§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I will begin by reminding your Lordships—since I suspect that, if 1 do not do so, some others may—that this is the third Transport Bill that I have brought before the House in as many years. I suppose this will inevitably mean that at least some of your Lordships will be tempted to approach this afternoon's debate with a sense of "having been here before" and may well be thinking that examination of transport legislation is fast becoming a regular feature of our proceedings at around this time of year.
Let me reassure the House that the introduction of yet another Transport Bill does not necessarily mean that these occasions are set to become annual events in our calendar for evermore. Nevertheless, I do not regard it in the least surprising that we find ourselves discussing transport legistlation as often as we do. Transport—and I use the term in the widest sense, to cover every medium concerned with the movement of goods and people—is bound to be a matter of profound importance to an advanced industrial society like ours. The way we organise our transport systems and facilities has a powerful influence on the way we live our lives and, indeed, on the nature of our society as a whole. Little wonder then, that the subject should be the focus of so many issues; political, economic, technical and social. Little wonder, too, that it should continue to stimulate active interest and debate throughout the community, whether at national, regional, local or, indeed street level. Against this background, it is only to be expected that all Governments should feel a strong obligation to keep the whole transport scene under continuous review and to bring forward proposals for change whenever it seems right to do so.
Like the previous Bills which we have brought before the House, this one is concerned with a number of different areas across the transport field. The first 720 two parts of the Bill are, in their different ways, aimed at further reducing the extent to which the country's transport services are dependant upon the state—an objective of which has been a fundamental feature of this Government's approach to the subject of transport, as, indeed, to many other key issues. Part I provides for the introduction of private capital into another of our nationalised transport industries, in this case the National Bus Company, while Part II opens the way for the transfer of annual testing functions for heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles out of the Department of Transport to the private sector. Part III deals with an entirely different matter; namely, the improvemant and extension of the system of fixed penalties for road traffic offences; and Part IV is concerned with a variety of miscellaneous topics.
Let me now turn to each Part of the Bill and explain to the House what is involved. Part I is, as I have said, concerned with the National Bus Company. The Secretary of State for Transport announced on 6th November last year in another place, that opportunities for involving the private sector in NBC's activities were being examined in relation to the expansion of the market for express coach travel, following the removal of licensing restrictions by the Transport Act 1980, and to the potential for developing and improving passenger facilities at certain of the company's properties.
Passengers have benefited greatly from the expansion of the long-distance express coach market. Fares have been reduced and there is now a wiser choice of services. Indeed the chairman of NBC, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has aptly described 1981 as the year of the coach, in a foreword to the company's latest annual report. NBC's "National Express" network has been at the forefront of the expanding market. We are anxious that this undoubtedly successful coach business should have the freedom to develop further, and we believe that this can best be achieved by releasing it from the constraints of the public sector. Another element of NBC's activities, when we believe we can similarly benefit from an injection of private investment, is the "National Holidays" coach touring business.
The National Bus Company owns a portfolio of properties with a book value of more than £100 million. The location of some of these properties suggests that they must have considerable development potential. But, because of necessary constraints on investment, this potential cannot readily be realised. The provisions of the Bill would pave the way for the development potential of these sites to be unlocked, through a partnership with the private sector. The improvement of passenger facilities would go hand in hand with these property developments.
Our main concern in Part I of this Bill is with the welfare of the passengers, who should enjoy the best possible services and facilities. The additional flexibility and opportunities created by private investment in the National Bus Company will, we believe, be of growing benefit to the travelling public.
Clause 1 of the Bill gives NBC the power to dispose of its interests in a subsidiary, in whole or in part. If the subsidiary is to escape the constraints of the public sector, NBC will have to relinquish effective control. But we envisage that the company would, nevertheless, 721 retain a significant stake in the enterprise which—together with the initial sale proceeds—would be a source of financial strength for NBC's main business.
Certain preliminary steps will be necessary before disposals can take place. "National Express" and "National Holidays", for example, are at present marketing names, rather than legally identifiable separate subsidiaries. The first steps on the road to bringing together their results in a Companies Act company are being taken. A separate financial target has been set for them, and the bus company's latest annual report shows, for the first time, the results achieved by these businesses on a fully allocated cost basis. The provisions of Clause 2 will come into play when the time comes to establish a separate subsidiary. The clause confirms that NBC may exercise their existing powers to establish subsidiaries, and to transfer property, rights and liabilities to subsidiaries for the purpose of eventual disposal. Subsection (2) provides that such transfers may be effected by means of a statutory scheme, which would obviate the need for a lengthy and expensive process of individual conveyancing.
It will be clear from what I have already said that NBC are co-operating with us now in developing our proposals. In addition to the points I have mentioned, the company have suggested to us ideas for carrying forward property developments. We hope to see this constructive dialogue continue. Nevertheless, the Government have decided that the Bill should include a reserve power of direction. This is the purpose of Clause 3. The taking of powers of direction over a nationalised industry is by no means unusual. Such powers already exist in relation to other aspects of NBC's business. Before a direction is given, the Secretary of State would have to consult NBC. In the case of a direction to dispose of a subsidiary providing local bus services, the Secretary of State would also have to consult the county councils in whose areas the subsidiary provided these services, in view of their statutory responsibility for local public transport.
The Government accept that the "National Express" and "National Holidays" businesses are closely integrated with the provision of local stage carriage services, which is NBC's main business. We see the continued sharing of NBC facilities by the private coach company as an integral part of our proposals. Payments for the sharing of facilities would become an important source of income for NBC. We therefore propose to ensure that NBC can continue to provide a full range of services for a former subsidiary transferred to the private sector, if both parties feel that would be the sensible thing to do. To this end, we need to widen the company's powers in some respects, and this is the purpose of Clause 4.
Employees will naturally he concerned about pension arrangements in a subsidiary which is to be transferred to private ownership. Responsibility for establishing suitable arrangements will, in the first instance, rest with NBC. They will have to have regard both to the interest of employees and the need to present an attractive package to potential private investors. There is no reason in principle why satisfactory pension arrangements could not be worked out without any intervention on the Government's part. But pension matters are complex, and unforeseen technical diffi- 722 culties may arise. As a precautionary measure, therefore, Clause 5 empowers the Secretary of State to make pension orders in relation to a subsidiary which has been transferred to the private sector. He will, if necessary, use this power to iron out technical difficulties and help establish satisfactory pension arrangements. But I should make it quite clear that the accrued pension rights of employees who are members of existing NBC pension schemes will not be affected in any way by a transfer to the private sector. Nor will pensions already in payment.
Part II of the Bill provides the framework for the transfer of goods vehicle and public service vehicle testing to the private sector. The clauses empower the Secretary of State to appoint an approved testing authority, employing authorised inspectors, to carry out certain specified functions—mainly the routine annual testing of lorries and buses, but also some other related functions which are listed in the Bill.
In transferring this work to the private sector, the Government are acting on the basic principle that the role of Government itself should be kept to a minimum. If certain kinds of work, or the provision of a service, can be done as well or better in the private sector, then that is where that work belongs.
In the case of vehicle testing, clearly the overriding consideration is safety. Since the present goods vehicle testing scheme was set up, it has earned high opinions in the road transport industry for its impartiality and the standards which it imposes. We should not be seeking to transfer this work to the private sector if we were not certain that these standards will he maintained. The testing system also provides an essential service to the industry—one which vehicle operators have to use if they are to keep their vehicles on the roads. We have a duty to ensure that a full nationwide service is available, meeting the needs of vehicle operators in remote rural areas, as well as those in centres of population. Here too we must preserve the essential qualities of the present system. But we are also looking for practical improvements in that system, particularly in the quality of the service which the testing system offers to the road transport industry and the way it responds to that industry's need.
It is against that background that the Government have approached the central question of who should take on testing in the private sector. Part II of the Bill does not lay down any blueprint for the way the new scheme should be organised; it empowers the Secretary of State to appoint one or more approved testing authorities, but it does not say who those approved testing authorities should be. Noble Lords may however he aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has recently been able to give some details of what the Government are proposing.
We have for some time been in discussion with Lloyd's Register of Shipping, the classification society, about the possibility that they might become involved in testing. We have now reached agreement in principle with them on the establishment of a new association to undertake vehicle testing. The new association will be under the control of Lloyd's Register, and will be known as Lloyd's Register Vehicle Testing Association. The proposal is that it should 723 take on the whole of the testing network, and operate it on a completely independent and non-commercial basis. We have not concluded a final agreement on this, and more work remains to be done, but, as my right honourable friend has said in another place, we do have reason to believe that the detailed negotiations which are now beginning will be entirely successful. This means that we shall now be able to transfer the testing network to a body whose impartiality and independence are unquestioned, and which has the resources and competence to provide a nationwide service to the highest standard. I know that this development has been generally welcomed in the road transport industry.
I will not detain the House with a detailed account of the provisions in Part II of the Bill. Many of the clauses are devoted to detailed amendments of existing legislation, designed to ensure that the private sector system can operate smoothly within a consistent legal framework. I would, however, draw the attention of noble Lords particularly to one provision in Clause 8, subsections (9) and (10). That provision ensures that before the Secretary of State authorises any body as an approved testing authority, his proposal to do so must first be approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. In other words, the final decision rests with Parliament itself.
The proposals on fixed penalties, in Part III of the Bill, continue the Government's programme to reform the traffic laws of this country. This is not a party political issue and it is one in which I know your Lordships take a great interest. The fixed penalty system, which was first introduced for parking offences in the early 60s, offers two advantages. The offender is able to avoid prosecution, together with the inconvenience and stigma a court appearance may involve. Provided the penalty is paid, there is no need for a court hearing attended by police, court staff and magistrates, with all the work which that entails. As such it is a very useful system, provided it works. Unfortunately, particularly in London, it is not working at all well. And because it is not doing so, it is failing to help control the traffic problems about which many of your Lordships expressed concern in a debate not so long ago.
The reason why it is not working well is quite simple. The motorist has every incentive to ignore his parking ticket and not pay the fixed penalty. If he does not do so, the police have then to prosecute him in the normal way. Because the number of unpaid penalties is so large and because the pressures on both the police and the courts are so heavy, the result is that in all too many cases a prosecution cannot be brought in the time allowed and the motorist gets away scot-free.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene just briefly, would it not be better to say, "the alleged offender" rather than "the offender"?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I think it would depend on the context in which one was saying this. Here one is referring to those who are offenders. It is a legal nicety. The noble Lord may well be right, though I suspect in this case he may not be. If it should prove to be that he is right and I am not, then, as he knows 724 well, I should be glad to write and confirm it to him.
If I may continue, may I say that as an indication of the scale of the problem, in London in 1978 only 44,000 offences were dealt with out of a total of 416,000 which were liable to prosecution following failure to pay. Clearly, we cannot allow this state of affairs to continue. Our solution in Part III of this Bill is to reverse the odds which are at present stacked in the offending motorist's favour. We intend to change the system, so that instead of the motorist standing to gain by taking no action, he will certainly lose unless he does take action. In other words, inertia will no longer pay.
What we are proposing, is where the motorist does not respond to the fixed penalty notice—either by accepting liability and paying the penalty or by denying liability and asking for a hearing—I hope this covers the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce—then the penalty will automatically be treated as if it were a fine imposed on conviction. It will be enforced by the courts, together with an amount to cover expenses, without the need for a court hearing.
I am glad to say that when we consulted on this part of our proposals, it received an almost universal welcome. I think it has done so not only because people recognise that something has to be done about the traffic problems of our cities, particularly London. I think it has also done so because people feel that the motorist who persistently flouts the parking laws and gets away with it is acting in a thoroughly anti-social manner, to the disadvantage of other motorists who do try to observe the law.
This, then, is the first problem with which Part III of the Bill is intended to deal. The other stems from the burdens the courts are under in dealing with criminal cases generally, which have led to quite intolerable delays in disposing of them. A large part of this burden is made up of the great weight of motoring offences. Even with the removal from the courts of the motoring offences at present in the fixed penalty system, the magistrates' courts still have to deal with some 2 million cases a year.
