HL Deb 12 May 1948 vol 155 cc817-67

2.53 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is designed to promote the Government scheme for the restoration of private motoring by the grant of a modest ration of petrol to private motorists. Your Lordships will recollect that in a statement made on April 8 the Lord Chancellor explained to the House the general proposals of the Government in this respect. I do not think that it would be your Lordships' wish that I should again go over the whole of that ground in detail. I will merely indicate some of the points, in order to provide a background for consideration of the Bill of which I am moving the Second Reading.

Your Lordships will recollect that the basic petrol ration was removed last autumn owing to the difficulties which had arisen in connection with the balance of payments situation. The course which the Government took in connection with that has been amply justified, in that a saving of over 500,000 tons of petrol has already been effected. Unfortunately, although the production drive has been going ahead, the balance of payments situation does not yet make it possible to restore the basic petrol ration as it previously existed. The Government have felt great sympathy with the difficulties of the private motorist as a result of his being deprived of this basic petrol ration. Indeed, many of us, if not most of us, enjoy our motoring when we can get it. From the very time when the basic ration had to be removed in that way, the Minister of Fuel and Power has been casting abort for a method of restoring private motoring. There was one possible source of supply of petrol which, if it could be tapped, so to speak, would enable some restoration to take place without in any way being a drain on our foreign exchange. As your Lordships are no doubt already aware, that was the black market in petrol. It was obvious that a substantial amount of petrol was going into the black market. There were different estimates as to how much it was. An authoritative estimate, to which I shall refer again in a moment, was that even after the cuts of last autumn the amount going into the black market was at the rate of some 100,000 tons per annum. It is estimated that in 1947, before the cuts, while the basic ration was still in existence, the amount was as much as 160,000 tons—a vary substantial quantity.

The Minister of Fuel and Power estimated that if this black market petrol could be diverted into the tanks of the honest private motorist, and could be supplemented by economies which it was thought might be made, it would be possible to restore a modicum of petrol to the private motorist. The Minister appointed a Committee on the Evasion of Petrol Rationing Control, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Russell Vick, K.C. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to pay tribute to the rapid and industrious way in which that Committee handled their difficult problem, and made their recommendations to the Minister. The substance of the Russell Vick Report has been accepted by the Government and, as the noble and learned Viscount informed the House, it is proposed as from June 1 next to restore an amount of petrol to be private motorist which will enable him to do something like 90 miles per month. Small as that amount may be, I think it is, as your Lordships may agree, a distinct contribution to the general comfort of that important class of road users.

The continuance of the new ration depends upon the effectiveness of the Russell Vick recommendations. If they fail, then undoubtedly private motoring will again be in extreme jeopardy. It will rest largely with the motoring public itself as to whether in fact they are successful. The Russell Vick Committee make it quite clear that they regard as the most important element in this situation, so far as the general body of motorists is concerned, what one might call the moral aspect of it. Unfortunately, black marketeering has come to be regarded by large sections of the public as a venial offence, and nowhere is that more true than in connection with motoring. This impression, unfortunately, has a fairly lengthy history, because motoring offences under the Acts in existence before the Second World War—offences such as failing to light up at the right time, exceeding the speed limit and matters of that kind—have come to be regarded by motorists as rather venial. There has undoubtedly been an extension of this feeling into the field of the black market; and many motorists have been obtaining additional supplies in that way, without feeling any remorse of conscience but, indeed, thinking they were being rather clever in so doing. Unfortunately, that kind of attitude has been encouraged by the less responsible sections of the Press. Even reputable newspapers have suggested that there is something rather useful, so to speak, in challenging the Government's control policy in this regard—and, indeed, the speeches of some public men have rather supported that point of view. It will be seen, therefore, that there is a considerable resistance to be broken down if morale is to be re-established on the sort of basis that is necessary to get rid of this black market. Motorists must understand that if they do not adopt a different attitude in this regard they will bring the whole of this scheme into grave jeopardy. They must understand that for a motorist to go into the black market to increase his supplies in this way is definitely dishonest and, if he is not concerned about dishonesty, that it is not playing the game as regards his fellow motorists, because it will mean that they will not receive their supplies.

The Russell Vick Committee found that the black market is essentially due to the illicit demands of the motoring public; that the supplies of petrol which go into the black market are derived almost entirely from commercial users, to whom, as your Lordships are of course aware, the rationing system never applied. Owing to the essentiality—to use the rather curious word which appears in the Report—of commercial road haulage, petrol has always been allocated to the road haulage interests and not rationed under the ordinary scheme; so that the petrol comes from the commercial users. The Committee found that the main problem in connection with preventing this leakage of petrol from commercial users into the tanks of the private motorist was the inadequacy of the arrangements made for enforcing the rules which exist in order to prevent this and, in addition, the complete inadequacy of the penalties.

The substance of the analysis of the problem is set out in paragraph 46 of the Report at page 15, where the three points which I have just indicated are made. Paragraph 47 goes on to say: It follows that, short of introducing fundamentally different principles of rationing, the broad lines of solution must be

  1. (a) to regain the respect and co-operation of the public in general and of road users in particular;
  2. (b) to deprive the commercial coupons of their value to the motorist;
  3. (c) to simplify enforcement and provide a penalty which fits the crime."
The Government have accepted the main lines of the solution proposed by the Russell Vick Committee, and the recommendations which are contained in paragraph 4 of their Report. The Committee propose that commercial petrol should be coloured and should have chemicals dissolved in it, so that it would be possible to test and discover whether the petrol in use was or was not petrol which had been provided for commercial vehicles. The problem of preventing this coloured or chemically treated petrol finding its way into the tanks of the private motor car has to be dealt with by means of an enforcement system, buttressed by substantial penalties, and the Committee recommended that very stringent penalties should be enacted to enable this scheme to be carried through effectively.

They set out their recommendations in regard to these penalties in paragraph 49 of their Report. By and large they found that the only really effective penalty for the offending motorist is deprivation of petrol and of the use of the road. The Government agree with that view of the situation, and it is because its implementation requires the establishment of new offences that the Bill which is before your Lordships' House this afternoon has been introduced. The arrangements for enforcement in the Bill are found at the beginning and, if your Lordships will turn to it, I will endeavour to deal with some of the more important points. Your Lordships will see that in Clauses 1, 2 and 3 a series of new offences are established, or are proposed, and they fall into three main groups, In Clause 1 there are the offences by the retailer of motor spirit, the garage proprietor, who will be required to keep his commercial petrol separate from his private petrol by marking his pumps in the prescribed manner with the word "Commercial" or the word "Private"; that is, as it were, a condition precedent to the following provisions. Then, that having been established, it becomes an offence for the retailer of motor spirit to have in any of his pumps the wrong sort of petrol. If he is found with private petrol in his commercial pump, or vice versa, that is an offence. Again, if he supplies commercial petrol into the tank of a private vehicle, that is an offence. Those are the two main offences—the one having the wrong petrol in the pump, and the other supplying it into the tank of the wrong type of motor vehicle. Of course, in the litter regard it is one-way petrol, because it is only commercial petrol which will get into the tank of the private car.

So far as the private motorist is concerned, there are two offences. They are established in Clause 2, and correspond with those to which I have already drawn your Lordships' attention. The one is having commercial petrol in the tank, and the other is acquiring commercial petrol in order to put it into the tank. In Clause 3, there are established what might be called consequential offences, aimed for example at covering an offence by a third party—the man who puts the wrong petrol into the pump; or the garage hand, perhaps, who puts the wrong petrol from the pump into the tank of the motor vehicle; or the very serious offence of tampering with the petrol in order to remove the colouring and to pass off as private spirit what was issued as commercial spirit. Those are the sort of consequential offences which are established in Clause 3. Your Lordships will therefore see that there are these three new heads of offences. You will appreciate—and considerable play has been made in regard to this matter—that the mere discovery of the wrong petrol in the tank of the motor vehicle, or in the pump of the garage proprietor, is prima facie an offence, and it is important that the man who is accused of such an offence should have the means of defending himself.

Your Lordships will see that under both heads, in Clause 1 and. Clause 2, it is a defence for the person concerned to show that the petrol got into the pump or into the tank, as the case may be, without his consent or connivance. In the case of the retailer, he also has to show that he did not know that it was in the pump, and that he exercised "all reasonable diligence," having regard to all the circumstances, to prevent the petrol being there. In the case of the private motorist, the defence is on the same sort of lines, though it is not quite so stringent. He has to show that the petrol did not get into the tank with his consent or connivance: that he did not afterwards discover that the petrol was commercial petrol or had no reasonably convenient opportunity after such discovery of removing the petrol from the tank; and that he did not neglect to take any step which in the circumstances he might reasonably have been expected to take to prevent the petrol being in the tank. If he can satisfy the court on those heads he will have successfully defended himself against the charge.

The penalties, which are undoubtedly severe, were perhaps the most important element in the Russell Vick recommendations. Certain penalties are laid down in Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill, and they consist substantially in disqualification provisions, disqualification being the only effective way, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, of implementing the policy by which a man who has broken the law is to be kept off the road. These disqualification provisions are automatic; they must be applied on conviction by the court. Let me refer first to the case of the guilty retailer: the disqualification there is in respect of retailing petrol at the premises where the offence occurred during the succeeding twelve months. In other words, the person concerned will not be allowed to carry on his business as a petrol retailer at those premises during the next twelve months. In the case of a more serious type of offence, such as tampering with the colour of the commercial petrol or with the chemicals which have been put into it, the disqualification is more complete, because it not only applies to the premises at which the offence was committed, but also disqualifies him from carrying on the business of petrol distribution anywhere.

The private motorist is dealt with in Clause 5. On conviction he is disqualified, in the first place, from driving for a period of twelve months, and in addition to that there is a new provision for disqualification of the car. This latter is a new type of sanction. The disqualification will go with the car, even if it passes into the hands of another person; and it will persist for the twelve months' period. In a sense it is, if one may use such a comparison, rather like a maritime lien—it clings to the ship.


You can hardly say that it runs with the car.


