HL Deb 06 July 1994 vol 556 cc1303-36

4.51 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 31 [Use of vehicles under licences]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 191A:

Page 27, line 29, leave out ("4") and insert ("5").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. I should like to know why the fine is set at the level established in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

A maximum fine of £2,500 at Level 4 is commonly provided in the 1968 Act for all those breaches of operator licensing rules for which the licence holder can be convicted. Examples are using an operating centre for vehicles authorised by a licence which is not specified in that licence, contravening any environmental conditions as to the use of an operating centre and using a goods vehicle without an operator's licence which comes into the category requiring such a licence under the 1968 Act. I think that your Lordships would agree that it is more serious, for example, to use a goods vehicle without a licence than to breach any maximum number of vehicles and trailers stipulated on a licence. I hope the noble Lord will agree, therefore, that a penalty for contravening the provisions in the Bill concerning the maximum number of vehicles and trailers to be used under a licence at any one time is appropriately set at Level 4. With that brief explanation, I hope the noble Lord can withdraw his amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am obliged to the Minister. That is a perfectly satisfactory explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 agreed to.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 192:

After Clause 31, insert the following new clause:

("Advertisement of lorry centre applications

.After subsection (5) of section 62 of the 1968 Act there shall be inserted—

(5A) A person applying for an operator's licence shall also affix a notice outlining details of their application to the perimeter of the site in a position clearly visible to the public." ").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 197AA. The new clause would require a person applying for an operator's licence to advertise his proposals on the site that is relevant. As we shall discuss later on, operating a lorry centre may well have a highly deleterious effect on the area. It will certainly have a major impact on the area in some instances. Consequently, we take the view that people who live in the vicinity of a proposed operating centre should be informed of any proposals which may relate to it. At present it is required that proposals relating to this issue have to be advertised in a paper which circulates in the locality. That is not a wholly reliable way of ensuring that people affected by a proposal are aware of it. Notices on site to advertise proposals are frequently used in relation to planning applications. I cannot see any reason why they should not bear similar relevance to the issue we are considering now.

What they would certainly do is provide an alternative way of ensuring that residents received advance notice of proposals which related to the lorry operating centres. I cannot see that that would produce any great burden on industry—certainly not an undue burden, although one might say that a burden is anything which causes pen to be put to paper. It is a perfectly straightforward proposal. I hope the Minister will receive it in a positive way. I beg to move.

Earl Attlee

I rise briefly to support the amendment, especially when one considers that the licence will last for an indefinite period. The people living in the locality must have the opportunity to know that someone will be operating very close to them. The advertisements one sees in the newspaper refer to the address where the proposed operations will start, but the residents may not realise how close the centre is unless they see the notice on the premises concerned.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Following our consultation last year on operator licensing, we considered carefully whether requiring site notices, as advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, would be a good idea. We concluded that it was not necessary to do so to ensure that local people were fully informed. We were also concerned that such a requirement would be very difficult to enforce. Considerable enforcement effort would be required to ensure that the applicant had indeed put site notices in a visible place and kept them there for the requisite period. This would, for example, involve visiting the site at regular intervals to check that the notice was displayed. There could be disputes with applicants claiming that they had put up site notices and residents claiming that they had not, or applicants claiming that they had done their duty but vandals, or even the weather, had constantly torn the notices down.

I should like to reassure the Committee that local people in whose interests the site notice would be erected would have ample opportunity to learn about the use of an operating centre and to make representations if they wished. That will not change in a system of continuous licensing.

On the goods vehicle side, to which Amendment No. 192 relates, applications for an operator's licence or a major variation to an existing licence will still have to be advertised in local newspapers with details of proposed operating centres. I am not as unhappy about local newspaper advertising as I think the noble Lord is. My experience is that people tend to read the local newspaper from cover to cover in a way that they do not usually read the nationals. These advertisements are picked up, and picked up in the warmth and comfort of people's homes, in a way that perhaps they would not be picked up as people passed by a notice in their motor cars. Local people will therefore have a notice in the local newspapers. They will see it and they will have the right to complain at any time to a licensing authority about the use of the operating centre.

That is one of the points of continuous licensing. The licensing authority will take into account representations from people affected by the use of an operating centre in considering any disciplinary action against an operator at any time or in deciding whether or not to review an operating centre at the five-year point. That provision—that is to say, the operating centre being reviewed at the five-year point—will be widely publicised.

As regards public service vehicles and Amendment No. 197AA, if an applicant for an operator's licence is planning to use an existing operating centre, local residents will gain nothing from being informed that a new operator is going to use that site, so why should the applicant have to go to the trouble and expense of advertising? On the other hand, when a new operating centre is to be used, the owner must first obtain planning permission for such use. As part of that process a site notice has to be displayed and local residents may make their representations when the planning application is considered by the local authority. Were it to be mandatory to display site notices, traffic commissioners would have to find the resources to enforce such a provision. They could only do that either by employing additional resources with an inevitable increase in licensing fees, or in decreasing the enforcement effort spent on other activities. I am sure that none of us wants to see that happen.

We believe that the arrangements provided in the legislation are a far more effective means of informing concerned local residents than site notices. I should like to emphasise to the Committee that the Bill does not change the existing arrangements on notification. They are still there and the public will still be informed via the newspapers. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

5 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

Before the noble Lord makes up his mind on this matter, perhaps I may chip in here. We do not need to make a meal of this because it is a peripheral matter.

Lord Clinton-Davis

It is important.

Lord Tordoff

Two factors have occurred to me. First, the Minister's faith in people reading newspapers is somewhat exaggerated. It is true that local newspapers are better read than national newspapers and that is usually because the content is more interesting. A lot of these notices appear in the columns of the advertising part of the newspapers which very often are discarded while people get on with reading the local news.

The reply which the Minister gave on the second amendment that site notices are required under the planning consents, rather undermines his argument regarding the first part of his response that site notices are no good because they get washed away or people tear them down. The truth is that if someone sees a notice in their close locality they are tempted to read it. They will say, "I did not know that that was going to happen in my back yard". But as regards newspapers, people do not scour them although the professionals do. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that this matter is not unimportant and I accept that for the particular resident it is very important. I was merely saying that in relation to the whole nature of this Bill, it is a minor matter. However, it is an important matter and I wonder whether the Minister will go back to the drawing board again and think this matter through before we get to the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

Perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and add my impressions of what is happening. Here we are dealing with two different issues. We are, first, dealing with the vehicle operator's licence. Because they are now being issued for life, it is only as regards the first application that the notice would appear in the local press. At present, these notices appear in the local press every five years when the applicant has to apply for renewal of the licence. That is one aspect that is being abolished. Therefore the only opportunity which the local residents will get as regards the vehicle operator's licence is in the initial application, whereas since 1968 there has been the opportunity every five years.

Secondly, in relation to the site operating licence, the Minister is quite correct that for a new site the applicant has to get planning permission. In that context neighbour notification comes into play. The applicant has to notify the neighbours. I was a little disturbed when the Minister went on to say—rather dangerously, I thought—that it would not be of any great interest to the local residents if the site operator changed. He said that there would be no need for the local residents to know if one site operator gave up the site and a new one took it over. That is very important to local residents.

There is now developing not only in Scotland, but throughout the whole of Great Britain, a tendency for large haulage companies to move away from city and town centres into rural areas. My experience in the past five or six years has been that many large haulage companies have relocated in village areas where there are populations of between 1,000 and 2,000 and where the environment is very important indeed. In what we are discussing today, there is a dangerous tendency for the Government to come down on the side of saving the industry money at the expense of the public interest. I do not believe that the Minister has the balance right. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that it would not be a bad idea if the Minister took this matter away for further consideration.

I realise the problems involved in displaying public notices and so forth; but surely in the case of villages where large haulage concerns are now locating themselves, it is in the interest of village life and the community that we make sure that the villagers know exactly what the proposals are for the applications for the vehicle operator's licence and for the site operator's licence. I hope that the Minister will have a second look at this matter before we come to Report stage.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I believe that the noble Lord has contradicted himself. He seems to base his case for the erection of a site notice on companies relocating into rural areas. I am sure that he accepts that any relocation has to receive planning permission, and there is an adequacy of notice given through that route. Therefore, if one comes out of the town centre or wherever, local people have the opportunity to check and make their representations. You cannot obtain a licence and then put the company in some other place.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is it not right that sometimes planning permission is granted but not utilised for some considerable time? There could then be a considerable change in circumstances and much to the detriment of the people in the locality affected. I believe that situation ought to be protected in the way we have suggested. It would not be protected where there is a substantial gap in the period before the operational centre was constructed or became operational. That is a particular reason why this provision is sensible.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I am pretty sure I am right in saying that currently planning permissions are granted for a very restricted period.

