HC Deb 22 July 1930 vol 241 cc2082-9
Colonel ASHLEY

I beg to move, in page 89, line 18, to leave out paragraph (a).

I have always understood that English law assumed that a person was innocent until he is proved to be guilty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I hope to have the support of hon. Members opposite in this Amendment. This paragraph says exactly the reverse. It states that: the owner of the vehicle shall give such information as he may be required by or on behalf of a chief officer of police to give as to the identity of the driver, and, if he fails to do so, shall be guilty of an offence, unless he shows to the satisfaction of the court that he did not know and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained who the driver was. According to this paragraph, if the driver does not give such information as is required by the chief officer of police he is guilty of an offence unless he can prove that he knew nothing about it. That is a very grave departure from the ordinary procedure of our law and the ordinary rules of law. I do not see why the Government should single out the owner of a motor car for this new form of law. It should be for the police to prove that he did know and could have given the information which he ought to have given, not for the law to assume that he is guilty unless he can prove his innocence. This Amendment was moved in Committee and there was really no answer from the learned Solicitor-General. He was courteous and nice, as he always is, and may I say that he assisted us greatly in our deliberations upstairs, but he had no answer to the arguments put forward on this point. This is an alteration of the whole procedure of our law; a man is to be regarded as guilty of an offence unless he can prove that he is innocent. If I can persuade any of my hon. Friends to act with me I propose to divide the House on this Amendment.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir James Melville)

I am surprised that the right hon. and gallant Member should move this Amendment to-night because only a few days ago he agreed with the arguments I put to the House on a somewhat similar Amendment, which proposed to impose a duty upon the owner of a vehicle to give information where the facts led the chief officer of police to suppose that a vehicle was being driven in contravention of the provisions of this Bill with regard to compulsory insurance. The right hon. Gentleman then felt that it was necessary in the interest of the efficient administration of justice, that the owner of a vehicle, who was the person most likely to have the information, should give it in case of a possible contravention of the provisions of this Bill with regard to compulsory insurance. If that was a right and proper position to adopt, how much more proper is it that the owner of a vehicle should give information to the police if he has it in his power, not as to the facts concerning the commission of an offence, but as to the identity of the driver who may have driven away and whose identity may be unknown. We are not asking a man to convict himself at all. We are simply asking the House to say that it is right that where the driver of a vehicle may have knocked down a man and driven away, and may be completely lost to the police, and where it may be obvious that an offence has been committed by someone, one should be able to say to the owner of the vehicle, "Now, we want you to be good enough to tell us whether you know who was the person who was driving your vehicle."

I submit that such a provision is most necessary if the law, particularly in the case of dangerous driving, is to be made effective. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman may see the matter in the same light as he saw it in the other day. One ought not to be too technical in this matter. There are instances in the law where the presumption of innocence is reversed. If you are found in possession of explosives, the law puts upon you the liability of explaining the innocence of that possession. Otherwise you are guilty of an offence. The man who is in possession of a powerful vehicle is just as much in possession of a dangerous weapon as if he is in possession of an explosive. We are not going as far as that; we are simply saying that if the law is to be effectively and properly administered, it should be the duty of the owner of the vehicle, if he has the information in his possession, to tell the police who was the driver of the offending vehicle.

Colonel ASHLEY

Will the learned Solicitor-General answer my simple point? Are you not saving here that a man shall be guilty of an offence unless he proves that he was innocent? You are therefore changing the general law of England?


I do not think so. What one is doing is asking the man, if he has the information, to give it, as to the identity of the driver. If he has the information and does not give it he would undoubtedly be guilty of an offence. I do not profess to say that in that respect it is not making a change in the law, but, after all, this House has to make changes in the law if the changes are right and proper. I do not admit for a moment that we are enacting a new principle. I have pointed out one instance and I could point out others, notably the case of a person in possession of stolen goods. There the law again imposes an obligation on the defendant to account for the possession. I think the House will be satisfied that where there has been a case of dangerous driving and the driver has gone off in the darkness of the night, it is only right and proper that the owner of the vehicle if he knows who the driver was, should disclose the fact.


