HC Deb 21 May 1963 vol 678 cc394-9

1.33 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

I beg to move, That the Pedestrian Controlled Vehicles Regulations 1963, dated 9th May 1963, a copy of which was laid before this Home on 14th May, be approved. These Regulations are made under Section 10 (5,b) of the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1957, and Section 254 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960. These Acts empower my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to specify mechanically propelled vehicles which shall be treated as not being motor vehicles.

The effect of these Regulations is that mechanically propelled vehicles controlled by a pedestrian and having an unladen weight not exceeding 8 cwt. shall be treated not as motor vehicles, but as hand propelled vehicles and their drivers will not he required to have driving licences. There are also some other effects; for example, although we expect that most operators will continue to effect third party insurance, this will no longer be compulsory. The lighting regulations will be slightly less stringent. For example, these vehicles will need to have only one rear light or reflector instead of two.

A third change is that the vehicles will cease to be subject to the Construction and Use Regulations which govern, for example, requirements as to braking efficiencies. On the other hand, these vehicles will continue to be motor vehicles for the purpose of Part IV of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, which deals with the regulation of goods vehicles and carriers' licences and gives vehicle examiners powers of inspection which include the right to prohibit the carriage of goods by a vehicle which they consider unfit for service on account of any defect. This constitutes a valuable check on road-worthiness and is an important safeguard to have retained.

Other statutory provisions which will continue to apply are those of the Vehicles Excise Act, 1962, under which vehicles must be registered and licensed for purposes of revenue and identification. My right hon. Friend considered the matter of weight very carefully and eventually decided that an unladen weight of 8 cwt. is the right weight at which to draw a distinction between vehicles which are and those which are not treated as motor vehicles. It would have been possible, of course, to specify a greater weight, but my right hon. Friend thought it wise to start at this lower weight because the change means some relaxation in the precautions which have been thought proper until now for anything that is mechanically propelled.

In considering safety it must be remembered that none of these vehicles can exceed a walking pace, and although no statistics of accidents in which they are involved are available it is believed that the number is small. Their drivers, of course, will still have to observe the normal traffic regulations, although they will no longer be required to have driving licences or to pass a driving test. A further point is that the number involved is not great—about 3,500 as far as we can judge, which is very small compared with the total of all vehicles on the road at any time. The majority of them are milk floats, but some are used for such purposes as delivering bread, collecting refuse and street sweeping.

Naturally, before deciding on this change my right Friend consulted a number of representative organisations, including the appropriate bodies which represent manufacturers, operators and local authorities. The majority of these bodies are agreeable to this measure but there were some objections on the ground of road safety. My right hon. Friend considered these carefully but decided that the new Regulations, for the reasons I have given, are unlikely to, lead to a serious loss of road safety. In any case, the Regulations are strictly experimental. A further extension would need to be looked at in the light of experience. I should like to make clear to the House that if in the event adverse consequences result from these new Regulations my right hon. Friend will have no hesitation in asking the House to revoke them.

As the House is probably aware, the Regulations came to be considered as a result of representations made by the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). She did this on behalf of Mr. David Crane, who was threatened with losing his job as a milk roundsman because he was unable to pass the driving test on account of defective eyesight. The vehicle which Mr. Crane formerly operated will benefit from these Regulations and he will be able to resume his job as a driver and roundsman if Parliament approves these Regulations. This is a satisfactory outcome of a small but fairly complicated problem which has taken some time to solve.

I commend the Regulations to the House not only as a benefit to an individual, but, in general, as a means of relaxing legal controls in a sphere in which they do not appear to contribute anything to road safety.

1.40 a.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

We on this side welcome the Parliamentary Secretary to his new post. He can be assured of our good will and, provided that he is not too political and contentious, of a great deal of support if he brings in Regulations of this kind. We are happy that the recent experiences that the hon. Gentleman has had are well behind him and that he has now settled in to what must be one of the most interesting Departments in the Government, a Department which probably works harder than most others. Certainly, the Minister has to work hard, and junior Ministers, I believe, have to work fairly hard, too, although, to listen to the Minister of Transport, there are times when one would think nobody but himself did anything.

