HC Deb 03 June 1937 vol 324 cc1279-308

9.17 p.m.

Colonel Sandeman Allen

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations, 1937, dated the 24th day of March, 1937, made by the Minister of Transport under and by virtue of the powers conferred on him by the Road Traffic Act, 1930, a copy of which Regulations was presented to this House on the 15th day of April, 1937, be annulled. Before I address myself to the Motion, may I congratulate the Ministry of Transport on the Minister they have obtained and the Minister on his job? I would like to condole with him at finding this illegitimate baby on the doorstep. The father of the child, I understand, has joined the Army. It may be asked why these Regulations should be annulled and not amended. The reason is that the procedure laid down in the Road Traffic Act, 1930, Section 111, does not allow of any Amendment of the Regulations but provides for their withdrawal and their reintroduction later, amended as they should be. The Regulations started with the Motor Car Act of 1903, they were brought up to date in 1931, and in the subsequent years 1933–35 there were various additions. The present Regulations are chiefly consolidation, and if they are withdrawn for a short period before they are reintroduced there will he no alteration in the Regulations which exist at the present moment and no hardship will be caused on that account.

There are 97 Regulations; 93 of them are all right and nobody will have any grumble against them. Numbers 11, 70, 93 and 95, however, have objectionable matter within them. The main gravamen of our complaint is against Regulation 95. The vice in it is contained in the last three lines. The regulations says: Any police constable in uniform, and any person for the time being appointed by the Minister of Transport as a Certifying Officer or Public Service Vehicle Examiner under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, or as an Examiner under the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, who shall produce his authority if required, is hereby empowered to test and inspect either on a road or, subject to the consent of the owner of the premises. on any premises where the vehicle is, any brakes, silencers or steering gear fitted to a motor vehicle or trailer. All that is necessary is to get the consent of the owner of the premises; I can only presume that that was put in to avoid any trouble over the law of trespass in order to protect the rights of property. But is not a car property, and are not the rights of the owner worthy of protection? How can the brakes and steering gear be tested in the garage? Possibly the silencer can be tested, but is that a fair test, because the test of a silencer is whether it makes an unnecessary amount of noise when running on the road? At any rate, if the silencer of the car has to be tested the engine must be started up. A great many motor-car owners, including myself, invariably in the winter empty the radiator when we leave cars in the garages. Without my knowledge, and subject only to the consent of the owner of the garage, a police officer or inspector can come along and start the engine to see whether the silencer is satisfactory. What will happen to the engine if it is run for a very few minutes Without any water? It might well be that the oil wants renewing and severe damage may ensue to the engine.

In this Regulation there is an implied power to remove the car in order to test it for brakes and steering. You cannot test the car for brakes very easily when it is stationary unless you have a braking machine. You certainly cannot test it for steering when it is stationary—at least to my knowledge, and I have driven for 28 years and know something about driving a car. Moreover, it cannot be inspected without a certain amount of dismantling. Who will take responsibility for the contents of the car if anybody is to be allowed to play about with it outside the garage? Suppose an inspector takes the car out to test it and there is an accident, who will pay for the damage, whether it be third-party or any other damage? Many owners of cars have policies of insurance which preclude anybody but the owner from driving, and under Section 35 of the Road Traffic Act it is laid down: Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, it shall not be lawful for any person to use, or to cause or permit any other person to use, a motor vehicle on a road unless there is in force in relation to the user of the vehicle by that person or that other person, as the case may be, such a policy of insurance or such a security in respect of third-party risks as complies with the requirements of this Part of this Act. If there is an accident while this test is being carried out without the owner's knowledge, and the policy of the owner covers only him when driving, who will pay for the damage? A question was asked in the House the other day on the subject of control, and the reply was that the Home Secretary had notified chief constables that they were not to press this matter too far. I hope to deal with that point in a few minutes. In the Standing Committee on the Road Traffic Bill in 1930, the question was raised as to what was to happen in this matter, and the Minister of Transport, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), said that he proposed to put down an Amendment for the Report stage so as to make the latter part of the paragraph read somewhat on the following lines: and for empowering persons authorised by or under the Regulations to test and inspect any such brakes, silencers or steering gear either on the road or after giving due notice to the owner of the vehicle at such reasonable times and places as may be specified in the notice'." [OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee C), l0th April, 1930; Col. 648.] These were the words the then Minister of Transport used. He said that he would embody the words in the Bill. On the Report stage of the Bill the Minister moved an Amendment which was not in those specific words. Neither he nor anybody else noticed it and the wording "the owner of the premises," crept in.

I am not a lawyer but I would like to ask, Who is the owner of the premises? Is it the lessee or is it the actual owner? Suppose I were to own motor garage premises in Brighton and had leased them to an automobile engineer for three, seven or 10 years, is he the owner or am I the owner to whom the application should be made in order to inspect somebody else's car in which I have no interest? And what garage proprietor is going to withhold his consent to the inspection? I am not asking for the consent of the owner at all. I am asking that the owner of the vehicle should be notified. I think that he ought to consent. I am asking only that he should be notified so that he or his agent can be present when such inspection takes place.

As a safeguard against any difficulties it was mentioned in Committee on the Bill that the motor organisations would be consulted before these Regulations were issued. I believe that the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and the Motor Legislation Committee were consulted, and that they protested most vigorously against this Regulation, but that their protests were completely and absolutely ignored. These Regulations are mainly to ensure the safety of the public as far as possible. What is the connection between the examination of silencers and public safety? Public convenience and the abatement of noise, yes; but it has got nothing to do with safety and it has been inserted merely for the convenience of the Ministry of Transport. But my grouse chiefly is that the owner of the vehicle is not notified.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Burgin)

Would the hon. and gallant Member allow me to ask him whether if the owner were notified a great deal of his complaint would fall?

