HC Deb 17 July 1962 vol 663 cc365-77

The Minister may make regulations providing that no person shall be entitled to the grant of a licence or, if he has previously held a provisional licence, to the grant of a new provisional licence, to drive a motor cycle of such cylinder capacity as the Minister may specify, unless such person holds a certificate issued by a training school approved by the Minister showing that he has attended within twelve months of his application a training course recognised by the Minister to be satisfactory.—[Mr. Strauss.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Strauss

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

I think that the Clause is acceptable in principle to all hon. Members. It will be generally agreed that, if it were possible to provide training for all those who first ride motor bicycles, the number of deaths occurring amongst motor cyclists would be very substantially reduced. Therefore, my argument is not about the desirability of what I propose, but about whether it is practicable.

However, I want to put a few figures before the House to convince any of those who are unaware of the fatalities which now occur to motor cyclists how serious the figures are and how necessary it is for Parliament through the Minister to do something to reduce the number killed. Sixty per cent. of all fatal accidents on roads, apart from those involved as pedestrians, concern motor cycle and scooter riders and passengers. In 1961, 6,441 learner motor cyclists, scooter and moped riders were involved in serious and fatal accidents, an appalling number. This means that 55 per cent. of all serious and fatal accidents occurred to learners on motor cycles, scooters and mopeds.

Far more accidents involve the riders of these machines than any others, on whatever basis one's calculations are made. By far the greatest number of accidents to motor cyclists involved learners of these machines. The important question is whether anything should or can be done to stop this heavy fatality rate, and the Clause suggests not only that something should be done but that it can be done.

If anyone wants to get a licence to drive a car he must pass a test and before going on the road the car must be equipped with L plates and the learner accompanied by an experienced driver. One can drive a car, a comparatively safe vehicle, without being accompanied by an experienced driver only after reaching a certain age and passing a driving test. But a boy of 16 is entitled to ride a motor cycle of less than 250 cc on our crowded roads merely by purchasing the necessary L plates. If he is 17 he can ride any motor cycle of any power merely by affixing L plates.

This system is all wrong and everyone agrees that the existing state of affairs is highly undesirable. We must consider what action can be taken to ensure that young fellows learn to ride these machines through proper tuition off the crowded roads. Only then should they be able to obtain a driving licence.

Training schemes are already run by, for example, the R.A.C. and the A.C.U. These schemes are designed to train young people to ride motor cycles, scooters and similar machines and the courses have been extremely successful. They are growing in number and a significant point is that the Minister makes a grant of £5,000 a year to the R.A.C. for this purpose. Many motor cycle manufacturers give machines to the various clubs connected with these schemes. There are now about 10,000 trainees a year going through the R.A.C. and A.C.U. schemes, and it is intended to introduce facilities to enable the number to be increased during the next few years.

We do not suggest that it is possible that every young fellow who wants to drive a motor cycle can go through these training courses this year, next year, or the year after Obviously it will take time to expand them sufficiently before we can insist that every person who wishes to drive a motor cycle or scooter should go through a course and obtain a certificate of efficiency. It may be three or four years before that is possible, but it is desirable. The Minister should take power in the Bill— it will probably be another six years before we have another Road Traffic Bill—to make it compulsory for every young person who wants to drive a motor cycle to have to go through a course and to obtain a certificate of efficiency.

Statistics show that the rate of accidents among those who drive motor cycles for the first six months is double that of accidents among those who drive them for the subsequent six months. The greater part of the accidents to motor cycles occur among those who have taken no course or have not been trained by anybody. The number is appalling.

What did the Government say in answer to a similar new Clause moved in Committee? The Minister said that he would consider it to see whether it was practicable. It has been considered by the Minister, and the Parliamentary Seretary has been good enough to write me a letter to say that the right hon. Gentleman did not think it practicable for the reasons given in Committee. In short, the reasons were these. First, it would be a considerable time before courses could be run on a large enough scale to make it practicable to require the attendance of everyone who wished to ride a motor cycle or scooter. In addition—this phrase was used in the letter to me and in Committee—it is said that if the Government were given power under the Bill to make this compulsory, that power would be a continual embarrassment to the Government. I can see that argument.

