HC Deb 02 August 1966 vol 733 cc395-413

9.56 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order, 1966, dated 28th June, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th July, be approved. Section 65 of the 1960 Road Traffic Act provides for the periodic testing of motor vehicles and the issue of test certificates in appropriate cases. Section 66 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 that vehicle.

Subsection (3) of Section 66 of the Act empowers the Minister to make an Order substituting a shorter period for 10 years and provides that any such Order shall be subject to an affirmative Resolution of each House of Parliament. Three such Orders have been made under these provisions. In October, 1961, the figure of seven years was substituted for 10 years. In July, 1962, it was reduced to six years and in April, 1963, an Order was made substituting five years for six years.

The Order now before the House reduces the period still further by substituting a figure of three years for five years. It thus represents a further stage in the extension of the requirements for a periodic test. The House will recall that this is in accordance with the view generally expressed when previous Orders were debated. If the House gives its approval, the Order will come into effect in the following manner.

On and after 1st October this year, four-year-old vehicles will be required to have a current test certificate if they are used on the roads. On or after 1st April next year, three-year-old vehicles will become subject to a similar requirement. It follows, therefore, that vehicles which become four years old on or after 1st October and before 1st April next year will similarly be required to have current test certificates if used on the highways on or after the fourth anniversary of their first registration.

It is estimated that about I million vehicles will be affected by 1st October this year and a further 1¼ million by 1st April next year, 1967. The House may like to have some up-to-date figures of the operation of the testing scheme. The analyses so far completed of the records of testing stations shows that of 20,250,000 vehicles over five years old initially tested since the scheme commenced in September 1960, excluding re-tests after repair following refusal of a test certificate, between 5,500,000 and 5,750,000 motor vehicles failed to pass the test.

About 63 per cent. of the defective vehicles were faulted on brakes; 43 per cent. had faulty steering and 31 per cent. had faulty lighting. Nevertheless, some general improvement is apparent, because the average rate of rejection has shown a fairly consistent though small reduction, month by month, from over 40 per cent. which were rejected at the start of the testing scheme in 1960 to the 27 per cent. which are rejected at the present time.

Evidence we have from road side checks shows that, compared with 66 per cent. of vehicles over five years old, 45 per cent. of four-year-old vehicles and 35 per cent. of three-year-old vehicles had defects of some kind in the braking system, steering gear, lighting equipment, tyres or exhaust system. These are the results of recent roadside checks of all kinds of vehicles. From a sample analysis it was found that 4.5 per cent. of four-year-old cars and 4 per cent. of cars which were three years old were immediately and positively dangerous. By far the highest proportion of recorded defects were in brakes, steering gear or lighting equipment, the specific items which are covered by the testing scheme. I believe that these figures illustrate the value of the testing scheme itself and also justify, as has been pressed for by many hon. Members in this House over the years, the extension of the scheme in the way that I have explained. I hope, therefore, that the House will now approve this Order.

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I welcome the action of the Minister in bringing this Order before the House. It seems to me a perfectly logical step forward along the path marked out by the last Conservative Government and I am quite certain that it will increase road safety for motorists and pedestrians.

In welcoming the Order I would like to raise two separate points. First, as was said by several hon. Members when the motor vehicle tests were last debated in 1963, this scheme depends on the cooperation of the trade, the garages who have to carry out the tests. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the Ministry has recently had talks with the trade to find out whether it can cope with these extra tests.

I must warn the Parliamentary Secretary that the trade is not very pleased with the Government at the moment; and that is an understatement. The harsh and penal effect of the Selective Employment Tax will hit motor dealers and garages very hard. There is already a shortage of skilled labour in garages and many of the skilled craftsmen will be lost to the industry as a result of this disastrous tax.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman cannot discuss the Selective Employment Tax on this particular Order. He should know that.

Mr. Awdry

I take your point, Sir.

I am asking whether the Minister is quite certain that the garages can cope with the extra work involved, because I suggest that there will be considerable difficulty for garages in producing the skilled labour necessary for carrying out these tests. But I will not take that point further.

