HC Deb 23 July 1973 vol 860 cc1293-318

10.15 p.m.

The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the Draft Directive of the Commission of the European Communities (No. C/119/1 dated 16th November 1972 in the Official Journal of the Communities) relating to vehicle driving licences.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment, in the name of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), at end add but nevertheless declares that the present minimum age of 17 years for both motorcycle and car licences should be maintained and that the proposed medical examination should not be accepted.

Mr. Peyton

The directive of the European Commission to which this motion refers is really quite an ancient document which, I think, first saw the light of day nearly a year ago; news of it had been heard a great deal earlier. I have endeavoured before to make quite clear in the House that a great deal of it is unwelcome and unacceptable, but that is not to say that we should refuse to discuss it with our European partners, because it would be unrealistic if we were to expect them to listen to the arguments which we have to deploy if on every occasion we made clear that our own position was pre-judged.

Perhaps it would be most convenient to the House—although I would, of course, defer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley)—if I were to cut my own remarks now and endeavour to reply as fully as I can to the points made in the debate.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

I think that would be a very convenient course. We look forward to the right hon. Gentleman's giving us as full a reply as possible to the many points which I am sure will be raised from both sides of the House.

Mr. Peyton

I know the right hon. Gentleman realises that I would not be in any way reluctant to do that. Perhaps I should just remind the House of my own view, having said what I have just said.

On driving licences, 1 see no reason why we should change from 17 to 18. On the question of motor cycle licences, I think it would be a wrong and retrograde step if we were to go back to making the more dangerous vehicle available earlier in life than the motor car.

On the question of medical tests, 1 think repeated medical tests would be a source of very great expense, would be difficult to administer, and would be unrewarding from a road safety point of view.

There are other matters as well which are not covered by the amendment, and which also I should find unacceptable. So I think that the final thing I would now say is that if my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and those who support him with his amendment wish to express their view in this way, it is not contrary to my own opinions, and it is certainly not one on which I would wish to advise the House to divide.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

I beg to move, at the end of the Question to add: but nevertheless declares that the present minimum age of 17 years for both motorcycle and car licences should be maintained and that the proposed medical examination should not be accepted". I am very grateful that the motion has been proposed for debate. This matter has somewhat of a long history. The original draft directive from the Community was in August 1972. That was when it was launched by the Commission. Then there was a long delay while it was translated, as my right hon. Friend indicated. It was translated only in April or May this year, which was a very odd thing. Meantime, some of us on this side of the House put down an early-day motion saying that we objected to the draft directive. Since then many of us have frequently requested a debate on the directive and we were promised it by the Leader of the House, and I am very glad indeed that he has kept his promise, albeit at the last minute before the House rises for the recess.

I should like to ask my right hon. Friend one or two questions about the draft directive itself in order to get confirmation of the views many of us hold about it.

Article 1 gives the operative date as 1st January 1974, and I imagine that there is clearly every hope that it will be realised that that date is far too early to allow of proper discussions with everyone, and particularly in the House.

Article 2 says that we must have photographs on our driving licences. How will that work out if, as I understand, we are to have lifetime licences? If one must have a photograph at 18 it will look rather pointless by the time one is 65.

Article 5 says that the starting age for car drivers is to be raised from 17 to 18 and reduced from 17 to 16 for motorcyclists. Can we have the clear view of the Government on both these ages? I feel that it is quite wrong for us in this country to raise the minimum car-driving age from 17 to 18, because there is just no need for it. It may be necessary for the somewhat hot-blooded French to raise their starting age to 18 but not for the level-headed British to do such a thing. I have had from the Minister himself figures of accidents. The rate in Belgium is 7.47 drivers killed per 10,000 vehicles; Germany, 6.07 and France 6.36. The relevant figure for Great Britain is 2.63, so there seems to be no good reason at all why our young people should have to suffer in this way because of the temperament of our colleagues in the European Community. To do this would he invidious, and I call it uniformity for its own sake.

I should like to have the Government's view on the starting age for driving invalid carriages not going up to 18 but remaining at the present 16 years of age.

If we were to have the medical tests laid down in Article 6 it would mean our having 5 million medical tests a year in this country—a figure quoted in the European Assembly by one of my hon. Friends—and I do not see that there is any evidence that all these medical tests would improve the accident rate here. On the other hand, they would create excessive administrative difficulties for an already very overburdened medical profession, together with increased cost of licences.

The draft directive states that there should be an examination of the dynamic behaviour of vehicles. I should like an explanation of that provision. Then we are told that there should also be a psychological examination. This presents certain problems for the medical profession, because the psychology in Southern Italy is somewhat different from that in Scotland. I am not quite sure what criteria would be laid down for the examination.

