§ Mr. Galbraith
I beg to move Amendment No. 28, in page 28, line 36, at the end to insert:'alternatively or in addition the carriers' licence in respect of the vehicle concerned may be suspended for a period of up to one year'.The object of this Amendment is to make available to the court the right to suspend a carrier's licence in respect of a vehicle which has infringed the provisions of Part 11. The Minister and her hon. Friend may recall that I introduced this during the Committee stage and found support from all quarters for it. I could not, therefore, understand the hesitancy of the Government in accepting it when the Minister is so severe with other penalties in Part 1 of the Bill. At least, after some further pressure, the Parliamentary Secretary said he would look at this again. Subsequently, however, the hon. Gentleman wrote to me to the effect that he could do nothing at this stage. I should like to take the opportunity to thank him, incidentally, for writing to me on various matters relevant to the Bill, but what we are concerned with at the moment is an extremely unsatisfactory state of affairs.
I would remind the Committee that the Geddes Committee says on page 46 of its Report,Only the loss of a licence would really hurt".On the same page, the Report states,This chance"—of losing a licence,is and has been in practice so remote that we doubt whether fear of licence action has seriously influenced the behaviour of road transport operators in their attitude to safety matters".Personally, I am not surprised that this is the conclusion of the Committee, because in an article in The Sunday Times, to which I have already referred, one of the licensing authorities is reported as having said: 1308But whenever we crack down hard on any haulier, virtually putting him out of business, he appeals to the Licensing Tribunal and they invariably give him a second, third, or 203rd chance".So, that means that the present system is simply not working so far as safety enforcement is concerned. I suggest that the Government knows this fact as well as I do, but the Government are doing nothing. This inaction is all the stranger when one remembers paragraph 100 of the Minister's White Paper which, in dealing with relative costs of carrying by road or rail, states:These studies need not delay steps to improve the safety and efficiency of vehicles …It adds:The necessary new powers will be sought in the Road Safety Bill.But the most important power of all, the one that will make the reforms work, is not being sought. It is not in the Bill. I would like the hon. Gentleman to tell us why not. The Government would have the whole House behind them if they acted. All they do, however, is procrastinate and delay. It is shocking. The right hon. Lady makes fine speeches about safety, but when it comes to doing something—
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) says, "dear, dear". One can imagine the fiery speech he would make about this if our positions were reversed. Instead of the right hon. Lady doing something, there is always this excuse for inaction. I ask her to think again. If she does not like my wording, there is still an opportunity for her to do something in another place. What we require is a real sanction that will bite on these bad lorry operators. It is not in the Bill and, without it, the Bill is unworthy of its name.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I support the Amendment. It is about three years since I raised this with the Ministry of Transport—in April, 1964. I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who was then Parliamentary Secretary, saying that the matter would be cleared up. He only had six months to do it. The present Government have had 2¼ years. 1309 I support the plea for something to be done. There was the case, reported in more than one newspaper a month ago, in which a lorry was found to have a defective speedometer, rear lights out of order, no proper mirrors, the rear number plate not properly marked and no warning instrument. The driver drove it to a police station because he was so disgusted, although he knew he risked the sack—which he got. He was discharged at the subsequent court hearing. The firm was fined £25 out of the maximum of £50. That was ridiculous in the circumstances.
Even the proposed increase to a maximum of £200 may not be adequate. suggest that taking away the licence of the vehicle concerned for a specified period is the only way to deal with this situation. I hope that this matter will be cleared up and that the Government will get tough on lorries in a dangerous condition, for these are killer lorries, and they can also damage other vehicles and property.
§ Sir D. Renton
I wonder that the right hon. Lady does not blush when she considers the contrast in this Bill. On the one hand, a person puts a 30-ton lorry on the road with faulty brakes and the most that can happen is a fine of £200. There is no suspension at all. There is nothing analogous to compulsory disqualification. But a person who drives a Mini-Minor with more than the prescribed quantity of alcohol in the blood can be disqualified for a year and perhaps lose his living for a year.
Accepting the principle of the argument that the Minister put forward and which was accepted by the House on a Division earlier, I ask the right hon. Lady to bear in mind what she said then—that she is anxious to improve road safety by deterring. The Amendment offers her a reasonable opportunity of deterring. The penalty would be within the discretion of the court and, therefore, would not have the disadvantage of compulsory disqualification even for a first offender that we had earlier. I beseech her to compare the earlier provisions of the Bill with the position under this Clause. A 30-ton lorry is a pretty lethal thing, just as lethal if it goes out without brakes as a Mini-Minor if driven by somebody with a certain amount of alcohol in his blood. The 1310 Government should seriously consider my hon. Friend's Amendment.