Many of these offences are of a less serious kind and in the great majority of cases the motorist pleads guilty. It seems to us, therefore, that the sensible thing is to deal with these kinds of offences out of court. This we propose to do by extending the fixed penalty system to a wider range of offences. Besides its present use for parking offences, we propose using it for a number of moving traffic offences, including ones which are endorsable, such as speeding. The full list is set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill. Assuming that motorists take full advantage of the system, this could result in up to 600,000 cases a year being taken out of the courts—a very substantial number indeed.
I feel sure that the principle of what we are trying to do will be generally accepted. However, I am aware that the methods we propose have come in for some criticism. My noble friend will be dealing with this in more detail in his closing speech, but there is one issue with which I want to deal now, and that is the inspection of the licence by the police. The need for this is obvious. An offence will still attract endorsement, even if it is dealt with by the fixed penalty procedure. If the points for the offence, together with the points already on a driver's licence, carry him over 725 the total which would make him liable to disqualification, then he should not receive a fixed penalty. He should go to court, because it is right that only a court can order disqualification. This means that the police need to see a driver's record before he is given a fixed penalty ticket. However, there have been objections that the judgment of the police whether to offer a fixed penalty will be influenced more by a driver's record than by the nature of the offence; that many motorists will object to inspection of their licence at the roadside, assuming they carry it with them; and that many more motorists do not in fact carry it with them.
I want, therefore, to make three points. First, the procedure which the police will adopt will be to decide whether to offer a fixed penalty when they stop the driver. The purpose of inspection of the driver's record will merely he to ascertain whether their initial decision can be confirmed. Secondly, there will be no obligation on the driver to let the police inspect his record. The Bill gives the police no new power in this respect. Thirdly, if a driver is unwilling to let the police inspect his record at the roadside, or if he has not got his licence with him, he will still not lose his opportunity of receiving a fixed penalty. At an earlier stage in the Bill we made an important amendment, which will allow a driver a period of up to five days to produce his licence at a police station of his own choice, if he wishes to take up the offer. He will be given a provisional fixed penalty at the roadside and a fixed penalty will be issued at the police station if inspection of licence shows that he is eligible. I hope that this very significant change to the Bill will meet much of the concern which has been expressed about our proposals.
I will now deal as briefly as I can with the most substantive of the miscellaneous provisions in Part IV of the Bill. Clause 50, together with Schedule 4, is intended to rectify an anomaly which has prevented licensing authorities from taking environmental factors into account when considering applications for goods vehicle operator licences. This is in line with the recommendations of two important independent committees of inquiry, one chaired by Professor Christopher Foster in 1978 and the other Sir Arthur Armitage's inquiry into Lorries, People and the Environment, which reported in 1980.
The clause and schedule introduce a more workable definition of an operating centre and provide for a series of other amendments to the Transport Act 1968. These will permit the licensing authorities to assess the suitability of operating centres and impose conditions on the operations, if it is thought appropriate. It is not the Government's intention to drive established, responsible road hauliers out of business with these proposals and so they incorporate certain safeguards. The proposals are intended to achieve the right balance between the increasing importance of environmental considerations and the legitimate business interests of the road haulage industry on which we all depend.
Clause 51 provides powers for the police to immobilise illegally parked vehicles with wheelclamps, the vehicle to be released by the police on payment of a charge. This is a proposal that is being made only after lengthy and deep consideration. Your Lordships will recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, drew atten 726 tion to this matter in her amendment to the last Transport Bill, and I said that the Government would consider very carefully the views expressed. Since then, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has consulted widely.
There is, as I have already said, general agreement that the level of parking enforcement in London is unsatisfactory, and that there is a minority of antisocial drivers who have no respect for existing penalties and who, by their inconsiderate behaviour, impose an intolerable burden of increased traffic congestion on other law-abiding road users. I accept that there is not universal agreement about how this problem should be tackled, but my right honourable friend has been impressed by the arguments put forward by the Metropolitan Police, supported by the GLC and the London Boroughs Association, that the effectiveness of wheelclamps as one means of enforcing parking law should be tested on an experimental basis in central London. That is what is now proposed.
In response to the debate in another place, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport gave two undertakings about the nature of the powers that were being sought. First, the immobilisation powers will not be extended to any area, unless the traffic regulatory authority for that area so requests. Secondly, the powers will allow the regulation introducing them to incorporate a time limit. Additionally, since that debate, and of particular interest to your Lordships, it has now been decided that orange badge holders will be exempted from the operation of wheelclamps. Suitable amendments will be tabled in Committee to give effect to these commitments. Initially, the Government will designate only a limited inner area of the Metropolitan Police District and the Secretary of State has in mind a 12 months' time limit for the initial set of orders. The results achieved will be carefully monitored and the powers will be renewed only if the experiment has been a success.
Clause 52 substitutes a new definition of "Heavy Commercial Vehicle" for the purposes of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1976 (concerned with traffic regulation orders) and Section 36A of the Road Traffic Act 1972 (concerned with prohibition of parking on verges). The new definition is expressed in terms of the maximum laden weight of the vehicle in metric units, whereas the present definition is in terms of imperial unladen weight. This change in terminology follows the trend in the classification of heavy lorries, which has moved away from describing vehicles according to their unladen weight. Today, lorries tend to be classified according to their maximum laden weight. The need to change the definition has been prompted, however, by general metrication requirements, which have been followed in the new Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1981, which came into force in August last year. These require signs imposing weight restrictions on heavy lorries to show the restriction in terms of the metric maximum gross weight of the vehicle.
The change in the signing requirements has now put the definition in the 1967 Act out of step. Local authorities are, therefore, inhibited from making new orders to restrict the movement of heavy lorries for amenity purposes. It is important that this 727 discrepancy is resolved without delay, so that they can continue to introduce measures to protect their inhabitants from lorry nuisance.
Clause 53 provides for the simplification of the procedure for amending the text of the Highway Code, in order to reflect changes in the law, while still retaining parliamentary oversight of major revisions which are required from time to time. Clause 54 amends the definition of restricted road—that is, one which is, by virtue of street lighting, subject to a speed limit of 30 mph—by removing the distinction currently made between unclassified roads and classified or trunk roads. Though, perhaps, a little complex in appearance, it is, in fact, a simplification of the present provisions, and it will leave unchanged existing speed limits as indicated on individual roads.
Clause 56 enables the Secretary of State to authorise or direct harbour authorities to act in the interests of national defence. Its objective is twofold. First, it ensures that, at a time of international tension, we can harness the ports' essential contribution towards defence preparations, without delay or impediment. Secondly, it makes an important new provision for compensation to be paid to a port authority, or other persons who suffer loss in consequence of exercise of this power. The provision clarifies and improves the law in an area where the ports already have a splendid record of co-operation.
This Bill is a very substantial measure and I am conscious of having had to take up a good deal of your Lordships' time in describing it. Much of the detail is fairly complex and I am sure that your Lordships will wish to study it closely in Committee. None the less, the basic objectives are pretty clear. The greater part of the Bill is essentially concerned with improving the quality of our transport system and making it more responsive to the needs of its users. It will open the door to higher quality passenger transport services, a better organised vehicle testing system and a fairer and more effective system of traffic law enforcement. These objectives are all entirely worthwhile, and I believe that the Bill represents a sensible and balanced way of achieving them. I hope it will have the support of your Lordships on Second Reading today. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, your Lordships will be grateful, once again, to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the very clear way in which he has put forward the clauses and purposes of this Bill. It is, as he said, the third Transport Bill in the life of this Parliament, and the third time that he and I have faced each other across the Dispatch Box to deal with the matter. As before. it deals with very important road traffic law matters and also with measures of privatisation. I only wish, as I said on previous Bills, that there had been separate Bills, because Parts III and IV are entirely non-political and cover matters which we should deal with purely on the basis of common sense in approaching road traffic matters. They are free of 728 any party political outlook, and I should have liked to see the whole of the Bill in that frame, but, unfortunately, that cannot be said.
In general, we give a welcome to Part III of the Bill The proposals for extending the fixed penalty system will, as the noble Lord said, take away from the courts one-third of the 2 million prosecutions each year for road traffic offences. I share the concern that some 10 per cent. of the fixed penalty notices issued annually are ineffective, because motorists ignore them and the time limit for proceedings to be brought expires. It will be recalled that, in our debates on congestion, there was general concern expressed about the lack of enforcement in regard to illegal parking, and about the fact that so many of these fixed penalty notices go unpaid and undealt with in the courts. However, proposals for the easement of the administration of the courts, and for increasing enforcement, must not lead to any elements of injustice; and the Committee will need to look with the greatest care at the various clauses in Part III of the Bill to avoid any possibility of that arising.
Naturally, on Second Reading I do not propose to deal in detail with all the clauses in Part III, but there are a few points on which I should like to touch. First, there must be an assurance that the fixed penalty system is uniform in its application throughout England, Scotland and Wales. It must be available on the same basis for the same motoring offences throughout all police force areas. Despite what the noble Lord the Minister has said, we shall need to look very carefully at the provisions whereby a police constable will be given power to inspect a licence and to look at previous endorsements. This could, no doubt, have some slant on a decision that is taken. Also, we shall need to look very carefully at whether it is desirable that a fixed penalty notice should attract endorsement or penalty points, or whether that would not be a desirable procedure to adopt. We can deal with that matter at the Committee stage.
Although I welcome the provision giving five days for the production of a licence, and the fact that, as the Minister said, a person to whom a notice is given will be able to choose the police station where he will present his licence, that is not clear to me, or to other people, from the Bill. I hope that a suitable amendment can be made to make that absolutely clear and beyond any doubt at all. It seems that, on these and similar matters in this part of the Bill, both motoring organisations are thinking along similar lines about the doubts which I have expressed, and some other doubts as well. These points are, I emphasise, entirely non-political. Although I may express certain views from this Dispatch Box, our Members will have complete freedom to decide how they vote on any matter upon which there may be Divisions.
Part IV of the Bill introduces, as the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said, a number of miscellaneous provisions, some of which are particularly welcome. We welcome the provision in Clause 50 that environmental considerations relating to the operating centres for good vehicles may be taken into account in the granting of goods vehicle licences. It is a long overdue provision. Nevertheless, we shall need to look at it with the greatest of care to ensure fairness. I was very pleased to hear what the Minister said about 729 balancing the environmental considerations against an individual's business.
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, referred to Clause 51. As he rightly said, my noble friend Lady Denington proposed an amendment to the 1981 Bill, an amendment which I was pleased to support, relating to immobilisation devices. Since then I have attended an excellent seminar arranged by the Greater London Council. I was most impressed by the firmness of the Metropolitan Police representative, that a proposal of this kind is urgently needed as an experiment. This clause was introduced at the Report stage in another place. There was no opportunity for amendments. Your Lordships' House in its revising capacity is therefore provided with an excellent opportunity to have a careful look at the clause.
Without going into the matter in detail, I am concerned about the provision whereby the police may move a vehicle round the corner and put a clamp on it. This seems to me to be nonsensical, and I hope that we shall have a careful look at it. My own view, before I heard the noble Lord the Minister speak this afternoon, was that there should be a trial experiment in defined areas and that the experiment should be limited to any area where a request is made by the traffic regulatory authority. I should like this to be made quite clear in the Bill, because at the moment the position is open-ended. The clause gives to this Secretary of State or to any other Secretary of State the power to use wheel clamp devices anywhere in the country where he so desires. I believe that this ought to be an experiment. I hope that it will prove to be successful, but we may all be wrong.
I hope, too, that any extension powers after a certain period which may be given will be mentioned in the Bill and will be dealt with by Affirmative Resolution. This seems to me to be imperative so that we do not find after a period of monitoring that we have made a mistake and that the wheel clamp is not the answer. I hope that it will be the answer and that the deterrent effect alone of two or three prosecutions will result in people not wanting to have wheel clamps put on their machines. I am pleased that an exemption for orange badge holders is to be inserted in the clause. We shall await the Government's amendment.
We welcome also Clause 53, which again was introduced at the Report stage in another place. It provides for an annulment procedure in connection with the compilation of the revised Highway Code. This is in line with an amendment which I proposed to the 1981 Bill and it seems to me to be a very sensible procedure. Other matters in this part of the Bill will need to receive the most careful consideration at the Committee stage.
