HC Deb 30 May 1956 vol 553 cc244-78
Mr. Watkinson

I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, to leave out Clause 1.

The Chairman

I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if, with this Amendment, we discussed the first proposed new Clause in the name of the Minister—Tests of satisfactory condition of vehicles—and all the Amendments to it and then, if necessary, have Divisions later.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I think that that would be of very considerable convenience to the Committee, Sir Charles.

Mr. Watkinson

I will now describe the general reasons which led to the acceptance of the Clause of right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) in Committee and describe the new Clause which now stands on the Order Paper in my name. The problem here is a very difficult one and, as the Committee will know, it has received a great deal of discussion in this House, in another place and in the country. When I took over the Bill, I thought it only right that I should consider carefully, and with an open mind, whether it was right that the compulsory testing of motor vehicles should be undertaken in addition to the existing powers held by the police, in conjunction with the examiners of my Ministry, to examine cars on the road by the spot check principle, as amplified in another Clause in the Bill.

I asked myself one or two basic questions. I asked whether it was right to take these powers for the compulsory testing of vehicles and what justification existed for imposing that extra duty on motorists. The first point which anyone must consider is the tragic fact that this year about 14 or 15 people will be killed every day on our roads. I do not think that any hon. Member will fail to be conscious of the human tragedy and waste revealed by those figures.

I tried to discover whether these powers would make a real contribution to safety on the roads. It is only fair to tell the Committee that the statistics in the police records of accidents attributable to the unfitness of vehicles are not very impressive. They amount to about 2½ per cent. But that, of course, is not the full story, as I hope to show. May I say at once, and as I think the right hon. Member for Vauxhall will accept, that we have made much discussion during the Committee stage on these matters. I propose to be brief, but I am at the service of the Committee to answer any questions arising on this or any other matter.

It is not only a matter of accident statistics. For example, a driver may turn to the right at short notice, without perhaps even giving the appropriate signal, and a car behind him may run into his vehicle. In the records that crash would be attributed to the negligence of the driver in front. But it may be that the driver behind could have avoided the crash had the brakes of his vehicle been efficient. So I think it fair to say that a great many accidents which are attributable to a defect in a vehicle do not get so recorded. I wish to refer to the experience at the Hendon car testing station, where we do not set an unnecessarily high standard. In March of this year 72 per cent. of the cars going through the station had one or more major defects. That figure is rather high.

There are many people who take the view that defects in headlights are not important, but they cause a great number of accidents through dazzle. I wish to give the Committee some other figures. Of the pre-1945 cars—and these vehicles are not excessively old—which were tested—28 per cent. proved to have defective brakes, and in 47 per cent., that is nearly half the cars tested, the steering was not up to standard. If we consider those figures, and the casualty rates on the road; if we consider the tests at Hendon, which are not excessively tough, and do not conform to a very high standard, they clearly show that if the condition of cars could be improved, it would have a sensible effect on the accident rate.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

Can my right hon. Friend say how many vehicles were tested at Hendon in March? Unless we have that figure, the percentages do not mean very much.

Mr. Watkinson

I shall be glad to tell my hon. Friend. I will give him the figure in a moment, before I end my remarks on this Clause.

I think it is shown, then, that we ought to take powers to test motor vehicles. The next question one ought to answer is: if we do it, how should we conduct these tests? This, of course, is only a permissive Clause. The detailed arrangements will have to be brought to the House in due course and will be debatable, but as I said in Committee and as I should like to make plain now, I think it right for me to take the broadest means I can. This will not be an easy thing to do. It will be a burden on the skilled labour and on the motor car industry. It will also take time. So I think it right that I should take powers that will enable me to use either Government testing stations, those of local authorities, or private garages.

A point has been made that the difficulty with a private garage—and to some extent I think it is a difficulty in every test—is the risk of an abuse; the risk of a motorist paying money to get a false certificate as to the condition of his car. We have looked at that very carefully and I believe that it is possible to avoid that kind of abuse. The first way to do it is to restrict, as we would propose, the test to a very simple list—brakes, steering and lights. Subject to one overriding factor, only those three things would be tested.

The over-riding thing is, of course, that if in testing a car the experts found that it was in such a dangerous condition as to be unsafe for the owner to take on the road, they would tell him so. I have in mind such things as a tyre so badly slit that it might burst at any moment, a cracked chassis, or some other serious defect. The owner would then be told. But the purpose of the test would be to see that the brakes, steering and lights were of a sufficient standard to make that car reasonably roadworthy and not a danger to other users of the road.

If the tests are cheap and simple, as they will be, then the equipment necessary to be installed will equally be simple and reasonably inexpensive. What I think would be established would be something like the ordinary greasing bay, with which most of us are familiar in a garage; a separate corner of the garage where the equipment is kept tidily and which is clearly marked as a testing bay and where the motorist would be in no doubt as to the equipment used and the people using it. It would not, I think, put the users to great expense, nor would it put the garages that had to install the equipment to great expense.

The only other point that I would make there is the very important one relating to the method of policing the scheme. Wherever the testing is carried out that policing will be done by the vehicle examiners and the certifying officers of my Department, who are experienced men. As the Committee knows, they are all members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and the senior vehicle examiners have actually been recruited from the motor car industry. They are men who know their job from beginning to end.

We should see that there was a sufficient force of certifying officers and vehicle examiners to make sure that the tests were properly and fairly carried out. As an example of the interest which the tests have already aroused—and in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson)—just over 6,500 vehicles have already gone through the Hendon station. Of course, those tests have all been voluntary tests. It is also fair to say that the owners of the cars tested are mostly motorists who are interested in their cars and not those who are sure that their vehicles should not be in the road in any case. Nevertheless, I think that the figures are not unfair.

The answer to the second is that the tests should be widely spread. I do not believe that there is a serious risk of abuse, but if there were I am sure that my controlling officers would be quite capable of dealing with it.

We have had a lot of letters from people asking, "Why pick cars that are ten years old?" The difficulty is that we have to start at one end of the scale or the other, and I think that the following figures perhaps do show that it is right to start with the older car. Of the older cars—the pre-1945 cars—going through Hendon, over a quarter have been found to have defective brakes and nearly half had defective steering. If we look at the figures for the modern cars—that is to say, the 1954–55–56 cars—the figures go down to 4 per cent. for defective brakes and 9 per cent. for steering. Those are still quite large figures, but, of course, very much lower than those for the older cars.

One thing I do want to make clear. This is not an attempt to drive the older car off the road or to interfere with the well-kept veteran car, which is a remarkable vehicle, a great credit to the motor car industry of the past, and generally a good deal better kept than many more modern cars. The owners of veteran cars need not be alarmed, nor need the owner of the older cars. That is why we are to have these tests, which will be not expensive and may well save the life of the motorist himself as well as the lives of other users of the roads.