Lord Clinton-Davis


Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I hope the noble Lord will forgive me. I applied for planning permission two-and-a-half years ago. I got permission, but if I do not undertake the work, that permission expires in three years. Is that a substantial period or is it too long for the noble Lord? I am suggesting that there is an in-built protection.

Earl Attlee

As I understand it, if premises were used for a particular purpose prior to the passage of the Town and Country Planning Act, you can continue using them for that purpose. Some premises have never been subject to any planning permission.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

As we are in Committee, perhaps I may reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I apologise if I sounded contradictory. I do not know about planning permissions in England and Wales, but in Scotland a planning consent has to be acted upon within four years or the permission lapses. It is as simple as that.

I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said and that, when the initial planning application and neighbour notification come into play, the people in the village know exactly what is going on. The Minister took that a stage further and said that in his view, if the ownership of the site operator changes, there is no need for local people to know about that. I am saying that there is every need for the people in the locality to know if one owner gives up the site operator's licence and passes it to a completely different owner. The good relations built up between the site operator and the villagers could easily be destroyed by an incoming operator. That is the point that I hope that the Minister will take away and return to on Report.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

It may be helpful if I reply at this point. Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord, Lord Ewing—I may not have made this clear originally—that my point about new operators was relevant to Amendment No. 197AA on public service vehicles. The problem that the noble Lord envisages about haulage firms relocating to the countryside relates to goods vehicle operator licences. If it is of any help to him, I can tell him that an application for a licence by a new operator or for major variations to existing licences would still be subject to full scrutiny. That includes adverts in local papers and would allow opportunities for objections and representations by interested parties. The same advertising protection that is built into the provisions for the first applicant, if I may put it that way, is also built in to the provisions governing any new or significant change in an operator's licence. Therefore, I do not think that the danger that the noble Lord envisages will arise.

I understand the points that other noble Lords have made. I have no desire to have a system in which people are not properly acquainted with what is going on. However, adding this requirement to the things that an operator has to do is simply adding another burden. It may not be a very big burden, but it is nevertheless a burden. We should proceed in that way only if the advocates of change can present cases showing that people did not know that something was happening next to them but that they would have known if notices had gone up. I maintain that the current system of notification in local papers seems to have proved sufficient. Unless I can be shown evidence to the contrary, I shall stick to my guns on that one. However, if noble Lords can bring me evidence either today or between now and Report, I am quite prepared to look at this again.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am very disappointed by that reply. We are not making a revolutionary proposal. The Minister is normally a reasonable man and I wish that, applying that reason and seeing the word "resist" at the top of his briefing, he had applied his mind to the matter and said, "This is not an issue that I ought to resist. This is perfectly reasonable".

I should like to deal with the arguments which the Minister has adduced. I wholly agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that notices are not necessarily seen by people in the locality. This situation is comparable to what happens with regard to the notices that appear in relation to planning applications. Frankly, I would never have known about a certain planning application in the road in which I live if I had followed the Minister's advice and read all the advertisements in the Ham & High with great alacrity. I do not have the time to do that. I even have difficulty in finding the time to read all this material—let alone anything else. I am sure that the Minister will say, "That's obvious from the way in which you approach the subject". Therefore, from personal experience, I do not accept that one always knows about planning applications from the local press. The same argument applies here. The notices that appear on trees and elsewhere in the locality are of great importance. I have never observed notices about applications for planning permission to have been destroyed by the weather or vandals. Vandals prefer to vandalise cars—not notices advertising planning applications. The truth of the matter is that it is a shallow argument to say that advertising in local newspapers is sufficient.

I agree absolutely with my noble friend Lord Ewing about site operation changes. That is a powerful argument, as was, if I may say so, the argument that I adduced about the lapse of time, which can be substantial if it is three or four years. The new operator might be wholly undesirable, as could be the operation that he envisages. Therefore, it is something of a non-sequitur for the Minister to say that this is a burden that should not be applied to the industry.

I hope that the Minister will not insist on his argument about evidence. The evidence is adducible from experience of planning cases. I should have thought that it is a matter of common sense. More than that, however, the Minister asserts that the public have nothing to worry about in terms of environmental harm being caused. He says that the Government are not introducing anything that might upset people. But people do not believe that. In a way, it is a test of the Government's bona fides to assert that the Government are on the side of everybody and that they do not want to harm people's right to know such things.

I am very dissatisfied with the Minister's response. Unless the noble Lord can say categorically and without any caveats, "I shall take this back and look at it again with a view to making a positive response to this eminently common sense proposal"—a proposal which is supported not only on this side of the Committee and by the Liberal Democrats, but also by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, from the Cross Benches —I shall have to test the opinion of the Committee.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Perhaps I may come back again. Although I do not wish to prevent the noble Lord having a vote, I do not want to appear difficult about something that I do not think is a terrifically big issue. Although I accept that people living in a certain road who might miss a local advert but might see a notice might not like the idea on environmental grounds, some of the other grounds which the noble Lord mentioned, such as the operator not being a suitable person, would be picked up by the statutory authorities which have to be notified officially. The sieve is not so big, if I may put it that way, that such aspects will not be picked up by the authorities, which have to be notified in any case.

I have listened to the arguments and I appreciate that we insist that such notices are put up for planning applications. However, as I said, I should like to see some evidence before adding even a tiny additional burden, because to do so seems contradictory in a Bill that seeks to deregulate industry. If it is any help, however, and if it prevents us having coo great a disagreement at this stage, I shall take the amendment away and look seriously at whether this might be a sensible provision to add to the Bill, as it is added already into the planning system.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I appreciate what the Minister has said. He has moved a little in the right direction. However, this is not a complicated argument and I should have thought that the Minister's response would be, "I shall look favourably upon this". Anything short of that is not satisfactory. The Minister's whole argument has been against it—"I do not believe that it is right to do it. I shall want convincing evidence". How one adduces convincing evidence before the require-ment comes into operation, I do not know. This is an eminently sensible proposition. The response I am seeking from the Minister is not only, "I shall look at it again", but, "I shall look at it favourably again". Anything short of that, I fear, is unacceptable. Very well, then I must ask for the opinion of the Committee to be tested.

5.20 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 192) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 77; Not-Contents, 119.

Division No.1
Addington, L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Airedale, L. Carter, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Carver, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Castle of Blackburn, B.
Attlee, E. Clinton-Davis, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Craigavon, V.
Boston of Faversham, L. Cross, V.
Bottomley, L. Dahrendorf, L.
Broadbridge, L. David, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Marsh, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Mayhew, L.
Eatwell, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. McNair, L.
Falkland, V. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Foot, L. Molloy, L.
Geraint, L. Monkswell, L.
Glenamara, L. Monson, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
[Teller.] Peston, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Gregson, L. Rea, L.
Grey, E. Redesdale, L.
Halsbury, E. Richard, L.
Hamwee, B. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Haskel, L. Seear, B.
Howell, L. [Teller.] Serota, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Shepherd, L.
Hughes, L. Stedman, B.
Jay of Paddington, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Jeger, B. Strabolgi, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Kagan, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Kilbracken, L. Tordoff, L.
Kintore, E. Turner of Camden, B.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Whaddon, L.
Longford, E. White, B.
Mallalieu, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Mar, C. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Aberdare, L. Gainford, L.
Addison, V. Gainsborough, E.
Aldington, L. Geddes, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Goschen, V.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Gray of Contin, L.
Annaly, L. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Arran, E. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Harlech, L.
Astor, V. Harmsworth, L.
Balfour, E. Hayhoe, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Henley, L.
Blatch, B. HolmPatrick, L.
Blyth, L. Hooper, B.
Boardman, L. Howe, E.
Borthwick, L. Huntly, M.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Brentford, V. Kimball, L.
Brigstocke, B. Lane of Horsell, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Bruntisfield, L. Long, V.
Burnham, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Cadman, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord
Carnock, L. Chancellor.]
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Mancroft, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Marlesford, L.
Chelmer, L. Merrivale, L.
Chelmsford, V. Miller of Hendon, B.
Clark of Kempston, L. Milverton, L.
Clitheroe, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Colwyn, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Cranborne, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cranbrook, E. Munster, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Nelson of Stafford, L.
Cumberlege, B. Nelson, E.
Davidson, V. Newall, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Norrie, L.
Denham, L. Northesk, E.
Dilhorne, V. O'Cathain, B.
Dixon-Smith, L. Orkney, E.
Downshire, M. Pender, L.
Dundonald, E. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Elles, B. Rankeillour, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Reay, L.
Elton, L. Rees, L.
Ferrers, E. Renwick, L.
Flather, B. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Swansea, L.
Savile, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Seccombe, B. Trumpington, B.
Sharples, B. Ullswater, V. [Teller.]
St. Davids, V. Vivian, L.
Stewartby, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Stodart of Leaston, L. Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Strange, B. Weatherill, L.
Strathclyde, L. Wedgwood, L.
Strathmore and Kinghorne, E. Wise, L.
[Teller.] Wynford, L.
Sudeley, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.28 p.m.