I move now to the more controversial parts of the Bill. I hope that on the two major issues I can avoid making political arguments. Part I provides for the disposal of the whole or part of any subsidiary of the National Bus Company. The same principles and procedures as applied to the British Rail subsidiaries in the 1981 Act will apply. I must make a political point. There is no mandate whatever for this. The Government's election manifesto referred only to the sale of shares in the National Freight Corporation. That was brought about in the 1980 Act. There was nothing in the Government's election manifesto about 730 British Rail subsidiaries or about the British Transport Docks Board, which were dealt with in the 1981 Act. Nor was there anything in their manifesto about the National Bus Company proposals which are included in the Bill. The Conservative Party's election manifesto said:We want to see those industries that remain nationalised running more successfully and we will therefore interfere less with their management ".What was put into the 1980 and 1981 Bills and what is now being put into this Bill does not shape up with that definite statement.
The Transport Acts of 1980 and 1981, and now this Bill, will give considerable powers to the Secretary of State. He will have the power to give instructions to the National Bus Company for the disposal of any part of the National Bus Company; it could be for the disposal of any regional bus subsidiary. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that the Secretary of State will act responsibly—as I have been told on previous occasions. This Secretary of State may. Future Secretaries of State may not. Therefore one has to look at the powers of instruction for disposal which are contained in the Bill. The power is there, and that is what matters—as the Law Lords made clear in recent cases, particularly in the Greater London Council and London Transport case. It is not what Ministers, either in this House or in the other place, say which matters. It is what is written into the Bill which matters. Therefore we must look at this with the greatest of care.
The Secretary of State said in the other place on 9th February 1982, at col. 868:Our plans are concerned with National Holidays and National Express and the property areas that I have been mentioning, but it is correct that the legislation covers powers for sales throughout the whole of the NBC ".The Secretary of State says there that there are powers to deal with any part of the National Bus Company. The entire basis and structure of the National Bus Company could be destroyed by the Bill. It is generally recognised that the development and progress of the National Bus Company depends very much upon the integration of its various services.
The National Bus Company's accounts, which were published only yesterday, show profits from National Express and National Holidays of some £4.5 million. In another place the Secretary of State referred to this as being trivial compared with the turnover, which in 1981 was £618 million. But the contribution made from the Express operations is nearly 18 per cent. of the total operating profits of the National Bus Company in 1981. This enables the National Bus Company to maintain stage services. It also enables the company to carry out important cross-subsidisation of rural and off-peak urban services. It is estimated that this contribution from the National Bus Company enables a 10 to 12 per cent. subsidisation of stage services in rural areas. In the case of the British Rail subsidiaries, the Minister argued—and the Government argued—that hotels, ships, harbours, et cetera had nothing whatever to do with the railways. Whatever is said today, it cannot be argued that express coach services have nothing to do with the National Bus Company. They are part of their integrated work and integrated services.
731 The noble Lord the Minister said that what is sought in the Bill is freedom to develop further. The success of the National Bus Company in expanding its express services has been made possible solely by the integrated nature of its services and facilities. The chairman of the National Bus Company says in the annual report, which, as I say, was published only yesterday:I have said on a number of occasions that the National Bus Company is an integrated business and what might happen to one sector must necessarily have an impact on the remainder. It must not be forgotten that National Express and National Holidays in 1981 contributed substantially to group net revenue and to the business of maintaining stage carriage passenger services.In extending its coach services under National Express, the National Bus Company did not have to set up separate depots and separate booking offices, and it did not have to provide separate maintenance and repair facilities. They were already there as part of its integrated work. Even the company's drivers and coaches could be employed at certain times on coach work and at other times on stage carriage services. The expansion has been made possible because of the flexible use of those integrated services. There is absolutely no commercial justification whatever for disposing of this successful National Express expansion.
In respect of the National Bus Company properties, I understand that their book value is about £100 million. As has been emphasised this afternoon, the Government's intention is that the National Bus Company will co-operate with the private sector in making the best use of its considerable property assets. But why does this require the setting up of a separate subsidiary and disposing of it to the private sector? Why set up all the machinery outlined in this part of the Bill? Surely the argument here is the same as that which we used on this side of the House, and which was supported by other parts of the House, on the proposed disposal of British Rail properties. British Rail has carried out considerable schemes in conjunction with private capital which have not necessitated disposal. If it is co-operation with private capital that is the aim, then surely disposal of the National Bus Company subsidiary which will be created is absolutely unnecessary. My understanding is that there are powers already for the National Bus Company to carry out joint ventures with private developers if they so desire. That is to be encouraged, but there is no need whatever to have the detailed machinery of disposal transferred completely from the National Bus Company to the private sector.
The Government have made it clear that they are concerned only with National Express and National Holidays. It is clear also that there is no economic argument and no commercial argument for disposal and that to dispose of National Express would be disastrous to the National Bus Company's other stage services. As there is no political argument and this is a commercial argument, the most sensible thing would be—although I do not suppose that the Government will do it—to withdraw these clauses from the Bill, because the coach services are essential to the integrated operation of the National Bus Company and there is no need whatsoever for additional powers in connection with development of the bus company's properties.
732 So we move to the last part of the Bill with which I wish to deal, Part II, and the proposals for the testing of heavy goods vehicles and passenger service vehicles. This should not be a political issue, but I regret that the Government have made it one. I will not give any quotations, because the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has himself paid tribute to the high standard of the present testing machinery of the Department of Transport. The operators themselves regard it as a testing system of a very high standard and integrity. But, having paid that tribute, the Government then decide that the system shall be destroyed. Just in passing, that was not in the manifesto either—there was not a single word about that in the manifesto.
I want to go through the history of this as quickly as I can, but I do think it is important that all noble Lords should be able to read in Hansard exactly what has taken place. In December 1979, the Minister announced that the Government were considering the transfer of testing to the private sector. In August 1980, they issued a policy statement, and there was immediate opposition from all operators—the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association and the British Transport Federation. These bodies cover practically all the operators concerned in road haulage and passenger transport.
Because of this strong opposition, the Transport Committee in another place decided to carry out an inquiry, which was started in March 1981. This received evidence from the Minister, from officials of the department, and from the operators' organisations. Its report, published in July 1981, in general condemned any proposal to transfer the testing machinery away from the department and not to continue with the present scheme. But, on 20th January this year, the Government issued their own observations on the Transport Committee's conclusions and recommendations. The Government's view is clear from one short sentence:On the question of the benefits of privatisation, I think we shall have to agree to differ.All the detailed arguments put up by the Transport Committee in another place and by the operators were dismissed in that one sentence. The Secretary of State concluded:I understand that the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association are now prepared to work positively with us to make a practical success of the new private sector scheme.In the light of that, the Transport Committee in another place decided to meet again. They put the question point blank to witnesses from the three operators' organisations, "Have you changed your view?" The operators all replied discernibly, "No, we have not changed our view". But, being sensible people, they have to look after the interests of their members and, if the Government insist on going ahead with this ridiculous proposal, the operators will have to make the best they can of it. They have made it quite clear that they dislike the proposals and that they wish to heaven that the Government would not interfere with the present system. So, despite all the so-called consultations, the Government have not changed in any way the view they expressed in December 1980.
733 I must ask a question. Why do most European countries also keep these important testing services out of the private sector? Why do our operators want to retain the present system? Firstly, they regard it very highly—particularly the impartiality of the testing staff, who work independently of any commercial pressures, its high testing standards, and the safety provisions which it ensures.
The noble Lord the Minister has referred to answers given to questions in the other place yesterday by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport to the effect that the Government are now considering transfer of the testing machinery to a private organisation which will be administered by Lloyd's and that this is welcomed by the operators. My understanding is that this will be welcomed by the operators as being preferable to having a number of private sector testing organisations or just one independent testing organisation without any independent control. But they would prefer to see the present system continue. That is the view of the operators—not of someone speaking as a spokesman on behalf of a party in your Lordships' House.
I must still ask, why are the Government so insistent on this? Could it be that it is all linked with a desire to dispose of another 900 civil servants and has nothing whatever to do with safety provisions or efficient testing machinery? This is one issue that we should look into very carefully at Committee stage. We welcome Parts HI and IV of the Bill, but Parts I and II will need the closest consideration.
§ Lord Merrivale
My Lords, I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, had to say, but I wonder whether I may put a question to him before he sits down. For the purposes of clarification, will the noble Lord say whether he is in favour of the introduction of wheel clamps and does he feel that these would in fact reduce congestion? It seems to me that wheel clamps may reduce congestion if the vehicles are moved, but it does not seem right because where will they be moved to, and to the detriment of whom? The idea of moving vehicles to some other area does not seem right; it would be different if the vehicle did not have wheel clamps fitted at the time.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for asking that question, because, when I said that I supported my noble friend Lady Denington in moving an amendment in favour of wheel clamps when the last Bill was introduced, I should have made it quite clear that I am still in support of the proposal. But, as I have also emphasised, I want it to be carried through as an experiment. I believe it will be successful. The Government want it to be an experiment. What we must ensure in the Bill is that it is laid down to be an experiment and that it will not continue without affirmative resolution from both Houses. The point I was making about removal is that there is a clause in the Bill which provides that, whereas many wheel clamps will be put on the car where it is stationary, they can move it to another place and put the clamp on there. That appeared to me to be a little foolish.
If you are going to remove it, you may as well take it to the police pound right away. I hope there will 734 not be a lot of cases of wheel clamps having to be used. I hope that the publicity will be such that once a person has had a clamp put on and is stuck in the West End of London other motorists will think very carefully before they put themselves in the same boat. But, by and large, I am in favour of the experiment proceeding.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, we from these Benches want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for his very clear presentation of this Bill, and for a number of reassurances which he has given in so doing. Nevertheless, I think we must consider this to be a patchwork quilt Bill, a mixture of doctrine and pragmatism. Unfortunately, it is a Bill which does nothing to take up the challenge of creating a fully integrated public transport system in this country. Instead, the Bill only attempts to introduce private capital into the National Bus Company, to privatise vehicle testing stations for heavy vehicles, to alter the fixed penalty system for motorists, and finally to recognise environmental factors before licensing areas for road haulage operators. I regret that I cannot identify any coordinating factors in these objectives which could be described as steps towards an integrated transport policy. The principle that we from these Benches shall apply in Committee is that the ownership of the transport system is unimportant; it is the service to the travelling public that matters, so the measures contained in this Bill will be judged accordingly.
In this very brief intervention, and in following the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I shall take the Bill in the order in which it is printed. I feel it is easier to get over the doctrine side first and then deal with the pragmatic side later, so I shall perhaps end up with a bang rather than a whimper. With regard to the National Bus Company, it is the disposal of the assets that bothers me most, in the same way, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, the disposal of the property assets of British Rail. I think the Government should be able to give us an assurance that in disposing of these assets they are not destroying forever the possibilities of an integrated travel system, in the sense of having a travel centre in every town and city where the travelling public can catch a bus or a train without having to cross to the other side of the town.
What worries me, as in the case of British Rail, is that they have put fiscal priorities first, and said, "You must raise the cash by selling properties". In doing so, they are endangering the possibilities forever of having proper travel centres, that I envisage, the public and private sectors working together in harness to serve the public. If this means that some delectable property sites that property developers have their eye on are used for office buildings, and not for this purpose, I feel it is going to take away the possibility of having something that we from these Benches have been pressing many Governments to put in their policy and in the Bills that they put before the Houses of Parliament.
We also hope that there will be incentives for both national and rural bus systems in the private sector after the application of this Bill. I also hope that the private coach operators will not be tempted during the season to divert their fleets abroad to catch the tourist trade and leave the regular passenger routes in 735 this country under-bused, with reduced services. I should also like to hear the noble Lord the Minister give some idea as to what role he sees for the public transport executives and county councils in the routes and operations by the private operators. I think community bus services could be supported quite helpfully by transferring some of the National Bus Company's assets for use very effectively through a system of community bus services. In the rural areas it may even be possible to encourage worker cooperatives where the driver has the first refusal on a vehicle; this may be a relatively economic method of maintaining a much needed service which could not normally be profitable to either a public or a private company. I hope that the Government will look at this and not just produce the hard fiscal argument for those of us who live in rural areas, "You cannot have a bus because it costs too much". I think that worker co-operatives—I am talking completely nonpolitically—may be a way, in co-operation with the local community, to get a bus going in an area in which there is no bus service today. Many noble Lords opposite have complained about this in many different contexts. I want to see an opportunity through this Bill of improving rural bus services even if it means some original thinking and the Government applying their minds to it and getting away from the doctrine contained in other parts of this Bill.
