HC Deb 18 November 1965 vol 720 cc1477-91

10.20 p.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motor Vehicles (Competitions and Trials) (England) Regulations 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 1400), dated 13th July 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th July, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled. I think that it would be convenient if we discussed with this the Regulations relating to Wales— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motor Vehicles (Competitions and Trials) (Wales) Regulations 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 1414), dated 14th July 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th July, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled.

Mr. Speaker

It would be for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Webster

I think that all of us, particularly those of us who are near rally tracks or have people who are active in these matters in our constituency, agree that it is necessary that a new Regulation should be laid in order that public nuisance can be combated and that there should be greater harmony between the active fraternity, the outdoor people, and the unfortunate people who are trying to sleep at night or have a little peace in their homes. It is a matter of blending sport and amenity, and a decent life for all of us. I am glad to have the opportunity of asking a few questions upon this subject, because it is a complicated and difficult one for the layman and, I think, for some of the experts.

We are dealing with some very complicated documents, and I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales has done us the courtesy of coming here tonight, because I have some questions to ask him. This simple document is almost the rally code, not the Highway Code. It says clearly to organisers that they should thoroughly check their routes and route instructions so as not to mislead competitors, where this is likely to cause annoyance to members of the public. It goes to great lengths to achieve clarity in a very difficult and complicated subject, but I am not sure that the drafting is not excessively complicated.

I wonder if either the Parliamentary Secretary or the Under-Secretary could tell us whether they will consider the possibility of simplifying it in due course. Both of these Regulations authorise an examination paper which every organiser has to fill in before he can organise an event. This paper is the start of a fairly lengthy procedure, which is organised, I think, quite well by the R..A. C. which has a great tradition in organising these events. It has done it for very many years. This examination paper goes on at great length, asking for the names and addresses of the promoters of the event, the name of the event, if any, and there are some very familiar events which occur under this. We are not dealing with a very small section of the sport; we are dealing with the wide and active part of the community.

The paper asks for the expected number of vehicles, the type of competing vehicles, whether the rules of the event require or are likely to cause any competitor to traverse any length of the public highway, and so on.

We come to the point of clarity which I raised. Question No. 12 states: Provide a tracing of the route of the event from each current one-inch Ordnance Survey sheet traversed by the route. There are also a lot of cross-references to these routes which are again complicated. The question goes on: … omitting any part of the route which is not on a public highway. Then it refers to the number of the Ordnance Survey sheet. Then it authorises or instructs the organiser to put down two intersecting grid lines appropriately numbered. The Statutory Instrument for the parts of the United Kingdom excluding Wales authorises this document. Paragraph 12(ii). which is set out in Schedule 1—see Regulation 5— authorises two intersecting grid lines appropriately numbered. But what about Wales? Again under paragraph 12(h), for Wales there, is reference to "two interesting grid lines appropriately numbered". Has Wales had a universal declaration of independence? What is this tremendous Welsh Office doing? Can we be told what is meant by the reference to "interesting" grid lines rather than "intersecting" grid lines? I should be delighted to give way if we could be told.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

On behalf of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and myself, I apologise to the House and to all concerned for a misprint which has occurred in the Welsh Regulations. They should, in this respect, be identical with the Regulations for England. The mistake will be corrected as conveniently as possible.

Mr. Webster

I thank the hon. Gentleman. It shows that, although one does not necessarily have to fill in forms in triplicate, it is worth reading them in duplicate. It gave me enormous pleasure when I saw this today, and I do not mind admitting it. I am surprised that nobody drew my attention to it, although the Parliamentary Secretary knew that that ball was coming. I am glad to hear what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said and that the Regulations will be reprinted and that the Welsh declaration will be in order and accurate and precise.

We are dealing with both an industry and a sport. While regulating the sport, we want to make sure that there is adequate amenity for the people participating in this activity, which brings out a great deal of hardihood. We might sometimes feel that it is foolhardihood. But this activity involves daring and skill. We have fine racing drivers in this country. Many of them get their experience through rallies and it is right that we should not discourage them excessively.