§ Mr. Bessell
I will not detain the House for more than a minute, but I support with all the vigour I can command the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) in moving the Amendment and by his right hon. and hon. Friends. Part II of the Bill is of at least equal importance to Part I and I should be very disturbed if the Minister did not accept the Amendment, which is clearly imperative if the Bill is to have any teeth.
The arguments which have been advanced in support of the Amendment do not require backing from me or from any other right hon. or hon. Member, on either side. I only beg the right hon. Lady, whatever she may have had in mind when she entered the Chamber, at least to give us a favourable indication of her acceptance of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Swingler
As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) said, the Amendment was discussed at considerable length and in a high state of feeling in Committee. That was considered fully by my right hon. Friend and we have gone deeply into the question of whether concurrent powers to suspend and revoke licences as proposed in the Amendment should be given both to the courts and to the licensing authorities.
Let there be no doubt about my right hon. Friend's determination to see that the power of suspension and revocation of licences is used to drive off the roads the killer lorries and those who have been convicted of dangerous offences. Indeed, as a result of the discussion which took place and the contributions made from all sides in Standing Committee, my right hon. Friend sent a special letter to all licensing authorities a few weeks ago in which she said—I quote merely the last paragraph:I would urge licensing authorities to consider using their powers of revocation and suspension more frequently in cases where operators have increased accident risks by causing or permitting any of the safety offences listed in the Fourteenth Schedule to the Road Traffic Act.That letter clearly demonstrates my right hon. Friend's determination to express the feeling during our discussions in Committee. 1311 Moreover, I am not at all satisfied, nor is my right hon. Friend, with the extent to which the powers of suspension and revocation of licences have been used hitherto. They are, however, used much more now than they were just a few years ago. A few years ago there was negligible use of the power of suspension or revocation of licences. I am pleased to say that in the last three years the figures for suspensions, for example, have risen from 11 to 181 to 651. To be fair, the figure of 651 for last year included one particularly bad case involving 350 vehicles. Nevertheless, those figures for suspensions clearly show in the last two years a sharply increased use of the power of suspension.
After deep and careful consideration, however, we cannot accept the proposal made in the Amendment. We do not consider that the way to deal with the problem of suspension and revocation is to give the power concurrently to the courts as well as to those authorities which are charged to issue licences and to ensure that people to whom the licences are issued are fit persons for the purpose.
It will be clear to hon. Gentlemen, of course, that if this Amendment were accepted there would arise a very difficult situation between magistrates and licensing authorities, especially in such cases where the magistrates refused to exercise the power of suspending a licence, if it had been granted to them, thereby presumably inhibiting the licensing authority from doing so. I think it should be clear to hon. Gentlemen that if we are going to continue to place in licensing authorities the power to grant licences and to consider whether certain persons are fit or unfit to have licences for vehicles, these are the authorities that should be armed with the power of suspending or revoking the licence.
My right hon. Friend is not at all satisfied about the channel of communication between the courts and the licensing authorities. This was something that arose out of our Committee discussions. My right hon. Friend thinks it very important that licensing authorities should be made aware of all convictions of hauliers for safety offences so that there is no question that all such convictions 1312 are immediately brought to the attention of the licensing authorities for them to consider whether the case is one that is appropriate for using the power to suspend or revoke.
We are therefore at the moment in consultation with the Home Office for the purpose of establishing, through liaison with the police, the necessary channel of communication to ensure that all convictions on such offences are brought to the notice of the licensing authority.
Furthermore, my right hon. Friend is aware of the very many comments made, including those by some of the Traffic Commissioners themselves, that the present powers of the licensing authorities to order suspensions are powers that ought to be strengthened, and that many licensing authorities are at the moment inhibited from using their powers by the provisions of the Statute that lay down certain things in regard to the persistence of the offence, the seriousness of the offence, and so on.
My right hon. Friend is at present engaged in a complete review of the licensing system, and she intends in the course of this year to bring forward a major Bill on transport to deal with the matter of the future of the licensing system, including the powers of the authorities to grant licences, to suspend them and to revoke them. It is her intention that after her review the powers of the licensing authorities will be strengthened so that there are no provisions in the Act that circumscribe their ability to act in cases of serious breaches in order that they may fully exercise the power of suspension and revocation which we agree should follow upon the conviction of offenders in the courts for serious offences in the matter of road safety.