Article 10 raises a serious legal question. It deals with information about any conviction for a motoring offence, and I assume that the offence would be that of dangerous driving and other offences more serious. Such convictions would be put on a central register, and if someone committed an offence in this country and was then charged with an offence in, say, France, that information could be passed to France for the purposes of the trial. With recent memory of the Cartland case I should not like to feel that convictions here were notified to the French courts, because the courts there could use that evidence before arriving at a verdict, whereas in Britain such evidence is not available until after a verdict has been reached and is taken into account only when the sentence is being considered.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Why does the hon. Gentleman say that it seems to him that it relates to offences of dangerous driving or above that category? There does not seem to be any such limitation in Article 10.

Mr. Marten

I was on that occasion giving the benefit of the doubt to the Eurocrats because I do not believe that even the Eurocrats would want parking offences put on a central computer and referred to every time. I was being fair, as I always am, about the Community. Those are the points which I should like my right hon. Friend to clear up about the specific draft directive.

On 20th June, reported in a copy of HANSARD which has not yet been printed, at Question Time I invited my right hon. Friend to express an opinion on this draft directive, and he repeated his own opinion of it tonight, that he does not think very much of it. But tonight I am asking him to be more specific, and I am asking the House to express a view on the draft directive.

As I understand it, although I cannot ascertain from the European Assembly report, because the reports come in a jerky fashion and it is difficult to trace it, the European Assembly has discussed this question. If the House tonight accepts this amendment-and I understood from my right hon. Friend that he will accept it-this will, of course, form an instruction to our Minister that when he goes to the Council of Ministers to talk about this he will not agree to the points which are covered in our amendment. This raises an interesting question, because we have already in this House expressed our view on a draft directive dealing with heavy lorries. We are not going to have heavier lorries in this country. Here we are expressing a view that we are not going to have our licensing interfered with.

The other day we decided in this House that we would stop the export of live animals, which, according to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is an offence against the Treaty of Rome. [Interruption.] A right hon. Friend of mine says that it is not. Perhaps he will look at this letter from the Parliamentary Secretary, which says that such a ban would offend against the Treaty of Rome. I have it here. However, we will leave that aside for the moment.

What I am pleased about is that, before the Foster Committee has reported on how we should handle European legislation, this House is about to take its third decision on draft directives from the European Community. We have already established that we have done something against the Treaty of Rome on the matter of the export of live animals. We have already established that we can debate, and we are now debating, a draft directive, and if this amendment is accepted, as I hope it will he, that will form an instruction to our Minister that he may not go beyond the bounds which this House of Commons has set. The Government, of course, will not like that.

I turn to the OFFICIAL REPORT of 3rd April. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on that day was dealing with this point on an Opposition motion to do with prices, and he attacked the Opposition saying: The motion deliberately seeks to pinion the Minister—to prick him on a pin"— presumably like a butterfly— so that he cannot move, and his wings are clipped."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1973: Vol. 854, c. 291.] In other words, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster does not like this House giving instructions to our Minister. I think that is precisely what this House should do. It is very much in line with what the Danish Parliament does. It gives its Minister instructions to go forward and negotiate, and if he wishes to go beyond the instructions which Parliament has given him he has to go back and seek further instructions.

The danger is that if we do not give the Minister instructions he may compromise in the Council of Ministers, and in this context the compromise might be that we would get more lorry permits if we gave in on the driving licences. That is a poor way to run a country, by mixing up two quite separate factors. It worries me because a compromise means that the draft regulation or draft directive becomes the law of the land immediately without Parliament being able to do anything about it.

All this law-making procedure in the Council of Ministers is done in secret. One of the most odious features of the Common Market is that there is no HANSARD for the Council of Ministers to see how the decisions are arrived at.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

Like the Cabinet.

Mr. Marten

My hon. Friend obviously does not understand how the Community works, although he is a member of our delegation. It is not like the Cabinet at all. I am surprised that he should have made that remark. I shall explain to him later how the Community works. The Council of Ministers is the law-making organisation of the Common Market, and it should be in public—as, indeed, should the committees of the European Assembly be in public—so that we may see what it is that these delegates from the Conservative Party, for example, are saying in Europe.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

I do not know whether my hon. Friend was able to check in the rather spasmodic arrival of the European Parliament's HANSARD the speech I made a month ago, when I suggested that the legislative processes of the Council of Ministers should be carried on in public in order that they should be sensitive to the views of ordinary citizens in influencing the member States there represented. This is something which I have always also commended in this House to Ministers to put forward in the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Marten

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I had not noticed his speech, and I am delighted to know about it. If he will kindly send me a copy, I shall be happy to read it. I, too, have said the same thing to Ministers, who have rather brushed it aside. They do not seem to mind that legislation is made in secret, but I mind passionately.

