HC Deb 27 July 1960 vol 627 cc1700-19

Lords Amendment: In page 1, line 9, after "road" insert: during the hours of darkness (as defined by the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1957)

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

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

Clause - (1, a) is intended to apply to lighting and reflector offences committed in respect of stationary vehicles at night, but the Regulation which the offences are created—Regulation 24A of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations, 1955—requires that a vehicle shall at all times, which means even during the day, carry the equipment that is necessary to ensure that it can be adequately lit at night. An offence against that Regulation, albeit a technical offence, can therefore be committed during the day.

Hon. Members will, I am sure, agree that it certainly is not appropriate that the ticket system should be used for merely technical offences of that kind. The effect of the Amendment will be to ensure that this offence can be the subject of the ticket system only when it is committed during the hours of darkness.

Mr. Benn

As I understand it, it is an offence to have during daylight a car which is not capable of being lit at night.

Mr. Renton indicated assent.

Mr. Benn

That is to say, if I have a car parked in the street and it does not have a battery under the bonnet, I am committing an offence. Nobody suggests in the Bill that traffic wardens should go round peeping under car bonnets, because that is not their function. On the other hand, if a car does not have a reflector, which is a quite difficult thing to fit, and it is spotted by a traffic warden in the late afternoon without reflectors, it is almost bound to commit an offence when darkness falls.

It is rather riduculous to preclude a traffic warden, who will soon be called upon to perform quite important functions, from taking action when he sees a car without a reflector fitted. That is to say, lighting equipment, which is a quite technical matter—we almost get into the field of vehicle testing when we come to the serviceablility of lighting equipment—is one thing. The reflector is an essential part of the safety apparatus of the car.

I only wish to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether a traffic warden, seeing a car without a fixed reflector, will be in a position to take any action to prevent the driver and owner of that car being allowed to get away with it without having it corrected. Possibly, the hon. and learned Gentleman can settle the point.

Mr. Renton

Yes, indeed. I give the hon. Member that assurance. There is nothing in the Amendment which prevents the traffic warden from drawing the constable's attention to the defective state of the reflector, whether shortly before the hours of darkness or at some other time. The main point of the Amendment is that the ticket procedure could not be used except for an offence committed during the hours of darkness.

Mr. Benn

Will it be in order for a traffic warden to take the number of a car that is not equipped with a reflector and to report it in the absence of a constable?

Mr. Renton

Yes. There is nothing to prevent him from doing that.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 9, leave out from "offering" to end of line 13 and insert: the opportunity of the discharge of any liability to conviction of that offence by payment of a fixed penalty under this section; and no person shall then be liable to be convicted of that offence if the fixed penalty is paid in accordance with this section before the expiration of the twenty-one days following the date of the notice or such longer period (if any) as may be specified therein or before the date on which proceedings are begun, whichever event last occurs.

Mr. Renton

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

Clause 1 as it left this House gave an option to pay a fixed penalty to the court or to wait and be prosecuted. That description was accurate as far as it went, but it was not complete and it has caused doubts to arise concerning the description of the offer as an option. We hope that these doubts will be removed by the Amendment.

It may be convenient if I remind the House that the purpose of the ticket is to allow a person who knows he has committed an offence to pay without being convicted. In nearly all cases, if the fixed penalty is not paid proceedings will be taken. Therefore, in practice, the choice will be to pay or be prosecuted. The Bill does not, however, oblige the police to prosecute if in their discretion, and having regard to the circumstances, they decide not to do so. I must point out that it would only be in exceptional cases that the police would exercise their discretion not to prosecute. Therefore, a more accurate description of the choice is to say that the driver may pay and so avoid the possibility of prosecution and conviction, or do nothing and run the risk of proceedings being taken against him if the police are satisfied that there are grounds for doing so.

6.0 p.m.

In the Clause as it was drafted the ticket was described as an option in order to make it clear that the person liable was not bound to pay unless he wished, but for the reasons I have given it is arguable, and doubt was thrown on the position in another place that the word "option" is not quite appropriate to the circumstances, because more precisely what is offered is not an option so much as an opportunity to compound, or, in other words, to discharge the liability to be convicted after prosecution and after failure to pay the fixed penalty.