I hope the House will agree that this is the correct manner of dealing with the undoubted and widespread demand that something should be done to drive the killer lorries off the road, and that with the undertaking I have given that we will legislate on this matter in the major transport Bill my right hon. Friend is bringing forward, the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Carlisle
We are dealing with a series of offences and we are dealing with what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary 1313 has himself described as killer lorries and accidents in which many people are maimed and killed on the roads. Although I am sure the whole House is glad to hear that the channel of communication between the courts and the licensing authorities is to be improved, and although I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has throughout welcomed the spirit of this Amendment, I find it a little difficult, frankly, to see why he is not prepared to accept the Amendment.
In Commitee this Amendment was moved from our side, and it was in response to his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said he would certainly reconsider this matter to see what could be done and report at Report stage. It seems to me that the fact that the licensing authority has power to remove a carrier's licence should not in itself be held to prohibit or prevent the court from acting where it believes it right to act in the case of a vehicle.
We are concerned with causing or allowing to be on the road a vehicle the condition of which is dangerous; we are dealing with breaches of the Construction and Use Regulations relating to the brakes, tyres and steering gear of a vehicle. One is really in this rather fantastic position, that a person may be charged with an offence under Section 64(2) of the principal Act, he can be fined up to £200, he himself, the driver, can be disqualified from driving—but there is nothing to prevent another person from being put to drive the lorry of whose condition, not of the driver himself, complaint has been made. The real criminal in the case, the state of the lorry, the courts would appear to have no powers to deal with.
The hon. Gentleman says, "We now intend to see that the courts shall notify the licensing authorities immediately of any cases"—where vehicles are involved—but surely, even if that occurs, there will be a delay? Presumably the licensing authority has then to decide whether to ask the man to appear before it. During that time the vehicle will still be able to be used; it cannot be kept off the road. The main duties of the licensing authorities, as I understand it, are, firstly, to see that there are adequate and not too many vehicles on the road 1314 for general purposes; and secondly, when a licence has to be renewed, to see that the state of the man's fleet is such that he has not shown himself, by the state of his fleet, to be incapable, but, by the state of his fleet, to be a proper person to have a carrier's licence.
Have the licensing authorities the power which we propose the courts should have in the case, to remove an individual vehicle? Are they limited to suspending his licence as such? [Interruption.] I should be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he would deal with this point, if he is saying that when it comes back to the licensing authority, as well as the general power to suspend his licence, it also has power to strike off his vehicle. I am grateful to the Minister for implying that that is the position. So what is there against allowing the courts to have the power and act the moment an offence is proved in the courts?
The final point I would make is this. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that if we gave the courts powers to do this that would interfere with the licensing authorities. Frankly, I do not see why this should be so. For an analogy from a different part of the criminal law, let us take the case of a person on probation and perhaps he commits another offence. The court before which he appears for the second offence may deal with him for that offence without in any way inhibiting the power of the court which put him on probation to call him back and deal with the previous offence. I do not see why giving the court power to remove a vehicle off the road for up to twelve months rather than merely disqualifying the driver should inhibit the decision of the licensing authorities to call the licenceholder before them and take other steps, even steps of greater severity, if they felt that they were justified in all the circumstances.
Although, obviously, we are glad to hear that the Minister is proposing further legislation and to hear of the letters that have now been sent out and of the steps that are being taken, I should have hoped that, in view of the unanimous support that the proposal got from the Committee, the Minister might have felt able to accept it at this stage in this Bill.
§ Mr. Swingler
I should like to put one point on the record. The licensing authorities are in a position to suspend licences in respect of one vehicle, two vehicles, six vehicles, or however many vehicles the man has for which the licensing authority has granted licences. This is the essence of the point.
If hon. Gentlemen arrive at the conclusion that licensing authorities should no longer exercise this power, then we should reconsider the position of the authorities as charged with the responsibility of saying whether a man is fit or not to hold licences to run as a road haulier in respect of one vehicle, or six, twelve or 20 vehicles, or whatever number it may be. But if they are under Statute charged—this has been the system—with the responsibility of making that judgment about the fitness or unfitness of the man to be a haulier and have a licence, it seems right and proper that they should be empowered and entitled to exercise the power of revocation.