I would sum up by saying that I believe that vehicle testing once a year can make an essential contribution to road safety. I think that it helps the motorist, and encourages pride of ownership in the car—which is very important. It is also very important in regard to safe driving. If the owner takes a pride in his car he is much more likely to drive carefully than if he lacks that pride. Let me repeat that this testing is not directed against old cars of any kind. It will take a long time to prepare the scheme and I certainly pledge myself not to implement it until we can do it properly. We will, I am sure, avoid abuse, but we shall have to spread the tests. If the House gives a passage to the Bill and it becomes law, I shall have to come here again with detailed proposals.

3.45 p.m.

For those reasons, having tried to think it out as carefully—and as objectively, I hope—as possible, because as I see it there is no decision except as it concerns the safety of people on the roads, I think it right to bring forward this new Clause —although I know that I am not moving it but moving to delete the right hon. Gentleman's Clause—and I hope the Committee will accept what I have said as a statement of my general aims.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

Are there any figures to show how the accident proclivity of the new cars compares with that of the old? I have been told that in that respect the new cars show a good deal higher percentage than the old; although that may be because the old cars, as a result of their possible bad condition, are driven more slowly.

Mr. Watkinson

I think that there is an answer to that which I already know. There are certainly a number of very bad accidents occurring now as a result of very fast cars being driven at very high speed. When those cars crash it is obviously a very serious and messy business. But I do not think that there is any statistical evidence that new cars are causing more accidents than old and I do not think that there is any way of ascertaining whether that statement be true or not.

I agree that the owner of the old car which is reasonably well-maintained is inclined to drive more carefully and to that extent may be safer, but I do not honestly think that there is much in it one way or the other. What I want to see, if possible, is a greater pride in the car and a greater attempt to keep it in reasonable order. If that can be achieved, I believe it would have a sensible effect on road safety.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

The Minister has, as usual, been admirably clear and—although I am not criticising him for it—exceedingly brief. It will be appreciated by yourself, Sir Charles, and by the Committee that this is probably the most important Clause in the Bill. As this is the first time we have had an opportunity of considering the Minister's version, and as there are a number of Amendments which some of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself desire to move, I think that it will be understandable if we spend a little time considering this very important proposal, although I am sure that nobody in the Committee wants to prolong the discussions on this or on any of the Amendments which will come before us.

My first comment about the Minister's new Clause, which we are considering as well as the deletion of the old one, is that it is a very happy outcome of a long period of decision and counter-decision by the Government on this question of compulsory testing. Although the final outcome is one which we welcome, I think it is essential for the sake of the record to say a word about the extraordinary history of this business.

The first thing that happened was that the Bill which the Government introduced in another place in the previous Session had a Clause in it which provided the Minister with powers to effect compulsory testing of cars in private garages. The principle was accepted by their Lordships. The Government spokesman in another place said that this principle was essential to cope with road safety. It was accepted, but an Amendment was made to the effect that the tests should be carried out not in private garages but in State testing stations, such as we now have at Hendon.

When the Bill appeared in the Commons in the new Session all reference to compulsory testing was omitted altogether. Therefore, we had the strange situation in which the Government came to the House and said that what they considered essential and had been agreed to in principle in another place they now proposed to abandon altogether. There was no mention of the matter in the Bill that came before the House.

In the Standing Committee I, on behalf of my colleagues, who believed that compulsory testing would have a marked effect on reducing road accidents, moved a Clause to provide for this. We were turned down by the Minister, who said that it was impracticable, too difficult, that the number of technicians required would be considerable, and all the rest of it. But, later—and it is true that by that time there was a change of Minister, but it was the same Government—we were told that the principle was to be accepted. The last thought of the Government, after turning somersaults three times on this question, is the one which we now have before us, and that is the acceptance of the principle of compulsory testing.

Although we agree with the new Clause in principle, there are several defects in the Clause which we propose to bring to the attention of the Committee and, if possible, obtain the agreement of the Committee with our views. Before I refer to the Amendments, I want to say a few words about the general principle involved. I do not want to go over the whole question of compulsory testing yet once more, but I would say that it has been proved, as far as proof in this sort of matter is possible, that the regular compulsory testing of cars brings down the number of road accidents significantly and, indeed, in quite a striking way.

Incidentally, the case for compulsory testing of vehicles was never made by the Government on any occasion, not even when the Bill was first discussed in another place. No figures were quoted in favour of the case. But, in essence, the simple figures which we have show this. In the United States, where a large number of States have compulsory testing either yearly or half-yearly, the number of deaths on the road are 20 per cent. less than in those States where there is no compulsory testing of cars. I know it is possible to read those figures in two ways; it is possible to read them so that the result is only 10 per cent. But it is something between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent.

We know that our own Road Research Laboratory which went into this matter very carefully made an estimate, which has been accepted by the Government, that in the accidents that take place in this country a contributory factor in 20 per cent. of the cases was a vehicle defect. All these figures, together with those which we now have as a result of testing of vehicles at Hendon, make it clear that the defects in cars on the road contribute substantially to the number of accidents that take place.

I want to give a few more figures to show what benefit might be derived and what reductions might be made in our road accidents if we carried out on a full scale the compulsory testing of vehicles. If one takes the figure of a I0 per cent. reduction in accidents the lowest figure which one can get from the experience we have—that would mean that in a year 550 people fewer would be killed and 6,000 people fewer would be seriously injured; and of the 550 fewer people killed, 60 would be children.

There is no question but that this proposal, when carried out to the full as it is in other countries—this is only the first stage—will bring down the number of deaths on our roads substantially. It is not only well worth while; it is urgent to move as quickly as possible along these lines.

If one looks at this problem from the material rather than the human point of view, it has been reckoned by the authorities from figures prepared by the Government Actuary that road accidents cost the country today at least £150 million a year. A 10 per cent. reduction in accidents would produce a saving of £15 million—immensely more than the cost of carrying out any scheme of compulsory testing.

The value of compulsory testing is twofold. Not only does it reveal defects in cars, but it makes people more defect-conscious. Very few people drive cars knowing them to be defective. Perhaps a few do but they are not social-minded. They may know that their brakes are not quite right, or that the lights are not what they ought to be, yet they take their cars on the road because they cannot be bothered to put them right. But most people do not realise in what a bad condition their cars are. I am certain that most of those who went to the Hendon testing station were amazed to find that in matters such as steering, lighting, and so on, there were serious defects in their cars.