That is what the first part of the Lords Amendment says. In other words, it is a more precise statement than we had in the previous draft of the Bill of what payment is. Conversely, the effect of non-payment, which is liability to conviction and which would have been discharged by payment, remains; but it is liability, not certainty. It was felt in another place that the word "option" implied a certain amount of certainty of prosecution if the fixed penalty was not paid.

The Government also took advantage of the opportunity in another place of improving the precision of the second part of this subsection as well so as to give complete protection against conviction where the penalty is paid either within the 21 days, or even if it is paid outside that period before proceedings are begun. If the person responsible for an offence lets the 21 days elapse before he pays he is at risk, because if an information is laid before his money reaches the clerk to the justices the payment will not discharge his liability to conviction. It is only if the money is paid within the 21 days that the protection is absolute.

Mr. Benn

I must say that the hon. and learned Gentleman's explanation has raised clouds of doubt in my mind about whether we ought to agree with the Lords in all these Amendments although we want the police to have discretion. For example, I have a ticket on my car and I go to the police and give a perfectly reasonable explanation and as a result they do not want to prosecute. That seems to be a very sensible thing. We want that. On the other hand, we do not want to get the public into the state of thinking that there is not a very great likelihood of prosecution, because they then will postpone paying their ticket fine either in the hope that the police will forget it, or at any rate not prosecute, or just because they feel that they lose nothing by postponing the payment.

The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by saying that if one does not pay within the 21 days and on the twenty-second day one gets a summons, even if one then pays, one does not discharge one's liability to prosecution. In those circumstances I can conceive of it happening that people will be getting tickets and will hope—or some at any rate—that they will not be prosecuted by the police, and that they may even write a letter explaining to the police, in the hope that they will not be prosecuted, and they will not pay the money, and at the end of the 21 days the police will prosecute in certain cases. Then in such a case a man will say, Heavens, they mean to prosecute. I must pay." But the money will not be accepted and the case will go to court. That is what we want to avoid—cluttering up the courts with small offences.

So, although I think that this is going to work all right, it would be wise for the hon. and learned Gentleman not to say anything in this House at this stage which suggests that prosecution will not follow non-payment of tickets, because I think that the certainty of prosecution following non-payment of tickets has an essential part to play in getting the public to co-operate with the authorities by paying when they know themselves to be guilty. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would clear this point up I think it would be a great convenience for the operation of the scheme.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Surely this narrower point that we are now discussing is one for administration. I would have thought that, if a ticket has been served and then the chief constable or the lawyer in the chief constable's office decides that it is not a case in which prosecution should take place he ought to write and say so. I should have thought that there should be some administrative arrangement whereby that could be carried through. On the other hand, I do not want to see these cases kept out of court. I view this method of getting notice and then avoiding a conviction, which is a real advantage, as not a thing to be encouraged. If a breach of the law is committed in this country it ought to be dealt with in the courts.

Mr. Renton

If I may have the leave of the House to speak again, I would answer the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) by saying that, in moving, "That this House does agree with the Lords in the said Amendment", I did point out that the most usual practice would be for the police to prosecute if the fixed penalty was not paid; it is only, as I said, in rare cases, exceptional cases, that in their discretion they may find that it is not appropriate to prosecute. This must be coupled with the other statement that I made that in these cases where the motorist concerned knows that he has committed the offence—and he will generally have no doubt about it—he will be wise to pay up. We expect that most motorists who know that they have committed an offence will pay up.

That, to some extent, also answers the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), but I think it is fair to the Government that I should point out that it was partly in deference to the view which he expressed in Standing that we should do nothing to interfere with the discretion of the police to prosecute or not prosecute, that we in another place asked their Lordships to amend the Bill in this way which I am now commending we should follow, so as to make it perfectly clear that there is that discretion in rare and exceptional cases in which it would not be appropriate either for the motorist to pay the fixed penalty or the police to prosecute.

