HL Deb 23 November 1937 vol 107 cc223-45

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, when I first received the text of this Bill from the draftsman's hand, I congratulated myself upon making myself responsible for what I venture to term almost a model piece of legislation—simple, explicit and practical, a measure which could not alarm anybody except persons who contemplated being convicted of manslaughter, or of reckless or furious driving, or of driving when they were drunk. My satisfaction with the merits of this measure did not, however, last very long, because when I submitted it to various learned members of this House with whom I am acquainted, they expressed the opinion that it was full of pitfalls, dangers and injustices. These had never struck me at all. I have a great respect for those noble and learned Lords, but I cannot help thinking that they are under a misapprehension concerning the scope and purpose of this Bill.

The Bill is, of course, directed solely against people who get drunk, who commit manslaughter, or who drive recklessly. I should also like to point out to those noble and learned Lords a feature which no doubt they already recognise: that the Bill is not mandatory at all but only permissive. If I have committed a mistake, it is the mistake of assuming that all the courts before whom these cases will come will act with common sense and with a proper sense of equity. Clause r, which is the crux of the whole Bill and the only clause which requires any discussion, enacts that any person who is convicted—not accused only—of any of the offences which I have enumerated is liable to have his car forfeited. There appears to be a variety of objections to what seems to me a very equitable proposal. The first is that this is a renewal of the practice of deodand. In case any one should be ignorant of that practice, I should like to explain that it was revoked in, I think, the year 1870. Noble Lords may, however, be surprised to learn that it has been reinstated in the Statute Book in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. That Act positively bristles with forfeitures for various offences, and I have never yet heard anybody complain that there was anything unjust about it.

That is not all. You may say that theoretically the punishment of forfeiture has been abandoned, but as a matter of fact it is practised every day. If a man uses a gun or a revolver improperly it is seized, and a burglar's implements are confiscated. If I am not mistaken, smuggled goods are confiscated. Many other instances might be given. I might even mention that of a dog, for a dog does not escape; if he bites twice, his destruction is ordered. Why on earth should not this apply to the case of a motor vehicle? A motor vehicle in certain circumstances is a lethal machine, capable of doing an enormous amount of injury, and I observe that the other day a man with a motor vehicle only priced at £10 managed to kill two people and wound five people at the same time. It seems to me that the principle of forfeiture is an extremely valuable one in dealing with cases of the sort that I have mentioned. Let me illustrate what I mean. There must be certain cases when a court is very unwilling to send a person to prison, because he or she has been quite irreproachable in other respects. Sooner than send this person to prison it would be an excellent alternative to forfeit the car. The fines which are imposed are obviously insufficient and are not a real deterrent, whereas if you forfeit the car—except in the case of the gentleman whose car is worth only £10—you are making the offender pay much more than he would have to pay in a succession of fines. There is another instance in which this principle would be extremely valuable. Some of these people are not insured, and if you seized the vehicle it would provide a fund out of which compensation could be paid.

The real value of this principle of forfeiture is, however, that it would be a real deterrent. There are many motorists, I believe, who regard their cars with singular affection, and the loss of their cars would probably affect them more in some cases than the loss of a near relation, and the possibility of that loss alone would be a very strong inducement to avoid getting into trouble. I believe myself that the effect would be so great that any one who had committed a motoring offence once would not be likely to repeat it. Upon the whole I think I have made out a case for forfeiture or deodand, whatever you choose to call it, and I venture to express the opinion, with great respect:, that it seems to me there is a certain amount of pedantry in taking this particular objection.

I pass from deodand to another objection, the old objection with which we are always familiar, that of legislating unfairly as between rich and poor. Of course one ought to be quite unprejudiced in a matter of this kind, but I admit that I am prejudiced. I am prejudiced greatly against people who commit these offences, and who are well-to-do and commit these offences in the course of their own selfish enjoyment. I think their position is quite different from the position of people who earn their living by driving motor vehicles, and who are sometimes subjected to very severe regulations. I should like to discriminate, if I had the power, between those two classes of offenders, but the law does not recognise anything of the kind. The law treats rich and poor with absolute impartiality, or at all events it is supposed so to do. When you come to think of it an impecunious youth, drawing the "dole" and riding a bicycle acquired on the hire-purchase principle, is as capable of doing as much harm as an idle spendthrift with a £2,000 or £3,000 car. There is no moral distinction between the two, and when you argue that the penalty falls more lightly upon the rich man than on the poor man, I refuse to admit it, because the rich man's car may be worth several thousand pounds and its value amounts to a great deal more than he would have to pay in fines. I think that once a man has had his car forfeited he would take the lesson to heart, and the offence is not likely to occur again. The value to my mind is that forfeiture will act as a real deterrent.