Colonel Sandeman Allen

The main burden of my complaint would fall, but I want to make absolutely certain that that appears in the Regulations and not merely as an instruction to chief constables. Time and time again I have heard the Home Secretary reply in this House that he has no real control over chief constables, and I could not look on it as a satisfactory reply that the Home Office had notified chief constables that they were to do this. There was a question asked in this House on 24th May and the Under-Secretary for the Home Department replied that the Home Secretary is advising chief officers of police not to undertake such an examination, save in most exceptional circumstances, without notifying the owner of the vehicle as well as the owner of the premises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May, 937; col. 20, Vol. 324.] But it is to be observed that while the Minister said that he could deal with unreasonable conduct by examiners, he gave no specific promise that an examiner would give notice of his test. Over his own examiners the Minister has control, and I can accept an assurance in respect of them. Where the police are going to do any testing I cannot accept any assurance unless it is put in black and white in the Regulations.

Members of the House brought this matter up with the Minister when these Regulations first appeared, and he courteously went into the whole matter and wrote out a very reassuring letter. At least, it was intended to be reassuring, but I am afraid that I am not as assured as much as I ought to have been and many of my hon. Friends are hardly reassured at all. He said: I think, however, that it is desirable that there should be power to inspect a vehicle involved in an accident where brakes are suspected of being a contributory cause, and to amend the Regulation in the sense suggested would be to allow a situation to arise where the object of the Regulation would be defeated, if the owner of the vehicle could refuse to have it inspected. I quite agree, and I am not asking for the owner of the vehicle to be given a chance to refuse, but I want him to know that his vehicle is to be inspected.

The withdrawal of these Regulations is quite a simple matter. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to follow the Prime Minister's magnificent example. There is no difficulty about it. In December, 1934, there were certain Unemployment Assistance Regulations which had the word "that" instead of "than" and they were withdrawn and re-issued without any difficulty at all. No Amendment can be made to the Regulations until they are withdrawn. Nothing will happen to the existing Regulations; they will carry on. But the liberty of the individual is being threatened in this matter. I hope that the Minister, if he does consider the withdrawal and re-issue of these Regulations, will consult the motor organisations on the other Regulations which, I have said, contain objectionable matter, but No. 95 is the main one, and we feel that we cannot permit it to continue in its present form. Unless some satisfactory reply comes from the Minister, I must warn him frankly that I am prepared to divide the House.

9.35 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

I beg to second the Motion.

I would ask the House, to note that this is one of the too infrequent occasions when Members sitting on opposite sides of the House move and second the same proposition. It has been said frequently that we are in very grave danger in this country of being ruled by Regulations. A leading daily newspaper, in a leading article one day this week, pointed out that there were now 2,000 separate offences which motorists could commit, and these Regulations wit. add considerably to the number. My objection to Regulation 95 is, in the first place, that it is confused and difficult to understand. Like the hon. and gallant Member, I should like to hear from the Minister whether the reference to "owners" of garages includes occupiers of garages. The Minister nods his head, and I am glad to have that assurance, but why was that not specifically stated in the Regulation. One cannot expect every motorist to go to his legal adviser with this Regulation and ask him to give him an opinion on it, and I am sure that 99 per cent. of the population were not aware that the term "owner" meant "occupier" [HON. MEMBERS: It does not."] Well, I will leave it to hon. Gentlemen to explain. The Regulation says: Subject to the consent of the owner of the premises. What I want to know, in plain language, is whether a man paying it a week to rent a garage is the owner of it. This Regulation is likely to lead to litigation. The hon. and gallant Member mentioned one or two things that might arise. Perhaps the Minister will explain whether, under this Regulation, it would be possible for a constable to remove a car from a garage. I have read it as carefully as I can, but I am still a little in doubt on that point. Perhaps he will also explain how it would be possible for the constable to test the brakes of the car inside the garage.

The hon. and gallant Member also referred to the difficulties of finding out who would be responsible if an accident occurred when the constable or person other than the owner was testing the car. I heard the other day of a rather peculiar accident. A gentleman with a new car, only about a month old, was a little slow in pulling up at a crossing after the lights had gone against him and went about two yards across the line. A police car was alongside, and a policeman put his head out of the window and said to this gentleman, "Pull up at the other side when we get over. I want to talk to you." They crossed when the lights changed, and the police car came up. The constable said, "Are your brakes all right, old man?" The other motorist said, "Yes, I think so." The policeman said, "Well, I don't think so, and I am going to test them." The motorist said, "How are you going to test them? Are you going to get in and drive?" The policeman said, "No; you go on up the hill, and when you are going about 30 miles an hour I will 'gong' you and you stop." The motorist drove on, and when he was going about 30 miles an hour the police car behind suddenly "gonged" him. He stopped, and the police car crashed into him. I do not propose to say anything more about that case, because I understand that proceedings in that matter are still pending. I am told that the gentleman was so disgusted at having his new car wrecked that he said he was not going to have any more to do with it, got into the first omnibus and left the police to do with his car as they liked.

I have mentioned that, because if accidents do take place there are likely to be complications if somebody else is driving the car. I think the House will agree, too, that a man driving his own car might be able to pull up in 20 yards, whereas a man who was driving somebody else's car for the first time might not be able to pull up in 50 yards. Reading this Regulation, one is tempted to ask, "Why do the Ministry want this power?" I have come to the same conclusion as my hon. and gallant Friend opposite. I can only think that in the event of an accident in which defective brakes are suspected the police want to be able to go to the garage and not be hampered by the possible refusal of the car, owner to have his brakes tested. The hon. and gallant Member opposite said that he was prepared to accept something less than a provision that the "consent" of the owner must be obtained, and would be satisfied if the Regulation required that the owner should be notified. Personally, I take up the same position. I think that alteration would meet the position, if the words "with the knowledge of the car owner" were inserted in the Regulation.

Another point arising out of this Regulation is of concern to commercial travellers. Thousands of them use their cars to carry their samples, and they garage their cars at a different town almost every night. What is to happen if, under this Regulation, someone conies along and, without the knowledge of the owner of the car, having obtained the consent only of the owner of the garage, proceeds to test that car, and some of the samples are missing next day? Such things have been heard of. Who would be held responsible? Surely this would seriously affect the insurance of cars, particularly the car of a commercial traveller who was carrying valuable stock. If the right hon. Gentleman were to give us what is known as a "Parliamentary undertaking" in this matter, my own opinion is that that would not be adequate. We have to consider the circumstances existing throughout the country. There are thousands of unpaid magistrates, all busy people, dealing with hundreds and hundreds of motoring cases. In my own district we have built a palatial police court, said to be the finest in the country, out of the fines we have had from motorists. All those magistrates are not likely to know of every Parliamentary undertaking which has been given.

