§ Lord ERSKINE
I beg to move, in page 5, line 11, at the end, to insert the words:Provided that in any case where the holder of a licence has by inadvertence failed to obtain a renewal thereof from the licensing authority within one month after the date on which it ceased to be in force the penalty shall not exceed five pounds in the case of the first offence nor ten pounds in the case of a subsequent offence.This Amendment provides that where a man has failed by inadvertence to take out his driving licence, the penalty shall be reduced the first month from the full penalty, to £5 for the first offence and £10 for a subsequent offence. It may, perhaps, be said that this Amendment is on very much the same lines as the last 2348 Amendment, but there is a material difference, because where it is possible to say that the last Amendment applied to matters which might, indeed, be serious, this Amendment applies to something which is a very minor offence, and can in no way be serious. After all, many of us who drive motor cars forget for a day or two to take out a driver's licence. I have no doubt that that is done by a great many Members on all sides of the House, and I do think that to provide a penalty, such as we have got in the penalty Clause of this Bill, for a mere inadvertence of that type, is something that this House should not enact.
Again, if we look at Subsection (1) of this Clause, we find that the driver's employer is also made liable to this very heavy penalty if he omits to see that the 2349 driver has not taken out his licence. There are a great many companies in this country employing many hundreds of drivers, and it is rather an imposition to put upon them the duty of seeing that through inadvertence a man does not forget to take out his licence. The arguments which were adduced on the Government side in the last Amendment do not apply in this particular case, because this offence cannot be a major offence, but must be a minor offence. I agree that there were certain things in the last Amendment which, if you did not carry them out, would endanger life. In such cases a heavy penalty is deserved, but no one can say that you endanger life if you omit to take out a driver's licence. There was an Amendment of the same type moved in Committee, but it went rather further, and the Government's answer then was that we were opening the door to allowing somebody to forget to take out his licence for a very long time. We have not put down the same Amendment on Report. All that our Amendment does is to give a man a month's grace, and during that month he is liable to the lower penalty. If, on the other hand, it is longer than a month, he comes under the ordinary penalty Clause. I think that the House will agree that this Amendment is a reasonable one.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I hope that, as happened in Committee, this Amendment may not be persisted in. I suggest that we ought not to introduce a new kind of legislation in favour of any class—in this case the motorist class. I am unaware of any principle of legislation under which a man may say, as a matter of positive law, "By inadvertence I have committed a criminal offence"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—a quasi-criminal offence—"and, therefore, I am entitled under the Statute to be punished at a lower rate." Now inadvertence is, of course, a matter for the court to take into consideration. If a man shows, as he generally manages to show, to the satisfaction of the Court that he acted inadvertently, he gets off with a light punishment. I would like to add that this part of the Clause is reproducing the exact wording, or, in effect, the wording of the Motor Car Act, 1903, 2350 which has been in operation for 27 years without any complaint at all on this score, and that exactly the same penalty is provided for in that Act. I would add this further word, that in this Clause we are putting in a concession at the end that if a man is required by a police officer to show his licence, within five days he can bring it along to the police station, and no proceedings will be brought against him. In view of that, I would suggest to the mover of the Amendment that sufficient regard has been had to the position of motorists.
§ Lieut. - Colonel Sir A. LAMBERT WARD
My reason for supporting this Amendment is that the Bill does not differentiate in any way between an offence committed through inadvertence and an offence committed deliberately. The right hon. Gentleman has just said that it would be bad law to differentiate. My reply to that is the old saying, "The law is a hass". An offence committed through inadvertence is surely less serious than one committed deliberately, but the Clause does not distinguish between the man who has obviously forgotten for a few days to renew his licence and the man who deliberately drives a motor car without having taken out a licence at all. I feel there is a case for a lower scale of penalties where it is an oversight. In the case of a driving licence no notice is issued to the holder that the licence is about to expire and I think I am right in saying that is the only case where no notice is issued. If one is a holder of a dog licence, in the majority of cases a notice is received—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]. I have a dog and have received notices to the effect that my licence has expired; and certainly notices are received by the holders of gun licences or game licences, and why should not motorists be placed on the same footing? It is possible for anybody to forget to renew a licence for a few days, and it is absurd that such an offender should be placed on the same footing as a man who deliberately drives a motor car without a licence and chances it.
