HC Deb 26 July 1934 vol 292 cc2114-22
Lords Amendment

In page 4, leave out lines 34 to 38 and insert: (2) In subsection (1) of section ton of the principal Act the words and if any person acts in contravention of this section he shall be guilty of an offence ' shall cease to have effect and after the said subsection (1) the following subsection shall be inserted: '(1A) A person convicted of driving a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a speed limit imposed by or tinder any enactment shall in respect of that offence be liable on summary conviction to a fine not' exceeding twenty pounds, and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds. The provisions of this subsection shall have effect in substitution for any provision made by or under any other enactment relating to a speed limit for determining the punishment by way of fine or imprisonment to which a person convicted of driving a motor vehicle as aforesaid is to be liable in respect of that offence.' (3) The following subsections shall be substituted for subsections (2) and (3) of the said section ten: '(2) A first or second conviction for driving a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a speed limit imposed by or under any enactment shall not render the person convicted liable to be disqualified for holding or obtaining a licence. (3) A person prosecuted for driving a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a speed limit imposed by or under any enactment shall not be liable to be convicted solely on the evidence of one witness to the effect that in the opinion of the witness the person prosecuted was driving the vehicle at a speed exceeding that limit.' (4) The following proviso shall be substituted for proviso (a) to subsection (4) of the said section ten:—

1.5 a.m.


I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 32, after "witness," to insert: whether or not such opinion is corroborated by that witness while driving a motor vehicle having observed the speed indicated on a speedometer. The object of my Amendment is to prevent a motor cyclist pursuing a motor car and watching his speedometer, instead of watching what he is doing. There should be two people, one seeing that the car does not run into the vehicle in front, as he might do when watching the speedometer. This particular point was raised on the Report stage in this House, and the Minister said that he would consider it. It is a very important Amendment and one which I hope the Minister will be able to accept. Quite a lot of accidents might happen as a result of one person pursuing a motor car and trying to keep at a certin distance from the vehicle while watching the speedometer at the same time. If the Minister would accept this Amendment it would mean that the pursuing car would be much safer than if there were only one person in the car, or if a motor bicycle were used for the purpose.


I beg to second the Amendment to the Lords Amendment.

1.6 a.m.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate our attitude to this Amendment. As my hon. Friend explained to the House in moving the first Amendment to which these particular Amendments are consequential, the object is to bring uniformity into the law with regard to three or four matters, one of which was the corroboration of evidence, as to which there was in the Act of 1930 points similar to those now under discussion. In respect to local speed limits, no corroboration was necessary. It is pursuant to that difference in uniformity that the words on the paper exactly reproduce the words in the Act of 1930 and make them applicable to all speed limits whatever their source or origin may be. I appreciate the point which my hon. and gallant Friend has put. Still we cannot accept his Amendment. These words have been operative for three or four years. My hon. and gallant Friend foresees disabilities and disadvantages flowing from them. I can reassure him, so far as the police are concerned, that it has been, and will continue to be, the aim and practice of the authorities to see that two men are present. That is what he desires and what will in fact be done. But I do not think it would be right to tie the hands of the courts by inserting the words he has suggested. There may be other occasions when there may be other witnesses than policemen. My hon. and gallant Friend may see someone driving to the danger of the public and, in the fufilment of a public duty follow him and take the speed from his speedometer, say in the neighbourhood of 60 miles an hour. The man may be deserving of a severe sentence. My hon. and gallant Friend may not have anyone with him. So far as the police are concerned, we realise the point. It is the practice to see that there are two men in the vehicle, but we do not think it would be right to tie the hands of the court by accepting the words suggested.

1.8 a.m.

Lieut. - Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON

The Solicitor-General, in pointing out what was little known in the country, has performed a duty. He has pointed out the difference between a conviction when you are exceeding the speed limit which is national and a conviction when you are exceeding the speed limit of a local authority. As the House is aware, there have been many cases where the opinion of one policeman was enough to convict people. That was thoroughly unsatisfactory. It is a relief to find that in future, as in the past under the old twenty-miles an hour speed limit, you must have the evidence of two people.

1.9 a.m.