Clause 32 agreed to.

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 192ZA:

After Clause 32, insert the following new clause:

("Parish councils to be objectors under the 1968 Act

â—(1) Section 63 of the 1968 Act (which makes provision for objections to the grant of operators' licences) shall be amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (6), "parish council" shall be added to the definition of "local authority".").

The noble Lord said: This is an amendment introduced in the best spirit of subsidiarity. It wishes to give parish councils the right to be objectors under Section 63 of the 1968 Act. In logic that must be right, because when places are carrying out objectionable practices and noise nuisances, and causing environmental hazards and such things, rights to object are given to all sorts of local authorities. The parish council is the unit at the sharp end. It is the body to which local residents will complain. It is wrong if parish councils have no right of objection or appearance.

I hope that without making a great meal of the issue the Minister will think it right to allow parish councils to have these rights of objection, as have other units of local government. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

This is an extraordinary amendment. In putting it before the Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, prayed in aid logic. He said, "So in logic it must be right". However, there is no logic in this amendment because in many areas of the country there are no parish councils. What is the point of including this provision, because it is totally meaningless? I hope that the noble Lord will reflect upon that.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, rightly said that it is an example of the principle of subsidiarity; in other words, if a decision must be taken by a public body, it should be taken by the public body nearest to the person who might be adversely affected. In this case, the decision is whether to object.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that the provision is meaningless because in many parts of the country there is no parish. If there is no parish no question arises. However, in many parts of the country there is a parish and that is where this amendment bites and where it is entitled to respect. Certainly in those parts of the country where villages are widely separated the district council is very remote from the ordinary citizen but the parish council is in close touch. I believe that no reasonable objection can be taken to this amendment and that it has much to recommend it.

Lord Tordoff

Perhaps I may add a slight gloss to what the noble and learned Lord said. I agree that parish councils are by far the most democratic part of the political establishment of this country. They are nearest to the people in their communities. For that reason alone it is right that they should be included.

However, as a result of the review of local government boundaries, we shall in many cases have district councils, which are significantly bigger. My own fair county of Somerset, for instance, will be divided into a smaller number of larger district council, unless we can stop that. In other words, the district council will be further away from the average citizen. In those cases, the district council is the obvious body via which objections can be lodged—

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Does not the noble Lord mean parish councils?

Lord Tordoff

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Yes, I mean parish councils. The parish council is more in touch with local opinion and it can bring detailed knowledge to the discussions. It can act as a channel for the objections of ordinary people. I hope that the Minister will take the matter seriously.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

The provision does not apply to Scotland for the simple reason that Scotland does not have "parish" councils. The amendment gives parish councils the statutory right of objection. We are not giving parish councils—in Scotland we call them community councils—the right to make the decision as to whether an operator's licence is granted.

The Minister, from his Scottish experience and background, will be aware that community councils in Scotland already have the statutory right of objection in an application for liquor licences for public houses or restaurants. One of the few, if not the only, statutory rights that community councils in Scotland have is the right of objection to the grant of those liquor licences.

The Minister should look at the matter carefully because, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, as local authorities become larger—and that is the purpose of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill—the possibility of objection is removed from the local people. Surely it is important that in the vital issue of granting such licences, which will affect the quality of life in the area in which they are granted, the community councils in Scotland (or the parish councils in England and Wales) should have the statutory right of objection.

Perhaps I may give the Minister a good example of area interest coming into play. The Minister knows that for years throughout Scotland we have had considerable difficulty in the construction of sites for travelling people. An abiding memory from my experience as a constituency MP is of an application being made to Falkirk District Council, which had 36 members, to locate a site for travelling people. The vote to locate that site in one councillor's area was 35 in favour and only one against, the vote against being that of the particular councillor. I am not saying that the 35 people who were in favour of locating the site in that councillor's area were in favour of it; but they were mightily relieved that it was not being located in (heir area. The larger one makes such councils the more danger there is of that type of vested interest occurring. That is what makes the new clause so attractive.

I become worried when my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis says that the Minister is a kind and considerate man and so forth. I shall not say that that is where my worry stems from, but this is a good opportunity for the Minister to display his kindness and consideration and to take the matter away for examination.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My kindness and consideration for the amendment force me to suggest to the Committee that we should resist its addition to the Bill. To a certain extent, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, made my case for me in his example of travelling people, where everyone wants to help in theory but no one wants them in their back yard. He gave an example and certainly I could occupy the Committee with some of my experiences in the matter. They are along the same lines: "Not in my village. There is a very good site in the next village". But perhaps I had better not go down that road too much.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also made my case for me. He said that it was right that "district councils" should have the power, and then he corrected himself. I suspect that the score is now one all as regards my slip of the tongue the other day. At least, I am claiming that it is one all.

In considering operator licences we looked at this matter carefully; we considered whether parish councils ought to be added to the list of statutory objectors, which is the important point. The point is not merely that they will be told that an application has been received and that they can make their objections but that they will actually be added to the list of statutory objectors. The police, certain local authorities, the planning authority and the relevant trade unions are the statutory objectors and they have the right of appeal to the transport tribunal. Therefore, it is a serious step to add any group to the list of statutory objectors, and that includes parish councils. I would resist the proposition that parish councils should be added to the list of statutory objectors. But I want to make it clear to the Committee that they can—and I am sure that they do —play a role in the operator licensing system.

A parish council has a right of representation, in response to newspaper advertisements, on environmental grounds in respect of an application for a goods vehicle operator licence where it owns or occupies property in the vicinity of the operating centre concerned and the parish council's enjoyment of that property would be adversely affected.

Parish councils may subscribe to the fortnightly publication Applications and Decisions—known as As&Ds—which gives details about current applications. They may approach their county or district councils to seek to persuade them to exercise their right of objection.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

Does not the noble Lord think that it is rather cumbrous to allow the parish council to operate by approaching somebody else rather than operating directly?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I do not believe that it is cumbersome. In many spheres of local government decisions are not made at parish council level. Although I am not an expert on parish councils in England, I suspect that very few decisions are made by parish councils. One way in which they represent the people who elect them is to speak to their local councillors at the next level and put collective pressure, as a parish council, on their councillors at county or district level to do whatever they want; in this case, to ask the council, which has a right of statutory objection, to lodge that objection.

I believe that protection exists. Parish councils have a role to play. As my noble friend Lord Lucas pointed out, they do not exist everywhere in England but, where they do exist, I do not believe that it is right to add them to the list of statutory objectors.

Lord Peston

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord to clarify his answer. I listened very carefully and tried to find the logic of what he said. I heard no rebuttal of the argument that parish councils are close to grass roots opinion and are very democratic. Therefore, almost prima facie, they should be statutory objectors.

If the noble Lord's argument is that he considers the list to be sufficiently long, at least I can see the logic of that. He says, "I do not want any more and it is rotten luck that you are at the back of the queue". But I heard no analysis of why parish councils should not be included. If we are concerned about representing opinion and democracy, listening to the arguments put forward and, indeed, listening to the reply of the Minister, I thought that parish councils should be much higher up the list than some of those which are actually on the list. Can he convince us of the position that he has adopted?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I do not subscribe to the view that one level of government is any more or less democratic than another. I suspect that in some areas parish councillors are more or less unelected with no contest. It is difficult to describe them as democratic. I realise that in your Lordships' House that is not a terribly convincing argument, but I have not been asked to add your Lordships' House to the list of statutory objectors. County and district councils are democratic-ally elected and in many cases seats on those councils will be contested. Therefore, I cannot agree with the view that there is a hierarchy of democracy in these matters and that parish councils are more democratic than other councils above them.

Indeed, I should like to look carefully at what powers parish councils have because this amendment would give a power of statutory objection which would put them on all-fours with, for example, planning authorities, the police and relevant trade unions. I suggest that that may be a step too far. I have explained to your Lordships how parish councils at present and in the future may use their influence. They can make representations or they can persuade their local authority to exercise its statutory power of objection.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

Perhaps I may seek some clarification from the Minister. I rather gather from what he said that parish councils have the opportunity to object, even though they are not statutory objectors. He said that they can find out what is going on from announcements in the newspapers and that, just as any citizen can, they can put forward objections.

The idea that parish councillors are not elected is not a road that we should like to go down.

Noble Lords

Some are not.

Lord Monkswell

Whether they are elected uncontested is another matter. That happens in relation to district and county councils. People may be elected unopposed. Therefore, that is not a valid reason for objecting to them and for suggesting that they are less democratic than any other part of local government.

