HC Deb 16 November 1970 vol 806 cc949-72

7.36 p.m.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Brierley Hill)

I beg to move, That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motor Cars (Driving Instruction) (Amendment) Regulations 1970 (S.I., 1970, No. 966), a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th July, be annulled. The reason for the debate is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolver-hampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and I are both concerned about the effects that the regulations have had on driving schools. I realise that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment was not responsible for the regulations. They are a hang-over—and "hang-over" is the operative word—from the last Administration.

I am not sure who thought up the regulations. I can only hazard a guess that perhaps they were thought up as a means of improving road safety. I shall try to show during the debate that far from improving road safety, they could have the opposite effect.

The regulations state that from 1st October, 1970, it will be an offence for anyone to give instruction, which is paid for by or in respect of the pupil, in driving a motor car unless (a) his name is in the register of approved driving instructors or (b) he is training for registration as an approved driving instructor and holds a licence to give instruction issued by the Registrar.

The part of the regulations causing great concern is that devoted to the licence conditions. The conditions under which licences are granted are that (a) the holder of a licence is authorised to give instruction, for which the pupil pays, only from an establishment—in other words, a training centre, driving school or branch of a driving school—specified in the licence; (b) for the first three months of the period for which a licence is in force, the licence holder must be under the direct personal supervision of an approved driving instructor for at least one-fifth of the time for which the holder gives driving instruction under the licence.

It seems, according to the regulations, that direct personal supervision does not mean a preliminary briefing before a trainee gives a lesson to a pupil, but that the supervising approved driving instructor must accompany the trainee during the lesson, and, furthermore, that there must be at least one approved driving instructor for every licence holder who intends to operate from a driving school.

I am told that originally the idea, when it emanated from the Ministry of Transport, was that there should be a ratio of four approved driving instructors for every licence holder, but because of the great outcry from driving schools up and down the country, the ratio was changed to a one-for-one basis—in other words, one approved driving instructor for every licensee. This is a piece of bureaucratic nonsense. If a licence holder is to have an approved driving instructor with him for one-fifth of the time he is giving driving instruction, why is he deemed quite safe to instruct for the other 80 per cent. of the time he is giving driving lessons?

If there must be a ratio at all, it would be much better to have one approved, driving instructor for every five licence holders. That would have been much more logical, but logic does not seem to be very prevalent in the regulations.

I do not have to tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary the upheaval the regulations have caused in driving schools. First, there seems to be a long wait for people who wish to qualify as approved driving instructors. No doubt my hon. Friend will reiterate that instructors were warned in February, 1969, that registration would be made compulsory, I think, originally in August, 1970, but that was changed to 1st October, 1970. However, I am told that it was not until June, 1970, that the conditions affecting trainees and how new instructors were to be trained became known to driving schools, and so there was a tremendous rush by instructors who were anxious to get the new and very necessary qualifications. As a consequence, there were long delays in getting test dates, and there seems also to have been inordinate delays in notifying the results of these tests.

I have proof of a man who took the second part of his test on 21st July, but did not get the result of it until 8th September. A period of seven weeks seems an excessively long time to say whether somebody has passed or failed his test. Bearing in mind the fact that 1st October was the operative date for these new regulations, to be told on 8th September that a man had not qualified could well have been disastrous for a small driving school, and I wonder how many of these small concerns have had to close because of these regulations.

A constituent of mine runs a one-man business. Over the years he has acquired an excellent reputation as a driving instructor, and has achieved a very highly satisfactory rate of passes by those whom he has instructed. Unfortunately for him, although he is a competent driver, he has yet to pass the written part of the test. This man, who has built up this business entirely on his own, could have been driven out of business on 1st October because he did not have an approved driving instructor to go out with him for one-fifth of the time for which he was giving driving instruction. I am concerned about people like that, and about the small firms who have had so much to contend with in recent years. Fortunately for my constituent, just before 1st October he discovered somebody who had the necessary qualifications and was looking for employment. They have now come to an arrangement whereby my constituent can stay in business because he has a fully qualified man who can go out with him for one-fifth of the time that he devotes to driving lessons.

I have informed my hon. Friend of the case of an instructor who was told to report to Coventry to take the second part of his examination. When he arrived there, he was told by the Ministry of Transport officials that they had made a mistake, and that he should have been at Quinton in Birmingham, at that time. The result was that he had to wait for another four weeks before he could be given another date for his test. My hon. Friend kindly arranged for him to be told the result of his test within a week of his taking it, but in my opinion that is the sort of thing which could have been disastrous to a small driving school.