Turning away from the National Bus Company, our attitude on vehicle testing, transferring it to the private sector, is that we think it is rather a pointless operation. If the Government hope to get good marks from their voters by privatising vehicle testing, I think that is wishful thinking; I do not think this is a great vote catcher. It certainly is not with the heavy lorry operators themselves, who have been more than satisfied with the excellent service provided by the department throughout the country. Its consistency and honesty is something that has been respected. Nevertheless, the Government have said—I am very reassured by this—that one body, a body of the highest integrity, the Lloyd's Register of Shipping, will be asked to carry out this task. 1 have no doubt that with their fine record they will be able to do the job competently. The only reason I can see for the Government wanting to put it over to the private sector is because civil servants do not work at weekends; it will give the freight operators a seven-day service.
Nevertheless, although there will be a saving of up to 900 personnel, hopefully, as put forward in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, it does not say how many new people will be required to monitor the new testing service. Also, bear in mind that they have to work weekends as well. When the final additions are made, I would be very interested to know, if the Government have made any reductions at all, how many inspectors are envisaged to supervise the proper operation of these private sector testing procedures. I have a feeling that, at the end of the day, it will not be much short of 900 if these tests are to be effective. If the Government are going to say that only two or three people are going to monitor this with snap tests, I would have some worries about whether it would be as effective a procedure as we already have at the present 736 time. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
On the fixed penalty system, we certainly welcome these provisions in the hope that they will reduce the amount of court time, and thereafter the money spent on minor offences, without infringing individual rights. If this is the case—excellent. I also entirely agree that something must be done about the illicit parking in London, which is to the detriment of the whole community, and indeed in any other big city. The only question is, if the on-the-spot fine is not to be paid on the spot with cash, which I am sure is quite correct, and a fixed penalty is to be handed out, what is to stop a motorist from not paying it, just as many motorists do not pay their parking fines in the first place, which has brought about this new system? I cannot see the improvement, but perhaps that will be explained to me.
Also, having taken the matter out of the courts, it will require another administrative system to make it effective. I should like to know how many people will be required to administer this system. The courts' system already has its overheads as regards court procedures and so on. The matter will not go through them and so there will be a new administrative system which I suspect will be rather more complex than the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, implied, but again one can be reassured on this matter. I should like to know how many extra staff will be required to make it effective.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I should like another reassurance about the carrying of driving licences. I should like to be reassured that, if a motorist does not carry his driving licence, he will not in any way be faced with a more difficult problem than one who does carry it. We are moving quite fast along a road where it will be provided, under one Bill or another which goes through Parliament, that we must carry our driving licences as soon as we get in the car if we are not to suffer either some inconvenience or other penalty. We are moving towards something the sound of which we on these Benches do not like very much, and I want to be reassured on this matter. I quite accept the other reassurances given about the penalties that are already embodied in the licence and that need not be shown.
As regards the final part of the Bill and the environmental licences, again the road operators are worried. I think that they must be given their assurances as much as those long-suffering people who live in communities where heavy lorries are the arch-enemy of their peace and quiet and their way of life. There must be a balance and I am sure that eventually a sensible solution will come about. Again I think that further reassurances will be needed. Perhaps these can be given in Committee. I should have thought that there would be an opportunity under this rather hotch-potch section of the Bill, the miscellaneous section, for the Government to start thinking about encouraging local councils to create bicycle ways, or certainly separate ways where disabled people in powered wheelchairs, cyclists and others can proceed separately from the very heavy lorries which are becoming an increasingly worrisome matter, so much so that these people do not go on the roads. Cyclists have to be accepted as having certain rights in the country, the towns and the cities. Unless these ways are created cyclists will be encouraged, as they are at present, to drive down one-way streets, to cycle across lights and so on. This 737 situation is becoming increasingly hazardous for all motorists. This is a Bill in which I think something could be said about the cyclists.
Corning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, about clamps for motor cars, I think that there may be a reason for this suggestion that has not emerged either in the Committee stage in another place or in the noble Lord's explanations. The situation is not far away when it will be possible for the motorist to be equipped with a personalised electronic key which will not allow a policeman to open a car door or to start it. I think that these keys will become available within the next two or three years If that happens, then the motorist's vehicle, if it is causing an obstruction, will be totally immovable except by the lift mechanism on the heavy lorries which are presently used. It is essential that the Metropolitan Police, indeed, all police forces, should be able to make it quite clear through a much more ferocious attack on illicit parking, that penalties will be imposed to prevent the problems of the electronic key. It is not, in reality, with us at present, but I guess that it will probably be with us in two or three years' time and, although it will certainly prevent the theft of cars, it will also make it impossible for a police constable to enter a car without forcing an entry mechanically, because he will not be able to use the master keys, as is the procedure at present.
I want to conclude as I began. This Bill is a patchwork quilt. It is one of a series of Transport Bills and we want to be persuaded that, underlying these Bills, there is an integrated transport policy in this country which the travelling public can understand, appreciate and, indeed, support. The difficulty is that, certainly from this current series of Bills, we do not see a policy that is for the benefit of the travelling public and those who wish to move freight. It does not appear to be put together in a way that is constructive and understandable. Therefore we look forward to the day when we have such a policy. When that happens I think that the Government will find that they will get better support from these Benches than they are getting for the Bill as it presently stands.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for his usual courteous and lucid explanation of the Bill. I agree with him that transport is an important aspect of the nation's infrastructure and it is right that there should be a succession of Bills that take account of the changing pattern of transport and its needs. The noble Lord will forgive me, however, if I say that I am not totally convinced by his conviction that this particular Bill makes any major contribution to achieving the ends that he has in mind.
In a way we have been round this debate before, but it has not always had a transport label. We have had forestry, the railways, oil and gas and the airways. There has been the same blanket imposition of policies on a series of industries that are widely diverse and very complex. It is because I believe that these industries have different problems and varied solutions that I take the view that the Government are wrong in trying to impose a uniform pattern on all of them. 738 As your Lordships know, the Social Democratic Party is a mixed economy party; it is a pragmatic party and believes that in some areas there is room for private capital investment in the nationalised sector, particularly when it enables these nationalised industries to escape from the straitjacket of the PSBR constraints. So we shall look at the Bill quite pragmatically and with that in mind.
What are the responsibilities of the Government for a nationalised industry? The Government have a responsibility as a custodian of the nation's assets. To that extent they have a responsibility for making the greatest return on the nation's investment in the national assets. Any measure that is dealing with a nationalised industry must be looked at against the criterion of whether it creates greater efficiency or more satisfactory operation arising from better management. By that standard this Bill fails. There is an intervention in the whole structure of an industry which everyone accepts is reasonably well run. To create these diversions by the application of this theology does nothing to improve the efficient operation of the National Bus Service.
Therefore, I regard this particular Bill as largely an irrelevance. I must say that, by the same standard, the the Labour Party, although it has made no commitment in this case to renationalise sections of the National Bus Company, still adheres to the Clause 4 argument, and in most of the prospectuses that have been written on the denationalised industries where shares have been sold on the market there is a clause which provides that, if there is a change of Government and a Labour Government come into power, this particular industry will be renationalised. The Social Democratic Party has arisen in British politics because it wants to get out of that kind of doctrinaire argument, which is destroying the national welfare and destroying many of the nation's assets.
So let us look at this in relation to the National Bus Company. I think it is generally agreed, and the results in the annual report have shown, that it is a reasonably well-managed company and could well do without this diversion which the Bill introduces. There are three sectors identified where there might be an injection of private capital or even a sell-off of the asset to private ownership.
The first is in relation to property. I would agree that there are opportunities in the development of the sites of the National Bus Company for joint enterprises and partnerships with private enterprise. The National Bus Company does not have the resources to develop these sites, and I think it is important that it should take advantage of these opportunities. At the same time, these should be seen as partnerships in which the equity in any joint enterprise would be the value of the site which the National Bus Company puts into the company and therefore the NBC would share in the growth potential of that property and its development. That is not what is taking place in relation to British Rail.
Over the years British Rail has established joint partnerships of that kind, and I must declare an interest in this regard as a director of the British Rail Property Board. But now we have attracted private capital and we have developed sites, like Euston and so on, and in the future hope to enjoy the profits of these 739 developments, as good property developers do. But at the moment British Rail is being compelled to sell off the sites to private developers and, consequently, will have no share in the growth potential of these developments. Similarly, it is being pressed to sell off its share in joint partnerships, so that the possibility of British Rail using and developing its properties is reduced by disposing of the assets which might well help to finance a modern railway in the future.
I mention that because the statement of the Minister on Second Reading in another place and also the statement made in this House suggest that the National Bus Company will be permitted to develop joint enterprises in relation to property development, and I hope that that is so, and that we are not talking about disposing entirely of the property assets of the NBC.
As has also been said in this debate, many of these properties are related to bus centres and, therefore, the NBC has a continuing interest in the provision of a service to its customers. But there is a strong case—and I concede this to the Minister—for, if you like, a mixed economy approach to the property development of the National Bus Company.
With regard to the national coach service, frankly—and it has been said before—it is contributing 18 per cent. of the profits of the NBC; a very small part of the turnover of the National Bus Company is in the national coach service. What makes the Minister believe that if this excellent service is sold off to private enterprise it will be cheaper or that it will be better run? It may be that we shall get a Laker-type experiment for a period, but there is no guarantee that by the simple transfer of the ownership of assets to private enterprise as against state enterprise—particularly when that side of the state enterprise is well run—inevitably and automatically it becomes a better service for the consumer or the nation.
Let us look at the effect of this on the total finances of the National Bus Company. The annual accounts of the National Bus Company reveal that the revenues are about £516 million, but of that only £395 million are contributed by fares, the remainder being provided by subsidies through negotiations with local authorities to support local services and PTEs, and so on. This means, in fact, that if you sell off a profitable part of your business, the burden on the remaining part, on the social side, of your national transport system becomes greater and consequently there is a greater demand on the purse of the taxpayer or the ratepayer. That is the first thing—the effect of selling off the profitable side will create bigger burdens on the taxpayer.
The second thing is that the national coach service is part of an integrated bus system in which there is sensible utilisation of assets: on a Saturday afternoon, when you are not using the buses to take people long distances, you use them for some other purpose, and so on. It is part of an integrated system. To break up that system does not make economic sense.
Finally, bus services, like rail services, are very much a consumer-related service. They depend very much on the attitude of people in the business to their customers. I suggest to the Minister that if we remove the exciting and profitable side of this business and hand it over to a private investor, it 740 would have an immense impact on the other services of the business, because, in a sense, they are operating the loss-making or subsidised aspect of the business. I do not believe that this will contribute in any way to a better bus service, a more efficient bus service, a more committed personnel, or even a better industrial relations climate.
The holiday services, which are also included as a target, are not so important. I do not think it matters very much, except to say that this is an exciting piece of initiative on the part of the National Bus Company and it would be rather sad to see it clipped off. It does not mean a great deal in terms of profit or employment, but it is still part of the integrated system, because people book for the holiday service at the National Bus Company offices, and so on. But I do not think that it is worth pursuing and I do not think that we shall get any joint partnership in such a small business. It may simply be necessary, if you wish, to sell it off.
For all these reasons I think that those of us on these Benches will look at the Committee stage critically and, I hope, helpfully, with a view to contributing to the total efficiency of the National Bus Service.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister told us that he had come for the third time with a Transport Bill and I am very sorry to tell him that I think he has come this third time with about the worst Transport Bill that he has ever brought before your Lordships' House. With the exception of Part I, and possibly that part dealing with commercial vehicle testing, it is a mish-mash of absolute nonsense. It is exactly the same medicine as before, only a slightly larger dose, which has failed totally to deal with the problem. During the course of my speech I hope to demonstrate some areas where this is so.