I do not like this draft directive. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries likes it. The House does not want it, and tonight we shall give the Minister instructions that he may not agree to it outside the terms of the amendment.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

We all congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on the persistence that has brought about this debate. I am not sure whether I should congratulate him on the moderation of his amendment, or question whether he should not have gone a little wider in his condemnation of the various aspects of these Common Market proposals. But I think the whole House will welcome generally this opportunity of expressing itself on a subject which touches almost all our people, and expressing its opinion before hard and fast decisions have been taken. It is against this background that we must consider the proposals contained in the draft directive.

The directive is aimed at improving road safety. We all subscribe to road safety. If we were persuaded that this would make a material difference to road safety, we would probably be willing to suffer a number of inconveniences which we otherwise would not be prepared to accept. I wonder why these proposals have been made. Probably on a legal interpretation of Title IV, Article 75(1)(c) of the Treaty of Rome, which speaks about "appropriate provisions", the Commission is acting ultra vires in bringing forward these proposals. The Commission takes this step under a vague provision which is concerned solely with international transport and the operation of transport services.

I am fortified in my views about the possible ultra vires character of the proposal by the Commission's phrase in the explanatory memorandum to another set of proposals couched in terms of road safety, namely, those for a uniform system of vehicle inspections— The recognition of this situation"— that is, road safety— should override all objections based on too limited a legal interpretation of Title IV of the Treaty and its definition of the content of the common transport policy. I am not one who is particularly anxious always to take a narrow and rigid view of a treaty, but I have no enthusiasm for extending, even less enthusiasm for the Commission itself extending, the Commission's powers in present circumstances. The Government will no doubt have sought the Attorney-General's views on the question of the vires of the proposals, and no doubt they will tell us the result.

A second interesting point arises from Article 83 of the treaty, which provides: An Advisory Committee consisting of experts designated by the Governments of Member States, shall be attached to the Commission The Commission, whenever it considers it desirable, shall consult the Committee on transport matters without prejudice to the powers of the transport section of the Economic and Social Committee. Has that advisory committee been consulted in this case? The experts designated by Governments, in view of the real administrative problems here involved, must have asked the commission whether it has checked up on how many psychologists there are, how many new driving licences are required, whether it thinks that psychological departments of universities and hospitals should be concerned with examining people about driving licences, and whether it would make much difference if they did. I cannot believe that the experts designated by Governments would have let the document go through in this form.

In principle, we are not against having more severe driving tests. A body of opinion is forming, for example, to the effect that a rather more severe sight test than the vague and general one in the present test might be appropriate. We have an open mind about additions to the test, provided that they are related to a real improvement in road safety terms.

We all agree about the great convenience of the reciprocal recognition by member States of licences and drivers of other States. In fact, this is working pretty well in regard to holidays and international transport drivers, without their having to have all this mass of new documentation. Whether it is ultra vires or not, there is no need for the Commission to propose so detailed a scheme as it does in these documents to apply to every member.

What is particularly incomprehensible to me is that, in the context of a common transport policy, this draft should be mainly directed at motor cyclists and drivers of private cars, and that the Commission does not propose, as we have done in our own legislation, particular tests for the drivers of commercial vehicles, which surely, especially in the context of Article 75, would appear to be the main road ingredient of any such common policy.

I will not detain the House at length to go over our objections, but to me the age provision is only one of the objections. I will not press the point terribly far. I was not persuaded that the Minister was right to raise the age for motor cyclists to 17, but I see no reason—

Mr. Peyton

May I get this clear? Would the right hon. Gentleman put the age back to 16?

Mr. Mulley

I am not at all sure what I should do in a particular set of circumstances, but I was not persuaded of the Minister's case. What I was even less persuaded about was the timing—just before Christmas, with the maximum inconvenience to everyone concerned and at great cost to the Treasury in large sums of compensation. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I should certainly not have done it in that way.

As for the minimum age for car drivers, I see no reason why we should change our age provision. I do not understand what is meant by a test of "the mechanics and dynamic behaviour" of a car. There may be merit in this. Most driving schools try to show how driving in a certain way can be bad for the car, but this is not so much a question of road safety as of a person preserving a rather expensive consumer durable asset.

On the medical examination, there may be some marginal benefit in this, particularly for older people, but, again, we cannot accept the cost and the cumbersome character of the proposal. The psychological examination in the earlier draft is now a psychometric examination in the latest draft. This is about the only substantial change between the early drafts and the draft of November which is before us.

