HC Deb 20 February 1967 vol 741 cc1323-6
Mr. Awdry

I beg to move Amendment No. 32, in page 30, line 3, after '(a)', to insert: 'in a case where the limit of that weight was not exceeded by more than the prescribed percentage'. Mr. Deputy Speaker, would it be convenient to take with that Amendment the next one, No. 33, in line 13, to leave out 'ten' and to insert 'five'?

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Awdry

This is a short point, but it is a matter on which the Association of Municipal Corporations feels very strongly. It arises from the fact that subsection (4) of this Clause provides alternative defences in proceedings under Section 64(2) of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, in which a goods vehicle is alleged to be in excess of the permitted weight limits.

Amendment No.32 relates to the first defence available to the defendant. For this defence the defendant must show that the vehicle was on the way to the nearest available weighbridge for the purpose of being weighed, or, alternatively, was proceeding from the weighbridge after it had been weighed to the nearest place at which it was reasonably practicable to reduce the weight to the relevant limit. On the face of it, it seems a reasonable defence, but the Association feels that this defence might be abused.

The Amendment is drafted in such a way as to enable the Minister to prescribe a limit to the overload above which the defence will no longer be available. I should have thought that 10 per cent. was a reasonable limit, but clearly this is a matter of judgment, and it is for this reason that the Amendment suggests a prescribed percentage which can be altered from time to time by the Minister as she is guided by experience. It is desirable that the law with regard to overloading should be strictly enforced, and it is purely to make the law more effective that I have tabled this small Amendment.

Amendment No.33 deals with the second defence available under this Clause. To avail himself of this defence the defendant must prove three things: first, that the limit was not exceeded at the time of loading; secondly, that since the loading n oone has made any addition to the load; thirdly, that the permitted weight is not exceeded by more than 10 per cent.

The Association feels that on the face of it the 10 per cent. excess load seems excessive, because the only way that increases in weight can take place are either by the vehicle taking on petrol or fuel, or by the effect of some rain or snow on the load itself. I should, therefore, have thought that 5 per cent. would have been sufficient, if not generous.

Mr. Swingler

With regard to Amendment No.32, so far as we are concerned these good defences are to a great extent experimental. They have been drawn up without knowledge of how the plating scheme will work in practice, and how the control of overloading provided for will work in practice. Therefore, whilst I wish at the moment to resist the Amendment, may I tell the hon. Gentleman that if my right hon. Friend finds that these good defences prove to be unwarrantably abused, the first legislative opportunity will be taken to modify them.

I am sure that the hon. Member will be glad to know that I am very pleased to recommend the acceptance of the Amendment No.33. I think that the Bill was drawn too widely and that his figure of 5 per cent. is a more logical percentage figure and, therefore, I am pleased to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Awdry

We have made good progress and it is a bit late to get Amendments accepted. I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his assurance on the first Amendment and I beg to ask leave to withdraw it. I am grateful to him for accepting the second Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further Amendment made: No.33, in page 30, line 13 leave out "ten" and insert "five".—[Mr. Awdry.]

Mr. Awdry

I beg to move Amendment No.34, in page 30, line 16 at end insert: Provided that the defendant shall not be entitled to avail himself of the foregoing provisions of this subsection unless he has, not less than three clear days before the date of the hearing, sent to the prosecutor a written notice of his intention to do so, together with a brief statement of the facts on which he intends to rely. This Amendment is also inspired by the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I hope that it will be accepted as well. The Amendment also relates to the defence under Clause 23, and the intention is to reduce to a minimum opportunities for abuse. The Amendment requires the defendant to give notice to the prosecution of his intention to rely on either of the two defences and of all the facts he intends to prove. This would avoid the situation in which the prosecution was taken entirely by surprise but make the defence available in all genuine cases. There is a precedent for a proviso on these lines in the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. If a person raises a defence of warranty Section 84(2) provides: A warranty shall only be a defence to proceedings under this Act if— (a) the defendant has within seven days of the service of the summons sent to the prosecutor a copy of the warranty with a notice stating that he intends to rely on it— This Amendment is drafted on similar lines, and I hope that the Government will accept it.

Mr. John Morris

I am afraid that I cannot yield to the blandishments of the hon. Member on this Amendment. Some of the precedents which have been quoted from the Food and Drugs Act are not directly relevant. The purpose of the provisions in Section 113 and Section 115 of the 1955 Act is to alert the prosecution if a third party is to be involved. If there is any danger of the prosecution being caught in difficulty, then the best remedy is to ask for an adjournment, and this is the practice in summary proceeding of this kind.

Mr. Awdry

At this hour I do not wish to press the matter any further. I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.