HL Deb 06 July 1994 vol 556 cc1352-76

8.10 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 35.

[Amendments Nos. 193A and 194 not moved.] Clause 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Variation of licences]:

[Amendments Nos. 194A to 194E not moved.] Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Revocation, suspension and curtailment of licences]:

[Amendment No. 194F not moved.]

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clause 38 agreed to.

Clause 39 [Review and transfer of operating centres]:

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 195:

Page 40, line 46, after ("five") insert ("or higher than 10").

The noble Lord said: I hope I may move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. I believe it is reasonably self-explanatory. The Bill as it now reads states: The periods of review in relation to an operator's licence are—

(a) the period of five years beginning with the date specified in the licence as the date on which it came into force; and".

I am sorry I have read the wrong line, but Clause 39(3) states: Regulations may amend subsection (2) of this section by substituting a higher or lower number".

The subsection then specifies a minimum of a number not lower than five. However, there is no reference to an upper limit. My noble friend is seeking to insert an upper limit of 10 years so there is a bracket of five to 10 years. This seems to me to be quite reasonable. If one is setting a lower limit of five years, one does not wish the upper limit to be indeterminate. Therefore the figure of 10 has been suggested by my noble friend. I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

It is quite difficult to discuss this amendment without discussing the amendments we shall reach later on the affirmative procedure. However, when the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee reported, the Government took careful note of its view that the power provided by Clause 39 to change the period of reviews of goods vehicle operating centres was a Henry VIII clause. Of course the committee was concerned that there was no upper limit on the length of the review period. The amendment before us at this moment would place an upper limit of 10 years on the length of that review period. The opportunity to review operating centres is currently provided by the need for operators to apply for a replacement licence at least every five years.

It is reasonable in a system of continuous licensing to provide a similar opportunity at similar intervals of five years. Experience of the present system shows that this strikes the right balance between the interests of operators and those affected by their activities. The Government felt that experience of the new system might at some time show that the period for review could be longer than five years, at least in some circumstances.

I do not believe it would be reasonable to try to estimate what the upper limit might be. The Government would prefer to leave the matter of extensions to experience in the future and the approval of Parliament of the necessary regulations in due course.

When we reach the next two amendments we shall discuss the alternative control system, if I can call it that, which the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee suggested, which was to move from the negative to the affirmative procedure. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, looking ahead in the Marshalled List, will be able to withdraw the amendment that we are now discussing in order to move on to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and that in my name which concern the taking on board of the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee.

Lord Tordoff

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. It is difficult to discuss this matter as the amendments we are discussing are in a sense grouped —but they are not. They are not consequential in any way on each other. I think my noble friend will be only too pleased to read in Hansard tomorrow what the Minister has said in relation to the 10-year upper limit. I think it probably would be better if I were to seek leave to withdraw this amendment and then ask my noble friend to move his second amendment which falls in line with the amendment in the name of the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank moved Amendment No. 196:

Page 40, line 47, at end insert ("and no such regulations shall be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a Resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: I hope that my noble friend will forgive me in that the speed with which the Bill is now moving through Committee—I greatly commend that —denied me the opportunity of moving Amendment No. 195. But as my noble friend said, that was essentially a probing amendment but it also formed part of the very great concern expressed in this part of the Chamber from the beginning about the provisions for scrutiny in the Bill.

Part I of the Bill makes certain additional provisions given the nature of the legislation and the use of secondary legislation where we believe that primary legislation would be appropriate. However, elsewhere in the Bill there is a notable failure to make minimum safeguards available. It was for that reason that the scrutiny committee in its ninth report, as this Committee will know, drew attention to a number of changes which it thought your Lordships in Committee would wish to consider. Here I refer to paragraph 8 of the ninth report of the scrutiny committee. That paragraph refers first of all to the matter just discussed by the Committee; namely, the five to 10-year period. The report states: As the power is at present to be exercised with no upper limit on the period of time between reviews, the House may wish to consider amending the bill to provide for such a limit, or to provide for the affirmative procedure in this case".

My amendment is designed to provide for the affirmative procedure, but I am led to believe that the amendment in the name of the Minister which is also being debated with Amendment No. 196 seeks to achieve precisely the same purpose, perhaps in a rather better way. Rather than pursue the case for my amendment, I will be happy to give way if the Minister will explain his amendment and convince me—he may well do so—that it provides the safeguards of the kind which otherwise I would be asking for. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am happy to intervene now just to explain the amendment in my name which is grouped with that of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. As I mentioned in the previous short debate with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, this arises from the views expressed by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. We took careful note of the view of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee that the power provided in Clause 39 to change the period of the reviews of goods vehicle operating centres was a Henry VIII clause. (That, of course, is a clause in which primary legislation is amended by secondary legislation.) We also took note of the concern of the committee that there was no upper limit on the length of the review period. In our discussions on Amendment No. 195 I explained why we did not consider it appropriate to include an upper limit. However, we are content to accept the recommendation that orders under this power should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

I am advised that Amendment No. 196 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, as drafted is not the most appropriate way of giving effect to that intention. The Government have therefore brought forward an equivalent amendment—Amendment No. 196C—to Schedule 12 of the Bill. The noble Lord has already indicated that he will withdraw his amendment. I am sure that the Committee will accept my amendment, Amendment No. 196C.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

Given that reassurance I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 196A:

Page 42, line 19, at end insert:

("(aa) that any vehicle cease to be specified in the licence;").

The noble Lord said: I am sure that the Committee will agree that a licensing authority should have the power it needs to reduce the scope of an operator's continuous licence when it removes an operating centre or attaches conditions to a licence at the five-year point. This is a small technical amendment which ensures that the licensing authority will have that power. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I welcome what appears to be a conversion on the part of the Minister to some lucidity in relation to the powers of the licensing authority. While I accept the amendment, it seems to be somewhat inconsistent with the attitude that the noble Lord has taken in the past. How is this consistent with the logic of the previous arguments which he has adduced? However, I do not want to cause him to waver at this stage and therefore I strongly support the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 11 agreed to.

