HC Deb 08 May 1936 vol 311 cc2057-65

Within one month of the date of expiry of every driving licence the licensing authority shall send by post to the last known address of the holder of the licence a notice reminding him that he will not be entitled to continue to drive a motor vehicle unless the licence is renewed on due date.—[Sir A. Wilson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

12.58 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

It has been a very widespread difficulty on every Bench in the Kingdom for many years past that licences are renewed on any date. Men and women absentmindedly forget to renew their licences and drive for six months or even a year—I have known a case of so driving, for as long as 18 months—without making any attempt to renew their licences. At the present moment no county council or other licensing authority actually sends out a reminder. I see from the criminal statistics for 1933 that no fewer than 219,779 persons were summoned under the Highway Acts for offences in regard to motor cars, of whom 189,000 odd were convicted. I cannot doubt that at least a half of those, possibly more, were in relation to driving licences which had expired and had not been renewed. There are two points of view. One is the point of view of the Treasury. There is no power on the part of a county council when the licence is forwarded to them, perhaps six or eight months late, either to charge a fine or to give a new licence with retrospective effect from the last one, in order to make up the loss caused to the Treasury by the negligence of the applicant. There is not even authority for them to give retrospective effect or to report it to the police and compel a prosecution.

The result is that there has been for a long time past great laxity. Speaking like many other hon. Members of the House, as a Justice of the Peace, I can say with some confidence that probably one licence in every 20, possibly more, is not renewed on due date, and the result is that the list is often burdened with 10 or 20 people who have got into the police net. There are more serious effects than that. If a man's licence has expired, I believe that he is no longer covered by his policy, and that in law the insurance company can repudiate liability as far as the policy is concerned, on the ground that he has not complied with the conditions of the policy, which require him to be in possession of a driving licence which is in force and has not expired. That brings in very elaborate questions of public policy in relation to third party insurance.

We have finally the problem of removals. Something like 10 per cent. of all the holders of licences in this country remove themselves from one dwelling to another in the course of a year, and often it is difficult to trace them. It is seldom, so I gather from the Post Office, that they leave no address behind them, and in practice a post-card reminding them that the licence has to be renewed would, in 99 cases out of 100, and probably 999 cases out of 1,000, be effective. The Bench would be in a far stronger position if they could say, "You have been warned. You had a post-card from the licensing authority nearly a month ago telling you that your licence must be renewed on due date, and you have not done so." There would be no excuse before the Bench in future for absentmindedness or forgetfulness, or for having mislaid the licence or for anything of the sort. Benches and justices of the peace would be in a position to deal far more severely with men and women who had not their licence renewed on due date.

The relief to the police would be very considerable. Every prosecution of this sort involves the attendance of at least one policeman before the Bench, with time off duty for the purpose. Sometimes it involves the attendance of half a dozen policemen, all of whom have to prove the offence, and in more cases than not, the defendants themselves, perhaps lorry drivers, often come from great distances, or private drivers have to lose a day's pay in order to attend the Court and to answer the summons, because, rightly or wrongly, Benches in this country have a habit of being far more severe upon those who fail to appear before them to answer for their conduct than to those who make a humble appearance, and put forward an excuse, however insincere it may be, to their worships. We all feel that way sometimes. I therefore suggest with some confidence to the House, that there is a case for this Clause, or for some form of words which will not merely permit, but require licence authorities to give notice.

When the Post Office renews dog licences or notifications of the Male Servants' Duty or even for armorial bearings to those who are fortunate to have them, a notice is invariably sent in advance from the Post Office to remind them that they have not yet taken out their licence. They send you the blank form by way of encouraging you to fill it in. If you fail to do so, in my experience, you get a note from the local police fiat you have not yet paid the tax that is due. That is one system. I believe that there is also a notification in connect: on with wireless licences, and one of the results is that the prosecutions for failure to take out a wireless licence are far fewer than the prosecutions in respect of motor or driving licences. Although there are at least twice as many wireless licences as driving licences—possibly four times as many—there are far fewer prosecutions. The Minister may be able to tell us how many prosecutions there were last year. Whether there were 30,000 or 60,000, I am not quite sure, but the business of the Courts could be reduced. It is really not to our credit that there should be 189,000 cases, according to the criminal statistics, relating to the highways—a number so great and so large as to enable one to argue that there must have been at least 190,000 policemen occupied for the best part of the day in proving a twopenny-halfpenny offence, the maximum fine for which is normally about 10s.