Hon. Gentlemen must recognise that there has been a considerable change of view about this matter over the years. Many licensing authorities say that their difficulty is not that they do not wish to exercise the power to suspend and revoke licences but that when Parliament laid down the nature of their powers it inserted words stating that the powers of suspension and revocation of licences should be used only where offences were persistent or where they were extremely serious. Parliament circumscribed the powers of licensing authorities in a number of ways.
That is why my right hon. Friend is considering not the transfer of the powers to inflict this penalty but whether we should not reconsider the whole position of the licensing system and the terms of reference given to the licensing authorities about the treatment of offences against safety provisions and other things so that they can exercise their functions in the way in which, obviously, a majority of hon. Gentlemen wish them to do so. I think that that is a far better way to proceed—my right hon. Friend will have some announcement to make on it in the near future—than by producing what might be a most unfortunate conflict between the magistrates and the licensing authorities over the exercise of this power.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Could the hon. Gentleman answer one question for me? Am I right in thinking that when the licensing authority gets information that a vehicle has been badly maintained and there has been a court case about it, it can act immediately if it wants to? Or does it have to have another inquiry before it is able to act—instead of there being just one case in the court, there is a second case in front of the licensing authority? Can the hon. Gentleman confirm or deny that?
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Swingler
The licensing authority has its own procedure of calling before it the person to whom it has granted the licence, of considering the offences which have been committed, and of deciding, according to its terms of reference, what penalties should be imposed. That is the procedure which has been adopted up to now. Hon. Members are demanding—and it is a spreading view—that the power to suspend and revoke licences should be more widely used. It is clear to us that that involves some change in the statutory terms of reference for licensing authorities. I can give the assurance that my right hon. Friend is considering what new terms of reference they should be given so that they may exercise the power of suspension and revocation of licences in a satisfactory way.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Swingler
I beg to move Amendment No. 29, in page 29, line 11, to leave out from the first 'vehicle' to 'a' in line 13.
I suggest that with this Amendment we might also discuss Government Amendment No. 30.
The purpose of subsection (3) has always been, and continues to be, the control of weight markings on a goods vehicle so that users and enforcement authorities will not be misled as to the weights at which by virtue of the plating scheme the vehicle is permitted to operate.
The purpose of the Amendments is to cater for the development in thinking which has resulted from continuing consultations between the Ministry and the interested organisations of operators, 1317 manufacturers, trades unions and local authorities about the nature of the markings to be put on vehicles.
An incidental effect of the Amendments is to simplify the subsection, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) in Standing Committee as a piece of "legal jargon". A further effect of the Amendments is to make the subsection sufficiently flexible to deal with any possible further developments in thinking as a result of our continuing consultations.
The objective is to mark on goods vehicles, by means of suitable plates, the legal maximum gross, axle and "train" weights at which individual vehicles or vehicle-combinations will be permitted to operate on roads in this country, and in addition, in cases where the design weights, on the basis of criteria to be laid down in the plating regulations, exceed particular limits laid down in the Construction and Use Regulations, the approved design weights.
When draft regulations have been prepared in the light of the consultations, there will be the widest possible circulation of these for comment by interested organisations as required by Clause 26(6).
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: No. 30, in page 29, line 16, leave out from 'Act' to first 'the' in line 21 and insert:
'the vehicle shall not, while it is used on a road, be marked with any other weights, except other plated weights, other weights required or authorised to be marked on the vehicle by regulations under section 64 of the principal Act or weights so authorised for the purposes of this section by regulations made by the Minister and marked in the prescribed manner; and in the event of a contravention of the foregoing provision'.—[Mr. Swingler.]
§ Mr. Awdry
I beg to move Amendment No. 31, in page 29, line 23, at the end to insert:(4) Paragraph 19 of Part II of the First Schedule to the 1962 Act shall cease to have effect in respect of an offence under section 64(2) of the principal Act in so far as such an offence relates to goods vehicles.I shall move the Amendment as shortly as I can, because it is now over 13 hours since the Parliamentary Secretary and I were discussing a Prayer.
This is an important Amendment relating to what is known as the totting up of offences. We were pleased when in Standing Committee the Parliamentary 1318 Secretary acknowledged that this is a difficult problem. He went further and acknowledged that there was considerable inequity about the present state of the law. Therefore, we are disappointed that the Government have done nothing about it and have not brought forward any Amendment to deal with this hardship.