If it gives any assurance to the hon. Gentleman, I stress here and now that in nearly all cases, if the fixed penalty is not pa d, there will be prosecution.

The only other point for me to answer is the point which the right hon. Gentleman referred to as an administrative matter, namely, that if there is to be no prosecution the police or the court or somebody should write and say so. That is an administrative matter, and we will consider it, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the suggestion.

Mr. Benn

I want to put one final point. I conceive a difficulty here, If a man receives a ticket then he may or may not be guilty but he might decide to pay to save trouble, and the police meanwhile might decide that he probably was not guilty and will not in any case prosecute. Can there be no procedure, as my right hon. Friend said, for the withdrawal of the ticket so that the man may be left in no doubt? We cannot go into this at this stage when we can speak more than once only with the leave of the House, but I think that the point was worth raising, in that we have alerted the hon. and learned Gentleman and his Department to possible administrative difficulties which may arise in the operation of this Lords Amendment.

Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgfield)

May I ask my hon. Friend whether there is a specified period, between the time that a man receives a ticket and the time that the charge is made against him, during which he can pay?

Mr. Benn

The question should not be addressed to me, but the period is 21 days, and after that even if he pays he is not free from prosecution.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 18, leave out from "may" to end of line 19 and insert: have been specified therein

Mr. Renton

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

It might be convenient also to discuss with this Amendment the Amendment in line 38.

These Amendments are necessitated by the Amendment to which we have just agreed and it might be of help to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) to point out that subsection (6) as proposed to be amended will require the ticket to specify instead of the period of option the period during which the police and the local authority are precluded from taking proceedings. This is the effect of the second Amendment. The hon. Member will find from the Bill that that period is 21 days.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 15, at end insert: (9A) In any proceedings for an offence to which subsection (1) of this section applies no reference shall be made after the conviction of the accused to the giving or affixing of any notice under this section or to the payment or non-payment of a fixed penalty thereunder unless in the course of the proceedings or in some document which is before the court in connection with the proceedings reference has been made by or on behalf of the accused to the giving or affixing of such a notice or, as the case may he, to such a payment or nonpayment.

Mr. Renton

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

The Amendment was moved by the Government to deal with a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others in Committee in another place, and indeed it had been the subject of discussion in our Standing Committee. It is the question whether the fact that a driver had been served with a ticket could be quoted against him in the courts. In dealing with this matter perhaps it is appropriate for me to acknowledge that I felt that it could be dealt with by the existing practice and rules of evidence and that justice would be obtained in that way. But in view of all the discussions that have taken place in this House and in another place we feel that the matter might very well be more specifically dealt with by writing something into the Bill.

There are two types of proceedings to which the question may be relevant. First, there are the proceedings for the offence for which the ticket was served while the fixed penalty has not been paid, and subsequently separate proceedings for another offence but one of a similar character. In neither proceedings could payment of a fixed penalty be referred to by the prosecution, because the question would be irrelevant to the question of guilt on the evidence before the court. Therefore, it would be inadmissible except in so far as the defence might raise the matter in proceedings for a ticketable offence on the ground that a penalty had been paid and therefore there was a defence. The defence obviously would raise that matter before conviction, because there would be conviction if it did not raise it.

There remains, however, the question whether the service of a ticket or the payment of a penalty could be quoted as part of an offender's antecedents, his past history as known to the police. That is clearly a matter which is considered after conviction and while the court is considering sentence. While the offender has been convicted of an offence for which a ticket was served, the fact that he sought to exercise his right to defend the case instead of paying a fixed penalty ought not to 'be quoted against him. We have come to the conclusion that it would be right specifically to prohibit this in the Bill. I think that it was common ground between us in Committee.

6.15 p.m.