1.5 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

With regard to a wireless licence, the Post Office always sends a reminder. My experience in regard to dogs is not the same as my hon. Fit end. They never remind me about my dog licence, because, though I have no dog, I have no armorial bearings. In one case I owe the Minister of Transport 7s. 6d. Some years ago I parked my car in a parking place not far from this House, and I did not realise that only one side of the street was available. I had to shelter from a very heavy storm, and when I got back a policeman told me that I had no right to be there. I told him that I had. He asked me to produce my driving licence, and I produced it and found that it was 18 months out of date. I thought that I should get into trouble, but instead, I received a notice saying that I must not do it again. Therefore, I was not fined. It was a pure inadvertence on my part, as I was in Canada when the time for renewing the licence came. The net result was that the Ministry of Transport lost 7s. 6d. There must be very heavy losses to the revenue in this way. It is very unsatisfactory that prosecutions should take place when people have no intention whatever of disobeying the law. It is not easy to remember all these things. In Wartime days we were all documented and could be easily identified, but to-day it is different. We ought to be reminded annually when the new licence is due to be taken out, and then we should cheerfully pay our licence fee.

1.7 p.m.


I would ask the Minister to do something to meet us in regard to this matter. There are many motorists who have no intention whatever of defrauding the local authorities by not applying for the licence. They forget about it, and the first time they realise that anything is wrong is when, in many cases, they go for their holidays. They set off in August, and the first thing that happens is that they get into a police trap, which is there for the purpose of catching people who have not a licence. Last year, in August, I was motoring to Scotland and between Lancaster and Penrith I came to three distinct places where the police were stopping people, to see whether they had driving licences. They had worked the scheme out very thoroughly. They knew the number of your car, and one policeman stamped it so that the other people on the road would know that you had already been stopped and had passed through one of the traps. It is not a very pleasant thing.

The reason why a person has not renewed his licence is very often because he may have been abroad, or may have been very busy and have forgotten to make application. People, perhaps, do not think about it until a day or so before it is time to renew the licence, and perhaps they wait another day or two, with the result that the licence is not applied for until three or four days after it became due. The licence is only renewed from the date of the application. Therefore, for three or four days they may have been driving a motor car without having been licensed. As we proceed nowadays, we seem to have more and more licences to think about. This morning I was making a list. First, there is the wireless licence, then the dog licence, then the male servants' licence, the armorial bearings licence, the driving licence, the game licence, the firearm licence and, lastly, you have to get the licence for your motor car. [An HON. MEMBER: "And your marriage licence."] Yes, and your marriage licence. If the Minister could see his way to remind unfortunate motorists when, it is time to take out another licence it might save the motorist from having one extra summons when, perhaps, he has been rim in for parking his car on the wrong side of the street, or for having no light, or for exceeding the 30 mile speed limit.

1.11 p.m.


In the Committee stage of the Bill a new Clause designed for the same purposes as this Clause was negatived because, as drawn, it would have had no operative effect, and I am afraid that the present Clause is also open to that objection. In listening to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) I was not impressed with the arguments that he put forward. We are not likely to get more revenue by this system of reminders, because we have to face up to the charge of notifying 3,500,000 people per annum. Nor is it likely to make much difference to the work of the courts, because in these cases if the law puts a statutory obligation on the council to notify, it might leave a loophole to the driver of a car who is charged with an offence to say that he had not received his statutory reminder.

