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The Testing And Surveillance Functions

Volume 24: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1982

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move amendment No. 18, in page 8, line 37, after 'The', insert 'cancellation'.

The amendment follows one that was made in Committee to provide for the cancellation of certificates of conformity and Minister's approval certificates. The relevant provisions can be found in schedule 5(8)(b).

The earlier amendment gave power to cancel a certificate of conformity or Minister's approval certificate. It is a minor change to procedure which will improve the handling of paperwork, which follows when a goods vehicle subject to type approval is altered in some way which affects its type-approved characteristics. The vehicle has a certificate that shows its conformity to the approved type. If the vehicle undergoes major alterations, that certificate may no longer apply. Regulations under the Road Traffic Act 1972 require that certain alterations to type-approved vehicles must be notified to the Secretary of State, who may require an examination.

Once a vehicle has been inspected and the alterations have been found satisfactory, the paperwork needs to be brought into line with the new position. At the moment we can suspend or amend the certificate of conformity or MAC. We cannot cancel it altogether and issue a new one. In many cases that would be a great deal simpler and give a much clearer result. Schedule 5(8)(b) provides that small extra power. Clause 9 provides that authorised inspectors may be given a number of related powers in the same area. They should also be authorised to carry out examinations of type-approved vehicles which have been altered and to exercise existing powers to amend or suspend the certificate. If they are to operate in that area they should also have the new power to cancel the certificate, and that is what this small amendment does.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 9, line 8, at end insert

`under regulations made under subsection (IA) of that section'.

With this, it will be convenient to take also Government amendments Nos. 20 to 23.

3.45 pm

The first amendment of substance is No. 20, which strengthens the provisions under which the Secretary of State can determine which examinations of public service vehicles are carried out by the private sector. The new subsection which the amendment adds to clause 10 introduces a power to make regulations about examinations under section 6 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981. That concerns the requirement of certificates of initial fitness for PSVs. The other substantive amendment is No. 23, which similarly introduces a new regulation-making power relating to one of the activities that authorised inspectors may be authorised to undertake in the private sector. It adds to the existing amendment in clause 10 which concerns section 20 of the 1981 Act regarding inspections of public service vehicles following notifiable alterations or damage to a vehicle. The other amendments are consequential and add nothing of substance.

The introduction of the provisions means that less weight needs to be placed on the conditions that can be attached to the authorisations under clause 8 which, I believe, some hon. Members felt were in danger of being overworked. I do not accept that as a general proposition, but I agree that certain key provisions about the way examinations are to be carried out in the private sector might usefully be embodied in regulations where they have the force of law. These amendments make that possible. They also repair an omission. Clause 9 allows authorised inspectors to be empowered to carry out or supervise examinations under section 6 or section 20 of the 1981 Act. At present those sections contain no reference to the supervision or direction of examinations. Section 6 and section 20 of the 1981 Act need to contain some reference to supervision or direction if authorised examiners are to be empowered under clause 8 and clause 9 to carry them out.

The supervision to which we are referring is the in-house supervision or direction of examinations as part of an approved testing authority's own systems for quality and standards control. There is a subsequent Government amendment on the Amendment Paper on outside supervision.

The amendments make no changes of substance to the range of functions to be transferred to the private sector, or the powers and duties of authorised inspectors. They make explicit a number of matters which have been managed by administrative arrangement while the work has been done in the Civil Service. The amendments strengthen the structure of the Bill and make it more effective. I hope that the House will accept the amendments as a helpful improvement.

I am not sure that I wholly accept the phrase used by the Minister that amendment No. 20 strengthens the workings of the new testing centres. It may be that reference back to the 1981 Act and different sections of that Act complicates the matter even further. Amendment No. 20 transfers to private enterprise the provision of the certificate of initial fitness and type approval under the 1981 Act. It was not my impression that that was the intention of the Bill. I have noticed the amendment relating to out-house inspection, which we will welcome when we come to it.

There seems to be some contradiction between what is embodied in amendment No. 20, the subsequent amendments, and that later amendment. Either the initial certificate of fitness has to be provided for individual vehicles or, if the vehicle is of a type that has a type certificate under section 10 of the Act, the certifying officer can, if he thinks fit, give the vehicle its licence or operator's certificate without actually examining the vehicle. We believe that that is what happens and that to pass initial testing and type approval to private enterprise stretches the frontiers of the examination system too far.

The hon. Gentleman knows that we object to the transfer of the testing stations. He referred earlier to the need to build into the Bill clear safeguards against commercial pressures. If type approval is to be done by the private sector instead of the Department of Transport, clear commercial pressures could be brought into play. I believe that, instead of strengthening the Bill, the amendments actually weaken it.

When the Under-Secretary replies, I ask him to tell us how many certifying officers will be replaced by section 20 of the 1981 Act concerning type approval and initial certificate fitness work. We understood that the Secretary of State is embarking on this hiving-off operation to divest himself of a number of civil servants. However, his enthusiasm for so doing should be tempered by the necessity to ensure that when vehicles first take to the roads they are in proper order. Surely that is consistent with the supervisory functions that he is now writing into the Bill and consistent also with retaining the certifying officers' functions within the Department of Transport. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will think again about pressing the amendment if what I have said is right.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) revealed a misunderstanding when he asked his first question. Power for the private sector to carry out examinations of public service vehicles for certificates of initial fitness is already in clause 9, and has been from the start. I hope that on consideration of this issue the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the amendment will improve the means by which the standards of such examination can be kept high on an in-house basis.