But we should try to avoid conflict. There is nothing more liable to lead to conflict than the feeling that a decision has been made over the heads of people and without consultation. This amendment provides us with a mechanism to resolve that conflict because if the parish councils are added to the list of statutory objectors then the presumption that I make is that they will be consulted officially on any proposals. They will be given notice of the proposals and will be asked for their objections to them. If they are not statutory objectors, nobody will write to them. They must find out for themselves. The problem is that if the parish councillors have not read the relevant newspapers decisions may be made without their views being sought and people will then say that they were not told about it. That creates problems. I believe that to add parish councils to the list of statutory objectors would help to avoid that conflict.

Lord Tordoff

Perhaps I may ask the Minister to clarify something that he said earlier. I believe that he said that parish councils have a right to object in relation to environmental planning matters. Did he say that they can object if their property is affected? Of course, one would wish it to go further than that. One would wish that to relate to the citizens of the parish.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Rather than saying that I think I said what the noble Lord thinks I said, I shall repeat what I said. I am talking about statutory representers, rather than statutory objectors—and that may answer the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. Statutory objectors can make objections with regard to the fitness of an operator, the maintenance of his vehicles, past business activities and so on, and in environmental respects. They have a right of appeal to the transport tribunal.

Statutory representers can make representations on environmental matters but they do not have a right of appeal to the tribunal. Therefore, there are two categories which can have an audience before the authorities on such matters.

A parish council could have a right to representation and quite clearly, the chances are that some members of the parish council would own or occupy property in the vicinity of the operating centre. I am advised quite clearly that they could have a right to statutory representation but not to statutory objection. I believe that that is the difference between us on this matter.

Lord Howell

The Minister made an extremely disappointing reply to what is an important debate. As I listened to him, I wondered whether he believes that parish councillors have a role to do anything at all in this land. I believe that we need to encourage people more and more to take an interest in such affairs; in other words, to participate, to take decisions and to make representations. But here we have the Minister telling us that parish councils ought not to have that right, partly because, according to him, many of them are returned unopposed and there are no elections. It seems to me that the logic of that assumption is that, if you do not give parish councils sensible duties to perform and encourage them to do so, you are likely to have more unopposed elections but less likely to find people to serve on such councils.

The Minister's reply raises the fundamental question as to what the Government believe parish councils exist to do. Surely they exist to make representations about serious nuisances. That is what we are talking about; we are talking about nuisances of one sort or another and the right to be objectors. The Minister said that such councils can make representations through the district council. That is hardly a principle which we ought to apply generally in local government—that one tier of local government should pursue the objections about which its constituents feel strongly by asking another tier of local government to register such objections. But that is what the Minister seems to be saying.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I find the argument very difficult. I invite the noble Lord to remember the number of times when he was in another place that constituents came to him and he wrote letters which were clearly the responsibility of the county council or the district council. He did not send his constituents away: he actually made representations on their behalf to that other authority. I am afraid to say that my idea is not novel.

Lord Howell

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, earlier, the Minister was good enough to concede a point and say that the score was one all. In my other capacity, I was about to wave a yellow card at the Minister. However, in view of the answer that he has just given—which merits two yellow cards—I believe that he should be sent off, just as happens in the World Cup. However, I do not wish to send the Minister off the field because we want to keep him in play; but we also want to keep parish councils in play.

I do not believe that there is any analogy here with the duties of Members of Parliament. Indeed, those of us who have been MPs know perfectly well that this issue is at the nub of many of our problems. But, as the Minister has tempted me down that road, I should like to point out to him that in the City of Birmingham we have considered most carefully how we could create parish councils even in such a large city. We have done so for the simple reason that we are anxious to stop the feelings of frustration that so many people have when they put forward compkunts. As a compromise in Birmingham, we have established neighbourhood councils and neighbourhood centres. They are working very well. In fact, they take much of the load off the shoulders of other elected representatives. That is the important point that has emerged from our debate.

We are not talking about trivial nuisances, with people experiencing them on the ground and living next to them; we are talking about substantial problems. I took some encouragement from a phrase used by the Minister in part of his reply. He said that he would look carefully at the powers of such councils-—which means, of course, that he is not quite certain what their powers are. I can well understand that and I make no complaint.

However, as I do not wish to divide the Committee on the matter, I should like to take the Minister a little further down that road. I wonder whether I can persuade him to look again at the matter in the hope that he may be persuaded that parish councils have an important role to play in matters which directly affect their parishioners. I am sorry to see the Minister shaking his head. But as I do not wish to divide the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, while giving notice that we shall return to the subject at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33 [Determination of applications for licences]:

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 192ZB:

Page 28, line 1, leave out ("must") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: This amendment and Amendment No. 192D are purely drafting amendments. I hope that the Minister will find them helpful to his purpose. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

The provisions of new Section 64(1) to (5) are drafted in the way they are in order to spell out more explicitly the approach that must be taken in practice by the licensing authorities when they consider applications for operator licences. The process is that the licensing authority should ask himself whether the requirements set out in subsection (3), and if he thinks fit subsection (4), would be met were he to grant a licence in the terms applied for. If he decides not, the next stage is to ask himself whether they would be met were he to grant a licence in different terms; for example, authorising fewer vehicles or with the imposition of certain conditions. If he decides that the requirements would not be met were he to grant the licence in any terms, he must refuse the application outright.

That is set out clearly in subsection (9) of new Section 64 to the 1968 Act which I shall read to the Committee so as to ensure that we are all quite clear about it. It reads: If the licensing authority determines that any of the requirements that he has taken into consideration in accordance with subsection (1) of this section are not satisfied, he shall refuse the application, but in any other case he shall, subject to section 69B and 89(2) of this act, grant the application". The drafting of new Section 64 takes that into account. The requirements that the licensing authority has to consider are previous convictions and business activities related to goods vehicles, the arrangements for securing that vehicles are maintained in a fit and serviceable condition and are not overloaded, and the availability, suitability and capacity of the operating centre or centres proposed. In considering those matters he must have regard to any duly made objections and may take into account any undertakings given by the applicant.

The phraseology which the amendments seek to change is entirely appropriate when dealing with requirements that have to be satisfied. I am advised that "must" is appropriate for the setting out of requirements. I hope that the Committee will accept that the clause as drafted achieves the intended result and that "must" is the appropriate word, not "shall".

Lord Howell

In view of the Minister's explanation, which I find to be satisfactory and understandable, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 192A:

Page 28, line 7, at end insert:

("(2A) The licensing authority shall in all cases ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that information given by the applicant in regard to any of the matters set out in subsection (2) above is correct, before issuing an operator's licence.").

The noble Lord said: At present when applying for an operator's licence the applicant is asked for details of any criminal convictions and of his or her financial history. For example, applicants are asked whether they have ever been made bankrupt. However, the information supplied by the applicant is, as I understand it—though I stand to be corrected on the point—not further investigated by the licensing authorities. In fact, it could be done, though it is not, through the Police National Computer or the Register of Disqualified Directors held at Companies House. The amendment would ensure that all such information which the applicant advances in connection with subsection (2) (a) and (b) is correct. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

As the noble Lord explained, the amendment would require licensing authorities to check all information given on every application to deal with past business activities and convictions. We are not persuaded that such a requirement would add to the safeguards already in the system to ensure that such information is correct. Indeed, a statutory requirement to check would place an extra burden on staff and could lead to delay and extra costs for operators.

Licensing authorities will usually accept the information given on application forms unless they have reason to doubt it. Licensing authorities have the support of staff with long experience and a good internal intelligence system through past records. This enables them to follow up suspicions and to check known past offenders. The Committee will appreciate that some operators go in and out of business and change partners and operating names. Staff in the traffic areas know the firms well and keep records on them. They also keep records of previous applications and convictions. In cases where this seems necessary, a check with criminal records or local police would be made.

In addition, of course—we have been discussing this —licensing authorities are obliged in law to have particular regard to statutory objections to the application for a licence, including objections made on the grounds of applicants' past business activities and convictions. People with statutory objector status are the police, local authorities, planning authorities, and trade unions or associations whose members consist of or include licensed operators and their employees. Objections can thus be a good source of information.

As I am sure the Committee appreciates, statutory objectors are drawn from quite a wide circle of bodies, although perhaps it is not as wide as some Members of the Committee would have wished. A requirement to make checks would therefore not in practice add to the safeguards that are already there as regards the experience of the staff in the licensing authority and as regards the information—or potential information, if there is a problem—that could be provided by the statutory objectors. I should at this stage reassure the Committee and the noble Lords who have tabled the amendment that there are sanctions against those who give false information. In such cases a licensing authority has power to revoke, suspend or reduce the scope of a licence. I suggest this is sufficient deterrent and safeguard.