Clauses 40 to 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Fees]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 196B:

Page 45, line 45, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to make it obligatory on the part of the authority not to proceed with an application if the fee is not paid. It is our view that an impecunious applicant should not be able to get a licence. At the moment there is nothing to stop an application proceeding notwithstanding the fact that the fee may not have been paid.

The purpose of the amendment is simply to probe the Government's intentions in this regard. Perhaps a hint of the Government's good will was demonstrated by their volunteering the previous amendment, of which I wholly approve. I hope that the Minister will be equally benign in relation to this simple amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I hope that the spirit of good will does not become too prevalent. Clearly, after dinner we have made a good start. However, in the case of this amendment I hope to be able to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that the discretionary powers are sensible, although he will appreciate that the number of times they will be used will be very small indeed.

As the clause is drafted it gives the licensing authority discretionary powers to decline to proceed with applications for or the issuing of licences or variations until any due fee or instalment has been paid. We believe that it is necessary for the power to be discretionary so that the licensing authority can deal with exceptional circumstances in which an operator has done all he can to ensure payment but where, for example, a cheque is delayed in the mail due to industrial action or something of that nature which is quite legitimate. We believe that the licensing authority ought to have discretion. I suspect that, if there is any hint that the delay is due to the fact that the applicant cannot find the money, the licensing authority might have another look at whether he ought to have a licence.

I believe that there could be exceptional circumstan-ces in which the use of the discretionary power is desirable. I hope that with that explanation of the reason for the discretionary power the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am not wholly persuaded by that response. Again, it is one of those issues on which I feel it is necessary to reflect on what the Minister has said with some care. I shall certainly do that. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 45 agreed to.

Clause 46 agreed to.

Schedule 12 [Goods Vehicle Operator Licensing: Minor and Consequential Amendments]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 196C:

7, line 13, at end insert:

("(5) After section 91(6) there shall be inserted—

(6A) No regulations shall be made under section 69EA(3) of this Act unless a draft of them has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.".

(6) In section 91(7) after "of this Act" there shall be inserted ", other than regulations under section 69EA(3),".").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to the amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 47 agreed to.

Clause 48 [Undertakings given on applications]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 197:

Page 47, line 10, at beginning insert:

("(1A) After subsection 14(3) (b) there shall be inserted—

(c) that there will not be any adverse effects on local environmental conditions as a result of the activities of the licence holder." ").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 197. We return here to an environmental issue, but this time in relation to public service vehicles.

I believe that it is right that an application for a public service vehicle operator's licence should be capable of being refused on environmental grounds. The pro-visions in the Transport Act 1968 concerning lorry operating centres provide, as we have reviewed in earlier debates, the ability to object to such an application on environmental grounds. A similar provision does not exist in relation to the operation of public service vehicles. In this amendment we seek to raise the principle that similar environmental safeguards should apply to PSV operating centres.

We have seen bus deregulation emerge under the provisions of the Transport Act 1985. As a result, the number of bus operators has increased substantially. We have also seen a burgeoning of smaller operators. In many cases the storage facilities for such operators' vehicles are inadequate. Environmental problems have resulted. I shall not weary the Committee at this stage with the evidence, but to illustrate what I am saying, there have been instances of buses being kept permanently on the street.

It is difficult to justify a distinction in principle between the inclusion of environmental factors in a goods vehicle operator licensing regime but to exclude it from the passenger service vehicle regime. We are being consistent in the principles that we are advancing.

I must declare an interest as President of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. My understanding is that over a considerable period of time the AMA has made representations to the Government—I believe that other representations will also be made—in order to correct that anomaly, but until tonight without success. However, I am sure that light will dawn tonight. Does the Minister accept that there should not be inconsistency? If he says that there should be a difference between the two regimes, how does he justify that? In the absence of a provision such as that which I commend to the Committee, how does the Minister envisage that the environmental impact of inadequate PSV operating centres should be addressed?

Again, it is a matter which intrudes upon the right of many residents to decent protection of the environment. It is an issue which should have been corrected long ago. If there were inadequacies in the previous regime, as there clearly were, they should have been corrected then However, the fact of the matter is that people should not be exposed to such risks. I believe that it is an area of activity which should be curbed and the Minister has it within his power so to do.

The Minister states that he cannot continue to be too magnanimous. I suppose that there are limits to any Conservative Minister's magnanimity. However, I should have thought that it was an area in which it would be appropriate for him to make a suitable concession. At the very least, I hope that he will say that it is a matter on which he will ponder further, if he does not accept the amendment. The representations have been made powerfully to the Opposition Benches. The Minister is well aware of the anxieties. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

As we move to this new chapter of the Bill, perhaps I may say that the purpose of the Bill is to deregulate and reduce the level of unnecessary control on industry. The amendment introduces new constraints on PSV operators by adding an additional condition to be satisfied before the traffic commissioner grants a licence.

We are sensitive to the need to balance the position of local people with an efficient public transport system which gives local people a pleasant environment in which to reside. In other parts of the general transport debate, encouraging public transport is one of the ways in which we are usually urged to help improve the environment. An important means of public transport is the bus. We therefore have to strike a balance with regard to how we treat PSV operating centres and the licences.

However, I believe that sufficient powers are available to local authorities to ensure that balance. We do not believe it is necessary to introduce a further raft of controls on environmental grounds into the PSV operator licensing system. I do not believe that that would help the environment. It would add needlessly to the hurdles facing those who wish to start a business in the bus industry.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I thank the Minister for allowing me to intervene. I cited an example which is given authoritatively of buses being kept in the street. That cannot be good on environmental or safety grounds. How can the local authority deal with that situation at present without the reinforced powers that I advocate?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I intend to come to the point raised by the noble Lord. I had certainly considered that it needed answering. I can quite appreciate that a bus parked in one's street—it would not be constantly parked because no doubt it would go on service runs—could be considered an environmental nuisance. However, before I reach the detail, perhaps I may give some of the background. When the bus services were deregulated in 1986, the Government gave careful consideration as to whether environmental controls should be introduced on PSV operating centres similar to those which had been put in place for goods vehicle operators. We concluded that there were significant differences between the two operations. There are far fewer PSV operators. There are some 7,200, as opposed to 130,000 HGV operators. So there is quite a difference of scale.