To have powers which are highly desirable and which Parilament wants the Minister to enforce but which the Minister is not willing or able to enforce may be embarrassing to the Government, but we do not mind very much about that. The Minister took power by the 1956 Act to make the testing of all vehicles compulsory. That may have been highly embarrassing fox the Government, but it was pressed by Parliament and by many people outside. If the object which we have in mind is good, we want the Government to implement it as quickly as possible. If the Government say, "We cannot imple- ment this quickly. Give us more time", it may be a reasonable excuse, but it is not an answer to a proposal that the Government should take power to do something which admittedly must save the lives of several hundred people a year.

Mr. Hay

indicated dissent.

Mr. Strauss

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. About 10 per cent. of the fatal road accidents occur to motor cyclists. There are about 7,000 fatal accidents a year. That means about 700 motor cyclists are involved in those accidents. A very high proportion of these occur to young people in the process of learning. So it is no exaggeration to say that if a scheme of this sort is put into operation it may reduce fatal accidents to young people by several hundred.

We therefore urge this proposal strongly and ask the Government to take these powers. I would not expect them to put them into operation for a few years because I know that that is not practicable, but if they were determined the courses run by the R.A.C. and by the A.C.U. could be expanded much faster than they have been in the last few years. The Government should give these bodies much more monetary help than they are giving at present, and they should make a real drive along these lines.

10.15 p.m.

I believe that if we could make provision on these lines we could do more to prevent road accidents and reduce the number of fatalities than by any other measures which the Government are operating or have in mind. I put this proposal forward as a very important one. It may be unpopular with those motor cyclists who at the age of 16 or 17 want to go straight on to the roads with a motor cycle, without having the nuisance of training or attending a course. All right. One has to put up with that, but there is a very large class of people with whom this proposal would be exceedingly popular—all the parents of all those boys.

Nothing frightens the parents of young fallows more than this plea, and it is very common, to own and ride a motor cycle. They can get them cheaply on hire purchase, and bays of 16 and 17 want to have motor cycles. Very large numbers get them, and their parents are always terrified that they will have an accident when they go on the road, without having gone through any training course whatever. If the Government are able in a short time to ensure that no boy drives a motor cycle or a moped without going through a training course, parents would be exceedingly grateful to the Government.

The boys themselves might not like it, but that does not matter very much. Their parents will like it, and it will 'be a very popular measure. Public opinion and the motor cycle manufacturing industry are all in favour of such a proposal, and the responsible journals dealing with motor cycling and the manufacturers all 'believe that such a proposal is a good one, and that the present training courses are excellent ones and should be expanded. Almost all of them have been advocating that they should gradually be made complusory.

The proposal which we now put forward is that the Government should take powers, admitting that they cannot put them into operation immediately, while this Road Traffic Bill is before us, to make such training courses compulsory for all young fellows who want to drive motor cycles and mopeds—the most dangerous motor vehicles on the roads. We put it forward with the certainty that when put into operation it will have a dramatic effect in bringing down the appallingly 'high number of accidents which now occur to these boys when they first take their motor cycles on the road.

Mr. Hay

As the night hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) told the House, this matter was discussed at some length in the Standing Committee, and he himself moved a new Clause in identical terms to the one which he has moved tonight. I gave a very firm undertaking, with a completely open mind, that we would look at the proposition to see whether we could accept the idea of taking these powers in the present Bill, although I made it clear then, as I must make it clear again tonight, that we see no early prospect of implementing Che proposal.

As the light hon. Gentleman said, I have considered this very fully and carefully with my advisers. I have written to him and explained why we have come to the conclusion that we would be asking the House to enact a mockery if we were to accept these powers tonight. May I now come to the crux of the question, because nothing divides the two sides of the House on the merits? We want to see every young motor cyclist undergo a training course, and I hope very much that the R.A.C. and A.C.U. motor cyclists' training schemes, to which the night hon. Gentleman referred, will be substantially expanded. At the moment, about 6,000 motor cyclists a year are being trained. We hope this year to get the figure up to 10,000, but it is not an easy job, for reasons which I must explain.