On the other hand, where the fixed penalty has been paid there is no conviction and the liability for conviction has been discharged. In these circumstances also, we think it reasonable that the offender should be protected against a reference to the fact that he has been previously served with a ticket and has paid if he is brought up before the court later for a similar offence. In other words, payment of a fixed penalty after the serving of a ticket is not in itself a conviction and it should not be treated as a previous conviction if he is later prosecuted for a similar offence.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

Let us take the extreme case of a man who in one year has received ten tickets which he has paid within the 21 days and at some stage he is then accused of dangerous driving, which of course is an entirely different offence and he is taken to court and prosecuted. I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman to be saying that previous offences, whether paid for by ticket or by means of the court procedure, must not be referred to by the prosecution, and that they ought not to be mentioned unless the defendant is stupid enough to refer to them himself in court.

Mr. Renton

Yes. The hon. Member of course is referring to the persistent offender. If the traffic warden or the police constable notices that a certain person, whether with the same vehicle or with different vehicles, is becoming a persistent offender and is always having tickets served on him and always paying, the warden or constable may decide that it is no use going on serving a ticket on such a man, that it is a waste of time and therefore he had better be prosecuted. The case of the persistent offender will not be allowed to reach such proportions that he is such a nuisance that his behaviour ought to have a bearing on the conviction for dangerous driving which is a very different and very serious kind of offence.

The effect of the Amendment is that thy; fact, that the man has paid up a fixed penalty will not be admissible as part of his antecedents if he is later convicted of dangerous driving. To sum up, the effect of the Amendment is that the fact that a person has had a ticket served on him so that a fixed penalty has been paid or has not been paid should not be mentioned in proceedings before or after conviction of an offence to which Clause 1 (1) applies, unless it has been mentioned by or on behalf of the accused in the course of proceedings or in some document before the courts, for example, in a statement submitted with a plea of guilty sent by post. I have fairly fully explained the reasons for the Amendment and I think that they follow the views expressed at an earlier stage in the House and in another place. I hope that the House will feel that we should agree with the Lords Amendment.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I have been trying to follow the logic of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument, especially as I did not have the opportunity of serving on the Sta.-Wing Committee. Incidentally, I am ass fired that I did not miss much.

Here we are dealing with an actual offender. A person has committed an offence on the road and has been served with a ticket, which is the equivalent of a monetary penalty. He may agree to accept the ticket and forfeit the penalty for committing the offence. The Minister has told us that that is not an offence at all and that it should not be quoted as an offence against that individual in the event of a subsequent appearance in court. Frankly, I am unable to follow that line of reasoning.

The hon. and learned Gentleman proceeds further and quotes the case of another person who rejects the ticket and decides to defend himself in court. If during the course of the proceedings an admission about the previous affair is made by the individual concerned, then that conviction would be regarded as one set against his record. If it is not mentioned at all by the individual, then it will not be referred to. So we may have a person who accepts the ticket and forfeits the monetary penalty and another who appears before a court, is convicted and fined, and it is quite possible that in the event of subsequent prosecutions these would not be regarded as convictions.

Frankly, I wonder whether we are going to relax the law for other offences against society to the same extent. In this case, whether we like it or not, we are creating a very dangerous precedent. I can very well visualise other sections of the administration of the law demanding similar concessionary relaxations in legislation or the enforcement of the law in general if concessions of this nature are made.

Would the Minister explain why he was in such a hurry to accept the Amendment from the Lords? Incidentally, I spent most of the afternoon listening to Minister after Minister accepting the guidance of the Lords. I wonder whether the Prime Minister might consider that attitude in connection with his great problem, because, whether one likes it or not, it seems to me—especially as a member of another Standing Committee in which we urged Amendment after Amendment on the Minister and Amendment after Amendment was rejected—that we have the satisfaction of finding not only that in another place some of our Amendments were agreed to but that this afternoon they are approved by the Minister and recommended to this House.

Surely, therefore, if we are serious about controlling our roads we must be serious about enforcing penalties. Does the Minister realise that the time has arrived when a greater discipline must be imposed on all road users because our roads and our road programmes are hopelessly incapable of meeting the demands of twentieth century traffic. That calls for the imposition of greater discipline on all road users. Yet we find the Minister rushing about almost breaking his neck this afternoon to accept an Amendment designed not to impose greater discipline on the road users but to relax discipline. I honestly feel that we are taking a step in a backward direction. I wonder whether when the Minister came to the conclusion that the Lords Amendment was one worthy of recommendation to this House he bore in mind that we require a more effective discipline for road users today and not a relaxed discipline?