On Part I, 1 think that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has made a fairly valuable point, but, as I have understood it, the National Bus Company is in general agreement with the provisions of this part of the Bill, always provided that the Secretary of State cannot use his power to hive off parts. There is no doubt that the National Bus Company are constrained by lack of finance from improving that which they already have. There is no doubt that there are a number of local authorities who fail to make any contribution towards the provision of those services that we call socially desirable but unecomonic.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, spoke of property. I can see no evidence in this Bill that the property is to be sold. But the property is to be developed, and it may well have to be developed with private capital, thereby making a contribution to the profitability of the company as a whole. While cross-subsidisation may not be the entire name of the game, money is accruing from those sources. If one looks at the annual accounts one can see that money has accrued from the most careful use of the National Bus Company's money itself. Money has made money, as it always does, and that money can be used to assist the services which we want improved and increased.
It was interesting that my noble friend the Minister 741 said that this would enable a further expansion of road passenger transport. If we accept that, we have to accept an awful lot of what we are currently complaining about. If road passenger transport is going to increase, and frankly I have never had any doubt that it will, with or without this Bill, then we are into the problems which Parts III and IV are attempting to deal with. I want to return to that in a moment.
I believe that the most controversial aspect in the Bill is Part II, the removal of heavy goods and passenger service vehicle testing from the public sector to the private sector. I have to endorse entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has said about this. My knowledge of the industry suggests to me that notwithstanding a certain acquiescence among bodies like the Freight Transport Association, the Confederation of British Road Passenger Transport and the Road Haulage Association in the scheme as outlined in the Bill, their attitude is one of the utmost reluctance. Bear in mind that none of these three organisations represents the entirety of the haulage industry. I shall seek to persuade your Lordships that this move is wrong when we come to Committee stage. I shall bring in aid much of what my noble kinsman said in the 1950s when the introduction of motor car testing was brought before Parliament.
This scheme has worked extremely well. There is mutual trust between the tester and the operator. The main reason for this is because those men on testing are engaged on nothing else but testing. There is no commercial influence that may alter a decision. They are experts. Indeed, the Institute of Transport Administration, of which I have the honour to be president, sent a team to Germany to study their scheme. It is a scheme which incidentally I have seen myself, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has. It is a scheme devoid of any matter of opinion. It is all fact. Everything is measured. There are no diversions caused. It is a scheme which is totally accepted by the trucker and by the motor-car user. We do not enjoy that benefit in our private car testing in this country. It is open to suspicion that the confidence which we now enjoy with the Government testing scheme is going to be destroyed.
What in fact is the advantage? I have always understood that my party's criteria for the return of work or services undertaken by the public sector to the private sector shall be that the private sector can better, or equally well, undertake the service. I say in all seriousness, with 25 years' experience of this industry, that the private sector cannot do this job as well or better. If the Government are losing money—and they say in fact that they are not—then put the fee up. It is only £16.50. It is nothing compared to the cost of the annual licence of a heavy commercial vehicle, which is some £1,100 or £1,200, and due to increase under the effects of the Finance Bill.
This is a totally mistaken approach which will not advance road safety or alleviate the many fears which people have had with regard to commercial vehicles. Even though there may be a blueprint with Lloyd's, I should want to see that blueprint before I gave agreement to this part of the Bill. We shall have to look at this with the most careful scrutiny. One of the extraordinary things is that, although my noble friend has said this evening that we have a broad framework of agreement with Lloyd's, in Clause 8 of the Bill there is 742 an express exclusion for those who have passenger service licences and conduct business in that area. They shall not be an authorised tester. I have to ask myself, why do we need that specific exclusion if we are in fact going over into a totally different area? I have to say that I would want to exclude the motor trade. I would want to exclude the big haulage contractor. They may be very good people, but there is that implied threat when you get people in the same business competing.
I turn to Part III. My noble friend Lord Bellwin said that Part III continued the reform. It does nothing of the sort. It compounds the follies. There are 14 million motor cars in this country. It is going to rise to 23 million to 24 million motor cars over the next decade or so. Unless we approach the problem of parking, we shall never be able to deal with the problem of congestion. Are we to have fixed penalties, and more fixed penalties? It is the same argument as we had last year in the 1981 Bill about the congestion in the courts. I am not interested in the congestion in the courts. The congestion in the courts is brought about by the inability of people to find places in which to put their cars at a reasonable price.
Peterborough has done it. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, was describing the system to me. They do not not have this problem. They have dealt with it properly. Othe people deal with it by jerking up the price on a meter. That is no answer because 90 per cent. of the meter charges are paid by people other than the man who actually puts the money in the meter, and it comes as a taxable expense, and so that one does not wash. This will not either. It is wrong in principle because it does not deal with the problems. If we provide the adequate facilities, then we can start looking at this kind of thing, but to say that this will continue the reform of methods of dealing with motoring offences is nonsense in my view. My noble friend said that, by that suggestion, inertia would not be rewarded. That seems to be something of a reversal of what we have always believed—that is, that paying up and shutting up is the easiest way, instead of going to court to plead one's case—and what is proposed seems to be wrong.
He said it would deal with the persistent offender. It will do nothing of the sort. It is far more likely to deal with the man or woman who forgot that he or she had only a couple of hours, whose hairdressing appointment took slightly longer, or who could not get change at the bank. It will not deal with the persistent offender. If one examines the Bill carefully, as we shall, it seems that the use of the penalty will rest on the decision of the police. There is no uniformity; they may or may not apply it. That cannot be right either. There must be uniformity in the law. If the is made by Parliament, the police, like everybody else, must conform to it. It is for the police to enforce the law rather than, strictly speaking, interpreting it.
If we really want to make something of the scheme we should de-criminalise a number of offences. We should allow the system to operate for what one might call the technical offence, one which is not endorsable and which would not normally be dealt with by the court, if the alleged offender so wished. That takes me back to last year when we were discussing speeding offences. We did not agree then, and I do not know 743 whether we shall agree this year, but we might as well have the discussion again. There are certain speeding offences which are technical in character and do not involve danger. They should be punished, and it might be possible to punish them in accordance with the proposed scheme, without them becoming penalty point offences. As for the police examination of licences, I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill.
I come to Part IV, operating centres, and here we are compounding folly with folly. The licensing system in this country with regard to heavy vehicles does not work and it is no good giving the licensing authority additional powers to satisfy the environmental lobby when the basis of the concept is wrong. I see my noble friend Lord Avon smiling at that. I assure him, from personal and bitter experience, that it is wrong. The licensing system calls, on the requisite form, for the nomination of a CPC holder. I could have a CPC and put my name to that form. The man applying on the licence application form puts his name down and there is no further check as to whether he is a drunk, a bankrupt or even looking after the fleets of half a dozen people. Thus, that one goes out of the door.
It is necessary to put on the form the number of vehicles now used and contemplated to be used and the number of off-street parking places. In fact, one just puts down a number, not even an address. We shall now add to that another consideration that the licensing authority can use, the environmental concern. Never mind about the operator being a fit and proper person. There are people now running vehicles with licences who have been in liquidation for running haulage businesses and who have had convictions for running vehicles without licences. They can get another one, and we shall be adding the new consideration. What we should be doing is tossing the whole thing out of the window and starting all over again. Looking at the licensing system, we are fast reverting to the position that obtained when we had the old "C"—carriers—licence. Let us stop messing about and start all over again.
We have talked for years about operating centres. We have said that they must come out of this or that area and must he proper centres at the end of motorways; transhipment depots is that whey used to be called. There are bags of money for these things. Oil and petrol companies all want to get into the business, but the whole thing is hampered by planners. That is the sort of consideration we should be examining, a positive move forward rather than overloading the present creaky and ridiculous system.
I should like, if there were time, to talk about the immobilisation of vehicles. The noble Baroness, Lady Denington, knows precisely how I feel about that. Again, we are compounding the situation with regard to parking, but we shall be looking at the whole issue in detail. I have no doubt that the Government will wish to carry the day. They will carry nothing other than even more congestion and confusion and in my view, they will exacerbate the deteriorating position as between the police and the motorist, and we should be doing our best to avoid that. Local authorities have a real responsibility. Find and license the places for off-street garaging, and there will not be a problem.
744 The Government have started the immobilisation scheme to penalise the persistent offenders, but how does one find the persistent offender? The computer at Swansea is way out of date, miles behind everything, because vehicles change hands quickly and people do not always fill in the appropriate forms. We talk about the owner when hitherto we have always spoken about the keeper, and the keeper is not always the driver. In the Bill the owner is held to be the driver, and that is iniquitous, anyway. That demonstrates some of the ridiculousness that should be knocked smartly on the head. As for experiments, my noble friend Lord Avon will recall the discussions two summers ago about experiments with road humps. They are not really experiments at all; they are preliminaries to permanence and they always have been.
Frankly, the only point in the Bill with which I can be in total accord is the redefinition of heavy goods vehicles. We do not call them heavy goods vehicles in the Bill, but heavy commercial vehicles. That is fine and long overdue. It also meets our obligations to the Common Market. Thank goodness we have also got the Highway Code into rather better perspective and we can get on with that. There are a number of other provisions at which we shall have to look carefully because, in repealing, for example, Section 69 of the Act, we shall have to look at those provisions, which go back to 1938, dealing with the Road Haulage Wages Council, which has been abolished. With the introduction of the CPC there remained the provision in the old Act for the transport manager's licence, and it may be a good time, while reviewing the Bill, to get rid of that. I conclude by telling my noble friends on the Front Bench, for whom I have great affection in this matter, that I think they have got it wrong this time.
§ Viscount Ingleby
My Lords, I should like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the Minister for telling us that an amendment will be introduced at the Committee stage to exempt orange badge holders from having their cars clamped under Clause 51 of the Bill. This was a matter of great concern. Disabled people might have been in great difficulty in getting to the police station to get their cars unclamped, and the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled wrote to the Minister 10 weeks ago on the point. I am very relieved and very grateful, and I would add only that this point will add to the urgency of the reform of the orange badge system.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Baroness Denington
My Lords, I am not going to say a word today about Part I of the Bill. We have had some very interesting contributions on it, and no doubt we shall be looking at it in Committee. I was not going to say a word on Part II either, but I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, had to say about vehicle testing. I always listen to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, with the greatest attention, because he is so exceedingly knowledgeable. I do not always agree with him, nor does he always agree with me, but I value his contributions. They are always worthwhile and one ponders on them when one goes home and thinks about the matter. So I am not going to talk about Part II.
745 I do not want to talk about Part III, either. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that it compounds the folly that is being committed in trying to control the problems of enormous numbers of vehicles in an old city. This really is the problem, and perhaps none of us has yet got it right. I believe that Part III goes in the right direction. It is trying to be helpful. I do not really want to talk about it, but I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to consider the West End of London and the intensely built-up areas of cities. One just cannot go around knocking down shops or offices in order to make space for more multi-storey car parks. How are we to provide more car parks? We cannot go around knocking down residential property. There simply is not the space for more parking facilities, which would have to be multi-storey car parks. So we have to try to deal with those vehicles the drivers of which naturally insist on coming into the areas in question one way or another. I do not know whether the noble Lord wants me to give way.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Baroness. Since she asks me a question, I feel that I should take the opportunity to provide an answer. The reason for the situation is that purely and simply over the years Governments and local authorities have failed to recognise the growth in the use of the motor car. It would have been comparatively simple, in particular in London, Southampton, Bournemouth, Plymouth, and in all those cities which had to be rebuilt, to insist that every store provided so many parking spaces. But, no, the developers were allowed to build, but somebody else had to look after the motor car. Yet nobody wants to look after the motor car. So they are parked in the streets, and we have the kind of penalties that we have been discussing. Now, the answer appears to be to attempt to push away the problem by punitive and fiscal measures, and you are not going to do it. That is why I say that you compound the folly of the past.
§ Baroness Denington
My Lords, with respect, the noble Lord is not really right about that, as he knows perfectly well. He knows as well as I know that, after the war, when large areas of London were being rebuilt and new office and other accommodation were being put up, the old LCC—and the GLC, though that was much later—insisted on quite high standards of parking provision underneath buildings. As a matter of fact, the GLC now regrets that, because it has led to the situation in which commuters at one man per car flood into London, choking up the roads, parking all day and then choking up the roads again when going home. The noble Lord knows that those facilities were provided at that time. He also knows as well as I know that one cannot start excavating underneath old buildings which were there before the war, nor can one park cars on top of them.