While I think that we would approve of these Regulations in general, we should not seek to be too officious. We should try to assist these people, because with increasing urban sprawl there is great difficulty in obtaining adequate tracks. The organisers of these events are finding it progressively more difficult to obtain adequate tracks. At the same time, there is the human element of people living in the countryside, as I do. When there is a rally near my part of the world, I very soon get to know about it, and I receive a good postbag. I wonder whether the Minister of Land and Natural Resources would be willing to consider doing what his hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) suggested, namely, that if various places are set aside where these rallies cannot take place, then other places should be set aside where they should be specifically encouraged to take place. This would be a good thing.

We may not all like getting up early in the morning and riding on motor cycles. It is not my idea of pleasure. But there are plenty of people who do this. I respect them, and we should try to assist them. This is an age in which people have a great deal of leisure, and it is right that it should be used healthily. We are not all Mods and Rockers. The people we are discussing are not Mods and Rocker types. They are very different from them. As anybody who represents a country constituency would agree, rights of way are falling into disuse. If one looks at the Ordnance Survey map to which I referred—with its "interesting" grid lines—one will see that there is a vast abundance of rights of way which have fallen into disuse. I see the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) scowling at me. Not only ramblers but scramblers could use these rights of way. If they are used sensibly, interests would not necessarily clash.

I hope that the complicated form will not bring an excessive amount of difficulty, frustration and delay. At the same time I agree about the control. We have not only a Secretary of State for Wales and his Welsh Office; we have also a Minister for Sport. He has a double interest in this. He has the interest of promoting healthy outdoor activities which this sport entails. He is also the hon. Member for the constituency in which is the Birmingham Small Arms Company, which is the biggest exporter of motorcycles from this country. Therefore, I hope that he will be able to ensure that there is no excessive frustration. There also is the hon. Member for South Shields who has a constituency interest in this, because the firm of Barker's is very active in this field, and there is another firm, Greeves, who had a million dollar order very recently for protective clothing.

This is not just a pastime of the vintage car operator, of the rich people; this is a pastime of the masses. It is a good thing, and while we want to regulate them, we should try to get good facilities for these leisures and the promotion of skills. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker), with great persistence, took up the case of the vintage cars and managed to obtain certain concessions. I hope we can have certain assurances tonight.

1 want to be reasonable about them. There is the suggestion about the permanent advisory committee. It has been suggested to me that where an application is turned down there should be an automatic right of appeal. I am not myself going to ask the Minister to go as far as that, but I do ask him this, that if in any particular area there are persistent rejections, this permanent advisory committee can be brought into play to keep an eye on this so that if there is an excessive sequence of rejections it will review them and make sure there is not excessive restriction against the motor-cycle users.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will give an undertaking on this. I am sure he is reasonable and is very willing to do so, but if he does not we shall look at this matter very closely because there are many people whose interest, sport and leisure are affected. If I do not get an undertaking we shall pursue him, and take up cases where there have been persistent rejections, because we want, while getting a fair type of control, to make sure that these people, who are fine and enterprising, have their sport and enjoy it, but do not spoil the living of other people, who are not restricted in their activities.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

Before my hon. Friend replies I would merely ask him for his assurance that with these Regulations we are not altering the main feature of the Act, which, of course, ensured that before controls took place, particularly on footpaths and tracks in the countryside, there should be application to the planning authority concerned. As far as I can see, that provision is still retained. I only want to be assured about the special provision which seems now to be brought in paragraph 3 of the new Regulations which seems to indicate that there are certain types of event which do not require that authorisation in the future.

I fully agree with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) about the need for proper provision for groups of this kind. He is quite light. They are admirable and vigorous groups of young people who enjoy this sport, and it is right that they should have the facilities for it. It is equally right that other people's enjoyment, perhaps of a quieter kind, should not be interfered with. There have been some unfortunate occasions when older people and others have been walking on our hillsides when they have been suddenly horrified by being overtaken by a group of vigorous motorcyclists, no doubt enjoying themselves but damaging the enjoyment of many others.

This is symptomatic of the great problem we face as a result of the increasing extension of leisure time. There will inevitably be hosts of examples of conflicts of this kind which must be sorted out. I wish to be assured, therefore, that as a result of these Regulations we are not giving up any of the important safeguards which were included in earlier legislation.

Since the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare mentioned a constituency point and named a firm which I know well, he may be interested to learn that this enterprising company, which manufactures raincoats and protective clothing for motor-cyclists, also manufactures— and has for many years—some good equipment for walkers. The firm's interests are not all on the one side therefore.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be aware that these Regulations have been the subject of considerable criticism from certain quarters. I hope that he will take this opportunity tonight to answer them.

