HC Deb 04 July 1930 vol 240 cc2337-47

I beg to move, in page 4, line 24, to leave out paragraph (a), and to insert instead thereof the words: (a) where any regulations made after the passing of this Act contain provisions varying the requirements as regards the construction or weight of any class or description of vehicles provision shall be made by the regulations for exempting for such period (not being less than five years) as may be specified therein from the provisions aforesaid any vehicle of that class or description registered under the Roads Act, 1920, before the expiration of one year from the making of the regulations; and. The proviso in the Clause was inserted in another place in its present form. The new form which it is proposed to substitute has been agreed with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and is a compromise with the interests concerned

Amendment agreed to

Colonel ASHLEY

I beg to move, in page 5, line 4, at the end, to insert the words: and shall be liable on summary conviction in the case of the first offence to a fine not exceeding five pounds, and in the case of a subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding ten pounds. This is an Amendment of substantial importance. If my recollection is right, it was defeated in the Standing Committee by only one vote. If hon. Members will turn to Clause 112 they will find that the penalties for offences under the Bill are heavy, in fact almost savage. They are, for a first offence £20, and for a second or subsequent offence £50 or three months' imprisonment.


Hear, hear!

Colonel ASHLEY

I think that even the hon. Member who says "hear, hear" will agree that these penalties are very severe and therefore we ought to be especially careful to see that the general penalty only applies to really serious cases. Without the insertion of the words proposed by the Amendment under Clause 3—which gives the Minister power, without reference to Parliament, to make regulations—anybody breaking those regulations will be liable to penalties of £20 on the first offence, and on the second offence £50 or three months imprisonment. I can understand the House laying down that such and such a thing is an offence and saying "As we consider it of importance we give the magistrates power to impose serious penalties." But in Clause 3 we hand over the power of making these regulations entirely to the Minister. Clause 30 specifies the matters about which he may make regulations. They include the width, height and length of motor vehicles, the consumption of smoke, excessive noise, the particulars to be marked on motor vehicles and trailers, the towing of vehicles by motor vehicles and things of that kind.

I admit that, obviously, we have to leave these things to the Minister. They cannot all be dealt with directly in the Bill and the Minister is the right and proper person to make these regulations but if the House parts with its right to make such regulations, we ought to be very chary about it and we ought to look very carefully into the penalties which it is proposed to attach to matters which are to be decided on the ipse dixit of the Minister and no one else. For instance, I submit that for the comparatively small offence of having a coupling wrong on the stay which holds the drawing vehicle to the towed vehicle a £5 fine would be ample for a first offence and a £10 fine sufficient for a second offence. To give magistrates the power to impose the penalties set out in Clause 112 is putting the matter much too high. I think this is one case in which we ought to take these penalties out of the general provision of Clause 112 and put them down in black and white in this Clause.


As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Amendment has said, a similar Amendment was moved in Committee. There was a long and comprehensive discussion upon it and it is true that it was defeated only by one vote. Clause 112 provides for maximum penalties for offences under this Measure of £20 on a first conviction and £50 or imprisonment for three months on any subsequent convictions. Those I repeat are maximum penalties and nobody, I think, will challenge the desirability of fixing such maximum penalties, having regard to what has been termed the revolution which this Measure works in regard to motor transport. But the right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the regulations to be made by the Minister and he seemed to think that those regulations would be made by permanent officials. After all it is the Minister who makes them and the Minister is responsible to Parliament. It is true that many of the points specified in Clause 30, which will be covered by the regulations, are comparatively small points and I have no doubt that a large number of minor offences will arise under the regulations. But it will be for the courts to decide these cases and I have no doubt that the courts will distinguish between the small offences and the serious offences. At any rate I think it is proper to leave such a matter to the discretion of the courts.

On the other hand, it is clear from the nature of the regulations that serious offences also may arise and it is certainly desirable that the court should have the power to impose much heavier penalties than those proposed in the Amendment. For instance, if a heavy vehicle is being used upon the roads with inefficient brakes and is calculated to endanger the lives of individuals and to be a danger to the community generally, surely a maximum penalty of £20 on a first conviction is not excessive, especially when we recall that it is within the discretion of the court upon the evidence before it to decide as to the seriousness or otherwise of the particular case, and to fix a penalty within the maximum specified in the Bill. There may also be the case of a heavily laden vehicle with defective solid tyres which is causing immense damage. Does my right hon. and gallant Friend suggest that for such an offence a fine not exceeding £5 is sufficient?


