point, if only a small one. I should like the opportunity to look at that point if I may. But I hope that he will agree that we should not be seeking to provide for this problem a cure which is worse than the disease. In the light of that assurance I hope that my noble friend will not wish to press Amendment No. 142.
I wish to turn specifically to what he has said about Amendment No. 143. I am well aware that the private hire-car trade has for some time been pressing for the licensing of hire cars in London, and they have met Ministers to discuss this question. Let me state at the outset what is the Government's position. We would certainly not rule out the possibility of introducing a proper licensing scheme for London hire-cars. But, if we are to get it right, this question will need to be very carefully considered as part of a much wider review of taxi and hire-car legislation. It should not be done by a four-line amendment to the present Bill.
It is the Government's view that there is only one valid reason for imposing a bureaucratic control on this trade and for committing the resources that would be necessary to maintain and enforce the licensing system—that is, to maintain public safety. If there were substantial evidence that the public is at risk, this would no doubt have been introduced many years ago; but, perhaps surprisingly, there is not. We have asked the Metropolitan Police who, while they may like to see these vehicles controlled, have indicated that for them this does not have high priority. We have received the same answer from the insurance industry. I am not saying that these vehicles should not be licensed but rather that there are no compelling reasons for public safety to license them now.
641 The Private Hire-Car Association, whose members could without doubt readily meet the requirements of a licensing system, would like the introduction of a licensing system to give the trade more respectability and to stamp out the less reputable members. These are quite proper aims of such an association with which I am happy to have some sympathy, but they are not sufficient grounds on which the Government should act and are certainly not enough for us to take what are almost emergency powers.
Having explained why we would not wish to accept this proposal in principle, I am afraid I must also point out that it contains a major defect in detail. The legislation governing hire-cars elsewhere in England and Wales is far from satisfactory. It was introduced by amendment of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 by adoption of many of the provisions of a local Act. It has led to a number of difficulties over the years and is in need of fundamental reconsideration. The present proposal would, I think, impose a similar regime in London—again, by amendment.
Let us not make the same mistake twice. This legislation is in need of review and that will be the right time to consider properly the proposal that London's hire-cars should be licensed. I am afraid, therefore, that I must very firmly resist my noble friend's second amendment.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I have only one question for the Minister before the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, replies. He has on more than one occasion referred to the prospect of comprehensive legislation. I wonder whether he can tell us, first, how long this prospect has been in view; and, secondly, how long it will be before we see some result from it.
§ Baroness Phillips
Before the noble Lord replies, I should like to underline what my noble friend on the Front Bench said, and indeed to give some measure of support to Amendment No. 143. It is a genuine attempt on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, to bring to light something about which many people have been concerned. The Minister said that nobody seems to be very bothered about this subject, and that the police do not seem to have any trouble. I can only say, speaking as a magistrate in central London, that we frequently have people in front of us who are described as taxi-drivers, but then when you ask them about it you find that they are minicab drivers. Perhaps we were just unlucky in getting people who had offended against the law.
It would be very smug to imagine that this is not a trade that is growing up in a totally uncontrolled way. Anybody who goes to a main-line station will see these individuals touting for trade in a very undesirable way, while the licensed cab drivers have to wait in an orderly rank outside the station. I do not quite like the argument advanced by the Minister—it is rather the same as when I talked about licensing the security industry—that up till now we have not had any trouble. Do we have to wait until there is some major difficulty before we have legislation? So I should certainly like to underline the point made by my noble friend on the Front Bench. There is a need for some 642 speed in this matter. May we hope that the Government will introduce legislation in the next Session?
§ Lord Trefgarne
Being just a young fellow, I am afraid that my memory does not go back far enough for me to be able to say how long it is that people have been talking about a need for review of this taxi and hire-car legislation. But I can tell the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that we are now determined to press ahead with this review. I cannot anticipate when, if at all, legislation will flow. I imagine that legislation will flow, but we shall certainly need to have the results of the review, first, and then to decide the way forward following that review. We are determined to get on with this—I can assure your Lordships on that—and I hope that I shall not need to make that point again.
I return, though, to the two amendments which my noble friend has proposed. While I have some sympathy with the narrow difficulty to which he referred about cross-border hirings, if I may so refer to them, particularly with regard to shared cross-border hirings—and I have undertaken to consider that matter with my noble friend—so far as Amendment No. 143 is concerned, the second of the two amendments to which my noble friend spoke, I am afraid that I have to resist that amendment very firmly.
§ The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham
May I make a brief contribution? Perhaps I can supply the noble Lord the Minister with the number of years that this subject has been under discussion by various Governments. I think it is for at least 40 years that it has been promised. It will be very helpful if something is coming. All I should like to say is that London has the best licensed taxi system anywhere in the free world. There was a recent article in Time magazine, written by two experienced, very hard-nosed journalists who conducted a survey into taxis worldwide. In every category, London's cabs came out on top for courtesy and honesty, for knowledge of the city, for cleanliness and availability and, for the most part, for cheapness of fare. This last fact may come as a surprise to noble Lords, but only in Cairo and Rio de Janeiro were fares cheaper. It has taken many years of hard, dedicated work to build up this justly deserved reputation and how we can even consider the possibility of destroying this excellent service totally escapes me.
§ Lord Teviot
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, particularly the noble Earl on the Liberal Benches who paid tribute to the taxi service, especially in London. I am sure everybody will be very pleased to hear those words. As regards what was said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I intended to ask my noble friend that very same question. I do not say that one has had a definite answer. One has been told that it will be sooner rather than later, and quite soon. One was hoping to get something a little more definite, but, alas! one has not. The noble Baroness, with her great experience of the county of London, has also made some excellent points and has said that there is an urgent need for legislation.
Obviously, I shall not press these amendments. My noble friend has been kind enough to say that he will 643 look into the area covered by Amendment No. 142. I am quite sure that these amendments could be defective in some way, but between now and the next stage we can go away and discuss them with him, or with his officials, behind the scenes to try to reach some compromise or wait for him to produce something on Report which is more to his liking. So far as Amendment No. 143 is concerned, again I shall not press it, but will read with great interest the report of everything that has been said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment by leave withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 143 not moved.]
§ Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 143A:
§ After Clause 17, leave out Clause 18 and insert:
§ ("Modification of PSV requirements in relation to vehicles used for certain purposes.
§ 18. Sections 12(1) and 22 of the 1981 Act (licensing of operators and drivers in relation to the use of public service vehicles for the carriage of passengers) shall not apply to the use of any vehicle under an SPV operators' licence granted under section 19 of this Act.").
The noble Lord said: With Amendment No. 143A, I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 145A, 146A to C, 147A to C, 148A to F, 269A, 269C and 270A.
Amendment No. 145A: Leave out Clause 19 and insert:
§ ("Small passenger vehicles.
19.—(1) In this section and sections 20 to 23 of this Act—
small passenger vehicle" means a vehicle, not being a public service vehicle, which is adapted to carry more than eight but not more than sixteen passengers; and
licence" means an SPV operators' licence granted under this section in relation to the use of a small passenger vehicle in respect of which payment is made for, or for matters which include, the carrying of passengers, irrespective of the person to whom the payment is made and, in the case of a transaction effected by or on behalf of a member of any association of persons (whether incorporated or not) on the one hand and the association or another member thereof on the other hand, notwithstanding any rule of law as to such transactions.
§ (2) The requirements that must be met in relation to the use of a small passenger vehicle under a licence for the exemption under section 18 of this Act to apply are that the vehicle—
- (a) except where paragraph (b) below applies, is being used by a body to whom a licence has been granted under this section but is not being used for the carriage of members of the general public nor with a view to profit nor incidentally to any activity which is itself carried on with a view to profit;
- (b) in the case of a vehicle hired from a body concerned with the self-drive hire of small passenger vehicles, is not being used for the carriage of—
- (i) members of the general public; and
- (ii) any person at separate fares or in circumstances where any remuneration, other than payment to the holder of the licence for the hire of the vehicle, is received by the driver, by the person hiring the vehicle or by any other person;
- (c) is being used in every respect in accordance with any conditions attached to the licence; and
- (d) is not being used in contravention of any provision of regulations made under section 21 of this Act.
§ (3) A licence in relation to the use of a small passenger vehicle may be granted by a traffic commissioner to any body appearing to him to be eligible in accordance with subsection (5) below and to be carrying on in his area an activity which makes it so eligible.
§ (4) A traffic commissioner shall not grant a licence in relation to the use of a small passenger vehicle unless satisfied that there will be—
- (a) Adequate facilities or arrangements for maintaining any vehicle used under the licence in a fit and serviceable condition; and
- (b) adequate arrangements for securing compliance with the requirements of the law relating to the driving and operation of any such vehicle.
§ (5) A body is eligible in accordance with this subsection if it is concerned with—
- (a) education;
- (b) religion;
- (c) social welfare;
- (d) other activities of benefit to the community; or
- (e) self-drive hire of small passenger vehicles.
(6) A body may hold more than one licence but may not use more than one small passenger vehicle at any one time under the same licence.").
Amendment No 146A: Leave out Clause 20 and insert
§ 20.—(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, a licence shall specify the body to whom it is granted.
§ (2) A licence may be granted to a named individual on behalf of a body if, having regard to the nature of that body, it appears to the traffic commissioner appropriate to do so.
§ (3) Where a licence is granted to a named individual on behalf of a body, it shall be treated for the purposes of this section and section 19 of this Act as granted to that body.
§ (4) The traffic commissioner may attach to such a licence such conditions as he considers appropriate, including, in particular, conditions—
- (a) limiting the passengers who may be carried in any small passenger vehicle used under the licence to persons falling within such classes as may be specified in the licence; and
- (b) with respect to such other matters as may be prescribed.
§ (5) A licence shall remain in force for 5 years or such shorter period as the traffic commissioner may allow when granting the licence, unless it is revoked under subsection (6) below.
§ (6) The traffic commissioner by whom an SPV operator's licence was granted may at any time revoke the licence on the ground—
- (a) that he is no longer satisfied with respect to the adequacy of facilities or arrangements for maintaining in a fit and serviceable condition any vehicle used under the licence or that there will be adequate arrangements for securing compliance with the requirements of the law relating to the driving and operation of any such vehicle;
- (b) that there has been a contravention of any condition attached to the licence; or
- (c) that a prohibition under section 9 of the 1981 Act (power to prohibit driving of unfit small passenger vehicles) has been imposed with respect to a vehicle used under the licence which has its operating centre in his area.").
Amendment No. 146B: Leave out Clause 21 and insert—
§ 21.—(1) Regulations may prescribe—
- (a) the conditions to be fulfilled by any person driving a small passenger vehicle while it is being used under a licence.