I pass from that to a more difficult question, and that is that it is urged that if this Bi11 passes it will seriously affect the hire-purchase system. I dare say it will cause a certain amount of complication, and I doubt very much whether the hirer will be able to insure himself against the results of his committing any of the offences which I have enumerated. Of course it is quite easy to imagine that all sorts of terrible injustices would happen, because, as everybody knows, many of the vehicles which are being used on the hire-purchase system are not the property of the rider or the driver but the property of a company. It obviously would be extremely unfair and unjust if a company or garage let out a vehicle to a man who thereupon committed one of these offences, and it was then decided that the vehicle should be forfeited. But I cannot for the life of me imagine any court doing anything of the kind. Surely, the security lies in the common sense and sense of equity of the court, and I absolutely decline to be intimidated by the imaginary hardships of people who may have their cars stolen, which may, after they have been stolen, run over somebody, the forfeiture falling upon the owner. I do not believe it for a single moment.

A noble Lord, a very distinguished member of this House, said to me a few days ago: "I am going to vote against your Bill because I do not see why my car should be forfeited if it is stolen from me and if the driver then commits one of the offences specified in the Bill." Well, I admit that it is quite possible that it might be stolen, but on the other hand can anybody seriously suggest that if a case of that kind happens the car would be forfeited? It seems to me perfectly grotesque. If noble and learned Lords have any respect for their own profession I cannot see why they should see any danger of this kind at all. And a further observation is this. Of course the Bill, as I have pointed out, deals only with people who commit one of three particular and very grave offences. But there is no difficulty in keeping out of trouble altogether. I have owned motor cars for considerably over thirty years; I have driven them over a large part of this country; I have driven also largely on the Continent; and never upon any single occasion have I been proceeded against for any offence whatever, nor has anybody in my employment. I do not say that I am more law-abiding than anybody else, and I am perfectly certain that nearly everybody who is present here this afternoon can say the same thing, and the vast majority of motorists can also say so. I am concerned with a small class of motorists whom I can only term criminals, who are the cause of all the trouble, and it seems to me very unnecessary that we should be so solicitous as to their treatment.

So much for Clause 1. I do not think it is necessary for me to deal at length with any of the other clauses. Clause 2 is declaratory. Clause 3 deals with the powers of the Home Office, and, as I suggested just now, I think it would be an excellent thing if the police had the power to seize these cars and to compensate the victims in case there were no other funds available. The other clauses call for no notice. Your Lordships may approve or disapprove of this Bill—you probably will disapprove of it—but it is quite evident that something must be done. At present we are faced with the fact that no fewer than 100,000 people have actually been killed on the roads since the War, and more than 3,000,000 have been injured. I observe that the Minister of Transport in a speech made yesterday explained that the increase in motor traffic amounted to 6 per cent. a year. Well, that at compound interest would amount to a very considerable number. I would ask, what prospect is there whatever of any improvement at all? Motor cars are being turned out at the rate of several hundreds a day. We have now reached a stage when about eighty people are killed each week and about 4,000 are mutilated. How much longer is that going on, and what chance is there, according to official and other statements that have been made, of the evil being abated? I can see no sign of it at all.

I do not derive any encouragement from any of the statements that are made with regard to this grievance. I certainly do not derive any encouragement from the statements made by the motorist authorities. Their remedy for the present state of things apparently is that vast racing tracks under the name of arterial roads should be constructed all over the country; that all speed limits should be removed, because they say "We are much safer when we go fast than when we go slow"; and, finally, that all pedestrians in populous districts should be made to travel in tunnels underground. That is the motorist associations' remedy for the present state of things. Nor do I derive much encouragement from the present Minister of Transport. I observe he made a speech a day or two ago in which he said that he was opposed to heavy penalties, and was going to rely upon what I may call exhortation. If anybody believes in exhortation, which I have long ceased to believe in, I should like to refer him to a letter from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham which appeared in The Times a day or two ago. The Bishop informed us in that letter that he had been exhorting people all his life, and never obtained any results at all. That is a very significant statement, because the Bishop of Durham is one of the most effective and cogent speakers who takes any part in public life. There is one thing that revolts me almost as much as these terrible figures of casualties, and that is the leniency of the courts. The figures are staggering enough, but what is almost equally staggering is the totally inadequate penalties, and exhortation is not going to have any effect upon the practices of which I complain.