Having said that, let me tell the House that since the Clause was placed on the Order Paper I have had the opportunity of ascertaining the views of the Minister of Transport, and I am glad to be able to say that he is impressed by the importance which hon. Members attach to this subject. I understand that he is prepared to adopt a different attitude from that of his predecessors and, what- ever may be the fate of this Bill, to instruct county councils and borough councils when they issue driving licences in future to copy the name and address of the licensee on a reminder form, to be despatched shortly before the expiring day. In view of that assurance of what the Minister intends to do, I hope that my hon. Friend will not press his Clause.

1.14 p.m.


I am glad to hear the reassuring words of the hon. Member. This Clause has a great amount of substance in it. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox), because I know that he motors to Scotland a great deal. It is right that the views of a Scottish Member should be heard on this matter. I am glad to have an assurance that the Minister will act in future in a very different way from that of his predecessors. The motorist is well worthy of consideration. The tendency of recent legislation has been to make it more difficult for people to drive cars on our great highways. I do not suggest that motorists ought not to be hemmed in with a certain amount of legislation, having regard to the enormous increase every year in the number of motor vehicles which are owned by almost every section of the community. I do not say that it is not necessary, in view of the number of road hogs among motorists, but at the same time the tendency of legislation has been to make things more difficult for the motorists, and I am delighted that the Minister of Transport is at last going to do something which will make things more convenient for them. In other words, the officials will be given something to do. They will now have to remind the large number of motorists throughout the country that their licence has expired, and thus save them from a great deal of fussy interference on the part of local authorities.

1.16 p.m.


I should like to say one word in amplification of what the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) has said. We are asking the hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) to withdraw the proposed Clause on the assurance which has been given that the Minister of Transport will deal with this matter in the way which the hon. Member for Sunderland has outlined; that is, he will instruct county councils and county borough councils that when they issue a driving licence they should at the same time copy the name and address of the licensee on a reminder form and despatch it a few days before the licence becomes out of date.


Will the hon. Member indicate the authority under which the Minister can act in this matter?

Captain HUDSON

The Minister has the power under Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which replaces powers given by the Motor Car Act, 1903, and enables the Minister to make regulations generally with regard to licences, and in particular with regard to the record of licences.


Does it give him authority to pass ant charge on to the subject?

Captain HUDSON

It allows the Minister, after having instructed the county council to do these things, to pay out of the Road Fund an equivalent amount, for any expenses. We do not anticipate that the expenses will be very heavy. There is one point I should like to make clear. The hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin said that in his opinion the law was that if you do not hold a current driving licence your third party insurance becomes void. That is a view which is commonly held; but it is not correct. The only requirement is that a driver must at some time have held a driving licence and that he must not at the moment be disqualified from holding a driving licence. Considerable apprehension has been caused by people not quite realising the position. I cannot say how many prosecutions have taken place, but, at the same time, we want to meet the will of the House in this matter, and I hope the assurance I have given on behalf of my right hon. Friend will meet their wishes, and that licences will be renewed a little more punctually than in the past.

1.20 p.m.


I should like to ask whether the Order will be made by the Minister under his statutory powers? If so, it will have statutory force. In that event, will a person who is summoned for not having a driving licence or for not taking out a driving licence be able to plead that the statutory requirements have not been complied with in so far as the duty imposed on a county council by the Minister of Transport has not been fulfilled of notifying a driver that his licence has expired? I gathered from the promoter of the Bill that the Minister was doing this by regulation, but if he does it under statutory authority it will have statutory force, and may cause complications.

Captain HUDSON

It will have to be proved that the council has sent out the reminder, and not that the man has received it. It does not relieve motorists from any obligation, as suggested by the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie).


I never intended to suggest that. What I meant to say was that it would make it a little easier for those whose memories are short if they received a reminder.

Captain HUDSON

We do not want motorists to think that they are relieved of their obligation of renewing their licences.


In view of the most satisfactory statement of the Parliamentary Secretary, for which I thank him, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.