- (b) the conditions as to fitness which are to be fulfilled by any small passenger vehicle used under a licence;
- (c) the form of licences;
- (d) the documents, plates and marks to be carried by any small passenger vehicle while it is being used under licence and the manner and position in which they are to be carried; and
- (e) the fee to be charged by the traffic commissioner for the grant of a licence.
§ (2) Where regulations are made by virtue of subsection (1)(b) above, section 6 of the 1981 Act (certificate of initial fitness for public service vehicles and small passenger vehicles) shall not apply subject to the regulations.
§ (3) Before making regulations containing any provision made by virtue of subsection (1)(b) above, the Secretary of State shall consult with the body most representative of bus operators and such other representative organisations as he thinks fit.
(4) Regulations under this section may contain such transitional provisions as the Secretary of State thinks fit.").
Amendment No. 146C: Clause 22, page 22, line 25, leave out from ("a") to ("; and") in line 26 and insert ("small passenger vehicle").
Amendment No. 147A: Page 22, line 28, leave out ("public service") and insert ("small passenger").
Amendment No. 147B: Page 22, line 41, after ("that") insert ("—(a)").
Amendment No. 147C: Page 22, line 43, at end insert ("; and
(b) adequate arrangements for securing compliance with the requirements of the law relating to the driving and operation of any such vehicle.").
Amendment No. 148A: Clause 23, page 23, line 17, after ("prescribed") insert ("under section 21 of this Act").
Amendment No. 148B; Page 23, line 18, leave out from second ("a") to ("; and") in line 19 and insert ("small passenger vehicle").
Amendment No. 148C: Page 23, line 21, leave out ("such use") and insert ("a small passenger vehicle").
Amendment No. 148D: Page 23, line 41, at end insert ("or that there will be adequate arrangements for securing compliance with the requirements of the law relating to the driving and operation of any such vehicle;").
Amendment No. 148E: Page 24, line 2, leave out ("public service") and insert ("small passenger").
Amendment No. 148F: Page 24, line 7, leave out ("public service") and insert ("small passenger").
Amendment No. 269A:: Schedule 6, page 146, line 7, at end insert—
("(2) In section 95(3) of that Act (drivers subject to control of hours or periods of work), the following paragraph shall be inserted after paragraph (b)—
(c) the drivers of small passenger vehicles used under sections 20 to 23 of the Transport Act 1985.".").
Amendment No. 269C: Page 147, line 40, at end insert—
("(1A) In section 6(1) (requirement of a certificate of initial fitness) after the words "public service vehicle" there shall be inserted "or small passenger vehicle".").
Amendment No. 270A: Page 148, line 4, at end insert—
("(2A) In section 9(1) (power to prohibit driving of unfit vehicles) after the words "public service vehicle", the second and third times they occur, there shall be added "or small passenger vehicle".").
I am afraid that your Lordships will have rather an indigestible diet of my voice, because in speaking to all these amendments I shall have to take considerable time and also, as they are complicated, I must read my speech rather slowly. This is an important series of amendments to all clauses from Clause 18 to Clause 23, with appropriate amendments to Schedule 6. If your Lordships will look at this Bill and the arrangement of clauses you will see that they correspond to the group heading Modification of PSV requirements in relation to vehicles used for certain purposes.
§ The whole aim of this group of amendments is to strengthen the existing legislation with regard to safety for minibuses, which leaves a lot to be desired at the moment. This series of amendments is extremely important and is wholly within the spirit of the Bill. They deal with safety and fair competition, though I believe safety to be the more important consideration. The Committee has heard a great deal about quality and safety, and about the need to ensure that professional operators of public service vehicles should have even higher standards.
§ My noble friend Lord Belstead has already undertaken to give sympathetic consideration to amendments aimed at improving quality control for professional operators, so the basis of these amendments is clearly a sound one. Likewise, the Government have expressed concern that all minibuses should have proper safety standards and that the mishmash of legislation should be brought together, through this Bill, to provide common standards for the great variety of minibuses now authorised. Unfortunately, the Government's proposals fall short of the policy announced. Those who have a direct interest in this matter are concerned 646 that actions already being planned do not meet the needs of the situation.
Let me quote a recent editorial in the journal Community Transport Quarterly, which speaks for responsible users of minibuses. This editorial is not long and is worth quoting verbatim. It is headed "The Austerity Mini-bus" and it says:
Successive governments have failed utterly to take serious steps towards the provision of accessible transport for people with disabilities. Their abysmal record has just been compounded with the publication in January of a draft set of new construction regulations for minibuses by the Department of Transport. We publish them in full in this edition. Almost everyone involved in the building and operation of private, Permit or Community Bus minibuses agrees that the constructions standards should be raised towards PSV levels. The Department wants to lower them. The austerity minibus, alright so long as it's got a wheel at each corner, could soon be rolling off the vehicle manufacturers' assembly lines.
Yes, many coachbuilders, who currently construct welfare conversions and minibuses up to Permit standard, see their livelihood threatened by these proposals. If introduced in their present form, they would enable vehicle manufacturers to churn out ready-to-use Permit minibuses, all at the new (and lower) standard. Some coachbuilders are understandably annoyed at this, having spent considerable time, effort and hard cash developing the quality of their conversion work. Clearly the Department feels that passenger safety and comfort levels are not the government's concern. They are, once again, to be left to market forces. Unfortunately, most disabled passengers have no market power. But all is not gloom. At the same time that the government see fit to propose that quality should not be improved, we are able to announce that one private company in the sector is putting its money where its mouth is. It is supporting some research into how wheelchair restraints and other safety equipment, currently used by London's community transport operators, are faring".
So, it is not the Government who are making progress in this field. I underline the editorial's words:
Almost everyone involved…agrees that construction standards should be raised towards PSV levels. The Department wants to lower them".
These critical views are echoed by the engineers of the bus and coach industry. Now I hope the Committee see the reason why these amendments are so important.
When I talk of safety and mini-buses, I have no doubt that my noble friend when speaking in this debate will rely on the Transport and Road Research Laboratory's Report No. 6, The use of Mini-buses in Great Britain, to reassure the Committee. I am by no means a qualified statistician, but when I read Appendix B of the Report I could hardly believe that the author would dare to draw the conclusions on safety which he expects his readers to accept. He uses phrases such as, "arbitrary assumptions", "some logic behind this assumption", "another source of error arises", "no allowance for such errors has been made". Despite this, his overall conclusion is that travel by mini-bus,
at best could be as safe as travel by bus".
Anyway, he does not talk about the industry I know, and I wonder whether his accuracy compares with certain opinion polls in a recent by-election.
§ 5.15 p.m.
I find nothing in that report to convince me on mini-bus safety. It does not relate to the views on mini-bus users which I have already quoted. If one may make a comparison, I have declared my support for the current legislation controlling hooliganism at sporting events. It is absolutely right and necessary,
though to a degree it flows from an emotional reaction to one horrible tragedy. If that is the case, how can we turn such an unemotional face to carnage which dwarfs football violence? I speak, of course, about carnage on the roads. A recent report by the Policy Studies Institute, sponsored by the Nuffield Foundation and the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, shows that it would be
entirely realistic…to reduce the number of deaths and serious casualties in road accidents by 40 per cent. within eight years".
That would mean a saving, using Government statistics, of more than £1,000 million a year, at current prices, by the end of the period.
§ I believe that these amendments would make an important contribution to road safety from every point of view. Despite this, I expect some Members of this Committee to protest that charitable, educational and social causes, and so on, should not be saddled with such bureaucracy. As I start from a conviction that this is a safety measure, that life and limb are more important than easy options, all I can say to such comments is: nonsense! Either this Committee has imported double standards when debating safety measures for public service vehicles, or it will accept that safety controls are equally necessary for other vehicles which carry substantial numbers of people and operate for reward, even if not for profit. If that is not so, then we should remove unnecessary requirements from public service vehicles and allow them to cut their costs, reduce their fares and carry more passengers—whatever the consequences. That is not the way. So let us be realistic about these mini-buses. Let us concentrate on safety because there is no intention to restrict mini-buses unless they present a safety risk.
§ Let me now explain the substance and the effect of the amendments before the Committee. In the first place, they follow the form of the existing Clauses 18 to 21, while introducing certain amendments, though not as many as might be thought. Clause 18 is related to any small passenger vehicle, which effectively covers both the permit mini-bus and the community bus. So the change is only technical. In Clause 19 the idea that a large bus may be a permit mini-bus is eliminated. It is wrong to pretend that an 80-seater bus could be a permit mini-bus. All large vehicles really must, if operated for hire or reward, be PSVs. Then the road is clear for all 8-to-16 passenger vehicles to be classified as "small passenger vehicles". I should particularly like my noble friend—I am sure he has it in mind—when he replies, to comment on 80-seater mini-buses.
§ Lord Teviot
Perhaps my noble friend will look at Clause 19. A mini-bus permit can be for an 80-seater. I am glad that he is showing surprise because that is something which should be eliminated from the Bill quickly.
I am told it was a mistake to re-name the mini-bus permit as an SPV (small passenger vehicle) licence. Yet, as Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Should the Committee accept 648 the amendments with the word "permit" retained, instead of "licence", I am sure that that can be seen to on Report. Meanwhile, having established the concept of an SPV and an SPV licence, these terms are substituted throughout the amendments.
The next change introduced in my amended clause is to include within its scope the operations of self-drive hire mini-buses because of the commercial nature of this transaction. The licence or permit would be issued to the business which hired out the vehicles and there would be no further problems whatsoever where they were used for private purposes. It is only where a further element of payment for travelling on the vehicle arose that operating conditions would apply. Maintenance would of course be a matter for the licence holder.
I have recently spoken in your Lordships' House about the problems of self-drive hire mini-buses in connection with the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Bill. I should not wish to repeat myself in detail. Nevertheless, it must be recognised that there is a growing practice of hiring mini-buses for travelling to sporting events so as to avoid the necessary discipline imposed on coach travellers. It is essential that there should be some form of control. What is here proposed is not unduly onerous, but it will go a long way to solving problems developing in this market.
The next change in Clause 19 is the elimination of the issue of permits by designated bodies. While there can be no doubt that some of these bodies such as local authorities have acted responsibly, it is equally clear that for certain other designated bodies it has merely been a matter of issuing permits over the counter, on demand. Control and supervision have been totally non-existent; but the object of these proposals relates to safety—to the preservation of life and limb—and cannot be dealt with in such a cavalier fashion.