I hope that, with that explanation of how the system works at the moment to ensure that the information on the form is correct, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment, which I believe would be quite difficult, and perhaps time consuming, to implement.

6 p.m.

Lord Peston

Will the Minister clarify his reply? Subsection (2) of Clause 33 on page 28 of the Bill is clear. It states that the applicant must not by reason of the conditions mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) be, unfit to hold an operator's licence". The Minister then described what I take to be what happens in practice, and what he would expect to happen in practice in order that the licensing authority could somehow act according to the existing provisions. I understood the Minister's pragmatic view as regards what he felt would happen in practice, and I cannot believe that he is mistaken, but Amendment No. 192A deals with a further matter. The matter concerns not the operator but the licensing authority. If it turned out subsequently that someone was granted an operator's licence who should not have been granted it by reason of the conditions mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b), the purpose of this amendment in the name of my noble friends is to question the licensing authority on why it did not discover that. That seems to me the point of the matter. The amendment in a sense tells the licensing authority that it has a duty that we wish to put in statute. I did not hear an answer on that point from the Minister. I fully understand the points the Minister made as regards not including measures that are impracticable. However, in the case I am discussing, if it turned out that a person had a criminal conviction and then committed another act of a criminal nature which was perhaps damaging to a third party —we know that happens; happily not as frequently as one fears, but it happens—I should like it to be possible to ask the licensing authority why that person's application was allowed through. Without an amendment of this kind, I cannot see that I should have any locus to ask the licensing authority why it let a particular application through. I am seeking clarification from the Minister. I well understood his argument, which I did not find unconvincing, but I am not sure that it dealt with quite the point in the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am having some difficulty in understanding the question the noble Lord asked of me. However, no doubt if I am not answering the right question, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will tell me. The amendment which is tabled deals with the application at the time it is made. I have suggested that there are ways in which the licensing authority gains the information which could lead it—I am not saying this will happen 100 per cent. of the time—to believe that something on the application form is not correct. The authority's background and the knowledge of its staff and the information that is provided by statutory objectors, and indeed information from people making representations, may lead the authority to reach that conclusion. I believe I have said that powers are given to the licensing authority to act against someone who fills in a form falsely.

However, I believe the noble Lord was going beyond the terms of the amendment when he asked me what would happen if a new fact came to light after the licence had been granted. He asked me what would happen if no one had picked up that fact but after the licence had been granted suddenly the authority discovered that one of the entries was false and, had it been known, the authority would have reached a different conclusion. Having almost posed the question, I suppose I had better answer it.

Lord Peston

I think we have nearly reached the stage of asking the question. We can then deal with the answer. I shall explain what I have in mind. Let us assume that an operator committed another action which turned out to be illegal or criminal but, in the course of that, the authority discovers that the person had a conviction and therefore should never have been given an operator's licence in the first place. Therefore, my objection is not against the operator but rather against the licensing authority. I would want to ask why the licensing authority did not find that out in the first place. This is a matter of how much pressure we put on the licensing authority. I repeat the noble Lord's answer. In practical terms the authority will be trying to do the best it can. However, this amendment seeks to place that on a statutory basis so that one could then say to the authority, "You have failed in your statutory duty". That is my point.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

This, of course, is a problem with all forms that are filled in whether in relation to this matter or in relation to many other matters. The obligation to be truthful is on the person who is filling in the form. If that person is found not to be truthful, punishments or withdrawals or whatever will follow. I think I understand what the noble Lord is saying. I hope I can answer him. I believe it: would certainly make for an extremely cumbersome system if we imposed this measure on the licensing authority, because it would then have to check every single thing on every application form. That would be an exhaustive process.

I have suggested that in the trawl through its own records, through its own knowledge and through the information given by the statutory objectors, in most cases—I freely concede that I cannot guarantee that this would happen in all cases, but that might not occur even if this measure were imposed on the authority—the authority would pick up anything that was false. If, after the licence is granted —this is an important point—new facts come to light which would mean that the licence should not have been issued, the authority has the power to revoke it, suspend it, or reduce its scope. I hope I have persuaded the Committee that the existing powers give the licensing authority enough power to make sure that someone cannot get away with providing false information on a form, obtaining a licence, and then, so to speak, going on merrily even if the licensing authority finds out that something is not correct.

Lord Monkswell

I mentioned earlier this afternoon the change in circumstances between 1968 and now. The Minister has effectively described a regime that might have been applicable 20 or 30 years ago. But now, with the advent of computerised records—the police national computer has been mentioned, and no doubt there is a computer record of disqualified directors—the inquiries we are discussing should be relatively easy to make. They were obviously not even possible some years ago. I pick up the words "reasonably practicable" from the amendment. We are not saying that the authority should go to unreasonably impractical steps to check an applicant, but, where facilities now exist or where they could become available in a few years' time with the advent of further new technology and computerisation, the authorities should make those checks.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am not quite as convinced as my noble friend Lord Peston as regards the response of the Minister. However, I do not want that to be construed as a major split in the Labour Party on this matter! My noble friend quite rightly says that it is his Bill. I should never have said any such thing.

It is my understanding that those who are engaged in determining whether an application should be granted rely on an admixture of hearsay, inference, guesswork and even personal prejudice or the prejudice of people around them. My noble friend Lord Monkswell is right. In this day and age it is not possible to say that the tests we have suggested are impossible or too onerous. I do not know the number of taxi drivers in the metropolitan area, but each of those applications is rigorously tested. Yet a heavy goods vehicle operator bears enormous responsibility for the goods that he carries, for safety and the environment. His obligations are substantial. Therefore, I cannot understand why a distinction should be drawn in the rigour which is quite rightly applied to taxi drivers—and perhaps even to minicab drivers, when we hear the results of the Government's investigations into that element in the London area—and goods vehicle operators. Perhaps the Minister would like to make an observation on that point.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I would love to make an observation about it, but the position regarding taxis is not immediately known to me. I would certainly have to look at that. However, I do not believe that it necessarily reads over to other applications, including the one that we are dealing with.

In the absence of any evidence that there is a real problem here and that a lot of people have slipped through the net and obtained licences who would not have obtained them if such a statutory obligation had been placed on the licensing authority, I believe that the various checks and balances I have suggested are more than sufficient.

I remind the Committee that the Bill is an attempt to deregulate and find a balance. I do not think that placing more regulations on the authority is a sensible way to go about the matter unless a very convincing argument can be made that the authority needs this additional regulation.

Lord Clinton-Davis

The Minister says that he is not in a position to respond to the point that I made about taxi drivers and the comparable obligations of operators of heavy goods vehicles. I believe that it is a highly germane point to make.

I believe that our proposal would remove some of the obligations that fall upon the licensing authority, relying as it does on a sense of the application that it is required to consider. I hope that the Minister will say that he will look at the matter again. I do not even ask him to say that he will look at it favourably, but merely that he will consider it. A nod of his head would be sufficient. He has done more than that. He has waved in an approving way, indicating that he will look at the matter. I ask no more than that. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 192B:

Page 28, line 8, leave out ("It must be possible") and insert ("In order to enable the licensing authority").

The noble Lord said: How I envy my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. He looks at the Minister and gets a nod of the head whereas all I get is a shake of the head. I agree that I offered the Minister a yellow card. It is all very sad. Perhaps I may do better mis time.

In moving Amendment No. 192B I shall speak also to Amendment No. 192C. The purpose of the amendments is to clarify the drafting of subsection (3) of the new Section 64 inserted by the Bill into the 1968 Act. That new section deals with the manner in which applications for licences are to be determined. Subsection (3) sets out a number of preconditions which appear to be intended to enable the powers of the licensing authority to be exercised effectively. The problem is that something is amiss with the drafting of the subsection so that grammatically it does not appear to make sense. The two amendments are designed to be helpful to the Government and to set out what the subsection is designed to achieve. I hope that that is the case.

Taken together, the amendments place a duty on the operator to ensure that the preconditions listed in paragraphs (a) to (d) are secured in order that the licensing authority's powers to issue a licence are fully effective. The preconditions set out in the subsection are: that there are satisfactory arrangements for securing that the vehicles are not overloaded, that there are satisfactory facilities for vehicle maintenance, that at least one place in the area of the licensing authority is specified as an operating centre and is available and suitable for such use; and that the capacity of an operating centre is sufficient for all the vehicles covered by the licence. Those preconditions are left unchanged by the amendment and, I imagine, will have the support of all Members of the Committee.

As I said, the amendments are designed to secure a response from the Minister as to whether the wording is right and achieves his purpose. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

This is similar to our debate on Amendments Nos. 192ZB and 192D when I explained the reasoning behind the drafting of the new subsections (1) to (5) of Section 64. These provisions reflect a process which the licensing authority must follow when considering applications for licences. In particular they reflect the questions it must ask itself in order to be satisfied that the operator will fulfil the requirements of new Section 64. The terms "it must be possible" and "apply" reflect that process.