Secondly, I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary a question about accidents. I am sure that the House would like to know to what extent the annual testing of motor cars has brought down the number of road accidents. Prior to 1956 it was said by the Road Research Laboratory that a mechanical defect was a contributory factor in about 20 per cent. of all accidents. Has the Ministry any up-to-date figures showing what proportion of accidents in the last three years have been due to defects in vehicles. These figures would be of great interest to the House and the country and the more publicity the Minister can get for these measures the better. This Order deserves, and will receive, the support of the House. If all the Minister's proposals were as non-controversial and as sensible as this I would support her more often, but, alas, that is not so. Tonight, however, I am only too delighted to support the Minister in this Order.

10.6 p.m.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Saffron Walden)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) in welcoming the Order. I want to raise two points. The first concerns test centres. Is the Minister quite certain that the testing centres can cope with the number of vehicles now liable to test and satisfied with the standard of testing going on at all the centres? He will have seen some pretty horrifying disclosures in the Daily Mail a few months ago concerning the variation of standards at different centres. Has the Minister since taken any action to ensure the application of strict and uniform standards throughout the country?

My second point concerns retesting. There must now be many vehicles which were tested more than five years ago. Are they all liable for retesting now, and have they been retested since? I understand that the original idea was that there should be an annual test, but garages in my area cannot cope with the annual retesting of these vehicles. Can we have an assurance that the situation is satisfactory and that vehicles are being kept under observation—especially those over five years old which are liable to go wrong? If he can assure us on those points nobody will wish to delay the passage of the Order.

10.8 p.m.

Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)

I welcome the Order, but I should like to see very much faster action to deal with the casualties that take place on the roads. There is an important link between those casualties and the testing of vehicles. From my hon. Friend's statement it is clear that of five-year-old cars one in four is a menace on the roads. I would have thought that when the law is so infringed we should be willing to take the appropriate action, and I am surprised that this subject does not gather a greater impetus from hon. Members and that we do not discipline ourselves in whatever way we may be moving about on the highways, whether as pedestrians or as drivers.

I should like to know whether the Ministry is quite satisfied with this testing system, and that it is as effective as it should be in the hands of the trade. I have my doubts about it. I have received much correspondence recently from the motor-car industry, and I know from accumulating evidence that some garages—certainly in the northern part of the country—do not have the necessary staff to carry out the tests. The necessary oversight is not always there.

I acknowledge the good work that my right hon. Friend is doing in reminding us of our obligations when on the roads. Recent evidence proves that many drivers are negligent. It is the duty of Parliament to remind everyone who uses the roads of the overwhelming necessity for vehicles to be tested and in good order for the safety of the public. Any further steps which my right hon. Friend may take, particularly in regard to commercial vehicles, will have my support and will be long overdue.

I hope that the Order will be stringently applied and that careful scrutiny will take place throughout the country by the divisional engineers to ensure that these tests are properly carried out. I still have many fears, particularly since one car in every four being presented for testing when it is five years old is, despite reasonable care having been taken by the owner, a danger on the roads. I suspect that even cars that are three years old present a similar danger. The bills that must be paid to ensure that vehicles are in good order are an element of driving which must be accepted. I believe that many motorists, commercial and private, skimp on these bills when it is one element of motoring on which expenditure should not be skimped.

I welcome the Order and hope that it will succeed in bringing home to motorists generally the fact that while modern man has invented the motor vehicle it can be his servant or his master. We should do everything in our power to ensure that man is the master over the vehicle and that the danger to the public is minimised.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)

Like other hon. Members, I welcome this extension of the testing of motor vehicles. I am sure that it is the right step for the Minister to take and that it represents a further advance in securing the safety of motor vehicles.

There are two points which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will clear up. The first was raised by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry), when he wondered whether garages acting as testing centres would be able to carry out the additional burden which this Order imposes. How many inspectors are employed by the Ministry with the specific task of checking that garages which are in the process of carrying out this work are doing the job adequately and that the engineers they employ for the purpose are trained and capable of performing this task? I appreciate that no garage can be classified as a testing centre unless it has complied with the regulations laid down by the Ministry. Nevertheless, changes of staff take place rapidly among garages and all hon. Members who are motorists will agree that the standards of repair work today are at a deplorably low level.