I hope your Lordships will understand the seriousness of this aspect and the need for responsible control. This control should be at the lowest possible level because it is not intended to place unnecessary burdens on charitable and similar organisations. I am sure we will hear the wisdom of my noble friend later on that point. However, their charitable status must not be an excuse for ignoring fundamental responsibilities. That is the crux of the matter.
The final point I would make in connection with Clause 19 concerns the introduction of drivers' hours regulations. If these are necessary for the driver of a PSV mini-bus, who is the holder of a professional, vocational licence, how can we envisage lower safety standards for drivers of identical vehicles which do not happen to be PSVs?
Moving on to Clause 20, the amendments, with one exception, are consequential to matters which I have already dealt with. The exception is in my subsection (5), which removes the current provision that permits are issued effectively for the life of the vehicle. I propose that the same provision should apply as for a PSV and that the life of a licence should normally be five years.
Clause 21 deals with regulations, and I am suggesting only two amendments in this respect. In the first place, there is provision for an SPV driving 649 licence, and, secondly, for a small fee to cover the cost of administration. I would stress that I have no thought that the driving requirements should be restrictive; merely that where so many lives are in the driver's hands and there is the element of payment for travelling, we should be satisfied that the driver is familiar with the type of vehicle and responsible in his attitude to the lives in his hands.
If I may give one small example, the standard minibus is built on a van chassis and the wheel arches usually protrude two inches outside the main line of the body, up to even five inches. I invite your Lordships to look each time you see a vehicle of this nature and note how often there are signs of damage to those small extensions of the vehicle width. There are differences, there are skills required, and mini-bus accidents can be even more horrific than those to larger vehicles. There can be no doubt that in an accident the passengers in a bus or coach have greater safety than in a mini-bus. Therefore, I believe we should provide for this the safety precaution of a special SPV driving licence, which will set a standard no higher than should reasonably be demanded of the driver.
It is with reluctance that I suggest a fee for the SPV operator's licence, but it is inevitable that there will be some administrative cost and it is necessary that this shall be covered. I greatly hope that the system will be administered with efficiency and economy so that the fee is in no way burdensome.
Turning to community bus permits, I have adopted a different procedure in tabling amendments because these are so few, and merely provide the possibility that a community bus could be operated under an SPV licence rather than the PSV operators' licence required by the professionals.
The Government have made it clear that they wish to have uniform standards for mini-buses and my amendments seek to give effect to that intention, but only after providing adequate standards for this category of small passenger vehicle. There is nothing that is out of line with the previous amendments. What is now proposed is a simplification and a unification of standards, of which I trust your Lordships will approve.
Finally, there are three consequential amendments in Schedule 6. The first, Amendment No. 269A, applies the current British requirements as to drivers' hours. I have already touched on this point. If, which I do not dispute, safety dictates that rest hours limits should be applied to public service vehicles, then in all logic they must apply to small passenger vehicles.
Amendment No. 269C provides for a certificate of initial fitness in respect of small passenger vehicles. It is completely in line with the overall safety proposals which I put before the Committee. Exactly the same can be said in respect of Amendment 270A, which enables PSV examiners to prohibit the driving of unfit vehicles. It would be illogical to omit this sensible requirement from the package now proposed.
I now come towards the end of this lengthy exposition of a new but valuable concept implementing the Government's own proposals for uniform standards for mini-buses, but setting standards which are relevant to the needs of the 650 situation and not merely paying lip service to the concept, or rather, putting up a smokescreen around the intention of allowing additional vehicles to compete in the bus market.
Indeed, I must mention in passing that many of the Government's proposals seem to be directed towards filling the gaps in the bus network which will be created under their legislation, by introducing alternative services at altogether lower standards. While the Government repeatedly talk about fair competition, they seem intent on allowing para-transit vehicles to compete unfairly with professional operators.
If lower standards are good enough for these stop gap services, then surely they must be good enough too for the bus operators. That is the only logical conclusion one can draw. If follows that if professional bus operators had lower standards they could themselves provide services at lower cost and probably do it much better than the amateurs. We cannot have it both ways.
Your Lordships should not be misled. I have spoken of adequate safety standards; I believe in adequate standards, and I only develop this logical argument to show that, if there is need for uniform safety provisions, these must be at an adequate level and must not be debased. That is the whole reasoning behind the amendments I have brought before this Committee. We are dealing in a valuable commodity. We are concerned with people's lives. Let us, please, accept practical measures to protect the travelling public.
There is no intention whatsoever to restrict the use of mini-buses, provided that such use is based on realistic safety standards in a clear legal framework. That is necessary. Let us accept, at least, the principle of these amendments. I beg to move.
§ Lord Tordoff
In spite of some good natured if silent heckling from the Government Front Bench, I congratulate the noble Lord on presenting these amendments in the way that he has done, because I believe they are important. I put my name to these amendments because I was made aware of some of the problems of mini-buses from reading my local newspaper recently, when the West Somerset coroner was moved to remark about the standards of mini-bus drivers serving communities. There have been a very significant number of serious accidents involving children, people from church groups and so on, in recent months and years. The time has come to tighten up the standards for the drivers of such vehicles.
This is a very difficult balancing act. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, in his amendments, has come somewhere close to achieving it. Certainly one does not want to increase the bureaucracy which rules out mini-bus services, because they can make an important contribution to the opening up of the whole public transport system. On the other hand, we must not relax our safety standards, for the sake of people travelling in mini-buses and other road users, either from the point of view of the people who drive those buses or from the point of view of the maintenance standards relating to the buses involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has, in a somewhat long but perfectly appropriate presentation of these amendments, drawn the Committee's attention to an 651 important factor, to which I hope the noble Lord the Minister will accede, if not in the words laid down in these numerous amendments then in a series of amendments of his own to cover this very important point.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I should like to put the other argument. People who are involved—as many noble Lords doubtless are, or have been—in the work of voluntary organisations, youth groups, church groups, rock climbers' associations and all the rest, will know that the responsibility for safety in these matters is very carefully examined by the organisations. The responsibility lies with them.
There is a very easy way round the broad suggestion made by my noble friend, which is that if one does not want to go in for all this regulation one simply does not have people paying. The difference then between the private vehicle and the public vehicle becomes totally blurred. Indeed, that has been done in the past in various contexts. It is not a foolproof way of making sure that groups are taken in safety to their various activities. The right way is to put the onus on the groups. Whether or not people pay, they are obliged to do the very best they can for the sake of their passengers. Frankly, from my knowledge of camping and youth work, and so on, I think it very unlikely that this will work.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I had rather feared that after the impressive speech in support of the amendments my noble friend would be in need of some refreshment and would not be here for the benefit of my reply. Happily, I see that he is still in his place.
I am surprised and saddened at the restrictive attitude towards voluntary bodies shown by those who have spoken in favour of these amendments. I have been looking at the debate in your Lordships' House on 21st June 1977 on the Minibus Bill, which is reproduced in spirit in the Bill now before us. What a different attitude I find: That Bill was introduced by my noble friend Lady Young, who said that she believed it would be of enormous value to great numbers of people. It was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, speaking on behalf of the then Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Banks, speaking for the Liberal Party, referred to the problems of voluntary organisations. He said that there was a genuine need for the Bill and indeed he wondered whether the phrase in the Bill,…nor incidentally to an activity which itself is carried on with a view to profit",might be rather restricting. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said—and I have his permission to quote the words he used on that occasion:may I end by saying that the brevity of my remarks is in inverse proportion to the warmth of my welcome for the Bill".—[Official Report, 21/6/77; col. 624.]That is in inverse proportion to the attitude of my noble friend Lord Teviot.
Support came also from the noble Baroness, Lady Berkeley, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of 652 Rochester, who said that it would facilitate a very valuable form of community service to many lonely, aged and needy people. My noble friend Lord de Clifford, now so sadly missed, was critical of the powers which that Bill gave to the traffic commissioners, since he feared they would inhibit voluntary organisations. There were other speakers, but there was no opposition.
Why, then, does my noble friend believe that we need further restrictions now? Is there any evidence since 1977 that the mini-bus permit scheme has not worked properly? I believe that there is not. The only conceivable, justifiable worry—that of the safety of vehicles—is met by Clause 33 of the Bill which will widen the prohibition powers of the vehicle examiners to all passenger vehicles with more than eight seats, whether or not they are public servic vehicles. Nothing that I have heard this afternoon convinces me that any further change is needed, or that the many reputable national bodies who now have the power to issue minibus permits should have that power taken away from them and a new burden placed upon the traffic commissioners of issuing licences under these clauses.
However, the new clauses have another aim as well as that of transforming the mini-bus permit scheme into something much more like PSV operator licensing; that is, to bring self-drive hire vehicles within traffic commissioner control. I am afraid that I do not follow the logic there, either. It is immaterial from the point of view of PSV, and much other law, whether someone owns or hires something. A self-drive hire mini-bus is no more a public service vehicle than a self-drive hire-car is a taxi. Whether or not it is a public service vehicle depends on whether the person who owns it (as defined in Section 82 of the 1981 Act) then operates it himself for hire or reward. If he does, then he is liable to PSV law; and if he does not, he is not.
It is not clear from the amendments how self-drive companies, whose vehicles are used for the carriage of members of the general public or where remuneration is payable to the driver, should be treated. Would hire companies or the hirer have to hold an operator's licence? I do not think that my noble friend's amendments have been fully thought through. I do not see any need for them and I hope that he will not press them.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
Does the Minister not agree that, in view of the speech of his noble friend Lord Teviot, there is a certain amount of worry about the whole question of mini-buses? While we all appreciate that going as far as a special licence is perhaps too much, would not the Minister at least applaud the method used in certain local authorities—Derbyshire comes to mind, but there are others—where the local authority itself holds insurance on the buses and mini-buses? The authority therefore owns the buses and hires or gives them out to the schools, the clubs, or community centres. I believe it is done in certain parts of Scotland, too.
I know that in Derbyshire the road safety officer takes the drivers who are likely to be driving the minibuses for a test of some sort. It is perhaps a much more modest test than that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, but it makes sure that anyone who is to 653 drive a mini-bus has some experience. For instance, there is the use of mirrors in a loaded bus. Driving a loaded mini-bus is different from driving a motor-car. Driving a loaded mini-bus with, perhaps, 12 or 14 young people all moving about in it is slightly more difficult than driving a motor-car; but, at present an ordinary driving licence is all that is required. While I do not go so far as to demand a special licence at this stage I hope that the Government will look at the growing importance of mini-buses and give some thought to what is being done in Derbyshire.