In the earlier debate I convinced the noble Lord that the phraseology that we had inserted in the Bill was appropriate. I hope that I may be able to do so in this case. It is always difficult when we consider the best words to be used rather than arguing about what is intended. We are in total agreement about the intention. I hope that the noble Lord can accept from me that the phraseology we have used in this part of the Bill is appropriate to the application process that the licensing authority will go through as it goes step by step through the provisions in the Bill—or the Act when it becomes an Act—in order to be satisfied that it should grant an application. We believe that the phraseology which our advisers have inserted is appropriate and that the changes which the noble Lord suggests are not needed.

I hope that without showing me a yellow card the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Howell

I am always delighted when a Minister of the Crown convinces himself that he is right. These days that is a rare experience. However, since the Minister, having thought about the matter, has convinced himself that he is right, I leave the matter there. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 192C and 192D not moved.]

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 192E:

Page 29, line 47, at end insert:

("(3A) The authority may in addition impose requirements relating to maximum noise levels, whether from motor vehicles or otherwise from the operator's activities, and the period within which such noise level is permissible.")

The noble Lord said: In this case we are anxious to provide a power for the licensing authority to take into account noise levels and to impose conditions as to noise when it issues licences for an operating centre.

The new Section 64A which is inserted into the 1968 Act sets out the duty of the licensing authority to issue a licence where certain stipulated conditions are met and where the authority does not believe that remedial action is required to meet any such condition. Under subsection (3) the authority is able to vary the terms on which the licence is issued from those on which it was applied for in a number of respects. The powers are designed to increase or decrease the number of motor vehicles covered by the licence, to apply the licence to different vehicles, and to make variations concerning the weight of vehicles, trailers or the numbers of operating centres covered by the licence.

We broadly welcome the powers. However, there is no provision for the licensing authority to insert conditions about maximum noise levels. The amendment therefore seeks to correct that situation by putting into the hands of the authority powers to stipulate maximum noise levels from motor vehicles or otherwise from the operator's activities; for example, from the operating centre; and to make provision to stipulate the periods within which the maximum noise levels are permissible. Those could vary considerably. The amendment ascertains the Government's attitude to placing noise control powers in the licence.

There are a number of controls over noise in local authority traffic management systems. There are controls over the physical condition of vehicles. One aspect is the control of unacceptable noise from exhausts, and so on. However, we seek to emphasise that the power to pinpoint the precise amount and nature of noise which can flow from the grant of a licence for an operating centre with vehicles moving in and out, could give the licensing authority a very useful means of dealing with that form of environmental pollution at source rather than to rely on the remedial measures ' applied later by other means. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am sure that we all have a great deal of sympathy with the subject of the amendment. I am sure that we all agree with the noble Lord that it is important that we reduce the noise level in our society commensurate with the fact that we all need the vehicles, aeroplanes, and so on, which move around. However, I hope that I shall be able to persuade him that sufficient powers exist without adding this responsibility to the other responsibilities of the licensing authorities.

As the noble Lord indicated, local authorities already have powers to deal with noise nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 including noise from the use of premises. I suggest that they are in a much better position than licensing authorities to exercise such powers. The noise of vehicles in use on the road is regulated nationally under construction and use regulations. If licensing authorities were given the power to impose noise levels on vehicles which, though licensed locally, could be used nationwide, that would be to superimpose their individual views on stipulations made for general application.

I hope that the Committee will agree that for all our licensing authorities to become involved in settling requirements as to noise levels would be unnecessary, inappropriate and confusing. The problem of noise in vehicles is best left to the authorities and to the regulations which already exist to deal with the matter nationwide.

It is a serious problem. Perhaps I may say to the Committee that the perceived noise level of individual vehicles has been reduced by half in the past few years; and that further reductions in noise levels will be introduced in 1996 together with new controls on noise from air brakes, controls on the sale of replacement silencers and other measures. Research is being undertaken on body rattle from heavy lorries, and the European Union is considering such matters as control on tyre noise. Of course, improved road surfaces have helped to reduce the noise created by vehicles moving along them.

I hope that I can persuade the noble Lord that we are very serious about reducing noise as much as technology can help us to do so. However, perhaps asking the licensing authority to become involved in this specific matter is asking it to take on an additional responsibility which is better done by other people to national standards.

Lord Tordoff

The Minister has not addressed the second part of the amendment which refers to, "otherwise from the operator's activities". The period within which such noise level is permissible is also an important part of the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

leaving aside noise level, in fact the licensing authority can put conditions on the use of the site which may include the hours of the day during which the site can be used. With egard to the level of noise, if a site will be too noisy in the view of the licensing authority, I suspect that it then has to consider not giving the licence. But if a licence has been granted, and there is a noise nuisance, then the local authority has the power to deal with it, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as I said in my original response. That refers not only to noise from the lorries but also from the premises. Noise from the premises is dealt with under the Environmental Protection Act.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I shall consider what the Minister said. I am not wholly persuaded, for reasons to which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred. However, I should like to take guidance on what the Minister said from those with experience of these matters, and may wish to come back to the issue later. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Conditions for securing road safety]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 192F:

Page 30, line 43, leave out ("and").

The noble Lord said: If it is convenient to the Committee, I speak also to Amendment No. 192G.

The amendment seeks to remove restrictions relating to the circumstances in which conditions might apply which have been attached to the licence concerning road safety. The new Section 64B of the 1968 Act sets out the powers of the licensing authority to attach conditions for securing road safety. In essence, those amount to this. The licensing authority is in a position to attach such conditions as it thinks fit for preventing vehicles covered by the licence from causing danger to the public. It can do so, first, at any point where those vehicles first join a public road on their way from the operating centre to another destination, or where they leave a public road to reach such a centre; and, secondly, on any road other than a public road along which vehicles are driven between points and the operating centre.

Those stipulations appear to be somewhat over-precise. It is suggested that there is no obvious reason why conditions required for road safety—for example, covering the condition of vehicles, maintenance, suitability for the purpose for which it is licensed, and so on—should not apply at any point where the vehicle is in motion.

I ask the Minister, first, to clarify whether the definitions used in fact mean that a vehicle could be in motion at any point outside an operating centre and not covered by the licensed conditions. Secondly, if, as appears to be the situation, a vehicle while moving within an operating centre is outside the licensing conditions, why should that be so? On that point, the vehicle could well be manoeuvring or performing lifting or dumping operations within an operating centre in a way in which safety and general roadworthiness may be relevant to the possible danger of those operations. So it would seem to be illogical that a vehicle is perhaps covered as to licence conditions up to the moment it enters an operating centre, but that, when that has happened and the vehicle comes to rest in the centre, that situation no longer obtains. I ask the Minister to clarify the drafting and explain why any possible gaps may be justified. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am happy to explain to the noble Lord and to the Committee what is meant by the clause and add to that why I do not think the noble Lord's amendment is necessary. At present, if a licensing authority judges an operating centre to be unsuitable for reasons which are not environmental, he must refuse to authorise its use, even in circumstances where some restriction as to the way it is used might render it suitable. A typical example is where it would be unsafe for vehicles to turn in or approach from a particular direction when entering or leaving an operating centre, or where vehicles would have to enter or leave backwards.

Subsection (1) of the new Section 64B provides that a licensing authority may attach to any licence which he grants or varies such conditions as he thinks appropriate for preventing danger to the public: at any point where vehicles join or leave a public road on their way to or from an operating centre; and on any road, other than a public road, along which such vehicles are driven between such a point and the operating centre.

The licensing authority therefore has responsibility for safety considerations in respect of the restricted locality of the operating centre. The highway authority has a road safety locus on public roads and can place restrictions on the use of a public road for road safety reasons. This amendment would serve to duplicate that responsibility, and I believe it is unnecessary, therefore.

What the clause does is to give the responsibility to the licensing authority clearly inside the operating centre and at the point where it joins the public highway. Once a vehicle is on the public highway, the responsibility is that of the highway authority and it has sufficient powers to place restrictions on the use of the road for road safety reasons. I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Lord will be satisfied that all eventualities are covered either by the licensing authority or by the highway authority.

Lord Clinton-Davis

Without prejudice, I think that that is not an unreasonable response. I should like to think about what the Minister said. If the provision is duplicatory, then of course there is no purpose in it. I am not absolutely convinced that that is right and I should like to think further about it. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 192G not moved.]

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 192H:

Page 31, line 12, leave out ("special").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is necessary because of the extraordinary use of the word "special" in Clause 34 on page 31, line 12. We wish to leave it out. I hope that the Minister can satisfy us as to why special consideration should apply in this case to one set of people when it does not seem to apply to others.