I must, however, make it clear that before we could accept the principle behind the Clause—that before a motor cyclist could obtain a licence, he must successfully have undergone a training course—the courses run by the R.A.C and the A.C.U. would have to be expanded to take about a quarter of a million people a year as against the 10,000 which is our target for the current year.

The right hon. Gentleman has said, quite rightly, that the Ministry has been giving financial help towards the scheme. We regard it as money well spent. We have been spending about £5,000 a year on it. We have now obtained authority to double the amount of money which we can grant. In other words, we shall be spending henceforth about £10,000 a year on the scheme. The industry itself is also contributing towards the scheme and we shall ask it to consider the possibility of doubling its contribution.

Money alone, however, is not the only difficulty. There are certain other difficulties which must feature in any decision that the House reaches on this proposition. As well as money, we need a large number of training centres for the proper operation of the scheme, and certainly for its expansion. We need to acquire more machines on which training can be done. Moreover, we need to acquire a large number of training grounds where people can be trained off the street.

One other fact which has to be borne in mind is that this is a voluntary scheme. The R.A.C. is dependent largely upon voluntary people as instructors and examiners. Very often, the police help to do this work and very often the local motor cycle clubs do it. To get the scheme expanded to the size where it can take 250,000 trainees a year will, however, require a vast number of new training grounds, a very large number of machines on which instruction can be given and a very large number of new instructors. I would not try to delude the House by pretending that we could expect to expand the scheme to that size within the next few years. If we were to accept the powers that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would thrust upon us by the new Clause, we should be enacting a mockery. We in the Ministry of Transport know perfectly well that even with the best will in the world we could not get the scheme expanded within a reasonable time to do the sort of thing which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends want us to do. We would have to expand the scheme about forty times what it is today before we could possibly make it work.

Mr. Mellish

The figures given by the hon. Gentleman are overwhelming. He said that in the coming year it is hoped to handle about 10,000 trainees. Is that the full capacity of the existing scheme, or is it simply the number of volunteers who are expected? Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that when stretched to the limit, the scheme could not possibly train 10,000 people this year?

Mr. Hay

That is exactly what I am saying. Our target is 10,000 and we shall be hard put to it to get the off-street training grounds, the instructors and the machines to reach that figure. That is why we are increasing our grant to see whether a doubling of our present provision will help to get these things going.

For those reasons, I must advise the House not to incorporate the new Clause in the Bill. I assure the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that we are with them in their objective, but that to try to make us take powers that we have no possibility of using for a good many years, with all the consequent likelihood of hon. Members and people outside pestering the Government month after month and year after year to bring the regulations into effect, would be a great embarrassment.

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman still has any delusions about being a member of the very ageing Cabinet which must follow the Conservative one if the party opposite wins the next General Election. I assure him, however, that he would be extremely embarrassed if such powers fell to him. In all the circumstances, I hope that the House will not insist upon putting the new Clause into the Bill.

Mr. Mellish

We understand the difficulties to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) made clear, we recognise that the Government could not implement in the immediate future the powers we seek to thrust upon them. However, we feel that the Clause would act as a prod to any Government. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the days of the Government are numbered, that it will not be long before they are replaced, and that whatever the age of the members of the new Cabinet it must be very much better than the old Cabinet.

It would be a prod to the Government of the day to try to implement such a scheme. We believe that to be right in principle. The alternative is not to have these powers and to continue with the Minister's present plans. But the Minister's present view is, "We will try to expand, but we do not think we can." In that case, we shall not have a scheme in our lifetime.

We are determined to divide the House upon this Clause, because we are convinced of the Tightness of the principle. We believe that these powers are justified, and we think that if the Government have them, we shall one day see them in operation.

Mr. A. Evans

I would point out that the new Clause enables the Minister to limit its scope to the higher-rated motor cycles. Therefore, it need not necessarily apply to the 250,000 people whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 93, Noes 152.