This is to be found not only in the North, as the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) remarked, but throughout the country. Too often one has the experience of taking a vehicle to a garage for a specific repair to be done and, on collecting it, finding that either the work has not been done or that it has been done inadequately. The testing aspect therefore requires careful and thorough supervision and I would like to know what steps are taken to ensure that this happens.

Has the Minister any proposals, in connection with the Order, for checking the standards of vehicles which are offered for sale by secondhand car dealers? I appreciate that it is impossible to obtain a certificate of insurance unless a vehicle in this age category also has a test certificate. At the same time, however, there have been recent examples—of which the Parliamentary Secretary will be well aware—of secondhand car dealers offering vehicles for sale which have been inadequately repaired and which, therefore, should not have received a test certificate, thereby enabling the purchaser to obtain a certificate of insurance. This should receive the careful attention of the Ministry and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that it is in the forefront of his mind.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

If the Parliamentary Secretary has any doubt about the present pressure on work in garages he should just ring up his own garage for an appointment for the repair or testing of his car. He will probably be given a date 10 days hence.

As the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) has said, there is some doubt in the public mind about the ability of garages to do these repairs properly. Garages are trying to improve the standards of their staff. They send their employees to the motor car works for refresher courses, and encourage their boys to take sandwich courses, gain the National Certificate, and so on, but the temptations for a boy to go into industry and earn a good wage in a factory away from the garage trade are very great, and result in garages losing promising lads.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that testing has had an effect on road accidents? When the Regulations were first brought in we had letters from constituents opposing them, but I said that I was quite convinced that the tests would bring about a reduction of accidents. I therefore add my voice in support of testing.

Are garages instructed to look out for the recut tyres which have recently been banned by the Ministry? The tyres on a number of cars at present seem to be all right, but they are only recuts, and should be taken away at the test.

Has the Parliamentary Secretary under consideration the widening of the tests for the future? Many people in motoring circles think that the tests should be stiffened and widened for the future so as to take account of new features in motor cars.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)

Other hon. Members have raised points that I would have mentioned, and I do not intend to repeat them now. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) referred to recut tyres, but I should like to take that subject a little further. We all know that although it is an offence for motorists to use badly worn and inadequate tyres, many road accidents result from their use. I understand that at present it is no part of the duty of the testing station to examine tyres. Does not my hon. Friend think it worth while including the examination of the tyres when vehicles are taken to the testing station to get their annual certificate?

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I do not want to repeat anything that has been said already and, of course, I support the proposals which are being made, but I noticed that several hon. Members have repeated a suggestion which has been made before in these debates. That is that some garages which carry out testing are very variable in the quality of their testing and some may be in fact negligent.

In the earlier debates on this subject that suggestion was put forward very strongly by hon. Members who are now on the Government side of the House. Is this just a talking point, or has there been serious trouble about this matter? Have a number of garages not kept up to standard, and has this been a serious problem with which the Minister has had to deal?

10.21 p.m.

Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)

Following on the point made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson), I can say that my personal experience of three or four years ago, when I had a car which fell within the age range and a test was necessary, suggested to me that, in so far as any standards of inspection by the testing station were exercised, they were certainly negligent. I was offered a test certificate without a test being carried out at all provided I was prepared to pay over the odds. The premises had the old familiar three white triangles on a blue background, but consisted of nothing more than a back-street garage with a pit of the kind where hon. Members garage their cars.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

I think the hon. Member misunderstood me. I was not suggesting that there were many of these places, but that this was something which did not often arise and that most garages carry out the test adequately.

Mr. Walker

I disagree and suggest that I have more recent experience of being in the impecunious position of not being able to afford an up-to-date motorcar. I have had direct experience which is in my recent recollection. I urge on my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary the need to carry out repeated examinations and inspections of premises licensed to carry out tests. I think that in some areas there is a flourishing racket of issuing certificates without the necessary stringent tests being carried out. If my hon. Friend wants the address of the establishment to which I have referred, I shall give it to him gladly. As this has been my experience I do not suppose that it is unique.