I was given a striking example of this when I went to have my car tested. I had a conversation with the man in charge, and he told me that recently a man had driven his car there with his wife and two children. They had driven all the way from a town in the North. This was a man who was meticulous about the condition of his car. Before he had driven to Hendon he had had his car thoroughly serviced and tested by his home garage. Because he had an interest in this matter he went to Hendon and said, "I would like you to have a look at the car". They had a look at it.

The brakes were so defective that when the man was testing them the whole of the apparatus collapsed. It was absolutely certain that if that man had gone out and driven his car, at a certain time—it might have been within five minutes or it might have been within some weeks or months of leaving Hendon—if he had applied his footbrake it would have had no effect. Possibly he and his whole family would have been involved in a fatal accident on their way home. He did not know there was anything wrong with the brakes of his car. Most people do not. Therefore, these tests bring to light information which the motorists do not have, and make them, broadly speaking, more conscious of the desirability of keeping their cars up to standard.

I want to say a word or two on what we consider a very important aspect of this new Clause, and that is who should do the testing. That was a matter of great controversy in the other place and in Committee. I was disappointed not to head the Minister's views on this matter. He takes power in his new Clause to have testing done at Government testing stations, such as the one at Hendon, by local authorities or in private garages. I hoped he would tell us that it is his intention to have as much testing as possible done by the Government garages or perhaps by the local authorities, and as little as possible by private garages. He did not tell us anything of the sort, and he has given us no idea of what his general policy on this matter would be. I really hope he will tell us, before we come to the end of our debate.

4.0 p.m.

We take grave objection to having cars tested by private garages, except in very special and unusual circumstances. It is all very well for the Minister to say that fears of abuse are ill-founded. They are nothing of the sort; he cannot get rid of the danger of abuse if private garages are to do this testing. He has said that one thing he will do to avoid the danger of abuse is to have testing of three things only, namely, brakes, steering and lights.

He is making a grave mistake there, to start with. At Hendon, many other things of great importance were tested, such as the direction indicators to see whether they are working properly, the windscreen wipers to test their efficiency, the effectiveness of the rear view mirror, and the tyres. All those things are important, and, if there is a defect among them, there can easily be an accident. It is wrong to say that in these new Government testing stations or private garages—whatever they may be—there should be no effective testing of these devices, and I very much regret that the Minister takes that view.

It is a lamentable fact, but it is, I suppose, indisputable, that garages as a whole do not in this country enjoy a reputation for shining integrity. To accord to private garages power to insist on what may be costly repairs being carried out at the expense of the private motorist is surely wrong; it will be not only disliked, but, I should have thought, resented by the great body of private motorists.

Of the two types of possible abuse, one—and perhaps this is the lesser one is that a garage which wanted to keep or attract custom could do so by getting a reputation for being easy with its tests and by not being so meticulous as others in carrying them out, in the hope that in return it would become popular in the neighbourhood and that people would give them more business. Much more serious, however, is the possibility that a garage might find faults and be overmeticulous in making tests, insisting on repairs being carried out, in the hope and belief that those repairs would be carried out by that garage.

I should have thought that this is something which is bound to happen in some cases, perhaps in only a few; but even if it did not actually happen at all, the motorist or vehicle owner would be bound to think that it was happening when he went to a garage with his vehicle, believing it to be all right, and got a note to say that he must have substantial repairs carried out to his steering, that his lighting is out of order, and that this, that, and the other must be attended to. He may not believe it; he may believe that he has been told to do these things because it will bring business to the garage which carried out the test. That situation is surely unsatisfactory and ought not to be enforced by legislation.

In this matter, as in others, I would suggest that American experience is of value. Some States in the United States carry out tests by State stations; others do it by private enterprise stations, by garages. Incidentally, this fact should be borne in mind, that opinion polls taken in the United States with regard to the popularity or unpopularity of compulsory testing have shown an overwhelming result, over 90 per cent., in favour of compulsory testing of cars, in spite of the obvious great inconvenience to the motorist. It is, therefore, all the more surprising that some of the motoring organisations are opposing this proposal. It is very popular in the States.

As a result of personal inquiry I have made of friends who live in the United States, I have been told that where their cars are tested in private garages there is a general belief, justified or not, that a certain amount of hanky-panky goes on. That feeling does not exist at all, of course, in those States where it is the State itself which does the testing. Where private garages do it, there is bound to be a certain amount of suspicion.

In this matter, we do not take an absolutist attitude; we do not say that private garages should be eliminated altogether. Throughout the discussion on this question, we have tried to be, and have been, I think, wholly reasonable. We have said there may be a case for having private garages authorised and inspected by the Ministry so that they may do the testing in exceptional circumstances, for instance, in remote areas where it is difficult for the State or local authority to set up a testing station, or in a place where, perhaps, it is desired to start the testing, but there has not yet been time or it has been difficult for the Government to set up its own testing station.

In such circumstances, let the private garage do it temporarily; we would agree that there is a case for it. We have put our Amendments upon the Notice Paper to ensure that testing by public authority stations shall be the rule, and that testing by private garages should be exceptional and temporary.

I hope that the Committee will agree on this principle. If there were any doubt about it, the Committee will surely be encouraged by the fact that it is the principle which the House of Lords has laid down as being the correct one. If we agree to it here, there will not be any difficulty in another place.

I now have one or two questions I should like to ask the Minister. First, in paragraph (4) of his new Clause there is a right of appeal to the Minister where someone feels aggrieved. I am not quite clear whether, if someone has been told by the inspector that his car is not fit for the road, and he desires to appeal, he is to be allowed to drive that car on the road pending that appeal. Obviously, he ought not to be allowed to do so, but, from my reading of the Clause as it stands, I am not quite clear what the situation is. Perhaps the Minister will be able to enlighten us.

Has the Minister in mind that the detailed regulations he will bring before the House will enable a motorist to undertake a test voluntarily, or will the testing be of only those care which are ten years or more old?

Mr. Watkinson

indicated dissent.

Mr. Strauss

I see the right hon. Gentleman is shaking his head in disagreement with the later part of my question. I am, therefore, satisfied that those who desire to have their own cars tested, even if those cars are younger than ten years old, will be able to do so. I am glad to know that.

Lastly—and this is really a very important question—how quickly does the Minister propose to proceed? I, and, I think, my colleagues, have been rather discouraged by what the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech. He said it would be a considerable time before he would be able to come to the House with the regulations, and from that I got the impression that there is not to be much sense of urgency about this matter. There is to be a delay before the scheme is drawn up, and a longer delay before the thing is in operation. We must not, apparently, expect any great speed.