Mr. Marten

It is a psychometric examination covering "the candidate's psychological fitness", so it is really the same thing.

Mr. Mulley

I was going on to say that I was not sure what was meant by this form of words. Certainly, I do not think that this House or anyone else should be asked to buy a pig in a poke. The significant thing about this draft is that, while enormous detail and diagrams are included about what should go on a driving licence, we are not told what criteria will be applied in the test. In fact, the draft provides that the Commission should make its proposals for this kind of test at a later stage. That is an extraordinary proposition. I hope that the Minister will tell us how many psychologists we have in this country who would be qualified and available for this type of work and relate that to the numbers they might have to test.

Most hon. Members drive or are driven many miles in the course of a year. While accepting completely that the human factor is most important in road accidents, I wonder how many of the weaknesses of drivers would be shown up in either a medical or a stiffer driving test or in any kind of psychological examination. In many cases the person is tired and makes mistakes that he would not otherwise make. Sometimes a normally careful driver is held up in traffic or by an unforeseen factor and takes chances to try to catch up. He may be an hon. Member coming here for a Division or someone with another kind of important engagement. I do not see how any examination would deal with such factors.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

The right hon. Gentleman is on a very good point. Some of us think that the members of the Commission who thought this up must need a psychologist themselves. Who will do the tests on the psychologists — another psychologist? What happens about women who from time to time go through difficult periods? If they went to a psychologist at those times they would probably be told that they must stop driving. It is ridiculous.

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman should not tempt me to follow him in those thoughts. No doubt his views will have been noted by his right hon. Friend.

Above everything else, I ask the Minister what the proposals will cost. What will it cost the individual to go through the set of tests? What will it cost the Exchequer? I expect that one of the first things the right hon. Gentleman did was to have the proposals costed. I hope that he will say what is involved.

I was subjected to some criticism when, because of the rising cost over many years, I had to authorise an increase in the charge for the basic driving test. It was not very popular, but it was chicken-feed compared with what must be the cost if the whole gamut of proposed tests must be performed. I suspect that a substantial cost would fall also on the Exchequer.

What is extraordinary is that there is no provision for provisional licences. There is no way to license someone to go on a road to acquire the skills with which he could pass the test. There is provision for beginners. As I understand the definition, these are people who have already acquired a licence, no doubt by passing all the tests.

There are restrictions to be imposed on them for a year after they have passed the tests, but there is no provision on how people get on the road—whether they should be accompanied by a qualified driver and all the rest of the restrictions we rightly lay down.

It would be a serious breach of road safety to abandon the idea of a provisional licence, so that anybody could go on the roads and say "I am practising for my test. I cannot get a licence because until I have had a chance to practise I cannot hope to qualify for the tests."

I hope that the Minister will not think that the objections of the House are confined to the moderate objections in the amendment, although the hon. Gentleman himself voiced many others. I am concerned about the register to which he drew our attention. It is wrong that we should accept all the proposals when key information, such as the character of the psychological test and the power of an individual country to suspend licences. is to be produced by the Commission and the Council at a later date. It is conceivable that they would tell us later that we must give up our present totting-up procedure. whereby magistrates may take away licences. and our breath alyser test, with a mandatory withdrawl of licence from drivers whose alcohol level exceeds the limit. If so, there would be an enormous loss in road safety terms.

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

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the subordinate legislation to fill in the details of the directive would be prepared by the Commission and the Council of Ministers. Is he sure that it would not be done purely by Commission regulation and not by the Council at all?

Mr. Mulley

That is possible, but I cannot believe that the Ministers would be so irresponsible as to allow that to happen. Article 6, paragraph 5, states: The Council shall, before … and on a proposal from the Commission, adopt common provisions regarding the medical standards required for the various levels of physical fitness and the criteria for the psychometric examination. A similar provision applies also for the conditions under which a licence can be taken away. The Council comes into the picture.

This whole collection of proposals is remote from reality, and I am sure that the Minister would not wish to recommend them to the House. I do not know whether the Council of Ministers has the form of procedure—not, I regret to say, used in this House—known as referring back a report. That is what is needed here. If there is a case—and I am not persuaded that there is—for laying down detailed uniform procedure. it is reasonable that there should be a reciprocal system. If licence holders of other countries are permitted to drive here, steps should be taken to ensure that they are qualified to drive, but we do not need to have exactly the same tests and conditions for the issue of a licence. I hope that this reference back procedure, if it does not exist, will be invented to enable the report to be sent back.

I am glad the Minister has accepted the extremely moderate amendment. He probably thanks his lucky stars that it is not wider in scope. Had he not accepted the amendment, it would have been my duty to advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it. These proposals should be debated by the House so that the Minister can go back fortified in his opposition by the knowledge that he has the backing of the House.