There is a need to carry out periodical examinations of premises which make the tests if in fact they are licensed to do so, or if they are accredited in any way they should be subject to some sort of periodic examination. That should make sure not only that the premises are suitable, but that the personnel are adequately trained to carry out the requirements of the Ministerial Regulations.

I draw my hon. Friends attention to the need not only for examination of tyres in terms of adequacy of tread and whether they have been recut, but also to the importance of drawing the attention of drivers now that we have high-speed motorways to the inadequacy of remoulded tyres to sustain high-speed driving. This possibly is the cause of serious accidents on motorways.

The manufacturers admit, although they do not sufficiently advertise the fact, that remoulds which may be adequate for ordinary town driving cannot sustain high-speed driving because of the failure of the new rubber to blend adequately with the old. There is not a sort of integral mould but one rubber is deposited on another. In sustained high-speed driving increased pressures can develop in the tyres because of heat, and the rubbers tend to part. Then there is a blow-up and an accident may not be traced to its source. I hope that my hon. Friend will urge manufacturers to make more adequate provision for advising purchasers of tyres, particularly of remoulds, of these limitations.

Mr. O'Malley

I wonder if my hon. Friend has any information as to whether there have been prosecutions, and if so, how many prosecutions in respect of garages issuing certificates without proper examination of vehicles?

Mr. Walker

I hope that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate he will say whether there have been any prosecutions. I have not heard of any. This suggests that people are allowed to get away with it. I should be glad if my hon. Friend were able to say the number of people who have been prosecuted for issuing such test certificates.

10.25 p.m.

Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)

The Parliamentary Secretary is well aware that there are a number of serious faults which the present test cannot reveal, even though the test is carried out thoroughly and efficiently by the most diligent, respectable and painstaking garage proprietor. The hon. Gentleman is well aware, too, that some of these faults which are not revealed by the present test are the very faults which have caused one or two fatal accidents on motorways. The Birmingham study into motorway deaths has revealed that an alarmingly high proportion of motorway deaths has been caused by mechanical failure.

The new arrangements clearly envisage a pouring of more resources into testing. The whole House will support this. Is the Parliamentary Secretary wholly satisfied that, if additional resources are to be employed, it is better to employ them in applying a superficial test to more vehicles rather than applying a more stringent test to fewer vehicles? What consideration has been given to the alternative use of the extra resources by making the present test more stringent, so that it would reveal these other faults of which the hon. Gentleman is well aware?

10.26 p.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for explaining the Order to us very clearly and in very similar terms to those in which the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, introduced the Measure in another place. This shows consistency, on which I congratulate the hon. Gentleman.

It is notable that this Order will increase the number of vehicles which will be submitted to the test very considerably by the biggest jump which has yet taken place. When my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), the then Parliamentary Secretary, introduced a similar Order, in 1963, to reduce the period to five years, 820,000 vehicles were being tested. On 1st October another 1 million will be tested. Following that, in April of next year, there will be another 1¼ million. This is an abrupt jump.

The House is agreed that we want to ensure that there are enough examiners of the right calibre and integrity to ensure that the test is a valuable exercise. Hon. Members opposite have expressed suspicions about some commercial garages. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will be watchful, and we shall help him in this respect.

The number of examiners at present is 23,000, as against 19,000 in 1963. I hope that the increase has been comprised of garages of the right calibre and quality.

I will not add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) said so elegantly about the Selective Employment Tax, except to say that it does not help.

In 1963, there were 80 local authority testing stations. If the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us how many there are now, it would be useful to the House when it reaches a decision.

The test will impinge more and more on the ordinary motorist. This is in many respects a good thing. It is an educational thing. However, we must be careful not to let the impression gain ground that the test is simply a minimal test. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider doing something a little more emphatic to Note 1 on the back of the test certificate, which rightly says: The certificate must not be taken as relating to conditions of the vehicle or its equipment or accessories at any other time or in any other respect. If, as I hope, one day we come down to annual testing, I trust that the British motorist will not think that this absolves him from the duty of having his vehicle tested and maintained, because if he takes that view it will be catastrophic. One can see the possibility of this happening.