It is perfectly well known, also, that there are not only some magistrates, but some chief constables, to whom a motorist is like a red rag to a bull. I wonder whether, if we give much more encouragement to magistrates and to chief constables in their campaign against motorists, we shall not have experiences similar to those occasionally met with on the tube railways. We find that it is special ticket inspection day and at every turn we have our tickets inspected. Would it not be possible for a chief constable on a slack day to turn half-a-dozen of his men on to a road, say "We are having a special inspection this day," and pull up every motorist to inspect his brakes, irrespective of the fact that probably not 1 per cent. of them would be found to have anything wrong about them? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to deal with the points which have been raised by the hon. and gallant Member opposite, and I would only add this appeal: that just as the Prime Minister began his Premiership so auspiciously by bowing to the will of the majority in this House, so the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to meet what, I am sure, is the will of the majority of the Members of this House, and that we may have an auspicious opening to his career as Minister of Transport.

9.46 p.m.

Mr. H. Strauss

If the points which have been dealt with by the Mover and Seconder of this Motion were the only points arising, I should not intervene in the Debate, but I think hon. Members will agree when I have spoken that another point of very great importance is involved which will make them hesitate long before approving the Regulations. The matter to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred has been ventilated in the Press. The new Regulation which he mentioned embodies a change in the law which has been a matter of general comment and discussion, but the change in the law to which I propose to call attention has received no publicity whatever, and is, I believe, unknown at this present moment to every Member of the House, except those whose attention I have called to it. Nevertheless, hon. Members will find that it is a matter which concerns a great many of their Constituents.

Under the law as it has stood for several years, it has been compulsory to have a silencer which is suitable and sufficient, but it has also been illegal to fit a cutout to enable the driver to cut the silencer out and to produce noise as though that silencer were not fitted. By an, alteration of the old Regulation 16 and the substitution of the new Regulation 19, that law has been altered, and, if these new Regulations now go through, it will be legal for every owner of a motor-car or motorcycle throughout the country to fit a cutout to his vehicle to enable him to cut out the silencer and to make a tremendous noise upon the road. I do not wish to deal with any legal technicalities, but I would like to explain to the House quite shortly the change in the wording which has brought about the new position. The old Regulation 16 said—leaving out unnecessary words— Every vehicle shall be so constructed that the exhaust gases from the engine cannot escape into the atmosphere without first passing through the silencer, which is then described. The effect of that is that a cut-out is made illegal. The new Regulation says nothing about the vehicle being so constructed that exhaust gases cannot escape without first passing through the silencer. It simply says: Every vehicle shall be fitted with a silencer. It then describes the silencer.

The House will appreciate that the important difference is that, under the law as it hitherto stood, the mere fitting of a cut-out has been illegal. As the law will stand, it will be legal to fit a cutout. I have no doubt that the Minister, when he replies, will call attention to a new provision which is put into the Regulations governing the use of motor vehicles, namely, the new Regulation 69. In fairness to the Ministry of Transport I must point out that, under Regulation 69, the use of a cut-out is prohibited; in other words, the law will be that it is legal to fit a cut-out, but illegal to use it. I do not think hon. Members will have any difficulty in seeing what evils will flow from that state of the law. As long as it is illegal to fit a cut-out, anybody who fits one will be guilty of an offence under Section 3 and the penalty Clause of the Act of 1930, and anybody who sells a motor vehicle fitted with a cut-out or supplies it for use on the road, will be guilty of an offence under Section 8 of the Act of 1934.

The ability given to the police and to inspectors to inspect cars will make it possible effectively to prevent the fitting of a cut-out as long as the law remains as it has been hitherto. If, on the other hand, we are dependent for securing silence solely on the prohibition of the use of the cut-out, it is not difficult to see what the effect will be. A man or a youth who likes making a tremendous noise—and there are some—who is driving perhaps through a quiet country lane or village at the dead of night, will use his cut-out. The chance of his being detected in the act, and of somebody seeing his number and prosecuting him will be remote, and the risk will be worth taking. If the fitting of a cut-out is permitted and the use only is prohibited, there will be widespread abuse and a widespread increase of noise endangering health.

This will be a retrograde step. When the Minister of Transport issued the first draft of these new Regulations, they did not make this change in the law. Perhaps the Minister will tell us who asked for this change in the law, and why the request was granted. The late Minister of Transport set up a Departmental Committee on Noise in the Operation of Mechanically Propelled Vehicles. I would ask whether the committee was consulted on the proposed change in the law. I believe I am right in saying that there are only three possible arguments which could be put forward in favour of the change. It may be said that the purchaser of a motor car, though he will not wish to disobey the law in this country, may wish to take his car to some country where he is allowed to make himself a nuisance on the road, and that this change should therefore be permitted. I do not think there is much force in that argument. The small advantage to such a man would be more than counterbalanced by the enormous public loss that would be sustained by the people in these islands. It may further be said that while a man must not use the cut-out on the roads of this country, he may wish to be rid of the silencer when he goes to Brooklands. A cut-out, however, is not needed for that, since he can remove the silencer altogether when he gets there.

