HC Deb 20 July 1962 vol 663 cc878-85

1.41 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

I beg to move, That the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order 1962, dated 2nd July, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved. Section 65 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, provides for the periodic testing of motor vehicles and fox the issue of test certificates in appropriate cases. Section 66 of the Act makes it an offence, with certain specified exemptions, to use a vehicle which was first registered in this country not less than 10 years ago unless there is in force a test certificate relating to the vehicle.

Subsection (3) of Section 66 empowers the Minister to make an Order substituting a shorter period for ten years, and provides that such an Order shall be subject to an affirmative Resolution of each House of Parliament. In October last year we made such an Order substituting seven years for ten years, and the Order now before the House reduces the period still further, substituting six years for seven years. The Order represents a further stage in the extension of the vehicle testing scheme. The House may recollect that when we debated the earlier Order I mentioned that my right hon. Friend intended to propose this extension now.

The House may like to know how the testing scheme is getting on. The records of the testing stations show that for a period after the scheme was put into effect about 40 par cent. of the vehicles submitted for test were refused a test certificate on initial inspection and they had to be repaired or taken off the Toads. We also ascertained that many vehicles were scrapped without being submitted for test because their owners simply knew that they were in a bad condition and would be quite uneconomic to repair.

The period following the extension of the scheme to the seven-year-old vehicles shows a figure comparable to the 40 per cent. of 33 per cent., which is still fairly high. Incidentally, an analysis of the spot checks that we have been carrying out at the roadside—this is quite independent of the vehicle testing scheme proper, which is done in garages —shows that no less than 30 per cent. of vehicles between five and seven years old were defective to an extent which made them a potential danger or source of accident at any time. So I think that from the spot checks at the roadside we have some confirmation of the desirability of the vehicle testing scheme proper. They give us an assurance that the scheme is achieving its purpose. I think that in those circumstances the House will agree that the extension of the scheme which the Order provides is not only necessary but highly desirable.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

The Parliamentary Secretary is having a heavy day. We have had almost a monologue from him since eleven o'clock, and now he has moved this Order.

I welcome this extension of the scheme. There was some doubt when the original law for testing vehicles was passed about the extent to which this was necessary. I appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am not allowed to debate the principle behind the extension. There was a fear that the provision might not be worth while and that the constant—yearly— inspections of cars might create a considerable amount of personal inconvenience. But we have found that the inspections have been accepted by the public as necessary. There is overwhelming proof that as a result of the inspections a very large number of cars are not on the road which would have been on the road in a dangerous condition and that cars which were in a bad condition have been put into a safe condition before coming on to the roads.

I have no doubt that a major factor in keeping down road accidents during the last few years—they have been kept down to a remarkable extent—has been the compulsory inspection of cars. There have been many other activities, including many undertakings by the Minister of Transport, which have been very useful, but this has been the important factor. We know from overwhelming evidence in this country and other parts of the world that defective mechanism of cars is an important contribution to accidents on the roads.

It is proposed that cars which are six years old will have to be tested. Up to now it has been seven years. The evidence given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the effect that spot checks have shown that 30 per cent. of cars between five and seven years old which have been tested have proved to be defective is proof of the need for the extension. One of the remarkable things that we have discovered is that a high proportion of cars which are only a year or two old are also defective and are to that extent dangerous on the roads. Therefore, the quicker the seven years is reduced to six years, five years and eventually one year, the better it will be and the safer will our roads be in consequence.

Consequently, I think we all welcome very much—I certainly do—this extension of the testing scheme and the shortening of the period from seven to six years.

1.48 p.m.

Mr. Leonard Cleaver (Birmingham, Yardley)

I welcome the Order. The figures which the Parliamentary Secretary has given the House have shown how very vital the scheme is and how successful it has been. When we appreciate that one-third of the vehicles tested out of a total of some 3 million have failed to pass a test, it justifies the policy adopted by the Government in instituting the tests. It also reflects great credit on the motor agents and other certified testers—there are 17,500 of them—that the scheme has gone so well.

I want my hon. Friend to assure the House that there will be no relaxation in the standard of those who are to undertake the testing. I understand that the certified testers are visited twice a year by Ministry officials in order to maintain the standard, and that they authorise the mechanics who are to do the work. This is vital for two reasons: first, to assure motorists that the tests will be carried out by competent people, and, secondly, to assure the pedestrians, who I am sure are also in favour of the scheme.

There is a further point which I should like my hon. Friend to explain. If I am wrong about this, I am sure that I stall be corrected. There is a report that when a car was taken to an authorised tester and had been tested by a mechanic in the proper way, the mechanic was on the road testing the vehicle when he was apprehended by the police, and he was taken to court and fined because he had not the appropriate certificate. I cannot justify that. What is the position if a tester takes an old car on the road to be assured—

Mr. Deputy - Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt but I am afraid that the horn. Member is going further than he should. We are merely discussing the extension of this scheme to a wider range of cars, altering the qualification age. We are not dealing with the principle.

Mr. Cleaver

I apologise if I am out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was asking for an assurance that there would be no difficulty for an authorised tester if he was carrying out his duties efficiently and in the spirit of the scheme. No doubt my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will bear this matter in mind, for I should like to relieve any uncertainty that there might be.

1.51 p.m.

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)

The Parliamentary Secretary made out his case for an extension of this scheme when he said that spot checks had shown that 30 par cent. of vehicles which are only five to seven years old have proved to be defective. That is a remarkable and shocking figure.