I am talking about old cities, and at the moment we are thinking mainly of London. The problem is very acute, and that is because of the growth of the use of the motor car. It is something that we have to face. I am perfectly certain that borough councils and the Greater London Council do their best to try to deal with a problem which is well nigh insoluble.
746 So we come down to trying to deal with those people who do not even try to act as socially-conscious citizens. They are the people whom one must try to discipline—and that is the only word that I can use. It is plain that there are people who simply drive into London without caring whether they park on a double yellow line or where they park. The other day I was in a bus in the rush hour going up Sloane Street, which is not a wide street. A car was parked by the kerb in such a way that the whole flow of traffic was reduced from two lines to one line. It is that kind of social abuse and bad conduct that really must be dealt with. People simply should not behave badly. Why should they behave badly when they are car drivers, while in other fields of human conduct we try to make them behave reasonably in society? The motorist is a man or a woman in society like anybody else, and he or she must think of other people, not only of his or her own desires at the particular moment.
But I do not today want to talk about Part III of the Bill. I want to talk about only two clauses, and I shall now do so. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, is not still in the Chamber, because I wanted to mention how nice it is not always to be quarrelling with him, and to say to him, thank you very much. I think that he is going the right way.
The two clauses that I want to say a few words about are Clauses 50 and 51. Clause 50 deals with theControl of operating centres for goods vehicles on environmental grounds ".How many times in my local government experience have people come to me in Inner London, almost weeping? They have said: "We are going mad. There is a lorry depot tucked in behind our houses. Vehicles come and go at all hours of the day and night. The men slam the doors of the cabs when they get out. They call out. In the early morning they run their engines. It is one long misery to us. There is also the emision of fumes when a vehicle is standing with its engine running, and the noise is intolerable. It has been impossible to do anything to help those people. It seems to me that the clause will give, not to hundreds of people, but to some people, in some locations, an enormous relief, and for that on their behalf I say, very many thanks.
I presume that the clause will cover not only the places where the vehicles are kept at night. Vehicles might be loaded and unloaded elsewhere. If there is another depot where loading and unloading are carried out, I assume that that will be covered by the clause. Perhaps the noble Earl can deal with that point when he replies. I believe that both places need to be covered.
I now come to the famous wheel clamps clause. To my knowledge, those who are trying to deal with this problem—no, I shall not say what I was going to say. We have been trying to get wheel clamps for at least 10 years, and I congratulate the Government that at last we are moving towards them. We are going to have an experiment. I quite agree that it should be an experiment; it should not, in the first instance, be more than an experiment. The experiment will show us whether it is helpful or whether the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, are fully realised and it makes the position worse. I cannot 747 think that it will at all. We are to have a trial area, and I understand it will probably be in central London, and maybe Kensington and Chelsea—areas which are really very congested.
I understand that the period of the trial will be about 12 months. I am also told that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said, there will be the closest co-operation between the Government, the police, the GLC and the borough councils. I was surprised to learn that this experiment is not likely to start until the spring of next year. Many things have to be ironed out and worked out so that it is not a failure, I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It is not going to be a failure. We are going to see that it deals with the persistent offender, and not with the little woman who has done a little shopping and ought not to be there. I hope it will work—I think it will—and I congratulate the Government on having had the courage, at last, to move in the right direction.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, as an Inner London magistrate, I spend quite a large slice of my time in the court dealing with fixed penalty offences, and all magistrates sitting in these Inner London courts consider dealing with such cases a terrible waste of court time. For that reason I welcome the improvements that will come about through this Bill. Very frequently the court receives a letter from someone saying, "I did not really do this"—the sort of half-hearted, half guilty/half not guilty, letter. The court feels obliged to write back in each case saying, "You may have a defence, and, if you wish to defend, please attend". That case is then held over until yet another date, and when that date comes the person does not come and probably sends no second letter, either. Very rarely does the person concerned actually come in and defend the case because he genuinely did not understand that he had a defence.
So these cases are taking a great amount of court time, and the penalty imposed is not at all comparable to the cost to the court of hearing each case. During an afternoon, we cover somewhere between 100 and 200 cases in which fixed penalties have not been paid. That applies to each court; the building that I speak of has, I think, four courts sitting most days; and a half of each day in each court is spent on that work. Yet I noticed from the reports of the earlier discussion in another place that the Minister mentioned that there are 900,000 offences a year which are going unpunished at the present time. So I welcome the improvements in Part III of this Bill.
But my real welcome is to Part IV, and in particular to Clause 51(1), which is the one about the wheel clamp. I have, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, long been interested in this matter, and I support the view that for 10 years the use of this device has been sought. It is quite apparent from my experience in court that just paying a monetary penalty means very little to people. They have to be personally inconvenienced in terms of their vehicle for them to pay any attention to what is happening. The system of towing away cars to a police pound is immensely effective, but it is also very expensive and very slow, and can deal 748 with only a very small number of vehicles. Frequently the police vehicle to take a car away is called, and by the time it gets there (and it might have taken an hour or two) the offending vehicle has gone and the person has got away scot-free, particularly if he has managed to avoid the fixed penalty notice and does not pay within the six months, when the case against him will be dropped because it is time-expired.
This clamp could be used on a temporary basis on a car to immobilise it while a tow vehicle was coming if it was in such a position that it was felt that it should in fact be removed to a pound. If, on the other hand, it is in a position where it is causing a local obstruction but there is a small space near it, then I think it perfectly logical that it should be possible to move it to that adjoining place. Very often the police have keys to a car, they can open up such a vehicle and just push it forward, and it would take away the danger to other traffic there. So 1 support subsection (2) of Clause 51, which would enable the police to move such a vehicle. I think that without that we may be causing a problem by immobilising vehicles exactly where they are already causing an obstruction or a difficulty.
In that connection, I want to mention residents' parking places, because if, as in central London, there is a controlled parking zone, as a resident you really feel that you have at least a right to the prospect of a place in a residents' parking area. If, when you go to take what might be your place, it is full of residents' cars which are all showing the correct permit, you do not feel aggrieved. But if you go there and you find that the whole area is full of cars which are not displaying a resident's permit but which are simply taking the residents' places, so that the residents are forced to leave their cars on yellow lines or in some other place and get a parking fine, you will complain most bitterly about that when you come to court—and this is a very frequent occurrence. Again, in such cases, the cars could be just moved from the residents' area and immobilised in position with the wheel clamp.
Studying the discussions and reports in another place, I read an interesting comment from one of the speakers that he really felt that what Westminster should do—and I know he is a resident of Westminster —was to fill every visible space in the whole of Westminster with more parking meters and more residents' parking. He apparently has no understanding of the fact that you need single yellow lines to provide loading and unloading bays for vehicles delivering goods. He went on to say that deliveries should be allowed only at night, and never in the daytime. If he had seen the display mounted by one of the major food retailers or distributors, he would have seen that it showed that in London most of the deliveries made to places which sell those goods are made to places which have people living above, at the side or very near them, and you could not change over to a night-time only delivery service without disturbing the sleep of many people. Therefore, you cannot take away your loading bays; you must retain that distribution service during the day-time which currently exists. The idea of filling the whole city with parking meters is quite impossible.
Westminster has a great many off-street car parking spaces; I think almost enough for the needs that could arise. But there is a resistance to off-street car parking. 749 People find it inconvenient to enter and to drive up a number of floors. They would much rather leave their car on a single or double yellow line and take a chance. At the moment the odds against being caught are so good, why not risk it? Many people tell me that they never get a ticket more than once in 20 times if they commit an offence, and I can quite believe it.
I think it important that any notice displayed on a car explaining the wheel clamp should carry a particular symbol so that foreigners can appreciate what is meant without necessarily understanding the language, because in the centre of London a number of offending cars do not belong to people who would read or understand English. Perhaps they would be visitors, perhaps they would be people living here; but I think the language difficulty should be covered.
I think, too, that the decision to exempt the disabled orange badge scheme is very welcome to all of us. We have debated this topic before. I think it is also very good that the scheme is to be revised, and at that point it should he possible to implement that decision. I hope the Minister will give us his answer before the clamps come into use, because it would be quite intolerable if disabled people had this danger facing them.
Apart from the saving of court time, I do not think this action would be an interference with the public right to use the highways freely. Those who are currently illegally parking are taking that right away from their fellows, and it is essential that some enforcement be brought in. The enforcements that have been tried have been only partially successful. I think the wheel clamps will be a great deterrent.
I can understand the arguments that have been used in another place—and I am sure that later they will be put forward here—to explain that these clamps will not be needed in certain parts of the country. I welcome that it is experimental in Central London, because that area is a major problem. Even in London, I would say that there are many parking restrictions—and I refer not to this tiny part of the centre of London but to other parts of London where there are many quite unnecessary parking restrictions at the present time. If one goes to any part of outer London one will see yellow lines along quiet residential streets because the people living there over the years have petitioned their local council for more and more yellow lines and restrictions, believing that those lines have some magic. Without enforcement, they have no value and they merely bring the whole system into disrepute. I hope that the Minister, when the new Transport Bill becomes an Act, in introducing these great improvements (as I am convinced they are), will also appeal to local authorities to review and revise existing schemes to ensure that a whole lot of unnecessary restrictions are not placed on people.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, I find a great deal in this Bill which is very interesting, although not all of it is very acceptable. I am going to deal with one particular part of the subject and that is parking which has just been spoken of by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. Parking has been a little exaggerated in importance so far as motoring offences are concerned. It is nothing like as bad as dangerous driving or even exceeding the 750 speed limit. It does not lose lives, it does not damage cars. It may cause a little obstruction but so does heavy traffic, and heavy traffic is not an offence. I think that in looking at the question of illegal parking, as it is called, we should try to realise that it is not one of the worst of motoring offences.
There is no doubt that local authorities have been very backward in providing enough off-street parking. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, they have not taken account of the enormous growth in the numbers of cars on the road. I live in Epsom. As I walk around there I find two or even three cars in front of practically every house, because almost every individual has a car. It is essential that we should provide more parking space. Epsom, I suppose, is a good example of where the council has in that way been about as lax as possible. There is one fairlylargecar park well outside the centre of the town. There used to be another large one at the other end of the town. That has now been abolished by the council because they want the site for something else. Apart from that there are, I think, two small car parks. They are all invariably absolutely crammed full from early morning until 5 or 6 o'clock at night with commuters' cars. A person who wants drive to town in the middle of the day and to leave his car somewhere in order to do a little shopping and so on, has no hope of parking at all.
Epsom is full of yellow lines. As the noble Baroness has said, there is hardly a street which has not got a single yellow line. There are a few small side streets which are so narrow that to park a car would be to cause an obstruction in any case. The result is that all the residents and the people round and about take a chance, park their cars regularly on the yellow lines and hope for the best. The obstruction is quite bad sometimes. It is a great holiday for the traffic warden who goes about taking numbers all the morning and having a very nice time, but it is not so pleasant for the unfortunate person who can find nowhere to park legally. It is essential that more parking space is provided in all built-up areas.
I am all in favour of this extension of the fixed— penalty system. This is probably a very good thing, but I am rather in favour also of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about not making parking a penal offence; that is to say, not involving the removal of a point from one's driving licence. Further, I am heartily against this idea of wheel clamps. For the habitual offender, no doubt, it would be a good thing. The habitual offender is one who has probably plenty of money and who does not greatly care whether he observes the regulations or not; he parks where he likes —and, unfortunately, only too often gets away with it. The person who must go into town for an appointment and has nowhere to park properly just has to do so at some place where it is possible to put a car—and, of course, there may he a yellow line there. It seems to me that if that is a first offence, then the use of wheel clamps is very much too severe because the motorist may be very young and inexperienced, rather timid perhaps, and to return to one's car and find wheel clamps, which are something one does not understand much about and does not know how to remove, is an extremely shaking experience. I think that it is out of 751 all proportion to the offence. I should ban wheel clamps entirely from parking offences.