I hope that the Minister will not think, because the amendment goes through unopposed, that it is of less importance than if there had been a Division. An unopposed decision of the House is stronger, if anything, than is a decision by a Division carried by a few votes. I hope that the Minister will feel that the debate has been worth while in enabling him to express these views with the unanimous support of the House.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. S. James A. Hill (Southampton, Test)

I welcome the debate because it is sometimes difficult for the delegates whom the House sends to Europe to get the views of the European committees debated on the Floor of the House. I am Chairman of the Regional Policy and Transport Committee, and I shall briefly state the background to the Commission directive and the draft report PE 31/414/ revised.

A paper submitted in 1972 by Mr. Albert Coppé the then Commissioner for Transport, called for a harmonisation of legislation on driving licences. In his general comments in the paper he points out that the growing collective cost of road accidents can be evaluated overall on the basis of current national estimates. It amounts to more than 4,000 million units of account, corresponding at that time, with six member States, to 1.15 per cent. of the Community gross national product. If the human element is added to this economic balance sheet-50,000 persons killed on the roads in the six member States and 1,200,000 injured annually, together with the material damage—we realise that the cost is doubled. In other words, it involves 8,000 million units of account or 2.5 per cent. of the Community's gross national product.

Mr. Coppé further pointed out that the development of trade between member States together with the progressive integration of the various national markets and the continued increase in tourism lead one to forecast a serious increase in traffic problems. He felt it essential that a certain number of measures be enacted within the framework of common transport policy whose sole intention would be to improve traffic conditions. Mr. Coppé felt strongly that among these measures harmonisation of the issue of driving licences should take an important place. Indeed, he went further and said "at the highest possible level". There are inequalities between the nine member States at this time—and indeed Belgium introduced driving licences only on 1st January 1967—but no serious disparities in regard to basic driving laws. However, a detailed analysis of these laws shows that there are important differences between various national laws on the subject of minimum age, driving standards, the nature of driving tests, apprenticeship conditions, the use of driving schools and the validity of licences.

Mr. Coppó went on to say that he felt it of great importance that member States should issue driving licences under uniform conditions which guarantee the highest levels of fitness, training and apprenticeship. We thought that these were laudable sentiments, but easier in theory than in practice.

Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)

Did Mr. Coppe undertake an analysis of deaths and other accidents on the roads? If he did, it must have shown that motorcyclists aged 16 had comparatively few accidents compared with 17-year-old car drivers. That does not make sense.

Mr. Hill

It has been calculated that the aggregate cost of road accidents in the Community as a whole amounts to 4,000 million units of account. Correspondingly, in the analysis those concerned arrived at a figure of 16 for motorcyclists and 18 for motor car drivers.

Mr. Butler

Did he analyse accidents by age and type of vehicle?

Mr. Hill

Not by type of vehicle.

The Transport Committee in 1972 appointed a Mr. Couste as rapporteur to bring forward a draft report—as my right hon. Friend said, the directive is 12 months out of date—not only on the directive on the harmonisation of legislation on driving licences for road vehicles, but linking in the same draft report another directive for the approximation of member States' legislation on technical inspection of motor vehicles and trailers. Therefore, tonight we are discussing this one draft report which contains many items.

Mr. Marten

We are not discussing a draft report. We are discussing the draft directive.

Mr. Hill

The draft directive has continued into a draft report. It is virtually the same thing, except that it instructs the committee to give an opinion on the directive, so that the opinion on the directive then becomes a draft report.

Mr. Marten

This has no legal standing at all. As we know, the European Assembly to which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) belongs is purely advisory. What we are discussing in this House is the draft directive. We are not discussing any committee reports.

Mr. Hill

No, but I am trying to give to the House the information, as I know it, on the Commission's directive and the stage it has reached so far.

The committee of the six member States then discussed these important matters. This draft report was completed to the satisfaction of the rapporteur on 17th January 1973, only a few days after we joined the Community. In March of this year, after I was appointed chairman, this draft report was on the agenda once again for discussion, mainly to obtain the views of the three new member States. Unfortunately, by this time Mr. Cousté had been released from the committee and been replaced by Mr. Bousquet, who ably explained his colleague's views to the committee.

We have had several questions raised in this House about Resolution 5 of the draft report which recommended psycho-technical examinations—that is the latest translation—and character aptitude tests. Hon. Members will be delighted to hear that the committee threw both psycho-technical examinations and character aptitude tests out of the draft report. Consequently, I do not think that we need worry about pregnant mothers or anyone else being subjected to these tests. The medical tests at the time—

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. Is he now saying that the European Parliament has power to change the proposals between the Commission and the Council? If so, why is the Commission issuing, as it is already, a number of documents addressed to the Council described as "draft directives" and employing such phrases as Having regard to the opinion of the European Parliament….? Are we to take it that the European Parliament has these powers? If it has, why has not it thrown out the lot?