I suggest that there are certain consequences which arise from these regulations. First, I believe that they could lead to the closure of small driving schools. Second, if some of these smaller schools are forced to close, it could be that an extra burden would be thrown on existing driving schools, and if the supply of approved driving instructors could not cope with the demand for instruction, it could mean a rise in the charges made by driving schools.

That brings me to the crux of the argument, because these regulations apply only to instructors who give instruction for payment. They do not affect in any way the person who is taught to drive by a relative or family friend. I suggest that these regulations could have the effect of more people being taught to drive by unqualified instructors. We know that if people learn to drive with the help of a friend or a relative they usually learn in the family car, whereas if people go to a driving school they are usually taught in a car which has dual controls and is therefore safer on the roads. If these regulations are allowed to go through, far from there being an improvement in road safety, matters could get worse.

I believe that these instructions have caused great dismay amongst driving instructors.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)


Mr. Montgomery

I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will have an opportunity to intervene in the debate. Apparently he has not had any complaints on this score. I assure him that my right hon. Friend and I have been inundated with complaints. Perhaps things are different in East Anglia from what they are in the West Midlands.

These regulations have caused dismay amongst driving instructors. They do not appear to be in the public interest, and I therefore beg leave to ask that they be annulled.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I believe, and I hope that by the end of the debate even my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) will not disagree, that my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) has performed a service by directing the attention of the House this evening to the content of these regulations.

I have been impressed in the correspondence which has reached me since reference to these regulations was made by my hon. Friend and by myself by the fact that the anxiety has been felt, and the dismay expressed, not by the shadier or less competent members of the profession of driving instruction, but by firms which are clearly amongst the best examples in the whole of the motoring schools.

Amongst those affected have been not only one-man businesses, which can, of course, be as valuable and as competent as the largest businesses, but also schools which have been carried on for 10, 15 or 20 years with a substantial number of staff, which have a good reputation, and which, indeed, have been amongst the movers in the build-up of the scheme of approved driving instructors.

I shall not traverse more than very briefly the ground which my hon. Friend has covered. These regulations are primarily concerned with the conditions under which driving instructors can be licensed; that is, become, if I may use a non-statutory expression, probationary instructors. The terms for the holding of a licence are set out in great detail in the regulations, and the various requirements—such as the one which my hon. Friend mentioned, that for at least one-fifth of the instruction time during the first three months of the currency of the licence the licence-holder should be personally supervised by an approved driving instructor—are policed by a detailed system of records which will show whether they are being fulfilled, and whether a proper course of training is being supplied to the licence-holder.

With those requirements, and with the system of records as such, my hon. Friend and I have no complaint. What seems to be inconsistent with them, however, is the additional requirement in these regulations that in the firm to which the probationer is attached there should be one approved driving instructor to one licence-holder. There can be only one apprentice to one master—if I may use unofficial language to describe the situation. On the face of it, that would appear to be an unreasonable ratio—not as unreason- able, indeed, as the ration of four masters to one pupil which was originally proposed in the draft regulations, but still unreasonable enough.

I am not arguing that because the probationer needs to be personally supervised for only one-fifth of his driving time, it would, therefore, be possible to have a ratio as high as five to one. It might in some cases; but, clearly, it is not only during driving instruction that the licence-holder will constitute a claim upon the time of the approved driving instructors in the firm. Nonetheless, equally obviously, a much higher ratio than one-to-one would be consistent with thorough supervision, through training and the most responsible relationship between master and pupil. It was, therefore, a matter of great surprise, and one which caused consternation when the regulations became known in the summer of this year, that this rigid ratio of one-to-one had been laid down. I shall give examples presently of the devastating impact which it could have upon firms to the probity of which I believe that no one could raise objection.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is presently to reply, in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill gave the ground on which he believed that the ratio of one-to-one could be defended. He said that the object of the legislation and the regulations would be frustrated if unregistered and unqualified instructors could still operate freely under licence. The ratio", he continued, has therefore been imposed to prevent driving schools from being run mainly by unregistered instructors. I concede that if, after the scheme had been running for a substantial time, it was found that in driving schools there was a high proportion of probationer instructors to fully-qualified instructors, that would be an undesirable outcome and would not reflect the intentions of those who framed the legislation. That, however, is not the period to which the regulations, made in July and coming into force last month, relate. Being the first regulations governing this part of the Act, they relate to a transitional phase in which firms, many of which have been operating quite satisfactorily, have to bring themselves within the terms and intentions of the new legislation. It is in this period that, I submit, the ratio of one to one operates unreasonably and is oppressive.