There is one other point. Licences are ticked to indicate the removal of various points, and when you reach a certain number you are disqualified. I should like the noble Earl, when he replies, to say how long disqualification lasts. I know that today a driving licence lasts for a good many years. I do not drive myself now, so I am not speaking as an authority on the subject, although time was when I was a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists so I am not totally ignorant about it. But things were a little different in those days. How long is it before one is able to apply for a new licence?
Clause 51, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, told us quite correctly, was introduced just before Report stage in another place at very short notice. There was no discussion about it and no amendments to it could be made. Personally, I think it is quite wrong to introduce in such a way a clause that is so absolutely drastic in its effects. It should have really thorough consideration. I know perfectly well that the RAC are heartily opposed to this clause.
I should like to say something else before I sit down. This concerns a question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. It has been raised so often by so many people. It is the question of cars streaming into London, each carrying only the driver. My Lords, just put yourselves in the position of living in the country and having a car. You want to come to town; you perhaps want to spend a few hours here. How are you to find, say, three other passengers who are going to the same part of town and want to remain there for the same period? It is an impossibility; you cannot do it. One blames these one-car, one-occupant cases but it is impossible to avoid them. Nobody seems to think about one-taxi, one-passenger, but it is exactly the same. I hope that that fable will eventually be quashed. I hope the Government will take the attitude that driving offences against the regulations which are purely technical but cause no danger whatsoever to anybody should not be treated as criminal offences. They are not criminal offences and should not be treated as such.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he has been talking about people coming into town, but would he not agree that it would be far better if there was a better bus and rail service? Then not so many people would come into town by car. Many would come by bus and rail. Would the noble Lord not agree that if there was a park-and-ride system this would prevent an enormous number of people from coming into the inner cities by car? I know that, for instance, in Oxford we have three park-and-ride systems, which prevent about 3,000 cars coming into the city every day.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. I happen to be one of those who are entirely innocent in her eyes because I travel by train every day. But there is no doubt that for a lot of people travel is rather awkward, particularly if they live some way from a railway station. The noble Baroness talks about buses. But the buses simply are not there. 752 The only bus service that I have down to Epsom runs every half hour, and very often does not run then.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, this seems something of a hornets' nest. If my noble friend Lady Faithfull had not intervened in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Somers, I would have done so. The only comment that I should like to make on that last point is that there might be a difficulty over the bus service at Epsom, but there is an excellent train service from Epsom. For those coming to London and to other of our major cities there is a perfectly reasonable public transport system. In many ways it is competitive with the price of petrol, if one uses cheap day tickets and what-have-you and take full advantage of these facilities, and there is no worry of having to park a car. So much for that subject. Now I shall come to my own speech.
Like other noble Lords, I should like very much to thank my noble friend for introducing this Bill, and thank in anticipation my other noble friend who is going to wind up the debate. I intend to be brief and only mention certain salient points, and I shall wish to take further issue on those and other points later. There have been recent debates on transport of one kind or another which make it unnecessary to make too many general points.
Regarding Part I of the Bill, I agree with the Government's policy for denationalisation in many industries, and also one can say quite honestly that the Government have made great successes in so doing. So far as this Bill is concerned, I am afraid that I can see little point, expecially with the enabling powers, for privatisation of the National Express or National Holidays. There are very simple reasons for saying so and I will not bore your Lordships at length now but I will iterate in stark sentences.
Some of your Lordships may have had the chance to read the annual report of the National Bus Company, or at least to observe the press reports. Nobody can disagree with the fact that they have done rather well. One recent statement made by the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is that the National Bus Company is an integrated business. Others have made that remark, but he put it out and that is exactly what it is.
I will go further to say that his company's financial success in terms of profit making has come largely—not entirely—from its coaching activities, particularly concerned with National Express and, to a lesser extent, National Holidays. If some financial whizz-kids suggested that it was desirable to hive off these activities, then one would be losing out on all sides especially regarding flexibility of staff or vehicles. Again, I shall come back to this with a vengeance on Committee.
I should like to make one more general point before moving on to Part II of the Bill. That is that for the year 1981 lost milage was as low as 0.66 per cent. compared with the 1979 figure which was 2.73 per cent. —an unusually high figure. The average for the past five years was in the region of 1.5 per cent. That would probably be high if you went back 10 or 15 years. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that 753 there have been many fewer journeys lost owing to staff shortages, which in some ways might sadly reflect our unemployment situation.
But there will be at some time or another an improvement in the employment situation. Thus, the availability of drivers will diminish which will result in a deterioration of services. That will then encourage fewer people than ever to wish to use them. This will accelerate even more if coaching is divorced from stage carriage because the former is more attractive and rewarding. It is splendid that the National Bus Company have met their financial target and done very well; but their basic need, or any bus company's need, is for buses to carry people for essential journeys. For holidays people have plenty of alternatives, but people making essential journeys is the main social function of bus companies.
Now I turn to Part II of the Bill. I have learned with great relief of the progress now being made with Lloyd's Register. As a non-profit-making society, with long experience in the field of testing—in many industries beside shipping—they are really the only possible alternative to the Department of Transport for testing commercial vehicles. From personal experience of driving passenger service vehicles, one knows the importance of the testing requirement in ensuring the safety of passengers and road users. For over 50 years, since 1930—which was the year when one had the first legislation which tried to make order out of chaos—the Government inspectors have done a great job. This has been said by many other noble Lords. The standards achieved must not be lowered.
It would be easy to speak at great length on this subject, but your Lordships are as conscious as I am of the importance of safety. I would only add that it is of significance that Parliament will have the last word on this matter. In another place, affirmative resolution procedures were incorporated in this Bill by an amendment from the Government's own Back-Benches. But if there should be a breakdown in the negotiations with Lloyd's Register, that I feel absolutely certain that, in the interests of safety, we should reject the change from a self-financing Government service to a commercial enterprise. It has to be repeated that the change is not motivated by safety. It is purely an exercise in reducing the number of civil servants. I do not suggest that such an exercise is without merit but its value is not to be remotely compared with safety, as I have already mentioned.
The changes in Parts III and IV are in general helpful, and in some cases overdue. But do they go far enough'? There was rather a good letter in The Times yesterday from the chairman of the Works Committee of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, supporting the use of wheel clamps on an experimental basis. I know this is a very controversial issue and we shall have great fun in Committee, but on present evidence I think the experiment is very worth while. To back up that statement I will again state the obvious by saying that this is very much the age of the car and we sometimes get it out of perspective. The car is an invaluable tool, but it is not a household god. It would seem that too many people, once they have a car, are obsessed with using it, and with using it also to dominate other human beings. It is a pitfall for human frailty and we 754 can all fall into it if we do not pay attention. That is the problem; they think they have the right to travel anywhere over our road network. The selfishness of such individuals is at the expense of others and at a great cost to both national and local economies. For the benefit of other road users and for the benefit of the community as a whole, such people must be firmly deterred from breaking our laws in one way or the other. I am sure we shall hear a lot more about this at a later stage.
Finally, I find myself disagreeing with my noble friend Lord Lucas—not quite for the first time but I do not do so very often. I made my maiden speech on the same day, not three Transport Bills but five Transport Bills ago; and I made my maiden speech in 1968, on what was probably the most controversial Transport Bill of this century. But, quite frankly, I think that this is the mildest Transport Bill, certainly of the last three. It is a Bill which has come to us from the other place in a much better state than have others, and I feel we can make quite some strides forward. It has been said that there are political parts in Part I. I shall deal with the practical and not the political, but I think that in the end we shall have quite a nice piece of legislation.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, as fully expected, the debate has been very stimulating, informed and generally constructive, and has demonstrated once again the great interest generated in this House by transport issues. There have been a number of worthwhile contributions from all sides, which my noble friend Lord Bellwin and I will of course study in detail. I shall try to answer as many of the major points made as is possible within the time allotted to me and shall leave the more detailed points to the next stage.
I was rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, did not like this mixture of having a bit of "controversial" and a bit of "non-controversial". I personally always rather like it, because I feel if one times it correctly and the Whips have done their job well it enables us to be more friendly after supper. Before going on to the details, I should like to offer a few general observations on the main provisions of the Bill in the light of the discussions we have had.
Dealing first with Part I, the Government will be co— operating closely with the NBC in developing proposals for private investment in National Express, National Holidays and the company's properties. You have heard that worthwhile discussions have already taken place. Some noble Lords may have perceived Machiavellian schemes afoot in the fact that we have included a power of direction in Part I. They would be mistaken. Clause 3 is a reserve power. If the Secretary of State, in the last resort, felt obliged to invoke it, he would have to consult NBC. If the proposed direction related to disposal of a subsidiary providing local bus services, he would in addition have to consult county councils in whose areas these services were being run.
Employees will naturally be concerned about the possible consequences for them of proposals for private investment. The NBC have an established machinery for employee consultation and will need no prompting in keeping their employees informed. Nevertheless, the drafting of the Bill ensures that NBC will be obliged 755 to consult employees about measures leading up to disposal which involve the transfer of rights and liabilities under contracts of employment.
The Bill also ensures that the Secretary of State has the necessary powers to iron out any technical difficulties that may arise in establishing new pension schemes for subsidiaries which are to be transferred to the private sector. We believe that the new opportunities created by private investment will help to ensure security of employment.
Worries have been expressed that the provision of local bus services will be damaged by the proposals for private investment in the National Bus Company. The Government believe these fears to be unfounded. There is no reason why NBC should be worse off financially. So far as the proposals for National Express and National Holidays are concerned, NBC will receive the proceeds of the sale of shares, as one of its sources of external finance; they will receive dividends on their retained share holding which will be significant; and they will be able to earn money from the continued provision of shared services and facilities. It is a key element in our approach that the economic advantage of joint use of facilities, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, should be retained after the introduction of private capital. Property developments would tap a new source of investment capital and potentially provide new income as well as better facilities for the travelling public. That answers one of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw.
The Government are very much at one with the the NBC in wanting to improve facilities for the travelling public as a result of the participation of private capital in property development. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, stressed the need for this in his speech. It is entirely possible in PTE areas that a product of redeveloping NBC's sites could be better joint facilities for both operators as well as the development of others on the same site, for example. The construction of offices above a bus station is precisely the sort of development we would wish to encourage.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned the existing powers on property. He is of course quite correct in saying that NBC already have some powers to develop their properties, for example, in joint ventures with the private sector. What the company lack, however, is the power to establish and sell shares in a subsidiary for the purpose of such development. The Bill completes their range of powers in this respect. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, about our proposals on NBC property. We are indeed concerned to see that a project involving private capital should improve facilities. So far as worker co-operatives are concerned, I am glad the noble Lord mentioned these. We believe this Bill provides a splendid opportunity for greater employee contribution, and that is why we have specifically included a power for the bus company to establish an employee shareholding scheme as part of the process of sale.
I would also remind the House that our concern in this respect has been amply demonstrated in recent months by the successful sale of the National Freight Corporation. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and my noble friend Lord Teviot mentioned the report of the NBC which was published yesterday, and I join 756 with my noble friend in welcoming it. It is suggested that the NBC were opposed to the Government's policy but I do not think that view is borne out by what the chairman said. In the first place, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made it quite clear that the NBC welcomed unreservedly the Government's proposals for involving private capital in the development of NBC's property and the improvement of passenger facilities.
Secondly, as regards coaching, he quite properly drew attention to the close links which exist between the National Express and National Holidays on the one hand and NBC's local bus services on the other. He said that the NBC board would pay the closest attention to this factor when considering whether specific proposals for involving the private sector were likely to benefit the group as a whole and to result in a better service to the travelling public. So, my Lords, will the Government.
We have never suggested that these links between coaching and the stage carriage business do not exist. Indeed, it is of the essence of our proposals that wherever they make economic sense for both sides they should continue after the introduction of private capital. Nor do we underrate the contribution which coaching makes to NBC's overall financial wellbeing. Since the matter has been raised, it might be helpful to the House if I were to say a few words about relative figures. NBC's annual report shows that the company as a whole made a profit on an historical cost basis of £25.3 million before interest and taxation. Product analysis of this financial result shows that, within it, National Express made a contribution to long-run unavoidable costs of £3.99 million. I stress the word "contribution", because it is important to recognise that we are talking here about profit. The contribution of £3.99 million is the amount by which NBC would be worse off, if National Express had not existed in 1981. The group's overall profit in those circumstances would, therefore, have been £21.3 million rather than £25.3 million.