§ Major HILLS
I feel some difficulty over this Amendment, as I did over the last one, as regarding the weakening of the penalties imposed by this Bill. I cannot forget that we making a tremendous 2351 change in the law which governs the driving of motor cars. We are abolishing the speed limit, and in view of that we have to be very careful to see that the penalties for a breach of the regulations are adequate. I was not able to support the last Amendment and I cannot support this one. First of all, I do not know what inadvertence is. I cannot see how any court can interpret the word "inadvertence," If a man has just made an honest mistake I think we can trust the magistrates to deal with his case. I object to defining too clearly in an Act of Parliament the duty of a magistrate. It is for Parliament to lay down the general principle and for the court to apply that principle. We must not forget that the only real hold we have over the motorist is through his licence. Motorists are getting immense advantages under this Bill. In Committee I sup ported the removal of the speed limit. We cannot overlook the fact that a great many lives are being lost on the roads, and we must be careful to see that the penalties are not made too light. I am quite prepared to trust a magistrate or any court applying this Clause to deal in a reasonable manner with hard eases.
§ Sir GERVAIS RENTOUL
I wish to say a word or two in support of this Amendment. With all respect to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills), his speech was entirely irrelevant, because his appeal to us to consider the great change that has taken place in traffic conditions and the loss of life on the roads had no application to this Amendment. Nobody can suggest that the risk of loss of life is increased because a person has inadvertently forgotten to renew his driving licence for a month. I also wish to say a word in emphasis of the undesirability of creating a large number of new offences, as is done under this Bill, and then laying down an omnibus penalty to apply to all of them, whether they be serious or trivial. That is slovenly legislation. Some attempt ought to be made to adjust the penalty to the particular offence. There should be no difficulty in doing that. There is no reason why we should not, as we go through these Clauses, give some indication of the penalty which we consider would be appropriate, and not leave everything entirely to the discretion of 2352 benches of magistrates. There are good benches, whose discretion can be safely relied upon, but there are others who are not renowned for their judicial temperament, and I would prefer that some indication should be given of the degree of seriousness which Parliament desires to attach to each particular offence.
Sir H. SAMUEL
If this Amendment goes to a division I shall certainly vote against it, if only for the reason given by the Solicitor-General, that it introduces the word "inadvertence" into legislation, where, as he has told us, it is at present unknown. How are we going to interpret that word? What evidence can be adduced by a person to show that he has acted through inadvertence? If he makes a statement, how can it be rebutted by any other evidence? If the Amendment were passed at all it ought to take the form of providing that during the first month a person should be liable to a less penalty. That would be an understandable Amendment; but in its present form the Amendment certainly ought not to be accepted. If the Bill had set out to make two classes of offences and to allot different penalties to those offences, offences of the first degree and offences of the second degree, there might, perhaps, be something to be said for an Amendment here. I think the matter is one of no great importance, because discrimination will necessarily he made by the court. There is always a temptation to Parliament to try cases itself. Hon. Members, placing themselves in the position of benches of magistrates, say, "This man, who has evidently acted carelessly, and has allowed a fortnight to pass before renewing his licence, ought not, of course, to be subjected to so severe a penalty as a man who has allowed six months or a year to elapse.' Probably the court would take that into account. It is a matter for the magistrates. Legislation is one thing and judicial interpretation and application is clearly another. It is not our business to make fine distinctions; we can safely leave them to the courts.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
I want to make an appeal to the Committee. We have a large number of Amendments to deal with and I hope we shall come to a conclusion on this point.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
Could it not be arranged that the licence might be taken out on any day during the year? In that case, we could come to some arrangement by which the licence should expire on the 31st of December, and then there would be no difficulty Whatever.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
There would be a very great difficulty in that case, because it would concentrate the issuing of licences on to one period, and I am afraid that administratively that would be impossible.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
This is only a matter of paying 5s. Fancy fining a man £20, then £50, with the possibility of three months' imprisonment, for not taking out a thing worth 5s. I have forgotten my own licence time and time again, and I am a perfectly decent citizen. Why should I be subjected to such heavy penalties as these which are making motor legislation absurd. I think the Amendment ought to be accepted.