The other powers about which the hon. Gentleman is worried will be handed over only if testing goes to one authoritative body, such as Lloyd's Register. Clause 9 lists the powers that may be handed over, not which must be handed over. I know that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate the importance of that wording.

Type approval of PSVs cannot be handed over. There is not provision for that. Only individual initial fitness examinations can go to the private sector. I hope that that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman. I am sorry that it is not possible immediatedly to answer his inquiry about the number of certifying officers. However, I shall obtain that information and let the hon. Gentleman have it as soon as possible.

The Minister says that the functions that can be transferred are those that are listed in clause 9. Lines 29–33 on page 9 in clause 9 state:

"Such further functions (whether conferred by or under any existing enactment or not) as may be prescribed, being functions which appear to the Secretary of State to be connected with any of the functions described above."
I am not raising this issue on Report merely as a nitpicking point. I raised it as a matter of substance in Committee. Short of seeing what the Minister proposes, it is almost impossible to tell whether the functions might be described as being connected with the other functions listed in clause 9. Therefore, it is not possible to state with authority, unless the Minister has received legal advice on the meaning of this part of the clause which I have not been able to obtain, that the function to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) referred could not be transferred.

If the only functions that can be transferred are those that are listed, the Government must have had a clear idea of the functions that would be transferred when they decided how many civil servants' jobs were to be chopped. If they had not had that knowledge, they would have been unable to make an estimate. If the Government have changed their mind about the savings within the Civil Service that they will achieve with the Bill, if fewer civil servants' jobs are to be lost than previously indicated by not transferring all the functions listed in clause 9, and if they are not to transfer any of the functions set out in lines 29–33 of the clause, that should be stated now.

Is that what the Minister is saying, or is he merely giving an assurance that further functions will not cover the area that we are discussing? Will he tell us what areas are not covered and the areas that cannot be covered and, against that background, explain the purpose of having these provisions in the Bill?

I am not able entirely to follow the legal interpretation of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) of clause 9. If he considers the matter more fully, he will find that I have made the position clear. The functions that are referred to have to be connected with others and cannot include type approval. That was the anxiety expressed by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and I have been able, I hope, to reassure the right hon. Gentleman. However, the right hon. Gentleman went much further in his thoughts, for which there is little foundation.

I emphasise that the amendments will make no changes of substance to the range of functions that are to go to the private sector or the powers and duties of authorised inspectors. The intention is to make explicit a number of matters that have hitherto been managed by administrative arrangements. The amendments strengthen the Bill's structure and make it more effective for inside or in-house examinations.

Surely the hon. Gentleman must accept that the words to which I have referred do not give any absolute limitations to what may be covered by clause 9. The words are:

"Such further functions … as may be prescribed, being functions which appear to the Secretary of State to be connected"
and so on. If the Secretary of State thinks that there is some connection between type approval and any of the examinations that are listed as functions in clause 9, he is entitled to take that view. It would be difficult to argue with him. One could argue that anything involved in testing public service vehicles must be connected with something that is specified as a function in clause 9. That could not be challenged effectively in the courts.

If the Secretary of State of the day said "This is my view and I say with my hand on my heart that there is some connection between that type of testing and that function", how could that be denied? The courts would say "Parliament passed the Bill and saw fit to allow the Secretary of State to add further functions to those that were specified." The Under-Secretary of State has said that the current Secretary of State thinks that there is no connection. However, we cannot have an assurance, while the Bill is in this form, that further functions connected with examinations, the issuing of certificates, the refusal to issue certificates, plating, periodical tests and all the functions in clause 9 will not ultimately be added to the functions that are to be transferred from the Civil Service to the private sector.

I am asking a simple and straightforward question: was the Government's estimate of the saving in civil servants made on the presumption that only the functions listed in clause 9 and not covered by the further functions paragraph would be transferred? That is a simple and straightforward question. If that is the basis of the estimate, the answer is "Yes". If that is not the case and further functions are to be transferred, and if the last part of clause 9 has to be used to make that Civil Service saving, the Minister can say so. If he is not prepared to reveal what those further functions are, that will be a matter of argument between us. Surely, it is not impossible for him to give a straight answer to that question.

4 pm

The right hon. Gentleman has sought to bring forward his own interpretation of the meaning of part of clause 9. His interpretation is wrong. No absolute limitation is appropriate. The Secretary of State must exercise his powers in context. A type approval function would not be in context. The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his interpretation. There are settled rules for determining the limits of powers.

The basis for the savings in civil servants quoted to the right hon. Gentleman in Committee was correct. For the purpose of this amendment we are discussing the in-house position of examination. The right hon. Gentleman has used the occasion to examine clause 9 and to bring forward his own interpretation of it. I have sought to explain to the right hon. Gentleman that his interpretation is not correct.

The right hon. Gentleman was so absorbed in setting out his understanding of this part of the Bill that he missed my explanation. I am able to confirm that the estimate of Civil Service savings was made on the presumption that only the functions listed would go.

Order. I remind the House that we are on Report and not in Committee. Only the mover of the amendment and the Minister in charge of the Bill have a right of reply. There was genuine anxiety, which needed clarification, so I allowed a dialogue to take place.

Amendment agreed to.