Division No. 248.] AYES [10.26 p.m.
Awbery, Stan Hannan, William Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Hayman, F. H. Noel-Baker,Rt.Hn.Philip(Derby,S.)
Beaney, Alan Henderson,Rt.Hn.Arthur(RwlyRegis) Oswald, Thomas
Bence, Cyril Herbison, Miss Margaret Pavitt, Laurence
Blackburn, F. Holman, Percy Popplewell, Ernest
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H.W. (Leics, S.W.) Houghton, Douglas Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Redhead, E. C.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hoy, James H. Rhodes, H.
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Crossman, R. H. S. Hunter, A. E. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rogers, C. H. R. (Kensington, N.)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Ross, William
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Short, Edward
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Delargy, Hugh Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Spriggs, Leslie
Dempsey, James Kelley, Richard Steele, Thomas
Dodds, Norman Kenyon, Clifford Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) King, Dr. Horace Swingler, Stephen
Edwards, Walter (Stepney) Lawson, George Taverne, D.
Evans, Albert MacDermot, Niall Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Finch, Harold Mclnnes, James Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Foot Dingle (Ipswich) McKay, John (Wallsend) Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)
Forman, J. C. Mackie, John (Enfield, East) Thornton, Ernest
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles) Tomney, Frank
Galpern, Sir Myer Manuel, Archie Weitzman, David
Ginsburg, David Mapp, Charles Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Marsh, Richard Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Greenwood, Anthony Mellish, R. J. Woof, Robert
Grey, Charles Millan, Bruce
Griffiths, W. (Exchange) Morris, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Neal, Harold Dr. Broughton and Mr. McCann.
Aitken, W. T. du Cann, Edward Litchfield, Capt. John
Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.) Duncan, Sir James Longbottom, Charles
Allason, James Elliott, R.W.(Nwcastle-upon-Tyne,N.) McLaren, Martin
Atkins, Humphrey Errington, Sir Eric McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia
Batsford, Brian Farr, John Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate) Finlay, Graeme McMaster, Stanley R.
Berkeley, Humphry Fisher, Nigel Macpherson, Rt. Hon. N.(Dumfries)
Biffen, John Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maddan, Martin
Bingham, R. M. Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Maginnis, John E.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Gibson-Watt, David Markham, Major Sir Frank
Black, Sir Cyril Gilmour, Sir John Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest
Bourne-Arton, A. Goodhew, Victor Mathew, Robert (Honiton)
Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Gower, Raymond Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)
Brewis, John Grant-Ferris, Wg. Cdr. R. Mawby, Ray
Brooman-White, R. Green, Alan Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Gresham Cooke, R. Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Buck, Antony Gurden, Harold Mills, Stratton
Bullard, Denys Harris, Reader (Heston) Miscampbell, Norman
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Channon, H. P. G. Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere(Macclesf'd) Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael
Chichester-Clark, R. Hastings, Stephen Osborn, John (Hallam)
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Hay, John Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Clarke, Brig. Terence(Portsmth, W.) Henderson, John (Cathcart) Page, Graham (Crosby)
Cleaver, Leonard Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Collard, Richard Hirst, Geoffrey Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)
Cooper, A. E. Hocking, Philip N. Partridge, E.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Holland, Philip Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Corfield, F. V. Hornby, R. P. Peel, John
Coulson, Michael Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P. Percival, Ian
Craddock, Sir Beresford Hughes-Young, Michael Pilkington, Sir Richard
Critchley, Julian Hutchison, Michael Clark Pitt, Miss Edith
Crowder, F. P. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pott, Percivall
Curran, Charles James, David Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch
Currie, G. B. H. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho
Dalkeith, Earl of Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Pym, Francis
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Joseph, Sir Keith Rawlinson, Peter
Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F. Kerans, Cdr. J. S. Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kirk, Peter Rees, Hugh
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Roots, William
Drayson, G. B. Linstead, Sir Hugh Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Scott-Hopkins, James Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Ward, Dame Irene
Sharpies, Richard Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.) Webster, David
Shepherd, William Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Skeet, T. H. H. Turner, Colin Wise, A. R.
Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick) Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H. Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard
Smithers, Peter Tweedsmuir, Lady Woodhouse, C. M.
Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm van Straubenzee, w. R. Worsley, Marcus
Studholme, Sir Henry Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.) Wade, Donald
Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, MOSS Side) Walder, David TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Teeling, Sir William Walker, Peter Mr. J. E. B. Hill and
Temple, John M. Wall, Patrick Mr. M. Hamilton.