We concluded then that there was no evidence that PSV operating centres caused significant problems of the type that existed for goods vehicles. Most of the PSV operating centres were well established and accepted in their locality. Before a new operating centre can be used, the operator must have planning permission. In the gaining of that planning permission, there is the provision for the planning authority to deal with any potential environmental problems.

On the specific question of buses spoiling a local environment by parking in the street, or, I suspect, going through areas in which they should not travel, or through which they did not travel in the past, a traffic regulations order can be imposed under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to prohibit or restrict the use of a road by a particular class of vehicle—in this case buses. Orders can be made for preserving or improving the amenities of areas through which a specific highway runs. Orders may determine which highways may be used by PSVs and can stipulate the places at which PSVs may stop for a longer time than is necessary for taking up and setting down passengers. They may also include parking and waiting restrictions.

In other words, the local authorities already have the powers on the highway to deal with the problem raised by the noble Lord. I do not believe that it is necessary to add the powers to those of the traffic commissioners, although I fully recognise the problem that he raises. I hope and expect that, if the problem occurs in any given area, the local authorities will use the powers at their command to prevent bus parking being an environmen-tal nuisance.

I hope that, with that explanation of how the situation to which the noble Lord referred can be dealt with, he will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Tordoff

That is not happening, is it? The bus legislation passed through the House before the present Minister was in his job. Some of us were ploughing through that legislation night after night. I do not blame him for not being present; it was very wise of him. The Bill was very hard work. However, a number of us expressed grave worries about some of the consequen-ces of that Bill. I remember that the late lamented Lord Underhill—he preceded the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis—spoke at length about the dangers of the legislation with regard to small bus operators. We all predicted that there would be a sudden mushrooming of small bus operators using second-hand buses, with little control and little maintenance, and generally creating a nuisance.

I am afraid that that is precisely what has happened. While overall, as a result of that legislation, bus usage has gone down, and many of us who live in rural areas have seen our bus services truncated if not disappearing altogether, one of the major problems has been the cowboys.

There have been cases recently in Somerset, as the noble Lord may have heard, where school buses had to be taken off the road. Four or five operators had to be dealt with, but only when they were causing severe problems for the local authority. All right, the local authority stepped in, but it should never have got to that state.

If the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will go some way towards prevention rather than cure, then it ought to be taken more seriously by the Government. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will seek much more reassurance from the Government than he has already received.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for injecting into the debate the background against which the issues were considered previously. I was not involved, but my late and much lamented friend and colleague Lord Underhill, whom we all miss, would have tackled the issue with his characteristic assiduity. He had a remarkable penchant for the common sense approach to such issues. Therefore, his forecast of the kind of dangers that have erupted has proved to be absolutely accurate.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, is quite right in referring to the circumstances under which some operators carry out their business today. Privatisation and deregulation in that regard have not proved to be an overwhelming success, precisely because there have been too many cowboy operators paying inadequate attention to safety and environmental requirements. Therefore, in the light of the circumstances which have prevailed since that legislation was enacted I think we should benefit from experience. I find that the Minister's conclusions, with respect, are bizarre. He ignores that experience. He asserts that the licensing authorities have sufficient powers already. If they have, it is remarkable that the powers are not being exercised. It may be that they are under different pressures or that they have not found it possible to carry out the duties with the necessary assiduity that is required of them.

However, we must have regard to the legal requirements which should be introduced in the Bill. I simply cannot accept either that the suggestion I have made is otiose or that the Government are going about their business in achieving a true balance. The scales are heavily tipped against environmental considerations. It is too easy for environmental nuisance to take place.

Baroness Hamwee

I apologise to the noble Lord for intervening. Perhaps I should have made the point earlier, but it might add to his arguments. The Minister said that the Bill is about deregulation. Having read the sections on public service vehicle operator licensing, it seems to me that this part of the Bill should be the "regulation and imposing of extra provisions" part of the Bill. Does the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, agree that in proposing a condition about environmental considerations, which should concern all Members of the Committee, his amendment would be entirely within the grain of this part of the Bill?

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that intervention. I thought that was my argument, but I thank her for giving emphasis to it.

The fact is that there is nothing in the provision for the Government to find unacceptable. That is the essence of the matter. If the Government are anxious to ensure that their good faith is not impugned, that they have every interest in maintaining the proper balance to which the Minister constantly alludes, here he has a superb opportunity of establishing his bona fides—not his personal bona fides, but those of the Government. He says that there is a difference of scale as against heavy goods vehicle operators. That should make it easier for enforcement to take place, not the contrary. He says that there is no evidence of similar environmental problems. I urge him to look carefully at the situation because, in my submission, there is ample evidence of environmen-tal problems of a scale that is unacceptable.

I do not believe that these are issues where planning permission is the answer. I know that the Minister is not prepared to give way on this, he said as much in the clearest possible terms. So I think that it is an issue where I should test the opinion of the Committee.

8.45 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 197) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 89; Not-Contents, 51.

Division No.3
Addington, L. Hooson, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Howell, L.
Ardwick, L. Hughes, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Attlee, E. Jay of Paddington, B.
Barnett, L. Jeger, B.
Bonham-Carter, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Judd, L.
Bottomley, L. Kilbracken, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Kirkhill, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Listowel, E.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Carter, L. Lockwood, B.
Castle of Blackburn, B. Lovell-Davis, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Mallalieu, B.
Clinton-Davis, L. Mar, C.
Dahrendorf, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
David, B. McNair, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Meston, L.
Donoughue, L. Monkswell, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Eatwell, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Ennals, L. Nicol, B.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Ogmore, L.
Ezra, L. Peston, L.
Falkender, B. Pin of Hampstead, L.
Falkland, V. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Gallacher, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Gould of Pottemewton, B. Rea, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Redesdale, L.
[Teller.] Richard, L.
Gregson, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Grey, E. Russell, E.
Hamwee, B. Seear, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Serota, B.
Haskel, L. Shepherd, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hollick, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Valley, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
White, B. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Wigoder, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Aldington, L. Howe, E.
Annaly, L. Kinnoull, E.
Arran, E. Leigh, L.
Astor, V. Lindsay, E.
Blatch, B. Long, V.
Borthwick, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Brentford, V. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Marlesford, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Colwyn, L. Northesk, E.
Courtown, E. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Craigmyle, L. Rankeillour, L.
Cranborne, V. Reay, L.
Cumberlege, B. Saint Albans, D.
Denham, L. Seccombe, B.
Downshire, M. Shrewsbury, E.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. St. Davids, V.
Elton, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Ferrers, E. Strathclyde, L.
Glenarthur, L. Strathmore and Kinghome, E.
Goschen, V. [Teller.]
Harlech, L. Trumpington, B.
Hayhoe, L. Ullswater, V. [Teller.]
Henley, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

8.53 p.m.