Mr. Ede

This is undoubtedly a very difficult matter in view of the line that the Government have adopted. As a practising magistrate for thirty-seven years, I know only one similar provision, and that is with regard to the non-payment of the excise licence on a motor car. When it is reported that a car has been discovered without a current excise licence in force the county council, or county borough council, as the case may be, can suggest to the offender that he should pay what is called a mitigated penalty. The council considers what the appropriate figure is. It is generally less than what it thinks it would get if the case went before a magistrate. The offender has the option of paying it or not. There may be other cases; no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will vouchsafe that there are others, but it is the only one that I have met.

I have heard prosecutions in these cases. I have not adjudicated upon them because most of the time that I was a magistrate I was also a member of a county council and it was, therefore, inadvisable—though I think I was not prevented from doing so—for me to adjudicate. But I have recollections in those cases of hearing it said that the defendant was offered a mitigated penalty or that he had had a mitigated penalty inflicted upon him on two or three previous occasions, and the local authority had come to the conclusion that it was about time he had it brought home to him that he ought to comply with the law.

I find some difficulty in thinking that this complete exemption from any publicity for having committed an offence should be granted to a person who has committed an offence. If I am right about what happens with regard to the mitigated penalty for not taking out an excise licence, I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman could tell me why the Government thought it desirable to set a precedent in this case that was not followed by some Government in the past when the mitigated penalty was arranged.

Mr. Benn

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman replies I should like to raise two points. The first is the case of the man who is being taken to court for the first time. He has left his car somewhere, has got a ticket, strongly resents the ticket he has received and is take to court and prosecuted by the police for non-payment. In other words, he has pleaded not guilty; that is why the case has gone to court. In that case, it cannot matter a bit that it is mentioned that he has not paid the ticket fine. Indeed, it helps him in a way. It is part of his argument why he should never have received the ticket in the first place.

The second case is that of the persistent offender. It may be found that the Amendment creates a differentiation between people who have a record of offences which they know they have committed. There are the people with guilty records who have paid their ticket fines and there are the people who have resisted tickets, have chosen to fight the case and have lost. If a man pays ten ticket fines and not the eleventh and comes to court, the court will have no cognisance of the ten earlier offences. However, for the sake of argument—I admit that it is not very likely—let us suppose that a man feels that he has been wrongly convicted ten times, having fought every one of the cases, and also fights the eleventh prosecution. There will be records of his previous convictions on the ten summonses.

Therefore, the position which we have created, in so far as we have created a new situation at all, is that the persistent offender who was certainly guilty gets away with it whereas the persistent offender who claims that he was innocent and chose to stand on his rights and fight the arguments in the courts suffers. In those cases we are putting a penalty upon pleas of innocence which is incompatible with the object of the ticket system. I should be grateful if the hon. and learned Gentleman would clear that point up.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) need not feel that we are blindly following the Amendments of the Lords in this matter. Indeed, the discussions in another place may well have been inspired to a great extent by those that we had in Standing Committee. He did not take part, as far as I remember, in our earlier proceedings on this Bill, and therefore he will perhaps allow me to remind him that in instituting this standard penalty procedure we are, in the main, breaking new ground. The nearest that we have to a precedent is the kind of thing mentioned by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), the compounding by a local authority of offences relating to failure to pay a car Excise licence.

As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on Second Reading, there is a similar provision for Customs offences dating back to 1825. Thus, in instituting a procedure for compounding offences, we are not doing something new, but we are making a new departure in providing for the service of a ticket offering, as I said on the second Amendment which we discussed, the chance to pay or in the alternative to incur a liability to prosecution.