No one wants to be unreasonable. Obviously, it would be quite impossible to have this scheme covering the country within the year. We know that. But we do believe that it is exceedingly urgent that this scheme should be put into effect as quickly as possible, and that the ten-year limit should be only a start. As soon as the scheme gets going properly, we should do what has been done in the United States—gradually bring the ten-year period down to one or two years, so that all cars which have been on the road even for only a short time will be tested.

How quickly does the Minister propose to put this scheme into operation? Those of us who have been concerned about these matters of road safety for a long time know that three things, in effect, can bring about a significant reduction in road accidents—education and propaganda, having newer and safer roads, and vehicle inspection. Education and propaganda ought to go on at a much more effective rate than at the moment. Newer and safer roads take a long time and are very expensive. The third method, although not easy, is a comparatively quick and effective method of having a marked effect on the number of road accidents which take place in this country.

There is, therefore, every conceivable ground for hastening the operation of the scheme, and I therefore hope that the Minister will give us more encouraging news when he speaks later. I beg him not to linger, but to put the matter very high in the list of priorities. According to the figures and calculations which I have given already, we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that when this scheme is in full operation I00 cases of serious injury which now take place on our roads every week will not take place. There will be 100 fewer seriously injured, 10 fewer deaths on the road and one child fewer killed every week.

We can say that, based on experience, with a confident degree of certainty, and I therefore beg the Government—as I am sure do all hon. Members—to go forward with this matter with all possible speed and energy and thereby do something which, as we know by experience, will have a considerable effect on reducing the number of deaths and accidents on our roads.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I gather that we are having a general discussion upon the Minister's new Clause, and perhaps it would save the time of the Committee if I argued the points which appear in the Amendments to the new Clause in my name and the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham, (Mrs. Corbet). The purpose of the Amendments, if accepted by the Committee, is to except local authorities from the operation of the Clause and from carrying out testing arrangements.

I want to make it clear that I in no way dissent from the point of view which has been so strongly put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) that testing ought to be done either by the Government or by local authorities. The point really raised by the Amendments is that if local authorities are to undertake this heavy and new obligation, they must be properly remunerated for it. It is clear that the Clause as drafted makes no provision for reimbursement. Obviously in the case of a county council with a large area, or any large authority, several testing stations will have to be provided. The London County Council will have to provide a number. The cost of either new buildings or the adaptation of old buildings in order that this work can be competently and efficiently done is bound to involve an expenditure of money.

In addition, there is the training and enrolling of inspectors and mechanics who are to do the work, and who must be well qualified and well trained if they are not only to do the job properly but to carry the confidence which work of this kind requires. Obviously those who have their cars inspected will need to feel complete confidence both in the arrangements for the reception of vehicles and in those who are to undertake the work.

In its present form the new Clause makes no provision whatever for the reimbursement of designated authorities either for their capital expenditure on the building and maintenance of the testing stations or for their expenditure on those who are to be employed in them. In the case of the London County Council, which is my special concern—although I understand that the point is the concern of all the local authority associations—the scheme is bound to involve a considerable capital and maintenance expenditure.

The purpose of the Amendments is to find out whether the Minister proposes in some way to ensure that local authorities are not out of pocket as a result of the new duty which is to be placed on them. I ought to make it clear to the Minister, although he may have already discovered this from his discussions with local authority associations, that this is not a duty which local authorities particularly want. They will have considerable difficulty in recruiting the mechanics required and making the necessary arrangements. If they undertake the task in the public interest and in the interest of road safety and the preservation of life, at least we must see that they are not financially injured as a result of the new obligations placed upon them.

Since I put my Amendments down, I notice that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and others have put down Amendments covering the point, and it may well be that the Minister can give us a fairly quick answer which would save the time of the Committee later. That is why I intervened at this stage.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) has so very lucidly and powerfully made the case covering the main points contained in the views from this side of the Committee that, since we are all anxious to give a speedy passage to the Bill as far as possible, I will concentrate for a moment on the rather simple Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) and myself, in line I3, at the end to insert "non-county borough".

The intention of the Amendment will be obvious to the Minister. I hope that he will give it sympathetic consideration. It shows my unselfishness, when the Committee remembers that I represent a large county borough, that I am taking the point of view, in this respect, of the noncounty boroughs. Whatever happens to the important Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend, the position will certainly be that local authorities will have some part in the examination as envisaged in the new Clause. I will put the point as briefly and as forcefully as I can that some non-county boroughs are larger than many county boroughs. When we remember the discussions that we have had in the House whether Luton should be a county borough, we see an illustration of the present situation. It would be unfair to make non-county boroughs dependent upon the county for this examination. I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Watkinson

I said in my remarks that I wanted to spread the load as widely as possible. I cannot accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), but I will give him an undertaking to introduce in another place an Amendment which will cover the point he raises and which will make it possible for non-county boroughs, and indeed the whole range of local authorities, to participate in this scheme if they wish to do so.

Mr. Royle

I am obliged.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)

I do not wish to detain the Committee for more than a few moments, but there are two points which I wish to put to my right hon. Friend on this new Clause. He is aware that I was not a member of the Standing Committee which dealt with the Bill, but my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) then moved a new Clause on my behalf covering the compulsory testing of certain classes of vehicles.

I want to impress upon my right hon. Friend that he should be very flexible in respect of the vehicles called for testing. He should not start only with those more than ten years old. The particular class which I have in mind includes the privatehire vehicle used by a local authority for taking children to school. There was an accident in my own constituency the details of which my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is very well aware through the exhaustive correspondence which ensued. It involved a vehicle of this kind which was in a disgraceful condition, and it was an accident in which a young girl was very nearly killed.

I think that that type of vehicle, particularly private vehicles which are used by public bodies, should also be tested, whether they are ten years old or not. In the particular case which I have quoted, the vehicle was more than ten years old and would have come within the scope of the Bill, but there are cases where the vehicles are not ten years old. They are being used to take children to school; the children have to travel in them whether they like it or not, and cannot refuse to go. Therefore, I think that such vehicles should be tested under the provisions of the new Clause.

