Lords amendment: No. 19, in page 17, leave out lines 16 to 18 and insert—
( ) If the person to whom written notice of a prohibition is given under subsection (3) as being the person in charge of the vehicle at the time of the inspection is not—
I could enter into the highly complex and technical area which gave rise to considerable concern in the interval which elapsed between the Bill leaving this House and returning. Concern was expressed by those representing the industry outside this House. They made some valid points about the effect of the Bill as it stood, particularly the effect of the definition of "operator". The point concerned the effect there would be in a limited number of cases—important cases—where one operator hired a bus or coach to another without a driver.
The Government carefully considered all the arguments and came up with this conclusion, which is designed to deal with the situation—which is comparatively rare—where one operator hires a vehicle without a driver to another operator. The intention of the amendments—and I shall enter into the technicalities further if the House wishes it—was first to meet the concern of industry. We believe that we have done so. It is meant to allow common sense to prevail in the given situation, to make sure that the obligations regarding safety which the holder of an operator's licence ought to have towards the general public rest with the operator who is the usual owner and operator of the vehicle.
We take a regulation-making power to deal with every situation that could arise to make sure that our intention is achieved. In this group of amendments are some designed to make sure that, in the case of the issuing of prohibition notices, they are given to the owner or operator, whoever is most suitable in the case of hiring arrangements.
I could go further into the complexities of this matter, which occupied a considerable amount of my time and the time of those interested in the industry outside the House in the few weeks that have elapsed since the Bill left this House. I hope that I have given an adequate explanation of the ground we have covered. I believe that we have met the legitimate fears put to us, which gave rise to these amendments being tabled in another place.
I urge the House not to accept amendment No. 20, which amends subsection (7). The subsection relates to the removal of prohibition notices on vehicles and qualifies the powers of certifying officers and PSV examiners to the extent that they have imposed directions under subsection (2). That is the subsection under which the certifying officer or the examiner can put an irremovable prohibition notice on the vehicle until it has been repaired, tested and cleared by the official PSV station.
The Lords amendment seems to confuse the issue considerably. Subsection (6) gives that power to those same officials to cancel the direction under subsection (2). Perhaps I might paraphrase subsection (6) and ask the Parliamentary Secretary to confirm that what I say does not misrepresent its legal meaning. The subsection says that where a notice has been given under subsection (3) any certifying officer or PSV examiner may vary the terms of that notice, and in particular he can cancel a direction under subsection (2) with which the prohibition was imposed.
That must be the meaning of subsection (6). It says in subsection (6)(b)(ii) that the certifying officer can cancel a direction under subsection (2). It must have that effect. It says that the certifying officer can alter the time at which the prohibition is to come into effect—that is in subsection (6)(b)(i)—and under subsection (6)(a) he can grant the exemptions. Therefore, as it stands, subsection (6), without any Lords amendments to subsection (7), gives that power to the certifying officer and the vehicle examiner to vary or even cancel that direction under subsection (2).
If we were to agree to the Lords amendment without considerable cross-references to its effect on subsection (2)—and on subsections (1) and (3)—we should cast doubt on what seems to be the intention of the amendment. It seems to me that the words that we are being asked to accept reverse the apparent intention of the Lords amendment. The apparent intention of the Lords amendment is contained in subsection (6), but if the Minister can advise the House that there is any way in which we or a court could read subsection (6) so that it would not give the certifying officer or PSV examiner those powers which it would appear to be the intention of the amendment to provide. I shall withdraw my objection.
I have read this provision many times in conjunction with the Lords amendment, and it seems to me that the powers of the certifying officer and the PSV examiner are there, and if we alter subsection (7) as proposed by the Lords amendment we shall cast some doubt on what is, after all, a fairly important power. An absolute prohibition notice is a serious matter anyway for the person who wants to operate that vehicle and wants to be able to go to a certifying officer or an examiner to get this type of variation so that he can get his vehicle repaired, tested and back on the road.
I have to admit that the right hon. Gentleman has defeated me. I made the greatest effort to follow his argument, with the text of the Bill in front of me, but he lost me at an early stage. I failed to follow his argument through to its conclusion. Neither am I able to get advice from anyone who followed the argument to its conclusion. I cannot understand what is troubling the right hon. Gentleman about subsections (3) and (6).
Lords amendment No. 20 deals with subsection (7). I described it as a drafting improvement, and that is what it is. We are inserting a small subordinate clause. It makes clear that the power given under subsection (7) to a certifying officer or public service vehicle examiner to remove the prohibition in limited circumstances, clearly delineated by subsection (7), is subject to any subsisting direction under subsection (2). Subsection (2) deals with the extreme position where a prohibition is imposed on a vehicle and is irremovable until that vehicle has been inspected at a public service vehicle testing station.