I have a few questions to put to the hon. Member. First, what is the reason for this extension being made at this moment and for only one year to be specified in the diminution of the age? Why had the age limit not been reduced to five years or even four? Is it because at the present time the capacity of the qualified garages is limited and they can only cope with an additional year's work of cars, as it were? A moment ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said that he was looking forward to the period when cars only one year old would have to be subjected to compulsory testing. Is the Minister thinking in those terms? We need to have some sense of balance and moderation about this. After a/11, 15s. may not be a very great sum but it is operating as a sort of penalty against the man who maintains his car properly.

Until recently I had a rather old Rover, which is a car built to last a long time. It was well maintained by my garage. In due course I had to get it tested and was slightly irked to have to pay 15s. for it to be driven round the block so that the mechanic could certify what he knew already was the case—that the oar was in perfectly good order. But the formality had to be gone through.

The person who has not maintained his car properly, however, is already committing an offence in allowing it to get into that dangerous state and presumably to be driven on the roads in such a condition. What this scheme does is to bring that person up sharp and show him that his vehicle is in a dangerous state and that he must either take it off the road or have it repaired.

What do these spot checks show about cars only two or three years old? I suspect that they show that a large percentage of them are defective. The reason is that there is a school of motorists who buy new cars, drive them hard for two or three years without bothering much about maintenance, then trade them in and buy new ones. It may well be that a new car within a short period may wall become defective having been treated like that. These people can be a serious menace on the roads.

What is the right answer for this? Is the Minister envisaging extending the scheme in order to catch these people? Or is the right answer to be found in more spot checks followed by prosecutions, which will bring home to the public the risks and dangers involved in this sort of behaviour?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is tending to go further than he should.

Mr. MacDermot

With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think that this is relevant to the consideration of this Order. The basic question I am asking is why only one year's extension is being made. If the hon. Gentleman says that he is not extending the scheme much further than this, how is he proposing to cope with the danger I have referred to? Before we approve this extension we should be told what the Minister has in mind for dealing with that problem.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Hay

I am obliged for the general welcome for the Order. I am sure that we are doing right in extending the period, and the figures I gave show that it is very important that the scheme should be proceeded with as originally intended.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Cleaver) paid a well-deserved tribute to the testing stations. There is no doubt that experience is supporting our decision in the Road Traffic Act, 1956, to use the existing motor garages as the principal testing stations. We are finding in practice that an extremely high standard of testing is being maintained.

Our inspectors examine these stations and their employees from time to time, and they have available a booklet which we call The Tester's Manual. This gives uniform details as to how testing should be done and what should be looked for. Altogether, we are pretty happy with the way in which the tests are going.

It may interest the House to know that only a very few testing stations have been removed from the register for any form of incompetence or misconduct, and that my right hon. Friend gave instructions at an early stage that any appeals by authorised testing stations against an order striking them off should be settled by a Minister. A number of these have come to me and I have been surprised by the number of borderline cases in which it is quite evident that the people in the testing stations have been doing their best.

Broadly speaking, one can say that the scheme is going extremely well. There is no evidence of any relaxation of standards by testing stations. One might have thought that, as time went on, and the men who did this work became more accustomed to it, there might be some risk of such a relaxation. But on the contrary the impression I get is that as the testers play themselves in, as it were, they become perhaps a little tougher than in earlier days.

My hon. Friend referred to a report about a garage mechanic being prosecuted after driving a motor car on test. I have had only a few moments to check this on this report, but I am told that it was wrong—that there was no foundation for that story which appeared in the Press.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am afraid that if one hon. Member errs slightly it causes other hon. Members, even Ministers, to err as well.

Mr. Hay

I accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I can only plead that I have been at this Box a couple of hours and that perhaps I temporarily forgot the rules of order.

I pass quickly, therefore, to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), who asked why this extension is being made now. The reason is that we think we have come to the next appropriate stage in the process, because the trade is now ready to take a further tranche of vehicles and is willing to do so.

The hon. Member also asked why the reduction was for only one year in the age limit. He asked why it could not have been made five years or even four. The number of vehicles brought into testing by each reduction now increases with each younger registration year. It is no longer practicable to bring in more than one year at a time.

If we followed his advice and brought the limit down to four years, well over 2 million vehicles would be brought within the ambit of the scheme. In addition, experience shows that people delay in having the test done until the very last minute.

It would be impossible for the garages and testing stations to cope with anything up to 2 million or more vehicles within a very few days. We are obliged to stagger any extension which covers more than one year over a period of time. However, the long-term objective of the Government was stated in paragraph 2 of the summary of the White Paper issued in 1958, Cmnd. 430. We always have declared our intention progressively to bring down the age limit for compulsory testing to cover motor vehicles of all ages.

Perhaps I may say a few words about spot checks, although they do not fall strictly within the scope of the Order. We have always envisaged proceeding on two parallel lines. One is the testing scheme in the garages once a year for all vehicles, with the additional requirement that before taking out a road fund licence for a further year, a driver has to produce a valid test certificate. The second parallel approach is that of the spot checks on the roads. These now apply to vehicles of all ages. As we get on with both of these schemes we shall be making a contribution to road safety. Such evidence and such figures as we have show that both schemes are working extremely well and I feel sure that when we gat this further extension to the vehicle testing scheme which the Order brings into effect, we shall have a further advance to report to the House in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order 19(52, dated 2nd July, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.