The other point is that it is not much use having testing stations unless we know what kind of standards are laid down. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) said that not only a question of testing brakes, lights and steering was involved; and that is quite true. In the accident to which I have already referred, the real injuries were caused by flying glass. I understand that under the present Regulations safety glass is prescribed only for the windscreen, although I believe that most motor car manufacturers now fit it in all round their vehicles. On the occasion in the Standing Committee which I have mentioned, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke asked the Joint Parliamentary Secretary if he would investigate the position and produce new regulations to make safety glass compulsory all round the car, and not only for the windscreen. I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether any progress has been made in that direction since the Committee stage of the Bill was completed. I personally welcome the new Clause, and hope that it will be put into effect as soon as possible.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I should like to ask the Minister whether he will bear in mind the point raised in the Amendment to the new Clause in my name, in line 55, at the end to insert; (7) The Minister shall repay to designated local authorities their expenses properly incurred in the exercise of their function under this section? I would also support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). The local authorities, while they are quite willing to undertake this work—at least, the local authorities for whom one is competent to speak—realise that it will involve them in a very great deal of expense, and they will require some assurance in the Bill itself that they will be reimbursed for any expenditure which they have to incur in carrying out these duties.

I was a little alarmed when I heard the right hon. Gentleman say, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), that he was going to include the whole range of the local authorities in the Bill. In the light of what my hon. Friend himself said, I must point out that, while it is true that there are some non-county boroughs larger than some county boroughs, there are also some others that are very small indeed. Does my hon. Friend contemplate giving this power to the Borough of Montgomery, where a penny rate produces £12? .I would suggest that, in these claims for autonomy, there should be some regard to the nature of the duties which people express themselves as willing to undertake.

Mr. Royle

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has mentioned that I was trying to include every local authority. There is no mention of urban district councils in the Amendment put down by my hon. Friend and myself. It is limited to non-county boroughs; it is only meant to give them the right, and not to confer a power.

Mr. Ede

No; my hon. Friend did not listen quite carefully enough. It was the Minister who said, in one sweeping phrase, that he was going to give it to the whole range of local authorities that would include everybody. But that does not alter the fact that the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West would include the non-county Borough of Montgomery. Sometimes the trouble with people who claim to undertake certain duties is that they do not always sufficiently bear in mind their own capacity to discharge the duties when they have undertaken them. I hope that, whatever is done in another place, a sense of proportion will be observed in this matter.

Mr. Watkinson

The right hon. Gentleman has quite correctly quoted me, but I had taken note, in what I said, of the fact that I understand that the Amendment is restricted, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) quite rightly said, to the noncounty boroughs. I certainly did not intend to take up the parish councils, nor, I think, probably, the urban district councils. All I say is that we want to look at it and make it as wide as is reasonably possible.

Mr. Ede

I am grateful for that interruption.

Let me say that there are some urban district councils that are tremendously greater than the majority of the noncounty borough councils. While I do not want to start a battle on this particular issue, I hope that the wide general phrases that are being used will be interpreted very carefully when it comes to putting something into legislation. I am quite certain that, no matter what the size of the authority or its financial resources, it will expect to be reimbursed for the cost of the work which it does for the Ministry and of any duties which are imposed upon it by this new Clause.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

I come new to the matter of the words on the Notice Paper, not having been a member of the Standing Committee, and I therefore want to ask one or two questions about them.

First, I am not at all happy with the provision about ten-year-old cars. I have an 18-year-old car, which is far safer than my second car, which is only one year old. I would much rather drive the 18year-old car on the icy roads in Scotland in winter than the modern car, because I feel much safer in it. I think that there is a great deal to be said for the old cars, and I therefore hope that any testing that goes on will be applied reasonably to old cars, because I believe that they are much safer than the modern, highly-geared cars, which skid about on the snow and ice in Scotland.

My second question is whether tractors are involved. I think I am right in saying that, under the licence which is issued for tractors, the driver is limited in the distance which he is permitted to travel to 15 miles. If he wishes to go more than 15 miles, he has to have the ordinary licence as well. The testing stations in my sparsely populated constituency may be 20 miles away. How, then, is the tractor to get there if it is involved in this testing business?

The next question that occurs to me is why one is to be tested only by the county council or the local authority of the area in which the vehicle has been registered. There are three points that might be chosen for the registration of a vehicle in my area. There is the county town of Forfar, in Angus, the county town of Perth, in Perthshire, and the big town of Dundee, which is in between the two counties. Why should not one have the choice of being tested at any one of these three places? Why should one be compelled to go only to the office of the authority in whose area the vehicle was registered?

My last question is at what date does the test cease to be effective? Under the wording of the new Clause, a licence will not be granted except after production of a test certificate issued within 12 months, or such shorter period as may be prescribed, before the date of the licence. When one applies for a new licence for a car on 1st January, one has to take the insurance certificate, and in the case of a ten-year-old car, or, in my own case, an 18-year-old car, one will have to take an extra certificate as well. That makes three pieces of paper which one has to take, but the point is how long in advance of 1st January will one be able to take a test? If it is 2nd January of the previous year, in that case the old car may have lost the value of its certificate by then. I think there will have to be give and take, for if the testing conditions are too much prescribed they will be impossible to fulfil, and one may find oneself after fourteen days faced with the possibility of having to pay a £20 fine.

4.30 p.m.

I would impress upon my right hon. Friend once again that these old cars are intrinsically, because they are not so highly geared, safer than modern cars. The figure which my right hon. Friend has just given of 9 per cent. of new cars being defective in steering is a very alarming figure. I hope that, in addition to all he is doing, he will impress on car manufacturers that they should not turn out new cars in the state in which they are turning them out today, a state in which, in a year, 4 per cent. have defective brakes and 9 per cent. defective steering. It is a disgrace to modern motor engineering.

Mr. G. H. Oliver (Ilkeston)

Following what the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) has said, I myself think that the Minister's figures were rather alarming. If I understood them correctly, they showed that of the pre-1944 cars that were tested 28 per cent. had defective brakes and 47 per cent. defective steering. That is a very high proportion of the pre-1944 cars, and I should think that that is evidence that cars of a vintage ten years old should undergo the testing experiment.

Captain Duncan

I was not objecting. I was pointing out that new cars, while not as dangerous, I admit, are yet very dangerous.

Mr. Oliver

I think there will be a trend towards reducing the ten years to a shorter period eventually. A ten-year period is suggested as a start.

I want to ask the Minister about the examiners and their selection. Will those who are not his officers have, for the job of examination, any qualifications comparable with those of his own officers? Or will they be merely garage hands employed by garages, and without having had inquiry made into their qualifications? They may not have any, apart from the experience which garage hands invariably acquire simply by working for a long time at garages. Many of the people employed in garages have had no mechanical training, and some have no mechanical knowledge. Many of them do nothing more, or very little more, than fill the petrol tanks of vehicles. If the Minister is to put persons other than his own officers to this class of work it is important that he should see they have some qualifications for it, comparable with the qualifications of his own officers, who, we know, have very high standards of attainment and proficiency.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I want to ask the Minister about the fees which will be paid for the testing of cars. I assume, from my reading of his new Clause, that drivers taking their cars to a testing station, whether it be a public station or a private garage which has been, so to speak, licensed for the purpose of testing, will pay fees. Is the Minister's view that the income from the fees will, over a period of years, cover the capital cost of erecting the testing station and also pay the cost of its maintenance, and so on? I think it would be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman would clear up the question of fees arising out of our experience of Hendon?