This small amendment makes it clear that the discretion otherwise given by subsection (7) cannot override the prohibition under subsection (2), which is the most severe form of prohibition requiring that the vehicle is taken to a PSV station before the prohibition is lifted. That is the intention of the amendment, and it is my belief that that is all that it does. I did my best to understand the bearing that the right hon. Gentleman thought it had on other subsections, but I cannot for the life of me see that it has any bearing on the two subsections to which I referred.
I am sorry that I have not made my objection clear to the Parliamentary Secretary. I am saying that we do not need to qualify subsection (7) in that way to achieve its desired effect. I understand that the desired effect is to ensure that subsection (7) does not override subsection (2), which is subject to that check. In reading through the clause, before we reach subsection (7), subsection (6) clearly defines the powers that exist for the certifying officer or public service vehicle examiner to deal with the practical questions arising as a result of the absolute prohibition provided by subsection (2). Subsection (6) provides, in precise terms, that the certifying officer or the public service vehicle examiner can vary the terms of the direction under subsection (2). They can cancel the prohibition notice and deal with the problems arising from the prohibition notice being imposed in ways that have been acceptable to the House until now when dealing with the Bill. We do not have to make subsection (7) subject to directions under subsection (2), bearing in mind that one has already read in the law the way in which one deals with the subsisting directions under subsection (2), who deals with them, and in what circumstances.
It is true that subsection (6) allows various exemptions to be given to a prohibition notice for limited purposes. As the right hon. Gentleman said, that exists in order to get over some obvious practical difficulties, such as that the vehicle cannot be moved anywhere, even to get it out of the way, unless some sort of exemption is given. So that very limited power to grant an exemption for the use of the vehicle for a particular purpose—despite a notice under subsection (3)—exists. No one is querying that.
The amendment with which we are now dealing qualifies subsection (7). On the face of it, subsection (7) is a much wider power to lift prohibitions. It provides that
any certifying officer or public service vehicle examiner if he is satisfied that the vehicle is fit for service
can lift the prohibition.
Indeed, it is open to anybody who is subject to prohibition to make an application to the traffic commissioners for a certifying officer to be sent along to have the vehicle inspected. That is a very general power. It means that any inspector, if he is satisfied that the vehicle is fit for service, can lift the prohibition.
It is not intended that that wide power should override subsection (2)—that is where on the first inspection the vehicle is found to be in such a dangerous condition that the prohibition is of the severest kind. That prohibition is not to be lifted unless the vehicle is inspected in an official PSV testing station.
We do not want that to conflict with subsection (7), because there would then be people with prohibition notices on their vehicles going to the traffic commissioners and making application for someone to inspect the vehicle, certify its fitness and lift what is meant to be a very severe prohibition. We want to make clear that there is no conflict, for that reason, between subsection (2) and subsection (7). We feel that it is right, therefore, to limit in this way the extent of subsection (7) and make it subject to subsection (2).
I now see what the right hon. Gentleman was driving at, but I do not think the same arguments arise with regard to subsection (6), and the Lords amendment does not affect it.
I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary. Is he saying that the effect of carrying this Lords amendment would be that the appeal under subsection (7) to the certifying officer or examiner to remove the prohibition applies only to prohibitions which are made under subsection (1) and not under subsection (2)? Is he saying, further, that in order to remove a prohibition under subsection (2) one has to use the powers under subsection (6)? If that is the meaning, it is helpful to have that meaning on the record, because it is not immediately apparent on reading the clause.
I believe that is right. Subsection (1) covers the ordinary prohibition. Under subsection (7) it is open to the operator to say "Please send a certifying officer, the vehicle is now fit and ready to go on the road", and the operator can apply to the commissioners for someone to be sent if the officer refuses to come.
Subsection (2) is a more severe prohibition; the vehicle has to be taken to a PSV testing station. There is no point in just asking someone to come along on the grounds that the vehicle is now fit. The vehicle has to go to the PSV testing station in order to prove that.
If the operator is in practical difficulties, with his vehicle stranded on a road somewhere, so that he cannot do anything with it without causing a serious obstruction to traffic, he can then apply for an exemption. Or, even if he does not apply, a certifying officer may feel that there are grounds for giving exemption for a particular type and a particular use. That remains open under subsection (6), and there is no point in qualifying that in the same way as the other place has suggested that we should qualify subsection (7).