Lords amendment: No. 32, after clause 22, in page 23, line 16, at end insert—
(1) Where a vehicle is being used in circumstances such that a PSV operator's licence is required, there shall be fixed and exhibited on the vehicle in the prescribed manner an operator's disc issued under this section showing particulars of the operator of the vehicle and of the PSV operator's licence under which the vehicle is being used.
(2) Traffic commissioners on granting a PSV operator's licence shall supply the person to whom the licence is granted with a number of operator's discs equal to the maximum number of vehicles which he may use under the licence in accordance with the condition or conditions attached to the licence under section 21(1); and if that maximum number is later increased on the variation of one or more of those conditions, the traffic commissioners on making the variation shall supply him with further operator's discs accordingly.
(3) Regulations may make provision—
(4) If a vehicle is used in contravention of subsection (1), the operator of the vehicle shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.
The amendments represent a complete concession by the Government to the Opposition. We have reconsidered our position. We accept that the Opposition were right. We have had further meetings with the traffic commissioners and with representatives of the industry. We have seen the light, and we accept that there is a place in the Bill for operators of the type described and that they will fulfil a useful function.
I can understand the Parliamentary Secretary's wanting to rush the matter. The clause has had a curious history. The provision in the amendment was originally in the November Bill. A similar clause was taken out by the Government. The only difference is a rearrangement of words. It is a little weaker because the first version made clear that certain particulars relating to the licence should be displayed on the disc. Now that is to be left to regulations.
Will information on the disc relate to the vehicle and its operating centre? If that is so, the issue involves enforcement. A disc on a vehicle is a means of enforcing safety standards. It is a traditional part of lorry safety techniques. Professor Foster said that that practice should be tightened up.
I must refresh hon. Members' memories about the arguments in Committee. We notice the difference between the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that we were right and the Government were wrong. The Minister said that a disc was important to enforcement and safety. Apparently, there have been more discussions with the traffic commissioners, and the industry. The Government have reconsidered the matter and changed their view. Governments have the prerogative to do that. But it is a bit much that the Minister said:
When I think of outsiders observing our proceedings or reading of them, I sometimes wonder what they will make of the transport policy of the Labour Party on some of their proposals that lead only to an addition of restrictions, regulations, discs, bureaucracy and everything that will make things more difficult for the operator.
On further reflection, the Minister said:
I examined the clause, having seen the system, and asked whether it was necessary. We decided that it is not … I believe that the useful addition to efficiency and the reduction of bureaucracy, restrictions and regulations will be worthwhile to, and welcomed by, the operators."—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 7 February 1980; c. 1279–80.]
We contested those arguments. The Government have not told us why they had such a conversion. Those with whom they had discussions convinced them that the clause was not necessary. We support the clause. We are still convinced about our position. We have been consistent. The Government have changed their minds and brought back the clause. We want to know why.
It would be invidious to compare the powers of persuasion of my right hon. Friend the Minister with those of my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. However, when my right hon. Friend argued in Committee, I found his arguments more persuasive than those that have been put forward tonight by my hon. and learned Friend. I do not want to know why there has been a change of heart. I shall not oppose the provision. However, the arguments against displaying an operator's disc were very persuasive. It is an unnecessary piece of bureaucracy. The Government were right to accept those arguments in Committee. Their Lordships were wrong to reinsert the requirement for an operator's disc. I regret that an extra piece of bureaucracy has been accepted.
I place on record the fact that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) gave an excellent quotation from my right hon. Friend. The arguments that my right hon. Friend put forward then were right. I wish only that we had stuck to that decision.
Lest any hon. Member should think that there is some difference between my right hon. Friend and myself, I should point out that I tried to give some pretty good stuff on the subject of discs on Report. I described the suggestion as bureaucratic nonsense. My right hon. Friend and I vied with each other to reject the recommendation for discs. However, we were persuaded to change our minds by the Confederation of Passenger Transport and by the traffic commissioners. The arguments of Opposition Members and others echoed in our minds. The traffic commissioners discussed the issue with us. They were not of one mind, but their experience proved valuable.
There are two reasons for choosing non-specific discs. The discs will show details of the operator and of the licence but will not relate to a specific vehicle or operating centre. One provision in the Bill states that when an operator's licence is granted there should be a restriction on the maximum number of vehicles that that operator can hold. That provision ensures that no operator has a licence that enables him to operate vehicles that exceed his capacity to maintain them in a safe condition.
We were persuaded that it was impossible to enforce that maximum, or to count how many buses someone had on the road at any one time. A non-specific disc means that a bus can be on the road only if it has a disc. The operator will be given a number of discs, and that number is a condition of his licence. It will therefore be obvious when an irregular bus is on the road, because it will not have the magic disc in the window.
The other reason for changing our minds may be less popular. We are considering a fairer method of charging a fee for the operator's licence. It seems right to charge fees that are commensurate with the size of an operator's fleet. Subject to regulations, we are considering suggesting that the fee should depend on the number of licences issued to an operator.
I could have suggested that we were producing new arguments. However, as the disc is non-specific, it is slightly different from the provision that we debated in Committee. I thought I made a concession. I am beginning to think that the closer we move towards the Opposition, the more belligerent they become. The Government have changed their minds on this issue. The Opposition are entitled to enjoy their moment of triumph, but I am sure that this amendment is broadly acceptable to them. Even the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) cannot find any reasons for objecting to it.
As one of those hon. Members who served on the Committee, I wish to express my gratitude to the Parliamentary Secretary for at least not claiming that this provision has been in and out of the Bill two or three times as a result of a printer's error.