The other important point is that it is possible, with only a motor-car driving licence, to hire a mini-bus in order to take people away for a day or so. That of course is very valuable and I am the last to want to curtail the freedom of people to do so; but there is a risk involved. I hope that the Minister will look at this situation because someone who has only just obtained a licence can hire a 12-seater mini-bus and take people away for a day, or even longer for that matter. While the accident rate has not been too great, any accidents are bad and I think that if the present situation continues it might result in more accidents. I hope the Minister realises that there is a certain amount of worry about the unchecked use of mini-buses.
§ Lord Teviot
I am certainly very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for their support. I am sure that my noble friend will not mind—and if he does, he will have to put up with it—if I say that I am not pleased with him. He has been frightfully dismissive. Admittedly, I did not expect him to reply for 19 minutes to my speech of 20 minutes, but to speak for only four minutes is to be utterly dismissive of these amendments which basically deal with safety.
I should like to take up one point made by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. She referred to voluntary organisations. Perhaps my noble friend can explain how she proposes to put the onus on these organisations to provide safety. Admittedly my noble friend the Minister referred to Clause 33 and said that an inspectorate would be involved, but one knows how few inspectors there are. It is surely much better to control the vehicles at source and see that they are properly maintained.
I can give an example of getting into a strange vehicle. On the day that we had Second Reading, Channel 4 news wanted me to drive a bus, which I did. I know that a bus is different from a mini-bus, but I had not been in one for a long time. When I last drove a bus the gear lever was a dirty great stick on the left, but it has now been replaced with a funny little thing over on the right. In the past I had to double-declutch when changing gear, and there was something to do with my left foot. The bus I was asked to drive was very different, and I was awfully pleased when I had finished.
I have given just one rather extreme example, but I think I would be very reluctant to walk out of here and get into a mini-bus in Old Palace Yard and drive 16 people away. I should like a little training. I think also that the people I would be carrying would appreciate it. I am sure there are not many of your Lordships who would like to walk out of here, get into a mini-bus and 654 drive it, however much they fancy themselves as drivers.
§ Lord Teviot
That is one of the nicest things the noble Lord has said to me this afternoon. I should also mention that during the whole of my 19 minutes I was severely barracked and it was very difficult to keep a straight face. Seriously, however, these are serious amendments. I am not at all happy about it, but I do not see any point in pressing these amendments today. I urge my noble friend to do as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has said and between now and Report stage go into the question a little more thoroughly. For that reason, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 18 agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 144, 145 and 145A not moved.]
§ Clause 19 agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 146 and 146A not moved.]
§ Clause 20 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 146B not moved.]
§ Clause 21 agreed to.
§ Clause 22 [Community bus permits]:
§ [Amendment No. 146C not moved.]
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Kirkhill moved Amendment No. 147:
Page 22, line 26, at end insert—
("(d) which would not otherwise be available; and").
§ The noble Lord said: I introduce this amendment because of a real concern expressed in Scotland about an aspect in this section of the Bill which has a particular Scottish dimension. While problems in providing transport for rural communities are at least as acute in Scotland as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the bus operators, both public and private, have continued to provide a rural network supported by a mixture of local authority grants and cross-subsidy from profitable urban services. Indeed, the post bus which combines licensed passenger services with postal collection and delivery, has made a valuable contribution in the more sparsely populated areas.
§ The importance of cross-subsidy to the rural bus network can be gauged from the estimate which was given to me by the Scottish Bus Group, who are the major operators in Scotland, that 70 per cent. of the losses on their unprofitable services are met by cross-subsidy. Assuming the accuracy of this figure, it becomes clear that bus operators, no matter how well intentioned they are, will simply not be able to sustain such a level of internal subsidy in the face of competition on their profitable routes. The regional and island councils in Scotland will therefore face the problem of attempting to replace much of the contribution made by this cross-subsidy. While the community bus concept has not yet been widely applied in Scotland, as a consequence of this Bill such a concept will have considerable attraction as a contribution to maintaining rural public transport provision in areas which cannot be served on a commercial basis.655
§ This Bill places the community bus in the correct context, but in my view it fails to deal with the very material consequential detail which is involved. For example, where rural Scottish communities embrace the concept of the community bus, they may use it purely as a feeder to the main bus network or they may take the opportunity of carrying the local passengers right through to their ultimate destination, perhaps even picking up passengers en route. The former choice would be complementary to and co-ordinated with the regular bus network and is a perfectly sensible arrangment to maximise the provision in rural areas.
§ The latter choice, however, could create an anomaly. The licensed operator is required to meet absolute quality standards and would be disadvantaged by the relaxations afforded to the community bus. However, what is more important is that the community bus, if plying for trade outwith the essential feeder role, could erode the probably already tenuous viability of the remaining commercial rural bus services and prejudice their continued operation.
This Bill gives priority to market forces and to free and fair competition in determining the future provision of bus services—at least the Government say so; that is their view. It is recognised that some services will continue to require subsidy, but the power to subsidise is restricted, for example by Clause 61, to services,
which would not otherwise be available".
The clear intention is to concentrate subsidy on needs which cannot be considered commercial and to minimise any prejudicial effect which subsidised services might have on commercially-orientated activities. Unless the Bill makes similar provision in respect of the community bus, it could overreach its capacity and social function to the unfair disadvantage of the commercial operator and to the possible detriment of the overall rural network.
§ I hope that the Minister will give this amendment his serious consideration. Of course I always hope that, though I am very seldom sustained in my hope. But I make that plea to him, first, because it is possible that the unrestricted community bus will abstract from the commercial operator sufficient passengers to make a marginally viable and extensive rural service quite unprofitable, and it will be put thereby at risk. Secondly, the community bus in its role of meeting social needs outwith the commercial environment will quite properly not be subjected to the full statutory controls appropriate to commercial operation. It would therefore disadvantage the commercial operator if, however inadvertently, the community bus should extend into areas envisaged in the Bill as the province of commercial activity. In my view, the proposed amendment is both cautionary and constructive. Any responsible commercial operator must welcome the community bus from remote rural areas which would be utterly uneconomic to serve commercially. It can generate more passengers and can complement the bus transport network.
§ Indeed, as I have already mentioned, the principal Scottish operators—the Scottish Bus Group—with 11 companies already serving most urban and rural areas in Scotland, are eager to co-operate in the coordination of their timetables with the feeder 656 community bus services; or so they advise me. Such a sensible arrangement would in my view certainly be a contributory factor in the satisfaction of passenger needs and commercial requirements. I beg to move.
The Earl of Caithness
Perhaps I may first pay tribute to the community bus movement. It is a fine example of British self-help and voluntary effort. Those who brought it to birth in the 1970s deserve our thanks for their imagination and hard work. I believe that, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, played a major part in that.
I have been reading some of the reports on community buses, and if time permitted I should regale your Lordships with them. What is particularly relevant here is that community buses have all been started to provide bus services in rural areas where there are no conventional services or where those services are inevitably to be withdrawn. The noble Lord said that that was not so true in Scotland, but I believe that the situation for services in Scotland is very much like that for a community bus service near where I live in Oxford. This is what is said in the report about the community bus service:In any appraisal of the Villager Bus Services, it is appropriate to note that the present services are a reinstatement of services discontinued either recently or many years ago, or new services which have been specially requested".I do not believe that local people will put in the enormous effort that is required to start community bus services if conventional buses are available. If the noble Lord fears aggressive and expansionist amateur bus operators, I think that his fears are unfounded. It requires an enormous amount of voluntary effort, and these community bus services are voluntary. If there is a traditional commercial service running along the same route, I do not think that the voluntary sector will be inclined to compete. I think that it will fill a gap.
Some noble Lords may be wondering now why I do not accept the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord. The reason is that I believe that it would discourage volunteers by making them feel unwanted. In particular, it would discourage existing community bus committees from expanding their work if they felt that Parliament had erected a fence around them. Sometimes it may be more sensible for an outlying hamlet or a wee village to be served by an extension to a community bus service and for a heavily subsidised diversion by a conventional service to be withdrawn. That would indeed save money.
I again quote from the report from the Cotswolds:In some instances, villager type services could be developed to form a low cost feeder service to the main bus routes".That was the point that the noble Lord mentioned. I can see a tremendous future for community bus services to feed in to where there will be either a subsidised or a commercial service. A county council or the relevant body in Scotland might wish to encourage that so that its subsidy funds can be better directed.
The noble Lord referred to cross-subsidy. The information that we have obtained from the Scottish Bus Group, although incomplete and slightly dated, suggests that cross-subsidy within rural regions covers, 657 on average, about a third of the shortfall on marginal or more severely loss-making services. I think that the potential loss of cross-subsidy in Scotland is very overrated on those figures.
The noble Lord went back to the old Labour stance of protectionism. I was up in Scotland recently and I found that, apart from the Labour Party's usual idea to bring everything down to the lowest common denominator, in Scotland it wanted to bring everything up to the highest, most costly service for the passengers. I think that community bus services could help enormously to bring benefits back to the bus service by introducing feeder routes.
The noble Lord asked whether we would seriously consider his amendment and said that he had been disappointed in the past. I assure him that we seriously consider his amendments, though we might not agree with him at the end of the day. But he has no reason to be disappointed by lack of consideration. In view of what I said and of the constructive role that the community bus services can play, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Kirkhill
I thank the Minister for the courtesy of his reply. It would be churlish of me to do less than that. He paints one scenario and I paint another. I think that it is fair to say that I know something of the Scottish scene. I am a resident of Scotland, a former Lord Provost in the City of Aberdeen, a former Minister in the Scottish Office, and a former chairman of the Hydro Board. I think that I know something of what is likely to happen, and I believe that my scenario is much more realistic. Only time will tell which of us is right, but from what I know of the Scottish scene I believe that I shall be proved right. I believe that the community buses will continue to run into the fringes of the urban area, and when they do that they will begin to take from the profitable routes; and when that happens the big boys will move off the routes. But, having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 147A to 147C not moved.]
§ Clause 22 agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 148 to 148F not moved.]
§ Clause 23 agreed to.
§ Clause 24 [Limit on number of vehicles to be used under a restricted licence]:
§ [Amendment No. 149 not moved.]
Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 150:
Page 24, line 22, after ("not") insert (", except in any prescribed case or class of case.").
§ The noble Lord said: Restricted PSV operators' licences authorise the use of vehicles not adapted to carry more than eight passengers, or of vehicles adapted to carry between nine and 16 passengers otherwise than in the course of a business of carrying passengers, or by a person whose main occupation is not the operation of public service vehicles adapted to carry more than eight passengers—for instance, hotels running courtesy coaches or taxi proprietors with a mini-bus or two.658
§ We have, however, had experience of businesses starting running only a single mini-bus which have grown beyond what is really appropriate for a restricted licence, holders of which do not require to satisfy the condition as to "professional competence"—having a transport manager who has a certificate of professional competence. This clause is designed to prevent this by limiting a restricted licence holder to two vehicles.