May I, first, give an example from a firm in my constituency through which this matter first came to my attention. The head of the firm wrote that as regards the past, his method has resulted in at least 15 instructors obtaining A.D.I. qualifications, 12 of whom have become self-employed. My immediate problem", he continued, is that although I have five trainee instructors, all at various stages of the Ministry of Transport examination, as from 1st October I will no longer be able to employ them, for I will be the only A.D.I. Here is a firm which obviously, in course of time, would have no difficulty in bringing itself within the intention of the regulations, but upon which the impact of the introduction of this ratio straightaway has been severe.

Let me take another example, almost at random. Here is a school of motoring in Reading whose director states, in a letter dated 6th November: Our instructors who applied in midsummer of this year to be examined are still awaiting the results of their examinations. Others are still awaiting examination dates applied for weeks and weeks ago. It will be evident what chaos is created in the transitional phase for driving schools such as those which I have instanced by the imposition of the one-for-one ratio in the July regulations, operating as from 1st October.

There is a good deal which is unclear in the operation of that ratio. From Coventry, a driving instructor, who was himself one of the moving spirits in the establishment of the register on a voluntary basis at first and then in its being made statutory, draws attention to the uncertainty of the position: for example, should a trainee instructor be discharged or suspended if the A.D.I. to whom he is apprenticed falls ill, is on vacation or suddenly decides to withdraw his services? No doubt, these are matters which over the months and years will be ironed out. The point which I want to make clear to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is the impact which the regulations are having at this stage on driving schools with whose operation, I believe, no one would wish to interfere.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in the letter to which I have referred, stated that it had been known for a long time that registration would be compulsory by this autumn. So it had indeed, but what had not been known for a very long time—it became known only in June or July of this year—was what ratio would be required or that so patently harsh a ratio as one-to-one would be required between the probationers and the fully-qualified instructors, at least during this transitional period.

The motive throughout behind this legislation and the making of regulations under it has been concerned with road safety. I am not sure that the logic of this has been thought through. The prime requirement of road safety is that no one should go on the road with a driving licence, other than a provisional driving licence, who has not been properly trained to drive a car and who has not proved that he or she is properly trained to do so.

It is to the effectiveness of the Ministry of Transport examination that we look for the maintenance of the standard of driving of licence holders. If that standard is right, if it is properly applied, there is the guarantee of road safety from the point of view of the competence of the substantive licence holder.

The driving school which seeks to prepare people for the examination will stand or fall by the results which it achieves in the examination. If the examination be sound, if it be properly administered, the competence of the profession which prepares people for the examination will follow of itself from those requirements. No firm will long survive whose pupils constantly fail when they face the examination of the Ministry of Transport.

There is, however, another aspect. It may well be said that road safety is also involved in the case of the holder of a provisional driving licence. So it is; and the law requires that an L-plate driver shall be accompanied by the holder of a full driving licence. That is what the law considers to be necessary to secure road safety in the case of the provisional licence holder.

No doubt, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill said, the safety of the provisional licence holder in a motoring school car and accompanied by a competent instructor will be much greater than that of the same driver with just anybody in the passenger seat beside him. But neither the present law nor the regulations deal with that. The law does not say, and the regulations cannot say, that an L-driver shall go on the road only when accompanied by an approved or licensed instructor. The law merely says that there shall be a passenger who is the holder of a valid driving licence.