Section 64 of the 1960 Act creates the offence of using on a road a vehicle which does not comply with the regulations relating to construction, weight and equipment. By virtue of No. 19 in the list of offences in Part II of the First Schedule of the Road Traffic Act, 1962, that becomes an offence which involves discretionary disqualification. The totting up provisions are contained in Section 5(3) of the Road Traffic Act, 1962, which provides that a person becomes liable to lose his licence automatically if he has been convicted during the preceding three years of two offences specified in Parts I and II of the First Schedule to that Act and is then convicted of a third offence. Parts I and II of the First Schedule contain many offences, some fairly serious and others less serious. Among the lesser offences are offences such as speeding, contravening a traffic regulation, failing to obey a sign or leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position.
The hardship to which I referred in Committee relates to a small haulier, for example, a man who runs a fleet of, say, 20 vehicles. If any of those vehicles are found with defective brakes he may be charged, under offence No. 19 of Part II of the First Schedule of the 1962 Act, with causing or permitting the vehicle to be used in breach of a requirement as to brakes. The vital point is that he will be convicted whether he knew the brakes were defective and whether he had any real responsibility. It is true that the driver will also be charged, but the haulier will be convicted. In Committee I gave examples of a haulier who had two endorsements on his licence during a preceding period of three years for speeding while driving, not as a haulier, but in his private capacity. I want to emphasise that they had nothing to do with his business as haulier or the way he conducted that business.
It seems to me and to many other hon. Members on both sides of the House totally illogical that when a haulier is 1319 charged with a technical offence in relation to one of his lorries he may lose his driving licence because it so happens that two years before he was convicted on two occasions of driving at more than 30 miles per hour on a journey that was in no way connected with his business. The Parliamentary Secretary acknowledged in Committee how unfair that was, and went on to say that the small haulier is penalised whereas the limited company which runs a much larger fleet of vehicles is not. He said:There is a second area of inequity in the cases that we are considering here as between the small haulier and the corporate body. Clearly the totting up provision cannot be applied to the corporate body—the limited liability company that is running a large fleet of vehicles. But it can be applied to the man who is running five vehicles and who owns them directly. He can be hauled before the court, in addition to the driver of the vehicle, on the third referable offence, and he can have his driving licence taken away for a period."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 20th December, 1966; c. 396.]We therefore have the position that the Parliamentary Secretary—in fact, the Government—acknowledged the very great injustice of the present state of the law. It seems astonishing to me that the Government are not prepared to put it right tonight, at any rate for goods vehicles. We have thought about the matter a great deal on this side of the House. We realise that under the Bill we can deal only with goods vehicles, but later on the law must be amended to bring in all classes of vehicles. Because we cannot deal with all vehicles now it is monstrous that the Government are not prepared to tackle this part of the problem.
When Parliament identifies a defect in the law which is causing considerable hardship to worthy men, the Government should take the opportunity to put it right at once. There is no excuse for further delay about the matter, and I therefore press the hon. Gentleman urgently to tell us that he is prepared to think about it again.
§ Mr. Swingler
Since the Committee stage of the Bill I have wrestled with the doctrine of vicarious liability as best I can. I have come up against a number of obstacles, a few of which I shall mention. I am prepared to go on, and so is my right hon. Friend, to get 1320 rid of what we recognised at Committee stage was an inequity.
We are not prepared to remove the totting up provisions in this respect altogether, nor to make a serious softening of the penalties. In Committee, I said that my right hon. Friend recognises the unfairness to a person who for legal purposes is the user of a vehicle and is convicted for using even though he did not actually drive. Under existing law, the conviction would count towards totting up, and on conviction for a third reckonable offence he would be liable to mandatory disqualification in the absence of mitigating circumstances. In the case of a small man, I readily recognise the problem of inequity.
I have considered very carefully the drafting of an Amendment in order to meet this special point, without an all-round softening of the penalties in this respect which include mandatory disqualification. Closer examination of that problem has revealed that even in the anomaly arising out of the vicarious use of a defective vehicle, the same sort of problem would arise—and this is the difficulty—for the offence of causing or permitting the use of a defective vehicle.
In a recent case, F. Austin (Leyton) Limited v. East 1960, "causing" was held to be an absolute offence for which it is not necessary to show personal knowledge. At present there are very few prosecutions for "causing or permitting" because it is generally easier for the authorities to proceed for the offence of "using". If "using" were removed by the Amendment, it is likely that prosecution would merely be switched to the offence of "causing or permitting", and here we are in serious difficulties about finding the necessary language that provides for the special case of the small man who is liable to mandatory disqualification on conviction for a third reckonable offence, although he did not know what was going on, in the driving of defective vehicles, without getting rid generally of the offence of "causing or permitting" or "using" a defective vehicle in circumstances where transport managers and others were perfectly acquainted with the facts of what was going on.