The disqualification clings to the car during the period in question, but, of course, the position which will arise between the commission of the offence and the hearing of the charge by the court has to be considered. Obviously, during that time, the man who is guilty and who knows that he is guilty, and who feels that he is almost certain to be convicted, is likely to dispose of the car. In order to deal with that situation, the court which eventually hears the case, on finding that the car has been disposed of in that way, will impose a forfeit to the amount of half the value of the car. That will be a very considerable sanction against a man disposing of a car in that way. If he does so he will have to pay half the value of the car when he is convicted.

Clearly, again, it is essential that he should be prevented from using the car during the period, and if the disqualification is to attach to the car, notwithstanding the fact that it comes into the hands of a new owner, then obviously it is necessary that steps should be taken to enable the man who is proposing to purchase the car to discover whether it is subject to such disqualification. It is therefore provided that the court which imposes the sanction shall see that the road book is handed into court and is suitably endorsed in such a way that it will be impossible for the new purchaser to be oblivious of the imposition of a sentence of this kind. The man who is convicted will have to give up his licence and produce his road book to the court in order that it may be endorsed in that way.

Finally, I would remind your Lordships that the use of a car while disqualified is an offence under Section 13 of the Roads Act of 1920, which, I think, establishes a triple penalty in cases where motor vehicles are being used without a proper road licence. Those are the main disqualifications contained in these clauses of the Bill. In addition, there are penalties of the more usual kind provided in Clause 6, which your Lordships will see divides offences under the Bill into two main types. There is what I might perhaps call the rather less serious type of offences—though they are serious enough—which are dealt with in Clauses 1 and 2, such as, having wrong petrol in a pump or a tank. Offences such as tampering with the colouring or the chemicals in petrol, or being convicted on a second occasion, and matters of that kind, are classed as more serious offences. The first type of offence is subject to a penalty of a fine up to £500 or three months' imprisonment. The more serious type of offence, while it may be dealt with on those lines, may also be dealt with by indictment, in which case the amount of the fine may be up to £1,000 and the period of imprisonment may be up to two years.

I ought perhaps to draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that in the case of limited companies and bodies corporate, which are dealt with in subsections (3) and (4) of Clause 6, a particularly onerous situation is brought into existence. It is clearly essential to have a very watertight system in respect of a body corporate, and so it is provided that: If the person convicted on indictment of any offence under this Act is a body corporate, the amount of the fine that may be imposed on that body corporate in respect of the offence shall not be limited …. It is not limited to £1,000. Under the next subsection, where there is an offence, directors and officers will be under a pretty substantial obligation. In order to defend himself such a person has to show: that the offence was committed without his consent or connivance and that he exercised an such diligence to prevent the commission of the offence as he ought to have exercised having regard to the nature of his functions in that capacity and to all the circumstances. So they are put in much the same position as retailers in connection with their defence under Clause 1.

The remaining clauses deal with a number of miscellaneous matters, such as the institution of proceedings, the necessary power of entry and taking samples, which the police must have, and the provision of regulations. There are a number of rather difficult points, such as the definition of private car, which will have to be dealt with by regulation, and the Bill gives power to the Minister to make regulations. How important and how difficult this may be is indicated by the discussion in another place on the position of a car carrying plates which can be used both for private and for commercial vehicles when changing hands—trade plates, as they are called. In answer to a question, the learned Attorney-General said that it would be sufficient, where a car was carrying trade plates, whether it was private or commercial, that it should contain commercial spirit in its tank. The Ministry wish it to be made clear that that is not quite so. If a car carrying trade plates is a private car, then it must contain private petrol; if a commercial car carries trade plates, it must contain commercial petrol.

There are a number of differences between the scheme set out in the Bill and the proposals made by the Russell Vick Committee. I need not go into these in any detail. The Committee did not propose that there should be this defence for garage proprietors, and in that respect I think your Lordships will agree that the rather more liberal attitude taken in the Bill is an improvement. The Committee recommended that no further petrol should be issued for a vehicle in respect of the driving of which an offence had been committed. The approach of the Bill here is rather different, but substantially it comes to the same thing. The Committee did not deal with the disposal of a car before conviction, and I think your Lordships will agree that this was perhaps a loophole. They recommended that the driver of a vehicle should keep a record sheet. That recommendation is more of an administrative question than a matter to be incorporated in the Bill. The Minister will discuss that with his advisory committee, and it may well be that the matter will be dealt with in regulations.

One problem which has given rise to a good deal of discussion is the single-pump garage, which obviously presents a difficulty, especially in isolated rural districts. If the Bill did not apply to single-pump garage, there would be a large gap through which a coach and pair—or rather, in this case, a Rolls Royce car—could be driven. A special permit is therefore to be issued to the proprietor of a single-pump garage enabling him to provide private petrol for commercial vehicles. In that way I think the difficulty can almost certainly be surmounted.

It only remains for me to try to deal with some of the more important criticisms which have been advanced against the Bill. It has been argued that the penalties should not be automatic. The Russell Vick Committee considered that they ought to be automatic. Of course, that is not an overwhelming argument, but it is important that this Committee, which gave so much careful consideration to the matter, felt that automatic disqualifications are advisable. Your Lordships will agree that it is important that a uniform policy should be followed in all the courts in regard to infractions of this important law. We all know that some magistrates take a more generous view than others, and if the courts in some parts of the country are more lenient than in other parts, it will lead to consider able heart-searching and difficulty. It seems advisable that these disqualifications should be automatic. Of course, the fine or imprisonment is always at the discretion of the Court.

There is the question of the onus of proof which is put on the defendant. It has been said, by a number of lawyers in particular, that that is a reversal of the ordinary course of English law, in which the onus of proof is on the prosecution. That is the ordinary rule in English law; but it has been English law for a very long time that in certain types of offence, where the offence is peculiarly in the knowledge of the defendant, the onus of proof is shifted on to him. Certainly for a hundred years it has been the rule that, where a man has been found in possession of goods which have been recently stolen, it is his duty to show that he came by them honestly. If he gives reasonable evidence that he received them honestly, then he discharges that burden of proof. I am sure that your Lordships, after thinking about this matter, will agree that there is no alternative. Suppose, for instance, that a policeman takes samples in the car park of a cinema and finds coloured petrol in a private car. If the burden of showing that that petrol was dishonestly obtained was on the policeman, surely there is no way of discharging the burden of proof, because clearly the policeman could not tell where the motorist got the petrol. Your Lordships will agree that it is only sensible and reasonable that the motorist should explain where the petrol came from; and if he can do that, obviously a court will find him not guilty of an offence. The shifting of the onus of proof is not peculiar to receiving; it applies also to cases where a person is found by night with implements of housebreaking in his possession, and where explosives are found in a man's house. Even under the Companies Act, which was before your Lordships' House not long ago, there is a number of instances where the burden of proof is put on the man who is particularly qualified to give evidence on how a certain state of affairs arose. In these circumstances, I think your Lordships will agree that there is here no infraction of the general principle of English law in regard to the onus of proof.

The disqualification of the vehicle has been criticised. It has been suggested, for example, that where a man dies and leaves a widow, it is very unfair that the widow, who is quite innocent, should be deprived of the use of the car for twelve months. This criticism, frankly, is one which appeals to me more than any of the others. It is possible that there may be hard cases, and in another place the Attorney-General gave an undertaking that he would consider the possibility of enabling an application to be made to the court for the removal of the disqualification, say at the end of six months. We hope it may be possible to do something on those lines, which would obviously reduce the burden of criticism which has been made.


Do you mean by amendment here?


Yes, by amendment here.


The Attorney-General is not in the House of Lords.


The Attorney-General gave an undertaking that the Minister would consider this problem.


Does that mean by amendment before the Bill leaves us, and not by regulation?


Yes, by amendment of the Bill. I am not in a position to give a definite promise to your Lordships in that respect this afternoon, or I would be very glad to do so.

The final criticism which has been made is that disqualification of the vehicle deprives a man for a period of twelve months of his occupation, may be as a driver of a car, or as the owner of a garage. Undoubtedly that is so. But this is a serious matter with which we are dealing, and if a man deliberately commits an offence of this kind I am sure your Lordships will agree that he ought to be dealt with severely. It does not prevent him from selling his garage, of course, if he is a garage owner. He may do that and go into some other walk of life, or possibly obtain a garage elsewhere, because if his offence is an offence under the first clause of the Bill he is disqualified only in respect of the particular garage. We do not pretend for a moment that the penalties in the Bill are not substantial penalties. This is a very serious situation which is being dealt with, and it can be dealt with only by substantial penalties. With the aid of this enforcement, and with these penalties, the Government have every hope that they will be able to crush out this black market. With the assistance of the general motoring public—which assistance they are so eminently qualified to give—we hope it will be possible to administer the petrol placed at the disposal of the private motorist over the next months in such a way as to make this scheme a success, and we hope it may not be necessary to have recourse to the grave penal provisions of the Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Chorley.)

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, whatever view may be taken in different quarters of the House about this Bill, there is one thing upon which I think we can all agree—namely, that it is a very odd Bill. I do not think the oldest or the most learned member of this House has ever seen anything quite like it. I am sure even the most hard-hearted of your Lordships could not withhold a meed of sympathy from the noble Lord as he picked his way delicately, if somewhat nervously, through this minefield of pains and penalties. He said, in effect, that this is a now rule of law. Well, it is. I can think of only one parallel, not drawn from a jurist but from a poet. The noble Lord will possibly remember the passage from Browning, where he says, if I remember rightly: There's a great text in Galatians, Once you trip on it, entails Twenty-nine distinct damnations, One sure, if another fails. That might be a good introduction to this Bill.

Why must we have this Bill? No one has the least sympathy with the black market, though the Government must take their share of blame for its creation—I do not mean by criminal intent, but by what is nearly as bad, mismanagement and negligence. We have this Bill as the price of an exiguous, unfairly distributed basic ration. I say it is an exiguous ration, and nobody can pretend that it is anything but a very small one. We have the Bill largely because of the muddle and neglect of the Government in handling the petrol situation. We have it as a result of the Government allowing sterling petrol to go in almost unlimited quantities to soft currency areas, where the rationing, if it exists at all, is a great deal more liberal than the 80 or 90 miles a month, or whatever it is, that some of us are to have here. We have it also because little progress is being made with refineries, and little foresight has been shown in the provision of tankers. The noble Lord mentioned that the great production programme for petroleum was getting under way. I am interested to hear that remark. As that subject has been introduced, perhaps the noble Lord who will reply on behalf of the Government will supply us with a little more definite information in regard to that matter. I understood that, owing to shortage of steel (that very odd shortage which seems to become greater as the output of steel goes up month after month) work on carrying out the great plans for the refineries had not started at all; that although the Shell Company, I think, raised £30,000,000 or more the other day, no start had been made. The noble Lord said that, in spite of the great progress in the production plans, we must still have this Bill. I would like to know what that progress is.

