HC Deb 17 July 1962 vol 663 cc238-53

(1) A person who, after such day as the appropriate Minister may by order made by statutory instrument appoint, promotes or takes part in a competition or trial (other than a race or trial of speed) involving the use of motor vehicles on a public highway shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds unless the competition or trial is authorised, and is conducted in accordance with any conditions imposed, by or under regulations under this section.

(2) The appropriate Minister may by regulations authorise, or provide for authorising, the holding of such competitions and trials as aforesaid, either generally, or as regards any area, or as regards any class or description of competition or trial or any particular competition or trial, subject to such conditions, including conditions requiring the payment of fees, as may be imposed by or under the regulations.

(3) Regulations under this section may—

  1. (a) prescribe the procedure to be followed, and the particulars to be given, in connection with applications for authorisation under the regulations; and
  2. (b) make different provision for different classes or descriptions of competition or trial.—[Mr. Hay.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hay

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

This Clause is a result of a discussion in the Standing Committee and deals with the difficult problem of motor rallies. Hon. Members who took part in the debates in Committee will remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), although not a member of the Committee, tabled, with other hon. Members, a new Clause with the intention of giving the Minister regulatory powers in respect of motor rallies, treasure hunts and similar motoring activities.

We were able to agree that something of this kind ought to be done, and this Clause is the result of our deliberations. I am most obliged to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford for having raised the matter and gone to a great deal of personal trouble in negotiation to 'try to reach an agreed solution.

As the House will see, the Clause makes it an offence, subject to a maximum fine of £50, to promote or take part in a competition or trial which involves the use of motor vehicles on a public highway unless the event is authorised in accordance with regulations made by the appropriate Minister. The appropriate Minister would be, in England and Wales, the Minister of Transport, and, in Scotland, the Secretary of State. The regulations would specify the conditions for holding authorised events, or by authorising without conditions they could exclude any type of event or events in particular areas from the provisions of subsection (1) of the Clause.

The Minister could by regulation delegate to any particular body he thought appropriate powers given him by the Clause for authorising events, and he could enable the authorising body to charge fees as a condition of grant of an authority. Unlike the new Clause we had before us in Standing Committee, this new Clause does not provide for setting up a motor sport advisory committee. That was the recommendation which emerged from the negotiations which were held by a number of interested parties some months ago, but we came to the conclusion that a statutory committee for this purpose would be far too cumbersome.

However, we intend to set up an advisory committee which will be repre- sentative of all the interested parties. The job of that body will be to advise the Minister on what types of events should be allowed and subject to what sort of conditions, for example, as to hours, routes, and so on. Since powers to authorise events will be exercised by regulations, the provisions of Section 260 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, will give sufficient safeguards for consultation with all interested parties before regulations are actually made.

We are taking powers to charge fees, as I indicated in Standing Committee we would be obliged to do, because we do not think it right that any extra cost arising from the administration of a system of authorising motor rallies, which are a purely private pleasure, should fall on the taxpayer. We intend that such control should be self-financing. In this, I am sure that we shall have the support of hon. Members.

I do not want to say anything rude about motor rallies. I am sure that they serve an extremely useful purpose. They provide a great deal of pleasure, and, indeed, instruction, to many people, but there is no doubt that over recent years they have begun to get a little out of hand. We think that the time has come to regulate the matter and that is the purpose of this Clause.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

May I, first, congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on surviving the holocaust which has recently taken place? I also express the surprise, which is shared by a number of my colleagues who served on the two Standing Committees on transport matters this Session, that in the reshuffle he has not received the promotion which we think he deserves, in comparison with his colleagues. We are, however, pleased to have him still with us on transport matters, because he has always adopted a very reasonable attitude and made himself most agreeable to hon. Members on this side of the House, even when he has disagreed with our proposals.

We all agree with, and I am glad that the Government have accepted, the view that motor rallies, while possibly desirable and serving some useful purpose, should be regulated. They were causing an immense amount of inconvenience—that may not be a strong enough word—to large numbers of people. Therefore, we are glad that the Government have proposed this Clause. We hope that it will put it Into operation very soon.

I should have preferred the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us a little more about how the Minister is to operate the Clause. I assume that regulations will not be made until the advisory committee has sat and reported to him. There are a large number of people who suffer distress through motor ralllies and a large number of bodies which ought to be consulted. Presumably the intention is that the advisory committee should be representative of, or should consult, local authority associations and perhaps chief constables. Is it proposed that the regulations will say that before any rally is hold the local authorities in the area shall he consulted?