We intend to proceed with the search for a definition which will meet the case, 1321 not only on the use of lorries, but also for motor cars.
I mentioned in Committee that we were not satisfied that we should make amending provision simply in part of a Bill dealing with goods vehicles. If we remove part of the doctrine of vicarious responsibility, we should do it right across the board in respect of all vehicles and, therefore, it is my right hon. Friend's intention to continue to attempt to find means of amending the law to remove the inequity which we recognise now exists, and to do it in respect of all vehicles.
§ 12 m.
§ Sir D. Renton
My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) has done a great service by raising this matter. It is somewhat ironical that it should be raised at this late hour, and we appreciate the Parliamentary Secretary, who was engaged in a morning sitting, giving us the encouraging and helpful information that the Government are looking to a more general solution of the unfairness of the totting-up system.
Hoping that I shall not be out of order, may I suggest that one very simple and general way of doing it in the Bill, which could be done in another place, is to say that the period in which previous offences have been committed shall be a much shorter one than the three years that it is at present? If it were specified as being 12 months, in a rough and ready but perfectly fair, short and simple way, many of the disadvantages of the present totting up system would be overcome.
I commend that suggestion to the hon. Gentleman. I see entirely the point which he makes about the specific proposal which my hon. Friend has put forward. I do not know whether my hon. Friend accepts the explanation, but I see the hon. Gentleman's point. It would be rather difficult to remove that injustice in this way, leaving the other injustices there still. But I hope that it will not be long before we have the other injustices removed. It would not involve an elaborate and major exercise.
If a short and simple solution of the kind that I have suggested is considered in the time that it takes for a Bill to go from this House to another place, a suitable Amendment could be moved by the Government in another place to solve the problem.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I am sure that all hon. Members sympathise with the Parliamentary Secretary. As well as being here since ten o'clock this morning, he has had to wrestle with the difficulties of vicarious liability. To those who do not believe that practising members of the Bar work in this House, may I say that we have to do that sort of thing each day.
It is not and never was proposed in the Amendment to try and abolish the idea of totting up as it stands. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) said, the point which concerned us was that, under paragraph 19 of Part II of the 1962 Act, a person running a firm with a small fleet of lorries could suddenly, as a result of various offences relating to his lorries committed under Section 61(2) of the principal Act, find to his chagrin and amazement that his own driving licence had been withdrawn. It might be that, on three occasions over a period of three years, one of his lorries or possibly a different one on each occasion, had gone on the road committing an offence of some kind under the Construction and Use Regulations. Whilst many breaches of the Regulations can be serious, equally there can be fairly technical breaches.
I find it a little difficult to understand the hon. Gentleman's explanation that, if the Amendment went through, the alternative to charging a person with causing the use of a vehicle would be to charge him with either using or permitting it. If one looks at paragraph 19 of Part II of the Road Traffic Act, it refers to offences under Section 64(2) of the principal Act (Contravention of Construction and Use Regulations) committed by using a vehicle on a road or causing or permitting a vehicle to be so used. Should the prosecuting department decide that the charge is to be permitting the use, rather than using or causing the use, by the Amendment the unfortunate owner of a small fleet of lorries would not and his own personal licence in danger of being endorsed and later subject to disqualification.
I accept that there may be great difficulties in the Amendment. I am not sure whether, as drawn, it would merely cover cases of vicarious liability, or whether it could be said that, if a person was charged in the capacity of a driver 1323 with using a vehicle on a road which was in breach of the Construction and Use Regulations, nevertheless, under our Amendment, he would be exempt from having his licence endorsed. Quite clearly, if that were so it might not be desirable or any fairer to that man or to other people. If a person has his own vehicle and is using it and is in breach of the Construction and Use Regulations, it seems reasonable that his licence should be endorsed.
On the basis that the wording of the Amendment may not meet the point that we wish to make, but having made the point both in Committee and on Report, and the Government having accepted that there is a grave injustice which should be remedied at the earliest possible stage, if the hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that the Government will continue to wrestle with the problem of vicarious liability and come forward with legislation at the earliest possible moment on this matter, as one of the signatories to the Amendment I would ask the leave of the House to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.