The argument of the learned Solicitor-General is really in strong support of the plea for the deletion of paragraph (a). The Solicitor-General says that it is meet and proper that anyone, such as an owner, having the information shall give that information, and, if he does not give the information, that he shall be guilty of an offence. That is an argument which appeals to me very strongly, and that is that sort of law which I wish to see in the Bill, but paragraph (a) is not carrying out the purpose stated by the Solicitor-General. It puts the onus on the owner of any vehicle to give the name of the driver, and, if he is unable to give it, then he is to be guilty of an offence unless he can prove that he did not know, or, as the more objectionable part of the paragraph runs, unless "he could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained." He may not even know but he will be guilty of an offence unless he can explain away his ignorance. I think the Minister ought to be satisfied with paragraph (b) which provides that any other person shall, if required as aforesaid, give any information which it is in his power to give and which may lead to the identification of the driver, What wider power can the Minister demand? I remember that upstairs we had an argument as to whether under paragraph (a) the Minister was not going further than the ordinary law of the land. One of the arguments advanced was that if a man's wife was driving a car of which he was the owner, then in a Court of Law, under the ordinary law the wife could not give evidence against the husband, or the husband against the wife. Yet the Minister was daring to interfere in domestic relations and bringing in the husband to give evidence against the wife. That was one argument, but there are many others. In Clause 120 there is a definition of an owner as a man in possession of a motor car under a hire purchase agreement. What is the position of a man who owns a car under a hire purchase agreement, if he is riding in that hired car and the driver of the car commits an offence? The hirer of the vehicle is placed in the ambiguous position of having to tell who the driver was, and if he cannot do so of proving that he could not with reasonable diligence have found out. The Government

are going further than the law demands. It is true that under the larceny law and the explosives law there is that presumption of crime if a man cannot give a reasonable explanation, but it is against the purpose of the law of the land to add to those examples of throwing the burden of proof from the prosecution on to the defence. The Solicitor-General should really take care to guard the law from the iniquity that we get across the Channel, where a man is put into the dock and has to prove his innocence. It is not a large demand which we are making, and I hope that it will be acceded to.

Commander SOUTHBY

I should like to ask why it is necessary to treat the owner of a vehicle in a different way from any other person? The point made by my hon. Friend was that the owner is guilty of an offence unless he can prove that he did not know. Any other person is only guilty of an offence if he does not give the information which it is in his power to give. There is no suggestion that any other person should have to prove it was not in his power to give information. I ask the Solicitor-General why the wretched owner has to prove something that it is not in his power to prove.


It is because the owner has, after all, a great deal more to do with the car than any other person. It seems reasonable that one should be able to ask him questions direct.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 246; Noes, 113.