What is the intention about the Minister giving his authority to some other bodies to carry out the regulations he proposes to put forward? It has been suggested that the appropriate body to whom these powers should be delegated is the R.A.C., or perhaps the A.A. I do not think that anyone would object to that, but we would like to be clear that the responsibility will rest with the Minister. Whatever powers of administration he may delegate, if there is public discontent about the way in which regulations are being operated we want to be able to raise the matter in the House, question the Minister about it, and the Minister to be able to alter decisions made by the R.A.C. or whatever body may be responsible. It should be told, if necessary, that it is interpreting the regulations in a way which is not acceptable to Parliament.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that that is so and to give us any further details about the type of regulations which are contemplated. Is it suggested, for example, that if there are to be might rallies there will not be more than one in a year or in six months in a particular area? I assume that there are to be might rallies. I understand that most of the rallies now take place at might. Although we know that the Parliamentary Secretary cannot be specific on these points until he has the views of the advisory committee before him, could he tall us the general type of thing that he has in mind? That would relieve the anxiety of many people who have suffered grievously through these rallies until now.

Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)

I wish to thank the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for putting this new Clause on the Notice Paper. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary rightly said, this is the consummation of several years' work, which I started when I was in his position at the Ministry, to try to deal with motor rallies. I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) welcome the principle of the Clause, because I am certain that it is right for Parliament to establish some control in this matter.

I dare say that other right hon. and hon. Members, like myself, have received a pamphlet from the Noise Abatement Society. On its front page it says, "Ban all night rallies". In some parts of the country, especially in the Home Counties, public opinion is getting very worried about rallies, especially those held at night. Although my right hon. Friend the Minister can deal only with the road safety aspect of this matter and the basis of the complaint is on amenity grounds when, because of noise, conditions at night are made like those of Bedlam, there is an element of danger. When residents go out of their houses and sit in the road to block the progress of a rally, this matter can be considered as one affecting road safety in every sense of the word.

For some time my feeling has been that motor rallies, both at night and by day, comprise something which has good in it. It is a recreational activity, but it has national and international importance as a matter of prestige. Therefore, it is something which should not be prevented, but it should be regulated so that it does not seriously interfere with the lives of people. In my constituency there is a lane called Thorncombe Street. The Minister has often walked down it. I hope he has not done so when rallies have been going on, for it would not be very safe to do so then. That lane is only 8 ft. wide in places. These rallies go round Thorncombe Street at least twice every week-end and about every other week-end there is a night rally as well. It has caused Bedlam for people who live on that road.

4.0 p.m.

This is typical of what is happening in the Farnham and Horsham constituencies and elsewhere in the Home Counties. It has become a serious nuisance and can cause a great deal of danger. Some of these rallies run 50 or 100 cars which, whizzing round the country lanes on Sunday afternoons, can be extremely dangerous. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is dealing with a matter that needs to be dealt with and I warmly thank him for coming forward with this new Clause.

The Clause is not on quite the same lines as one moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott), in the Standing Committee, but I do not find anything to criticise in setting up an advisory committee. I think that it is perfectly adequate. A national committee is needed which will bring all the interests together to make sure that the administration of the regulations proceeds in a satisfactory way.

I would add a word about the position of the R.A.C., in which I should declare a personal interest as a member of its committee. I have found it extremely helpful because its members really are the professionals in this matter. It has 600 or 700 clubs affiliated to it. They are allowed to have about four rallies each year and they must have a police certificate for the route that they are going over. Thorncombe Street, which I have just mentioned, is banned to them as being an unsuitable road. They have conditions to ensure that these rallies are conducted in a reasonable way without interfering with the safety or lives of people.

Because the R.A.C. has a lot of experience it obviously could be a help to my right hon. Friend in evolving the regulations which would deal with this very difficult matter. Here we are dealing with the use of the highway which it is everybody's right to use and one has to be extremely careful in regulating or restricting its use in any way.

In connection with the earlier proposal, I considered that the County Councils' Association was the body to prohibit the use of narrow lanes for the purposes of rallies, but I am sure that this approach is much better: to set up some kind of registration system which will lay down regulations that have to be conformed to. Whether or not the R.A.C. can help my right hon. Friend in the future administration of the regulations is, of course, a matter for him and Parliament to decide in the terms of the regulations. All the R.A.C. and A.C.U. can do is to place their experience and expert resources at the disposal of my right hon. Friend. I am sure that that could be helpful and would make the new Clause and the proposed new regulations work in a satisfactory and reasonable way.