I am prepared to argue quite seriously that the effect of the harsh ratio imposed in these regulations will be contrary to road safety. It is bound to reduce the number of instructors and it will probably reduce the number of schools. The consequence of that is bound to be that it will take longer and be more expensive for provisional licence holders to be brought to the stage of going in for their Ministry of Transport examination; and an inevitable consequence of putting up the cost and lengthening the time for qualification through a driving school is that more learners will learn from unqualified instructors, from friends and members of the family, and relatively fewer will learn from driving schools and from qualified instructors. So far from road safety being improved, the effects of the regulations on road safety will be adverse.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has attained office as the Minister for Transport Industries and yet my gratification is tinged with one regret. Those of us who remember him on the back benches remember him as the flail of bureaucracy. How he would have revelled in being on the back benches tonight, in taking these regulations to pieces, in dissecting their bureaucratic superfluity. Nothing my hon. Friend and I have said or could say would rival the vituperation and the scorn with which characteristically he would have torn to pieces regulations contrary in their effect to the intentions of the underlying legislation. Indeed, I suspect that his irony and his invective would not have spared the grandmotherly legislation itself, which, having established the standard for the attainment of a licence, proceeds with great elaboration and in great detail to prescribe the standards of those who are to bring the learners to the prescribed standards. It is a pity that my right hon. Friend is in the Ministry and not on the back benches tonight.

One must make the best of it and I want to make the best of it in this way, and I hope that I shall not be disappointed. It is by asking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to give an assurance on behalf of his right hon. Friend that the working of the scheme and its impact on the motor schools will be watched by the Minister personally. There could not be anyone better to invigilate over the process. There could not be anyone more suspicious when investigating bureaucracy, more impatient of unnecessary red tape. If my hon. Friend can assure the House that my right hon. Friend is to give his personal attention to the working of the scheme and the impact of the regulations, something will have been gained by my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill bringing these regulations to the attention of the House.

8.5 p.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

My hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) are justified in moving the Prayer, but their arguments surprise me enormously. I wish that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries were here, because he would tear holes in their argument and demonstrate its paucity. As it is, they will have to put up with my efforts to deal with it.

I am surprised that they should have moved the Prayer, because over the seven years that it has taken to get to the present position with driving instructors neither of them has shown any interest in the subject. Instead of listening to the advice of the good driving schools, they have listened to those whose owners have failed, for instance, or to the many who have not been able to bring their pupils to the necessary standard.

Mr. Powell


Sir H. Harrison

My right hon. Friend spoke about qualified instructors, but he meant approved driving instructors. He and my hon. Friend have forgotten that the object of the regulations is to improve road safety, to reduce the loss of life and the number of accidents.

I have been greatly interested in the subject of improving the standard of driving. I have moved Motions in the House and I have tried to get Bills through. I played a large part in helping Mr. Will Owen, then a Labour Member, when he introduced what is now the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction) Act, 1967, under which the regulations are made. Perhaps I should declare an interest. As a result of my activities, some two years ago I was approached about and accepted the presidency of the Motor Schools Association. I hasten to add that this is purely an honorary post.

There has never been any party division about the subject of driving instructors, and hon. Members from both sides of the House have contributed over the years. The original idea was that the regulations should come into operation on 1st August this year, but the General Election intervened and they were brought in two months later, and so there has been an extra two months' notice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill complained that the regulations would mean that more people would not go to approved drivers who in future would be the only people able to take payment. I believe that that is a good thing. I believe that when people go to a driving school, they want to know that they will get an instructor who is of a certain standard. They have a right to that assurance. I do not believe that the regulations will result in more unqualified teachers.

Mr. Montgomery

It may be that I did not express myself very well, but my hon. and gallant Friend has missed my point. I was arguing that if we have great difficulty in getting fully qualified instructors and if some driving schools have to close down so that it takes longer for people to get a course with a driving school, people will get their friends or relatives to teach them, and that will not make for road safety.

Sir H. Harrison

My hon. Friend displays an even greater ignorance of the matter. The Act was passed in 1967, but it was not until three years later that it was thought that there were sufficient approved driving instructors to permit the regulations to be brought into force—and I see in his place the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown), who was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport in the Labour Government and gave much help in this matter.

My hon. Friend talked about dual-control cars. I feel that he has mistaken the large number of well-conducted driving schools which want their standards to be improved and to employ approved driving instructors. There has been heaps of time for these men to take the test. My hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend are now talking about the new entry into the driving schools. These regulations were made after consultations with representatives of bodies such as that of which I am president. It may be that not every driving school is a member of an association which has been consulted. Because of their mushroom growth—anyone can set up a driving school—many may not have been consulted.

Mr. Powell

Is my hon. and gallant Friend able to tell us when the one-to-one ratio was first proposed and known to members of the profession?