I would support my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) in his objection to the use of private garages as testing stations. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilkston (Mr. Oliver) has just asked questions about testers in the private garages, how they will be selected, and what standard will be laid down to which they must conform. There is another factor. It will not be possible to select only a man to be a tester. It will be necessary to select the garage, too. The state and size of the garage will have to be such that testing can be done there.

I can foresee conflict arising over this selection, particularly in country districts. In a country district there may be a private garage run by a very good mechanic, a first-rate mechanic. Many of us know, from our driving experience, that one can come across private garages where there are very good mechanics. However, a very good mechanic at a private garage may not be selected to be an examiner because his garage may not be of a size suitable for the testing. Down the road there may be a tied garage which the petrol companies helped to provide with a pretty expensive lay-out, and there may be room at that garage for a test bay. There may not be so good a mechanic there, however.

The good mechanic at the small garage perhaps believes in British freedom, and does not want to become tied to great petrol companies or their garages, and wants to run his own garage, but because he has not the facilities he may lose the testing job and thereby lose the trade in repairs. As my right hon. Friend said, there may be a tie-up between the testing and the subsequent repairing, and the more expensively equipped garage, where the testing can be done, will attract the repair work. I think that that is a consideration which ought to be borne carefully in mind. I would oppose, for that reason and others, the proposal that private garages should be selected as the testing stations.

Mr. E. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

We have to be practical over this question of compulsory testing. According to what my right hon. Friend said in the Standing Committee upstairs, we shall want about 150 testing stations and 2,000 mechanics. In these times of shortages of men and materials it will take long to find the stations and the men and to build up this structure and to get it in good working order.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend, in the meantime, will make some determined use of spot checking on the roads? I have always believed that we could achieve some good results by spot checking. It could be done. A spot check would take only five or ten minutes. It could be a quick and effective means of telling a driver that his car is or is not up to standard. Will my right hon. Friend say whether he proposes to use that spot checking in the meantime as a practical means of bringing about a better standard?

Mr. Watkinson

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) for putting down the new Clause in Committee and for allowing me, as the Minister who came newly to be in charge of the Bill, time at that stage to think again. I am very grateful to him for that. I do not mind how many vicissitudes we go through on this Measure, which is not a subject of party political controversy, and is an attempt to make a contribution to the solution of the problem of road safety. I do not mind how many vicissitudes I personally go through as long as at the end I am satisfied I have obtained the best possible answer.

I should like now to answer one or two of the points which, so very fairly and well, the right hon. Gentleman has made. I was very interested in the examples he gave of the astonishing things that come to light. People who at present oppose this system of testing would not for a moment do so if they spent a day at Hendon and there saw motor owner after motor owner coming in with their cars, thinking there is nothing wrong with them, and learning that they are defective—have defective brakes, for instance—and constitute dangers even to the drivers themselves should they be in a crisis on the road.

I have had prepared a list of a few things which were found wrong with vehicles tested during April this year, when 979 vehicles out of 2,248 passing through the testing station were regarded as having under-vehicle items requiring attention. It is a most astonishing list. I will not go into details but it includes cracked chassis, broken springs, and dangerous steering due to a variety of causes. In some cases the steering box itself was ready to drop off. Wheel bearings were worn and tyres were dangerous.

There was almost the whole range of things that could possibly happen to a car. I am advised that in most cases the owners had not the slightest idea that these things were wrong until the cars were examined. This is, therefore, a service of value to the motorist. It is not an imposition upon him. It may well tell him something about his motor car which it is very much in his own interest that he should know.

I agree that the question of who is to do the testing is a difficult point. It caused a great deal of debate in the other place. Speeches by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) and other hon. Members have shown a desire for a sense of urgency and I want to respond to the request of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall that I should show it. I accept that as a very proper criticism, but if we are to show a sense of urgency we must use every possible means to get this service into operation. That is the difficulty that faces me, and I have deliberately drawn the Clause as widely as I can so that I shall not be debarred from using any method available. That is perhaps why I was a little too generous, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said, in responding to the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), who wanted me to widen the means. I do not want to exclude any possible means of getting this most necessary job done.

If we are to get that reasonable sense of urgency I cannot see how we can hope to do this job without using ordinary public garages a great deal. I think that in many cases the general public will expect that we should use State stations where available, but I must be fair and say that we shall not have the money to build a great chain of State testing stations. A good many local authorities have service garages where they service their own vehicles. That is a useful method that might well be adopted. I undertake to have the most careful discussions with local authorities to see what use we can make of the facilities they offer, in the same way as we shall have careful discussions with the motor trade to see what facilities the private garage can offer.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall asked what steps we propose to take against abuse. There is the possibility of abuse wherever we do the testing. There will always be the odd owner of a car who knows that it should not be on the road and takes it to a station and hopes to get by through some means or other. Therefore, there will have to be a standard of inspection by officers of my Ministry.

The case made by the Opposition is that in the private garage the likelihood of some sort of wrong inspection or of a certificate being given wrongly is greater and more difficult to police. I do not necessarily take that view. I think that it will be possible, and it will be necessary, to examine most carefully the private garages that will take part in the scheme. Equally, and this is why I cannot be specific about progress, I intend to have full consultations with the motor garage trade itself through the responsible trade organisation.

4.45 p.m.

I will take careful note of what has been said on both sides of the Committee about the best methods of doing the job, because I have yet to draw the regulations—as I have yet to conduct conversations and examine the position. Therefore, there is plenty of room for manoeuvre. I am advised, however, that there is no possibility of doing all this without relying to a great extent on private garages if we are to have the scheme in a foreseeable time. It would not be right to carry it out in one area and not in another. We cannot have it in London, for example, and not in the Midlands. It must be a nation-wide scheme and therefore it must use every kind of testing authority that we can find.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall also said that he thought that my list of things that would be tested was rather restricted. I said that we would concentrate on brakes, steering and lights, subject to the general point that if a car was for any reason found to be dangerous on the road it would have to be dealt with. One of the reasons why I want to restrict the scheme to simple things is that they are not costly. To put right the things that I have mentioned is not an expensive or difficult business. It is not something that will throw a big new load on the garage business. If, for example, a car comes to Hendon and is found to be in need of a complete overhaul and reconditioning of the engine, that is an expensive matter. Whilst that might well be pointed out to the owner, it is not largely a question of road safety that it should be immediately put right. It is not something to which an owner should fear he would be subjected in this testing system. On the other hand, if the steering is affected or the brakes are well below standard, those are things which he ought to have attended to immediately, but they are neither expensive to do nor do they take a great deal of skilled labour to put right.