We have all been at pains in that departure—certainly the Government have—to ensure that the compounding of the offence by payment of the fixed penalty shall not amount to a conviction, and that a person who compounds the offence in that way shall not be under the fear that by doing so he will be referred to in court on some later occasion as having been previously convicted. If we are not agreed upon that then it raises difficulties in the mind of any Member about this Amendment. I thought, however, that we were all agreed upon it. Certainly when the Bill went to the Lords it seemed that we were, and their Lordships are agreed upon it. The Lord Chancellor, in consultation with the Home Secretary, was right to move a Government Amendment in another place to put this matter right. The right hon. Member for South Shields asked me why we were creating a precedent by writing this into the Bill. As we are making a new departure to the extent which I have mentioned, and one which affects so many people in our highly motorised society, it is right that we should put the matter beyond doubt.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), with that great sublety of mind which we now associate with him, at any rate in motoring matters, challenged me to say why one type of persistent offender should be dealt with differently from another type. In order to illustrate his case he over-simplified the position that is likely to arise in practice. As I have said, we shall not allow people to become too persistent. When I say "we" I mean, of course, that the Government do not expect that the traffic wardens and the police will allow people to become too persistent in their use of the opportunities of compounding offered by the ticket system, because when it seems that somebody is getting into the habit of doing so he will be prosecuted.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

How will the warden know whether the owner of a car parked too long in the wrong place has, in the past, been a persistent offender or a persistent ticketee or not? Is he to be supplied with a black list? Are we to have a roll of people who have paid fines in this way and those who have not, and how many times?

Mr. Renton

That is a fair point, more especially as the ticket is to be fixed to and will relate to the vehicle and not to the motorist or the driver or the owner. Nevertheless, both police officers and wardens have eyes and are trained to use them. There will be people whose faces they will become accustomed to, and if they find that a certain person has become a persistent offender they will stop wasting time sticking tickets on his vehicle and will bring him to court.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

The hon. and learned Gentleman is advising motorists to commit their offences in different parts of London or Edinburgh, as the case may be, so as to avoid this risk.

Mr. Renton

Hardly a law is passed by this House which some people do not find a way of getting round. Indeed, it sometimes causes the House the trouble of making further legislation. We believe that this is a reasonably cast-iron system because the ticket is related to the vehicle. I acknowledge that it is only in those cases where the offender who is persistent becomes known to the police or to the traffic warden—as he will do if he is really persistent—that what I have said about offenders will apply.

Mr. Ede

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that we are doing this because we live in a highly motorised civilisation. We also live in a highly burglarised civilisation. Why not apply this to burglars?

Mr. Mellish

I do not know that the hon. and learned Gentleman treated this point seriously enough. He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) of being extremely subtle, but my hon. Friend asked a straightforward question. Do I understand that if a man pays a £2 fine and does not bother to go to court, the records are not kept, but that if he decides that a grave injustice is being done and each time he is served with a ticket he goes to court and fights the case, then this is recorded as a conviction against him?

We want justice to be done. I am all against the persistent offender, the character who gets into so much trouble on the roads, but we must be fair and make people understand that there is no real difference between getting a ticket and paying the fine at once and going to court to put one's case, but that the principle is that if he feels that he has not committed an offence he has the right to argue in court.

One of the dangers in taking a case to court, as I see it, is that where a ticket has been served by a warden or a policeman, then to a very large extent the man is condemned before he gets to court. I have argued this point before and I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not like the trend of it. We have the position in which a man is told "Pay up and have no record or go to court and have a record."

Mr. S. Silverman

The longer this discussion goes on the more puzzled I get. Until the hon. and learned Gentleman made his reply I thought that I agreed with him. It seemed to me that the point was simple enough. As he himself said at the beginning of his speech, what everyone wanted was to secure that the system of wardens and notices, now that we have decided upon it—some of us reluctantly—should work.

To make it work, it is suggested that when a man recognises that he has transgressed and has committed an offence against the regulations, and that he is at fault, and is prepared to concede that he has done so when his attention is called to it by a ticket being put upon his vehicle, and therefore agrees to pay a compounded penalty, that shall be the end of the matter for all purposes. If, on a subsequent occasion, he feels that he is being wrongly accused and does not accept the opinion of the warden that an offence has been committed and exercises his right to go to court to defend himself, but is nevertheless convicted, he shall not be penalised by having not made a lot of fuss on previous occasions when he knew perfectly well that he was in the wrong.

