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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: We have had an interesting exchange. I am delighted that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elder, finds favour with the Government. However, it does not go as far as our amendment. The amendment does nothing to mitigate the cost of passenger transport by sea when that is the only means of travel available to people. In most cases, if one lives in any of the Scottish islands, the Isle of Wight, or any other island off the coast of this country, one cannot reach the mainland except by sea. That is the point of part of our amendment. It was in that context that I quoted the problem experienced by my friend Morris Barton in relation to the cost of the "bus" from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth. That service costs a great deal more than other bus services and does not offer half-fares. Some people must make the crossing for the purposes of attending hospital or their place of work. Everyone must pay the full fare. I should be interested to know whether the Government would consider the provision of the same kind of concessionary fare scheme on that service as on bus services on land. I shall not take up any further time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 253 and 254 agreed to.

26 Jul 2000 : Column 505

Schedule 29 [Detention of vehicles used without operator's licence]:

[Amendments Nos. 374 to 376 not moved.]

8.15 p.m.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 377:


    Page 322, line 45, leave out from ("informing") to ("that") in line 46 and insert ("the registered keeper or other persons who may be entitled to the goods vehicle").

The noble Earl said: Before I speak to or move any amendments I should declare some interests. I am president of the Heavy Transport Association and I own a rather large transporter that resides in the REME Museum in Bordon. That vehicle can be operated only under Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

I am grateful to the Minister for including the provisions of my impounding Bill in this Bill. The purpose of this amendment is to seek an assurance from the Minister that when the Bill is implemented and he drafts regulations he will pay attention to the needs of the vehicle hire and leasing industry. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, was very helpful during the passage of my Private Member's Bill. I hope that the Minister can be just as helpful. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: Amendment No. 377, which deals with hire companies, is an attempt by the noble Earl to extend further the impounding provisions which he was instrumental in inserting into the Bill in another place. However, it raises the particular issue of vehicle hire companies. An impounding scheme would need to encourage vehicle hire companies as well as consignors and insurers to ensure the use of legitimate hauliers. It is true that it is the users of hired vehicles who are required to have operator licences, not the rental companies. A rental company that does not check that a person who hires one of its vehicles has an operator licence runs the risk of having the vehicle detained. I do not, however, suggest that a hire company which has had a vehicle impounded in this way should have no means of recovering it.

My department has held discussions on this matter with the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association. The Bill provides for the making of regulations. If the vehicle is being operated illegally without the owner's knowledge the latter can recover the vehicle on notification. However, that is a matter of detail that is best left to regulations. There will be wide consultation before regulations are laid before Parliament. I believe that the point which the noble Earl seeks to make in the amendment will be covered in those regulations and that it is unnecessary to amend the Bill to that effect.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful for the Minister's response. It is clear that the hire companies will have to change their procedure; otherwise, they will find themselves in difficulty. I recall that during the passage of my Private Member's Bill I hired a small tipper truck. The hire company, although reputable, made no attempt to find out whether I required an operator

26 Jul 2000 : Column 506

licence. It may be necessary in future to make rapid changes to vehicle holdings because the impounding arrangements eliminate the margin scheme. One can still have more vehicles on one's licence and not use them but one must notify a vehicle before one uses it. By the time the legislation is implemented will it be possible to notify changes in vehicle holdings electronically?

Lord Whitty: The noble Lord will know that we are moving towards electronic licensing of vehicles. I am not sure when this particular passage comes into force. However I suspect that electronic licensing will not be in force by then. But we are moving towards electronic licensing and therefore within a few months, or perhaps a year, that will be the situation.

Earl Attlee: It is to be hoped that electronic notification of vehicle changes will be implemented rapidly. Otherwise we shall be behind the power curve.

The Minister also referred to "wide consultation". I hope that it will not take too long. When the provision is on the statute book it will need to be implemented as rapidly as possible for obvious reasons. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment Nos. 378 to 381 not moved.]

Schedule 29 agreed to.

Clause 255 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 382 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 382A:


    After Clause 255, insert the following new clause--

OPERATORS' LICENCES: GOOD REPUTE

(" .--(1) Schedule 3 to the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 (qualifications for standard licence) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 2 after "shall" there is inserted "except in exceptional circumstances".
(3) After paragraph 2(b) there is inserted--
"(c) has within the last two years employed one or more drivers that he knew or suspected were illegally claiming unemployment benefits; or
(d) has within the last two years employed one or more drivers that were illegally claiming unemployment benefits and has failed to take suitable measures to ascertain whether or not they were claiming benefits or to remit national insurance deductions to the Contributions Agency."").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 382A I shall speak also to Amendment Nos. 389A, 387 and 388. These amendments deal with closely related issues. The Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act provides for two types of licence to operate goods vehicles: standard and restricted. A restricted licence prevents use for hire and reward. In order to be granted a standard licence an applicant has to be of good repute, professionally competent and have the appropriate financial standing. An applicant for a restricted licence need fill none of these requirements.

26 Jul 2000 : Column 507

My original amendments removed the distinction between the two types of licence. Therefore an applicant would need to meet all the conditions. However, I was tactfully briefed against this.

Amendment No. 387 inserts the requirement for the applicant of a restricted licence to be professionally competent. In other words, he needs to have a properly qualified transport manager.

It is probably worth remembering that even operators of rubbish skip lorries normally require only a restricted licence. There will be some obvious difficulties that the Minister will draw to the Committee's attention. He will refer no doubt to the small operators who have only one or two vehicles. I think that the concept of the amendment could be developed so that a suitable trade association could provide the top cover of a transport manager. Therefore it would not be necessary for a small organisation to have a fully qualified transport manager. They would just have to have access to that knowledge. The trade association could send bulletins to people subscribing to their services.

Amendment No. 388 inserts a requirement for all operators of goods vehicles to be of good repute. I cannot understand why the Minister would be happy for anyone who is not of good repute to operate a goods vehicle.

Amendments Nos. 382A and 389A provide that a goods vehicle operator must lose his good repute if he knowingly employs drivers illegally claiming benefits. At practically every multi-agency check of goods vehicles, employed and self-employed drivers are detected illegally claiming benefits. It is despicable for an employer to do that. It cannot be done accidentally and therefore the operator's good repute should be forfeited.

It sometimes seems to me to be unduly difficult for an operator to lose his good repute. This amendment deals with only one particular scam. There are many more. I believe in minimum regulation for those who will operate legally within the industry, and removal for those who will not. I beg to move.

Lord Bradshaw: I support what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said. He referred to the fact that many scams are detected, for example, at multi-agency checks. This is just one that I have witnessed. It is not an occasional offence. It is a regular offence, as is using a vehicle which is running on red diesel. I recently saw a vehicle which had two filler caps in the diesel tank: one on the outside which contained white diesel; the majority of the tank contained red diesel which was filled from another cap. Anybody found doing that should be barred from the industry. I support the amendment regarding the claiming of unemployment benefit. It is obviously done with the knowledge of the owner and operator of the vehicle.


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