Lords amendment: No. 42, after clause 26, in page 27, line 26, at end insert—
(1) In subsection (1) of section 1 of the Minibus Act 1977 (exemption of certain vehicles from requirements applicable to public service vehicles) for "vehicle which is adapted to carry more than seven but not more than sixteen passengers" there shall be substituted "small passenger-carrying vehicle", and after that subsection there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(2) In section 1(2) of that Act (persons authorised to grant permits)—
(3) After section 1(3) of that Act (designation orders) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(4) In section 3(1) of that Act (power to make regulations), in paragraph (e) (power to prescribe conditions of fitness) for "vehicles" there shall be substituted "small passenger-carrying vehicles".
(5) After section 3(1) of that Act there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(6) In section 3(2) of that Act (consequences of breach of regulations) for "Section 1(1)" substitute "Subsection (1) or, as the case may be, subsection (1A) of section 1".
(7) In section 4(2) of that Act (interpretation) after paragraph (b) there shall be inserted the following paragraph—
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, in line 17, leave out paragraph (a).
Our second amendment is, in line 30, after "small", insert "or large". Both of these amendments deal with important aspects of the extension of the role of community buses. I believe that it was the previous Labour Government who introduced the Minibus Act with a very specific intention of ensuring that, for certain social purposes, small buses could be run by certain designated groups, or with the consent of the traffic commissioner, without their being subject to a whole series of statutory requirements that normally apply to the public service vehicle.
What the Lords amendment does is to bring for the first time large buses into the category of those which can be run on permits granted by designated bodies. But it omits to provide an equal right to the traffic commissioners. It will, therefore, create a surprising legal situation, namely, that the traffic commissioner who understands all the requirements related to large passenger vehicles—he is the man who has been trained and who has technical and safety requirements very much at heart—will be denied the right to permit the large community bus to be operated.
However, the designated bodies which are, after all, not so much concerned with the technicalities of running buses but are more concerned with the social needs of those who might apply to them, will have the power to allow the running of large buses in circumstances which did not exist before.
The first amendment deals with the other problem created by the Lords amendment, namely, that once special permits are granted by the designated body for the operation of large buses for social services the bus can be driven by a driver who does not hold a PSV licence. Thank goodness that in this instance it cannot be argued by any Minister that a Labour Government allowed such vehicles to be driven in similar circumstances by unqualified drivers. This is a horror that arises directly from this legislation framed in the Lords amendment.
All my arguments on the first batch of amendments apply here also. I still take the view that it is a dangerous practice for large buses to be driven by people who have not obtained a PSV licence. I should be loth to see that provision become law and I and my hon. Friends are inclined to oppose such a provision totally. We think that it is unnecessary in any case. We believe that those designated bodies which are seriously considering applications from community organisations to run large buses will not be inclined to grant permits—in circumstances in which they are normally obliged to grant them—to bodies which do not have among their members, or who do not employ, people qualified to drive such vehicles. The provision will also have the effect of deterring people from going through the necessary training.
This extension was asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) in Committee, if I recall correctly, to allow larger buses to be used under the community bus provision. It was moved in terms which in no way suggested that we should have large buses on our roads providing services on permits granted by designated bodies to community organisations and which might be driven by people without a PSV licence.
I hope that even at this late stage, since this amendment is from the Lords and we have not considered it before, the Government will agree that we should, if we are to grant permits for large vehicles, give the same power to the traffic commissioner as to the designated bodies. I hope that the Government will agree that the traffic commissioner must continue to have the power to revoke permits granted by designated bodies, after consultation with them, if he is not satisfied that a permit should continue in operation. I trust that the Government will not contest that proposition.
I also hope that they will agree that no desirable purpose will be served by creating an unnecessary risk in order to bring about what could be a desirable extension of an idea supported on both sides of the House when the community bus provisions were first made under the Minibus Act.
The Lords amendment is advanced in response to an extremely helpful suggestion by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) in Standing Committee when he pointed out a deficiency in the Minibus Act. The Act was designed to help those voluntary bodies in particular that used buses for social and educational purposes but were pulling themselves into the PSV net every time they tried to charge any fare because then they were operating for hire or reward.
The Act has been very successful. No one is complaining about the way these designated bodies have used their powers and issued permits. But it has been pointed out to us, through problems in Camden and elsewhere, that it is a weak ness in the Act that it does not extend to vehicles carrying more than 16 passengers. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) has recently written to my right hon. Friend the Minister about difficulties being faced by a voluntary body in Hillingdon which is running a worthwhile community bus and is finding it difficult to cover the cost without charging fares which, if it does, put it in difficulties with the public service vehicle requirements.
We are therefore suggesting here an extension of the Minibus Act to these larger vehicles. We are doing it in a way that will not open the door to lower vehicle safety standards or to unfair competition. The new clause puts the larger vehicles within the normal Minibus Act framework, but there are additional safeguards. First, although no PSV licences will be required for the operator, the service or the driver, the vehicles will remain public service vehicles and will be subject to the normal PSV conditions of fitness. They will be subject to examination by the PSV examiners.
Second, only specially designated bodies will have the power to grant permits for these larger vehicles and we shall have to produce regulations for this purpose under the 1977 Act, but relating to larger vehicles only. It is our firm intention to designate only local authorities and to describe in the order the kinds of bodies to which they may grant permits. In this way the authorities can exercise some control over the use of the larger vehicles.
That is a perfectly adequate safeguard. Those are two important extensions of the protections afforded under the Minibus Act to smaller vehicles. The fact that they will remain PSV vehicles and the fact that we shall allow only local authorities to issue the permits should meet most of the fears.
It is argued yet again that we should impose a requirement for PSV drivers' licences. In the case brought to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, that is precisely one of the difficulties being faced. If that body is brought into the scope of licensing, it finds it difficult to get a holder of a PSV licence to volunteer to drive the bus. Similarly, to bring it within the ambit of the traffic commissioners, which is the other argument put forward in the second Opposition amendment would impose great restrictions and difficulties on voluntary services when this is not an area that the commissioners need to regulate. We want the minimum of restraint on these highly desirable voluntary schemes, and what is proposed in the Lords amendment is a worthwhile and useful extension of the Minibus Act.
I beg to move, That this House cloth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
The amendment follows the policy of maximum use of derogation from the EEC drivers' hours regulation No. 543/69. This minibus exemption interests some operators. This is something which the Confederation of Passenger Transport has put to us. The EEC regulations do not apply to national transport operations affecting vehicles with 15 seats or fewer, so we can set lower age limits for these vehicles on any journeys except international ones.