HC Deb 12 June 1967 vol 748 cc2-7

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Webster

I am taken a little by surprise, Sir Eric. Perhaps I am even more Monday morningish than other hon. Members.

Many hon. Members have had correspondence from people who are in business in the manufacture of equipment. They understand that reflecting material is already in use on the highways and they suggest that the Clause is therefore unnecessary. They say that the intentions of the Bill—and we all support them—are already allowed for because the sort of equipment involved has already been in use for some time. There is a feeling among these people that those who have pioneered such equipment are at a disadvantage. They are anxious about it and wonder whether it is necessary to have legislation of this kind.

This aspect has come to light in correspondence since Second Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) brought it to my attention last week. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could indicate whether the equipment already being used—which is a phosphorescent type of lighting number plate, I understand—is now without the law and would be made within the law by this Bill. If that is not the case, perhaps he can tell us whether it is already perfectly legal—in which case, is there need for this legislation?

We all want to help this Bill through, but there are points about which we should be careful, and certainly one of them is whether it is necessary to legislate if equipment of this type is already perfectly adequate and allowable. There is a considerable school of thought which holds the view that the best Parliament is one that legislates as little as possible. It may not be necessary to legislate in this case.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

Perhaps it would be convenient to put a few general points about reflective material referred to in the Bill and perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will try to clear them up. I understand that the object of Clause 1 is to authorise reflective material to be used in a number of new ways on vehicles—for instance on number plates. If Clause 1 goes through, number plates would be one of the things which would be capable of being put in reflective form.

One or two points have been put to me about reflective material. The first is that it will definitely be more expensive than the ordinary way of making number plates and other reflectors for vehicles, and that point should be cleared up by the Parliamentary Secretary.

Secondly, the glass beads which make up the reflective material will have to be imported from America. This will require a certain amount of dollar expenditure which is not required at the present time in the manufacture of number plates and other accessories for motor vehicles.

Those are two serious points which will arise when this Bill and the regulations made under it come into operation.

I might perhaps go on a stage further, although it may be more apt under Clause 2, and you will stop me, Sir Eric, if it is.

The Chairman

I think that it would be better for the hon. Member to reserve his observations on Clause 2 and the regulations until we come to Clause 2.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

My point is specifically in relation to number plates, and I take it that will come under the regulations which will be made under Clause 2.

I will just throw those two points into the arena for the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us about: that here is a new form of reflective material being introduced which will be more expensive and will require imports from America which will require dollars. The Parliamentary Secretary ought seriously to consider those points and tell us why it is necessary.

Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) was not here on Second Reading when those two points were specifically dealt with. On the question of expense, I would refer him to Section 7 of the Road Research Laboratory Report (No. 44), published in January, for the third time: Cost of reflectorising. Ordinary registration plates are sold by the manufacturers to garages at a cost of £2 per pair and upwards and fitted to cars by garages at a cost of around £3 10s. It is estimated after consulting with the firm making plates of the type used in the experiment that the price would be about £2 for a pair. I said on 31st May that they might be a little more. I was exaggerating the claim of the Road Research Laboratory. Even if that were so, it would be a nominal increase and still a price which would be well worth paying in order to save life.

Whether imports would be required from America seriously concerned me. I took the matter up immediately with a number of the companies concerned and discovered that these beads could be obtained from Germany and that there would be no dollars involved in this transaction.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

It would still require foreign exchange.

10.15 a.m.

Mr. Lomas

But it would not be in dollars. The hon. Member specifically mentioned that it would be necessary to import from America, but I am told that they could be obtained from Germany.

Those two points are adequately dealt with. The object of Clause 1 is to make it clear that a reflectorised number plate, or any kind of reflective material, is not so much a form of light but a form of warning of danger or hazard. The speech of the Parliamentary Secretary on 31st May made that perfectly clear.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

On Second Reading the Parliamentary Secretary indicated that if his right hon. Friend had those powers Orders would be introduced so that this type of number plate could be brought into general permissive use before the dark nights came on. He spoke of colours other than red being used at the rear of motor vehicles, but did not indicate whether his Department had had any particular thoughts on the type of colour that would be available at one end of the car as against the other.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) suggested that the Road Lighting Working Party had suggested that black and amber were the most effective colours at the rear of a motor vehicle and black and white at the front. I have had a pair of reflective number plates on my car, one black and white and the other black and amber. Could the Parliamentary Secretary give any indication of which end of the vehicle they should be placed?

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I was not present on Second Reading. However, I would like to testify that these reflective number plates are extremely effective—much more effective than those in normal use. I have seen them demonstrated and there is no doubt that they are a very useful improvement. Every effort should be made to get out of the present difficulty about showing a light to the rear. The Bill does that and we all ought to welcome it.

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

I had hoped that I had explained this position on Second Reading, but let me make it absolutely clear. In this Clause we are only dealing with the definition in law. The title of the Bill begins, A Bill to resolve doubts as to the application of the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1957 …. and this Clause begins: It is hereby declared for the avoidance of doubt …. Doubt has been expressed about whether new types of material which have been developed as a form of reflector can be held in law under the 1957 Act as showing a light when they are reflecting light. The Minister has been advised that they would be so held, and hon. Gentlemen acquainted with the law will know that today the use of any such material on the rear of a vehicle, other than red, would therefore be unlawful. I am not declaring what the law is; that is a matter for the courts. However, that is the advice given to my right hon. Friend. Therefore, anybody using reflective material on the rear of a vehicle, other than red, would be committing an unlawful act.

We want to resolve the doubt on this point, and the purpose of the Clause is to differentiate between those materials designed to act as reflective materials and other materials that may be on the rear, or any other part, of the vehicle which, because of their polished surface, have the quality of reflecting. We want to get the definition clear, and we shall then pass on to discuss how and to what extent we should allow other reflective materials to be used on various parts of motor vehicles. I hope that makes the position clear.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Will the Parliamentary Secretary confirm what his hon. Friend said about expense and the imports necessary?

Mr. Swingler

The Clause deals with the definition in law. It has nothing to do with the use of reflective materials. The purpose of the Clause is simply to clarify and get rid of doubt. We shall then pass on to consider the question of the circumstances, cost and things of that kind.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.