§ Sir W. BRASS
Would it not be possible to give the holder of the licence notice that his licence has run out?
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
I think that would be possible, because records are kept as to when the licence runs out, and some form of notice might be posted. That would involve a good deal of additional work and cost, and I do not see why that cost should be incurred purely for the convenience of people who are unbusinesslike. I do not want to see these people get sloppy, because the taking out of motor licences is something which they ought to remember.
§ Lieut. - Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
May I point out that notices of this kind are sent out in Devonshire and also in Berkshire?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Sir W. BRASS
May I point out to you, Sir, that you have passed over my Amendment to insert in page 5, line 15, the wordsthe passing of an oral examination on the code of the road as laid down by the Minister and the.That is an Amendment of great substance and raises a very important matter.
The right of selection rests with Mr. Speaker, and it is not permissible to debate Amendments not selected.
§ Major HILLS
I proposed an Amendment with the same object in view during the Committee stage, and I was beaten. I do not want to waste time by repeating my argument, but my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) and myself put this Amendment down as a compromise, and I feel that the Ruling of the Chair is preventing a very important question being discussed.
I cannot allow a discussion on Amendments which Mr. Speaker has not selected. It would be most improper and a gross abuse of the Rules of the House to do so.
Amendment made: In page 5, line 28, at the beginning, insert the words:
Subject to the provisions of this Act with respect to provisional licences."—[Mr. H. Morrison.]
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I beg to move, in page 5, line 40, after the word "person," to insert the wordsor by his duly authorised representative.This Clause requires the licensee to produce his licence in person at the police station. Under the present law the driver or the owner is allowed to send someone to represent him. In the discussion on this point which took place on the Committee stage the learned Solicitor-General told us that he did not suppose the police would turn up this Section and prosecute, but surely he does not suggest that the police are not going to carry out the Statute. I think the existing practice ought to be continued. Surely it ought to be sufficient for the police to be satisfied that the person producing the licence is the authorised representative of the holder of the licence. This is a comparatively small matter, but it is the practice at the present time, and if you are going to alter that practice the Statute should be made perfectly clear.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I beg to second the Amendment.
I appeal to the Minister not to look at this matter from a party point of view. What we are trying to do in connection with this Bill is to produce a good Bill, which shall be efficient and 2355 satisfactory to everyone concerned. In this Amendment we merely ask for a small concession, which I think would be very much appreciated. After all, it has been laid down that a person who has forgotten his licence and desires to produce it may take it himself to a police station, and, if there were any question of identity, that would be all right, but that is not the point. This Amendment merely suggests that, instead of having to go himself to the police station with his licence, he should be able to send somebody else whom he has duly authorised to represent him. If there were any real reason against it as far as identification is concerned, I could understand it, but, if there is not, I hope that the Government will be able to accept this very small Amendment.
§ Mr. SHORT
Under this Clause it is the duty of every driver to carry a licence, and it is clear that the legal responsibility is upon him to produce that licence when he is asked to do so. We have already given the motorist a great concession in providing that, if he produces his licence within five days, no prosecution will take place. In this case it is a question of identification——
§ Mr. SHORT
Yes; it is very desirable that, when a driver who is without his licence is called upon to produce it he should produce it in person, and, if he has to take it to a police station, the police should surely be in a position to identify the holder, when we remember the increasing amount of crime as the result of the use of stolen cars, and the fact that the police often have the greatest possible difficulty in tracing stolen cars and deciding who is the culprit. If we accept this Amendment, we shall considerably hamper the police in the execution of a duty which everyone, irrespective of party, desires to be carried out.
