I support my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) in this series of amendments, for the many reasons which he has advanced. It affects the handicapped and the school minibus, and perhaps other vehicles carrying more than nine passengers, in respect of which one would gladly give a driver with an ordinary licence and with proper experience a chance to drive people about on their lawful business.
This matter is all the more important today because of the general uncertainty surrounding public transport. In this context, one is concerned about the amount of subsidy which local authorities can afford in times of great stringency to give to the bus companies to provide services for the general public. It is fairly clear from a general survey of local authorities in Scotland, in particular, that they are certainly not able to spend more money on public transport, with the result that services have to be reduced to keep within their overall spending limits. Inevitably, this means that the services provided by the major bus companies are having to be withdrawn, with the twin unhappy consequences of lack of public transport provision and loss of jobs for the bus crews.
In this situation, the only alternative may be some form of privately operated minibus. Where there may well be no provision at all, we should allow vehicles which will carry between nine and 16 passengers a chance to be operated by a person who does not have a PSV licence. Of course, one would rather feel that any form of public transport was operated by a highly qualified driver who held a PSV licence, but we do not all have that opportunity today in the present financial climate, and I would radier have a minibus driven by an experienced driver without a PSV licence than have no transport at all.
That is the crux of my hon. Friend's argument. Vast areas of the countryside now have no public transport. Motor cars are becoming more expensive to run—perhaps even more so by the middle of next month—and getting about our rural areas is becoming a major headache, especially for elderly people who cannot go by bicycle or cannot walk and who certainly have no public transport.
I hope that the Minister will give a sympathetic reply. This is the type of issue which we should be pressing very firmly on our colleagues in Europe which is against our interests. If the present Government can set out to renegotiate with our colleagues in Europe the whole matter of our entry into the Common Market, surely they can do something about negotiating the matter of who is able to drive minibuses and who is not. They are making very heavy weather of this issue.