I have listened to a great many debates in this House, and sometimes taken part in them myself, and they always leave me with a pronounced sense of depression. These debates, I suppose, on the whole are a more life-like revival of the old Greek chorus than anything else in public life to-day. One speaker gets up after another and deplores, almost with tears in his voice, the hideous fatalities that are happening every day. His remarks are greeted with "Hear, hear" and sympathetic approval on the part of his audience, but when it comes to proposing anything practical or drastic then at once he is fallen upon by the responsible people, and I regret to say that it is usually the Minister of Transport who is foremost in attacking the proposal. I have very little doubt that before this debate is over I shall be confronted with an alliance between the Ministry of Transport and the Home Office, who will combine in trying to prove to your Lordships that this is a totally unjust measure. And I should think it quite likely that they will be aided by the Board of Trade, and perhaps by the Treasury, speaking on behalf of the hire-purchase industry.

What is a man to do confronted with an opposition of that kind? This is one of the occasions upon which one realises the inexpressible misfortune of having lost the services of the late Lord Buck-master. If the late Lord Buckmaster were alive and taking part in this debate, I believe that by the sheer force of his eloquence, his conviction and his ingenuity he would force this measure through, in spite of the opposition. I unfortunately do not possess those advantages, but at all events I hope that I have made some sort of a case. Although I have no illusions with regard to the fate of the Bill, although I do not for a moment suppose that it is going to have any great effect, or that it will even be applied extensively, yet I do feel that it will act as a valuable deterrent, and if I can get as far as that I shall feel that I have done something in a small way to remedy the disgraceful state of things which has become, and has long been, a national scandal. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— [Lord Newton.]


My Lords, I am sure every member of your Lordships' House who has listened to my noble friend will admit he has brought forward this question in a most moderate and, indeed, almost apologetic speech. This is an attitude which I am afraid is taken up by most of those who challenge any motoring offences. I wish to say a few words only in regard to the magnitude of the evil and also of the extreme desirability that there should be greater unanimity as to the manner in which those who obviously have broken the law should be treated. My noble friend mentioned the number of deaths and injuries in Great Britain. Recently our whole minds have been centred on Spain—the centre of carnage—and the other day I saw the figures of the civilians who have been killed in Madrid in the last twelve months during the bombardment which has been going on from the air and otherwise almost incessantly. If these figures are correct—and they are supposed to be official—then there were 800 killed and 5,000 injured in the last twelve months. That is in Madrid. In London, in the same period, 1,000 have been killed by motor accidents and 50,000 injured.

It seems to me that there is only one way to deal with an evil of this kind. First of all, to get rules which must be observed, and then to get punishments, if there must be punishments, which are in some way uniformly imposed by the various authorities which have to deal with them. Look at the rules that have to be observed. I happened to come to London three or four hours ago by a bypass. A by-pass now is the greatest trap, because naturally people speed up where they think there is no danger. I can only say that a by-pass was established passing my house in Surrey two or three years ago. Since then three different sets of people leaving my house on Sunday, which is a day when people think the roads are easier, have been overtaken, in one case by a motor cycle and in the other two cases by ordinary vehicles, and carried forty or fifty yards in each case, and in each case one of the assailants was killed by his own impact. That has happened in the course of the last fifteen months, and all from one house. I watched very closely to-day as I was coming up, because I had my noble friend's Bill in my mind. This is what happened. It merely shows what your difficulty is. There happened to be a small fleet of Army lorries all going along the same way. They were all marked "Not to exceed twenty miles an hour." They were very heavy, and to pass them it was necessary to go just over the boundary. Several vehicles I saw did pass them. Then we came towards a particular corner where there was not the same visibility. At that moment there shot past me, travelling at least at sixty miles an hour, a car which, at that point where the driver could not see round the corner, must have run into another car coming that way. Fortunately one of the Army lorry men waved and shouted, and the man gradually got back about five yards, and missed it. What, I ask, would have happened to that man?

I do not know whether your Lordships recollect a case that occurred early last year before a Judge of the High Court. If I may be pardoned, I will read the details in the shortest way. John Brook, a lorry driver, who had driven down Barnet Hill at a pace of more than twenty miles an hour, was trying to pass something. He lost control. It was a heavy lorry going down-hill, and he diverged to the right, went on to the footpath, and killed four people and injured a number of others. What happened? He was convicted of manslaughter. The Judge, in passing sentence, said: You are a man of good character, and I pay no attention to the two small convictions for motoring offences. So that it was not his first. The most lenient sentence I can pass in the circumstances is six months in the second division. The Judge called the man back afterwards, and said that having regard to the fact that he depended on motor driving for his livelihood he would not be debarred from holding his licence, which, of course, would be endorsed. Is it possible, really, that where a man not knowing the road comes to a curve, or whatever it may be, at a pace which he cannot control, and in order to get out of the difficulty of colliding with someone, charges on to the footpath, kills four people, and wounds a number of others, you allow that case to be at the mercy of the Judge, so that the man can get six months and yet be allowed to drive again to the same danger of the public, even after he has had two previous motor convictions?