§ We have, however, recently become aware that the Post Office, which runs over 100 post buses in the country, most of them in Scotland, where they provide a particularly valuable transport service in rural areas, does so under restricted licences. To require the Post Office to get standard licences could be a serious discouragement to something that I think we all want to encourage, and this amendment will enable us to exempt the Post Office from the two-vehicle limit.
§ I think I ought perhaps just to add that if this seems like special pleading, on all sides of the Committee we would agree that we should not do anything to prevent the Post Office from providing post buses if at all possible; and of course the Post Office is professionally competent and in that way I think that we need have no fears. It is an organisation which may well not have transport managers in the sense that they are needed under the transport legislation. But this is such a small part of its business, though at the same time a very beneficial part, particularly in Scotland, that I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Earl De La Warr moved Amendment No. 151:
§ After Clause 24, insert the following new clause—
§ ("Objections to application for PSV operators' licence
.—(1) After section 14 of the Act of 1981 (Grant of licences) there shall be inserted the following section—
Objections to application for PSV operators' licence.
14A.—(1) A traffic commissioner to whom an application is made under section 12 of this Act for an operators' licence shall publish notice thereof in the prescribed manner.
(2) Any of the following persons, that is to say—
(3) An objection under this section shall be made within the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner (which shall be stated in the notice published under subsection (1) of this section) and shall contain particulars of the ground on which it is made.
(4) The onus of proof of the existence of the ground on which an objection is made shall lie on the objector.
(2) After subsection (8) of section 50 of the Act of 1981 there shall be inserted the following new subsection—
(8A) A person who, having duly made an objection under section 14A of this Act to an application for the grant of a PSV operators' licence, is aggrieved by the grant of the application may appeal to the Secretary of State.".").
The noble Earl said: The object of this amendment is to reinstate in tighter and rather more precise form
Clause 22 that was in the original Bill and was removed in Standing Committee with the agreement of the Government—and in my opinion very wrongly removed. The clause that has disappeared is quite short. I think it may be of help to the Committee if I read. It read like this:
Where representations have been made to the appropriate Traffic Commissioner, within the prescribed period and in the prescribed manner, with respect to
§ That was what was in the Bill and disappeared. I may possibly return to the circumstances of its disappearance later on. I think that no one would dispute the need for the commissioner to ensure, before granting a new PSV operators' licence, first of all professional competence; secondly, sound financial standing; thirdly, good repute; and, fourthly, good maintenance facilities. The Committee may well recognise these words because they are criteria set out with great precision in Section 14 of the 1981 Act.
§ With the new situation which will be brought on with the arrival of deregulation it seems to me that there is a very clear need for first of all for publication by the commissioner of applications for the operators' licence and, secondly, the right of objection—in the old clause it was called "representations"—by parties that are qualified to do so. There will be a huge new influx in many cases of operators with buses which are well past their prime of life. There will be many people who will want to come in, who know many other trades but are new to the PSV business. The commissioners and their staffs really will be stretched to the limit. They will need, and I think they will welcome, advice and representations from those who know enough about the business to offer their views, and if need be their objections.
§ In addition to that, if this is what is to be done, it will follow the procedure that already exists for heavy goods vehicle licences, where the application has to be published and objections can be made. It seems—does it not?—somewhat ridiculous that a man who is going to carry potatoes has to run the gauntlet of possible objections, whereas the man who is going to carry people does not have this burden put upon him.
The notes on Clause 22, which were before the Standing Committee in another place and which I shall not read in full because I do not want to go on for too long, started like this:
Regulations will be made under Section 59 of the 1981 Act requiring publication of application".
Then, later on, the notes continued:
This Clause makes formal provision for representations which will help to ensure that the Commissioner is seized of any relevant information before deciding that an operator is of good repute and of appropriate financial standing".
That is what the Government said in the explanatory notes under which they introduced this particular clause. I simply cannot understand why it is that they agreed—I shall not put it any more strongly than that—to its deletion.
§ I am convinced that this clause does no more than to help ensure a good standard of entry and help safety upon which all of us are so keen. It will restrict entry only in the case of applicants who are found after investigation by the traffic commissioner not to be up to standard.
§ I very much hope that my noble friend will take this away and consider whether in some form the objection procedure should be reinstated in this Bill. I believe that it is correct to draw this clause tightly and precisely, and that possibly the original Clause 22 was a little loose. But I am of course really talking only about the acceptance of this principle which I have put to the Committee as briefly as I can. I beg to move.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
I should like very much to support the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, on the question of there being conditions. I would say that the conditions he has outlined in the new clause, to which my name is attached as well as his own, are fairly elementary and common sense.
The regulations that we hope would be laid down within the time limit would enable the traffic commissioner to not necessarily have a public inquiry but to make decisions himself without needing to go so far as a public inquiry. If the Bill goes through as it is, the whole basis of it is that the Government are expecting to have a fairly large influx of new people to the industry. As the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said, a fair number of people coming into the industry may very well be used to the heavy goods vehicle industry and they would be greatly surprised by the fact that they can obtain a permit to carry people with much greater ease than they could obtain one for carrying goods.
The other important point is that if anyone is deterred from coming into the industry because of the conditions that are laid down in this new clause, I think we have gained a great deal. The conditions we have asked for are so minimal and common sense that it is as well that anyone who is unwilling to meet them should not come into the business. If it deters them, I think it is all the better.
There is also no reason why a good operator who has invested in good premises, good vehicles, proper maintenance and has a sound financial backing should not be able to question the entry of someone who has not. With the greatest will in the world, the traffic commissioner will have much work to do. He will not be able to know everything that is taking place in the whole of his area and the possible difficulties that could arise. But there are people in the industry who will know immediately if someone inadequate, someone with lack of preparation or lack of proper backing, comes into the industry. If there is publication of the intention of someone to apply, they will be able to make representations to the traffic commissioner, who, as I remarked earlier, will be able to judge whether or not it is a good complaint.
I hope that the Government will accept this amendment, or something very like it. Safety standards rest on the criteria to which this amendment relates. The fulfilment of this criteria must be openly demonstrable. It is only right that in a competitive world, competition should be fair. On grounds of 661 safety and fairness of competition, I find it difficult to believe that the Government could not accept at least the spirit of this amendment.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
I for one hope that my noble friend will resist the amendment. My noble friend Lord De La Warr, in moving it, conjured up a picture of an onrush of newcomers in their ancient buses. He suggested that public safety would be endangered as a result. I yield to no one in my desire to see the bus service of the country made safe. I cannot think that it will be made any safer by repeating provisions in the Bill which are already there.
The next clause, Clause 25, deals fairly extensively with the whole problem of safety. I am so glad that my noble friend Lord Teviot is turning up the clause, because it is an important one. I cannot help feeling that those who invoke safety as a reason for putting forward this amendment have neglected to notice what is the aim and what seems to be achieved by the next clause. I do not believe that the Bill will be improved by making it longer in this respect.
§ Lord Shepherd
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is correct in drawing our attention to a later clause with most welcome powers for the traffic commissioners to deal with any failings of bus operators in the field of bus maintenance and bus safety. This amendment is not "post"; it is more "pre". I should have brought with me the statements made by the traffic commissioners at Hereford. There were three independent operators at Hereford who had never been in the bus transport business. They were lorry operators and haulage operators who decided that there was a justifiable opportunity for running bus services in Hereford.
Their vehicles were subject to inspection. If I had had the paper with me, noble Lords would have been horrified to hear what was said by the traffic commissioners who reviewed the situation. It was absolutely deplorable. Vehicles were in no way suitable, in terms of standards of maintenance for the road. As the traffic commissioners said in one case, if only the travelling public had known they would have risen up in wrath.
I know a little about those various operators. I do not say that they were running buses deliberately in contravention of passenger safety. The truth is that they were operators who had had no experience of ever having run passenger transport stage carriage services. Nor had they the resources to support their operation. That is one of the lessons of Hereford. I do not say that this will be universal throughout the country. What this amendment seeks to do (does it not), is to provide a mechanism for the traffic commissioners to ensure that what we saw in Hereford will not happen in other parts of the country?
It seems to me a reasonable amendment in that the traffic commissioners, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Wan has said, should have knowledge and information as to the standing of those who are registering for services. The traffic commissioners, it seems to me, can only get their information by notification. Those 662 who have doubts as to the ability of a potential operator, if the application is published, can make representations to the traffic commissioners. It will then be for the traffic commissioners solely to judge on the merits, perhaps through an inquiry, whether the operator should continue.
The difference between the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and myself is that he is satisfied with the post-activity of the traffic commissioners. Is that sufficient? People are at risk while vehicles are on the road and being operated. Would it not be wiser to take some precaution to ensure that in the case of dangers seen as "post", the traffic commissioners should have the degree of information to enable them to take action earlier? That is the only difference between the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and myself. I suspect really that he would agree that it is far better to prevent a situation than to have to deal with it "post" at perhaps high cost.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
There is a further point which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I am sure has in mind. The noble Lord, as always, puts his argument persuasively on grounds of safety—a cause that we all share.
My noble friend rightly referred to the provisions of Clause 25. Of course we want the traffic commissioner to be as well informed as possible. But we also want—what we, at any rate, on this side, want—is to get an influx of new operators into the passenger business so that we can get a better service. a more comprehensive service and, above all, wherever possible, a competitive service which will give passengers the benefit of a more flexible service with lower fares, certainly in some areas—all features that they have not had under the existing rigid licensing system. It is a system with many benefits, especially on factors of safety of the kind that the noble Lord has just mentioned.
However, if my noble friend Lord De La Warr, who will shortly tell me that I am in cloud-cuckoo-land (although I am not sure that, this time, it is not he), gets this provision back again, he will be putting control of the situation back in the hands of the existing operators. We have heard during the mini-bus debate of the sort of charter firm operators controlling the mini-buses. This was read out at great length by my noble friend Lord Teviot—a some 20-minute essay—giving all the reasons why existing operators would like to clip the wings of the mini-bus. We understand that, and my noble friend Lord Trefgarne quite rightly rejected it and said that the mini-bus situation is all right as it is and that we shall leave it like that. However, the fact is that the existing operators will do everything they can to keep out newcomers.
What does this provision give us? It gives the existing operator the chance to object and the traffic commissioner must then take note of the objection. If the traffic commissioner turns down the objection, the applicant can appeal to the Secretary of State. We have seen all this before. What does it involve in practice? It involves a hearing by the traffic commissioner, which I presume would have to be in public. Some of the existing operators are very wealthy men and they have legal representatives. The newcomer, who is probably a small operator trying to get into the business, has no 663 resources with which to fight this and he is simply at a disadvantage from the very start. It is the same situation as we have now.