I say this in the light of not yet having finally made up my mind. The regulations are not prepared yet, and when they are they will have to come before the House of Commons, but the fact remains that the simpler we make the task, the less burden we put on the mechanics and the garage industry, the quicker and better we shall have this job done. Therefore, I do not want to put up an elaborate list of things which must be put right when they may not make a contribution to the safety of the car on the road.

I was also asked by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall about the car found to be too unsafe to go on the road at all. I shall have to look at the position from the longer term point of view, but I think that we can protect matters so that, at least, the owner can get the car home. Equally, however, we must try to preserve the position that he cannot go on using the car if it is generally unsafe. I will take careful account of that point when the detailed regulations are prepared.

The last point put to me was the question of how quickly we propose to proceed. I do not want to throw this back in any way on what has been said, but if we are to make reasonably good progress we must make some use of the private garage industry, because otherwise I think the scheme will be almost indefinitely postponed. I shall see that the use we make of them is fair, reasonable and not subject to abuse.

As I have said, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington made the case for spreading the load as widely as possible if we want to get on with this job. It will be done on a fee basis which should fairly cover the cost of installing the necessary equipment. If that is restricted to simple operations, it should not be unduly expensive. I want to make it plain that there is no question of any subsidy. The State will not pay for it; it must pay for itself.

Mr. Strauss

Will any burden be put upon the local authorities?

Mr. Watkinson

I was just about to elaborate the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, as to what burden would be put upon the local authorities. I cannot accept his Amendment in those terms, but I give the assurance that no attempt will be made to pass any of this burden on to the local authorities. This must pay for itself, and in the discussions which my Department will have with the local authority associations we shall have to see how that can best be achieved.

I quite understand that the County Councils Association might be, and probably is, perturbed about the possibility that a designated local authority would have for its pains only an increased burden to bear. I can best answer that point by making two points of my own. First, I would not designate any local authority against its wish. It must be done by negotiation and agreement. If, therefore, a local authority said that it did not wish to be designated, for the reason of expense or any other reason, I would not press the matter, much less try to coerce it.

Secondly, I hope that the fee charged for testing will be a standard one throughout the country. The question of the fee will have to be discussed thoroughly with all the interests concerned, including the local authorities, on the basis of making this a service which reasonably pays for itself. I hope I have made it plain that there is no question of placing any burden upon the local authorities, and I repeat that there is no question of them being forced to participate if they do not wish to do so.

I cannot identify individual vehicles as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) asked me to do, but of course all cars over ten years will be caught. In answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan), I have power in this Clause to exempt certain classes of vehicles, such as tractors, and I shall certainly see that we do not bring in classes of vehicles which it would be impossible or impracticable to include.

As to the 18-year-old car, I have no doubt that my hon. and gallant Friend has a good and serviceable one. If that is the case, it will pass the test and he will have the additional pride of knowing that it has done so, and it will not cost him anything or be any burden on anybody else. If what my hon. and gallant Friend said is right—and I think there is some truth in it—some of the old cars are better kept and safer, and there is nothing to worry about because they will certainly pass the test.

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) raised a point about the men who will carry out the tests. I hope I have indicated that the garages will be carefully selected, not necessarily as to whether they are tied or free garages or whether they have modern premises or not. I think that any garage capable of carrying out repairs will have a corner which could be allocated for this purpose. I know that some greasing bays today are beautiful and elaborate structures, but one would not expect these to be built specially for this task. However, it is important that my expert officers should choose a garage which is capable of doing the work properly, and in it there must be a suitable place so that the owner of the car knows where he is to go. In other words, the testing bay or corner of the garage must be indicated by a sign, and there must be a suitable mechanic available to carry out the test.

Obviously, at this stage I cannot give any indication as to what steps we should take. I have indicated the steps we shall take to choose the garages, but I cannot say what steps we ought to take to ensure that there is an adequate standard of skill amongst the garage hands who will carry out the work. However. I have noted the point and I shall take it into account.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire. South-East)

Do I understand that the bay would have to be used exclusively for this purpose, or might the small garage owner use it for other purposes when it is not being used for tests?

Mr. Watkinson

That is a good point. I think it is possible that in some cases the greasing bay, with its hydraulic lift, might be used for both purposes. I do not want to place a greater burden on the garage industry than is necessary. At the moment it is wiser for me to indicate my general requirements only, and to leave the specific needs until we come to the negotiations with the trade.

The answer to the question of avoidance or of not getting a sufficiently high standard is that at Hendon we have had a great deal of experience of brake-testing machines. There it is not a question of a man carrying out the test. There is a most accurate gauge which can be read and which records whether the brakes conform to a satisfactory standard or not. The skill of the operator does not enter into the matter because the machine does the job. Fortunately, it is not an expensive machine to mass-produce if necessary. I am trying to point out that we want a simple test, with simple yet practical machines doing most of the work. In this way there will be no necessity for a man to decide on his own experience and judgment whether the standard of the vehicle is satisfactory or not. I hope it will be much more like reading a chart.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) asked if this meant that I would not continue the spot check procedure. Of course, I have powers already to use that procedure under existing legislation. Those powers are tidied up and expanded in another part of the Bill and I consider it to be essential to have both. Spot checking on the road will, on certain occasions, be a useful incentive to people to have their cars tested voluntarily before their time has arrived. This I shall welcome as long as the testing stations can handle it; so the answer to my hon. Friend is that both spot checking and compulsory periodic checking once a year are both necessary if we are to get the results we want.

I believe that I have answered most of the points raised in the general discussion, but I shall be pleased to answer any other detailed points later.

Mr. Kirk

Could my right hon. Friend say something about my second point concerning regulations for safety? I do not want to press him if he has not got the answer now.

Mr. Watkinson

My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tells me that a circular will be sent out shortly to the interested parties.

Mr. Strauss

I want to ask one or two questions and to make some comments on what the Minister has said. First, may I ask a question which I should have asked previously? What is the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman to our Amendment, to add at the end of the new Clause: The Minister shall lay annually before Parliament a report on the operation and the results of this and of the next following section"? I assume that the right hon. Gentleman will have no objection, but as we may have to vote on the Amendment, perhaps the Minister will indicate whether it is his intention to accept it.