Is there anything in this Clause which makes it an offence to imperil life? The only offence in the Clause is using a vehicle upon the road which does not conform to the regulations.


If the hon. Member turns to Clause 30 he will there see the nature of the regulations and the matters which will be governed by those regulations. I suggest to the House that if those regulations were contravened in either of the ways which I have suggested it is absurd to suggest that a fine not exceeding £5 on a first offence and not exceeding £10 on a subsequent offence, would be sufficient to meet the case. As this matter was fully discussed in Committee I hope, even though a similar Amendment was then defeated by only one vote, that the House will now support the Minister.


The Under-Secretary has addressed a most extraordinary argument to the House. He says that some of these offences will be trivial offences for which the smallest possible penalty will be required but that some of the offences may be very serious offences for which a very heavy fine, and, in certain cases, a term of imprisonment, will not be an excessive penalty. Therefore, says the Under Secretary in effect, let us lump together the whole of the penalties and say that the court shall have discretion either to impose a very heavy penalty including it may be imprisonment, or to impose the smallest possible penalty. I do not believe that in any other Act of Parliament you will find a general discretion of this kind given to the courts. Let the Under-Secretary observe what follows from his argument. We pass an Act of Parliament dealing with a number of criminal offences. Some of them are properly punishable by penal servitude, and for some of them a very small penalty is sufficient. According to the Under-Secretary, the proper course to adopt in a case like that is to say that the penalty to be inflicted under the Statute shall not be greater than seven years' penal servitude and to put an omnibus and elastic penalty for every offence, be it great or small.

I have always understood that the object of putting into a Clause the nature of a penalty to be imposed was to give some indication to the courts of what Parliament considers a proper penalty for a particular offence, and where you get the Minister responsible for the Bill stating that in his view for certain offences a very small penalty is required, whereas for other offences a very large penalty is required, I should have thought he would have drawn the conclusion that he should follow the normal Parliamentary procedure and lay down a large penalty for the grave offence and a smaller penalty for the smaller offence, which is what the Amendment proposes. Unless the hon. Gentleman can produce a better argument than, that which he has addressed to the House, and show us why we should not have differentiation of penalties for different offences, I hope my right hon. and gallant Friend will carry his Amendment to a division.


The argument of the Under-Secretary is really a very amazing argument. He said that because a vehicle may be faulty and may imperil life, you should have a serious penalty, amounting to £50 or imprisonment. But if the offence were one that imperilled life, clearly the charge would not be brought under this Clause at all, because it is too serious an offence. The whole offence under this Clause is one of using a vehicle which does not comply with the regulations applicable to the class or description of vehicles to which it belongs. If a vehicle has faulty brakes, it is a different offence, and should not be classed under this Clause at all. The offence under this Clause should have a light penalty attached to it, and I hope the Amendment will be pressed to a division and that it will be carried.


I should like to support the remarks of the last speaker. I do not see any reason why you should lay down a heavy penalty for every offence. If a vehicle goes on the road with brakes that do not work, the driver ought not to be prosecuted under this Clause at all, but he should be prosecuted for driving to the danger of the public, as he would be doing if he went on the road without proper brakes. If you are going to have a maximum penalty of £20, with possible imprisonment, what is the indication to the courts? It is that every offence committed under this Clause should be treated, not as a trivial offence, but as a very serious offence indeed, and they will have an opportunity of imposing a very high fine for all sorts of trivialities. A man's lamp might go out, he might have a dirty number plate, he might have his licence upside down on the side of his car, and for any of these small offences he might be fined a very heavy amount. There is no reason why you should not differentiate between different offences and why you should have a sort of sweeping penalty for all offences. It may be an easy way of doing it. You might say, "The maximum will be so and so, and we will leave everything to the courts to decide." I do not see any reason at all why you should do that, and why you should not take the trouble to lay down certain penalties for certain offences, according to the gravity of the offence.


Obviously, there are regulations provided for in Clause 30, the breach of which might be a slight matter, but, on the other hand, there are regulations which will be made by the Minister under that Clause and under the Clause now under consideration which are, I think, calculated to ensure safety upon the roads, and anyone who contravenes those regulations does so deliberately, because in most of these cases it is a deliberate contravention. Take, for instance, Sub-section (1, g) of Clause 30, dealing with the number and nature of brakes, and for securing that brakes, silencers, and Steering gear shall be efficient and kept in proper working order. What more serious offence can there be than that?

Colonel ASHLEY

As was pointed out by the previous speaker, those offences should be taken as driving to the danger of the public.