If a newcomer tries to enter the existing structure, he loses every time. He has to face the objections of the existing operators, who are well financed and well experienced, and of course in the existing structure the whole bias is in favour of the existing operators. Therefore, the new applicant has lost every time because, apart from anything else, he simply does not have the resources to go on pursuing his application and to engage the necessary high-powered lawyers to plead his cause. That is what will inevitably result from my noble friend's amendment.
Of course we share my noble friend's wishes about the safety factors and that the traffic commissioners shall be as fully informed as possible about the new operators and their financial resources. But from the point of view of wanting new bus operators and wanting a more diverse, flexible and comprehensive service, we shall knock the bottom out of it if we include this clause and restore the position of existing operators in this way. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will not accept this new clause.
I have read the debate in the other place and I agree that Clause 22 was removed in a rather surprising way. My noble friend Lord De La Warr might even have teased my noble friend the Minister a little about that; but it was taken out and I think that wisdom prevailed. I hope that my noble friend sitting on the Government Front Bench will resist the most persuasive attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and my noble friend Lord De La Warr to put the clause back again. If he does not, he will knock the bottom out of this Bill.
§ Lord Shepherd
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, is always courteous when he refers to me as being persuasive. I should like to say that the noble Lord is equally persuasive, and perhaps he will answer this question directly. He is well aware of the situation in Hereford: of the damning statements made by traffic commissioners as to the maintenance of those vehicles, and that the reason for those vehicles being in that state was that the operators did not have the resources. The noble Lord is saying to the Committee, is he not, that for the purpose of the long-term objectives he is willing to accept those statements, that he is willing to accept that there is a risk in terms of safety, merely for the pursuit of the Government policy which he clearly supports?
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
Perhaps I may be allowed to answer the point which the noble Lord has kindly put to me. I am not saying anything of the kind. I am saying that the traffic commissioner must, from his own resources, find out the information that he needs in judging the merits of any particular applicant. I am not saying that he should in any circumstances accept the application of operators of the kind that the noble Lord describes—certainly he should not. I am saying that in the Bill we should not entrench the position of the existing operators in the same way as it is entrenched now because if we do, we shall prevent a large number of valuable operators entering the industry.
§ Lord Somers
I wholly agree with the noble Earl's amendment. When one looks at the standard of driving on the roads today, I do not think it is a point that can be emphasised too much. After all, it is bad enough when you are risking only yourself and perhaps one other person, but when you have responsibility for 20 or 30 people it is of vital importance that your character is 100 per cent.
Perhaps the noble Earl would consider one point. Like their health, people's character can change. Perhaps the noble Earl would consider a compulsory periodical examination, say every 10 years or so. I do not think that it is vital to include this in the Bill at present, but it might be a good point to consider.
§ Lord Beloff
I am unpersuaded by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for a rather simple reason which is to be found in the text of the Bill before us. The noble Lord stated that there was only one difference between himself and my noble friend Lord Peyton, which was that he wished certain precautions to be taken before a licence was granted, whereas my noble friend Lord Peyton, in relying on Clause 25 of the Bill, was content with a post facto intervention by the traffic commissioner.
However, subsection (1) of Clause 25 says:Where it appears to a traffic commissioner, in relation to a person…to whom he has granted"—that is of course post facto—or is proposing to grant a PSV operator's licence".Therefore, it is both a method of dealing with something that has already happened and a precaution against this happening in the future where a licence has not yet been granted. So the difference clearly cannot be the difference which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, suggested.
I think that this brings one back to the reasons why, in another place, the provisions analogous to those in this amendment were removed by the Committee. Those reasons have of course been explained—and I think will have been explained to the satisfaction of many noble Lords—by my noble friend Lord Nugent. As one listens to this debate, and as one has listened to debates on preceding clauses, one is reminded of a question which was asked of the French statesman, Talleyrand, as to the meaning of the word "nonintervention". He said that it was intervention by another name.
It seems to me that the interpretation of "deregulation" by my noble friend Lord De La Warr is regulation by another route. We are being asked not simply to give powers to the traffic commissioner to intervene against this hoard of rapacious and incompetent people who are to descend upon the industry, because those powers are already granted; we are to provide procedures by which vested interests can further fortify their position against newcomers and create a series of hurdles which will make newcomers rarer than they otherwise would be. That is what the argument is about; and, so far as one can see from the existing Clause 25, it is not an argument about safety to which, as a regular bus passenger, I also attach considerable importance.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
I had intended to follow my noble friend the Minister, but perhaps he would like me to speak now. I fully support my noble friend Lord De La Warr, and I am very surprised at some of the irresponsible chats that we have had this afternoon. This amendment contains perfectly reasonable requirements for any new operator and they are not restrictive. I do not subscribe to the view that all is bad at the moment. Everything can always be improved. Contrary to the Government's arguments, there have been some successful new operators who have appeared over the last few years. They have not been beaten to death by the bully-boys. But I am not going to be led down that road because I shall go rather wide of the amendment.
Surely "professional competence" is a requirement for anyone? If we do not look at this sort of thing there is no point in making laws at all. That is reasonable. Now, "some financial standing". That can be got over. Just looking at a man's bank account will not take very long. It should not be daunting. If there is anything wrong about his financial standing then he should not be an operator. Then "are of good repute". That is also perfectly reasonable.
Next the safety angle. I, with my noble friend, have made various visits to see a variety of bus companies whether they are PTE's, or the National Bus Company, or even reputable private operators. One has been taken around the workshops. There is one particular National Bus Company that one visited in the North Midlands where the workshops looked as though they had just been made ready for a Royal visit. I was told that they were always up to that sort of standard.
It is rather like when you go to a restaurant. Sometimes the owners take pride in taking you around their kitchens. I am sure that the National Bus Company would take you around, and you would be very confident after going and looking around the garage. Then one knows of some horrific stories about some rather dubious operators.
One does not want to hark back to Hereford, but the Committee should be reminded that of the four companies, all small independents, who came into this business, the first two had their operator's licence revoked, and during the last eight months two of the others have withdrawn. The one remaining independent is left to compete with two of the seven principal services formerly competed for in the City of Hereford.
We have the experience where the trial area was unsatisfactory. This is one of the most important amendments in the Bill. When my noble friend replies, he owes it to your Lordships to say precisely why this clause was withdrawn when it was perfectly sensibly in the Bill in the first place.
Earl De La Warr
I wonder whether before he replies my noble friend will allow me to make a few remarks on what has been said by certain noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, suggested that I had painted a macabre picture. I do not think it was at all. There is going to be a considerable rush and a considerable strain on the traffic staff. Anybody 666 coming in for the first time will come in with secondhand buses that he has bought. These are just facts, and they carry no sinister implications behind them. The noble Lord suggests I said that public safety will be endangered. Public safety can always be endangered. If one in a thousand of the people who come in turn out to be cowboys, then public safety will be in danger. I do not think that anybody would deny that there is need for careful screening.
My noble friend Lord Nugent suggested that this amendment would stop people coming in. For the life of me I cannot see the logic of that. People are going to apply whether or not they think that there are liable to be objections. If people apply, then the traffic commissioner will consider their case with or without objections. My noble friend talked about existing operators. Perhaps it is the existing operators who are the people that he is worrying about in this amendment. Perhaps it ought to have been tightened up and left mentioning purely the county council or the chief constable. I take his point, but I do not agree with it.
Why did the Government put this in in the first place? The reasons for it were well-documented. It never occurred to the Secretary of State, until some young chaps in the Committee stage got together and decided to have a go, that there was anything objectionable about Clause 22. Perhaps it would be better if Clause 22 went back just as it was. I think it would then satisfy many of my noble friend Lord Nugent's objections. The truth of the matter is that my noble friend Lord Nugent has said that this is a wrecking amendment, and it is no such thing.
My noble friend Lord Beloff talked about Clause 25 being perfectly all right. With respect to my noble friend, I think he has read only the first few lines. First, it deals with conditions attached to an operator's licence. It does not deal with the generalities. Secondly, it says:Where it appears to a traffic commissioner, in relation to a person…to whom he has granted or is proposing to grant a PSV operator's licence, that—First of all it deals with conditions, and secondly it deals with delinquents. People who are proved—
- (a) the operator has failed to operate a local service registered under section 6 of this Act; or
- (b) the operator has operated a local service in contravention of that section; or
- (c) the arrangements for maintaining the vehicles…are not adequate".
Earl De La Warr
No, I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Mottistone either. He has put me off my stride, and that will take an extra couple of minutes to put right. Whatever the force of Lord Beloff s arguments, he made them, I fear, without proper study of Clause 25, and that is not like him.
667 I apologise to your Lordships if I have seen fit to get this off my chest before my noble friend the Minister replies, but it seemed to me, with the weighty noble Lords who had taken issue, that it was better to deal with some of the points they made before we came to seek the Minister's general reaction to the request which lies behind this amendment.
§ Lord Belstead
The first part of the amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord De La Warr and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, provides that, when a traffic commissioner gets an application for an operator's licence, that application shall be published. Last Thursday, when we had the previous stage of the Committee, I said on behalf of the Government in answer to an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that we would be continuing the regular publication of Notices and Proceedings. I should like now to undertake to the Committee that these publications will include details of applications for operator's licences, and that I shall be bringing forward an amendment to make this clear on Report. I hope that my noble friend Lord De La Warr will accept that as being a constructive response to the first part of his amendment.
I cannot be so helpful so far as the rest of the amendment is concerned. As my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford made clear in his valuable intervention, the whole intention of this Bill is to encourage people to run buses and not to put obstacles in the way of new operators. We do not want to force operators to run the gauntlet of their competitors. At the same time I am not for one minute saying that we want to make any operators impervious to criticism.
I should perhaps put to your Lordships a point or two about which there are some misconceptions. The traffic commissioners have to be satisfied that applicants for licences are of good repute and of appropriate financial standing. In satisfying themselves the commissioners have to take account of all relevant evidence. Therefore if anyone makes a relevant representation to them, they have to consider it. For example, it would obviously be relevant if someone who was in a position to know told the traffic commissioners that an applicant for a licence had recently defaulted on his debts. The commissioners would have to take that into account in their consideration of the application, whether or not the information had come from one of the people listed in this amendment and whether it was sent to him within a prescribed time, as the amendment says. So the amendment really is not necessary to ensure that the commissioner considers representations.