I conclude by thanking my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary very much for proceeding in what I am sure is a very sensible way of dealing with this matter. I hope that the House will agree to the new Clause and that we shall soon have regulations put into action.

Mr. Steele

There are two points which I wish to raise in connection with the procedure to be followed under subsection (3) of the new Clause about particulars to be given.

I had great pleasure in attending some of these treasure hunt rallies. They are a form of amusement and pleasure and very entertaining. But I have found on occasions that those who are responsible for arranging them have not taken into account some of the problems which arise in the course of a run. Quite recently, I took part in one. There was a clue which meant, unfortunately, that many of the competitors were knocking at a door and asking certain questions. These arose out of the name of a gentleman who had died quite recently, and it was most unfortunate. The officials of the rally had to apologise most profusely for what had happened.

I can say that this is not an isolated incident of what can arise out of the enthusiasm of people who may be amateurs in these rallies, and who are anxious to raise funds for the various organisations of which they are members. I hope that the regulations will be made available so that anyone may have an opportunity of studying them to ensure that nothing like this is likely to happen.

In subsection (1) there are these words, in brackets: (other than a race or trial of speed)". No doubt, the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some reason for those words being there. I hope that he can. There are certain events which take place, for instance, in Scotland. There is an annual event on the road up "Rest and be thankful". I do not know whether one would describe it as a rally, but all those who take part in it think of it as a trial of speed. I wonder whether this is covered by some other regulations. I am sure that it must be because we know that road racing as such is not allowed in this way. I draw attention to this fact so that at least we may be satisfied that trials of this kind are covered.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

As one who represents a constituency which is very much troubled by these rallies, I should like to congratulate the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) for all their efforts in producing this new Clause. At the same time, I am a little disturbed about some of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford. I can find nothing in the Clause saying that the only consideration the Minister can have in making his regulations is that of safety. I hope that there will be other considerations. We should be quite clear on this matter before we pass the new Clause.

I am dealing in my part of the constituency with remote villages where, night after night, the villagers are kept awake by rallies going on from one o'clock to half-past four. All my constituents, who are law-abiding and thinking of their work the next day, are in bed, and, clearly, no question of road safety comes into this, but it is an infernal nuisance to all, especially to mothers of young children.

I hope that the remark of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford is correct. It seems to me that where we are failing at the moment is that those who are organising car rallies are not always closely co-operating with the local police and local authorities. It is a pity if these regulations do not provide that system of co-operation. The R.A.C. has done very great work in organising these rallies and in steering them away from places which previously have been pestered with too many rallies, but many rallies are not being organised under the R.A.C.

Will the Minister bear in mind that this problem varies a great deal from area to area? It is one problem in the Home Counties and quite another problem in the beauty spot areas, such as my constituency and the constituencies of other hon. Members. We must appreciate that we need local authority cooperation in this matter. I do not want to introduce too much red tape; it is far better that the Minister, in working this regulation, adopts the commonsense approach whereby if the local district authority and the local police are quite happy about these arrangements—these are democratically elected local authorities—then the rally can go ahead; but, if there is objection, I hope that the Minister will see that the interference with peace and quiet in such constituencies as mine is ended forthwith.

Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)

I appreciate the purpose of the Clause, but I am anxious about the delegation of authority to one or two bodies, as the Minister has in mind. If there is to be delegation of authority in the working of these regulations, I do not think that it should be in respect of only two bodies in this way.

I wonder whether the chief constables in the areas of such rallies should be the persons responsible, with ultimate responsibility in the Minister. No doubt there are difficulties about that in so far as we do not want to express any views about these local events if there is justifiable criticism, but it strikes me that the point could be met if the committee included the local road safety officer, who would take account of the local circumstances. In that way we, as hon. Members, would have accountability without being particularly restrictive on small issues.

It is only because of this that I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that the local expression of view is not confined to these two bodies, but that there are other methods by which he can keep his eye on the problem and in that way be able to deal with any justifiable difficulties.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I heartily welcome the approach in the new Clause, although none of us wishes to see this type of event abolished. Much good arises from them. When the Minister is preparing regulations we should look very sceptically indeed at any power which was given to any outside authority in carrying them out. The House must have final responsibility. The regulations can be dealt with by either negative or affirmative Resolution, and I do not think that the Minister has made up his mind which he will use. We shall not be able to amend the regulations once they are presented; they will have to be accepted or rejected.