The ration, in addition to being exiguous, is unfair, and I do not believe that anybody on either side of the House will dispute that statement. I say it is unfair because those of us who have been given, a special allocation for proved needs are to get no benefit at all. As so often happens with this Government, people who have managed to get round the rules get away with it and receive a premium, and those of us who try to play the game are penalised. I am quite certain that all your Lordships when putting in applications for a petrol ration have been absolutely sincere and have cut down on what you previously had in order to meet the appeal. That not only applies to your Lordships; I believe it applies to the bulk of the people in this country, because, for all these pains and penalties, the bulk of the people are honest and want to play the game. Yet every one who has been given a ration because of proved need is to be penalised as a consequence of this Bill, and will receive no extra petrol to take his wife and family out on a summer evening. It is not even one law for the rich and another for the poor, which I know is one of the new rules of law. This Bill tits the rich and the poor equally.

We shall have to deal in Committee much more closely with some of the very odd provisions of this Bill and, what is even more important, to elucidate what the provisions in the Bill mean. I believe that everybody would be ready to put out of business and to put off the road the real offenders. What worries me about this Bill are two things. The first is that you are treating almost equally drastically the man who plans and carries out a racket, and the absent owner (who may be completely guiltless) unless he proves a whole series of negatives. I always understood that that was the hardest thing to do and was the thing, therefore, that wise lawyers and wise draftsmen always try to avoid.

The other point that worries me is that the maximum of inconvenience is being created for the unoffending public—and I am going to come to one or two instances of that. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor is to reply, and I would like to ask for one or two explanations. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill very fairly drew attention to subsection (4) of Clause 6, which imposes drastic penalties on every person who is a director or officer of a body corporate convicted of an offence. I am glad to know that the Government—at least, I understand that this is so—are going to propose in this House an Amendment to make it plain that a nationalised corporation, its officers and directors, or whatever they are called, will be treated in exactly the same way as any other public company. That is obviously right and necessary, but I would like to ask the Lord Chancellor this question: What is the diligence which a director of a company, nationalised or free, has to exercise in order to avoid these enormous and automatic penalties? He is deemed to be guilty of that offence unless he proves that the offence was committed without his consent or connivance and that he exercised all such diligence to prevent the commission of the offence as he ought to have exercised having regard to the nature of his functions in that capacity and to all the circumstances. Let me take one of the national enterprises, the Transport Commission, who are now, I suppose, by far the largest owners of vehicles in this country. They must have tens of thousands of vehicles. If one of the drivers of those vehicles commits an offence, every member of the Transport Commission will be liable unless he proves those negatives. I thought those gentlemen had a good deal to do, but if whenever one of their employees has committed an indiscretion or taken part in a private racket anywhere from Land's End to John o'Groats, the whole Board—Sir Cyril Hurcomb and all his other band of knights—have to attend any police court where that individual is being prosecuted, they will have even more to do than I thought. I am in favour of prosecuting the guilty party, but one ought to have some sense of proportion in these matters. If it is necessary to do that—and it has never been done before in this kind of case—I ask the Lord Chancellor how Sir Cyril Hurcomb and his colleagues can prove, not only that they did not know about it (which is, of course, what every director would say, and in 999 cases out of every 1,000 in perfect truth, because he would not know what was being done by someone at the other end of the country) but also that they have exercised all such diligence to prevent the commission of the offence in all the circumstances?

The noble Lord who introduced the Bill said, in effect, "Of course we have to lay down these penalties and give no discretion to magistrates, because you could not trust the magistrates to give the right kind of penalty, and it must be equal all round." But surely the magistrates have to exercise a discretion in this, and have to make up their minds as to what, in all the circumstances, is the particular discretion a particular individual ought to have exercised. We ought to know all about this and where we stand, because it is a serious matter to impose these penalties without making it quite clear what the offence is. I should have thought that that was an elementary rule of law.

I now come to the more modest persons, like myself. What has the owner of a private car to prove, if he has lent his car to a friend? The first thing, I suppose, is that he does not know anything about it; but that is not enough. The noble Lord spoke, in introducing the Bill, as if that were enough. If your Lordships look at Clause 2 the man has to prove three sets of things. The only thing he can say, presumably, is: "I really know nothing about this"; but that is not enough- If your Lordships look at Clause 2 (1) (a), (b) and (c), you will see that he has to prove three things, which seems to me to be very hard. These are the kind of things—and I have no doubt there are many others—which will have to be considered in Committee; and, fortunately, as the Lord Chancellor said yesterday, there is in this House a unique and unbiased legal talent which can be brought to bear.

May I now turn for one moment to Clause 5, which of all the odd clauses seems to me perhaps the oddest? This is the clause which says that if a man commits an offence, not only is he to be put off the road—which is quite right—fined, and all the rest of it, but that his motor car has to be attainted. The motor car has not committed an offence. Why on earth should the motor car be attainted—and for a year? I think in this matter there is some slight glimmering of sympathy from the Government, because I am sure—although it was more than the noble Lord's place was worth to give a promise, to use his own expression—he hoped that by the time we re-assembled he might be in a position to propose to us some modification of this proposal. What is the sense in saying that the motor car has to suffer this ban and penalty? The noble Lord said that the object was to deny the road to the offending person. Nobody objects to that. But why should you deny the road to the unoffending motor car, in the hands of some perfectly honest person? All your Lordships know that to-day, thanks to the export drive—and it is very necessary that we should have that export drive—it is almost impossible to buy a motor car. People in this House and outside are told they will have to wait four or five years before they can get a chance to buy a motor car, unless they give some tremendous price for a second-hand car, which may fall to pieces. I should have thought, with that shortage of cars, that the sensible thing was to say that although the offending motorist shall not drive the car for a year, the motor car may be sold and some decent person who is looking for a car may drive it.

Take the case of a much more serious offence, that of manslaughter by a motorist who is drunk when driving a car. He is, very properly, sent to prison; but the car is not sent to prison with him. I suggest that we might do something about this. I am not making an appeal in the interests of the criminal; I am making these appeals in the interests of the great bulk of the non-offending public. Take the case of the farmer or the commercial traveller, for instance, who uses his car for a dual purpose. In future, he is to be allowed, to the extent of 80 or 90 miles a month, to take his family out for a few treats. The farmer, perhaps, uses the trailer behind his car six days a week for conveying pigs or other livestock; and on the seventh day, after he has been to church or chapel, he takes his wife in the car and perhaps some of his family, if it is a large one, in the trailer. Similarly, of course, the commercial traveller, uses his car for both business and private purposes. What kind of petrol are these men to get—red or white? There is undoubtedly much misunderstanding about this.


Red petrol will be issued to every vehicle licensed as a goods vehicle for the carrying of goods. That is different from a private motor car which is used for business or commercial purposes.


I thought I understood—until the noble Lord added his last few remarks to his statement. I really do not know how we are to adjust this difficulty. The farmer's or commercial traveller's car is surely licensed as a commercial vehicle.




Well, I really do not know how it will operate. There is surely a distinction between going on a joy-ride and going on what might be called one's lawful occasions. As I understand it, to-day we may go only on our lawful occasions; after June 1 we shall be able to go for 90 miles on a joy-ride. If a man is using his car for both purposes, business and pleasure, how can anybody decide whether the whole of his time is spent on pleasure or on business?

Now I come to what puzzles me still more, and that is the single-pump garage. I am perfectly certain that whoever drafted this Bill does not get to the country very often, or at any rate does not know how the countryman lives. Suppose there is only one pump in a village: is it to be a red pump or a white pump? And if you cannot buy the kind of petrol you want, presumably you will have to go somewhere else, where there is a pump of the right colour. That is going to be extremely inconvenient. Those of us who will be lucky enough to have this basic ration to go 80 or 90 miles will not want to go twenty miles out of our way in order to get the right-coloured petrol. I hope we shall have this point made clear in the Bill. If we have to wait for regulations, we may have to wait more than nine months. I hope we shall be given a little clearer information about this single pump. So far as I can see, if it contains the kind of petrol which I am not allowed to use, either I must fill up with the kind of petrol which renders me liable to imprisonment and the loss of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has left me of my modest fortune, or I shall have to go twenty or thirty miles to find a pump of the colour corresponding, not to my political badge, but to my classification. It is a most extraordinary business.

Then I come to another point. If the owner of a pump commits one of these offences he goes out of business, and the pump shuts down. It is quite true that someone else may come along and buy that pump, though he may not buy the car. That seems to me an extremely odd arrangement. No innocent person may buy the car, but he may buy the pump—although the car and the pump have been equally guilty. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who is as just as he is ingenious, will perhaps explain to us when he replies why the pump is saleable and the car is not. But there are not people waiting round the corner to buy pumps; at least, not to buy pumps for a year or for less than a year. Incidentally, I was shocked by one of the noble Lord's explanations in connection with penalties. He said that although a man convicted of a pump offence may not operate that pump again for a year, he may go next door and acquire another pump. Such a man might go on committing a series of pump offences. He might roll down from pump to pump, and enjoy what might be called a revolving credit. I have heard of pub crawling: we look like having another peripatetic exercise, pump crawling, in the future.

Suppose that you put such pumps out of action in a country district. I am sure that I need not explain to your Lordships—although apparently this was not quite so clear to the Members of another place—what would happen. There are a great many country districts in England, Scotland and Wales where this may be more serious. There are quite a number of places with only one pump. If a particular man commits an offence, the pump is shut unless somebody else comes to take it over. I am not complaining of putting that particular man out of business, as a suitable penalty for his offence; I am thinking about all the innocent people in the country districts who can obtain their petrol only from that one pump, unless they go miles to some other place. In the public interest, that is a very wrong state of affairs. Surely, in these exceptional cases where there is a single pump, there ought to be a discretion permitting an alternative penalty. In the one-pump case, instead of automatically putting that man out of business and thus causing, possibly, tremendous inconvenience to all the people in that neighbourhood, we should be able, when we deal with this in Committee, to provide for an alternative penalty: for instance, fining the man twice as much, but allowing him to carry on in business, if that is in the public interest.