I think there is a particular danger of the House overlooking this fact, that we are aiming at the one who deals with the vehicle in the first instance when it goes on the road in a condition in which it ought not to go on the road. I am satisfied that the Minister in this Bill has in view "Safety first," but I am certain that it will lead the community to a very different conclusion from that which "Safety First" did in another connection. I hope nothing will be done to water down these penalties. If a man deliberately and repeatedly contravenes these regulations, even the penalties included in the Clause at the end of the Bill are not too severe, and to suggest penalties of £5 for a first offence of a serious character and £10 when the offence may have been repeated time after time is to mean that the public will not realise that the Act is to be administered drastically.


The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) suggested that using bad brakes and other things described in the Bill might come under the definition of "dangerous driving," but I would point out that in many concerns drivers fear that they may lose their job if they are too particular about the condition of their vehicles, repairs, and so on, and how can you bring the owner of a vehicle who has refused to put it into proper repair into court for dangerous driving when he has not driven it at all, but has hired a driver to drive it? It seems to me that that argument should support the Minister on this occasion.

Major GLYN

There is a great deal of force attached to the argument that because Clause an is divided into different parts some important and some not, it would be a good thing that a particular offence should have a particular penalty attached to it, but I am in some difficulty in supporting the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend for this reason, that I believe it would be detrimental to the interests of the Bill to reduce the penalties. We are doing away with the speed limit and matters of that kind, and it is essential that only road-worthy vehicles should be on the road. If a man is killed by a motor, there is no satisfaction to the relatives at the inquest that the driver could be proceeded against for dangerous driving, but, if the vehicle is proved at the inquest to have inefficient brakes, which ought to have been looked after prior to the car going out on the road and the accident avoided, he could be dealt with under this Section. The British motor manufacturing industry is in great difficulty, because an enormous number of second-hand vehicles are being sold at £10 and upwards. Some of these cars ought not to be allowed to run on the roads at all, and, if we are aiming to clear up the roads and have efficient vehicles operating, there ought in this Measure to be a provision whereby it will be a severe penalty to take on to the road a vehicle which is not only a danger to its driver but to everybody else who uses the road. I think that my right hon. Friend is perfectly right in saying that if you have penalties, they should be in relationship to the offence; but you could be fined £25 for not doing the registration lettering on a trailer in the right way, and that is excessive compared with other irregularities. According to the arguments of the Under-Secretary, you might say in an Act of Parliament that, everybody should be sentenced to death for any offence, and then leave it to the court to send the man to prison for a week. In past days in Spain nearly everybody was sentenced to bastinado, for trivial offences, but, in effect, it became merely a smack on the palm of the hand. Today, we ought to put in an Act of Parliament what should be the penalty for a particular offence. I cannot, however, support my right hon. Friend, because it is essential to maintain heavy penalties if we are doing away with the speed limit.


I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn) has read this Clause at all. He talks about second-hand motor-cars, but the Clause deals with regulations and the construction of cars. It has nothing to do with second-hand cars. The Minister will snake various regulations with regard to the construction of cars, and, when he makes new regulations or alters existing regulations in some small or technical matter, very minor offences are set up, which have nothing to do with having faulty brakes and things of that kind at all.


I want to repeat what I said on this Clause in Committee. I am not satisfied with the statement made by the right hon. and gallent Member who moved this Amendment when he pointed out that the coupling of a trailer is only a trivial thing. I have seen a trailer leave the motor and go into a shop window. That has not been because the vehicle has not had proper brakes——

Colonel ASHLEY

It is individual enterprise.


Yes; they have not had enough people to examine the vehicles before they go out. I have known instances of men who have been driving motors and trailers reporting defects which they have discovered and finding, when they have gone out next morning, that the defects remained. They have reported them again, but they have been told that it was not their business; their business was to get on the motor and get the wheels running. They get the wheels running, and, when the load is on, they perhaps disagree and separate, to the danger of the passengers and to everybody else. This is not the kind of thing that should be regarded as trivial and dealt with in a trivial way. It is time the Minister did something to stop this kind of thing happening.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes 74: Noes 203.