All I ask in regard to my noble friend's Bill, if your Lordships see fit to read it a second time, is that it should be taken as some evidence that in this House, at all events, there is a feeling that this sort of thing cannot continue. It is utterly impossible to believe that we can go on year by year increasing this enormous loss of life, and that we should do so with our eyes open. There are two things we must remember. I am not comparing these other cases with motor offences, but merely with the object of making the point that in the past it has been found that severe sentences do check crime. There must be many members in this House who can recollect when there used to be garrotting in the Park. Parliament passed special measures in regard to garrotters, and these penalties were so severe that the whole thing, in six months, came to an end. One of the Judges reminded me the other day that in the old days on the Northern Circuit the number of cases of wife-beating and child neglect was terrible. We all know that people have grown much more humane, but that was not the way these cases were stopped. I remember, when Mr. Justice Day went to the Liverpool Assizes and found sixteen cases of that description, he undertook to put a stop to them. His sentences were so severe that people took a changed view of the whole matter, and they succeeded in arresting that particular class of crime to a very large extent.

I do hope, whatever be the fate of this Bill, that your Lordships will agree that there are two things which must be aimed at. First, that those who bring others to death or imperil the lives of others must realise that they have got to keep the ordinary rules. If a driver means to pass somebody he must do so at a place where he knows that he is not going to run into somebody else and not where his vision makes it plain that there is not a clear course. That is one of those matters which can only be dealt with by local authorities. And there should be some means by which sentences, which at present seem to me almost fortuitous, should be uniform. I hope your Lordships will give a Second Reading to the Bill.


My Lords, I rise to support the measure which has been proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, partly because he was good enough to support a measure which I brought forward and partly because I think that he is right on this occasion, as I am sure he was on the previous occasion. Having been called to the Bar and practised at the Bar, I am acutely aware that all round me in the most august legal circles of this House there are those who will point out the legal difficulties involved in passing this Bill in its present form. I appreciate all that. But so far as the essential thesis of this Bill is concerned I with deep respect, do not agree with my legal friends in saying that it is wrong. Confiscation for wrong-doing is a proper penalty to impose. It is found in a great many parts of our jurisprudence, and everybody knows and remembers what occurred in the case of smuggling. The essential thesis that my noble friend puts forward, supported by the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, is that this principle of confiscation should be applied. I admit that it is imperfect in this form, but it could be applied. I know that my legal friend behind me will tell me that it would be possible to apply it in a form which would be free from the objections that will be raised.


I do not think I shall.


Perhaps not, but I think it is the fact that if you were arguing the point for me as one learned in the law you could make out a very good case. I know you could. One must arrest attention by pointing to the fantastic state in which we now stand. This proposal is not a fantastic proposal, but the position in which we stand with regard to these casualties is fantastic. Reference was made by the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, to the casualties in Madrid. Can I arrest your Lordships' attention by telling you this? I believe the figures that I shall give are correct. Everybody deplores the terrible loss of life of the civilian population of Spain as a whole since the war began, and all parties are agreed that if anything could be done to stop it all men of good will should unite and try to stop the war which causes so much suffering to the civilian population of Spain. The population of Spain is less than ours, still it is comparable with ours for this purpose. Now may I arrest your Lordships' attention by saying this—I am quite sure that I shall not be found to be wrong in saying it—whilst Spain has been a country at war for some eighteen months and Britain has been a country at peace during the same period, the killed and wounded in Britain caused by motor cars, chars-à-bancs and lorries, are far in excess of the total casualties suffered by the inhabitants of Spain in a state of civil war from bullets, shells and bombs.

If I am right in that am I not justified in saying that we stand in a fantastic position? If I am right—and I believe I shall be found to be correct, having taken some pains to find out the actual position—it has been safer for civilians to live in Spain at war than to live in Britain at peace. To make the thing complete, I do not forget that you have to take into account the casualties suffered by civilians in Spain from motor cars, lorries and other vehicles, and I am informed that if you include them it has been safer to live in Spain as a civilian man, woman and child than to live in Britain. Are we to stand here in this Chamber and acquiesce in that and say: "Oh well, after all during that period what does it amount to?" I think the figures are about 10,500 killed and about 423,000 wounded in Britain since the war began in Spain—getting on for half a million casualties.