Sir H. Harrison

The one-to-one point was fully discussed with all the representatives of the profession. I believe that four or five were called to the Ministry. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would rather make the reply than that I should make it for him. It is perfectly fair. There were many meetings. I cannot speak for others who were at meetings with the Ministry. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West—I hope that he intervenes in the debate—and the Under-Secretary know what happened at these meetings. No one can ever be completely happy, least of all Members of Parliament, that anything that we pass is perfection; but four-fifths of a loaf is far better than no loaf at all.

At the moment no one is allowed to instruct unless he has become an approved driving instructor and passed the high standards set by the Ministry. The status of driving instructors in the past has been low because they have been up against a lot of cheap competition by men or women who knew nothing about instructing. It is not only being able to drive; they have to learn to instruct. This is why they have to pass the Ministry's test.

I have always wanted the status of driving instructors to be improved. Is my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend satisfied—this meets the point of the objection—that there has been sufficient action and publicity to see that these regulations have been brought to the notice of all individuals or schools instructing for payment? I refer particularly to those schools for which my right hon. Friend speaks which have no approved driving instructors.

We must see that value is attached to being an approved driving instructor and that no one escapes the net. For too long it was on a voluntary basis. Often one heard instructors who took the test earlier saying, "Is this worth while?" We have waited three years for these regulations. After warnings have been given to someone who has broken the regulations, will prosecution follow? I believe that this is the only way to bring everyone in. At least, this is the beginning of better driving instruction, but it is by no means the end. We want to abolish the friend, girl-friend, father and mother instructing.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)


Sir H. Harrison

We have not yet got enough instructors, but that is what we hope for. I want to see more done—

Mr. Wells

Certainly not.

Sir H. Harrison

I do not understand why my hon. Friend says, "Certainly not". He is entitled to his opinion. I believe that if a person has a lethal weapon in his hands he should be trained how to use it by a qualified instructor. I recommend the House to vote against the Prayer.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I intervene briefly in view of the appalling statement by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) that he wants to abolish husbands, girlfriends and fathers. That was his phrase, but I presume that he meant something broader or, rather, narrower.

Let us face it. Practically every hon. Member in this House has had in the past, or is about to have in the near future, the terrifying experience of having his children growing up and becoming newly qualified drivers. The sensible, responsible parent allows his child to go to a driving school in the early stages and, indeed, in the latter stages as he is approaching testing time. But there is no doubt that far greater experience is needed by a young learner-driver—perhaps more by a middle-aged learnerdriver—than the average learner is prepared to pay for. Therefore, although he has had a number of set lessons, he seeks to gain experience with these husbands, girl-friends, and so on, whom my hon. Friend wants to abolish. I deplore this final sentence in my hon. Friend's speech which otherwise I had gone along with some way.

I should like to put two specific questions to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. If these regulations are being set out to help establish driving schools, and assuming that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) is correct that the Minister for Transport Industries will continue as the hammer of bureaucracy—I very much doubt that now that he has been Ministered—what will the Minister or the Under-Secretary do about the disgraceful carryings-on of the training board which is putting great inconvenience in the way of the smaller driving schools? I will not go too far up that avenue lest I offend you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But the fact remains that if the object of the regulations is to help driving schools, let them be properly helped.

Secondly, I understand that the regulations are aimed at putting out of business people who are not qualified to instruct others for reward in the art of driving. To illustrate my point, I take the case of the farmer with a sizeable farm who employs a foreman who in turn has a number of apprentices and other younger men under his general guidance. Some of those younger men are likely to be learning to drive a farm tractor. While doing it solo with an L-plate, that is fine. But when such a man is put in the farm lorry and sent to market with the farm manager or foreman sitting alongside him, what then? The foreman or manager or senior person is working for his employer for hire or reward. My hon. Friend shakes his head. The man is working for hire or reward. It is a fact. The apprentice is doing the driving and the foreman is instructing him. Is the foreman to be penalised? I am glad to see that my hon. Friend is shaking his head. I hope that he will not be penalised.

I have taken the typical case of the farmer because this is well known to me in my constituency. But there are many industrialists who have young men learning to drive their trucks with another employee who is responsible for them. For example, we often see little G.P.O. vans going about with a notice on the back, "Driver under instruction." Will every teacher in a G.P.O. van have to be qualified under the regulations? I hope that my hon. Friend can go some way to meet the points that I have raised.

8.19 p.m.

Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I shall not detain the House for more than a minute or two.