Mr. Hill

What has happened is that the Commission, naturally, is looking to the European Parliament for an opinion on its directive. This is as far as it has got. The draft report has still not yet been fully discussed in the committee of the European Parliament.

One of the most important items was that the Commission in the beginning wanted a medical test every five years, a quite severe test, and a test every year once the age of 60 had been reached—

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I understand it, the committees of the European Parliament have no power as regards the directive that we are discussing. Might I ask you to rule whether it is in order for an hon. Member to be pontificating on the deliberations of a committee which has no power in this House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

As far as I am concerned, it is in order. I have no power over these committees. But nothing that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) has said so far is out of order. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that time is very short.

Mr. Hill

I am sorry for taking so long, but I am trying to bring this House up to date about this small committee working in Europe on this very directive. If hon. Members do not want the information, I shall be only too pleased to resume my seat. If they want it, perhaps I might be allowed to continue.

The committee rejected the proposal for a medical examination every five years. The committee felt that it would impose a terrific strain on the medical professions of all member States and that such a large programme of simple medical examinations should start only at the age of 65 and take place thereafter every two years. That would seem to be more in keeping with the feeling of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley).

I am sorry to say that the discussions proved very difficult, as there were neither English nor Danish translations available. For that reason, I felt that my committee should be able to discuss it again when full translations became available. In the meantime, written amendments will be tabled by the British members of the committee which reflect the views of this House, and when the report is presented finally to the European Parliament in plenary session further and final amendments can be tabled and voted upon if necessary.

I advise hon. Members that the draft report, in its 15 resolutions, 15 articles and 9-page explanatory statement, goes further than whether a boy or girl of 17 should be able to drive a car throughout the nine member States of Europe. In particular, I mention the age for tractor drivers. The Commission wanted the age to be 21, which, of course, would be quite ridiculous from the point of view of our farming community.

My own view—this is my personal view—is that the member States should continue their own individual driving licence legislation, and if those wishing to drive through the Community and the associated States want a once-for-all-time Euro-licence, facilities should be available for such an examination. I find agreement with the idea of a simple medical examination for the elderly driver over 65, to include day and night vision, hearing, and conditions liable to cause loss of consciousness or major restrictions of movement. No one need be debarred from driving if these imperfections can be adjusted for and treated, but, with the ever-increasing traffic on our roads, such shortcomings in others can be a cause of death to innocent fellow travellers.

For existing drivers, article 9 of the report calls for the mutual recognition of existing driving licences. This is most important for the public. The date suggested for the changeover was 1st January 1974 for the issue of new licences and 1st January 1976 for the replacement of existing licences. These dates are just not realistic. My own view this depends on the committee's approval—is that the dates should be put forward at least five years; in other words, 1979 for new licences and 1981 for existing licences.

In the meantime, negotiations will continue in the committee with a view to presenting the document to the plenary session in November or December, and I hope that the draft report will cover all the many queries which I have heard here tonight and all the queries of the nine member States.

11.7 p.m.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) had to say, but I remain puzzled. We have before us tonight a draft directive of the Council—

Mr. Marten

Of the Commission.

Sir G. de Freitas

A draft directive of the Council. It is put by the Commission to the Council as a draft which it might like to consider. I cannot see the relevance of the reports which may or may not have been debated in the European Parliament. I am in favour of the European Parliament—I wish that my party were there—but I do not see how its reports are relevant to what we are discussing tonight, which is a particular draft directive.

I say at the outset to save time that I support the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and the points he made about the age and medical examinations. In fact, I signed his amendment. Also, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), I have doubt as to whether this is ultra vires. I should like some study to be made as to whether the Commission has been wasting its time in drafting such a directive for the Council.

I am concerned about the practicality of this whole plan, in view of the duties sought to be imposed on the medical profession. It is a fantastic notion, when doctors should be going about the business of curing the sick, that they should be driven more and more into the sort of paper work which would be involved here. I shall not make the easy joke about how we could test how many people are licensed psychometrically to examine others to decide whether they are psychologically capable of driving. I wish instead to raise an important matter of principle, and I come to it at once in order to allow others time to speak.

What is the Commission doing wasting its time on this? Surely, it is not the role of the Commission to do something of this sort. I am in favour of our entry into the European Community. Unlike many hon. Members, I want the power of the Commission to be increased. I see the Commission as an embryo executive, one day, I hope, elected. I see the Council of Ministers as an embryo Senate, one day, I hope, elected, but already representing by a different system, each of the States, which is why I believe that its "Hansard" should be published. I see the European Parliament as an embryo House of Representatives elected on the basis of population.