Like everybody else in this House who took some part in the last War, I have seen not only hundreds but thousands of people killed by bullets and shells and aerial bombs—literally thousands. I have only seen a few killed by motor cars and lorries, but, viewing it quite impartially as a method of killing and wounding people, I think it is true to say, from my own observation, that the bullet, the shell and bomb are more humane methods of causing casualties than motor cars and lorries. Viewing it from every available standpoint, and having consulted some doctors who have been in casualty clearing stations during the War and in hospitals at home in peace, I say that if you are going to kill off people and wound them at that sort of rate it is far more humane to do it by bullets and shells, because then you would cause far less suffering. If what I have said is true, surely we ought not to reject any method of putting a stop to it. I can imagine someone saying: "Oh, but the confiscation of a motor car because it has killed somebody would be an absurd thing to do." I submit it is just as absurd to allow us to live in a country where it is more dangerous for the civilian to live even when the country is at peace than it is to go to Spain and live in a country at war. What are you going to do about it?

The Ministry of Transport do nothing. This very day, as I was coming to your Lordships' House in the hope that I might have the privilege of addressing you, I passed a huge double-deck omnibus rolling along a road that it was totally unfit for. If any impartial person from the planet Mars came here and looked at a great thing like that on an Isle of Wight road, he would say: "The people who allow that must be mad." It is the fact that the roads committee of the Isle of Wight County Council, seeing that this was an obviously wrong thing to do and might be dangerous, tried to stop it, but the Ministry of Transport, when their attention was called to it, butted in and said: "Not at all; we have got to keep the traffic going; we cannot listen to you when you say you think it is dangerous that your Isle of Wight roads should be encumbered by these double-deck omnibuses." The Ministry of Transport overruled the roads committee of this little county who wished to stop a thing which they considered to be dangerous. What are we to think of a country which has a Ministry of Transport that is so completely blind to the realities of things that it actually disregards the safety precautions proposed by the people on the spot, with the result of making things, in the view of the people on the spot, more dangerous?

We have got to have an entirely new view of this. The Ministry of Transport have got to have a completely new outlook. We cannot allow the present state of affairs to go on. The last time we debated this subject, the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, made a very eloquent speech—which was thought by the motorists to be a very violent speech—and he proclaimed that we must put a stop to all these things. What has happened since? Nothing at all. I am very glad that my noble friend has received the Nobel prize for his work in the cause of peace, and I certainly think that he merits some award for what he has tried to do in regard to the casualties on the road. If the noble Lord, Lord Newton, takes his Motion to a Division I shall support him, and I invite others of your Lordships to support him, not because this is a perfect Bill but because it is an assertion on the part of your Lordships' House that this cruel killing must stop. We have no constituents, and we are not frightened—or perhaps I should say we have no need to pay attention, as members of the House of Commons must, to all the vested interests in fast-moving vehicles. We are free, and this is one way of letting our opinions be known.


My Lords, when I came here this afternoon I was considerably surprised to find that no Motion for the rejection of this Bill had been put on the Paper. I dare say that may be due to a feeling among your Lordships that it has been introduced as something in the nature of propaganda rather than as a real contribution to legislation on road traffic. I think that must be so because the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, who followed my noble friend Lord Newton, did not once refer to any provision of the Bill in his most interesting and eloquent speech. My noble friend Lord Mottistone made a very interesting statement when he said that it was safer to live in Spain under conditions of warfare than in this country under conditions of peace. I would like to ask the noble Lord whether he really means that the death roll per thousand of the population in Spain under conditions of warfare is lower than it is in this country at present.


I believe from inquiries I have made that deaths by violence among the civilian population in Spain per thousand of the population have been less since the present war began than deaths by violence caused by road casualties in Great Britain during the same period. I speak subject to correction, but I believe that is so.


I am very grateful to my noble friend because that is a most interesting thing which should be known. The noble Lord also said that his desire was to draw attention to the fantastic state of road conditions to-day. I feel sure that aspect of the matter has been adequately dealt with, and if it is not out of order on a Second Reading debate I should like to pay some attention to some of the things in the Bill itself which may be similarly described. This Bill might have three purposes. In the first place it might have the purpose of preventing accidents; secondly, it: might provide for further punishment of the authors of accidents; and thirdly, it might be designed to act as a deterrent, as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, suggested, against accidents resulting from bad driving in the future. But, my Lords, you will not prevent a person driving a car by confiscating somebody else's car. You will not prevent a person with two cars from driving if you take away one car. Even if a person has only one car and it is confiscated, he can purchase another for a not very considerable sum. You have only to pass the portals of your Lordships' House during a debate to realise that there are many cars in existence that can easily be acquired at a cost of between £20 and £40 You will not stop the driving of vehicles by confiscating them. It is interesting to note that this Bill is to apply to tramcars. Your Lordships must remember that tramcars are nearly always operated under a statutory obligation to maintain a service, so that in regard to tramcars this Bill will not be very effective.