I should have thought that the Statutory Instrument deserved the full support of the House as a first-class road safety measure. I was more than surprised that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) got himself worked up into such a schizophrenic lather on something which I should have thought he would have supported fully, particularly as he mentioned so many times the need for road safety measures. Had the Statutory Instrument been foisted on the profession without adequate consultation by the previous Government, and had the Parliamentary Secretary come to the House simply in order to wallop it on the profession on behalf of the previous Government, I could have understood his lather and indignation. But if any Statutory Instrument has been extremely well discussed, this is it. As the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), who is the president of the Motor Schools Association, said, it has been discussed for three years.

Mr. Powell


Mr. Brown

That is the minimum, because it is three years since the legislation was enacted. But long before that, and long before I became a Member, my colleague, Will Owen, was tremendously interested in this subject.

There is no question of there not having been adequate consultation, and I am astounded that this Prayer should have been tabled.

Mr. Montgomery

What my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and I are trying to ascertain is how much discussion there was about the ratio between trained and untrained people and when it came into effect. Surely the hon. Member, who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport in the Labour Government, could assure us on that point. I asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State about it, and he could not give me the answer.

Mr. Brown

It is not for me to assume the mantle of the Under-Secretary of State. As one who was at the Ministry, I can say that there was ample and adequate consultation, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will confirm that.

8.21 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

This has been a very interesting debate which has ranged over a large number of very small points, adding up to a formidable attempt to improve one facet of road safety. I am grateful to my right hon. and hon. Friends for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to cover many of the points they have raised.

It may be helpful if first I try to put the matter into the context of the historical situation which brings us here. The first attempt to bring about voluntary registration of driving instruction was made in the Road Traffic Act, 1962, when powers were taken to set up a voluntary register. The register came into being in 1964 and 2,000 people had their names put on it. As a result of agitation by hon. Members on both sides of the House, powers were taken in the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction) Act, 1967 to set up a compulsory register. That Act became law in 1967. By that time the number of registered instructors in the voluntary scheme had risen from 2,000 to 6,000.

Orders under the 1967 Act were announced in February, 1969, by the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), then the Minister of Transport. He gave notice in February, 1969, that as from 1st August, 1970, registration would be compulsory. That is a very important point. At that stage there was no agreement about the ratio, but the notice of compulsory registration was given early in 1969, with a period of delay running to 1st August, 1970. The question whether the ratio should be one-to-one, one-to-four or one-to-ten was irrelevant to the statutory fact that people would have to register by the middle of 1970. Therefore, they knew that they had to take steps to become registered.

By 1st August, 1970, a very large number of people had acted precisely as they were intended and statutorily compelled to act, because by that date the number of 6,000 instructors registered in 1967 became 11,000.

I have been asked when the details of the ratio were announced. In the consultative processes which the last Government undertook, it was originally intended that there should be a ratio of one-to-four. That would have created far greater hardship for the sort of people my right hon. and hon. Friends have spoken about than was created by the subsequent decision on a ratio of one-to-one. Nevertheless, the consultation took place against a background of a ratio of one licensee, or probationer, to four registered instructors.

Then the proposals were discussed with the various associations, and there is not the slightest doubt that they were widely attacked by the associations on the ground of the hardship which would ensue, particularly for small firms, if a ratio of one to four was accepted. It was against this background that the last Government would have been expected to make up their mind, but the General Election intervened.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) should not completely discount the part which the present Government have played in modifying the proposals, because it fell to them to decide whether they should go ahead with the one-to-four ratio or to change it. In fact, we changed it to a ratio of one to one.

The current situation is that there are 12,600 registered instructors and 2,700 probationers or licensees. Taking the global position in the country, the practical effect of the legislation, which no one could have foreseen when the Act was introduced, was to produce a ratio of one trainee to five registered instructors. It is against that background that we are asked to consider whether a ratio of one to one for the hardship cases is unreasonable. In my view, having considered the matter very carefully, the hardships about which we have heard tonight are not likely to be as long-felt, sustained or severe as my hon. Friends have suggested.

The legislation was deliberately designed to improve the standard of driving instruction. No one can be sure about the precise contribution it will make to road safety, but it was generally felt on both sides of the House that if the standard of tuition could be improved it would produce better drivers. The figures, such as they are, are on the side of those who believe, as I do, that that is so.