What this amendment does is to give certain people, if they have made an objection in the correct way and at a particular time, a right of appeal if the commissioner, despite their objection, grants an applicant a licence. I believe that to go through the whole business of an opposed hearing—because this is basically what the amendment sets out—with a right of appeal at the end of it is unnecessary and undesirable. I am seeking to say to your Lordships that the precautions will be taken before people actually enter the bus industry. Indeed, they are checked up on every five years—if I may just pick up the point which 668 the noble Lord, Lord Somers, made in his speech. The commissioners will have to be satisfied beforehand—which was one of the points my noble friend Lord Beloff made—of the repute, the financial standing and the maintenance facilities, and will have to take on board any relevant representations in the way that I have already put to your Lordships' Committee.
In addition to that, let us be absolutely clear that this Bill very considerably strengthens the safety aspect of operator licensing. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, spoke of the experience of Hereford. The noble Lord said that he had not brought his detailed papers with him. I do not think the noble Lord ever needs to do that because he speaks from such enormous experience—and usually without notes in this Committee stage—that he is able to get along very well without referring to records. I admit that I have done the same this evening and have not come along with voluminous papers about Hereford, but I remember that when we were having long debates in the previous two days of the Committee stage I ventured to read out to your Lordships the report of the statistics of the vehicles run by either statutory operators or private operators which pass the vehicle examiners' test on the first occasion. It showed that the private operators, taking the country as a whole, compare very favourably with many of the statutory operators, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was good enough to ask about this. But the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said to me that it goes much further than that. When the Hereford experiment took place there were some bad examples. It is not least for that reason that we have taken such enormous care over this part of the Bill.
As my noble friend Lord Peyton quite rightly pointed out, Clause 25, in addition to the criteria of character, competence and financial resources, requires that if an operator does not operate as registered, if his maintenance facilities are not adequate, if he behaves foolishly, he is liable to have his licence removed by the traffic commissioners. When we come, probably in a few weeks' time, to Clause 97 we shall find that there is another pretty formidable sanction. It is that if an operator under Clause 97 does not operate as he should, he can have 20 per cent. of his fuel duty forfeited completely, and it has to be repaid out of his own pocket.
Having said that about the considerable safety factors which are written into this Bill, this amendment nonetheless takes us back to the whole procedure of what would be statutory opposed hearings, complete with a right of appeal, in this case to the Secretary of State. My noble friend Lord Teviot said that he considered this to be one of the most important amendments which we have had in the Committee stage. Why? The answer lies in the speech by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. It is that this amendment takes us back once again to the old argument that operators should be discouraged and not encouraged from running, even though this is a Bill which considerably strengthens the safety standards which we all have every right to expect. I think that this amendment asks for too much; indeed, much too much. On those grounds I resist it.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
One should never be surprised at Government responses to amendments, but I confess that the logic of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is more defective in this case than in any I have heard during the course of this Bill. I remind him of the obligations which this Government have taken upon themselves and sought to bring into legislation. First, there was the EC Directive 562 of 1974 which said that transport operators—the noble Lord used the words himself—should be of good repute, should have appropriate financial standing and, they should be professionally competent. That directive was enshrined in legislation by the Government in the Transport Act 1980 and the Public Passenger Vehicle Act 1981, which this amendment seeks to add to. All that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, was seeking to do was to see to it that those considerations can be effectively taken into account by traffic commissioners.
The Minister gave away his case when he made the welcome concession on the first part of the noble Earl's amendment. He said that the Minutes and Proceedings will be extended to cover applications and presumably decisions on applications as they are now. What is the point of having applications and decisions notified by the traffic commissioners unless there is some opportunity for somebody to do something about it? It is not good enough for the Minister to say that anybody can say things about the financial repute of an applicant and the traffic commissioner must take it into consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, used the phrase that it was the duty of the traffic commissioner to find out from his own resources about the competence and suitability of an applicant. That cannot be good enough in safety terms, it cannot be effective in operational terms unless "advertisement" means that objectors who have a proper concern, such as the police and the local authorities, as named in this amendment, should have a chance under statute and on the face of the Act to have their objections taken into account.
The other obligation of the Government which the noble Lord seems to have ignored was contained in last year's White Paper Buses in which the Government's objective was stated as being to harmonise as far as possible the conditions of heavy goods vehicles licences and passenger service vehicle licences. The heavy goods vehicle licences conditions contain virtually exactly the obligations proposed in this amendment. If the Government are to stick to the principles of their own White Paper, they must accept that this amendment brings together the conditions of heavy goods vehicle licences and passenger service vehicle licences; otherwise they will be going back on their commitments in the White Paper.
The final confusion which the noble Lord did not succeed in dispelling was the confusion over Clause 25. Yes, it is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, that Clause 25 refers to proposed applications; but all the conditions which that clause allows the traffic commissioner to take into account are conditions which apply only to existing operators. It is only failures actually to operate a bus service in accordance with required conditions which can be taken into account under Clause 25. Therefore that clause cannot 670 apply to the new applicants whom noble Lords opposite are so anxious to encourage, and it cannot provide the protection which we seek, and which I am sure the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, also seeks, to obtain for the travelling public
This is not a restrictive amendment: it is one which seeks to bring into effect the stated objectives of the Government in legislation over the past five years. It seeks to bring into effect an EEC directive which the Government have accepted; it seeks to bring into effect the objective of harmonising HGV and PSV licences which the Government have themselves stated. As the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said, it is not a wrecking amendment: it is one which the Government, on their own arguments and their own commitments, ought to accept.
§ Lord Mottistone
Before the noble Lord sits down, was he totally deaf when my noble friend Lord Nugent made his speech? It seems to me that he must not have listened to him at all.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
If I am going to be accused of being totally deaf, I have to be told why. I listened most carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent; I referred to his speech and I quoted from it. If the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, wishes to criticise me for something I said or failed to say, perhaps he will be good enough to state what it is.
§ Lord Mottistone
It appeared to me that my noble friend Lord Nugent provided a complete counter-argument to what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has just been saying.
Earl De La Warr
I think I made it clear towards the end of my speech that I was asking for this principle to be accepted. In fact what I suppose I was really saying—indeed I did say it but perhaps not strongly enough—was that I thought the Government were quite wrong to remove Clause 22 and that that, or something like it embodying those principles, should be reinstated.
The debate in Standing Committee in another place was characterised by a total failure on the part of my honourable friend Mr. David Mitchell to give any reasons why the Government should go back on this clause, which was so carefully documented in the Notes on Clauses, part of which I read to your Lordships. Although I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Belstead for some of the things he said, I have to say that he did not really say anything that persuaded me that the Government were other than absolutely wrong to let themselves be persuaded by some of their friends into letting this clause go.
We seem to have arrived at the point where really the only thing to do is to test the opinion of the Committee.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 151)shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Content, 119; Not-Content,103.672
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Alport, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Ardwick, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Lincoln, Bp.|
|Aylestone, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Lockwood, B.|
|Banks, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Barnett, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Beswick, L.||MacLeod of Fuinary, L.|
|Birk, B.||McNair, L.|
|Blease, L.||Manchester, Bp.|
|Blyton, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Monson, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Nicol, B. [Teller.]|
|Chitnis, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Oram, L.|
|Collison, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Crawshaw of Aintree, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|David, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|De La Warr, E. [Teller.]||Rea, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Ripon, Bp.|
|Diamond, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Scanlon, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Seear, B.|
|Ezra, L.||Serota, B.|
|Falkender, B.||Shackleton, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Silkin of Dulwich, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Simon, V.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Somers, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Grey, E.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||White, B.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Willis, L.|
|Kagan, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Kaldor, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Brabazon of Tara, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Brookeborough, V.|
|Ampthill, L.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Broxbourne, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Caccia, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Caithness, E. [Teller.]|
|Belstead, L.||Cameron of Lochbroom, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Chelwood, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Marley, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Cox, B.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Craigavon, V.||Maude of Stratford-upon Avon, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Mersey, V.|
|Dormer, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Munster, E.|
|Elton, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Newall, L.|
|Feversham, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Pender, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Portland, D.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Henley, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Hood, V.||Selkirk, E.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Keyes, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Tranmire, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Layton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Westbury, L.|
|Long, V. [Teller.]||Windlesham, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Wise, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accrodingly.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Clause 25 [Conditions attached to PSV operators' licences]:
Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 152:
Page 25, line 31, leave out ("intentional or reckless") and insert ("without reasonable excuse").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is self-explanatory. I must confess that I had expected dinner to be called. Of course, it is 7.30 p.m. on Tuesdays; how very tiresome. I am afraid I have to admit to your Lordships that I do not have my brief on this. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
I find the arguments of my noble friend totally convincing. I am not entirely sure that the words "without reasonable excuse" are selected by my noble friend as being in quite the right place. For that reason I should like to ask him to withdraw the amendment, but I give an undertaking that, in consultation with him, we shall come back at Report stage with an amendment substantially the same as the amendment of my noble friend.
§ Lord Teviot
I apologise again to your Lordships. I have found the piece of paper. I can tell your Lordships that this is a perfectly straightforward technical amendment. My noble friend has already accepted my point. In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 153:
Page 26, line 15, at end insert—
("(5) Where it appears to any traffic commissioner that—
§ The noble Lord said: This is a very straightforward amendment. It is again felt that an obligation should be imposed on traffic commissioners to inform traffic commissioners in other areas of the matters set out in paragraphs (a) and (b) of the amendment. Such an obligation is imposed under Clause 8(3) in respect of traffic regulation conditions, and it is considered that it is just as important in respect of conditions imposed on operators' licences. This amendment is intended to ease the life of the traffic commissioners. It is very short. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
I agree with my noble friend that in the kind of cases covered by this amendment one traffic commissioner ought to communicate with another; or they should act jointly. It is the Government's belief that they should and they will. Traffic commissioners are in constant and regular contact with one another. We do not feel that we ought to lay this down in statute. I shall be happy to look at this amendment between now and Report stage to see whether we feel that we ought to put it in legislation. But I am bound to say to my noble friend that at the moment I do not think this is necessary, and that what is not necessary ought not to go on the face of the Bill if we can avoid it.
§ Lord Shepherd
I certainly welcome what the Minister has said—that he will look at this between now and Report stage. I am quite sure that it ought to be in legislation, because in other parts of the Bill it is clearly stated that commissioners will not notify another commissioner of certain circumstances in their own traffic area.
In the light of those earlier provisions in the Bill, it might be seen that this sort of co-operative understanding, which already exists, is frowned upon by legislation. So I welcome very much what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has said. I personally believe that this should be in some form of legislation, perhaps of a more general nature than in the terms of this clause. I certainly welcome what the Minister has said.
