§ Mr. Robert McCartney
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what consultations his Department carried out with the voluntary sector before announcing the discontinuance of exemptions for public service vehicles and road service licensing of volunteer drivers and their vehicles; and what account was taken of the decision to be in line with the 1993 strategy document of the volunteer activity unit in coming to this decision. 
§ Mr. Moss
The health and personal social services executive has had no consultations with the voluntary sector. However, it wrote to voluntary organisations on the 20 December 1995 informing them of the Department of the Environment's intention to withdraw, probably from May 1996, exemptions from public service vehicle and road service licensing requirements for volunteer car services under the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. The HPSS executive at the same time indicated its intention to discuss ways of facilitating this change with the minimum impact on volunteers. The Department of the Environment is aware of the 1993 strategy document, but it has an overriding duty under section 6(1)(i) of the Transport Act (NI) 1967 to ensure fair competition among persons providing facilities for the carriage of passengers for reward. Volunteer car services which operate for reward are not at present exempt from road service licensing.
§ Mr. McCartney
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will specify those current European laws designed to promote fair competition which his Department assesses to be preventing volunteer car services from retaining public service vehicle exemptions; and if he will publish the legal opinion he has obtained on the subject. 
£000 1979–80 1989–90 1991–92 1993–94 1994–95 11995–96 11996–97 Northern Ireland Departments and Northern Ireland Office 2372 6,874 6,157 7,184 7,072 7,030 33,842 Agencies — — 1,237 1,959 1,826 1,655 4105 1 Estimated. 2 Figures available for DHSS and DENI only. 3 Excludes DED, DOE and DHSS as budgets have not been agreed to this level of detail. 4 Figures available for the Valuation Lands Agency only.
These figures include capital expenditure. Figures for the Compensation Agency are included in the departmental returns.
Within the Northern Ireland Office, agencies have their own internal directories. The NIO internal directory is available to NIO core staff but not to staff in the agencies.326W
Mr. Moss: Whether the exemptions from public service vehicle regulations currently granted to volunteer car services conflict with European competition law has not been tested in the courts. However, the Department of the Environment has a duty under section 6(1)(i) of the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 to ensure fair competition among persons providing facilities for the carriage of passengers for reward.
§ Mr. McCartney
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will amend the Transport Act 1967 formally to exempt volunteer car services from the road service licensing requirements of that Act. 
§ Mr. Moss
The Department of the Environment is examining the possibility of amending the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 with a view to creating special licensing arrangements for volunteer car services while continuing to provide for the proper regulation of public transport services to ensure fair competition among persons providing facilities for the carriage of passengers for reward. The Department does not intend to proceed with plans to phase out the existing concessions until it is known whether suitable arrangements can be made.