There are many such examples I could quote, but I have cited only some, and they show how fantastic this Bill is. But not only is it fantastic; it looks as if it will do a tremendous amount of harm if we leave it as it is. It will create a maximum of inconvenience at a time when we are all sufficiently inconvenienced. It seems to proceed on the assumption that the only things possible are control, control and more control, and the more passive resistance which comes when people do not regard control as necessary. One of the dangers of excessive control is that it brings all control into disrepute. Everybody knows how in the United States, when nine people out of ten thought that Prohibition was utterly wrong, it was entirely disregarded. The United States, great country though it is, has never recovered from the shock to general morality that Prohibition brought about.

If we go on at this rate, assuming everybody to be a criminal, making controls more complicated and making offences all the time more complicated to meet the more complicated controls, we shall not only cause the maximum of inconvenience to the people of this country but we shall be going counter to the spirit and the good sense of a very law-abiding country—in fact, the most law-abiding country in the whole world. We are a law abiding country because we believe our laws are just, and we have an enormous respect for our Judiciary. We may now be bringing law into disrepute, and I hope that we can simplify this. No one has the least sympathy with the racketeer. I am all out to suppress black markets and to suppress racketeers, but is all this really necessary? May the indirect result not be worse than what we are trying to stop? It has been said: Woe unto the world because of offences. But that condemnation goes on to condemn him by whom the offence cometh. I am bound to say that, by what they have done and by what they have left undone in this petrol muddle, and by this extraordinary Bill, the Government cannot escape their share of condemnation.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, I think I might perhaps clear up one point as regards the use of commercial vehicles, by reference to a semi-official document which I have here. The present practice, which does not appear to be generally appreciated, is that petrol coupons for goods vehicles are issued by the Minister of Transport and not by the Minister of Fuel and Power. If this procedure is followed, part of the difficulty will disappear; in fact I think that a great deal of the difficulty will disappear if this is understood. I must say that I listened to the debate on this Bill in Committee in another place, and the more I listened the more puzzled I became and the more I admired the gallant fight put up by a Back Bencher on the Government side in favour of the most radical alteration of the Bill. Instructions were apparently issued to the effect that if the Bill was not passed and did not come to this House within a certain time, nobody would receive his small ration of petrol for his summer holiday this year. One person who appears not to be receiving it is the strictly honest user of three to five supplementary coupons. I pray your Lordships to right that intolerable injustice. The man who has filled in his application with deadly honesty has done all he can to save petrol, but he will not enjoy a single mile of private motoring during this holiday season.

The second point, which I think has already been sufficiently mentioned, both here and in another place, is, of course, the onus of proof. This House surely cannot accept that the onus of proof should be placed on the motorist. Frankly, I cannot believe that if any member of your Lordships' House were stopped and had his tank examined, and it were found that pink petrol was inside it, he would dream of giving away the person who supplied it. The majority of people never see petrol enter their tanks at all. The majority of people put their car into a public garage—if they are lucky enough to find one. Private garages are seldom used. Public garages served us during the blitz, through good times and tad times. When we hand in our coupons we say, "please have my tank filed up for Monday morning." I am perfectly certain that if we were asked to do so, none of us would consider exposing the name of the garage that supplied the petrol. I cannot tolerate this practice of being asked to snoop on other people, and I do not believe that the public, as a whole, are going to give away, possibly a relation to whom they have lent the car or the garage which has, in all innocence, supplied the petrol. Possibly a practical joker has put something into the tank after a late party. Those two points should be seriously considered, even at the risk of delaying the Bill. The real sufferer is the man holding three to five supplementary coupons, who will get no pleasure motoring at all this year.

There are two or three more technical points which I should like to mention. Possibly the answer to them may be available to-day. The first is in regard to a car which we are endeavouring to popularise for the export trade in this country, and which has already been popularised in the United States, the newest model there being known as the "Town and Country." In England it is called the "utility van" or the "station wagon" and there are one or two other trade names. Could we be told to-day what coloured petrol is going into that type of vehicle? It is certainly a dual purpose car, and is recognised as such. It is commercial in the sense that it is not allowed to travel beyond thirty miles an hour; it is non-commercial in the sense that three extra seats can be put down and it can be used as a pleasure vehicle, or what is known as a shooting-brake or station wagon. There is no ruling whatsoever in the Bill about that particular vehicle, which is becoming more and more popular and is progressively helping our export trade. The second point on which, so far as I can see, there is no ruling at all, and in regard to which a ruling is even more essential, is what might be called the "manufacturers' pump." The tank of every motor vehicle which is dual purpose, with one engine—that is, the utility van or the ten, fifteen or twenty horse power motor car—is filled with petrol as the vehicle comes off the production lines. Will that petrol be commercial petrol, or will it be private? No regard at all seems to be taken of those questions in relation to cars which are being produced in hundreds.

My third point is this. I noticed from the Attorney-General's remarks in another place that he still seems to think we pay 1s. 2d. tax on petrol. We do not; we are paying 9d. tax. As was so ably asked by Mr. Schwartz in the Sunday Times, what is to prevent petrol rationing taking its place in taxation? Every man pays, if he likes, a certain amount of indirect taxation. A man may prefer motoring to greyhound racing or the theatre or to going overseas. Why cannot he purchase his coupons, thereby paying an additional tax? There are certain people who prefer motoring to other forms of pleasure.

I would like to support as strongly as I can what the noble Viscount has said about the responsibility for propaganda in the saving of petrol when rationing first came before your Lordships' House. A few of us knew about the facts, and a few of us asked questions. If we are told it was not so much the dollar position but the actual shortage of petrol which made rationing necessary, I do not believe that the black market could have been so effective. Many of us knew that the price of crude oil was rising; the majority of us knew of the shortage of tankers and of the statistics of consumption in the United States, which was certainly underestimated; but the British public, as a whole, did not know. I believe that if that point had been put more forcibly before the British public, the black market would have been discouraged to a great extent. There is no better fellow than the British transport driver and if he had appreciated that we had to save petrol, and if some help in that saving had been given us by the Government and their officials, I believe that the black market would not have reached the tremendous proportions it now has reached.

I have been away for three or four months and I have come back alarmed at the encouragement in the use of petrol which seems to be given by the Government and various Departments. There are the men in motor cars who call on you in the country and ask whether you or your elderly relatives will help by filling in the month's ration cards; or they offer to slaughter rooks or advise you as to the patch of chalk land to plough up. Then we were told that the parking of cars was to be simplified. I think that after one day's experience your Lordships would find that that is not so. Four months ago a man engaged on legitimate business could park his car in Finsbury Circus. Now 25 per cent. of Finsbury Circus is an open space reserved entirely for the use of the Taxi-drivers' Association. No taxi has been seen in Finsbury Circus since 1938. The City Police Commissioner has done all he can, but there is still a parking space for only fifty cars. During the last three months your Lordships have not been able to park your car outside Westminster Abbey; and you are moved away if you go to Church House. If your residence faces on to one of the Royal Parks you are not allowed to park a car outside, even in daylight and in the luncheon interval, unless it is accompanied or unless the car is one belonging to the Board of Trade.

If the parking in this and other great cities were organised as promised, by the proper use of blitzed sites, petrol consumption in this city alone could, I believe, be decreased by 5 to 10 per cent. We all know that it is the starting and stopping, the changing gear and going round to parking places which wastes a good deal of petrol. Finally, I beg the Government to give this very unfair Bill further thought, and to yield to the pleas of the members of their own Party both here and in another place. I beg them also to make of this Bill a more national effort to save petrol and not to bully the man who is only too willing to help his country.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot pretend that this Bill excites within me the slightest enthusiasm. I deplore the reasons which have prompted its introduction. I must confess that I find it difficult to escape the conclusion that wiser administration would have made it unnecessary for the Bill ever to have been brought before your Lordships' House. But while the basic source of the black market is perpetuated, this Bill is necessary. This Bill does nothing whatsoever to eradicate the source of the black market, and I would address myself to the problem of eradicating the cause, rather than to building up a structure which, without the use of extravagant language, must result in British justice not receiving the respect which we desire that it should receive.

This Bill is based upon the recommendations of the Russell Vick Committee. So far as your Lordships' House is concerned, it was never necessary to have a Russell Vick Committee to tell your Lordships the facts. In the debate on November 5 of last year, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the facts of the position were put before your Lordships' House by people who were fortunate enough to find themselves in the position of knowing the facts. May I ask your Lordships' indulgence while I repeat, from the OFFICIAL REPORT, what I said upon that occasion: Comment has been made upon, and great publicity given to, the black market. I am not going to waste your Lordships' time by saying whether in my opinion it has been exaggerated or not; but I am satisfied that it is substantially of such a figure as to be alarming, and I would invite your Lordships to consider where it comes from. Bear in mind that, unlike a lot of other rationed commodities seeping into a black market, not one gallon of petrol leaves the distributing company without the surrender of a coupon, so if there is a black market in either coupons or petrol, it is proof that there is an over-generous allocation of coupons to users. And the amount of that black market is the measure of the surplus which is given to users over and above their requirements. The Russell Vick Committee found out nothing different from that. They merely dotted the i's and crossed the t's and gave some figures.

I would like to quote those figures to your Lordships' House, because they are the basis of my contention that, with wiser administration, this Bill would never have been necessary. In 1947, the period covered by this Report, 118,000,000 gallons of petrol (or coupons equivalent to 118,000,000 gallons) more than the total consumption, including the black market, were issued. Some 165,000,000 gallons (or 550,000 tons) more than was used in legitimate consumption were issued. The black market could, therefore, have had 148,000,000 gallons. That was the potential black market, offered to anyone who wished to exploit it, by the number of coupons issued over the requirements. Instead, the Russell Vick Committee state that their estimate of the black market was 47,000,000 gallons. I think we were fortunate that the black market was not more than that, when its total potential could have been 148,000,000 gallons. The Report states that only 17,000,000 gallons were returned as surplus to the users' requirements, and that brings the figure that could have been sold in the black market to about 148,000,000 gallons. There is not a sprit-up as to how these coupons were issued as between the various types of users. It would have been an impossibility for the Russell Vick Committee to find out, with regard to the 165,000,000 gallons issued surplus to requirement, how many were issued surplus to commercial users and how many to private motorists. But there were 17,000,000 gallons returned, and it would have been possible to say where they came from.