In 1961, when there was a seven-year testing period, the failure rate was 40 per cent. One must, of course, admit that they were older vehicles. In 1962, we reduced it to six years, and in 1963 to five years. At that time 30 per cent. of the cars failed the test. During the three years since then the failure rate has been reduced by only 3 per cent. It seems to me that there may be a slight element of sales resistance to this, and that people are saying, "Our cars are newer, and this absolves us from the responsibility of having them tested annually". This is a dangerous attitude.

Mr. O'Malley

When tests were first introduced, there was a seven-year period, and the failure rate was 40 per cent. When the period was reduced to five years, it meant that not only cars of that age, but also older cars, were tested. All these vehicles were included in the total number of tests carried out, so the failure rate is not only for five-year-old cars, but for older ones which are being retested.

Mr. Webster

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I think that many of these things are extremely difficult to prove, the duty of the House is to impress on the Parliamentary Secretary and on his right hon. Gentleman the need to emphasise to people that this is only a minimal test, and that it does not absolve them from getting their cars maintained regularly. If this provision results in garages not being able to carry out regular maintenance because they are too busy carrying out tests, this will militate against the whole idea of the scheme. This is a danger of which we ought to be aware.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) put his finger on the problem when he asked for more statistical proof that the testing of vehicles is improving safety, but I must warn my hon. Friend that it is very difficult to prove anything by means of statistics in connection with anything to do with road safety.

What I think should be a matter of concern to the House is that, in 1963, 61 per cent. of the failures were due to faulty brakes, 50 per cent. were due to faulty steering, and 37 per cent. were due to faulty lights. The latest comparable figures are 31 per cent. for faulty lights, and 43 per cent. for faulty steering. There has been a reduction in those two categories, but there has been an increase in the percentage failure due to faulty brakes, and I wonder whether some publicity could be given to the need to test brakes more often, because a faulty braking system is extremely dangerous.

The hon. Gentleman referred to spot checks on younger vehicles. Is he able to tell the House the percentage of failures due, respectively, to faulty brakes, steering, and lights? I think that this information would be helpful. The modern disc brake is a wonderful invention, but we must make sure that lights and other equipment are properly maintained.

Both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham referred to tyres. I think that we are shortly to be presented with regulations on the subject. Can the Parliamentary Secretary say when these will be ready?

When my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) introduced a similar Order in 1963, there were very few appeals against a testing decision. Is the hon. Gentleman able to give us any figures on this?

We await the hon. Gentleman's reply, but, in general, wish this Order well and hope that it will help to reduce the toll on the roads.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Swingler

Hon. Members have shown their customary widespread and sophisticated interest in transport matters. If I am not now able to answer all the numerous questions raised, some of which are extremely detailed, I shall reply individually to hon. Members according to the figures, and so on, that we have available.

The hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) was right to pose the question that he did. Once again, we see in it, in contrast to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), the dilemma in which we are persistently placed in regard to the scheme for testing vehicles. We are persistently pressed to widen the scheme, to make it more comprehensive, to try to include all vehicles, and, at the same time, we are pressed to refine it, to stiffen it and perhaps, if necessary, to apply it to fewer vehicles in order to create a higher standard of efficiency.

The Order indicates our attempt to fulfil both of these aims. We aim to strengthen the quality of the test, but at the same time we feel that it is necessary at this juncture to make what I agree with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) is a substantial increase in the number of vehicles to which testing is to apply.

Therefore, in reply to the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk), we are here concerned with the number of vehicles which we are subjecting to an annual test. We talk blandly about figures of the number of vehicles initially tested. By the Order, we shall bring the three-year-olds into the scheme whereby vehicles must have an annual test and the owners must be able to produce a fitness certificate to be able to use them on the roads.

I want next to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East. The Regulations will apply to the following vehicles: motor cycles, private motor cars, dual-purpose vehicles up to two tons unladen weight, hackney carriages with fewer than eight passenger seats, and goods vehicles up to 30 cwt. unladen weight. If the House approves the Order, by next April the annual testing scheme will apply to 7¾ million vehicles in the United Kingdom. In addition, the Government are pledged to introduce a special testing scheme for heavy commercial vehicles. My hon. Friend was particularly concerned about the safety factor in regard to heavy commercial vehicles. There has been a great deal of publicity about that, and there have been dramatic, tragic cases.