The hon. Gentleman will have received representations against the Chesham Committee's 1964 Report on the control of motor rallies and the draft Regulations from the Civil Service Motoring Association, the British Motor Cyclists' Federation, which was formerly the Federation of National and One-Make Motor Cycle Clubs, and the Amateur Motor Cycle Association. I trust that the House will bear with me while I put some of the points which those organisations have made.

People would like to know why the Amateur Motor Cycle Association and the British Motor Cyclists' Federation were not allowed to provide delegates to the Chesham Committee. Both organisations wrote to the right hon. Gentleman who was then the Minister of Transport requesting that they be represented. The present Minister is no doubt aware also of the motor sporting community's criticisms of the Chesham Committee's recommendations. There was great disappointment that the draft Regulations went only a small way to meeting those criticisms.

I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will also say why he has not yet been able to make an announcement on the setting up of a permanent advisory committee, as recommended by the Chesham Committee in paragraph 97, page 229, of its Report. It would also be appreciated if he would give some information about the people who will serve on the Royal Automobile Club agency and exactly how the Ministry is satisfying itself of their competence.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there has been serious criticism of the Regulations on the grounds that they concentrate primarily on car events, chiefly long-distance rallies and treasure hunts, which are relatively uncommon in the motor-cycle world. Sporting trials are scarcely catered for at all and there are no instructions and there is no advice for laying out performance tests which one might presume are to be observed under paragraph 2(1) of Statutory Instrument No. 1400. It is not clear either whether the trials where the observed sections are organised entirely on private land linked by public road will come

I think the House generally recognises under the Regulations or not. that there is an almost ludicrous amount of permission seeking and consultation mandatory under the Regulations. The average motor-cycle reliability trial route includes major and minor roads and roads used as public paths, footpaths and bridle ways. I do not know whether the Minister has really addressed his mind to the problems that will face the organiser.

First of all, under Section 17 of the 1960 Road Traffic Act, he has to obtain signed permission from every tenant farmer and landowner for the sections of footpath and bridle way. There might be 30 to 40 people altogether involved in this, and when he has got their permission he has to press his suit with the county highway authority which may, out of prejudice against the motorcycling sport, refuse him permission without having to substantiate its refusal with any explanation or reason.

Even if permission is granted the organiser has to take out insurance against damaging the footpaths and bridle ways, which some people might regard as obliging the motor-cyclist to ensure against damaging the public highway, for the repair of which he has already paid tax. Then the organiser has to fill in Form E404. If there are any roads used as public paths the agency must consult the local highway authority, and if any part of the route passes through a National Park, there has to be another consultation with the National Park Planning Board.

Then the local police come into the picture, and if they raise no objection the organising club is only then at last allowed to run its trial, but even then perhaps not quite, for under the rules of the Auto-Cycle Union he must obtain a permit from his local A.C.U. Centre Board to make sure that the event does not clash with that of any other club.

The organisers of a motor-cycle trial may be subjected to the objections of any one of the following long list: one or more tenant farmers, one or more landowners, the parish council consulted by the highway authority, the county council highway authority, the county council again for a few hundred yards of extra footpath, possibly the National Park Planning Board, the county chief constable, the county borough chief constable and the R.A.C. agency. All that is merely for one mile of rough track which might possibly have not been regarded by those organising the rally as a very formidable obstacle.

I hope that the Minister will be able to help the House on this matter, for it is felt by the organisers of motor-cycle trials that these rules are unnecessarily complicated, and it seems a great pity that these particular people should be subjected to this kind of obstruction, as they see it. I hope, therefore, that these particular points, which I feel have a certain prima facie justification, may be frankly dealt with by the Minister and that he will be able to reassure those who feel that the Regulations have not been framed with their legitimate interests in mind.

10.44 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

I am not sure whether this is the first time that I have been in confrontation with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), but if I am right in thinking that this is probably the first of many occasions, let me take the opportunity of saluting him in his present position and wishing him many long years in that seat.

By moving this Prayer the hon. Gentleman has given me a useful opportunity to explain the Regulations, which, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and myself, I readily admit are somewhat complex, and may appear to laymen and to those unacquainted with the organisation of the events with which the Regulations deal to be very complex.