I suggest that no reason for this change in the law would entitle it to the support of the House unless it can be shown that the law as it has stood so long has hampered our export trade. I do not believe that if the great and well-organised motor industry had felt that its export trade was hampered by the existing state of the law, it would have hesitated to inform some Member of this House of that fact. I do not believe it would have been driven to secure an alteration of the law in this surreptitious way. When we consider the export trade, it is worth noting that our chief rivals in the export trade, the American motor industry, does not find it necessary to fit their most popular cars with cut-outs. I believe that in these circumstances the House will rightly require from the Minister some very great and strong reason for permitting this change in the law. The late Minister of Transport took great credit for having increased the silence of motor vehicles, and it would be a bad start for the present Minister if he permitted a change in the law which introduced this extraordinary set-back. If the Minister says that he has the assurance of the motor trade that they are not going to fit cut-outs, then I would ask what is the reason for this change? But the assurance of the motor trade, in the sense of the car manufacturers, is altogether insufficient, because every supplier of appliances, whatever the makers of the car may say, will be able to fit any vehicle with a cut-out. If the Minister, on the other hand, has no assurance of any kind, then, if these Regulations go through, we may expect that in a very short time many motor vehicles and most sports cars in this country will be fitted with cut-outs, with the result of an enormous increase in noise on the roads. For this reason I beg the House carefully to consider whether it is right to sanction this change in the law.

9.57 p.m.

Mr. Holdsworth

I shall not need any silencer, because I only want briefly to enlarge upon a point with regard to Regulation 95. I do not think it is enough that the owner of a car shall be notified, for the reason stated by the hon. and gallant Member who moved this Motion. I think it is too dangerous altogether for the Minister to describe the way in which the Regulation will be administered, because, when it leaves here, the Minister has no power over the police at all. He has no right, as a matter of fact, to give that assurance, because he has no jurisdiction over the police. I want it to be made quite clear that the owner shall be notified in such a way that he or his agent can be present. It is possible that a man may be away from home, on holiday or for some other reason, and the police may knock at his door and say, "We want to look at Mr. So-and-so's car." If the police are to be given these powers to examine vehicles, the examination ought not to be carried out unless the owner or someone representing him is present.

Another point is that, if under this new Regulation the police decide that they want to examine a certain vehicle, in the garage where that vehicle is there may be also another vehicle the owner of which may not have used it for some time. It may not be a vehicle that is on the road at all; it may not be licensed; he may be keeping it in order to exchange it at some future time as a setoff against a new car. It may be that the brakes on that vehicle are not quite up to the standard, because he is not using it. Would that be an offence under these Regulations, if the vehicle was not being used at the time and if it was not licensed?

It seems to me abominable that any police authority, without the consent of the owner of a vehicle, can go into the garage without his permission and examine that vehicle. We all want to do everything we can to ensure road safety. I have no objection to a man being stopped on the road and a proper test being made of his brakes and so on. If it is going to help in the saving of life, I am all in favour of it. But this regulation is an infringement of the rights of private individuals. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman make some very fine speeches on that subject. Let his first act in his new office be in accordance with what he has been saying for so long. I wish him well, as we all do, and I do not want him to start by giving such powers as this to the police.

10.1 p.m.

Brigadier-General Spears

I should like very strongly to support the last speaker. I think that these Regulations are chiefly objectionable because of their infringement of the rights of the public. I am not sure that there is not some slight misunderstanding. I am not sure, from the letter which was sent by the Minister to Members of the House, that he does not believe that we object to inspection. We do not object to inspection at all. The motoring community is only too anxious to help and contribute towards safety in every form. We are all for that. What we object to is the surreptitious inspection by the police without the permission of the owner of the car. It can serve no useful purpose whatsoever. If a car is deemed to be faulty on the road, it can be inspected on the road. If a car is suspected by the police of being faulty in the garage, there is nothing to prevent the police from going to that garage and putting their seal on the car so as to prevent it from being moved until it has been inspected. No one objects to that. What we want is that the owner should be notified, because, after all, the owner may be suspected or accused of a very serious crime. Is it right that there should only be one-sided evidence of a one-sided inspection by the police? Should not the owner have the right to be there, or have experts of his own present, while the car is being inspected?

It seems to me that there is something altogether absurd about this Regulation which has escaped previous speakers, and that is that the owner of the garage may refuse the police permission to go into it. The owner of the car may instruct the garage owner to refuse the police access to his car. That is a perfectly ridiculous state of affairs. A man might altogether avoid the result of his negligence by taking this very simple measure under the Regulations.

Mr. Benjamin Smith

Has the hon. and gallant Member visualised this possibility? A man, when driving a car, escapes the police, but someone gets the number. He arrives at a garage, which may be his own garage. He there adjusts his brakes, and avoids the possibility of being discovered with faulty brakes on the road.

Brigadier-General Spears

We certainly would wish to see a man like that detected, but there is nothing in the world to prevent a man from doing exactly as the hon. Member has described. We have no objection Whatever to the police, if they know where that car is, going to the garage and either having a constable by it or putting their seal on it so that it is not touched until it has been inspected by the proper authority. It seems to me that that is only fair.

Some of the other consequences have been touched upon by previous speakers. If an accident occurs during the testing of a car in the garage, who is going to be responsible? The insurance company does not cover the car in those circumstances because it is only covered if it is being driven with the owner's knowledge and consent. Someone may be killed. It is not made clear whether the police have a right to take the car out of the garage or not. Presumably they would have to take it out, but it is not said so in the Regulations at all. In order to test some parts of a car it has to be dismantled. When a car has been dismantled without the knowledge of the owner, how is he to know that it has not been badly assembled? If it were my car, I should hesitate to go on the road again unless it had been assembled by someone in whom I had confidence. Suppose an accident were attributed to bad assembling after an inspection of that kind, who is to be responsible?

I should like to say a word on the question of the speedometer. By the Regulations every car is to have a speedometer. That, again, seems to me an infringement of the rights of the individual. It is up to the individual to keep within the law. If he does not have a speedometer, he cannot plead the lack of it for not keeping within the law. The only case in which a speedometer can with justice be made compulsory is the case of cars driven for hire, because it is not fair that a chauffeur driving someone else's car should be subject to punishment if the owner will not provide him with a speedometer. It is up to the individual to keep within the law, otherwise there is no end to all the gadgets that may be imposed. A speedometer at night is of no use unless it is illuminated, and to enforce the illumination of a speedometer is a very dangerous thing.

Mr. Davidson

Are motorists in future only to drive their cars at night time?