As I understand the right hon. Gentleman opposite to challenge me on the question of identification, I would point out that paragraph (i) of Clause 30 provides that the Minister shall be enabled and entitled to make regulations for facilitating the identification of holders of licences. As I have said, the holder of a licence should, according to the law, produce his licence, and the police should 2356 be able to identify him as the holder of the licence. The Minister of Transport will no doubt ensure that the licence shall at any rate bear the signature of the holder, and, when the person who purports to be the holder of the licence appears, he might be asked to sign his name in order that the police may see whether his signature corresponds with that on the licence.
I am not opposing this Amendment for the sake of opposing it, but am seeking to ensure that the police shall be in a position to identify the holder of the licence. I cannot think that the Clause as it stands will involve any real hardship upon the motorist. If, as was said by the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment, there is some practice among the police of satisfying themselves that the person who produces the licence is the authorised representative of the holder, it will no doubt continue, but that is a very different proposition from laying it down in the Statute, and thus facilitating and encouraging those who may have criminal intent.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The Minister of Transport or the Home Secretary ought, consistently with seeing that everyone has a licence, to make it as easy as possible. When you make what is called a concession, you do not want to make it as disagreeable as possible, but to give it as freely as possible and to put the minimum of inconvenience upon the persons concerned. It is quite true that in Committee the Minister did say, in order to make the Clause perfectly fair, that a man need not be fined if he had not his licence with him, provided that he showed it at a police station within five days. The first point that I want to make is that the police station is not one to be decided upon by the police, but is any police station to which the man may decide to go. Therefore, leaving the question of identification aside for the moment, it is obviously much more convenient for the man who has inadvertently left his licence behind if he can send it by an accredited representative. He might be taken ill, or he might the next day be going abroad; there are quite a number of cases in which it would be very inconvenient to him if he were a rich man, and would bear hardly upon his pocket if he were a poor man, to have to attend in person.
2357 When the Under-Secretary pointed out that paragraph (i) of Clause 30, which I had not noticed, would enable the Minister to make regulations for identification, I thought he was making that a ground for obliging the motorist to produce his licence in person, but, surely, if it is only a question of man's signature—for I suppose it is not a question of having a thumb-mark on the licence, and subjecting him to the indignity of having it compared at the police station, but that it is only contemplated that he should be asked to sign the licence—surely, in that case, a letter which would give to the person who brings the licence the power to produce it to the police would be sufficient. The production in person of the licence at any police station would not enable the sergeant or superintendent in charge to know whether the person producing it is the owner of the licence, since in 99 cases out of 100 he will never have seen the owner of the licence before. It is said that he is going to be identified because he will be asked to sign his name and it will be compared with the signature on the licence, and I say that it would be equally sufficient if he were allowed to send his licence by an accredited representative, accompanied by a signed letter which would serve for purposes of identification. It seems to be thoroughly spiteful on the part of the Government to refuse this concession, and, having granted a concession, to make it as disagreeable as possible. If the concession is made, let it be made gracefully and whole-heartedly, and not in any niggardly manner.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
There is nothing in the Clause that assists identification, for it allows the licence to be produced at any police station. The person asked to produce his licence may be a thief who has stolen the car, but he can easily get a licence and call at any police station and produce it. If, under paragraph (i) of Clause 30, it were going to be required that the licence should bear a photograph, like a passport, there might be something to be said for it, because then the holder of the licence would call with it and the photograph could be compared. That would be a real test of identification, but at the present moment it is a sheer piece of annoyance. It should be possible to post a licence with a stamped addressed envelope in which it could be returned to the holder, and even an 2358 representative should not be necessary. A man may be motoring to catch a steamer going to the Continent, and in that case he could not possibly attend within five days. The whole thing is oppressive, and, at any rate, an accredited representative with a proper letter should be quite sufficient for the purpose.
§ Amendment negatived.