[Amendment No. 197ZA not moved.]

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 197A:

Page 47, line 42, at end insert:

("( ) In section 17(1) after the words "as to professional competence" there shall be inserted "and the Traffic Commissioners shall also revoke the licence if the holder has shown consistent disregard for drivers' hours regulations."").

The noble Lord said: What we seek to do in this amendment is to put the responsibility for adhering to drivers' hours regulations on the holders of PSV operators' licences. It is an attempt to counter the current blatant disregard for the law so far as this matter is concerned, and indeed to take account of public concern over recent motorway crashes such as that on the M.2 in which nine American tourists were killed and in which driver fatigue was a contributory factor.

Driver fatigue needs to be taken far more seriously than the Government take it at the present time. Disgruntled coach drivers for National Express are threatening to go on strike over hours that put lives at risk. That would be an unprecedented situation for them. Seventy-five drivers in Liverpool who work for a firm that is contracted by National Express decided to walk out after telling their employers that their rota was a danger to passengers. That is not good news.

So far as the European Union rules are concerned, I have already indicated to the Committee on previous occasions and I do not need to repeat it at length now that the present rules are simply not adequate. That is why they are being reconsidered by the European Union. There is nothing to stop the Government taking some action now. There is ample legal reasoning under Article 36 of the treaty which enables the Government to do precisely that. Therefore I commend this amendment to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am delighted that I have an audience again. I congratulate all the Members of the Committee who are having dinner somewhere or other in the Palace of Westminster. I am only glad that we were able to get a few amendments under our belt because the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was a little late back from dinner.

We now turn to another amendment on the powers of the traffic commissioners with regard to the drivers' hours regulations. I do not think that there is anything between the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and myself on the subject of the importance of the restrictions on drivers' hours and on ensuring that they are fully complied with. We are very well aware of the significance of those regulations in maintaining and improving the safety record of our bus industry. It is fair to say that despite the recent number of highly publicised accidents, there is no question that overall bus travel is a very safe means of passenger travel. The statistics are certainly there to prove it. But of course that depends on a variety of matters being complied with by the bus operators. We are discussing here the question of drivers' hours.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that this amendment is not needed to meet the objective of securing compliance. It seeks to give a power to the traffic commissioners which they already possess. If I may explain what that power is, I hope that I shall convince the noble Lord that it is unnecessary to add this particular amendment to the Bill.

Anyone who shows a consistent disregard for drivers' hours regulations will be prosecuted and, if convicted of the offences, will stand to lose his licence. The grounds on which a traffic commissioner may revoke an operator's licence are that the holder no longer satisfies the requirement to be of good repute, the requirement to be of appropriate financial standing or the requirement as to professional competence.

Under Schedule 3 to the 1981 Act, a traffic commissioner shall determine that an individual is not of good repute if he has been convicted of serious offences or has been repeatedly convicted of road transport offences. The schedule, in defining a road transport offence, states that it is, an offence under the law in force in any part of the United Kingdom relating to road transport, including in particular drivers' hours and rest periods". The position is similar with regard to company licence holders.

I hope that that explanation reassures the Committee and the noble Lord that the licensing system already provides sanctions to help ensure compliance with drivers' hours regulations and that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I do not accept that argument at all. The Minister speaks of serious offences. In the view of the traffic commissioners serious offences may not involve a consistent disregard for the drivers' hours regulations. The matter therefore needs to be reinforced. It will do the Bill no harm; indeed, it will do it a considerable amount of good. Therefore I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

9 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.197A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 51.

Division No.4
Addington, L. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Ardwick, L. Jeger, B.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Attlee, E. Judd, L.
Barnett, L. Kilbracken, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Kirkhill, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Bottomley, L. Listowel, E.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Lockwood, B.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mallalieu, B.
Carter, L. Mar, C.
Castle of Blackburn, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. McNair, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Craigavon, V. Meston, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Monkswell, L.
David, B. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Nicol, B.
Donoughue, L. Ogmore, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Peston, L.
Eatwell, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Ennals, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Ezra, L. Rea, L.
Falkender, B. Redesdale, L.
Falkland, V. Richard, L.
Gallacher, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Russell, E.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Seear, B.
[Teller.] Serota, B.
Gregson, L. Shepherd, L.
Grey, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Harnwee, B. Strabolgi, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Haskel, L. Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Hollick, L. Varley, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. White, B.
Hooson, L. Wigoder, L.
Howell, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Hughes, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Aldington, L. Henley, L.
Annaly, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Arran, E. Howe, E.
Astor, V. Kinnoull, E.
Blatch, B. Leigh, L.
Borthwick, L. Lindsay, E.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Long, V.
Brentford, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Colwyn, L. Marlesford, L.
Courtown, E. Miller of Hendon, B.
Craigmyle, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Cumberlege, B. Northesk, E.
Denham, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Downshire, M. Rankeillour, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Reay, L.
Elton, L. Saint Albans, D.
Ferrers, E. Seccombe, B.
Glenarthur, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Goschen, V. St. Davids, V.
Harlech, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Hayhoe, L.
Slrathmore and Kinghorne, E. Ullswater, V. [Teller.]
[Teller.] Wade of Chorlton, L.
Strathclyde, L. Wynford, L.
Trumpington, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

9.7 p.m.

Clause 48, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 197AA not moved.]

Clause 49 [Objections to applications for licences]:

[Amendment No. 197AB not moved.]