Division No. 453.] AYES. [10.53 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Barr, James, Brooke, W.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Batey, Joseph Brothers, M.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Cralgie M. Bennett, Capt. Sir E. N. (Cardiff C.) Brown, Ernest (Leith)
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro') Benson, G. Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)
Ammon, Charles George Bentham, Dr. Ethel Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)
Arnott, John Birkett, W. Norman Buchanan, G.
Aske, Sir Robert Blindell, James Burgess, F. G.
Attlee, Clement Richard Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)
Ayles, Walter Bowen, J. W. Calne, Derwent Hall-
Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Cameron, A. G.
Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley) Broad, Francis Alfred Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)
Barnes, Alfred John Bromley, J. Charleton, H. C.
Clarke, J. S. Kirkwood, D. Raynes, W. R.
Cluse, W. S. Lang, Gordon Richards, R.
Compton, Joseph Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Cowan, D. M. Lathan, G. Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Daggar, George Law, Albert (Bolton) Ritson, J.
Dallas, George Law, A. (Rossendale) Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)
Dalton, Hugh Lawrence, Susan Romeril, H. G.
Davies, E. C. (Montgomery) Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge) Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lawson, John James Rowson, Guy
Day, Harry Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Salter, Dr. Alfred
Denman, Hon. R. D. Leach, W. Sanders, W. S.
Dukes, C. Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.) Sawyer, G. F.
Duncan, Charles Lees, J. Scrymgeour, E.
Ede, James Chuter Lewis, T. (Southampton) Scurr, John
Edge, Sir William Lloyd, C. Ellis Sexton, James
Edmunds, J. E. Logan, David Gilbert Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Edwards, E. (Morpeth) Longbottom, A. W. Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Egan, W. H. Longden, F. Sherwood, G. H.
Elmley, Viscount Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Shield, George William
Forgan, Dr. Robert Lowth, Thomas Shillaker, J. F.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Lunn, William Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) Simmons, C. J.
Gill, T. H. MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Sinkinson, George
Glassey, A. E. Macdonald, Sir M. (Inverness) Sitch, Charles H.
Gossling, A. G. McElwee, A. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Gould, F. McEntee, V. L. Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) McGovern, J. (Glasgow, Shettleston) Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) McKinlay, A. Smith, Tom (Pontefract)
Gray, Milner Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne) McShane, John James Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Mansfield, W. Sorensen, R.
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.) March, S. Stamford, Thomas W.
Groves, Thomas E. Marcus, M. Stephen, Campbell
Grundy, Thomas W. Marley, J. Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Marshall, Fred Strauss, G. R.
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Mathers, George Sullivan, J.
Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Matters, L. W. Sutton, J. E.
Harris, Percy A. Melville, Sir James Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)
Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Messer, Fred Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)
Hastings, Dr. Somerville Middleton, G. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Haycock, A. W. Millar, J. D. Tinker, John Joseph
Hayday, Arthur Mills, J. E. Tout, W. J.
Hayes, John Henry Milner, Major J. Townend, A. E.
Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.) Montague, Frederick Vaughan, D. J.
Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow) Morgan, Dr. H. B. Viant, S. P.
Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield) Morley, Ralph Walkden, A. G.
Herriotts, J. Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South) Walker, J.
Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth) Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.) Wallace, H. W.
Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Mort, D. L. Watkins, F. C.
Hoffman, P. C. Moses, J. J. H. Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Hollins, A. Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick) Wellock, Wilfred
Hopkin, Daniel Muff, G. Welsh, James (Paisley)
Horrabin, J. F. Muggeridge, H. T. Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)
Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Murnin, Hugh West, F. R.
Hunter, Dr. Joseph Naylor, T. E. Westwood, Joseph
Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R. Noel Baker, P. J. White, H. G.
Isaacs, George Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.) Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Oldfield, J. R. Whiteley, William (Blaydon)
John, William (Rhondda, West) Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston) Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Johnston, Thomas Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley) Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Jones, F. Llewellyn- (Flint) Palin, John Henry Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Perry, S. F. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. Phillips, Dr. Marion Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Jowitt, Sir W. A. (Preston) Potts, John S. Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford) Price, M. P. Young, R. S. (Islington, North)
Kelly, W. T. Quibell, D. F. K.
Kennedy, Thomas Ramsay, T. B. Wilson TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Kinley, J. Rathbone, Eleanor Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. Paling.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut-Colonel Beaumont, M. W. Butler, R. A.
Albery, Irving James Bird, Ernest Roy Cautley, Sir Henry S.
Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.) Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh) Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W. Chadwick, Capt. Sir Robert Burton
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Bracken, B. Christie, J. A.
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Braithwaite, Major A. N. Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.
Atkinson, C. Briscoe, Richard George Crookshank, Capt. H. C.
Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet) Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)
Balniel, Lord Buckingham, Sir H. Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey
Davies, Dr. Vernon Lamb, Sir J. Q. Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Llewellin, Major J. J. Smithers, Waldron
Duckworth, G. A. V. Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey Somerset, Thomas
Edmondson, Major A. J. Lymington, Viscount Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Elliot, Major Walter E. Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)
Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.) Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Falle, Sir Bertram G. Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Ferguson, Sir John Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B. Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)
Fermoy, Lord Moore, Sir Newton J. (Richmond) Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)
Fielden, E. B. Morden, Col. W. Grant Tinne, J. A.
Fison, F. G. Clavering Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester) Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Ford, Sir P. J. Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive Todd, Capt. A. J.
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Muirhead, A. J. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement.
Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey & Otley) Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Turton, Robert Hugh
Glyn, Major R. G. C. O'Connor, T. J. Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon
Gowar, Sir Robert Oman, Sir Charles William C. Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)
Greene, W. P. Crawford O'Neill, Sir H. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert
Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Warrender, Sir Victor
Gunston, Captain D. W. Reid, David D. (County Down) Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Rentoul, Sir Gervais S. Wayland, Sir William A.
Hammersley, S. S. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y) Wells, Sydney R.
Hartington, Marquess of Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall) Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)
Haslam, Henry C. Ross, Major Ronald D. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley) Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Womersley, W. J.
Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford) Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton
Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.
Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Hurd, Percy A. Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Belfst.) Sir Frederick Thomson and Sir
Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton) Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam) George Penny.