The key to such development is what the embryo executive should do when countries are coming together. The United States has been used as an analogy. America has been going as a federal country for 200 years, for 50 of which it has had the motor car. At one time or another I have visited 49 of the 50 States and I have spoken to many people about modern problems such as that of the automobile. I have never heard anyone suggest that the Federal Government should seek to legislate about the conditions of driving licences in all those 50 States. It has always been agreed to be the sort of subject that should be left to the individual States.

I believe that it is in this spirit that we should develop the Community. We should tell the Commisison tonight that it has more than enough to do without fussing around in this way.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I support what was said by my hon. hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). I was lucky enough to sign his amendment some months ago, but something that happened in my constituency a short time ago has made we wonder whether there is some good in the draft directive that we are considering.

In Leicestershire fairly recently a large juggernaut lorry was involved in an accident with a car. The juggernaut was barely marked, but the car was severely damaged, though the family were all right. The owners of the car are faced with a repair bill of £170 or £190, and it has been found that there is no way in an English court by which they can get the money from the owners of the juggernaut. The Continental driver freely admitted that he was to blame for the accident, and the police confirmed that. My constituents have been advised that the only way in which they can gain redress —and this is a bit dicey—is to engage a French lawyer and proceed with the case in a French court.

I thought that the House ought to know about that case because, if there is a set-up such as this, eventually articles 10 and 11 will come into play. Article 10 would set up a register, or index, of offenders, and article 11 would provide for the suspension of licences in member States. Such a system might be coupled with a form of damages which the culprit could be compelled to pay at the time of the suspension of his driving licence.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

What is also needed is a reciprocal system of compulsory third-party insurance.

Mr. Farr

That is another facet that should be considered. If juggernauts and other foreign vehicles are to be driven into this country by people from the other eight nations, there must be not only a recognised system of offences throughout the nine but a system under which insurances and damages apply throughout all the countries.

I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, but he did not mention one matter. It is ludicrous that Group F means that someone cannot drive an agricultural tractor until he is 21, because in the agriculture industry in this country men aged 20 are agricultural craftsmen and sometimes foremen in their trades. One can only imagine that perhaps this rule has been established because parts of the eight other countries have only very recently left the horse and cart age.

That being said, I fully support my hon. Friend, and congratulate him on what he may have achieved this evening.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I am grateful to the Minister for affording me just a moment or two in which to speak, but I must say that I feel cheated and deprived. This is the second time the Government have deprived the House of the democratic right to defeat them on a vote—and there is no doubt that they would have been defeated on this directive tonight.

Since in the main the directive is supposed to be in aid of road safety, it makes nonsense that under it once one has obtained a licence to drive a car one can proceed to drive the largest of motor cycles. To me, that does not smack of road safety. On the subject of the many medical examinations, I would ask how many medical men or spouses are directly involved in the Commission or the Council of Ministers.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Peyton

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about the number of medical men or spouses involved is that I do not have the slightest idea. As to his first words, I am grateful to him for his appreciation of my having given him the opportunity to say what he had to say. I am terribly sorry to have deprived him of the pleasure of voting this evening, because I realise that it is a bitter thing for him. But there it is: I hope that he will learn to live with his disappointment, and to contain it.

I feel that the best way to sum up is to say that when the next decade or so of history is written the Commission will look back on this directive and consider with becoming modesty that it was not perhaps its very finest piece of work. In fact, I feel very tempted to agree with the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas), who said for the second time in this House—he has said it on an earlier occasion—that the Commission should not be wasting time on this kind of thing. That is one comment with which most of us would not wish to quarrel.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ban. bury (Mr. Marten), whose enthusiasm for things European does from time to time run away with him, has made clear that he objects to this draft directive. My own view is that we have all tended to beat the gun on this matter and that our excitement and frenzy about it is somewhat premature. The matter has not really got anywhere near the Council of Ministers, which would have to deal with it before it achieved the dignity of law

Mr. Robert C. Brown

It has been before the European Parliament.

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Gentleman really must not go on making speeches. I did my best for him, but I do not think he was a beneficiary of it—but never mind.

This directive, which first saw the light of day in, I think, August of last year—and a great deal of rumour about it had gone about beforehand—has not made very rapid progress since. It is not even in the neighbourhood, or in the area, of becoming law. So I do not think that anyone in the House or outside the House should imagine there is any immediate prospect of its being accepted or decided on.

On the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury raised about an operative date, as the matter has not been discussed by the Council of Ministers it certainly has no operative date.