Clause 49 agreed to.

Clause 50 [Duration of licences]

[Amendment No. 197B not moved.]

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 197C:

Page 48, line 19, at end insert (" , following a probationary period of 12 months, at the end of which period the traffic commissioner shall review the grant of the licence.

  1. (a)whether the PSV operator has caused or permitted any vehicles operated under the licence to park illegally;
  2. (b)whether there have been any complaints as to noise disturbance from the site from which vehicles are operated by the PSV operator; and
  3. (c)the likelihood of environmental damage resulting from the indefinite grant of the PSV operator's licence.").

The noble Lord said: Like others, I come from the deeper recesses to move this amendment, which I shall do very rapidly. I suggest to the Committee that we are not likely to discuss a more important amendment on this part of the Bill than the amendment before us which seeks to safeguard the lives of children by insisting on seat belts. In a recent incident, children from the Hagley Roman Catholic High School were involved in a hideous collision in which 12 of them died. Suffice it to say that the coroner, Mr. Coker, found that because the children were not wearing seat belts they were all thrown to one end of the coach, a fire started and they could not be evacuated. Nothing tells us of the need for this amendment more clearly than that recent incident.

It was astonishing that on virtually the same day as the inquest Mr. Robert Key, the Minister, announced that the Government saw no need for seat belts. This ' amendment is moved to allow the House to say that there is—

Viscount Ullswater

I believe there may be some mistake. The Deputy Chairman called Amendment No. 197B and it was not moved. We are now dealing with Amendment No. 197C.

Lord Howell

It was a mistake. If it is not possible to rectify that mistake, it ought to be possible by the leave of the House. Therefore, I shall continue with my speech.

It was quite astonishing that the Minister decided on the same day as the inquest to announce that there was no need for the Government to take action. We know that the European Community is investigating this issue. We know that there is a cost to installing seat belts and that that is a consideration. But the most important consideration of all—

Noble Lords


Viscount Ullswater

We seem to be in some difficulty. The noble Lord appears to be addressing himself to an amendment which we have already passed. I feel that it would be difficult to go back at this moment. In fact, the Orders of the House do not allow us to do so, having decided on an amendment. I think that we ought perhaps to address our remarks to Amendment No. 197C, which is the amendment before the Committee.

Lord Howell

If it is not possible to address Amendment No. 197B, which was clearly my intention —I do not wish to inflict any discourtesy on the Committee—I shall seek leave to withdraw now and come back to this vital matter at a later stage in the Bill.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Perhaps I may ask for guidance. Is it not possible at this late stage to debate Amendment No. 197B now as a manuscript amend-ment? I ask for the guidance of the Committee. I believe that that is in order.

Viscount Ullswater

I believe it would be for the convenience of the Committee to adjourn for a few minutes in order to decide on the proper thing to do. Any manuscript amendment would need a certain amount of consideration by the Government. Perhaps we would not be ready to take it just at this moment. Therefore, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Viscount Ullswater.)

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Noble Lords need to know for how long the House is to be adjourned.

Viscount Ullswater

I was going to suggest a period of 10 minutes in order for the Government to have a look at the manuscript amendment and consider it. It is a late hour for putting in a manuscript amendment. It is right for the Government to look at it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn for a period of 10 minutes.

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

[The sitting was suspended from 9.14 to 9.30 p.m.]

House again in Committee on Clause 50.

Lord Howell

I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 197C.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Howell moved manuscript Amendment No. 197CA:

Page 48, line 19, at end insert (" , following a probationary period of 12 months, at the end of which period the traffic commissioner shall review the grant of the licence.

  1. (a)whether the PSV operator has caused or permitted any vehicles operated under the licence to park illegally;
  2. (b)whether there have been any complaints as to noise disturbance from the site from which vehicles are operated by the PSV operator;
  3. (c)the likelihood of environmental damage resulting from the indefinite grant of the PSV operator's licence; and
  4. 1367
  5. (d) the extent to which the PSV operator voluntarily complies with best safety practice, particularly with regard to vehicles in which school children are or may be carried.").

The noble Lord said: I apologise to the Government business managers and to the Committee for the difficulties that we have had. I express our appreciation for the way in which they have met us on this vital matter of protecting the lives of schoolchildren in minibuses. As I have used all the arguments previously, I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am slightly confused, as I am sure is the whole Committee. There I was, after dinner in a benign good mood, giving way on a major issue of deciding whether changes to Clause 39 should be done by the affirmative or negative resolution procedure. The few Members in the Chamber were in fine good mood. Then all of a sudden the audience swells and voting takes place at a high rate. I may say that that was after seven or eight amendments had fallen by the wayside because the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was not in his place to move them—

Noble Lords


Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

We then proceeded to discuss the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, which indicated that it considered Clause 39 and the powers sought in it to be a Henry VIII clause. I was prepared to listen to the argument and to read the argument in the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I brought forward my amendment, which the Committee was delighted to accept. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and I exchanged pleasantries.

After a little while we moved into a situation where, having not moved an amendment, we then tried to move a manuscript amendment; and we are now where we are. I wish to be quite clear that the manuscript amendment to which I am speaking is the one before me because I thought that we were dealing with Amendment No. 197C, having passed by Amendment No. 197B. We seem to be speaking to an amendment to Clause 50 and I shall come to what Clause 50 does later—very, very much later.

Perhaps I may say in parenthesis that I have noticed a new practice which is not brought from the other place and not even brought from the European Parliament. No doubt it is brought by the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Richard, who I believe are the only two former European Commissioners present in the Committee at the moment. It is brought from the European Commission and the Council of Ministers where, when a little trouble breaks loose and there has to be an adjournment, the clock is stopped. That is a very odd procedure but your Lordships will agree that it is a procedure well rehearsed by the European Council. It stops the clock, resolves the problem and after a while —five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minutes, 30 minutes, 35 minutes, 40 minutes—it then starts the clock again. Miraculously, of course, the clock has moved on again in the meantime. That is puzzling; but that has been done this evening.

