Those who followed the Second Reading debate will remember that the subject of this group of amendments was briefly discussed. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and his hon. Friends for raising this topic.
Those of us who have organisations in our constituencies which operate their own transport have been made aware of the wide concern because of the uncertainty about the regulations. Despite reassuring noises from the Minister, I believe it is true to say that the uncertainty still exists and is far from being resolved.
This is a pity, because if the provisions of the Road Traffic Bill, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), had come into force, it is clear that many of the anomalies would have been removed and it is highly likely that we should have a far better level of services, particularly in the rural areas, than we have today. It is a great pity that the Government have so far neglected to consider this matter in great detail, or, if they have, that they have failed to bring forward any proposals.
Having said that, I would be the first to admit that there are one or two matters which should be borne in mind before we readily accept this group of amendments. First, there is the figure of 16, which gives rise to problems. Most insurance companies would prefer the figure of 12. This is a crucial figure and it is very relevant. When a youth club or a disablement group decides to purchase one of these vehicles, very often the only way in which the vehicle can be operated is by some form of sharing the cost of a journey. Then, if care is not taken, the club runs foul of the complicated insurance regulations. That is a pity.
Then there is the matter of drivers. At the moment the driver of a private car merely has to have a normal driving licence. This means that if the amendments were accepted, from the age of 17 such a driver would be qualified to drive a vehicle containing up to 16 people, regardless of his experience. There is some anxiety that some of these vehicles would be driven by people with very little driving experience.
Furthermore there is the question of the vehicle itself. Some voluntary organisations have purchased vehicles which have become somewhat old in the tooth, and there is the danger that such vehicles are subject only to the existing MOT regulations. It is feared that the MOT regulations are not sufficiently stringent, and that therefore there is a potential public danger.
In addition, in areas of the country where it is essential that the private operator should continue to run a public service, he may feel that the kind of competition that he will get from voluntary organisations could well undermine his own business. If this were to come about and the public bus service disappeared, people who did not belong to the voluntary organisation would be without any transport. I am not attacking the amendments, but I am pointing out that a considerable number of problems arise from them.
We are still waiting for the Government to come forward with their conclusions. We have already had a number of interesting experiments and the one in Norfolk was mentioned on Second Reading. It is clear that the Government's proposals are insufficient to deal with the problem in the country at large. The amendments clearly indicate that people in many parts of the country are becoming impatient with the Government about this issue. I hope that the Minister will tell us that this is one of the subjects we shall hear about when the tablets come down from on high—when the Government produce their consultative document on the future of public transport. We feel that a decision should be reached.
I reiterate what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) about the uncertainty and the fact that sometimes these vehicles cannot be used as they might, which often makes the difference between there being a service and not. In rural areas services and the number of miles travelled are being reduced weekly. The question cannot be deferred for two years or so. It is rapidly becoming urgent.