Under the new Section 64B of the 1968 Act, a system is to be set up whereby, when the licensing authority attaches road safety conditions, varies some of those conditions or imposes new restrictions, the authority shall give the applicant or licence holder an opportunity to make representations. No one objects to that, but those representations are to cover the effects on the operator's business as opposed to intrinsic rights or wrongs of the road safety conditions. Subsection (4) requires the licensing authority to give: special consideration to any representations made",

by the operator. My amendment asks why. There is no objection to operators having every opportunity to make representations, the point is simply that the Bill requires special consideration by the licensing authority in respect of those representations.

It seems to me that that must mean that the operator's representations are to be given greater weight than those made by local residents, amenity groups or other representatives of the community. Surely the job of the licensing authority is to strike and maintain a proper balance between possible objections of local people and the need to secure the granting of sufficient licences to enable activities to proceed and to avoid improperly withholding licences where conditions have not been met.

I move the amendment, therefore, in order to give the Minister the opportunity to explain why there has to be special consideration for operators as opposed to other interested parties. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I hope that I can persuade the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the word "special" is not in the Bill for any reason which ought to cause him suspicion. The inclusion of the term "special consideration" merely mirrors that already provided in the 1968 Act with regard to the imposition of environmental conditions on an operator's licence. It is important that when placing road safety conditions on an operator's licence the licensing authority gives special consideration to the views of the operator himself if indeed he chooses to make representations against those conditions. The operator may have a lot to lose in terms of the running of his business and it is right that his representations are given special consideration. This does not mean, however, that objectors should be given anything other than proper consideration. But, far more importantly, it does not mean that a licensing authority should let consideration of the operator's business override its views on potential danger to the public.

I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Lord will be reasonably satisfied and be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Howell

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. It is reasonably acceptable to me. I was not overwhelmingly convinced by the use of the word "special" and the need for it in the Bill, but, in view of the explanation we have heard, I am not sufficiently agitated to divide the Committee on the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 34 agreed to.

Clause 35 [Duration of licences and grant of interim licences]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 193:

Page 31, line 28, after ("to") insert ("the provisions of subsection (2A) below,").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if, in moving Amendment No. 193, we discuss also Amendment No. 194. The aim of both these amendments is to enable goods vehicle operator licences to be revoked on environmental grounds. Chapter III deregulates the licensing system for operators of goods vehicles and a key element is the system of continuous licensing as against the five-year period which operates up to the present time.

The Government say—and the Minister has said this over and over again, but the mere fact that he repeats it does not mean that it is accurate—that safeguards with respect to safety in the environment will unquestionably be maintained. The primary purpose of the amendments is to probe that commitment. Lorry operating centres cause significant local environmental problems. That is not invariably the case, but many of them do. These will include noise, pollution and vibration, and a whole series of environmental problems arises because of the presence of goods vehicles in a neighbourhood. One only has to have represented an inner London area to know that that is the case. It means that there is considerable oppression caused to local residents. It is not invariably the case, but it does happen. I note that for the first time this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, nods his head in approbation of what I am saying. May it not be for the last time this evening.

The environmental impact of a centre can vary over time as a result of the intensification of its use. There can be alterations in operating patterns; different types of goods can be handled; different types of vehicles can be used. All those variations will change the circumstances under which the initial operating application was granted.

Therefore, we say that it is critical that the introduction of continuous licensing does not prejudice the environmental protection of which I have spoken. Under this amendment the licensing authority could terminate a licence in response to complaints about the environmental impact of a centre. On the assumption that Ministers may not support the proposal, I hope that in their opposition—I suppose I am anticipating the obvious—they will explain how they envisage that the continuous environmental controls could be achieved in the light of the new system that is being introduced under this Bill.

There is another, more general concern. The removal of the five-yearly review of an operator's licence could leave the system devoid of any mechanism for adequate control or monitoring. Who will enforce compliance with licensing conditions in the absence of a regular review procedure? I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

As in a number of these mini-debates, I very much share the noble Lord's concern to ensure that those who live in the vicinity of a goods vehicle operating centre do not suffer adverse environmental effects. I do not, however, think that the noble Lord's amendment is necessary to secure that objective.

Under the current system once a licensing authority is satisfied that the use of an operating centre would be appropriate, the successful licence holder is guaranteed the use of that centre at least up to the time when he re-applies for his licence, normally at the five-year point. At that time a licensing authority can decide whether an operating centre should continue to be authorised taking into account any material change that there has been in its use. The five-yearly review system under continuous licensing will provide a similar opportunity to check on the use to which operating centres are being put. That is my first point. The system will not be the same, because there will not be the need for reapplication as if it were a first-time applicant again; but there will be a five-yearly review system and that will give an opportunity to check on what has been happening. We do not believe that it would be right to subject operators to greater uncertainty as a result of the move to continuous licensing.

That is not to say that the environmental impact of operating centres will go unchecked under the new system. In future, as now, a licensing authority will be able to place environmental conditions on an operator's licence in respect of the proposed operating centre. Those conditions could, for example, restrict the timing —as I have already mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—and methods of movements in and out, the number of vehicles normally kept at the centre and the on-site maintenance arrangements. If subsequently it were found that those conditions had been broken the licensing authority could revoke, suspend or reduce the scope of that operator's licence. The licensing authority will have the power to do that at any time, not only at the given five-year review stage. He will be able to act on information brought to his notice from any source, not just by statutory objectors but by members of the public as well.

These powers are sufficient at present to provide the necessary environmental safeguards for the 10 per cent. of operating centres which cause problems. They are not in any way affected by the proposals in this Bill. I hope that the noble Lord can accept my reassurances on these matters and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am extremely puzzled by that response. The response effectively is: nothing will change. I simply cannot accept that. On this matter the Minister has said nothing more, and it does not add to the Bill. It certainly does not subtract from the need for environmental security. In those circumstances, I think I ought to test the opinion of the Committee.

6.45 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 193) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 62; Not-Contents, 99.

Division No.2
Addington, L. Hamwee, B.
Airedale, L. Haskel, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Howell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Jeger, B.
Attlee, E. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Judd, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kilbracken, L.
Bottomley, L. Lawrence, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Longford, E.
Castle of Blackburn, B. Mallalieu, B.
Clinton-Davis, L. Mar, C.
Craigavon, V. Masham of Ilton, B.
Dahrendorf, L. Mayhew, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. McNair, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Eatwell, L. Molloy, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Monkswell, L.
Falkland, V. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Foot, L. Peston, L.
Geraint, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Prys-Davies, L.
[Teller.] Redesdale, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Richard, L.
[Teller.] Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Grey, E. Serota, B.
Halsbury, E. Shepherd, L.
Stedman, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Whaddon, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L. White, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Tordoff, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Aberdare, L. Kimball, L.
Addison, V. Kintore, E.
Aldington, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Alport, L. Lauderdale, E.
Annaly, L. Lindsay, E.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Arran, E. Long, V.
Ashbourne, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Astor, V. Mancroft, L.
Balfour, E. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Blatch, B. Monk Bretton, L.
Blyth, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Boardman, L. Munster, E.
Borthwick, L. Nelson, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Newall, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Norrie, L.
Brentford, V. Northbourne, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Northesk, E.
Burnham, L. Orkney, E.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Orr-Ewing, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Pender, L.
Courtown, E. Rankeillour, L.
Craigmyle, L. Reay, L.
Cranborne, V. Rennell, L.
Cranbrook, E. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Cumberlege, B. Rodney, L.
Davidson, V. Sainsbury of Preston Candover, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Seccombe, B.
Dundonald, E. Selborne, E.
Eden of Winton, L. Sharpies, B.
Elles, B. Shrewsbury, E.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Elton, L. St. Davids, V.
Ferrers, E. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Flather, B. Strafford, E.
Glenarthur, L. Strange, B.
Goschen, V. [Teller.] Strathclyde, L.
Gowrie, E. Sudeley, L.
Harlech, L. Teynham, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Trumpington, B.
Harmsworth, L. Ullswater, V. [Teller.]
Hayhoe, L. Vivian, L.
Henley, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Hooper, B. Wise, L.
Howe, E. Wynford, L.
Huntly, M. Young, B.
Jeffreys, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.53 p.m.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 193ZA:

Page 31, line 32, at end insert ("provided that the licensing authority is of the opinion that the operator is of good repute.").

The noble Earl said: There is a requirement for an operator of a goods vehicle to be of good repute. That was first introduced in 1984 as a result, I believe, of EC legislation. I am sure that the Committee will agree that that is desirable. Clause 35 of the Bill allows for indefinite duration of the operator's licence. We need to ensure that the operator continues to be of good repute. That is the problem that the amendment addresses. I am sure that the Minister will say that it is unnecessary and poorly drafted. He is probably right, as it is purely a probing amendment.