Before I answer the specific points raised, I think it is fair to sketch briefly the background. We should remember that these Regulations, against which the Prayer has been moved, arise from legislation passed in this House in 1962. It was a result of the acceptance in principle, at the time when the Road Traffic Act, 1962, was going through the House, of a widely-supported Clause arising out of an increasing volume of complaints throughout the country about the nuisance and disturbance caused by motor rallies —a Clause for the regulation of the holding of motor sporting events on public highways. That led to Section 36—in place of another proposal made at that time—of the Road Traffic Act, 1962, which makes it an offence after such day as the appropriate Minister may by order made by statutory instrument appoint to promote or take part in a competition or trial … involving the use of motor vehicles on a public highway … unless the competition or trial is authorised, and is conducted in accordance with any conditions imposed, by or under regulations under this section. "The appropriate Minister" is, in the case of England, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, for Wales the Secretary of State, and for Scotland also the Secretary of State.

With the passage of that legislation, so widely supported, for the regulation of these events, there was set up by our predecessors in the Ministry of Transport the Chesham Committee, the Motor Rallies Advisory Committee, which reported in March, 1964. The Committee reported in favour of the regulation of these events and indicated the way in which it should be done, and these Regulations follow very closely indeed all the recommendations made by the Chesham Committee.

To deal with a point raised by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), it is true that not everybody was represented on the Chesham Committee. It would have been an extraordinary Committee if they had been. The various organisations in the transport world which might or might not make out a claim to have an interest in this matter, would have been so multifarious that the Committee would undoubtedly have been quite unmanageable. But I think it is true to say that the composition of the Committee included members from all the most important organisations, including, in respect of motor cyclists, the Auto-Cycle Union, and all the principal national organisations that were concerned with these matters.

Mr. Iremonger

Would the hon. Gentleman say what was the sort of age of the representatives of the motor cycle interests? Were these young men who rode motor cycles, or were they more mature men who had not had experience of modern conditions at all?

Mr. Swingler

I think it would be out of order for me to discuss that matter. In any case, I do not know. I have not studied the age distribution of the Chesham Committee. However, I should like to refer to an important point made by the Chesham Committee in its Report. It relates especially to what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said about the necessity not to be too officious. We do not want to have too many restrictions and controls and so on, although overwhelmingly Parliament agreed that the case for regulation had been made out.

The Chesham Committee in its Report.said: Having in mind the terms of the legislation we agreed at the outset that our task was to strike a balance between the interests of a sport which is enjoyed by considerable sections of the public and which can incidentally, in our view, provide valuable training in driving skills, and the interests of the public at large, to whom in some cases rallying activities have proved an undoubted nuisance. It is our job to strike a balance between the interests of the public, to whom rallies of this kind may cause considerable disturbance, noise and sometimes damage, together with interference and congestion on public highways, and the interests of those whom we want to encourage to take part in recreational activities and legitimate sporting events.

Therefore, in reply to the criticisms which have been made, I say that in these Regulations the balance has been struck. Regulation 3 authorises certain small events. We are not being too officious, and not imposing too detailed controls. Events of a comparatively small character are thereby authorised. But I must point out to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) that that does not mean that they are authorised to go over footpaths —because there are special protections for footpaths, and specific authority is required for them.

It is clear that without having to fill in any complicated forms small events of this character are authorised by the Regulations themselves, but, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare pointed out, for the majority of events—and the Chesham Report estimated that events now number about 8,000 per annum; a considerable number, including all types and ranging considerably in the number of vehicles involved—following the recommendations of the Chesham Committee, we have laid down that those who are going to be charged with the responsibility of giving authority for the holding of these events should require a fair amount of information to be supplied to them.

Efficient and intelligent organisers of these events, who know their jobs, must themselves have this information for the holding of the events. It looks to the unsophisticated layman, not acquainted with the organisation and conducting of motor rallies, to be an awfully long form to fill in. Many details are required, including map sheet numbers and tracings. But public highways are involved and those who are conducting large events of this character, for whatever purpose they are doing so—there are problem-solving events and treasure hunts, for example— must inform themselves before the event of the number of vehicles participating, the times of leaving the starting point, and the time of finishing, as well as the route to be followed and the relationship they will have with other traffic and with amenity in the area in which the events are being held. Therefore, to the sophisticated organisers of these events we do not think that the answering of these questions is very difficult.