One noble Lord who spoke to me on the subject of propaganda said that he considered this Bill was an absurd one but that he intended to vote for it on the ground that it might do some good provided it never became law. If your desire is to increase punishment, then by this Bill you will be doing it in a very haphazard manner. The value of a car may be £20 or it may be £2,000, and under this Bill the measure of punishment will not be in the control of the magistrate who decides the case nor will it be in any way affected by the moral guilt of the person concerned. The punishment will be purely arbitrary and there is no provision in the Bill to permit courts to follow the well-known maxim of the late Lord justice Fry that one should try to adjust the suffering to the sin. As for the provisions of the Bill acting as a deterrent, I cannot believe that the owner-driver is likely to be deterred by the prospect of losing his car when he is not deterred by the fact that he may be subjected to imprisonment without the option of a fine. The person who is not the owner of the car is very unlikely to be deterred by the fact that somebody else's car may be confiscated, particularly so as ex hypothesi he shows that he is not deterred by the risk of completely destroying the car physically by means of a collision. Therefore, the Bill, so far from serving any useful purpose, may, I suggest, achieve very mischievous purposes. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, suggests that this can be got round. I analogise to him: I ought really to call him my noble and learned friend. I think he overlooks the fact that this Bill will deprive people of their property without the right of being heard. Where the owner is not the driver of the car—


He can appeal. There is an appeal provided in every case.


My noble friend says that I am wrong. I accept what he says, but I will put what I was going to say in the form of a sub- mission. Your Lordships will find that there is no provision in the Bill by which, in a court of summary jurisdiction, the owner is entitled to appear if he was not the driver of the car. He can, it is true, if an order is made against him there, appear as a person aggrieved, his case not having been heard before, and in that way he can appeal against an order made against him. We are told that an order will never be made in the case of a car that has been stolen. How is the magistrate to know whether it has been stolen? The owner can only act by way of appeal, and that only in courts of summary jurisdiction. If a case is dealt with on indictment he will not be a party to the case, and he cannot appeal under the provisions of the Criminal Appeal Act because he is not a person qualified within the meaning of that Act.

Your Lordships will also notice that we have been told that the hire-purchase people may have a grievance. What a nuisance this Bill is going to be for people who try to sell a car! I am in no way connected with the motor trade, but I was associated recently with the purchase of a car. The arrangement was that a car should be sold and handed over in the evening of a certain Tuesday. The motor show opened on Thursday and then its value would drop, so it became essential to hand it over in time to enable the seller to transfer the ownership in the car that was taken in part exchange to a member of the trade in time for him to transfer it to a fourth hand, a member of the public, in order that the proper price should be obtained before the value of the car should drop. Each of those people would have to inquire what right of ownership he had in this car. How can you tell? Look at any of the cars now parked outside your Lordships' House: how are you to tell whether any one of them has been driven in a dangerous manner? How can you accept a car without knowing whether you are liable to have your property taken from you; or whether the seller is able, while he himself may not know that he is unable, to give you a good title?

There is a further point. From first to last the noble Lord has told us that this Bill will not be used inequitably. But as against an owner who is not a party and is not allowed to be tried, there are no provisions under which this jurisdiction would be regulated or limited to reason- able cases. The only person with whom you are concerned is the person whom, of course, my noble friend desires to attack and who, I am perfectly agreed, should be attacked: the person who drives dangerously. But here is set out a penalty of forfeiture which is in no way so limited, and no crime for which that penalty should be exacted is set out at all. I beg your Lordships not to give a Second Reading to this Bill, which deprives persons of valuable chattels without giving them power to be heard in their defence; which does not allow them to be heard in a court of first instance but only in a Court of Quarter Sessions by way of appeal; which creates a new penalty against innocent persons; which does not specify the grounds upon which that penalty is to be exacted; which, without serving any useful purpose at all, introduces confusion into commerce; and which from first to last, from beginning to end, makes no attempt whatsoever to make the punishment fit the crime.