From 1964 to 1969 there was a steady decline in the pass rate. In 1964 the percentage of passes among people taking the driving test was 47.8. It had dwindled to 46.6 per cent. by 1969. It appeared that there was a need to do something to try to improve the general level of tuition. It is fair to say that there has been a very small but nevertheless perceptible improvement in the pass rate since the regulations and registration came into being. If it were a 0.2 per cent. improvement I would not make a great deal of it, but in the general context the move was in the right direction, and it does not bear out my right hon. and hon. Friend's suggestion that there could be a diminution in the level of road safety. I do not wish to make a great point of this except to say that what evidence we have is on our side and not on the side of my right hon. and hon. Friends. But we shall want to consider the evidence in a wider context when we review the regulations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) made a great deal of play about the conditions which have been laid down for the registration of the probationary instructors. It has, of course, quite rightly been reported to the House that it is said that there must first of all on the licence be the name of the man who is responsible for the direction of the particular probationary person; there must also be the name of the establishment, and the name of the branch in which he works.

It is necessary that the probationer should receive instruction in the early months for up to one-fifth of his daily working time. All this has the effect of restricting the use which the business can make of its probationary instructor, and this is deliberately introducing a system where that instructor is being trained; it is deliberately tying him to a particular branch of the driving school so that he is not moved around from place to place. This, therefore, is ensuring that he gets his training, probably with the same instructor, in settled conditions.

I think it is very important that all hon. Members should understand that if they want to free these schools from this sort of restriction what they are saying is that the businesses can make their money by teaching people to drive and yet be allowed to use unqualified instructors, by using them part-time for tuition purposes when demands by people wanting instruction are heavy; what they are saying is that they want these people free to go from branch to branch and fill in when there is any sudden gap in teaching staff; what they are saying is that they want to allow a system where there is less attention to the tuition which the probationary people are getting.

My hon. and right hon. Friends both quoted cases where there had been hardship in their constituencies, or which had been drawn to their attention from places throughout the country. I would not want to pretend for one moment that there have not been certain difficulties in the period registration has been taking place because there have been. When the regulations were mooted, nobody knew precisely how many instructors would come forward for registration, and nobody knew how many there were gaining profit and reward from giving driving instruction. Estimates had to be made on certain assumptions, and we had to make what we thought reasonable calculations as to the rate at which driving instructors would apply for registration.

The result was that more driving instructors appeared than we thought would appear and that they left registration later than we imagined they would. It is true that the Department did not keep available a large number of civil servants against the contingency of an unexpected and unknown number of applicants suddenly appearing, and there were large numbers when they did appear. I am sure I command the support of my right hon. Friend in saying that he would not have wanted us to keep a reservoir of spare civil servants just in case of that contingency. Therefore, there was a certain amount of delay, but this has been the responsibility not of our Department but rather that of the driving instructors, who simply did not get themselves registered anything like as early as they should, even though we had given widespread publicity to the matter and although they had ample time to do so.

I believe that this is a perfectly reasonable explanation, but it would not be a situation which we could continue to tolerate. Therefore, I am able to give the House the assurances that candidates have received the results of all written examinations and of practical tests conducted up to the end of October, 1970, and licences or letters where applications gave rise to inquiries have been issued to all applications at headquarters up to 13th November. I hope this answers this point.

I hope that now we shall not have to deal with anything like the situation which there was and in which we had to help earlier this year, and in which we were very pleased to help. I hope my hon. and right hon. Friends will be pleased with this assurance which I am able to give.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill mentioned the difficulties of one of his constituents who had been a driving instructor for some time but had not been able to pass the written part of his examination. The written part of the examination consists mainly of answering questions by putting ticks in boxes or saying "Yes" or "No". There is no literary skill required. It is the simplest of forms. I believe it is perfectly reasonable that anybody in driving instruction or traffic management should be expected to undergo some test of this sort and be able to pass it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill also said he was concerned that there would be a large number of small schools closed as a result of these regulations; but then my right hon. Friend went on to say that someone he knew had lost no fewer than 12 instructors who had become self-employed as a result of these registrations. There seemed to be a certain inconsistency in these two arguments—

Mr. Powell

I think there is a misunderstanding; no doubt it is my fault. The reference was simply to the past record of the head of a driving school, twelve of whose former trainees were themselves now approved driving instructors running their own schools.

Mr. Heseltine

I apologise to my right hon. Friend; I had misunderstood his point. I think he will sympathise with the point I want to make arising out of it, that in about a year's time we shall be able to review the way in which the scheme has worked and assess the hardships that are then continuing.