But what is the principal reason that lies behind the questions to which the hon. Member referred—from No. 13 onwards—on the application form? The principal reason is the decision to divide responsibility for authorising these events between the police and the Royal Automobile Club. This again follows the recommendation made and is along the natural line that, broadly speaking, events and rallies which take place within one county police area are matters which should come under the authority of the chief constable of that area, or if two county boroughs close together are involved it should be a matter between the two chief constables. But there is the great difficulty with events where competitors go all over the country that if it was a matter for the chief constables to grant authorisation a tremendous amount of conferring and consultation would be required. It is felt that where events of this kind cross county boundaries and involve more than one police authority the authorisation should be by the Club which has become so well-known and is so experienced in organising these events, the Royal Automobile Club, under conditions laid down in these Regulations.

The point of the questions in the application form is to discover the classification of the event, to find out, for instance, whether it is a time-schedule or problem-solving event and whether it takes place in one or more police districts so as to make clear to the applicant and others whether it should fall under the authority of the chief constable or of the R.A.C. The R.A.C. will work in close conjunction with the police authorities.

We realise that authorisation is an important burden to impose on those concerned. We do not want too much of the burden to fall on police forces, nor the R.A.C. to be overloaded. We hope, therefore, that the balance has been struck in a natural, intelligible and proper way in enabling both the police force and the R.A.C. to authorise these sorts of events. Although the procedure may appear complex to those from whom the information must be obtained and who have to come to grips with these forms, the questions are necessary and the information must be at the disposal of the authorities.

It has; been pointed out that to reduce nuisance and disturbance to the public there should be established—and I know that the R.A.C. is establishing it—a system of apportioning events all over the country, by rationing routes so that the residents of a particular district are not over-bothered and disturbed by a continual series of events and rallies. To facilitate that and to carry into effect action as recommended by the Committee, it is desirable to have maps and tracings showing where the events will occur and how they will relate to other events and rallies in that and surrounding districts so that a rationing system can virtually be carried out for the benefit of the public and the preservation of amenities.

I have been asked about the recommendation of the Chesham Committee that a permanent advisory committee should be established. I have said that we have followed the recommendations of the Motor Rallies Advisory Committee very closely. On this point, we are still considering the terms of reference to be laid down and the desirable composition of a permanent advisory committee. I am not in a position, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, to make an announcement about it tonight, but an announcement will be made very soon.

The question of appeal against denial of authority was carefully considered by the Chesham Committee, which found against a system of appeal. Of course, in this case, the appropriate appeal body is my right hon. Friends the Minister and the Secretary of State. The persons to whom any complaints about the operation of these Regulations should be addressed are the Ministers who have over-all responsibility for the implementation of the Road Traffic Act and Regulations made under it.

We realise that changes may be necessary. The Regulations came into force on 1st September, and the appointed day after which authority will be required will be 1st March next year. We have yet to gain practical experience of how the Regulations will work out. I assure the House that we shall watch how the detailed provisions work and be prepared to review the Regulations.

Mr. Webster

I cannot press the hon. Gentleman too much about how soon a permanent advisory committee will be set up, but can he say definitely that it will be in action by the time the Regulations come into effect?

Mr. Swingler

I certainly hope so. Work is going ahead rapidly to get the right terms of reference and an acceptable composition for a committee. We hope that it will be in being by 1st March, ready from the beginning to study any complaints which are made and to consider and advise my right hon. Friends upon any changes which might be thought necessary.

I hope that I have covered the points which hon. Members have raised, though I may well not have dealt with them all. I appreciate, as the hon. Member for Ilford, North said, that there will still be people who object to having such a system of regulation at all. I hope that those who remain critical will none the less take into account that, in 1962, Parliament was so influenced by the volume of complaints about disturbance and nuisance that it was overwhelmingly felt necessary to devise and implement such regulations. I hope, also, that those who are concerned in the promotion and organisation. of rallies for recreation, sport, testing or other purposes will apply their minds, with us, to any improvements or reforms in the Regulations which may prove to be necessary. I assure the House that my right hon. Friend, after we have had experience of their application, will be ready to consider improvements which could be made.

Question put and negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Roderic Bowen)

Does the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) wish to move his second Motion?

Mr. Webster

Having heard the Parliamentary Secretary's reply, I do not wish to move that Motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.