Brigadier-General Spears

Motorists, of course, drive, both by night and by day. That is a truth which most of us accepted some time ago. In certain conditions of light, fog and rain, it is extremely dangerous to have a light. One would be very much better without it. That shows how badly thought out these regulations are. Finally, there is the regulation concerning mascots. I do not know what a mascot is. It ought to be defined. Are club badges mascots? They have points, and they could be prohibited under the Regulations. The caps of radiators might be deemed to be mascots. It seems to me that it would be very much simpler to say that no dangerous projection of any kind should be allowed. But the main Regulation to which we object is Regulation 95, and we hope the Minister will withdraw it.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Burgin

I certainly have no complaint that hon. Members should have raised this matter, and still less of the way in which it has been raised. May I take the first opportunity that is given me as Minister of Transport to point out how very greatly I propose to value the co-operation of the motoring fraternity in the problem of increasing the safety of the roads? Encouragement in care rather than penalty for lack of care is an extremely good slogan. It is impossible to contend that the only occasion on which you should examine brakes is after some accident has happened and damage has been reported. It must be evident that there is a large number of cases in which precautionary examination of brakes. might induce a higher standard of care and lessen the total of accidents. Therefore I want to approach the problem as a practical one in which I want to invite the co-operation of all road users with a view to reducing the trouble that is at present caused upon the roads. By our Parliamentary practice it is necessary to table a Resolution to annul the entirety of a series of Regulations if one wishes to call attention to two or three, and the hon. and gallant Member who introduced this matter pointed out that of all the Regulations, some 97, there were 93, subsequently I think reduced to 92, to which no exception was taken.

The Debate has centred principally upon Regulation 95 and, to enable me to deal with it, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word about the other points that have been raised. Practical Regulations to be administered in a practical manner present features of difficulty when the task of putting them into words is embarked upon and, quite apart from any specific Regulations, I should like the House to understand that, in conjunction with the Home Secretary, I propose to keep a very close watch on the working in practice of these Regulations. That is a perfectly general statement, not limited to any one of these specific Regulations to which attention has been drawn. I do not believe that in practice the fitting of a speedometer showing the driver the time at which he is reaching a speed limit which is his maximum is the cause of substantial grievance at all. The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) is right in his assumption with regard to the cut-out. It is because of export requirements. I have been far too long at the Board of Trade to be desirous of putting a parochial regulation into force which handicaps our manufacturers in the markets of the world. It is an offence to use a cut-out, but in foreign countries where mountainous conditions prevail, and where they have not the excellent road surfaces that we have, and where distances are enormous and it is possible to travel scores of miles without meeting habitations quite different conditions apply. It would be ridiculous to impose upon manufacturers of high-powered cars a day-to-day restriction that they may not affix an appliance which is wanted abroad. We make it a criminal offence if it is used in this country. I do not believe there is any substantial grievance on that matter.

What is and what is not a mascot presents no difficulty to the ordinary man-in-the-street and ordinary motorists. The mascots to which the hon. Member referred are not mascots within my conception of this Regulation. What I mean by this Regulation, to state an example, is some bird with a long beak, amounting almost to a stiletto in character, which may well result, and in some instances has resulted, in the death of some person or other. There can be no substantial objection to these being prohibited. Any observation by any hon. Member with regard to any part of these Regulations will carefully be considered in the Department, and as I have said to the House, I propose to keep a very close watch upon the way in which these Regulations are interpreted and administered. We are dealing with a practical day-to-day problem and an immense variety of conditions and circumstances. There must be a large element of latitude. We must experiment, and I hope that my undertaking to keep in close touch with the working of the Regulations will be a sufficient assurance to the House. Let us look at the size of the problem with which we are dealing. The Home Office return of motoring offences for the year 1936, which is House of Commons Paper No. 120, of 1937, shows that there were some 15,000 alleged offences in connection with equipment and maintenance of brakes and 12,000 convictions. This is a very large number.

Captain Strickland rose

Mr. Burgin

I will give way to my hon. and gallant Friend before I sit down, but I would like just to develop my argument. I want, first of all, to state the fact that this is a big problem. I want to lay down the statement that the whole House is interested in seeing that efficiency of brakes is a subject to which motorists and inspectors of motorists pay due attention. I do not want to weary the House with the history of the matter, but it is very interesting to note that, long before the Act of 1930, inquiries had been made of all interested parties, including the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club and various users of the highway, as to whether a provision to make Regulations dealing with brakes and their sufficiency would not be a wise addition to the law. I have the papers here showing how this matter was raised in 1919, reported on in 1922, was then included in a draft prior to the passage of the Road Traffic Act through Parliament, and how the Act of 1930 ultimately emerged. The House is familiar with Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. In section 30 (1) (g) the Minister of Transport has power to make regulations 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, and for empowering persons authorised by or under the regulations to test and inspect, either on a road or, subject to the consent of the owner of the premises, on any premises where the vehicle is, any such brakes, silencers or steering gear. I want the House to realise that as long ago as 1930 the statute law of the land authorised the Minister of Transport to make Regulations dealing with the very subject matter that we are now discussing, and in the very words of the Regulation that is before us. The hon. and gallant Member for Birkenhead, West (Colonel Sandeman Allen) said that on the Committee stage the then Minister of Transport gave an undertaking to move an Amendment on Report. He did give that undertaking, and the hon. Member has quoted it literally, as one would have expected, but between the Committee and the Report stages discussion took place, and when the Bill came to Report, the Minister of Transport, in compliance with his undertaking, moved an Amendment in the terms in which we find it in the Act of 1930, and in the terms of the Regulation now under consideration. The inference is that the prior consent of the owner of the vehicle was found to be impracticable. The owner of the vehicle whose brakes are to be tested may himself be a victim of an accident and may be in hospital. All kinds of conditions are possible in which the procuring of the consent of the owner of the vehicle would stultify and nullify the whole provision. The worse the accident and the more obviously guilty the owner, the more probable would it be that the owner would say: "I will not give consent for the vehicle to be examined."

Colonel Sandeman Allen

We are not asking for that.

Mr. Burgin

I am dealing seriatim with the points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend. He referred to the specific undertaking given in the Committee stage as to an Amendment to be moved on the Report stage, but he put a different gloss on the reasons of the Minister of Transport for introducing the Amendment on the Report stage in a different form, and I am seeking to correct him by telling him that the reason the Amendment differed on Report from what was promised in Committee was that it was found that had the Amendment been introduced as it was suggested in Committee, it would have nullified and stultified the whole Regulations.