All that seems perfectly simple so far. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), if he will forgive me for saying so, somewhat confused the issue by saying that that created unfairness, in that a man who never admitted that he was wrong and who went to the court every time and was convicted every time would somehow or other be worse treated than a man who, when he was in the wrong, frankly admitted it. He is quite right, but I cannot see what can be wrong with that.

If a man chooses to contest an accusation which is made against him, he knows perfectly well that if he does not satisfy the court that the warden was wrong, he will be convicted, and that is a risk which he voluntarily assumes. If he goes to court and shows that the prosecution has failed to satisfy the court that he was guilty, he gets away with it and there is no conviction and there is no penalty, and there ought not to be. But if he fails and the prosecution discharges the onus, which is always on it, of proving him guilty, he has had his chance and has failed and the conviction is made and there is no reason why it should not be used against him on subsequent occasions.

Up to that point, I was on the side of the Government, but then the hon. and learned Gentleman said that there would be two classes of convicted offenders.

Mr. Renton

I was at pains to stress that the compounding of an offence by the serving of a fixed penalty notice did not amount to a conviction. It is a compounding.

Mr. Silverman

As a question of semantics, the hon. and learned Gentleman is obviously quite right and I would not contest that, but he said something which justified the comment which I made. He said that the warden would be entitled to use his own discretion and to determine whether a particular person, or driver of a particular vehicle, was a persistent offender or not. In order to decide whether he was a persistent offender or not, the warden will have regard not to any convictions in court but to the question of how many times in the past that person has confessed that he was wrong. The hypothesis is that if the man confesses that he is wrong and pays up, that is not a conviction, and if he does it often enough and confesses every time and pays every time, then he becomes a persistent offender, although not a single one of the cases entitled him to regard it as a conviction.

Mr. Benn

That is a persistent confessor, which is a different thing.

Mr. Silverman

The man has to be a persistent irregular practitioner of the regulations before he can be put in that position, and, ex hypothesi, he is not an offender at all.

The whole purpose of this provision is to encourage people not to make a fuss and to pay up when they are wrong. The encouragement to them to do that is to say, "Do not think that by admitting it and paying up you are building yourself a bad character." If we are to say, "You are building yourself a bad character", then the inducement not to make a fuss and to pay up when in the wrong has been taken away. It is that which worried me about the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech.

He must have it one way or another. Either the fixing of a ticket and the paying of a compounded penalty is to be the end of the matter for all purpose or it is not. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways, as he pretended. I hope that he will make it perfectly clear that the wardens are not to be given any discretion of that kind to discriminate between man and man. Those of us who have been practising in police courts for many years—and the hon. and learned Gentleman was certainly one of them in his time—know perfectly well that policemen and wardens are just as human as motorists and just as likely to take likes and dislikes and just as likely to have prejudices and just as likely to have favourites.

If the warden is given power to decide for himself whether a particular person is the kind of man who ought to be given an option of a ticket or prosecution to conviction in the court, having regard either to his knowledge of the man or any previous habit or past conduct, we will completely destroy the confidence of the public in what can be a very delicate and difficult operation of a wholly new branch of the law. This system will not work unless the public has confidence in it. If the public loses confidence in the warden, as it has largely lost confidence in these matters in the police—

Mr. Hay indicated dissent.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Silverman

The hon. Gentleman should consult his hon. Friends if he does not know it. I do not say that it is the case everywhere, or that it is on a wide scale, but everybody knows that there has been a considerable loss of confidence in the police in motoring cases. If we do what the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, we shall produce in the public—may be quite unfairly—a great deal of lack of confidence in the wardens and the system, and in that case the whole scheme will break down.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 36, at end insert: (b) In subsection (2) the words 'before the expiration of the twenty-one days following the date of the notice or such longer period (if any) as may be specified therein or' and the words whichever event last occurs' shall be omitted.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

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

This Amendment suitably adapts the Amendment which has just been made to Clause 1 (2) to meet the needs of Scotland.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.