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Commons throws out wider basis for quantity licensing

31st May 1968, Page 31
31st May 1968
Page 31
Page 31, 31st May 1968 — Commons throws out wider basis for quantity licensing
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from our Parliamentary correspondent * It's all over—the Commons can, for the time being at least, forget all about the. Transport Bill. For three days and nights this week MPs slogged through hundreds of amendments and new clauses before sending the measure on to the Lords to see what they make of it all.

Three days and nights ... with tempers frayed by the knowledge that the guillotine was always hovering over the discussion, and the fact that many MPs wanted to be in two places at once— in the Commons and in one of its numerous committees.

First major change in the Bill tells Traffic Commissioners to listen to the views of trade unions, the police and local authorities when considering whether a person is fit to operate public service vehicles. They must also consider such details of the financial resources of the operator and his conduct in any business in which vehicles were operated.

Mr. Stephen Swingler, the Minister of State for Transport, who introduced the clause, said it also extended to holders of p.s.v. licences the "fair wages clause" which at present applied only to holders of road service licences.

Opposing the change, Tory transport spokesman Mr. Michael Heseltine said that the fact that it was being introduced so late confirmed his suspicions that legislation in this form was not required by the people who had to operate it.

The clause enabled previous conduct to be brought into consideration with no attempt to define precisely what was meant. It could be, claimed Mr. Heseltine, that a divorced man would be considered unsuitable because his previous standards did not match up to the standards of the Traffic Commissioners.

The clause did not only apply to the industry in which a man applied for a licence, but a Commissioner could take into account his performance in any trade, regardless of its relevance to the industry in which he was now applying for the licence.

Another new clause accepted by the House allows local authorities who operate buses to run them as contract carriages inside and outside their districts.

Mr. Heseltine said this meant that local authorities could be contract operators without any restrictions being placed on them. If the Minister was not prepared to say that, in moving into the excursion tours business local authorities had to make a commercial return, then he was threatening the death knell of the private sector which would not be able to compete.

The Tories failed in a bid to stop the transfer of 51 per cent of the assets of the Freightliner company to the railways and. were equally unsuccessful in asking that PTAs should not be set up until after the report of the Royal Commission on Local Government.

The whole concept of PTAs, said Mr. Heseltine, was based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of what the problems in the conurbations actually were. He urged that the public inquiries should take place before the proposals were implemented and he condemmed the "farcical consultations" carried out by Mrs. Castle when she was Minister of Transport. She had explained her ideas, listened to the arguments, but had taken not the slightest notice of what had been said.

One Government amendment welcomed by the Opposition allows three months' grace before an operator, having moved his vehicles from one centre to another, need get a licence authorizing him to operate in the new area.

The Tories were unable to persuade the Government to delete from the Bill a requirement that applicants for operators' licences must give details of the demand expected. The Opposition spokesman, Mr. Gordon Campbell, said this unnecessary requirement gave the impression that there was a quantity element involved here in a part of the Bill dealing with quality licensing. He was supported by Liberal Mr. Peter Bessell.

Tory Mr. David Mitchell said it was very unfair that a man should have to expose for consideration exactly what business he was proposing to get and leave it to somebody else to assess his prospects of success.

Mr. Neil Carmichael, the Parliamentary Secretary, denied that an element of quantity licensing was involved. The power to require an applicant to supply this information was, he said discretionary. People not already established in business, with insufficient background but with sufficient money behind them, would have to prove to the Licensing Authority that they had a reasonable expectation of demand for their services. In that case they could, in the judgment of the Authority, get the licence.

The Tories did not press to a division an amendment saying that for less serious offences the licensing Authority should not revoke a licence unless satisfied that the holder had been a material danger to the public. Mr. Daniel Awdry said the present power of revocation was too severe but Mr. Swingler insistedthat the Authority must be given wide discretion to revoke or suspend licences if serious offences had been committed.

An amendment changing from 10 to 11 tons the amount which large goods vehicles can carry without special authorization went through without trouble—but then a row broke out when the Government announced its intention of bringing Devon, Cornwall and the development areas within the 100-miles provision.

To a storm of protest, Mr. Carmichael moved an amendment designed to do this, stating that a liberal amendment that the provisions should not apply to these areas had been accepted in error during the Standing Committee.

Mr. Bessell accused the Government of having gone back on its word, while Mr. Peter Walker, the Shadow Transport Minister declared, amid Tory cheers, that at the earliest opportunity a Conservative government would completely and utterly do away with quantity licensing.

The Government amendment was carried by 260 votes to 220.

The opposition received support from Labour man Mr. Leslie Huckfield when they suggested that the Licensing Authority considering special authorization should take into account more than just speed, reliability and cost.

Mr. Campbell put forward an amendment saying that other factors including suitability, flexibility, convenience, frequency of delivery, availability at short notice, lists of damage or contamination, provision for insurance and the cost and nature of packing required for alternative services should be considered. But this was rejected by 260 votes to 224.

Mr. Campbell said that it would never be possible to write into the Bill all the factors that businesses would have to take into account when deciding how to transport their goods. But this amendment did pinpoint some of the criteria that should be considered by the Authority.

Quantity licensing, he said, was completely unnecessary and would simply cause delays and damage to trade and industry.

Mr. Huckfield—who had put down a similar amendment which was not called—expressed concern about the fact that only speed, reliability and cost were mentioned in the Bill. He had always felt that to ask an Authority to make a decision based on these three factors was to put on him a very severe restriction indeed. The Authority should be allowed to take into account

anything he felt should be considered, said Mr. Huckfield, and he hoped the Government would make some concessions.

Mr. Carmichael, opposing the change, pointed Out that Mr. Swingler had given some assurances about this in committee. He had said that some of the factors mentioned in the amendment would be included in the regulations which the Minister would be making in this field.

Mr. Walker said that every word spoken by Ministers on quantity licensing proved the absurdity of the whole thing. It was, he said, the Government's intention to restrict and handicap.

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