Colonel Sandeman Allen

My right hon. Friend has said that the consent of the owner might not be obtained, because he might be damaged in an accident. What the Minister said at the time was that he would move an Amendment "giving due notice to the owner." That is really all that we require.

Mr. Burgin

I am coming to it by stages. There is no difference between us, that now it is not asked that the consent of the owner should be obtained; but when the hon. and gallant Member and some of his friends waited upon my predecessor, the consent of the owner was asked for.

Colonel Sandeman Allen

No. I never asked for that.

Mr. Burgin

The notes are quite clear. There was a body of opinion that these Regulations which it was sought to make should be conditional on the consent of the owner of the vehicle being obtained. I know that was the case: because a good deal of trouble was taken to investigate the position and it was because of the impossibility of agreeing to it that I am addressing my arguments to the House.

Captain Strickland

I really must point out that the delegation laid emphasis in their interview with the Minister of Transport on the fact of the car being examined without the owner's knowledge.

Mr. Burgin

I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member, but he will understand that there was a large body of opinion which asked for consent.

Captain Strickland

I must ask the Minister not to persist in making that statement. He distinctly told the House that the delegation which waited on the Minister asked for the owner's consent.

Mr. Burgin

The hon. and gallant Member has misunderstood me. If there was any suggestion that I have said that I at once withdraw it. It was not my intention. I am saying that I am glad to know that hon. Members who have raised this matter to-night expressly repudiate the suggestion that they are asking for consent. I made that clear because there has been a considerable body of opinion which suggests that consent is essential, and I have a considerable volume of papers on the researches that have been made into that matter.

But let me come to the practical implication of the matter. How is this inspection of brakes to be carried out? Obviously Regulation No. 95 cannot, by its very length, enshrine the whole framework of a brake testing system applicable throughout the country under all conditions. What does it do? It says that there shall be power to inspect and test certain appliances, and for the moment I will limit my remarks to brakes. How do you test the brakes of a car? It is easy to find out in a garage that a car has no brakes. There are practical methods to find out not whether any particular standard of efficiency is attained or whether the brakes are insufficient. That is a matter of practical common sense.

The brakes may be tested on the road or with the consent of the owner of the premises, and that means somebody in charge of the premises. [Interruption.] It is a safeguarding point. As the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holds-worth) has said, it is a point to deal with trespass and a point to deal with liberty. You can test a car on the road, but it is not proposed, under this Regulation, that you should test the brakes of a vehicle until you have brought it to a standstill to commence the test. You have power to inspect and test the brakes on the road. That is one set of circumstances, and that obviously will be by far the larger part of the practical results of this Regulation.

You are also to have power, if the car is not on the road, but has been removed from the road, to follow up the car. You cannot go into private property, so you are to get the permission of the representative of the premises where the car is. [Interruption.] The Regulation says "owner," and the owner or the owner's representative includes the occupier or the occupier's representative. An officer goes to the premises and asks, as he is in duty bound to do, for permission to enter those premises. That permission is either given or refused. I will assume that it is given, and the officer proceeds to an examination or a test of the car. The officer may be one for whom the Ministry of Transport is responsible, or he may not; he may be a police officer in uniform. The Regulation says that it must be a police officer in uniform or an examiner, who must, if required, pro-duce his authority. [An HON. MEMBER: "What happens if the permission is refused?"] I cannot deal with a dozen hypothetical possibilities. These are practical Regulations to be administered in a practical way to deal with a practical problem. If we find that there is some deficiency in them or some difficulty in their application, then it will be a case on which the Home Secretary and I will have to confer. For the moment I am putting what is a perfectly simple proposition. It is that the car has been removed from the road, that you go to the premises where the car is, ask for permission to enter, and, on the hypothesis that I am putting to the House, obtain permission and carry out the examination.

Sir David Reid

What happens if the owner of the garage refuses to give consent?

Mr. Burgin

Do not let us build a whole superstructure on a rather narrow basis. I am endeavouring to help the House by showing how reasonable the proposal which is before it is when it is looked at closely. I am saying that the owner of the garage premises or his representative, or the occupier or his representative, gives permission for what would otherwise be trespassing.

Sir D. Reid

The Minister says that the wording of the Regulation will be satisfied by the consent of the representative of the occupier of the premises. Is there anything in the Act under which the Regulations are made, or any definition Clause in these Regulations, which justifies that statement?

Mr. Burgin

One of the reasons I used that expression is that it is so difficult to look a limited company in the face. Of course it means "representative." Of course it means "duly authorised agent." The whole business world would come to a standstill if somebody could not act as representative or agent.

Sir D. Reid

It is not here. That is the point.

Mr. Burgin

The consent is given to what would otherwise be a trespass. So far we are in agreement. The hon. and gallant Member and his friend now ask that before the inspection of testing of a car takes place the owner should be notified so that he or his representative can attend. I agree, and as Minister of Transport I give an undertaking to the House that directions will be issued at once to all officers under the control of the Ministry that wherever practicable[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Perhaps the House will be reasonable and remember that we are dealing with a practical problem. I say that, wherever practicable, notice shall be given to the owner of the vehicle with a view to the owner or his representative being present at the time when the test or inspection is made.

Mr. Hopkin

You cannot bind the police.

Mr. Burgin

I have just said that as far as any officer under my control is concerned, I give the House an undertaking that those instructions will be issued and will be made public. It is said that I cannot bind the police. I agree, but on 24th May my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said: My right hon. Friend has given an undertaking in response to representations by Members of this House that, in regard to garages, he is advising chief officers of police not to undertake such an examination, save in the most exceptional circumstances, without notifying the owner of the vehicle as well as the owner of the premises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May, 5937; col. 20, Vol. 324.] As I say, we are dealing with a practical problem, and I am as anxious to protect the rights of the individual as any hon. Member. I understand the difficulties that have been raised about commercial travellers' samples, and about the possibility of entering a garage to look at one car and furtively inspecting another. How am I endeavouring to meet those difficulties? I say that as far as my officers are concerned they shall not do it. The Under-Secretary for the Home Department has said that the Secretary of State undertakes that the police shall be instructed not to do it—[HON, MEMBERS: "Advised!"]—that chief constables should be advised not to allow their officers to do it. I want the words to be accurate. I am not attempting to make any false point.