But the Committee came to the very definite conclusion, which some members of your Lordships' House reached in November last, that by far the main source of leakage into the black market was the over-generous allowance to commercial users. It is safe to assume that approximately 165,000,000 gallons was about the amount issued to commercial users of this country, over and above what they could reasonably require and reasonably use. That makes it difficult for me to appreciate the statement made in paragraph 36 of the Russell Vick Committee's Report which says: For the reasons already noted earlier, namely, the importance of ensuring that essential services are not seriously hampered by shortage of petrol, coupled with the impossibility of assessing precise requirements in advance, it seems to us that over-issues of coupons to these users … cannot be prevented. I find it difficult to accept that statement when, on their own showing in this Report, of the 583,000,000 gallons of petrol, or 42 per cent. of the total usage of this country, that goes to commercial users, you cannot estimate potential usage more accurately than with a margin of error of over 25 per cent. As a commercial man with some industrial experience, I cannot accept that statement.

I would suggest that it would have been better if, in his wisdom, the Minister, instead of setting up a Committee to find out the leakages into the black market, and how to punish those who made use of it, had set up a committee of commercial experts to overhaul the rationing system, to devise a system that did marry up nearer to commercial practice and to find and devise means to ensure that a black market was not brought into existence. For whatever polite and kind language one uses, it is clear that the noble Viscount opposite must have been right when he said that it was the over-allowance of coupons that brought the black market into existence. I would suggest that it should not be beyond the wit of man to find a better allocation system, a system whereby petrol does not have to be allocated in such an extravagant manner, because, as my noble friend who presented this Bill for the Second Reading has said, the commercial user in this country is not rationed for petrol; he is allocated petrol upon the basis of his own estimation of his requirements. Does not common sense, or at least elementary knowledge of human nature, suggest that if you are asked to estimate your requirements for anything, knowing that you are not going to get all you ask for, you ask for more than you want, realising that you may get a little less than you ask for? That, I suggest, is precisely what is happening.

It is only right for me to say that there is also a source of black market petrol in existence to-day, in spite of the 10 per cent. cut, because of fluctuations of trade. People with practical experience of these matters know that in large parts of this country haulage fleets, or some proportion of them, are lying idle. The amount of petrol issued to those fleets is exactly the same as if full use is made of them. I suggest that if it were possible, even at this late hour, to set up a committee, a committee of, say, three commercial experts would be sufficient. After all there is a precedent, for this Government have set up many committees to find out how controls can be simplified. A committee of astute business brains and, with great respect to noble and learned Lords, not lawyers, might have made the need for the Bill non-existent.

I have another comment to make on the reason why the Russell Vick Committee consider it necessary to have this system of over-allowance. It had "to keep the wheels of industry turning." It is also advisable to keep in good heart and good humour the human individuals, who are just as important in industry as the mechanical wheels. I do not know any section of the community which has had such a raw deal over the last two or three years as the man who has found himself to be the possessor of a piece of individual transport. It must be brought home to those in authority that the whole fabric of this country, our whole social life, has been built around the individual unit of transport over the last thirty years; and when the basic ration was withdrawn, the economic and social life of many rural districts came to a standstill. I would seriously ask the Government to address themselves to the question whether all this huge penal machine is really necessary. I do not wish to go into the arguments that have been raised regarding whether or not dollar saving will accrue in the end. That might be outside even the indulgence which your Lordships usually allow in debates in this House.

On the economic argument, if the scheme is 100 per cent. successful, and we make this mythical dollar saving, will it in the end really result in a net saving? There are sound arguments, which have been argued by some sound brains, that after people have been put to the inconvenience imposed upon them by a measure like this (which I am sure must shake to his foundations a man like the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, who has such a regard for the dignity of the law) it is doubtful whether we shall really save anything in the end. Even the Russell Vick Committee say that one of the prerequisites is "to regain the respect and co-operation of the public in general and road users in particular." I may be mistaken, but I suggest that the imposition of some of the penalties in this Bill is the wrong way to do that. I suggest that the way in which the petrol scheme is being administered to-day is the wrong way to do it. I will give your Lordships one instance to illustrate what I mean. When the basic ration was stopped and a gallonage was allowed for essential purposes, it only required some outcry from the medical profession and all doctors were allowed to use their motor cars for pleasure. The car parks of golf courses were full of doctors' cars. Can you imagine anything more calculated to infuriate the man who was not a doctor and who had to walk or cycle to his sport and pleasure? That is not the way to get the co-operation of the ordinary man in the street. If a great effort were made to eradicate the source of the black market, I think we would be able to find a way of giving everybody an allowance of petrol and letting him use it for the purposes which he thinks best.

Can we afford to police a scheme like this at the present time? I have listened in your Lordships' House to debates on the police force, and heard it strongly argued that one of the reasons why we could not do away with capital punishment was the inadequacy of the police force. How are we going to police a system which—and I do not think I am being guilty of extravagant language—puts on the roads two million potential criminals? I have no sympathy with the black marketeer, but I have every sympathy with the ordinary man who tries to be a law-abiding citizen. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will forgive me if I repeat something I said in the debate to which I referred. According to the dictum of a great man in his profession, justice will hold good in this country only when the rule is that not only must justice be done, but it must always be apparent that justice is being done.

There are one or two points I want to make on the Bill itself. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, dealt with the question of the burden of proof in a most charming and humorous way, to the amusement of us all. I do not think my noble friend, Lord Chorley, was quite right when he cited the Companies Act. The noble Viscount, who had so much to do with that Act, will remember that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, argued about the liability of a director who had gone to Australia. I think I am right in saying that the Companies Act limits a director's liability to this: that he must prove an offence was committed "without his knowledge or consent." That is a very different thing from having to prove that he took all reasonable steps to see that it was not committed. Let us take the case of the widow of the proprietor of a petrol filling station who goes to live in the country. Knowing nothing about business, she forms the concern into a limited liability company, engages two men and leaves them to run it. As soon as an offence is committed she is guilty, under subsection (4) of Clause 6. How is she to take reasonable precautions? If, on the day after the passing of this Bill into law, a board meeting is called and it is laid down that no employee of that firm must dc anything, or cause anything to be done to contravene any section of this Act, and that is put on a notice board, is that taking reasonable precautions? Has she to come up from the country and appear in a police court to say that that is what she did, and that that is what she thought was a reasonable precaution? I do not know. Perhaps at some later stage I shall be told.

I have to support this Bill because it is the only way of stopping a black market that exists. But I suggest to His Majesty's Government, with great respect, that steps should be taken, on the lines I have already indicated, to eradicate the source of the black market, or to bring it down to such infinitesimal proportions that once again the motorists of this country will be able to use their cars for pleasure as well as for business purposes. After all, there is no crime in pleasure, yet. If everyone can be given an allowance of petrol, with freedom to use it for the purpose for which he thinks it most essential, and that if he uses it for pleasure he will have to deny himself the efficiency of his business, this country is likely to be a far happier place than it will be with this unfortunate instrument hanging over our heads.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to welcome this Bill, because it as going to give a little pleasure to a great many people. But I do not find myself in a position to welcome anything that starts its life by accusing a vast section of the people of being potential criminals. I am going to speak, first of all, on a rather different line, about the single pump owner. A garage owner does not get his living from selling petrol; that is a very small part of his income. Let us take the case (I think I am right here) that in fairly remote areas the single pump owner is one in two; and in not-so-remote areas, perhaps, one in four. His Majesty's Government have promised that in remote areas there will be the possibility of a permit to sell red petrol without coupons. What about the not-so-remote areas? Take the man who goes to his pet garage, finds that his single pump now has red petrol in it, and is told to go up the road. He then goes up the road. When he is there the new proprietor says to him: "Can I sell you any oil? Can I sell you a sponge? Can I sell you a leather? Can I sell you some Bluebell? "If he receives good service there, he will go back to that garage for his repairs. The pump owner where he used to go before will lose that business, and it is doubtful whether he will get it back again. That is a great hardship, and I do not see how it is to be overcome.

Next we have this question of onus of proof of innocence. The type of person who is going to commit an offence is the man who is cunning; and he will have a good lawyer in court if he is caught. He will lie very convincingly. He will say: "It all happened when I was in the cinema; I knew nothing about it." And ten to one he will get away with it! The poor, innocent, meek and mild person lives in the country. If he has read this Bill, he will not have understood it; and probably he does not read a newspaper. He goes along and finds he has run out of petrol. He says: "Joe, give me a gallon to get home." Then out from behind the hedge pops the representative of the law, and says: "George, what have you got in your tank?" He says: "I have got some petrol." Then says the policeman: "Ah, it is the wrong colour." George is then pulled up before the local magistrate. He is petrified at being in a police court; he does not know what to say, and stutters and stammers, and immediately a bad impression is created.

Similarly, the police are now empowered to take samples from a motor car. I am intrigued with this. You have a car park—say, Wembley Stadium on Cup Final day, where next year we hope there will be hundreds of private cars. A policeman going round finds a petrol tank is locked. That is not an offence. What does he do? He hangs around and waits for the owner to come back. Perhaps the owner does not come back for a very long time. Is that policeman to be forced to waste his time, wondering whether somebody is going to appear, leap into the car and drive off? Or are we to have the sight of the entire police force rushing round Wembley Stadium looking for these potential criminals, and when they find them, find them with white petrol? Suppose that the officer does find a car where the petrol tank is not locked. He puts in his little syringe and takes out some petrol. Does he put it into three different bottles, seal them up, and put a label on them, keeping one for himself, giving one to the owner and one to somebody else? Or what?