I therefore hope that the Minister will accept that the regulations should be subject to affirmative Resolution and will see that they are fully discussed before they are accepted.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I have lost all faith in Statutory Instruments, because we have to accept or eject in toto the regulations which are promulgated. It does not much matter whether he have to pass them by affirmative or by negative Resolution if that is the procedure laid down. In either case we have to accept them as a whole or reject them as a whole, even though there may be only one very small point in the regulations of which we do not approve. It may be one single paragraph to which exception is taken, but the House can do nothing about it.

It seems to me that at an earlier stage we ought to find out what is in the Minister's mind when he makes the regulations so that we may criticise them and offer advice and opinion. If something like that could be done, hon. Members on this side of the House would feel happier about handing over to an outside body much of this kind of work, of which we approve and which we wish to see put into operation.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

It seems from what hon. Members have said that most of them are in favour of regulating these motoring events, whatever they may be. I agree with the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) that the problem is different in different areas. This applies particularly to Scotland. The new Clause contains a statement of intention by the Minister that there will be delegation of authority to control these events in some way by some unspecified body. We must know more about what is in the Minister's mind.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) that there must be accountability to the House. I do not see how we can achieve this on a day-today basis, but it is important that there is at least an annual examination of this problem. I hope that it is not the Minister's intention just to give powers ad lib to the motoring organisations such as the R.A.C. and the A.A.

I can talk intelligently on the subject only in its application to Scotland. I suggest that the major local authorities, not the district councils, are the appropriate bodies, possibly acting through the chief constables, to deal with this matter. My hon. Friend mentioned the safety officer, but we have not safety officers in every county area. If the onus in Scotland were placed on the chief constables through the local authority—or they may be responsible to a number of local authorities, as happens in certain parts of Scotland—that would be an appropriate way of having some control over these events.

Control must not be divorced too far from the local authority. There must be a geographical knowledge of the area in which the trial is taking place. It would have a bad effect if the decisive power to bar an event from taking place were far removed from the area in which it was proposed that it should take place—and I say that bearing in mind that I am in favour of controlling these events.

I therefore hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some more information about what is intended and about the bodies to whom it is proposed to delegate this power. Would it not be preferable to do this through the local authority, with the chief constable as the person who makes the decision?

Mr. Hay

I am obliged to the House for the general welcome it has given to the Clause. I am equally obliged to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) for has kindly personal reference. In stirring times like these, people like me take refuge in the remark of the Abbé Sièyes, who said, "I have survived."

Perhaps I should deal, first, with the way in which we envisage proceeding under the Clause, because it is apparent that both the wording of the Clause and my earlier explanation of it have not completely cleared the minds of hon. Members. The first stage in the process, once we have the power the Clause gives us, is to see to the making of the regulations. We shall have to consult an advisory body of some kind, which we shall go about setting up, and it will be the task of the advisory body to give us its views on what the regulations should contain.

That is the first stage. Once the regulations have been made and have been circulated—as we are obliged to circulate them for comment by interested parties—they will be laid before Parliament in the normal way. They will be subject to the negative Resolution procedure of a Prayer and, therefore, there will be an opportunity at that first stage for Parliament to have a look at what we propose to do. Once the regulations are made it will be open to the Minister, in the words of subsection (2) of the new Clause, to … authorise, or provide for authorising, the holding of such competitions and trials as aforesaid "— that is, as mentioned in the Clause.

As I said in Standing Committee, we would ask a body, probably the Royal Automobile Club, to undertake the policing of this scheme, as it were. Such a body will be under the general supervision of, and subject, if need be, to the direction of the Minister of Transport. There are advantages in having only one main body controlling these rallies and similar events, because if we had a number of bodies, and particularly if we tried to use the local authorities for the purpose, we should have manifest inconsistencies of treatment. We must have a degree of uniformity so that people shall know where they are.

Mr. Manuel

The point which I tried to make was that we do not want uniform treatment and that because of the geographical nature of several local authority areas greater freedom should be exercised in the more remote areas. I therefore should have thought that the local authority would have been the appropriate body.

Mr. Hay

I will come to the sort of material that will be contained in the authorisation later when I shall hope to clear up that point. At this stage we take the view, as I have said, that it would be wisest to confer the authorisation of rallies on a single body and that it would not be true, as I think the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) said, that this would give that body a position of some special privilege. The body would be subject to directions from the Minister and it would be expected not only by Parliament, but also by the motoring public to carry out its functions in a proper and fair way.

I was asked whether there would be Parliamentary control over this matter. The answer is that there would be no day-to-day control over the Minister except by the normal method of Parliamentary Questions. I do not think that we want to erect a cumbersome apparatus for this, with annual returns as we have for vivisection and similar activities. I suggest that provided we have the normal machinery of democratic control in the House of Commons this should prove adequate. If not, the House can think again.