It is important, however, to make it clear that, as we understand it at the moment, we do not see a relaxation in favour of improving the ratio from one to one to a position where there are two probationary instructors to one registered instructor. This would be to go back to schools being able to use unqualified part-time labour for giving instruction, which would be a bad deal for the public and not in the interests of road safety. The fact that there are now 12,600 registered instructors to only 2,700 licensees indicates that the ratios are more likely to go in the other direction. I do not say that we will change it, but, together with the trade, we shall look at the difficulties to which hon. Members will undoubtedly draw our attention when we make the review in the next 12 months.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West asked specific questions about the difficulties that would ensue should a registered driving instructor—who is necessary to the set-up in order to maintain the licensed driving instructor—go ill. He asked whether the fact that the registered driving instructor was ill meant that the licensee could not go on being employed. The answer is, "No"; although he is ill, he should remain on the strength of the school. The same answer applies if he is on holiday; he again remains on the strength. If the registered instructor should withdraw his services or die, a different situation arises because the ratio is affected.

I have been concerned about any hardship that could arise and there is a perfectly tenable argument to put forward, certainly until we review the position in a year's time. There is no need for the licensed trainee to be dismissed. As long as he is not giving instruction he can still remain on the books. Secondly, he can take other forms of training whilst he is licensed and employed by that firm. Thirdly, he can take the examination. The situation does not present quite the degree of hardship which my right hon. Friend suspected and which I wanted to be satisfied about when first looking at this matter.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) made a helpful intervention based on his considerable personal knowledge of the industry. He asked me whether the publicity given to the regulations had been sufficient. If 12,600 people have managed to get themselves registered by November this year, I am satisfied that there must have been effective publicity. Not only was there widespread Press comment when the former Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Greenwich announced the details in 1969, but detailed advertisements have appeared in all driving centres where the instructors go with their pupils. It was widely referred to in the trade Press, which is widely read. The answer is that it is quite obvious that large numbers of people saw the publicity because they registered at the time.

My hon. and gallant Friend also asked whether there would be prosecution if the regulations were not met. He will appreciate that I cannot answer that question because it is not for my Department but for the police to decide.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) asked detailed questions which, if he will forgive me, I will answer in writing. My first understanding of the situation is that a farm manager who gave instructions to an apprentice would not come within the regulations, but I will give my hon. Friend a detailed answer to that precise point.

In the light of this discussion and the detailed answers which I have given to hon. Members who intervened, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill will feel able to withdraw his Prayer. I repeat the assurance that my right hon. Friend will consider this matter in about a year's time and that careful consideration will be given to what we can do to help if there is any genuine hardship. This is an assurance given against the background of a deteriorating situation on the roads. The graphs of road safety are beginning to deteriorate. This must be the subject of anxiety to us all, and I have not the slightest doubt that my right hon. Friend will also bear that in mind. Nevertheless, I do not want that qualification to invalidate the assurance which I willingly gave to my hon. Friend.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

I apologise to the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) and his right hon. Friend for not having been present at the beginning of this interesting debate. It started even earlier than I anticipated. In view of the comprehensive reply of the Under-Secretary I do not think there is very much for me to say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown), the former Parliamentary Secretary, dealt with consultation. I would like to put on record my appreciation of his exceptional services to road safety during his term of office. I mention this in case hon. Members feel, after hearing the Under-Secretary, that the whole credit for the regulations goes to the present Government, although I congratulate them on their speed in making the regulations within a week of the General Election.

I personally regret that there is no longer a Minister of Transport, but within two days of the then Minister of Transport being appointed the regulations were made—and this was before he had the undoubtedly valuable services of the Parliamentary Secretary, who, if my memory is correct, had not been appointed by 24th June. I take credit for having forecast in Standing Committee that if the Under-Secretary ever became a Minister, he would be a most effective defender of the status quo. He has discharged his obligation most admirably, and if there were to be a Division, I could not advise my hon. Friends to vote in favour of the Prayer.

8.44 p.m.

Mr. Montgomery

I should like to thank my hon. Friend for his helpful reply. I wish to make it clear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and I raised this issue tonight to ventilate the whole matter; we did not raise it out of any cussedness. We are interested in road safety, and I did not quite understand some of the hysterical interventions. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Clegg.]