We introduced into the last Parliament a Road Safety Bill, part of which was concerned with the introduction of an entirely new heavy goods vehicle testing scheme. The Government have renewed their pledge in this Parliament to reintroduce that Bill, which will inaugurate a network of State-owned testing stations for vehicles over 30 cwt., and will lay down specific details of a testing scheme for them. In this way we are pledged to make, in addition to the Order, a greater extension of the testing scheme to include all the heavy goods vehicles. Some hon. Members were rightly concerned about the ability of the testing stations to cope with the additional numbers of vehicles that we propose to make subject to the Order. As the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said, there are over 23,000 testing stations now, mostly private garages, though 80 of them are local authority stations—the number is still 80—which deal with these matters. Before introducing the Order we had substantial consultations with the trade. We are assured by people in the trade that they can cope with the problem. They are coping with it now and they can cope with the addition. We know very well that we are throwing a lot of work their way. It will be a formidable task. They are recompensed for it, of course, but it will inevitably impose a considerable strain upon their skilled manpower. But we believe that it ought to be done. The effort ought to be made, and we are sure that it can be done.

I agree with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare that this always has been and still is only a minimal test. It still remains the driver's and owner's responsibility to keep a vehicle fit all the year round to be used on the highway. Nothing in this scheme can derogate from that responsibility. Any testing scheme which is periodic means only that a vehicle is certified as fit on a certain day. Every day the driver and owner must make himself or herself responsible for the fitness of the vehicle to be on the road.

I come now to a feature of the testing scheme which is often misunderstood. At present, the scheme covers the testing of braking, lighting and steering. Those are the items specified for testing, and this is why I am in a position to give figures for the number found defective in respect of those specific items. But it has always been true—in saying this, I remind those who are responsible on our behalf for applying the testing scheme—that the Regulations permit any tester to decline to drive a vehicle presented for test if he considers that driving it might give rise to the risk of accident because of any kind of defect. That, of course, would amount to a refusal of a test certificate. In fact, there is a special form of refusal notice issued in such a case.

Therefore, although nothing at present beyond the testing of braking, lighting and steering systems is specified, if an efficient and competent tester diagnoses a defect serious enough to give rise to the risk of accident—hon. Members have cited such cases—the Regulations empower him to refuse to drive that vehicle. The driving of it is a practical part of his test, so that, automatically, he refuses to give the vehicle a fitness certificate.

We intend to stiffen the test. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and one or two of my hon. Friends mentioned the question of tyres. My right hon. Friend has recently circulated proposals for new regulations regarding fitness of tyres, and it is her intention specifically to include the testing of tyres in the annual testing scheme. She has also authorised me to say that she is considering other items for specific inclusion in the test. Thus, it is our intention, apart from widening the scheme so as to apply it to more vehicles, to endeavour to raise the quality. In saying that, I again emphasise, because it is most important that it be understood by all concerned with the practice of the scheme, that under the Regulations as they stand now any defect diagnosed by the tester as serious enough to make the vehicle dangerous should be a reason for refusal of a fitness certificate.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, if a car had recut tyres, the garage would be perfectly within its right in refusing a certificate?

Mr. Swingler

The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend has issued a ban in this respect. It is now her intention to specify tyres in the annual test: this will be done as quickly as possible——

Mr. Mapp

My hon. Friend said that the mechanic might feel that the car would be dangerous on the road, regardless of the four major considerations. This is not the right diagnosis. As in the courts, the right consideration should be not whether the car is dangerous, but whether it is in such a condition as to be properly and safely handled on the road and that the owner and other people will be safe with the car in that condition. There is a great gulf between the two definitions and I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.

Mr. Swingler

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says, but this is an area of judgment. We specify certain things which are mathematically measurable—braking and steering, and so on—but other matters are left within the tester's judgment of what is a serious defect or an unfit vehicle.