My Lords, His Majesty's Government fully appreciate the motive that has prompted the noble Lord, Lord Newton, to introduce this Bill. There is no doubt that the noble Lord has in mind an earnest desire to reduce the loss of life on our roads, and to try to check certain rash and careless members of the public. It is therefore with some regret that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport finds himself in some opposition to the noble Lord's Bill. The provisions of Clause I would in effect revive the ancient law of deodand, and, with all due respect to the noble Lord, I am informed that deodands were formally abolished on September 1, 1846. Under the present law any person who drives dangerously or is under the influence of drink can already be prevented by the convicting court from driving a vehicle for as long a period as the court desires. As a source of danger on the roads, therefore, the law already makes adequate provision for his removal if necessary. If this Bill becomes law, the penalty of forfeiture which it provides seems likely to be both capricious and ineffective in operation. The man who has bought a new car might be penalised on its account much more heavily than if he had been driving an old one, and that hardly seems fair. A man who lent his car to a friend whom he had no reason to regard as a bad driver might, through no fault of his own, be deprived of that car. The suggested penalty seems to be entirely inappropriate in the case of the very large number of motor vehicles driven by employed drivers, but I think that point has been thrashed out.

Apart from these objections to the Bill, which are very serious, it has to be considered whether the sole object of the Bill could not be evaded by means of insurance against forfeiture. This question would need a very careful examination if the Bill proceeded beyond its present stage. We have had an interesting debate, and the noble Lord has done a public service in bringing the Bill forward. While it is not the wish of the Government formally, as a Government, to oppose it at this stage, yet in view of the criticisms which I have made the noble Lord cannot expect to find me, on behalf of the Government, in a position to promise any support in this House or in another place.


My Lords, may I say one word? The noble Lord said that the present law made adequate provision against acts of this kind, involving manslaughter. Surely it does not make adequate provision. One object of the Bill is to reduce accidents, and I consider that it is a very temperate Bill. The noble Earl made some allusion to the value of a new car being different from that of an old car. I cannot see how that affects the question at all. If it is a new car, presumably the man is in a position to afford to lose it if he is careless. If it is an old car, he might be inclined to be more reckless. I do not think that this is a satisfactory reply, and I hope the noble Lord will go to a Division.


My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Earl representing the Government with some regret but without surprise. May I ask, if these provisions revive the law of deodand, what has been happening since 1846 with regard to the forfeitures that actually take place? If a ship is engaged in an armed expedition against a friendly State, not only are those responsible liable to criminal penalty but the ship itself is confiscated. Smuggled goods have already been mentioned, and a poacher on conviction is deprived of his gun; at least, I have been on a bench that has so deprived him, and I never heard that he, or what was understood to be his local union, attempted to get a mandamus against us for doing it. Why should these things not be extended to the present case? I venture to say that the noble Earl has not given any argument why this Bill should not receive a Second Reading. It is quite true he has argued, and Lord Darcy (de Knayth) has argued, against certain provisions of the Bill, but those are all matters for Committee. I take it that my noble friend below me does not attach essential importance to Clause 2. I quite see that it involves many difficult points, but if it be amended or deleted the Bill would still be effective in a great number of cases, and I would suggest to my noble friend that perhaps the clause should be done away with, although I think that if the owner were present and the driver was driving under his direction the case would be one in which the penalty might well be applied.

I do not suggest that the Bill is going to have a great deal of effect, but it will certainly have some effect, and I can well imagine that a gay spark would run the chance of a criminal conviction rather than run the chance of having his beloved vehicle confiscated. When the noble Lord says that the punishment will be unequal in different cases, according to the value of the car, I would answer that criminal punishments often are unequal. Certainly a sentence that would mean little or nothing to an old lag, who knew how to make himself comfortable, might mean something near to a sentence of death to an outdoor man who was accustomed to live well. I do suggest that having regard to the appalling conditions, and having regard to the fact that I hope it may be admitted that this Bill will do something in the direction of improving them. This is one of those cases where a Bill should have a Second Reading and go to a Select Committee.


My Lords, I should not have risen had it not been that in my opinion this Bill goes far deeper than the mere question of safety on the road, because it involves what is a most important question in this House—namely, the administration of the criminal law, and the imposition of punishment for crime. My objection is that it is entirely capricious, and offends against most of the rules which have hitherto guided the Legislature in laying down the punishment for crime. I would like to point out, in the first place, that this Bill contains no provision at all for providing that an offender shall no longer drive dangerously along the road. Let us make that quite clear. There is nothing to prevent people whose cars have been forfeited from hiring or buying a car and driving along the road. If you want to deter people from serious offences the right way is to adopt the remedy given by the Legislature.