What I am frightened of is the fact that even the arm of the law can err sometimes. He has taken his sample, and he has gone off. Two or three weeks later, or two or three days later—I do not know how long it will be—the police will have to trace the owner of that motor car, presumably through the registration. A little bottle arrives which, it is said, contains petrol "taken from your car on such and such a date." It is conceivable that the label could have fallen off; the police-man could have put on the wrong label; or he could have mixed up his samples. What proof has such a driver, three weeks later, when a little bottle of red petrol arrives? Then he is "for it." He cannot do anything. All he can say is that he does not know anything about it. But he is told that that is not enough. It is rather ridiculous, but apparently it is quite true.

Noble Lords have already said that you can go and kill somebody, or be drunk in charge and knock over a lamp-post, and it can cost you only £100. But if you have half a pint of red petrol in your tank (and the Minister said in another place that a very weak solution was detectable) that half pint can cost you £500. By all means let us stamp out the black market. I notice, however, that many people who voted for these heavy penalties on this Bill, for something which is not so very serious, took great pleasure in voting against the death penalty. If you take away the licence from somebody, that is an excellent idea; it stops him from getting on the road. The motor car, as noble Lords have already said, is a poor unfortunate thing; it has to stay idle. And in the case of somebody selling it between committing the offence and the prosecution, then he has to forfeit half the price. What I would like to know is how the court is going to arrive at the price of that motor car. To-day the price of a second-hand motor car is utterly fictitious. You can take two 1939 Morris motor cars, both delivered in August. One has been carefully looked after and carefully laid up during the war, while the other has covered a great deal of mileage. They are both the same year and month, but there can be a difference in price of £250. Take the case of somebody who might have a new Rolls Royce. That car to-day, if the covenant was off, might fetch £8,000. How is a court to arrive at a car's value.

There is one further point I would like to put. We have heard something about trade plates. As a car manufacturer in a small way, if I deliver a brand new car to London on general trade plates, which are commercial plates, I am told that I can put white petrol in that car. Am I contravening the law by using my commercial plates for so-called private purposes? Have I to use red petrol when I use those trade plates? While we are on the question of trade plates, there is one use being made of them which I would like to point out, and I do not know how the Government could stop it. One sees, during week-ends, a remarkable number of motor cars running round on trade plates. If they are stopped, they say: "We are giving a demonstration run," but everybody knows that probably they have the entire family in the car, and are just out for a spin. I do not say that it is done regularly, but it is done by the type of person who has no works but who has a little second-hand car sales place tucked away somewhere and therefore has his trade plates. He is the person who is largely responsible for this black market, because he is deliberately wasting petrol. I do not know whether something can be done about that, but I feel that that is the type of person who gets the motorist a bad name. After all, the motorist is not a bad fellow, and we all like to have a drive around. I think that if instead of this—what shall I say?—monstrosity of a Bill, the Government had appealed to the British public, as they used to appeal during the war, to play the game, a great deal of this trouble and a great deal of time could have been saved. I should think the black marketeers must be laughing, because never have so few caused so much trouble and wasted so much time of such a distinguished House of Parliament.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, like all your Lordships who have so far spoken—apart from the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill—I dislike it intensely. But there is no doubt that we have to pass this Bill through all its stages, and see that it receives the Royal Assent before the end of the month; otherwise 1,250,000 people will not be able to get on the roads for their holidays. I would like to say here that I find myself entirely in agreement with all that my noble friend Lord Lucas said. I hope the Government will take particular notice of what he said, because I feel that he is approaching the problem from the right angle. If we remove the potentiality of the black market, it will not exist.

I would like now to say a little about what the motoring organisations did in connection with this plan, because judging from reports in the Press and from the speeches in another place that I have read, I feel that they have been misunderstood. The Minister said that he had adopted this plan in consultation with the motoring organisations, or that they had concurred in it. That leads one to think that they are entirely in agreement with the Bill and with the system of rationing. I believe that that is a travesty of the facts. Your Lordships know that the joint secretaries of the standing joint committee of the motoring organisations—in other words, the Royal Automobile Club, the Royal Scottish Automobile Club and the Automobile Association—had audiences and consultations with the Minister. They produced a plan, and they produced figures. Eventually the Minister released his plan. Up to the time of the release of the plan they did rot know that "E" and "S" coupon holders were not to receive an extra private allowance. Although they had given evidence before the Russell Vick Committee, they did not know what were to be the recommendations of the Committee until those recommendations were published. Therefore, I think—and I hope the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will bear me out on this point when he replies—the public in general are misled if they think that the motoring organisations were fully aware of what the plan was or how it was to be operated.

I do not wish to go in detail through all the clauses of the Bill, but with regard to Clause 5 I am reminded of a story of the 1914–18 war. A certain dog in Belgium had been trained by its master to show at a word of command how the Germans were going to leave the country. It went flat down on its tummy and crawled out of the room ventre à terre. The Germans court martialled the dog and put it in prison! That was an animate object. Under Clause 5 we are arresting and putting in prison an inanimate object. I do not know whether that would be considered to be a shining light of British jurisprudence to-day. I have one further word to say in conclusion, and a suggestion to make. I think all your Lordships agree that this Bill is not at all what we desire, but that we have no time in which to go thoroughly into it in order to produce something better. My suggestion is that a clause be inserted at the end of the Bill to limit the time it shall operate to a year, and then let it be re-enacted or a new Bill produced. The advantages would appear to me to be twofold. First, in eight months' time the Minister of Fuel and Power will have a far better knowledge of the future petrol position, not only in the United States but as to whether production from new refineries is taking place. Secondly, we will have seen how the provisions work, and we can make recommendations and have time to think them out. I think that would be a safeguard and a reasonable thing to do, and it would show good faith on the part of all concerned.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to say that I shall not have to detain your Lordships long, because a great deal of what I would have liked to say has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, much better than I could say it, much more forcibly and with greater knowledge, and I am not less grateful to him for that fact than are your Lordships. As it is customary to declare an interest, I am afraid that on similar and parallel reasoning I must declare an offence, because I have learnt from the Attorney-General's speech in another place that for a long time I have been committing an offence against what I think, in some cases, are absurd regulations. As my car has not a secondary tank, I have always kept a tin of petrol in the back in order to get home in an emergency. Until I read his speech I never knew that that was an offence. I think the fact that the Attorney-General differs quite clearly from the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor shows how difficult these questions are.

I want to read three extracts from the Russell Vick Report which will, as it were, lay out my canvas and paint the situation. On page 6 it says: We have learnt of one garage which was prepared to supply petrol to a private motorist against coupons issued to goods vehicles, but of another garage in the same city which refused to do so; of one garage in a country town which refused to buy commercial coupons from lorry drivers under threat of losing their custom although another garage in the same town was apparently prepared to buy them. The Motor Agents' Association have told us that other garages, which tried to hold out against this pressure but finally gave in, have expressed their earnest desire to see the whole business cleaned up throughout the trade. Then again, on page 13, paragraph 34, the Report says: Although much of the information which we have received and reviewed above has necessarily been hearsay, the conclusion is inescapable that the petrol allowances for goods vehicles provide the main source of black market supplies. Then in paragraph 40 it says: … factual evidence on a sufficient scale is lacking, but we have heard no suggestions that the belief is incorrect and we accept it. Here you have a racket, to which there are three parties: there are the commercial drivers, the motor dealers who buy their coupons, and the private motor users who eventually get this petrol.

Clause 1 of the Bill deals very heavily with the pump owners, the middle men in this transaction; Clause 2 deals extremely heavily with the private motor users. But I see in the Bill absolutely no word at all which touches the source of black market petrol or makes it an offence to sell commercial coupons. If the Bill is to be fair, and if this is a racket, it certainly should be the case that the primary party in the transaction should be condemned in the Bill: but the Bill is absolutely silent; it leaves him out. The people who may be innocent and who most likely are innocent are the private motor users. A very heavy burden has been put by this Bill upon the private user, in that he has to account for the whole of his time for the whole twenty-four hours; and he has to be in a position to prove that the wrong petrol did not get into his car at any time with his consent. The same thing applies to the middleman in this transaction. Thousands of citizens are exposed to mischief or malice. A man may get his petrol from a pump marked "Private Motor Spirit" but he does not see the petrol; the nozzle is thrust right into his tank—as a safeguard, of course, against contamination by rain or otherwise. For my own part, it is many years since I last saw the petrol that went into my tank. There may well be a small portion of commercial petrol intermixed, perhaps by an error already reported by the boy in charge of the petrol; but the motorist is none the less liable to prosecution.

I would rather not see this Bill at all and have no petrol, I would rather walk, than see the principle introduced that is being introduced in Clauses 2 and 3. Moreover, the Russell Vick report gives the impression that the traders of this country are in favour of the measure now under discussion. But I can tell your Lordships that a short time ago the Metropolitan Division of the Motor Agents' Association met and received a report from their officers as to the measures proposed by the Government, which had been agreed to by those officers, very reluctantly. That Association promptly passed a resolution condemning the action of their officers and saying that it by no means had their support; and adding exactly what I say myself: that it would be better for the country not to have the petrol than to have it at the price of a Bill of this nature, which makes such a tremendous and terrible precedent in the legal practices of this country. After all, it is not the case that a receiver has the burden of proof of innocence on him. Until the last moment in the trial of an accused person, every possibility of the case not having been proved against him is kept before the jury. That practice is reversed in this Bill.

There is another portion of the Bill which I think deserves close attention from your Lordships, and that is the proviso to Clause 3, which says: Provided that anything done by a person authorised by the Minister of Fuel and Power or the Petroleum Board or done for the purposes of enforcement of this Act or in connection with any proceedings in respect of an offence under this Act shall not constitute any such offence as is mentioned in paragraph (c), paragraph (d), or paragraph (e) hereof. What does that mean? I think it needs a good deal of explanation. Are the Government going one better than the Borough of Holborn, and is this going to cover the introduction of the agent provocateur? I hope not. There is one offence which will certainly be facilitated and that is a very old offence: the stealing of petrol from tanks of private cars by people who may pose as officials of the Ministry of Fuel and Power locking for offences. Such people will have a good chance of getting away with a considerable amount of petrol from private cars. In ordinary circumstances I should have felt I could not but register a vote against this Bill, but I realise the pressure of the times and that some Bill of the kind must necessarily be passed. I sincerely hope that by the time the Bill reaches the Committee stage we shall get some Amendment to Clauses 1 and 2, and also, I hope, to the proviso to Clause 3.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, I want to make a plea for Scotland, a part of the Kingdom for which at one time I held a certain measure of responsibility. The remote parts of that country have felt great anxiety about the question of the single-pump garage. The Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and the Lowlands, are very sparsely populated and have always presented a great problem to successive Secretaries of State. A great part of that problem relates to transport, which is a vital consideration in those parts. I do not say how it is to be done, but what I do say is that it is quite essential—and I use the word deliberately, in its fullest sense—that in those areas the garages should be able to supply the two kinds of petrol; otherwise, there will be administrative chaos. I trust that the Ministry responsible for this Bill are keeping in touch with the Secretary of State for Scotland in framing their measure. I strongly urge that there should be the two kinds of petrol available in those garages, either in tins or in some other form. That it should be so is essential.