The Regulations say, therefore—this is the crunch—that, if the tester considers a defect so serious that he would refuse to take the car on the road because there would be a risk of accident, that could be a basis for refusal. It is obvious that we cannot make a highly refined calculation of all the defects. It is left to the judgment-of the tester, who can say that the vehicle is in his opinion defective and to refuse to take it on the road, and therefore fill out a refusal form——

Mr. Harold Walker

If the vehicle is found to have defective braking, lighting or steering, I understand that the tester can refuse to issue a certificate but can still charge for having carried out a test. If the vehicle is satisfactory in these respects, but rejects it on other grounds which are not specified, can he still demand a fee for having carried out a test——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss the payment or non-payment of fees for testing on this Order.

Mr. Swingler

If I discussed them, you would rule me out of order, Mr. Speaker. Let us not take too many things at once.

The answer is quite clear. Certain items are specified and measurable—the efficiency of the braking, lighting and steering—but if a vehicle is tested and found to be efficient in these respects, the Regulations allow the tester to decline to drive the vehicle and, therefore, complete the test, if he feels that the vehicle is in any way so defective as to give rise to the risk of accident. In that case, that amounts to a refusal.

Therefore, a vehicle's braking, lighting and steering may be completely efficient, but, if it has some other defect not specified in the testing Regulations, it may be so faulted by the tester. The judgment is whether he is prepared to drive the vehicle on the road. If he refuses to do so, he refuses to issue a fitness certificate. That area of judgment is permitted in the Regulations for those who carry out the tests.

Mr. O'Malley

Can my hon. Friend say when it is hoped to make the examination of tyres a specific part of the test?

Mr. Swingler

I cannot answer that question specifically, but my hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend recently made an announcement about this. Examination of the situation is going forward rapidly, and I hope that we can do something about it very soon.

Some hon. Members raised doubts or made criticisms about approved examiners—the 23,000 operators of testing stations. With such a large number of people, dealing with such a large problem, it is inevitable that there will be a degree of incompetence, inefficiency and even, I am sorry to say, dishonesty.

The hon. Member for Saffron Walden mentioned the report in the Daily Mail. I went closely into the position. I saw the reporter myself, and I issued a statement at the time. We follow any cases that are brought to our notice in order to try to ensure that these people are kept up to the mark.

The Ministry has an examining staff of about 500 people, whose responsibility it is to inspect testing garages, checking and investigating any complaints that are made. So far, in the comparatively short history of the scheme, experience has shown that out of a total of over 23,000 authorised examiners the Ministry has withdrawn authorisation in 566 cases, and in 311 of those cases this was due to offences connected with the issue of a test certificate.

Action has been taken. It has affected only a comparatively small number of garages. I would hope that in the vast majority of cases tests are being carried out competently, efficiently and honestly, but if any hon. Member, or any citizen outside the House, knows of any case of bribery and corruption in relation to the testing scheme, I hope that he will realise that it is his responsibility to give us the facts immediately, so that they can be examined. Action will be taken in such cases, because they are allegations of serious offences of corruption.

Mr. Kirk

This is not just a question of corruption; it is a question of different garages applying different standards. Is the Ministry able to lay down and enforce a common standard at all centres?

Mr. Swingler

The standard is laid down in the Regulations on the specific items I have referred to, covering braking, lighting and steering, but it also leaves an area of judgment where there may or may not be complete uniformity. It is the job of the Ministry of Transport staff of 500, in their fairly frequent visits to the authorised examiners, to get as great a degree of uniformity as they can. These are very complicated matters, and it is not an easy task. We have had only a comparatively short experience of the scheme and we have some way to go to get a degree of uniformity as well as the high quality that the test should have.

It is quite impossible, in the short history of the test, to make the claim that these tests have contributed to preventing a given number of accidents. We cannot prove it, but I believe, from our knowledge and experience, that the development of the testing scheme has become an essential part of our road safety effort. That is why it should be made comprehensive and why we should raise it to a high standard of efficiency.

A large number of questions have been asked. I have replied to most of them. If I have overlooked some, I will reply to them by post. With this explanation, I trust that the House is satisfied that we should extend the testing scheme in the way proposed.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order, 1966, dated 28th June, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th July, be approved.