Let us see what are the crimes mentioned in the Bill. The first is manslaughter. The penalty for manslaughter is, at the discretion of the Judge, penal servitude for life and disqualification of the driver for life. You would have thought that that would be a sufficient deterrent, and I do not believe myself that the offender would be more deterred from committing manslaughter by the fact that his car, or someone else's car, might be forfeited. Another offence is driving to the danger of the public, or driving recklessly. For that offence a man may have his licence suspended for life. The other offence is driving under the influence of drink or drugs. For that offence he may have his licence suspended for life, and for both those offences—at all events for the second offence—he may be sent to prison. The Legislature has been very careful to provide a limit to the fines which may be imposed upon him in excess of that punishment of disqualifying him. The fines are limited to £10 and I think in the case of a second offence in one of the cases—I am not sure which—it is £100. That is the limit to the punishment by the justices, and with great respect it is right that the jurisdiction of the courts of summary jurisdiction should be limited to that amount of punishment. That has been the rule ever since courts of summary jurisdiction were instituted. Their power to send to prison is limited to six months, and their power of fining is also limited. I think that motor offences are subject to the highest fines that they can impose—except smuggling.

If this penalty proposed in the Bill is imposed at all it is not imposed as a means of keeping a man off the road, but as a punishment, and it is equivalent to fining him the value of the car. In that respect I say it is capricious. A car may be worth £30, and a new Rolls-Royce may be worth £3,000. Why should the justices be given a discretion in the matter of punishment as large as that, which does not exist in any other case at all? The other point in which the Bill appears to me to sin against all rules as to punishment is this: that it weighs so much more heavily against the poor man than against the rich man. The rich man may have two cars. The rich young Lord—or not a Lord—may be driving his sports car. When it is forfeited he either buys another, or drives out in his saloon, and relatively speaking the deterrent power is gone. The poor man, however, has lost his car, possibly his sole means of livelihood. He cannot get another car. Therefore I say that the weight of this punishment is all against the poor man and in favour of the rich man, and I should be very sorry to see this House adopt a principle which will be, I am sure, so understood in the country. I think it is most unfortunate that a proposal of that kind should originate in this House, and on that ground alone I would confidently ask the House to reject it.

The noble Lord said that the second clause was one which he supposed did not attract attention, because he said that it was declaratory. It is, I think, the most momentous innovation ever introduced into our penal legislation. I doubt very much the deterrent effect of it. I am not sure whether my grandson, driving my car, might be deterred because his grandfather's car would be forfeited. How about the hired driver? I was very much struck by the case to which Lord Midleton referred, of a servant convicted of manslaughter. Did Lord Midleton propose that this Bill should be enforced

in that case? And why should the owner of a fleet of lorries lose his lorry, worth from £500 to £2,000, because his driver commits an offence on a particular occasion? It seems to me to be so uncertain and so unfair. This Bill offends against the primary principle upon which penal legislation should be introduced, and particularly in this House should there be no infringement of the general principles which have now been observed for so many generations. It is on that serious ground that I suggest to your Lordships that this Bill should be rejected.


My Lords, as far as I am able to understand, the points raised by different speakers in opposition to this Bill are Committee points. I say at once that if this Bill is fortunate enough to obtain a Second Reading, I am quite prepared to accept any Amendment which makes the position of the innocent owner perfectly safe; in fact I am prepared to accept any Amendment practically, as long as the principle of forfeiture is maintained, and I stick to that. It has been suggested that this Bill should be read a second time and sent to a Select Committee. I have not the smallest objection. I am quite willing that it should go to a Select Committee on the sole condition that I am not a member of it myself. I think that would probably be the best solution of the difficulty, and I still hope that the House will consent to give the Bill a Second Reading now.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2£?

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 17; Not-Contents, 43.

Halifax, V. (L. President.) Swinton, V. Mendip, L. (V. Clifden.)
Mottistone, L.
Midleton, E. Arnold, L. Newton, L. [Teller.]
Blythswood, L. Palmer, L.
Buckmaster, V. Jessel, L. Rankeillour, L.
FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Lamington, L. Rennell, L.
Hereford, V. Mancroft, L. [Teller.]
Hailsham, V. (L. Chancellor.) Lucan, E. Bridport, V.
Malmesbury, E. Chaplin, V.
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Munster, E. Colville of Culross, V.
Dufferin and Ava, M. Onslow, E. Elibank, V.
Radnor, E. Mersey, V.
Cadogan, E. Wicklow, E. Samuel, V.
Iddesleigh, E.
Leven and Melville, E. Bertie of Thame, V. Atkin, L.
Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Hastings, L. Sandhurst, L. [Teller.]
Maugham, L. Sempill, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), L. [Teller.] Monkswell, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
O'Hagan, L.
Denman, L. Pender, L. Templemore, L.
Doverdale, L. Polwarth, L. Teynham, L.
Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.) Rea, L. Waleran, L.
Gage, L. (V. Gage.) Ritchie of Dundee, L. Wardington, L.
Greville, L. Saltoun, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.