HC Deb 27 July 1960 vol 627 cc1734-8

Lords Amendment: In page 26, line 37, at end insert new Clause "B": B. No such provision contained in regulations made or having effect as if made under subsection (1) of section sixty-four of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, as imposes or varies requirements with respect to the braking systems with which motor vehicles must be equipped shall be taken, for the purposes of subsection (3) of that section, or of any other provision of the regulations, to be one relating to the construction of vehicles.

Mr. Hay

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

On this point I must stand in a white sheet. The House will recollect that at a very early stage in our discussions on the Bill we had to make strong suggestions to hon. Members that they should exercise a self-denying ordinance regarding the extension of the scope of the Bill. At that stage it appeared likely that if the scope of the Bill were widely extended from matters in the original draft, and if road safety and cognate matters were introduced, there might be a serious risk that we should lose the Bill altogether in view of the timetable to which we were working. We therefore urged hon. Members not to extend the scope of the Bill.

7.30 p.m.

In another place the Government had to swallow their own words and ask far the scope of the Bill to be extended because this new Clause became necessary. The problem we are up against is this. As the House knows, the vehicle testing scheme is due to start on 12th September. The standard which must be applied by the test, particularly in respect of brakes, is laid down in new amending Regulations which we have recently made to the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations. Those Regulations themselves provide that certain standards must be complied with by all vehicles at all times and the new test will be conducted in respect of the amending regulations.

A risk we have to face when we are talking about brakes is that someone might claim that brakes are not part of the equipment of a vehicle, but part of its construction. The fact is that the statute law which governs the making of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations appears to require a standard to be laid down related only to the equipment and not to the construction of vehicles for the purposes of the test.

We were in this difficulty, that, although we ourselves were satisfied that brakes were part of the equipment of a vehicle and not part of its construction, there was a risk that after 12th September someone might go to a testing station with his car, have it failed because his brakes were wrong, and then take the matter to court, saying that our regulations were ultra vires, and that, therefore, his test certificate ought to have been issued. If the court then decided—and it is a possibility, in view of a recent case—that the brakes were not part of the equipment, but part of the construction, the new scheme would have been "bust" right open and we would be in great trouble. For that reason, we have to take the opportunity presented by this Bill to ask Parliament to enact this new Clause, which puts the matter beyond -any kind of doubt. I hope that with that explanation and apologies for having broken the advice I myself gave to the House, the House will give us this new Clause.

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman is always plausible and, in a white sheet, he is irresistible. It would be a pity, however, if we passed this new Clause without comment. We have been told over the last four years that there were legal difficulties which prevented the implementation of the vehicle testing scheme. The scheme, when it comes in, will be a modest and a poor measure. It will make compulsory testing of vehicles over ten years old, but in other countries—in Germany for example—cars are tested every two years. We regard this as a poor scheme, but it has been delayed for four years because of this particular legal difficulty.

This is the only legislative change that it has been necessary to make to bring the scheme into operation. We have the Orders already on the Table of the House and they do not concern us here, but those Orders derive from legislation already passed by the House. The only legal difficulty which requires legislation was the one which is being corrected by this new Clause. It seems quite startling, and amazing, that this House should have to delay the implementation of the testing scheme for four years until a Bill on a quite different subject happened to come from the Department to the House.

We are all experimenting in traffic control, road safety, and everything else. I think that the lesson of this new Clause—which we on this side of the House warmly welcome—is that we must be prepared to accept from the Minister certain powers even if the House does not always know exactly for what they are needed. We must, of course, build into that the precaution of the affirmative Resolution. If we can get over the difficulty by the Department having greater powers to prevent a delay of this kind—which, on a statistical basis, must have cost many lives because it is known that the scheme will lead to a reduction in the number of deaths on the road—we ought, in future, to have enough powers in reserve to prevent such a thing happening.

I do not say this in a truculent spirit, but when we first saw the Bill we said that the Long Title was too tightly drawn. We pleaded with the hon. Gentleman to widen the Title and the Financial Resolution so that it would have been possible for us to correct other anomalies and omissions which we thought existed in road traffic and road safety law. We should certainly have put them forward in a very constructive spirit. We would have brought them for ward in Committee and the Government would still have had the Bill by tomorrow, but they turned down our suggestion.

Now the hon. Gentleman comes along with a nice smile and a good case—and those two together are unbeatable—and says that we shall have to alter the Title. Without saying "I told you so", we feel tint there are lessons to be learned from this. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be promoted in future, but, if we have another Bill from his Department I very much hope that there will be an opportunity to make the powers wide enough to deal with contingencies as they arise.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I do not think that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) quite appreciates that anything to do with motor vehicles has an effect on the law which makes the lane exactly contrary to what everyone else thinks it is. The ordinary person has always regarded brakes as part of the construction of the vehicle, but apparently legally they are part of the equipment. This little difficulty is not by any means the only difficulty in the testing of vehicles. There are all sorts of guarantees of braking, standards of braking, and so on. From my experience of this matter I think that we ought to pass this Clause to put the matter right.

Mr. Hay

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) for the way in which he has received the new Clause. I thought it might be trying human nature a little hard to expect him to refrain from trying to rub our noses in it to some extent, but I am obliged to him.

Since he has asked about it, I should like to put on record that this is the only legislative change we have had to make before bringing in the testing scheme, if, by legislative change, we mean a change in Statute law, but there have been other changes in administrative and legislative arrangements. I can assure the House that we think that we have now got the thing absolutely right. I beg the House to consider what would have happened, and what an outcry there would have been—how triumphant some people outside who have been inveterate opponents of the vehicle testing scheme would have been—if it were discovered that there was a loophole or error which could have brought the scheme down. That is why I think that we are justified in bringing this forward and I am obliged for the way in which it has been received.

Question put and agreed to.

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.