The other plea I have to make is that, if an offence is committed and a garage proprietor is put out of business, the special circumstances of these remote areas should be seriously considered. I need not stress to your Lordships what I mean by a remote area. In the Highlands and Islands, extremely long distances are involved. If a garage proprietor should be the only purveyor of petrol in one of those remote areas, and should happen to be put out of business, a chaotic condition will ensue. In the interests of the saving of petrol alone, it would be desirable to see that petrol was again brought quickly to that point and that motor cars did not have to be run 15, 20, 30, or 40 miles to these remote areas on a return journey to obtain petrol. Those are two of my points relating to Scotland. My third point is that I hope the Government will not sterilise or immobilise the guilty motor cars.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an interesting, not to say at times amusing, debate. The vision that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, summed up, of a pump dancing from village to village, and the vision of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, of police lurking behind hedges and pouncing out upon people, and all the other ideas that have been advanced, while adding to the gaiety of the discussion do not go far towards dealing with the problem itself. The real point of the Bill seems largely to have escaped observation, or at any rate has not evoked much comment. I, like my noble friend, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, have no great enthusiasm for the Bill, but, nevertheless, I realise that it is essential. A check has to be made. It imposes a disagreeable duty which arises out of economic stress and also, unfortunately, out of the dishonesty of many people. That is really the problem with which this Bill is concerned. Much else that has been said concerns matters of detail, which will be considered when we come to the Committee stage.

It is unfortunate that the dishonest use of petrol makes it necessary to resort to the methods that this Bill brings forward. One must remember, also, that we are to a large extent following the Report of the Russell Vick Committee who have gone into this problem. I know a little of Mr. Russell Vick, and that he is a very able and competent lawyer. The Committee have gone into this problem with a great deal of care, having before them many of the problems that we now have firmly in mind. Until the moral standard improves and there is a respect for the law, I am afraid that we have to resort to this sort of measure. While some of your Lordships have talked about its application bringing the law into disrepute, I venture to say that the law cannot be brought into greater disrespect than it is by the constant violation of it by what is neither more nor less than plain thieving on the part of people who ought to know better. In that respect, I was shocked when the noble Marquess, Lord Willingdon, indicated that if he had had the advantage of service from one of those garages, he would not think it his duty to disclose who they were. Of course, that is not the general view of the House itself with regard to these matters.

The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in his interesting, vigorous, and sometimes amusing speech, asked for certain information regarding some points in the Bill. To some of his questions I hope I shall be able to give him an answer, if not wholly satisfactory, at least going some way in that direction. I think I am right in saying that his first question was what was being done with regard to refineries, and their production. I can tell the noble Viscount that all the plans submitted by the oil companies for expanding the refining capacity of the United Kingdom have been approved by the Government. I am able to say that work has started on schemes equivalent to at least one-quarter of the total programme. A war-time plant has also been adapted to produce petrol and other fuels at a rate of 1,500,000 tons a year. It has to be remembered that the British oil companies also have very large refinery projects abroad; and they are considerably larger in total than the companies' building programme at home. Production depends largely on the steel that can be made available, but refinery schemes are proceeding as rapidly as the companies can achieve them.

Then there was a point raised about the dual purpose car. The dual purpose car may have coupons for private or commercial petrol according to the use to which it is put. But, for the purposes of the Bill, it would not be an offence to put red petrol into it, since it is not a vehicle constructed solely for the carriage of passengers. With regard to the farmers, there was also a point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. Farmers will receive the red petrol for their tractors and for other vehicles concerned for use on the farm itself. For the rest, they are like other people, who will have to get the white petrol for their private car. With regard to the question of the one pump, all that one can say really at this stage—as the noble Lord said, in the main these small garages are in the country—is that the motorists using them are often within a fair distance of a town, and can find other sources of supply. Turning from that to the sale of the car—a point raised by a noble Lord who has just spoken and, earlier, by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton—I would remind the House that that is following a distinct recommendation of the Russell Vick Report. It seems to me obvious, as it may seem to your Lordships, that the only means whereby they can make a disqualification effective is that the car itself shall not be used and the people escape the penalties by some other means.


I am sure that the noble Lord is right, but would he kindly refer me to the passage in the Russell Vick Report which says that the car cannot be sold? I cannot find it in the summary of Recommendations.


I will endeavour to find that out for the noble Viscount. There is another point of which I have been reminded. The noble Lord raised a question concerning the position of directors, and so on, under Clause 6. I am glad to tell him that in another place a definite promise was given by the Attorney-General that a clause would be drafted to cover that particular case. When the matter was raised by the Opposition his exact words were that he thought the point was eminently reasonable. In the Vick Report the paragraph is on page 18. Sub-paragraph (12) reads: That the owner of a motor-car (whether or not its driver) convicted of having ' commercial ' petrol in the tank should be required to surrender all unused coupons to the Court, and that no further petrol should be allowed for that car for 12 months notwithstanding any change of ownership during that period. Is that the point?




The Attorney-General has given a promise that Clause 6 will be re-drafted. On another point which I believe concerned the words "reasonable diligence" he also gave a promise that he would look into the matter again. Further than that I am unable to go on those particular points, but I think I have answered all the main points that the noble Viscount raised.

I have already touched on the one outstanding point which Lord Willingdon raised. He raised the question of the station car and a variety of other vehicles. They were, of course, dealt with by my noble friend Lord Chorley, and they are commercial vehicles. The noble Marquess said he cannot believe that the black market is so large. Unfortunately, we have evidence that it is. He also raised the question of parking, which is not a matter for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, but which belongs to a number of other Departments. I can assure him, however, that the opportunity will be taken to consult with them as to whether or not any improvements can be made in that direction. My noble friend, Lord Lucas, in a very helpful and informative speech, drew attention to a number of points which he thought required some consideration. His main point was that he thought the black market largely draws its supply from the excess issue of commercial petrol. I put it to him: What does he think should happen in these cases? Were we to limit the supply to farmers? What would lave been said in this House if we had had the vehicle associations rising up in wrath because we were restricting the allowance of petrol to commercial vehicles and preventing their carrying on their road haulage work? After all, we had to trust to the honesty and co-operation of the persons concerned. As the noble Lord said, it was better some time ago; but let us look at what happened. Under the Ministry of War Transport there were no fewer than 5,000 voluntary workers, largely recruited by the trade themselves, who inspected and saw that the right amount was supplied. It is absolutely impossible, in the present circumstances, to continue that system. If there is any-thing in this matter it is sheer dishonesty, and this Bill is brought forward to meet that. On the other hand, where it is possible to keep a proper check on it—say in the omnibuses and public service vehicles—supplies are based strictly according to needs.


Does my noble friend accept my point that, if an independent committee of business men could devise a system whereby allowance usage could be kept within a narrower margin than a 25 per cent. error, which is the cause of the black market, it would be more satisfactory? At least let us be satisfied that the present system is the only possible one. Frankly, I am not so satisfied.


That is the noble Lord's own opinion. I have already indicated that where it was possible to get the requisite number of people to help in this, it was possible to see that the supply of commercial petrol was based only on actual needs. Where it is possible, even now, so far as service vehicles are concerned, that system is being adopted. What one might do in other and different circumstances I do not know. I am concerned only with this Bill, which deals with the circumstances as they are, and as we have to meet them at present. The noble Lord went on to say that he was very much concerned about the ordinary man—that he should not be victimised, and so forth. We, too, are concerned about the ordinary man, and while there is a lot of dishonesty, the ordinary man is always under suspicion. Anybody who has had anything to do with any large industry, and knows where there is a certain amount of thieving, knows that there is a feeling of discomfort everywhere: everybody is more or less under suspicion. This Bill does something to protect the ordinary man; it brings about a greater equality of distribution, and helps us somewhat in these matters. All reasonable steps are being taken, and this Bill has been introduced in an endeavour to bring these reasonable steps more into line, in order that we may eradicate the source of the black market.

There is another point. I for one rejoice in this Bill, if only for the fact that it allows me to come to this House now without fear that I may be pulled up because I have come over Westminster Bridge instead of over Vauxhall Bridge; and it enables us to use whatever amount of petrol we have as and when we like, without being directed. Surely that is something worth having and is an advantage to more people.


Would the noble Lord point out how the Westminster Bridge problem affects a man with only three supplementary coupons a month?


It may affect him a good deal. He has the right to use his petrol as he likes, and as the three supplementary coupons will be given according to the power of the particular motorcar he has equal rations with other people.

There is one other point, to which Lord Clydesmuir and also other noble Lords referred—namely, that this Bill did not receive the approval of, or there was no discussion with, the motoring associations. I have a copy of a brief statement issued jointly by the Minister and the Chairmen of the Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Association and the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, in which they say this: While the motoring associations consider that the measures taken will achieve a saving greater than the 120,000 tons of petrol envisaged by the Minister, given that the saving is found to be no greater, they accept the present arrangement as being, in all the circumstances, the fairest possible one. I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading—


I do not think I said, or I did not intend to say, that there had been no consultation; I intended merely to say that they did not know, after their consultation with the Minister, the exact provisions that were coming out, at the time when they came out. They had the Minister's statement only about five minutes earlier and the Russell Vick Committee Report a few months before. They were put into the position of saying, "Well, presumably this is the best that we can get."


I do not know whether the noble Lord is saying that the people to whom he refers were incompetent, and that they did not know to what it was they were parties. I am resting on what I have here—this statement, signed by representatives of those organisations, which admits that the steps suggested are the fairest that can be taken in the circumstances. I leave the noble Lord to work out with his friends the question whether or not they knew exactly what it was to which they were putting their signatures.