Over and above that I say to the House that in conjunction with the Secretary of State I will closely watch the working of these Regulations to deal with practical difficulties as they arise, and, if necessary, have them amended. Those are the assurances that I am in a position to give the House, and I invite the co-operation of motoring Members of the House. They are all interested in this problem. I invite their co-operation in seeing that no encouragement is given by this House to the continuance on the road of any vehicle, the brakes of which are faulty and the brakes of which could be improved by inspection or by test. There is nothing inquisitorial about it. The enabling power was conferred by Parliament in 1930 and was brought into use on the last day of May of this year. I ask hon. Members to give these Regulations a trial and if they are found in practice to go further than is necessary for what I have in mind, I shall be the first to come to the House and ask for their amendment.

10.40 p.m.

Captain Strickland

It has seldom been my lot to hear a Minister getting up to defend Regulations base his arguments on so narrow a platform as the Minister of Transport has done to-night. I cannot help feeling somewhat sorry because I know that he has for so short a time been in charge of that office, and I can only think that he has not yet had the opportunity of going thoroughly into the history of the Regulations which have governed motor work in this country. He said, "My own officers shall be instructed to warn the owners of vehicles, and so far as we are able the police officers of the country shall be warned that, so far as is practicable, they shall give notice to the owners of the vehicles." He has in those few words acknowledged the justice of the Prayer which we are moving to-night; he has acknowledged that, so far as is practicable, the owners of vehicles shall be warned that their vehicles have been or will be tampered with, either by one of his own inspectors or by a police officer. He talks of lessening the toll of accidents by reason of this heavy inspection of brakes that is going to take place, and he gives us figures which confirm the very charge that we have brought against the administration as to their persecution of motorists over many years past. He says that there are thousands of charges brought against motorists for brake defects, but he carefully omits to give any idea that, according to the figures published for 1933, the fatal accidents resulting from defective brakes were one-half per cent. of the total; and in order to prevent those one or two particular cases, he proposes, under these Regulations, to penalise every decent driver and owner of a motor vehicle throughout the whole country.

We have rather strayed from what we are asking to-night. The Minister has challenged us as to how we should deal with this matter. We are not asking that. We are asking that the new principle that is incorporated in this new Regulation No. 95 shall be withdrawn, not for the purpose of obstructing the legitimate desire that we all have for the prevention of accidents, but in order to prevent a grave injustice and a great inconvenience being inflicted on the decent motorists of this country. The right hon. Gentleman makes his plea for the co-operation of motorists, but does he tell the House that when the co-operation of the motorists, the A.A. and the R.A.C., was asked on the draft Regulations here, they themselves asked then for this Regulation not to be put forward in its present form? Their co-operation, so carefully promised in 1930 as being one of the safeguards, was entirely ignored, and yet these are people, not who want to see accidents, cars smashed up, and people killed, but who are,as genuinely anxious as is any Minister for the prevention of accidents.

The Minister is going to keep a close watch on how these Regulations work out, but that is exactly what we have had all the time. We have had the people in the country penalised time after time until the case has been so overwhelming that the Regulation has been altered. But why, if he acknowledges the justice of what we are asking, have thousands of motorists all over the country to submit to penalties up to a fine of £20 for something which will be withdrawn later because the bulk of the prosecutions which have happened have failed? It is a minor point perhaps, but when the Minister suggests that badges are not mascots, I suggest that in the case of a man being thrown back on to the sharp edge of a badge, it is just as likely to cause serious injury to that man as is a mascot. After all, a mascot is a mascot. We know what a mascot is, but practically every ordinary mascot in use on the recognised makes of cars will come under this Regulation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The actual Regulation says: No mascot shall be carried by a motor vehicle registered on or after 1st October, 1037, in any position where it is likely to strike any person with whom the vehicle may collide unless the mascot is not liable to cause injury to such person by reason of any projection thereon. What is a projection? The Minister talks about those long nasty beaks that are likely to cause accidents. I asked the last Minister of Transport how many accidents had been caused by mascots, including those long dangerous things that we agree ought not to be allowed on motor cars? The Ministry could produce only two cases in seven years of fatal accidents because of them. Who is prepared to say that a mascot like that of the Armstrong Siddeley car which has a head that projects, will not come under this Regulation? The projection need not necessarily come forward. It can be a projection upwards, for a person falling backwards as a result of an accident and striking his head on it is likely to have his skull cracked and the owner would be responsible. Because of the few accidents that have happened owing to mascots, the Minister is proposing to make them illegal, and thousands of persons who have bought their cars will have to replace something which is an integral part of the car and cannot easily be replaced. I made the suggestion in the course of the interview that the Regulation might be so framed that it would forbid the use of any mascot which projected beyond the line of the radiator, because that would be a dangerous mascot. We could get no satisfaction from the Minister with regard to it.