The man on the Clapham omnibus has no difficulty in identifying someone who is not of good repute. He simply asks himself the questions: "Would I allow my goods to be carried in his vehicle?" or "Would I ride in his cab?". The trouble is that the licensing authority does not seem to employ the same criteria and is extremely reluctant to revoke an operator's licence, even when to the man in the street the operator is not of good repute.

The cowboy operators are unfair to other operators. Clearly, if they are flouting the law, their operation costs, their costs per tonne mile, must be lower than a more professional operator. One of the tricks they may try is to tax their two-axle articulated tractor at the concessionary three-axle rate, thereby saving around £2,000. Lack of action on the matter encourages other operators to flout the law to some degree in order to remain competitive.

We frequently read reports in the trade press of cowboys with bad records coming before the licensing authority. They may have inadequate maintenance facilities; they may have numerous GV9 prohibitions, many of them marked "neglect", which means that it is not simply a breakdown that occurred on the road but that the problems have been in existence for a long time. There may be systematic abuse of drivers' hours regulations—they may have a switch that electrically cuts out the tachograph at certain times; the vehicle may be overloaded; or, as I mentioned earlier, there may be vehicle excise problems. Some operators have a combination of those faults.

Cowboy operators may have criminal convictions. In one specific case an operator was twice convicted of stealing articulated trailers yet still retained his good repute and his operator's licence. If the licensing authority does not revoke the licences of the cowboy operators, he damages the industry considerably. The cowboy operators will eventually go bust for other reasons. While they are in business they depress the market rate for transport. When they go bust another cowboy operator will come along and do exactly the same.

The LA is reluctant to revoke a licence and may feel that it is putting the employees of the operator out of work. But I suggest that that is a false argument. An operator may have 10 drivers, each of whom is driving one hour in 10 too many; that means that he is driving 10 per cent. too much. The cowboy operator with 10 drivers is therefore taking away one man's living because there should be another driver on the road. The operator who inadequately maintains his vehicles should perhaps employ another fitter properly to maintain and repair the vehicle so that it can be safely operated.

The licensing authority may feel that it should give the operator one last chance—we see that comment in reports. But the cowboy operator is taking one last chance. He is trying one more dodge to keep in operation a little longer.

The cowboy operator may be ignorant, but he may also be incompetent; he may never be able to operate his fleet or his single vehicle properly. Therefore the LA should consider immediately rejecting the licence. Society does not expect operators to be of ill repute. When suppliers supply an operator with spare parts, batteries, tyres and so forth, they expect to be paid. A cowboy operator will probably not pay his suppliers. The drivers expect to be paid properly, yet frequently we hear stories of drivers working for an unscrupulous operator and either not being paid at all or not being paid the amount of money originally agreed. Customers should not be exposed to unscrupulous operators, who may lose either the whole load or part of it.

Road haulage is quite a good small business which can be run by one-man band operators. They are called owner-drivers. They can have perfectly good maintenance facilities, they can have their truck maintained by a proper garage or a dealer and they can buy new equipment, but they cannot do that if they have to compete with cowboy operators. The Minister has power under Section 59(2) of the 1968 Act to direct the licensing authorities. Presumably he can direct the LAs on matters of policy, though it would not be appropriate for him to intervene in an individual case. But it seems clear that the licensing authorities are not tough enough against cowboy operators. It should be down to the Minister or the Secretary of State to put pressure on the licensing authorities and the chief licensing authority to revoke more licences. That would deter cowboy operators.

I should have liked to put: down an amendment on county court judgments. When we look at the various pieces of legislation on this matter we see that good repute has nothing to do with county court judgments. An operator can have dozens of county court judgments against him. Nowhere in the legislation does it specifically say that the operator must not have county court judgments against him. I did not put down such an amendment because that would have increased the amount of regulation and the purpose of the Bill is deregulation. The Clerks therefore advised me that I could not do that.

When the Minister comes to reply he may refer to multi-agency checks. He has frequently made great play with such checks. I am sure that they are very efficient but he must admit that fewer inspectors are carrying out these multi-agency checks. If we cut out the cowboys by revoking their licences sooner, there would be less need to have multi-agency checks. Some of the checks can take an operator off the road for a considerable amount of time. I have heard reports that the checks can take two hours. That is excessive. If the Government want to deregulate they should try to avoid these checks. The best way to avoid the checks is to cut out the cowboy operators.

In conclusion, the licensing authorities must be more prepared to revoke. That will reduce the number of cowboys. It may be argued that, if one revokes the licence of an operator, he will simply operate without a licence. That is true. On a previous occasion the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, moved an amendment to allow for the confiscation of vehicles operating without an operator's licence. Unfortunately, the Government did not agree with that amendment. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am glad that in his introduction the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that this is a probing amendment. We are discussing the matter of an operator's reputation—that he should be "of good repute". The noble Earl catalogued a number of offences, most of which are technical and are already covered by the responsibilities of the licensing authority. I refer to maintenance and so on. I endorse that but I do not feel that that has anything to do with what is set out on the Marshalled List. An earlier amendment, Amendment No. 192A, sought to ensure that the licensing authority has a duty to make sure that matters put on the application form for a licence shall be correct. My noble friend the Minister explained why he did not feel that that was necessary. This amendment falls into a very similar category and deserves a similar answer.

I thank the noble Earl for bringing the matter before the Committee so that we can say—and it can be reported in the trade press—that we are asking the commissioners to be more diligent and more forceful in enforcement and in the use of the powers they already have with regard to maintenance or where the licence holder loses his good reputation by some action at some time. It could be a brawl in the night club. If a man has a conviction for something of that nature I do not think he is of good repute. That should be taken into consideration in the review of the licence, and that can happen at any time. We have already heard from my noble friend that anyone can go to the traffic commissioners and raise an objection. Such an objection may concern the site—for example, where the operator is dropping oil all over the road—or the kind of instance which lies behind the noble Earl's amendment. I would not like the matter to go further and have it placed on the face of the Bill but I should like the Minister to assure us that enforcement, which is not altered by Virtue of the Bill, will be diligently applied.

Lord Clinton-Davis

There is a great deal of force in what the noble Earl had to say in introducing the amendment. I, too, await the Minister's response with some interest.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Before I turn to the main burden of the noble Earl's amendment, perhaps I may deal with one point which stands aside a little from the amendment. The noble Earl asked whether the Minister can direct the licensing authority. The answer is yes. Under Section 59(2) of the 1968 Act the Secretary of State has the power to make general directions in relation to the exercise by a licensing authority of his function. I have to go on and say that no such directions have ever been made, as licensing authorities use their powers in a manner which ensures that they adequately control the behaviour of operators. But the power does exist if ever Ministers thought it was necessary.

There are, as I think the noble Earl is well aware, broadly two types of goods vehicle operator licences. One is a standard licence and the other is a restricted licence. A standard licence is required if an operator intends to carry goods for hire or reward. Largely, we have been discussing a standard licence holder. A restricted licence is all that is required if an operator intends to confine his activities to carrying his own goods. Under regulations made pursuant to EC directives an applicant for a standard licence must show that he, or where appropriate the directors of a company and transport managers, is of good repute. If it appears to the licensing authority that the operator is no longer of good repute he must revoke the licence. The legislation does not require an operator to be of good repute as such in order to obtain a restricted licence. The Bill does not change that but Clause 33 as drafted makes it clear that a licensing authority can refuse an application if it appears to him that an operator is not fit by virtue of his past transport related conduct. In addition, a licensing authority may at any time take disciplinary action against an operator by revoking, suspending or curtailing his licence if he has been convicted of a transport related offence.

I hope that I have answered some of the noble Earl's questions about the kind of conviction that may occur and whether, so to speak, an operator could get off scot-free. Apart from what the court decided to do, the short answer is that he could not. The licensing authority has the power at any time to take disciplinary action, even going as far as revoking the licence if the licence holder has been convicted of transport related offences which the licensing authority considers are of sufficient severity to take the step of revocation.

Earl Attlee

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out that the amendment was perhaps not appropriate or in the wrong place. I accepted that in my introduction. He mentioned a brawl in a club. For that kind of thing an operator may not lose his good repute if it is totally unrelated to good operation.

The Minister referred to restricted licences. I am sure that he is aware that there can be problems with operators operating with such licences. For instance, they could be engaged in general haulage even though they have a restricted licence. It is not legal, but they can do it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Goschen

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before ten minutes past eight.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

At the very commencement of today's proceedings I pointed out that five-and-a-half pages of amendments had been added between the fourth and fifth Committee days. I also added, in tribute to the facility of invention, that none of them was a very extensive amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, will remember that in the other place there was a Motion to report progress. The progress we have made now at ten minutes past seven is to complete approximately half of the extra load which was put on the Committee.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.