I want to be sure that I have amalgamated the two amendments which were tabled properly on the Marshalled List, and that I now understand what I am doing; that is, that I am looking at an amendment to Clause 50 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. It states: Page 48, line 19"— that is, of course, in Clause 50— at end insert (", following a probationary period of 12 months, at the end of which period the traffic commissioner shall review the grant of the licence.

  • (2A) The matters which the traffic commissioner shall take into account when carrying out such a review shall include:—
  1. "(a) whether the PSV operator has caused or permitted any vehicles operated under the licence to park illegally;
  2. (b) whether there have been any complaints as to noise disturbance from the site from which vehicles are operated by the PSV operator; and
  3. (c) the likelihood of environmental damage resulting from the indefinite grant of the PSV operator's licence.".
That is what is on my Marshalled List as Amendment No. 197C.

We now move back to Amendment No. 197B. From Amendment No. 197B, we do not take all of it. We take only paragraph (d) which states: (d) the extent to which the PSV operator voluntarily complies with best safety practice, particularly with regard to vehicles in which school children are or may be carried". As so many Members of the Committee have suddenly taken an interest in the issue it is fair that I should point out to the latecomers to the debate the background which we are discussing and what Chapter IV is about, which puts Clause 50 and the amendments tabled so carefully by the noble Lord into context.

The provisions in this part of the Bill, including Clause 50 and including the amendments that we are discussing, are for public service vehicles and are similar to those which we discussed earlier this evening in relation to goods vehicles. Their purpose is to deregulate the system for the benefit of PSV operators and to tidy up some of the administrative procedures.

The most important deregulatory measure is the move to continuous licensing. Of course, I must say to noble Lords that that is very relevant to the particular amendment which is before us. At present, all but a handful of operators fail to satisfy the traffic commissioners that they should have their licences renewed for five years so there is clearly no need for all operators to have to go through the formal procedure for licence renewal.

Operators and their activities will, however, be subject to checks at any time. That is extremely important when we look at the three amendments before us this evening. There will be no change in the system of enforcement by the Vehicles Inspectorate. Of course, it is that inspectorate which will stop and check those vehicles to ensure that they are up to standard in every possible way. It will continue to ensure compliance with PSV operator licensing and also a high standard of vehicle maintenance. I know that all noble Lords, and especially the Government, are most keen that there should be a high standard of vehicle maintenance.

The traffic commissioners will be able to impose conditions or revoke licences if standards are found to be wanting. Therefore, under the new provisions in the Bill operators will gain from the measures that we are discussing this evening, including those in Clause 50. Operator licences will run indefinitely. That is a most important aspect when we are considering the current amendment which proposes to introduce a probationary period.

The Government's proposals in the Bill—as, indeed, was the case with heavy goods licences which we discussed earlier and in some detail—are that operator licences will run indefinitely. That will remove from PSV operators, as it does in Chapter III of the Bill as regards heavy goods operators, the unnecessary and costly administrative burden of having to apply for fresh licences every five years whether or not there has been any material change in their circumstances.

Operators will be able to take up fewer than the maximum number of discs which are authorised on their licence, so enabling them to reduce costs and react more readily to fluctuations in the market. There will be greater flexibility in cases where an operator's licence is suspended or an operator is disqualified from holding a licence, as traffic commissioners will have a new power. I should have thought that that would have been of vital interest to noble Lords opposite who are interested in the powers of the traffic commissioners in certain circumstances. As I said, the commissioners will have new powers to cancel or vary their decisions on such matters.

I shall tell the Committee about the undertakings which an operator may give. I am sure that at least my noble friends will be interested to know exactly what they are; as, indeed, will noble Lords opposite. Undertakings that an operator has given in his application for a licence will be recorded. The operator may apply to have them varied or removed if his circumstances change. Coupled with the new flexibility of continuous operator licensing, there will be more flexible arrangements for paying fees. Regulations will provide that payment may be made in annual instalments instead of a five-year lump sum. That is appropriate when moving from five-yearly periods to a continuous licensing system. Of course, there will be appropriate sanctions for non-payment of fee instalments. That is what we are doing.

I mentioned a few moments ago—in fact, it may have been five minutes ago as time passes so quickly—that those Members of the Committee who are interested in PSV operator licences may like to know exactly what is in the licence and what undertakings the applicant has to give. All applicants for public service vehicle operator licences must sign a statement of intent or undertaking at the time of making their application in the following manner: I will make proper arrangements so that the laws relating to the driving and operation of the vehicles used under this licence are observed; the rules on drivers' hours are observed and proper records kept; vehicles do not carry more than the permitted number of passengers; vehicles are kept in a fit and serviceable condition; drivers report mechanical faults in vehicles as soon as possible; and, records are kept for 15 months of all safety inspections, routine maintenance and repairs to vehicles and these are made available on request". The applicant further states: I will maintain adequate financial resources for the administration of the business and I will tell the traffic commissioners of any changes or convictions which affect the licence". Members of the Committee opposite wish to add the words of the amendment to Clause 50. I am not entirely sure whether my noble friends would like me to remind them of the amendment because I am in the lucky position of having it in front of me. Just in case one or two of them would like me to do that, I suggest that they look at page 48, line 19 of the Bill at Clause 50. They will see that this amendment to Clause 50 proposes that we should insert: Following a probationary period of 12 months at the end of which period the traffic commissioners shall review the grant of the licence". I am not entirely sure how this probationary period is meant to work. How will it be operated? Do the traffic commissioners have to be sure of and check up on the good repute, professional competence and financial standing of the applicant all over again ? I believe that that is something we must consider because that would mean that at the end of the probationary period the traffic commissioners would have to treat the applicant as if he were a new applicant. They would have to go right back to the beginning.