When we come to look at the National Express profit, as opposed to its contribution, we find that, understandably, much smaller figures are involved. The profit of National Express in 1981, after deducting an appropriate share, including a proportion of group fixed costs, was £318,000 or about 1¼ per cent. of the group's overall profit. I do not intend to go into the political argument very much with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and I am sorry that he feels that these plans should have been in our manifesto. What I can say is that the philosophy behind these plans was in our manifesto and, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, pointed out, there is a uniform pattern which perhaps comes from just this philosophy.
If I may come to Part II of the Bill on vehicle testing, there is, I think, a wide measure of agreement between the Government and noble Lords who have spoken on the fundamental objectives which we must achieve; and of course I agree with my noble friend Lord Teviot about safety. What we are considering is essentially a practical question, about how best to arrange for routine mechanical checks on lorries and buses so that they are done promptly, efficiently and to the proper standards, with the impartiality and consistency which 757 we are all agreed should be maintained. It is a question of getting the practical organisation right.
In developing the proposals for which Part II of the Bill provides the framework,wc have taken into account the concern expressed in the industry about the possible hazards of transfer to the private sector, as well as the very helpful points made by the Transport Select Committee in another place. Many of these are reflected in the Bill itself. The essential controls are reserved to the Secretary of State, who will continue to set the standards to which tests must be carried out, as well as supervising the operation of the new system. There is provision for full consultation with the industry on the key decisions about the future of the testing system. But by far the most important aspect is the choice of the body who will take on responsibility for testing in the private sector. Our proposal to transfer testing to Lloyd's Register Vehicle Testing Association will mean that the network is being put into the safest possible hands and, as my noble friend Lord Teviot said, it will be for Parliament itself to ratify that decision under the provisions of Clause 8 of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, thought that we might have introduced this in looking for good marks from the electorate, but, with my noble friend Lord Lucas behind me, we seem to have lost a vote rather than gained one. So I think I can honestly say that, for practical purposes, we are trying to look for the best possible solution. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, asked how many people were needed to supervise the private sector testing. I think that the number should be modest, particularly now that it is proposed to transfer testing to a single authorised body which will have its own in-house supervision and quality control system.
The noble Lord may not be aware that there are only 91 heavy goods vehicle testing stations in the whole of Great Britain. With this kind of centralised system, it will be possible to have a very effective supervisory scheme arranged with relatively few staff. I think that, even in the context of the earlier proposals to divide the network into competing chains, we were thinking in terms of fewer than 20 supervisors. We propose to continue the present system with computer analysis of test results, which quickly shows up any deviation from the norm in terms of pass and failure rates.
I was asked why we are doing this. I believe that there is a natural tendency to fear that changes to an established and familiar system will be changes for the worse. But it is surely right for the Government to consider from time to time whether they really need to be involved in all their present activities, or whether the private sector could take on some of them. Here we have a proposal for putting work out into the private sector on a basis which we believe effectively guarantees that the fairness and high standards of the system will be maintained; and I believe that the industry will recognise this, too. In the Government's view, we would be wrong not to take this opportunity. This is not change for change's sake. It is a modest but sensible measure to reduce the public sector and get the Government out of an area in which we do not believe they really belong.
If I may pass on to Part III of the Bill, I thought for 758 one moment that we were going to be back in a debate about the congestion of London's traffic, but, luckily, we steered away from that. My noble friend Lord Bellwin has already outlined the measures. Of course traffic law directly effects everyone who is a motorist and, quite rightly, has concerned the House this afternoon. However, I sometimes wonder why law-abiding drivers should fear these improvements, because, after all, all they are about is effective enforcement.
Perhaps I may take up some of the points that have been raised by describing exactly what we envisage will happen when an offence is dealt with by fixed penalty. I shall take an endorsable offence, because what happens with non-endorsable offences will, to a large extent, be unchanged. If a motorist is stopped for speeding, a constable will decide whether to caution the offender, offer a fixed penalty notice or, if it is a serious offence, report for prosecution. Let us say that it is a fairly run-of-the-mill speeding offence and he decides to offer a fixed penalty. The constable will, as provided in Clause 26, be able to offer a fixed penalty notice if the driver is willing to produce his licence, have the constable inspect it to ensure that there is no liability to penalty points disqualification, and then to surrender it.
If the driver is not willing to do any of these, the constable will not issue a fixed penalty notice but will report for prosecution. If the driver is willing, but does not have his licence with him, Clause 27 will allow the constable to give him a provisional fixed penalty notice. This provisional notice will enable the motorist to take up the offer of a fixed penalty if, within five days, he produces the notice with his licence at the police station which he has specified. He will then have to be prepared to have the licence inspected and to surrender it at the police station. If he has a change of heart and decides that he no longer wants to take up the offer of the fixed penalty, then he may be prosecuted.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, mentioned the inspection of the licence. I know that there have been worries that the inspection of the licence for previous endorsements might colour the judgment of a police officer in deciding how to deal with the offence. This, will not happen. The decision whether or not to offer a fixed penalty will be made in principle before the licence is looked at and inspection will take place only—and I must emphasise this—if the driver is willing. The police have no additional powers in this Bill to inspect the licence. This question does not even arise with fixed penalties issued at the police station, because the provisional offer will have had to be made before the licence was inspected.
The motorist can have a change of heart after he has received the fixed penalty notice, whether issued at the roadside or at a police station, and he may then decide that he wishes to contest liability or to plead mitigating circumstances. The fact that he has accepted the notice does not prevent him, in any way, from requesting a court hearing. All it does is to remove the option of the police to prosecute at that stage. If he does not want a court hearing, then he has 21 days in which to pay the penalty. If the penalty is paid, the licence will be endorsed and returned. The speed of the return of the licence will depend on how quickly the penalty is 759 paid. Perhaps I may make the point here that the licence will not be sent to Swansea, so there should be no undue delay in its return.
If the penalty is not paid and no hearing has been requested within the 21-day period, then the measures in Clause 29 for automatic treatment of the unpaid penalty as a fine come into force. I am coming on to a point which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, raised. The sum of £20—the fixed penalty for an endorsable offence—plus half of that amount will be registered as a fine and will be enforced by the courts without the need for a court hearing. The licence will be endorsed and returned to the holder, who will be notified that the fine has been so registered.
If I may now come on to the question of endorsable offences, which a number of noble Lords raised, perhaps I may first answer the noble Lord, Lord Somers. There are, of course, no points for parking. There never have been and this Bill does not touch on it. The noble Lord asked about disqualification. I understand that, if a licence is taken away under the points-count system, the disqualification is normally for about six months. The inclusion at all of endorsable offences in a fixed penalty system has been questioned, because the procedures are considered too complex to achieve the objectives which we have set. The procedures I have described seem to me to be reasonably straightforward for those who have to operate the system. and I see no reason why they should not prove attractive to the motorist as well.
The extension of the system would have no point if it did not cover some endorsable offences. The majority of the 600,000 cases that we have estimated could be dealt with out of the courts by way of fixed penalty are likely to be endorsable offences. I must emphasise that what is being proposed will not in any way devalue the seriousness of endorsable offences. The licence will still be endorsed and the consequences of endorsement will be the same as if it had been ordered by a court following conviction, although the fine may be slightly less. There will of course be no record of a conviction but the endorsement will be a record of the offence in itself.
It has been suggested that a far simpler form of extending the fixed penalty would he to make the offence non-endorsable whenever it was dealt with by the fixed penalty method. This alternative would certainly make the system easier to administer and perhaps to understand. We could forget about the endorsement of the licence altogether. However, it raises other problems. Of the offences to be transferred to the fixed penalty system, only a small minority in terms of cases per year are at present non-endorsable. This means that if we want to relieve the courts of a large number of cases—which is, after all, the main object of the exercise—we should have to remove endorsement from other offences on a fairly massive scale. But if we did so, what would be the implications for road safety, which a number of noble Lords have mentioned? The object of endorsement is to discourage the repetition of offences which involve potential danger—and speeding is dangerous. If people in many or most cases are going to get no more than a monetary caution for these offences, the effect of the law is bound to be weakened. The proposition 760 might indeed please some motorists, but again I do not believe it will please the law-abiding driver.
The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, again asked about the number of staff who will be involved in administering the system. It is clear that the new system will call for different administrative procedures. However, the House will see from the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum that we hope to arrive at the changes without an overall increase in the number of staff in England and Wales and a small increase in the number of staff in Scotland. The proposals were first formulated by an inter-departmental working party which included representatives of the courts and the police. It was certainly not their intention to increase the burden on either service through the introduction of the new fixed penalty system.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about uniformity across Great Britain. The Association of Chief Police Officers in England and Wales have said that they themselves wish to see uniformity of practice across the country. The position in Scotland is necessarily different. There will not be uniformity as between England and Scotland. However, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate will deal with these points at the Committee stage. Perhaps we can go into them in more detail then.
I now turn to Part IV of the Bill. I must confess that at one stage I felt rather as I did during the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill—as though I were sitting in the middle, on the tennis net, while the balls were going backwards and forwards between the environmentalists and the farmers. This time it seems to be between the environmentalists and the transport side. I was very pleased that the swinging rackets which my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth aimed at me from behind were beautifully fended off by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, on the other side. I am grateful for the kind remarks which were made by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. I was also pleased to have the general welcome of this part of the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that quite a few of the proposals are ones which he has made from time to time.
So far as Clause 50 is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, saw me smile. I was smiling not so much at his speech as because I had expected him to raise exactly the point which he did raise. I was pleased that he did. No doubt we shall come to it in more detail at the Committee stage.
I turn now to Clause 51 and the great old herring of wheel clamps. We have already discussed it fairly widely in this House. I know that the House accepts that the problem of illegal parking calls for urgent attention. When the House has had time to consider it I hope they will agree that the Government's approach, that we should test the use of wheel clamps in central London on a limited and experimental basis, is a sensible and responsible one.
May I comment on one particular criticism—that immobilising a vehicle will not of itself reduce congestion but will in fact prolong the offence. Of course, the police will not normally clamp vehicles that are causing serious obstruction. They will remove them, as they do at present. But the two great advantages of immobilisation are that it is much quicker and less 761 labour-intensive than vehicle removal and that it leaves the immobilised vehicle in view as a deterrent to other likely offenders.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was concerned that Clause 51 would give the police power to reposition a vehicle before immobilising it. Let us be clear what it is there for. It is not there to allow the police to hide an offending vehicle miles from the scene of the offence. But if a car is double parked, or parked on a pedestrian crossing, or on a dangerous corner, the clause would allow the police to reposition it, perhaps only a few yards away, in a safer place before fixing a wheel clamp. It gives the police a mid-course, short of full removal to the pound, which takes up a good deal of police time. The motorist would not in these cases find his car where he left it. But that is the case under the current vehicle removal powers. The clause enables the police to experiment with a new way of dealing with dangerous and anti-social parking and I hope very much that we shall agree to it—although we may amend it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Denington, referred in connection with Clause 50 to a goods vehicle operating centre as the base or centre at which vehicles are normally kept. Schedule 4 enables a licensing authority to consider the suitability of parking arrangements at or in the vicinity of an operating centre in all licence applications. These reforms should cover the situations which the noble Baroness is so rightly concerned about.
As my noble friend said earlier, the Bill is a substantial one and much of it deals with somewhat complicated matters. I therefore feel quite sure that we have far from exhausted the issues for discussion and that much will remain to be said during the Committee and subsequent stages. But I am equally in no doubt that the basic principles of the Bill are eminently sensible ones and that, taken together, it represents another step forward in the development of a transport system which goes towards meeting our present day requirements. It will, I believe bring tangible benefits to a wide range of interests.
The provisions in Part I pave the way for a better deal for all those who use bus and coach services and, indeed, for those whose job it is to provide them. The vehicle testing reforms will help to produce a service that is better attuned to the needs of the bus and lorry operators who have to use it. And the fixed penalty measures will benefit everyone whose interest lies in a system for enforcing traffic law which is both efficient and fair. Together with the various miscellaneous provisions in Part IV, it all adds up to a useful piece of legislation from which an enormous number of people stand to gain. I therefore ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.