Mr. Marten

It is in it.

Mr. Peyton

It does not matter what is in it. My hon. Friend is rather good at these sedentary interruptions. It does not matter what is in the directive; it has not been discussed, let alone agreed to by the Council of Ministers, and it has nothing like the force of law.

Sir D. Renton

Would my right hon. Friend tell us this, because I think it is very important? Granted that this directive has not, and will not for some time have, the force of law, once it has been approved by the Council of Ministers what opportunity shall we have of discussing or challenging it before it does have the force of law in our country?

Mr. Peyton

The whole of my remarks tonight are based on the premise that it is most unlikely—virtually certain, in fact—that this directive will ever have the force of law, for reasons to which I referred briefly in my opening remarks. If my right hon. and learned Friend will allow me to develop some of the particular points, I think he will understand what I mean.

First, as to the photograph on a driving licence, I think this is a matter the merits of which have nothing to do with this directive. Perhaps it is something which we might consider at some time, although it suffers from the objection which my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury mentioned, that we all change a bit from time to time, and not all of us for the better, if I may say so.

On the matter of the age at which somebody is eligible to hold a licence to drive a car for the first time, the age here is 17 years, and personally I would need a great deal of persuading that there is any compelling reason why we should raise that age to 18. I certainly think it would be a retrograde step from the point of view of road safety—the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) seemed uncertain about this—if we were to differentiate between the ages at which one may drive a motor car and a motor cycle for the first time.

Mr. Mulley rose

Mr. Peyton

I am sorry, but I have not got much time.

On the subject of invalid carriages, I am certainly proposing no change. In answer to my hon. Friend, I believe that it would be a retrograde step if we were to do so. I believe also that an elaborate system of medical tests would be a very expensive affair administratively, very difficult, and certainly very unrewarding from a road safety point of view. I confess that when it comes to the dynamic behaviour of vehicles I am slightly puzzled as to what this means. The meaning of it would certainly have to be ironed out in discussions before the proposals made any further advance.

On the question of psychological examinations, although I recognise that perhaps there is a need for these things here and there, the difficulties of deploying sufficient psychologists capable of carrying out such elaborate tests on so many people would present almost insuperable difficulties. The short answer is that I do not require any instruction on this matter, although I recognise and appreciate the generosity of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury in the matter of giving instructions. He declared with a certain relish, I thought, that "the Government will not like that." He claimed always to be very fair to the Community. Well, I suppose that may be so.

However, I should like to touch seriously on this point. I think it would be dangerous if the House of Commons were always to seek to put Ministers in a position where they literally could not discuss matters, because we have a lot to gain in Europe by putting our point of view, and if it is always made clear to our European partners that we have prejudged issues and are not free to discuss them it is hardly likely that our views will be listened to with the care that we should expect.

The last point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury concerned whether the Press should be admitted to meetings of the Council of Ministers. I do not think that either an admirer or an opponent of that body would claim that the results of its proceedings were particularly secret.

The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) was let down by his memory when he referred to the question of the cost of the driving test. It was an issue that was left to me to settle as soon as I followed him into office. It was an odious duty left to me to increase the cost.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether my Department had been charged with the heavy duty of costing this directive of the Council of Ministers. The answer is "No-emphatically not." As the right hon. Gentleman will be the first to realise, there is not such a large surplus of civil servants that their time can be devoted to an exercise that would prove to be rather a barren one-or not particularly fruitful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) made the same point as the right hon. Gentleman did when he referred to the fact that there were some important differences between both our driving standards and our tests. That is the great objection to seeking any uniformity in our licensing system. My hon. Friend, who does useful work in the European Parliament—I take this opportunity of acknowledging that—made a charming and delightful comment about innocent fellow travellers. I did not think that there were such things, but I take it from my hon. Friend.

I conclude by saying that the Government welcome the opportunity of hearing the views of the House of Commons on issues which. admittedly, have caused much anxiety among people, and take due note of what has been said tonight.

On the particular issue, I hope that have made it clear—I do not wish to be in any way offensive to the Commission —that this collection of proposals seems to us to be very ill thought out, and hardly to match the situation and the needs of this country. It is one which, in my view, would have little hope of achieving the status of binding law without prolonged discussion in the Council of Ministers. I have absolutely no reason to suppose that it would not find as many opponents there as it has done in this House tonight.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of the Draft Directive of the Commission of the European Communities (No. C/119/1 dated 16th November 1972 in the Official Journal of the Communities) relating to vehicle driving licences but nevertheless declares that the present minimum age of 17 years for both motorcycle and car licences should be maintained and that the proposed medical examination should not be accepted.