The hon. and gallant Member may have mis- understood what I said. The words which we propose to insert by the last Amendment are the words of the Act of 1930. These words have been construed as meaning that one witness may be corroborated by a speedometer. I did not intend to give the House the impression that under these words there will always be two witnesses. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's Amendment was to say that one man's speedometer was not enough, as in the 1930 Act. All I said was that we could not accept his Amendment, but we gave an assurance that in practice, as far as the police vehicles were concerned, we do endeavour always to have two witnesses. It is the fact, however, that the corroboration which is required by the 1930 Act is satisfied by the corroboration of the speedometer.

1.11 a.m.

Lieut. - Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for explaining something about which I am quite clear. Now we have two witnesses—one the policeman and one the speedometer. That is a very puzzling position. The policeman's state. ment is a simple statement of opinion as he approaches or overtakes a vehicle. He has to steer out of the road and compare his own speed against the car he is trying to trap and at the same time he has to look at his speedometer. It is one of the most unreliable forms of evidence ever put before a court. It is quite good enough, of course, to convict any motorist. We are to be treated under this type of legislation in a way which would not be tolerated in any other walk of life.

1.13 a.m.


think the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made a slight slip in speaking of corroboration. He spoke of witnesses being corroborated by the speedometer. That is the whole point. The whole history of this matter is very interesting. In the 1930 Act, Parliament said that a man should not be convicted for exceeding the speed limit on the opinion of one witness. The Divisional Courts said that where there might be one witness who said "Not only did I think that man was going beyond the limit, but my speedometer told me so", that was not merely his opinion. The courts have not said that was corro- boration. There are many of us who practise in the courts who would be inclined to support my hon. and gallant Friend, and I would ask the Solicitor-General to reconsider this question very carefully.

1.14 a.m.


There is one question I should like to raise arising out of the illustration used by the hon and learned Gentleman, in which he referred to it being desired in the public interest to obtain evidence against a motorist for breaking the law. He said he might follow him in a car and notice the speedometer going at sixty miles an hour. I would ask him if he does that through a built-up area and he gives evidence against the man for breaking the law, could not he himself be convicted of breaking the law also? Would not that apply equally to anyone who was not an hon. Member of this House?

1.15 a.m.


I do hope the Minister will give further consideration to this matter. I do not think anyone can be satisfied that no injustice can arise, because the policeman happened to be on a motor-bike with a speedometer or in a car with a speedometer which showed that the policeman's evidence was corroborated by the speedometer. That seems to me to be a weak argument to bring forward. How is the policeman's evidence corroborated by the speedometer? There is no permanent record of what the speedometer had told that policeman, and therefore I submit that the argument used is irrevalent to the very deep objection that we feel on this matter. I believe that at Oxford, which has been mentioned, they do not convict on the evidence of a single witness. They must have corroborative evidence. We are told that with regard to the Metropolitan police we are always going to have corroborative evidence. I suggest that this is not the type of offence' in which it may be necessary—as in the case of murder—to take one witness and build up a case on circumstantial evidence. In a case like this, do, for goodness sake, give way as far as you can so as to give a sense of justice and fair play to those people who are going to be liable to be penalized for using the roads. If we say that there shall be corroborative evidence before conviction, it should not be too difficult for us to say that where a policeman gives evidence there must, according to the law of the land, be corroborative evidence. I suggest that in no other case before the courts would the evidence of one witness be taken as being of such a nature that you should inflict heavy penalties on a man who, if the witness's evidence be correct, has been guilty of an offence. I appeal to the Government to give way on this matter and to say that there must be corroborative evidence before people have their licences taken away.

1.17 a.m.


I should like to support the Amendment to the Lords Amendment for the reason that the Solicitor-General himself quoted in somewhat different words. It appears to me that the actual intention in the first instance, when words of this description were used, was that where single witnesses give evidence a man should not be convicted on a question of speed. The fact that the courts at a later stage have held that the intention of those who introduced a measure of this description was not actually carried into effect—as those who are now suggesting the acceptance of the Amendment are implying by it—does riot cover the point, because the Solicitor-General himself has said that it is the practice in the case of police officers to have two witnesses. Why two? If it be necessary in the case of police officers, it is perfectly obvious that it ought to be necessary in the case of civilians who give evidence. In my view, and I think in the view of most reasonable people, the question of speed stands in a different category from the question of dangerous or negligent driving. In these offences, of course, there is no necessity to have corroboration, and you can be convicted for dangerous driving on the evidence of one witness. That being the case, those who transgress in respect of more serious matters are covered by the fact that evidence may be given by one person.