Do the traffic commissioners have to be satisfied that these requirements are not met? Do they have to be sure that the applicant, somehow or other, no longer has good repute, or professional competence, or adequate financial standing? Does the review have to be advertised? Earlier we discussed the need for advertising. My following point is not mentioned in the amendment. Therefore it is clearly not entirely an effective amendment: indeed, it is probably a defective amendment. I would not be surprised, given the speed with which it was written. At the end of the probationary period will we have to go back to the beginning and insist that reviews are advertised in the local papers? Perhaps the local papers will be delighted to know that all that will have to be done and that applicants will have to re-advertise after a 12-month period in the local papers. This part of the clause might be considered to be to the benefit of local papers. I am not sure whether that will happen. But some Members of the Committee did not win an amendment earlier which I resisted. I am more than pleased that I resisted it. I may be prepared to develop the theme of why I resisted it.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Peston

I interrupt the noble Lord because this is all very enjoyable but your Lordships' House has certain traditions and certain correct ways of behaving. There is a limit beyond which the patience of all Members of the Committee can be exhausted. I understand what the noble Lord is up to. I understand that he and his noble friends are cross because they do not like to be beaten two-nil, and they hate to be beaten three-nil, but the fact remains that there are limits to one's patience. I hope that the noble Lord will at least have the courtesy to remain within our normal traditions and not simply repeat everything that he has said and break the rules. I have no objection to him discussing the substantive amendment and I will listen to him, as I have been listening to him, but I feel that, more important than the behaviour of the Government and the fact that they have just been beaten two-nil, is the fact that they should pay some attention to the traditions of your Lordships' House and to decent behaviour within your Lordships' House.

Lord Lyell

Before my noble friend gets up to speak, may I ask him to ask the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench to look at a little red book on which we all take the oath? It is called the Bible. If he will look at the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 8, verse 7, he may find an interesting reference. He can cut out the bit about the woman taken in adultery. However, he may read the sentence: "Let he that is without sin cast the first stone". Before the noble Lord or anyone else lectures your Lordships' House on behaviour, he should refer back to the proceedings just before the adjournment. It is certainly a case of pots calling kettles black or whatever may be traditional in your Lordships' House. We are discussing the manuscript amendment and engaged in a ritual dance only because an error was made. Your Lordships do have humour. I regret that humour is not apparent on the Opposition Front Bench.

Lord Peston

That is interesting but it is not the issue. I did not realise that defeating the Government had now become a sin. If it were, as one of the more moral Peers, I should not engage in such things. It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to defeat the Government. It is perfectly reasonable for those of us who engage in such activities to behave like decent people. I am not happy if the Committee is simply abandoning any attempt to discuss the Bill seriously in order to waste time.

I always find the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, interesting. I have no objection to him developing his argument. I do object to a blatant attempt to waste time in order not to accept another defeat. I do not believe that that is a fair game which any of us would want to play in any circumstances.

Lord Harlech

Perhaps I may intervene. It has been very interesting to hear what the Committee has discussed. A great deal of interest has been expressed by many people who know a great deal about the subject. We are now being diverted into a question of whether there is time wasting in the Committee.

I should like to make this point in relation to the Bill that we are discussing in this Committee stage. My noble friend the Minister has explained very clearly that the procedures for HGV and PSV licensing are already in place. All the safeguards are in place. If a lady kills herself and 12 children by driving at 28 miles an hour into a vehicle which is engaged in white-lining the road, the children, had they had seat belts, would simply have died more quickly. It is not appropriate to make statute after the event.

If one wants to devise proper safeguards for the carriage of people that is an important issue. But it is not an appropriate issue to discuss in relation to the way this Chamber conducts its business.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Strathclyde)

I came into the Committee towards the tail end of what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said. He said that it was not a normal procedure for my noble friend Lord Mackay to speak as he did in discussing the amendment.

In my view, the issue is a simple one. We are dealing with an amendment which was not on the Marshalled List but is a manuscript amendment. Given that the situation has changed, it must be right that my noble friend should at the very least deal with that amendment, moved at very short notice, in an extremely full manner.

Secondly, I have dealt with many Bills in this Chamber. Only once before have I been faced with a manuscript amendment. I have never been faced with a manuscript amendment at such short notice. Given that fact, I believe that it is entirely appropriate for my noble friend to explain the position.

Perhaps I may make this final point. With so many new Members of the Committee who have not hitherto been assiduous attenders in respect of this area of the Bill, the Government's position should be fully explained.

Lord Monkswell

I moved a manuscript amendment the other day. At the time I apologised that it was laid at short notice. That manuscript amendment was dealt with within seven minutes. We have spent 17 minutes on this manuscript amendment. I suggest to the Committee that it is time that we tested the opinion of the Committee on the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

We are indulging in an unusual procedure in that we stopped the clock for a little while and I am now confronted with a manuscript amendment simply because the Front Bench opposite slipped up and said "Not moved" to an amendment that it wanted to move. That was a mistake. But they then seek to redeem the matter in this way and to complain that I am trying to take some time over an amendment which they must consider to be important. After all, they have overturned the normal way in which we go about our business. They have submitted a manuscript amendment. They have brought Peers here late this evening—not quite late enough at five minutes to ten —and now I have complaints that I am not dealing in detail with the amendment. It is suggested that I am annoyed because we have been defeated. I am slightly amused at the tactics used to defeat us. That is fine. In another place all these matters were fair game. But I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that you have the wrong sow by the lug in this particular case. In another place I was rather good at explaining in some detail to Members who came late to the proceedings exactly the purpose of the amendment before them.

If and when Members of the Committee come to vote —that is on the assumption that they are not persuaded by my argument against the amendment—they will at least have heard the argument in some detail.

Lord Stewartby

This is an important matter. It seems to me that there is a question of substance. There is also a question of procedure. From what my noble friend says, the procedure is irregular. It would be for the benefit of those of us who had wind of the fact that an irregular procedure was taking place, and who have now come into the Chamber, to have a succinct description by my noble friend of the reasons why he believes that it is an unusual and unsuitable way to proceed. We can then separately consider the subject matter of the amendment that is proposed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My noble friend was perhaps present earlier today when on two separate occasions, at the beginning of business and as we adjourned for the dinner interval, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, pointed out that a significant number of amendments had been put down on the Marshalled List in the past 24 or 48 hours in addition to the amendments which had already been dealt with in Committee on Monday. Quite rightly he made the point that noble Lords opposite had felt it necessary to put down a significant number of amendments over the past 48 hours.