The hon. Gentleman was right to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). Tonight is quite a triumph for her, because it was on 17th July last year that she first raised this mater. She had discussed it with some of us who are interested in transport matters and she put down a Clause on the Road Traffic Bill to bring to light the problem of one of her contituents. The then Parliamentary Secretary conceded that there appeared to be an injustice and that the rigid rules for obtaining driving licences were being applied to people who were not responsible for vehicles which could be confused with those to which the strict rules governing driving licences applied.

Because her constituent was hurt by the injustice, my hon. Friend not only put down the new Clause, but when the Parliamentary Secretary said that the matter would be looked at she followed it through with a considerable number of letters. Basically, my hon. Friend is responsible for the fact that we now have the Regulations before us. It is the duty of any back bencher to fight for what he or she believes to be right. If success can be achieved in this way, a good job is done. I congratulate my hon. Friend, whose constituent has been well served.

This situation reveals, however, anomalies concerning a considerable number of other mechanically-propelled vehicles which are affected. We shall want in due course to know how many other of those vehicles are still affected by driving licences. I take the Minister's point that road safety is all-important, but he must be prepared for our coming back again in the not too distant future when the present scheme has had a chance to operate, when we will try to find whether it can be extended.

In our desire for safety upon the roads, none of us wants to impose unnecessary restrictions on the people who are affected in this matter. We need to maintain a sense of proportion. We on this side welcome tonight's proposals, and I am delighted that this is the beginning of a reasonably short career for the Parliamentary Secretary—he will understand what I mean—on the benches opposite and at the Ministry of Transport.

1.43 a.m.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

This is indeed a happy night for me and for my constituent, Mr. David Crane, and I thank the Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) for the kind references which they have made to me. Thanks are, however, due to a whole complex of people, because this has been a joint operation by the people of Blackburn, the national Press and Members of this House in going to a lot of trouble to rectify an injustice which, although it may affect only a small number of people, is none the less real for those whom it affects.

1 think of all the people in Blackburn who rallied round David Crane, including the 4,000 ordinary men and women in the street who signed the petition on his behalf, and the Blackburn Methodist Mission, who sent in a testimonial of support for him. I received letters from individuals, and the matter was taken up by the Press. Tribute must be paid to the way in which the Press brought this anomaly even more vividly into the light of day and so compelled us to find a way of dealing with it.

I pay tribute, also, to David Crane's employers, Palatine Dairies, who have kept him on their payroll all this time although the poor lad has never been allowed to put his hand again to his float, because he could read a number plate, not at 25 yards, but at 21 yards.

I understand that these Regulations are experimental, but I can assure the Minister that David Crane and his milk float will he no threat to road safety at all. Indeed, one of the people who gave him a testimonial of support was the Chief Constable of Blackburn, whose traffic policemen had watched David circulating round the town and testified to his great carefulness and road sense.

This is the end of a very protracted battle of eleven months, but better late than never. I appreciate that some of the delay was due to the fact that the hon Gentleman's predecessor fell ill. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in welcoming the new Parliamentary Secretary and wishing him well.

I would conclude by saying to the hon. Gentleman that he has made a very good start tonight, and I hope that he will continue on the same good course and always give me what I ask for when I raise these matters; and will he please ensure that next time it does not take quite so long? As the hon.

Gentleman is well aware, I already have another little proposal that I want to introduce to amend another anomaly, one affecting Mr. Parkinson, of Blackburn, a war disabled man who is being forced to pay an absurd and excessive fee for his driving test for his invalid carriage. The Minister has looked at the—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt these pleasant exchanges, but the hon. Lady must not pursue that matter on these Regulations.

Mrs. Castle

I was just concluding, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The Minister already has this matter under way, and I hope that the experience that we have had tonight is an augury of good things to come in other cases which I shall bring to his attention.

Finally, I would ask that the remaining stages of Parliamentary approval of these Regulations in another place shall be hurried through as quickly as possible so that David Crane can get on to his milk round again without any more delay.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Pedestrian Controlled Vehicles Regulations 1963, dated 9th May 1963, a copy of which was /aid before this House on 14th May, be approved.