In the course of his remarks the Minister again emphasised the desirability of keeping these tests to the minimum and one agrees in principle. The Minister again said that the essentials were to test the brakes, steering and lights. That is true, but I must repeat what I said, that there are a number of other components of great importance which ought to be tested. They would not take much time or require special apparatus. For example, a test should be made to see that the direction indicators are working properly. This might be exceedingly important on a rainy night because, if they are not working, an accident might be caused.

5.0 p.m.

The next test is to ensure that the windscreen wiper is working properly, which is equally important. The third is to make sure that there is a rear-view mirror. The fourth is to ensure that the tyres are in proper condition. A defective tyre may result in a blow-out and an appalling accident may take place involving death. I suggest that the compulsory testing should cover at least these other four things, and should not necessarily be confined to the three read out by the Minister, because that would be ridiculous.

Next, has the Minister really said his last word about the relative importance of the private garage compared with what one might call the public authority garage for testing vehicles? At the moment I feel wholly dissatisfied with the Minister's reply. He told us that he will have to put a very great deal of reliance on the private garage. What does that mean? I still want to know. Does it mean that private garages will be used in exceptional cases only? If so, we do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. But I fear from the general tenor of his remarks that use of private garages will be the order rather than the exception. I do not think it is unreasonable of us, knowing the Government's prejudices against all forms of public enterprise, to feel that the Government will put much greater emphasis on the private garage than on the State or the local authority garage.

I was not a bit convinced by the right hon. Gentleman's arguments against having State garages. I gathered that there were two arguments. One advanced in the Standing Committee was the difficulty of obtaining the necessary men. The number of men who would be involved, spread over the country, would not be so very great. As the Minister himself argued, some of the tests are effectively done by machines, and highly skilled men are not required. I can confirm what the Minister said about the braking test, for I had the brakes of my car tested. One drives the car on to a certain apparatus and applies the brakes, and a column on which there are four glass dials shows whether or not the brakes are working effectively. Anybody could do that. It does not require a highly skilled man. It could well be done by someone who was invalided out of industry and could not do a strenuous job. We want people of good character who are able to discuss the matter and approach the motorist in the proper way, but we do not want highly skilled people to do these jobs. I should have thought that it would be sufficient to have one or two highly skilled people in charge of each garage. The Minister is wrong to put so much emphasis on that point.

Secondly, he says that there will not be much money available for building the garages required for the task. I have two answers to that. First, it may not be necessary to build many garages, if any. Garages often change hands, and the Minister could take over some which are being sold and use them for this public service. He would then not have to put up so many buildings.

Even if the Minister has to put up new buildings, they are not elaborate. Indeed, they are perfectly simple brick sheds. The total cost of putting up about 150 brick sheds, if they were all new ones, would be insignificant compared with the benefits which we can expect from the scheme, including the saving of hundreds of lives. It is ridiculous to suggest that there will not be the money to build sufficient garages or that it is not possible to use existing buildings for the purpose.

Unless the right hon. Gentleman can give us something much more persuasive than he has done so far in favour of the use of private garages as against public garages, I have no doubt that my hon. Friends and I shall wish to record our vote upon this very important matter when we reach our Amendments after having dealt with the Clause. We approve the Clause as a whole, but we believe that our important Amendments are absolutely essential to make the scheme a good one. We have also in mind that abuses are bound to arise if private garages are doing this work to a considerable extent, and the whole system will then get into disrepute in the eyes of the motorists and the public generally. We do not want that to happen, and it should not happen. The work should be done by public enterprise. The only really effective method is to make it a public test. Only rarely should private garages do this important work.

Mr. Watkinson

Perhaps I might answer the right hon. Gentleman now. His last Amendment in the series asks me to lay before Parliament a report on the operation of the Clause. I take it that he means that it shall be a report once a year when the scheme is in full swing and that it should, presumably, record the number of cars tested. I cannot accept the Amendment, but I will accept the principle that, once the scheme is in full operation, I should find a way of keeping Parliament informed of progress, the number of cars tested, and so on. I should not wish to bind myself to an annual report, although I would agree to finding a way of keeping Parliament properly informed about the progress of the operation.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's other point, what he said was what I meant when I spoke about having, apart from a test of steering, brakes and lights, a condition of general safety. For example, if an examining mechanic saw that a tyre was slit inside and was likely to blow out, he would obviously inform the car owner so that he might put it right. Although I will take carefully into account what the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have said, we have yet to have the necessary discussions and I do not think we want to have too long a list of the tests which have to be carried out to complete the inspection. I do not necessarily rule out windscreen wipers, trafficators, or anything else. I merely say that my desire is to restrict the list to the minimum number of items which are really necessary for the actual safety of the vehicle on the road.

As to the most important point whether we do this as a State service or by means of a mixture of private and public enterprise, I cannot go any further than I have gone except to say that I think that most hon. Members would not, on the whole, disagree that we want the scheme in operation in a reasonable time and we obviously cannot build up a great new chain of testing stations all over the country very quickly or very cheaply, despite what the right hon. Gentleman said.

What we will do is to examine most carefully all the ways of doing it. That is why the Clause has been drawn in its present form. I am advised, for example, that it may be possible to devise a mobile testing station which could be taken round scattered rural areas on a lorry and trailer and thus save motorists from having to drive considerable distances to have their vehicles tested. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) referred to this matter in relation to Scotland. We will certainly ascertain what facilities local authorities can offer us. We shall be very glad if they can offer us facilities.

However, I really cannot bind myself at this stage to say that I will do it one way or the other. All I will say is that we want to do it as quickly as possible. I want to do it well and fairly. Provided that I am satisfied on those points, we must merely ascertain how we can best do it, bearing in mind that up to this moment it has not been possible to have discussions with anybody. We shall certainly see what we can first do through our own resources. Perhaps a mobile testing station might be useful. We shall then see what facilities local authorities can offer us. At the same time, we shall see what facilities private garages can offer. Out of all these things we shall try to pick what we think is a fair and reasonable method of doing the test and making it pay for itself. That is as far as I can go now.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

Will not the right hon. Gentleman be a little more forthcoming about laying a report before Parliament about the operation of the Clause? Surely it is reasonable for us to ask him to inform Parliament about how the testing works out and what results from it. There are various publications by the Ministry. We have the Annual Report on Road Accidents, which, although it comes out somewhat late, contains a very great deal of valuable information. The Minister is starting a most important undertaking, and we feel that it would be of value to Parliament to be informed about the results. I urge the Minister to think about the matter again and to consider accepting the Amendment.

Mr. Watkinson

It may be, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has just said, that we can add it to our accidents report. I do not want to commit myself to making a new and special report, but I will see whether we can add it to the accidents report, so that we can have an annual record of what is happening in these tests.

Amendment agreed to.