I find it a little odd that at this late stage, with all the amendments before us, they have to table a manuscript amendment; and then they complain because I seek to deal with the amendment. The amendment concerns a probationary period of 12 months. I dealt with that matter in relation to heavy goods vehicles. I shall have to check the record but I believe that I convinced noble Lords opposite that their amendment was unnecessary. However, we are back on the subject of a probationary period of 12 months.

The amendment seeks to introduce a probationary period of 12 months. Perhaps I may say a few words on that. As I said a moment ago, we discussed the subject when debating Chapter III which, as noble Lords well recognise, is the chapter which refers to heavy goods vehicles. I shall not trespass on the generosity of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, by going into some detail about what heavy goods vehicles are because the noble Lord was present when we debated the chapter.

However, similar arguments apply for public service vehicle operators to those that I put forward in the case of HGVs. Of course we agree that there is a need to monitor carefully the performance of new operators. The existing powers of the traffic commissioners, together with the provisions of the Bill, will ensure that such monitoring can be carried out effectively without the need for a probationary period. Were a probationary period to be introduced it would create a year of uncertainty for operators who are just setting up in new business.

Under the present system, special attention is paid by traffic commissioners to applicants who are new to the business. Most are seen at a public inquiry when the grant of the licence is considered and in some traffic areas they are invited to attend a new operators' seminar if their application is successful. All new operators have their premises inspected within the first year of operation, to check on maintenance facilities.

It is already open to traffic commissioners to take disciplinary action against an operator at any time on the grounds that he has failed to meet the licensing requirements. Under the current system, an operator who falls below the required standard may have his licence suspended, restricted in scope or even revoked. This will remain the case in the new continuous licensing system.

I contend now, as I contended earlier, that in fact the 12-month probationary period is unnecessary. But Members of the Committee opposite have—

Lord Stewartby

Before my noble friend continues on the point, he has not properly explained for the benefit of the Committee why in this case the point was brought forward in a manuscript amendment. It seems to me that this is a most exceptional procedure. One of the problems which it raises is that the Minister himself and his department do not have the proper time in which to consider it fully and therefore to be able to present a full rational response in a debate at this stage.

Can my noble friend say whether he has been able to establish from the Opposition Benches why the matter is now being raised in the form of a manuscript amendment and why it has the exceptional characteris-tics which allow it to be brought forward in that form?

10 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I can tell my noble friend that the reason we are looking at a manuscript amendment is simple. Members of the Committee opposite wanted to discuss Amendment No. 197B. It is clear that that is what they wanted to do. Unfortunately, somehow they got their crib sheets mixed up and when the Deputy Chairman read out "Amendment No. 197B", they said, "Not moved". We then went on to Amendment No. 197C. The problem was that that was not the amendment that they wished to discuss. An adjournment was called. I have explained about the question of stopping the clock. An adjournment took place and consideration was given to the matter. The manuscript amendment, which is an amalgam of Amendments Nos. 197C and 197B, has now come before the Committee. Of course I do not wish to be accused of unnecessary delay—

Lord Peston

Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene for a moment. I entirely accept what the noble Lord said—one did bungle the thing and he has no need to doubt that. I shall not ask why. The fact is that, as I understood it, the Government then accepted that we would proceed in this way. Is the Minister now saying that we should not do so? Bearing in mind that my reading of the manuscript amendment corresponds precisely with what the noble Lord read out at great length from his brief, the manuscript amendment corresponds exactly to what the noble Lord was prepared for. The notion that he was suddenly taken by surprise in this I find far-fetched.

What I am concerned about is the waste of time. If the Government propose that we abandon all this, I can live with that. If that is what the Government want to do and to say, "Let's pack it all in because you have got it wrong", we can survive that. But what I will not tolerate is this constant harping on it as though we had behaved badly in any way, because I do not believe that we have behaved badly. We have played according to the rules. We happen to be winning for the moment and the Government cannot bear to find that they will not get into the next round and not qualify for the semi-finals. It is a great difficulty for the Government, but they have to recognise what has happened.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Peston, ought to discuss with his noble friend Lord Howell the whole question of playing to the rules. Indeed, they have played to the rules and they did very well in the first half. The second half is not going quite so well, so they are beginning to shout "Foul!" Perhaps I may warn the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has already shown me the yellow card twice. He has promised me a red one next; but he might be getting the red one before I do.

However, to come to the details, as I explained earlier, I do not believe that the probationary period is a good idea. I have already explained and discussed that. I can assure Members of the Committee that the traffic commissioners are already obliged to take into consideration any offences relating to road transport when determining whether an operator is of good repute. Such offences would include the illegal parking mentioned in paragraph (a) of the amendment. As regards noise and disturbance which are mentioned in paragraph (b), local authorities have the power to deal with environmental matters, including noise nuisance, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

My problem with paragraph (d) is that it is very unclear what is meant by, the extent to which the PSV operator voluntarily complies with best safety practice". "Best safety practice" would be very difficult and interesting to define. The Committee will have noticed that noble Lords opposite thought so little of the importance of this amendment that they moved it in a minute and a half without explaining it. I suggest that that is not an adequate way to deal with a matter as important as this.

I have explained and I hope clearly argued the case that the traffic commissioners already have sufficient powers to act on these matters. Probationary periods are not needed. I therefore hope that noble Lords opposite will withdraw this amendment. If they do not withdraw it, I invite my noble friends to vote it down.

Lord Howell

In view of what the Minister has just said, and recognising the fact that he has not in any way dealt with the purpose of paragraph (d), which unfortunately arose from the loss of 12 lives in a school bus accident and the great anguish that was caused to the parents. The manner in which the debate has now proceeded—I do not particularly blame the Government; I have already apologised once from this side —is most regrettable. But we are concerned about the safety of young children. I think the best course now is to accept the Minister's advice to withdraw the amendment at this stage and return to the matter at a later stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the manuscript amendment.

Manuscript amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 50 agreed to.

Clause 51 [Suspension of licences]:

[Amendment No. 197D not moved.]

Clause 51 agreed to.

Clauses 52 to 55 agreed to.

Clause 56 [Disqualification of PSV operators]:

[Amendment No. 197E not moved.]

Clause 56 agreed to.

Clause 57 agreed to.

Schedule 13 agreed to.

Viscount Goschen

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.