Many points have been made in today's discussion, and many more will, no doubt, be made in Committee. But, looking at this Bill honestly, as one who is not wholly in love with it, as one who has to suffer and submit to the same privations as other motorists, I say that this is a genuine attempt to stamp out something which is a disgrace to our community. Particularly, is the black market a disgrace to those people who resort to it. But one of the tragedies that we have to recognise is that since the war there has been an almost utter collapse of moral standards and ordinary honesty. This is one of the clear examples of what can result from that collapse. A great industry, and, indeed, the whole community at large, has suffered under it. If this Bill fails in its purpose, it will fail in an honest endeavour to deal with a most difficult problem. I ask your Lordships not merely to acknowledge the work done by Mr. Russell Vick and his colleagues, but to help to give effect to it. They had no interest whatever except to use their brains with a view to recommending some means to ensure that such petrol as is available should be fairly shared out. This is just another illustration of the rationing system, the system which we have with regard to our food supplies and so many other things. The principle of rationing is to ensure that, so far as possible, people will have fair shares, and I think that this Bill is going to help to ensure that that happens with regard to petrol, I therefore ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that even the most enthusiastic supporter of the Government can feel that this Bill has had any great welcome from any side of this House—including the Government side. Indeed, a most forceful and critical speech was made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and I was interested to hear Lord Amman's description of it—rather a new description of a critical speech—as being "helpful and informative." The only real measure of welcome accorded to the Bill was that given by the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, himself when, I think, he spoke under a complete misapprehension. He said that he welcomed this Bill in that it would allow him now to use his petrol where and how he liked. Then he mentioned coming to this House. Presumably, he was referring to the supplementary "E" coupons which are given to noble Lords to enable them to carry out their Parliamentary duties, when he spoke of using his petrol where and how he liked. Let me assure him that if he is going to do that he may find himself in considerable trouble. Let us assume that the noble Lord gets twelve gallons of petrol a month. He is not entitled to use it how and when he likes; he is entitled to use the margin of that twelve gallons which represents the basic ration he would have had for that particular car according to its appropriate horse power, had he not been entitled to supplementary coupons. Therefore the noble Lord will find himself in great trouble if he is not careful. I point that out, because we would not like to see him get into trouble.

To return to the Bill, I repeat that the only measure of praise which it has received has come from the noble Lord, speaking under a misapprehension as to its contents. I think I hat the proper title for the Bill should realty be, not a Bill "to create certain offences," but a Bill "for the creation of new offences and for mitigating errors of His Majesty's Government." We, on this side of the House, have never admitted that the petrol rationing system was necessary, and have always maintained that the necessary dollar saving could have been obtained by other means; that there could have been savings in other directions and that the cost to the community and the dislocation caused by this experiment in maladministration could have been avoided. I think that the Bill is objectionable to most citizens of this country because, fundamentally, we are a law-abiding people, not excepting motorists. As a class, motorists feel that under the Bill they are being pilloried and treated as if they were actual or, alternatively, potential black marketeers.

We say that if the black market had been tackled eighteen months ago instead of at this late hour, it would not have grown to the dimensions that the Russell Vick Committee have described, and the whole motoring community would not have to be put, as it were, in the corner, and told that they are a wicked and anti-social section of me population. I think people resent this Bill because of the provocation it offers, and because of the sense of unfairness to which it gives rise. They feel that there is a lack of necessity for the Bill and that if he Government had administered their affairs better at an earlier date it would not be needed. There is also a feeling that he new conditions laid clown in this Bill do not in any way remove the many anomalies and unfair circumstances in the rationing system from which the motoring public has suffered during recent years.

Speaking in another place, the Minister called the black market "an unfortunate moral lapse." But, finally, compliance with the law must depend on the good will and the confidence in the law of the citizens who have to live under it and who are affected by particular Statutes. If feelings of resentment and frustration such as exist to-day are in the minds of motorists, while one must not condone in any way and can only condemn black marketing offences, it is to be said in mitigation of such offences that the Government are partly responsible for the creation of a state of mind that has encouraged citizens to go morally wrong. This Bill seems to me to be likely to add to our bureaucracy. Either it will add to the bureaucracy by the creation of new officials to carry out the work of inspection necessary under the Bill, or, alternatively, we shall have to divert a certain proportion of our police and put them to that task. There are certain new duties imposed by the Bill upon the Executive, and those duties must be fulfilled. Later on we hope that we shall hear who is to fulfil them. Is there to be augmentation of Government staffs, or diversion of our already overworked police? It is possible, indeed, that some members of the police force would rather welcome being taken away from the work of hunting murderers if the Bill which provides for the abolition of capital punishment passes, and being put on the duty of hunting black marketeers. Indeed, I think they would be the only section of the community who might possibly welcome such a diversion, and one could hardly blame them. But how is the work going to be carried out—by diversion or increase of staff?

We have had this measure before us for a very short time. We admit that we have been forced into a position in which the Bill must become law by June 1. Therefore, it is just as well that we should mention now some of the points with which we propose to deal in Committee. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has already said that we are going to tackle such questions as to why the poor dumb servant of mankind, the inanimate motor-car, should be penalised and prevented from going on the road when it is in such demand to-day by the community.

We are going to put down an Amendment ourselves, in case the Amendment does not cover the point, or the Government are forgetful, to see that directors of nationalised corporations come within the scope of the Bill. I hope that later on we can have some assurance that subsection (2) of Clause 10, whereby the Minister may make regulations to define what are private cars, will not be used so that the Minister can provide that all the cars used by the national corporations are not recognised as private cars.


Perhaps I did not make it quite clear. The learned Attorney-General said: The Clause as drafted covers not only directors but other similar officers. I have no doubt that it is sufficiently wide to embrace the members of these statutory corporations … I think the principle underlying this Amendment is reasonable.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am sure the Amendment will be sufficiently wide, but we would like to make sure that the regulations are not to be sufficiently wide to offset the provision in the Bill. If the noble Lord will look at subsection (2), he will see that it says: Regulations made for the purpose of defining the vehicles which are to be private motor vehicles for the purposes of this Act may provide for excluding therefrom any vehicles of a prescribed class or description. I think we need some safeguard that those regulatory powers are not to be used to offset concessions given in another part of the Bill. I do not think it unreasonable for us to ask the Government to give some assurance on that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, raised a point regarding the introduction of words to prevent rural communities from suffering when the one man who provides their petrol goes wrong, falls within the law, and is forced to close his petrol selling business. It is manifestly unfair that the whole community should suffer for the crime of one man, and I am sure the Government do not want that to happen. Finally, I hope that the discretion of the courts to suspend the penalty of prohibiting the sale of petrol, if they think fit, pending an appeal, will be turned into a provision whereby the court shall suspend it if an appeal is made; because if the court do not exercise that discretion the man may be suspended from his livelihood until the appeal comes up, and he will suffer, and the community in which he lives will suffer also. I thought it better that I should refer briefly to the main points, so that the Minister and his advisers can start thinking about them. We do not like the Bill, but though we think the Bill is unnecessary, when we do part with it we want it to be a better Bill than when it first came before us.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to this debate, I have come to the conclusion that a good time has been had by all. Everybody has thoroughly enjoyed himself and the only point on which everybody is agreed is that this Bill should get a Second Reading. I am sure that all the arguments will be most carefully attended to on Committee stage. Though I regard to-day as a day off for me, it looks as if there will not be a day off when the Committee stage comes along. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, admits that he has been guilty of some horrible crimes, and the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, was warned to watch his step. It seems that both noble Lords are relying on the fact that the Criminal Justice Bill may be passed shortly.

I believe that everybody, with the exception of the noble Lord who spoke last, thinks that in view of our circumstances we must limit the amount of petrol which we consume in this country.


I can assure the noble and learned Viscount that I never intended to give, and I hope I did not give, the impression, either to-day or during the debate last October, that I did not realise that dollar saving was essential, but I said that there might be other ways.


It is just that phrase, "there might be other ways "which is dangerous. We must save dollars in other ways as well as in this way. It is no good denying that we are living in a fool's paradise if we do not realise that we are in a grim situation. If there are other ways in which we can make a saving in dollars, and you will tell me what they are, I will convey them at once to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and if we can use those other dollar savings without doing hardship to the people of this country such as by further cuts in foods or raw materials, we shall most certainly use them. But I think we shall find that we shall not hear further from the noble Lord on that topic. Even though we have other dollar savings, we must having savings on petrol too. We cannot afford the luxury of using as much petrol as we should like.

Therefore, we must have some ratio ling system, and the only question is, what rationing system? Any rationing system brings in hardship. It is no answer, to my mind, to say that the Government have been foolish to allow too much petrol to go to soft currency areas. Perhaps we have. The need to sell every gallon we can for dollars or dollar equivalents is no reason why we should leave out altogether the soft currency areas. I would earnestly suggest to your Lordships that in deciding what to do in this particular matter, we must have some regard to the wishes of the petrol companies who have certain connections they desire to keep up. For myself, I would be exceedingly reluctant to do anything at the present time that would be severe towards, for instance, France. We may be right or we may be wrong with regard to that matter.

If somebody on Committee stage suggests a better rationing system, then I will gladly consider it. So far as the genuine commercial users, are concerned—the users of farm implements and the carriers of goods on the roads—we must allow them to have enough petrol. If you cut them down you will do more harm than good. It is difficult to say what is enough for them. If we set a rigid quantity, their requirements may quite well outstrip that amount. Having carefully considered the question, we have come to the conclusion that the only thing to do is, to speak broadly, to differentiate between two classes of petrol—red petrol and white. From this it follows that if we get people utilising red petrol for certain purposes we must have most severe punishment. That is the basis of this scheme. When we reach Committee stage, I am prepared to see whether we can mitigate or modify some of the provisions, without disturbing the real sanction that lies behind the scheme. I think that the shortage of petrol and a rationing system produces great hardship. It is not the first time I have said that. But I think that a reduction in food would produce still greater hardship. We must watch our step in this country and so organise things that when the time comes when American aid is no longer forthcoming, we do not have to suffer from a lack of food.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.