Mr. Strauss

Some of us are concerned that when this is operating there may be complaints that in certain areas rallies are held too often or the scheme is not working properly. Presumably, we can ask Questions of the Minister about it. We are concerned that we might have the reply that he has delegated his authority to an outside body and does not want to interfere. The Minister must be in a position to tell the R.A.C. or any other body that it must alter its procedure or arrangements if he thinks it right to do so.

Mr. Hay

In principle, that is quite correct. Once we have conferred the power to give these authorisations on the R.A.C., or any other body, we do not envisage that the Minister thereafter should stand aloof from the whole affair and take refuge in the fact that he has delegated his powers. I cannot guarantee that on occasion, depending on the Question, the answer might not be that it was not a matter in which the Minister would wish to interfere, but that is a matter of detail. Basically, the principle is as I have stated.

Mr. Steele

I assume that the R.A.C. will be the only body doing this work. In Scotland, the R.A.C. is not the main motoring association. It is the A.A. In many parts of Scotland the R.A.C. does not exist.

Mr. Hay

Perhaps we can wait for the regulations before going into the details. All I say is that these are the basic powers which we are taking under the Bill.

I have told the House now we envisage the two successive stages and why we do not believe that it would be appropriate to try to confer power of authorisation on the local authorities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), supported by an hon. Member opposite, raised the point about the type of authorisation given throughout the country. He rightly said that what might be appropriate in remote Surrey might not be appropriate for a more populous part of Yorkshire, or vice versa. We shall, of course, have regard to the different types of areas, just as we shall have regard to the different types of event.

We would approach the matter from two standpoints. First, as emphasised by my fight hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), there is road safety. Secondly, but by no means least, there is the point which my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned about amenity. Our original standpoint in the whole of this affair was that of road safety. One cannot say that motoring rallies have something wrong with them which causes danger on the roads but, on the other hand, there is some degree of loss of amenity as a consequence of these things getting out of hand. We shall try to keep a balance of those two standpoints in drawing the regulations, and we shall hope that the R.A.C. or any other body will have these features in mind.

Mr. Turton

I understand my hon. Friends point about wanting the R.A.C. to administer this proposal, but will he bear in mind that it at present organises 600 clubs and that that has not worked very well? Will there be any contact between the R.A.C, the local authority and the local chief constable? The general complaint today is of lack of liaison between the club organisers and the chief constable and the local authority.

Mr. Hay

One of the main purposes of the Clause and of the whole procedure is to deal with both those difficulties. It is true, as my right hon. Friend has said, that the R.A.C. exercises some degree of control over rallies, but it is only in respect of those clubs which are affiliated to it and only on a purely voluntary basis.

The purpose of the Clause is to give some statutory degree of control— indeed, subsection (1) contains a penal provision—but, as to consultation with the local police and other local bodies, it would, of course, be the intention that the R.A.C, or whatever body was authorising the rallies, should keep in the closest touch with local authorities and with the local police—

4.30 p,m.

Mr. Manuel

Is the hon. Gentleman saying, in effect, that the regulations will stipulate that whatever body is set up will consult and arrange with the local authorities? These are local authority roads, and I hope that the authorities will be approached in some way, and that we are not to have a national body superimposed on them, the local police, and the rest.

Mr. Hay

I cannot add to what I have already said. I thought that I had made it clear. We must obviously see how we got on, and how the regulations and the advice develop. I do not think that, in reasonableness, we can expect to have separate consultations with every single local authority before every event—that would be going too far—but our intention is that there should be proper local consultation.

The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) showed a rather regrettable lack of enthusiasm for delegated legislation. That attitude might, perhaps, have done twenty or thirty years ago, but I suggest that it is a little unrealistic in current conditions. It is true that when a Department produces a Statutory Instrument, embodying regulations, the House must, whether the affirmative or the negative Resolution procedure is used, take it or leave it. It is not possible to amend the regulations. I would, however, remind the right hon. Gentleman that some of our colleagues meet in the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments and, in practice, we have found that very often things that ought not to be in Statutory Instruments are brought to the attention of the Department concerned by the Select Committee, and alterations are made. Beyond that, I cannot embark on the general constitutional position.

As I say, I am obliged to the House for the general support it has given to the new Clause. I quite understand that hon Members had questions to ask, and I have done my best to answer them. Perhaps we can now add the Clause to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.