If the House passes these Regulations they will fasten some fresh offence on motorists. That need not be done. With a little care the bad cases will be well covered. We had in 1930, when this matter was being brought forward, a definite pledge from the Minister that they had no intention of making niggling Regulations. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) said that it was not their intention to indulge in wholesale inspection of vehicles, but it was necessary that duly authorised officers should have power to test and inspect brakes, steering gear and so on, not merely on the roads, but elsewhere, both for the convenience of the motorist and for the convenience of administration. He was very careful to define what he meant by "elsewhere," and he laid down that the owner of the vehicle ought to be protected. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]

I would have liked to develop my case, but I have a sense of the feeling of the House, and it is that they have heard sufficient of the case to form a judgment. Therefore, I do not propose to develop the argument as I would have liked to do. I want to make this appeal. We ask not for the termination of the Regulations for the safety of the roads or for the removal of the existing Regulations which govern that safety, but we do ask that these Regulations shall be withdrawn, that the old Regulations which have been found sufficient shall continue, and that the Ministry will consult with the motoring organisations to find a form of Regulation by which the bad motorists shall not escape and by which the good motorist shall not be further penalised because of loose drafting.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

I am perfectly certain that everybody in this House is agreed about the necessity for safe motor vehicles, and certainly we on this side would not withhold from the Government any power, however inconvenient to motorists and motoring organisations, which made for the safety of the public. That is common ground. But the point here is between the House of Commons and the Government. There was a time when a Regulation of this kind would have required some definite decision by this House. In late years we have had much of what may be called departmental legislation. We have a mass of Regulations brought forward and presented to us, and we have to say, "Yes," or "No." This departmental legislation has been the subject of much comment and no one has spoken with more force than the Lord Chief Justice. I plead with the Minister to give the House a chance of exercising its proper function, which is to decide on the matter. As it is, the only possible means the House has is to say, "Please take them back,"—there is nothing disgraceful in that—"and put them in a form which you yourself admit is the proper form" Do not tell us that you will endeavour to influence another Minister who will endeavour to influence a body of police over whom he has no power. Do not tell us that, when there is a perfectly simple way of dealing with the matter and enabling the House of Commons to express its opinion.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Foot

I would like to say with what great pleasure and surprise I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down.

Mr. Benn

Why surprise?

Mr. Foot

If the right hon. Gentleman had been in the last Parliament he would know why I said "surprise," because although my friends and I expressed in the House the views which have been expressed by the Lord Chief Justice and others on this departmental legislation, this is the first occasion in the last four or five years when we have had any support from the party above the Gangway. I could not resist making that comment. The Minister this evening entirely failed to meet the principal points that were made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Prayer. He did not deal sufficiently with the difference between owner and occupier, which is one of the most important questions that have been raised this evening, because when he came to that point he told the House that the term "owner" in this connection would include the representative of the premises where the car is. Those were his words. I accept that, but if in fact a representative of the premises where the car is would be regarded as the owner and his permission would be sufficient, that does not mean that the term "owner" is synonymous with the term "occupier." The owner might live 100 miles away.

The Minister went on to say that he agreed that the owner of the car should be notified, and that a direction would be issued that wherever practicable notice should be given with a view to the owner of the car being present. When it was pointed out that he had no power over the police he referred to an answer given by the Under-Secretary to the Home Department that the police would not do this without notifying the owner of the vehicle. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide."] I shall make my point whatever hon. Members above the Gangway may say or think. The point is that the two undertakings are not the same. The undertaking given by the Minister on behalf of the Ministry of Transport is that notice shall be given wherever practicable with a view to the owner of the car being present. In the case of the police, they are simply to notify, and there is no question of the owner of the car being present.

There seems to be a substantial difference between the undertakings given by the two Departments. Not only have we the permission given to public service vehicle examiners under the Act of 1930, and to the examiners under the Act of 1933, but we have the permission which is here given to police constables who may not be skilled in the examination of motor vehicles. They may have no sort of qualification for the task which is contemplated in this particular Regulation, but they may afterwards be called upon to give evidence that the vehicle is defective. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide."] That is an exceedingly serious matter to a large number of people, because if a man is alleged to have taken out a defective vehicle, that may be an offence for which he can be prosecuted, and if he is a road haulier he may lose his licence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide."] I hope the hon. Gentleman behind me will allow me to make these points. If we are to have, as we might have under either of these assurances, inspections of a vehicle without the owner being present, evidence may afterwards be given that the brakes of the vehicle were defective in some way, which it would be quite impossible for the owner of the vehicle to controvert. It seems to me that the Minister entirely failed to meet the case, and if this Motion goes to a Division I shall vote in favour of it.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Burgin

I can only speak again with the leave of the House. I hope that I am a sufficiently good House of Commons man to be able to interpret the feelings and desires of Members of the House generally, and I want to make a proposal. I propose to read very carefully the speeches which have been made by hon. Members in all parts of the House on this Regulation No. 95. I should like an opportunity to amend that Regulation. I should like to amend it in consultation with other Departments of the State, and to include in it the point about notification to the owner of the vehicle, with an opportunity, wherever practicable, for the owner or his representative to be present. I undertake, if the House will allow the remaining Regulations to be passed now, to amend No. 95 immediately, and the notification of the Amendment will, of course, be subject to a Prayer, just as the Regulations themselves are. The reason I put the proposal in that form is that these Regulations, which were made on 24th March by my predecessor, are in force, and a good deal of confusion would be caused if the House were to ask for the whole of them to be withdrawn. If the House will consent to the matter being handled in that way, the undertaking which I have given applies, and applies immediately.

Mr. Boothby

May I ask for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker? I know that it is the intention of the Minister to amend the Regulation by a Prayer, but I should like your guidance as to whether that would be possible.

Mr. Speaker

The first step would be for this Prayer to be withdrawn and then, if the Prayer were withdrawn, for the Minister to bring forward an amended Regulation.

Captain Strickland

May I ask whether the Minister proposes to consult the motoring organisations as well as the different Departments of State, with regard to the framing of the new Regulations, to secure all that he wants with regard to the inspection of faulty brakes, and yet, at the same time, not put unnecessary difficulties in the way of the ordinary average motorist?

Mr. Burgin

I should have thought that the speeches which have been made in the House to-night would enable a Minister to interpret the wishes of all parties in framing a Regulation which will satisfy this House.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Attlee

I think the Minister recognises the feeling of the House in this matter. It is not a matter of specially consulting the motoring organisations; this is a question for the House of Commons. We are faced with a difficulty which has faced us several times, particularly in respect of unemployment Regulations, owing to the practice of bringing forward Regulations which cannot be amended. The procedure needs overhauling. The Minister cannot amend these Regulations himself, as they come before us; they have to be accepted or rejected. We have a definite pledge from the Minister that if these Regulations go through, he will forthwith produce amending Regulations to get rid of these difficulties. I think he has met the matter.

Colonel Sandeman Allen

In view of the Minister's explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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