HC Deb 17 February 1970 vol 796 cc303-5
Mr. Brewis

I beg to move Amendment No. 39, in page 15, line 11, after "shall", insert "wilfully".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sidney Irving)

I suggest that it would be convenient for the House to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 40, in page 16, line 12, after "person", insert "wilfully".

Mr. Brewis

That is convenient, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and there is a respectable argument for inserting the word "wilfully" in any question of a criminal act in that there should be some guilty intent. However, I do not wish to argue along that line but to raise a small matter which was mentioned in Committee; namely, whether a car which has broken down could be construed as an obstruction within the meaning of this provision.

When the Minister replied in Committee he promised to look at the matter, although at that stage he did not think that "obstruction" would be defined as applying to a car which has broken down. An abandoned car, however, such as one sometimes sees in side streets with no wheels and a broken windscreen, should, I submit, count as an obstruction, and therefore the Amendment raises a fine distinction between a car which has broken down for the time being and an abandoned vehicle.

If a car has temporarily broken down it is absurd to suggest that the driver must fence it and light it. Obviously one cannot carry a lot of fencing in the back of one's car and, similarly, if the vehicle's lights are left on for a considerable time the battery will run down. I am sure that few hon. Members break down wilfully, certainly not at our age. We may have done certain things in our youth, but the word "obstruction" should not apply to cars which have broken down. For this reason, the inclusion of the word "wilfully" would prevent the Clause from being used to create an offence which it was never intended to create.

Mr. Bence

Having driven on the Continent for many years, I have adopted the practice of carrying in my car two triangles which, should I break down, I can display in the roadway one hundred feet or so fore and aft of my car to warn motorists of a pending obstruction. Many motorists are carrying these triangles voluntarily. If I break down and place my triangles in the roadway and a motorist swerves to avoid one of them and has an accident, could I be liable to prosecution under the Clause for causing an obstruction?

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I find that a most interesting contribution. Perhaps we should consider it as a possible alternative to being obliged to provide lights and fencing around an obstruction.

Mr. Dempsey

I ask my hon. Friend not to make that provision, because if red lamps or warning triangles were put on the road to guard motor cars left there they could be removed by vandals.

Dr. Mabon

This is rather an urban v. rural point. I understand the object of these Amendments. There is the other side of the argument, which is that if we put in the word "wilfully" it could mean that the prosecutor in any offence would be obliged to prove that there was criminal intent on the part of the persons concerned. The persons concerned could plead ignorance that they required authorisation to do all the things mentioned in the Clause, which is not confined to a temporary breakdown of a motor car but to abandoned, completely useless cars causing obstruction in the street.

There is reference in the Clause not only to obstructing but to digging up the road. I do not think there is such a thing as accidental excavation, but it would be wrong if someone innocently involved in the breakdown of his car should necessarily be culpable. I imagine that no one would prosecute in that case, because the car owner would not be in a position to apply to the highway authority to allow him to have a breakdown and he would not want to have a breakdown anyway. I will look at this matter again. It would be wrong to put in the word "wilfully". This is not a minor point of drafting, but a significant point of importance in this context. I think the hon. Member who moved the Amendment recognised that. I ask him not to press his Amendments. I shall see whether the isolated incident of the breakdown of a car might be dealt with in some other way.

Mr. Brewis

In view of that assurance, I have pleasure in saying that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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