Division No. 413.] AYES. [12.50 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Fielden, E. B. Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackiey)
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William
Atkinson, C. Ganzoni, Sir John Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley) Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Remer, John R.
Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet) Glassey, A. E. Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Reynolds, Col. Sir James
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W. Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Brass, Captain Sir William Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Savery, S. S.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Smithers, Waldron
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.) Hurd, Percy A. Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Christie, J. A. Iveagh, Countess of Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)
Colville, Major D. J. King, Commodore Rt. Hon. Henry D. Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)
Crichton-Stuart, Lord C. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. Law, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak) Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Leighton, Major B. E. P. Wells, Sydney R.
Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey Lymington, Viscount Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Davies, Dr. Vernon Macquisten, F. A. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Margesson, Captain H. D. Withers, Sir John James
Duckworth, G. A. V. Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B. Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
Eden, Captain Anthony Moore, Sir Newton J. (Richmond) Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)
Elliot, Major Walter E. Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)
Erskine, Lord (Somorset, Weston-s. M.) Morris, Rhys Hopkins TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Everard, W, Lindsay Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive Major Sir George Hennessy and
Fermoy, Lord Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld) Sir George Penny.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood Cape, Thomas
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Bennett, Capt. Sir E. N. (Cardiff C.) Charleton, H. C.
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M. Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Chater, Daniel
Alpass, J. H. Benson, G. Church, Major A. G.
Ammon, Charles George Bentham, Dr. Ethel Cluse, W. S.
Arnott, John Berry, Sir George Cocks, Frederick Seymour
Aske, Sir Robert Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret Compton, Joseph
Attlee, Clement Richard Bowen, J. W. Cove, William G.
Ayles, Walter Brockway, A. Fenner Daggar, George
Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Brooke, W. Dallas, George
Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley) Brothers, M. Day, Harry
Barnes, Alfred John Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West) Denman, Hon. R. D.
Batey, Joseph Buchanan, G. Duncan, Charles
Bellamy, Albert Burton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland) Ede, James Chuter
Edmunds, J. E. Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.) Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Edwards, E. (Morpeth) Lewis, T. (Southampton) Salter, Dr. Alfred
Egan, W. H. Lindley, Fred W. Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)
Elmley, Viscount Lloyd, C. Ellis Sanders, W. S.
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Longbottom, A. W. Sandham, E.
Forgan, Dr. Robert Longden, F. Sawyer, G. F.
Freeman, Peter Lowth, Thomas Scrymgeour, E.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Lunn, William Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) Sherwood, G. H.
Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley) MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham) Shield, George William
Gill, T. H. McElwee, A. Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Gillett, George M. McEntee, V. L. Shillaker, J. F.
Gossling, A. G. McShane, John James Shinwell, E.
Granville, E. Mansfield, W. Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Gray, Milner March, S. Simmons, C. J.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Marcus, M. Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.) Markham, S. F. Sitch, Charles H.
Grundy, Thomas W. Marley, J. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Marshall, Fred Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.) Mathers, George Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Matters, L. W. Smith, Tom (Pontefract)
Hardie, George D. Melville, Sir James Snell, Harry
Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Messer, Fred Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)
Haycock, A. W. Mills, J. E. Sorensen, R.
Hayes, John Henry Milner, Major J. Stamford, Thomas W.
Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Montague, Frederick Stephen, Campbell
Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow) Morley, Ralph Strachey, E. J. St. Loe
Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield) Morris-Janes, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Strauss, G. R.
Herriotts, J. Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South) Sutton, J. E.
Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.) Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)
Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth) Mort, D. L. Thurtle, Ernest
Hoffman, P. C. Moses, J. J. H. Tinker, John Joseph
Hollins, A. Muff, G. Turner, B.
Horrabin, J. F. Naylor, T. E. Vaughan, D. J.
Hunter, Dr. Joseph Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Viant, S. P.
Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R. Noel Baker, P. J. Walkden, A. G.
Isaacs, George Oman, Sir Charles William C. Wallace, H. W.
Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Owen, H. F. (Hereford) Watkins, F. C.
John, William (Rhondda, West) Palin, John Henry Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Jones, F. Lleweliyn- (Flint) Palmer, E. T. Wellock, Wilfred
Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Welsh, James (Paisley)
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Perry, S. F. West, F. R.
Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. White, H. G.
Kelly, W. T. Phillips, Dr. Marion Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Kennedy, Thomas Pole, Major D. G. Whiteley, William (Blaydon)
Kinley, J. Potts, John S. Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Knight, Holford Price, M. P. Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Lang, Gordon Quibell, D. J. K. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Lathan, G. Ramsay, T. B. Wilson Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Law, Albert (Bolton) Rathbone, Eleanor Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Law, A. (Rossendale) Raynes, W. R. Young, R. S. (Islington, North)
Lawrence, Susan Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Lawson, John James Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Ritson, J. Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. Paling.
Leach, W. Romeril, H. G.