§ Lord Belstead
Before my noble friend decides how he would like to deal with the amendment, I wonder whether I may pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. The noble Lord has referred to other parts of the Bill where there is indeed a provision put into the legislation. Certainly this happens. It is the case in Clause 8. However, the difference between 674 Clause 8 and Clause 25 is that in Clause 8, where traffic regulation conditions are being laid down, there is no element of discretion in their attachment. The discretion is in their determination.
In Clause 8 the process of attaching those traffic regulations to people's licences is completely automatic and as instantaneous as is practical. The Government felt in drafting Clause 8 that it was necessary therefore to put co-operation between traffic commissioners into the clause. Clause 25 is different because it is essentially discretionary. Nonetheless, the noble Lord has added his voice to that of my noble friend. I have promised to look at it, and indeed I shall.
§ Lord Teviot
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for echoing my sentiments, and also to my noble friend for looking at this point. I hope that he will find room to put in some form of amendment, if not this one. On that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 25 agreed to.
§ Clause 26 [Supplementary provisions with respect to conditions attached to PSV operators' licences under section 25]:
Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 154:
Page 26, line 19, leave out from beginning to ("received"), in line 21, and insert ("if he has").
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 154 and would speak to Amendment No. 155.
Amendment No. 155: Page 26, line 22, leave out ("or (b)") and insert—
("(2) Subsection (1) above shall not apply where the traffic commissioner").
These are drafting amendments parallel to ones to which your Lordships agreed last week on Clause 7, but without the provision made in those amendments for the withdrawal of requests. They make the clauses read more logically. In practice, a traffic commissioner may well hold an inquiry of his own motion when considering whether conditions under Clause 25 should be imposed on an operator's licence, as he has traditionally done before imposing disciplinary conditions under the 1981 Act, but he is required to hold an inquiry only if requested. That is the meaning that I think we have now achieved in the wording which we have brought forward in these amendments. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 155:
§ [Printed above.]
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move.
§ Lord Shepherd
May I ask the Committee whether I was asleep? Has the noble Lord moved that Clause 29 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Clause 26, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 27 and 28 agreed to.675
§ Clause 29 [Plying for hire by large public service vehicles]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 29 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Shepherd
I have given notice of my intention, with the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, to oppose the Question, That Clause 29 stand part of the Bill. My first apologies must be to the Chairman of the Committee for intervening earlier, but I have already missed two amendments because of the speed at which the business has been conducted. But no doubt we can come back to those at a later stage.
The reason why I have given notice in regard to Clause 29 is that it makes provision thatA public service vehicle which is adapted to carry more than eight passengers shall not be used on a road in plying for hire as a whole.My difficulty—and therefore, in a sense, I speak in a probing sense—is in knowing what is meant by, "plying for hire as a whole." I have consulted with some within the National Bus Company and they assure me that all is well. I think that the Government themselves will probably say the same. But two lawyers have expressed some doubt as to my concern. Plying for hire is clear in the minds of most of us, but in legislation it is very obscure indeed.
The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred on Second Reading to the innovation of the National Bus Company in Exeter, where we have some 30 minibuses carrying 16 passengers which operate on a route between a housing centre, through the city of Exeter, and the railway station. It is a very successful operation and I am worried about its future in regard to plying for hire. It is known there as Maxi-Taxi, but that is not the reason for my concern. My concern is that we have torn up all the bus stops on the route. Those who wish to make use of the service merely stand on the route, raise their hand and the vehicle stops for them. I find this very little different from those of us who have the cash in our pockets to use a taxi raising our hand and stopping one. The only difference in this case is that the vehicles are operating on a route.
I wonder whether, if this clause were passed, it would mean that the service that is now being provided in Exeter would be prohibited. I cannot imagine that that is what the Government have in mind, so I am just anxious to know whether the words "as a whole" change "plying for hire"; in other words, whether, with those words included, the plying for hire would not have the same connotation as in plying for hire as a taxi. I am quite sure that the Government would not wish to see the experiment, which has been so successful in Exeter and which may well appear elsewhere in the country, prevented by the drafting of Clause 29. I give notice to oppose the clause.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
The purpose of this clause is to prevent a public service vehicle which is adapted to carry more than eight passengers from operating like a conventional taxi—that is, plying for hire as a whole. The clause is best seen as the counterpart to the requirements of Clause 12. The clause provides that when operating a local service in competition with 676 buses, taxis should compete on a equal footing—for example, the drivers' hours regulations will apply. This clause provides that a vehicle used to provide a taxi service should be suitable to taxi legislation.
It would, for example, prevent the provision of a taxi service in London by a fleet of distinctive nine-seat vehicles. Such vehicles would not be subject to the same safety requirement as a London taxi and the drivers would escape the "knowledge" test. This is unlikely to happen, since it could not carry a taxi sign and since the PSV requirements are themselves onerous. But it is possible as the law stands. This provision closes this loophole.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, fears that this clause may inhibit operations like those which the National Bus Company is now running in Exeter. I can assure him that it will not. The Exeter mini-buses, although they ply for hire and can be hailed in the street like taxis, do so at separate fares and therefore do not come within the scope of the clause.
Like the noble Lord, I should like to commend the National Bus Company for their forward-looking approach in setting up the scheme, which I understand has been so successful that it is being adopted in other parts of the country. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government would wish to encourage such innovation and that this clause in no way prevents it. I trust that I shall have reassured the noble Lord on that point.
§ Lord Tordoff
May I enter one query here in relation to the figure of eight passengers? It was my belief that in London, at least, taxis could carry seven passengers. It may seem that under this clause we are extending the number to eight. Is there not a danger that minibuses will be confused with taxis, where the limit was seven before? It is a minor point and I should not want to press it at this stage. If the noble Lord does not have the answer now, perhaps he will write to me.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I think I had better accept the offer of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and write to him. I was not aware that there was a change from seven to eight; but I shall certainly look into the matter and try to find the answer.
§ Clause 29 agreed to.
§ Clause 30 [Appeals under the 1981 Act]:
§ Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 156:
Page 29, line 25, at end insert—
("(5A) Where a traffic commissioner has given a direction under subsection (5) above he may withdraw it at any time.").
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 156 and shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 157 and 158.
Amendment No. 157: Page 29, line 27, after ("above") insert ("or withdraws such a direction").
Amendment No. 158: Page 29, line 28, leave out second ("it") and insert ("such a direction").
§ The Bill as drafted follows the general lines of the 1981 Act in giving the traffic commissioner power to defer the effect of a decision revoking or placing a disciplinary condition on an operator's licence pending appeal and in allowing the appellate body, the 677 transport tribunal, to grant such a deferment if the traffic commissioner refuses it. This deferment is often, although not always, granted. It if is, it cannot be revoked even if further events occur which would certainly warrant immediate action by the commissioner. This amendment gives the commissioner power to withdraw at any time a deferment he has granted, though not one granted by the higher transport tribunal which will retain the power to grant deferments refused or withdrawn by the commissioner. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead moved Amendments Nos. 157 and 158:
§ [Printed above.]
§ Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 159:
§ Page 29, line 35, leave out from beginning to end of line 43.
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment deletes a provision which enables an applicant for a public service vehicle operator's licence to appeal not only against a refusal but also against a failure by the commissioner to come to a decision within a reasonable time. The provision was taken from the Transport Act 1981 where the appeal was to the Secretary of State. There has never been a proper appeal under it as distinct from a few complaints to my right honourable friend where investigations showed that any delay was due to inadequacy in the information provided by the applicant rather than procrastination or inefficiency on the part of the traffic area office. There is no similar provision in the goods licensing system and no known need for one. The transport tribunal really is not equipped to deal with original applications for licence as distinct from appeals where the paper work and assessment has been done by the traffic commissioners and the tribunal is there to review their decision and the evidence upon which it was based. Even if the tribunal could be so equipped, the time involved would be likely to be far in excess of that taken by the traffic commissioners.
§ I am really saying that I feel that the appeal which has been allowed in the law so far seems to be worse than the disease. I hope that your Lordships will understand the reason for removing for once an appeal right from a Bill. I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I have a couple of questions about this amendment. First, I should like to welcome the desire of the noble Lord the Minister to harmonise HGV licence conditions with PSV licence conditions in this respect and to recognise the feeling of the House so recently expressed. The noble Lord told the Committee that there have not been any appeals of this sort; or did he say that there had not been a significant number? I did not fully catch it. Has the noble Lord received any representations from the relevant trade organisations about the appeal provision which he now proposes to delete?
§ Lord Belstead
I am sorry, I think the truthful answer to that question is that it has been only a matter 678 of days, although we have had the amendment down for some time, and there has not been time for that sort of reaction. I should like to make it clear that I said that there has never been a proper appeal here.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am grateful to the noble Lord and I appreciate his point. Will he say to the Committee that if between now and Report stage he finds that there are from the trade representations which appear to have some weight, he will undertake to consider them and consider what effect they ought to have in the form of amendments at Report stage?
Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 160:
Page 30, line 9, leave out from beginning to ("may") in line 13 and insert—
("(2) Where the refusal by a certifying officer or public service vehicle examiner to remove a prohibition under subsection (1) of section 9 of this Act (including a prohibition under that subsection as it applies by virtue of section 9A of this Act) has been referred to a certifying officer ("the referee") under subsection (8) of that section by a traffic commissioner, any person aggrieved by the refusal of the referee to remove the prohibition").
The noble Lord said: I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 161 and 162 and also to Amendment No. 270.
Amendment No. 161: Page 30, line 24, leave out from ("officer") to ("for") in line 25.
Amendment No. 162: Page 30, line 26, leave out ("or public service vehicle examiner").
Amendment No. 270: Schedule 6, page 148, line 4. at end insert—
("(2A) In section 9 (power to prohibit driving of unfit public service vehicles), in subsection (8), after the word "examiner", in the second place where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words "or certifying officer" and for the words "by a certifying officer and" there shall be substituted—
§ These amendments clear up a possible confusion between the appeal rights granted in Section 9 of the 1981 Act against a refusal to remove a prohibition and the similar rights in Section 51 inserted in that Act by this clause. If your Lordships will agree to these amendments, there will now be a clear progression. First, an aggrieved operator may appeal to the traffic commissioner who will refer it to a certifying officer. If that certifying officer turns down the appeal, the operator may still appeal to my right honourable friend. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead moved Amendments Nos. 161 and 162:
§ [Printed above.]
§ Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 31 agreed to.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I wonder whether it would be a suitable moment to adjourn for dinner. In moving 679 that the House do now resume I suggest that we do not return to the consideration in Committee of the Transport Bill until half-past eight. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ House resumed.