With regard to speed, which does not come under the same category, my view is that it was not intended at the time when this or a similar Clause was put into the previous Act, that it should come under the same category. Otherwise, there would have been no purpose in putting it in. One can quite understand that no court would have been likely to convict an individual for travelling at an excessive speed if one person had gone into the box and had said, "I think the man was travelling at such and such a speed." That would have been absurd in itself. The courts themselves have sufficient common sense, with all their failings, not to rely entirely on the word of a person who has not looked at something. It must obviously mean that a person, even though he did have some means in his possession of estimating the speed, should not have his evidence accepted unless he had some other individual to come forward and corroborate his evidence. I think there will be no harm done in what,was obviously the intention of those who supported a similar provision in the previous Act, if their point of view were put into proper effect now by the insertion of these words, particularly in view of the penalties. After all, there are serious penalties being imposed now. Everyone is most anxious that) there should be no deaths on the roads and as few accidents as can possibly take place. I do not think this Amendment will interfere with the reduction of accidents.

1.21 a.m.


This Amendment raises questions of very great importance. In the past we have thought of a speed limit as something enforced by a speed trap—a policeman at one point, another policeman at another point, stop watches, and means of communication between the two points. We know, or we think we know, from what we were told in Committee by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Labour that there is no intention whatsoever to have speed traps. The method is to be the method of the following police car. A policeman, when he sees a car exceeding thirty miles an hour in a built-up area, will follow that car, watch the speedometer for a period, and, when he he has come to the conclusion that the driver has broken the law, speed up and overtake him and bring him to a stop. It is obvious, in actual practice, that with a speed limit of thirty miles an hour you will not get many prosecutions unless the speed is in the neighbourhood of thirty-five miles an hour. If it be thirty-five miles an hour, the police car will have to overtake and drive to the grave danger of the public, at a speed of about ten miles in excess. The prosecuting car has got to record a speed of forty-five miles an hour in order to bring a case against a member of the public because he is driving at over thirty miles an hour.

I deliberately voted against the Government, because we were going to discuss this matter so late. The matters in this clause are of the utmost gravity. We are going to imperil the lives of people because police cars will be driven recklessly to carry out the mandates we are discussing. I would like the Solicitor-General to tell the House whether the other exemptions in the Bill given to fire engines, water carts and other things, apply also to policemen driving at a speed which is a public danger. I hope he will say whether a policeman shall be prosecuted for driving at forty-five miles an hour in a built-up area for the purposes of establishing a prosecution against a private citizen driving at thirty-five miles an hour.

Question, "That these words be there inserted in the Lords Amendment," put, and negatived.

Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 4, at the end, insert: () The references in subsections (5) and (6) of the said section ten to an offence under the said section and the reference in subsection (6) thereof to an infringement of the provisions of the said section, shall be deemed to include references to driving a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a speed limit imposed by or under any enactment.

1.24 a.m.


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

As I have already explained to the House, the provisions of the principal Act make it an offence to aid, abet, procure or incite a person to commit an offence against the speed limit. This extends the provisions of the principal Act to local orders such as the Oxford order.

1.25 a.m.


Do I understand that, if a person was driving in a vehicle, and he was in a hurry to catch his train, and he said to his chauffeur that he wanted to hurry up, and, as a result of those instructions to his chauffeur, he was caught in a speed trap in a lamp-lit area, he would be prosecuted under Subsection (5) of Section 10 of the principal Act? That particular Subsection was not really dealing with the case of private vehicles at all, but with heavy vehicles under the First Schedule of the Act of 1930. Now the Bill will bring into that category of aiding and abetting everyone sitting in a private car whose chauffeur exceeds thirty miles an hour in a lamp-lit area.

Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 11, At the end, insert: