HL Deb 07 December 1955 vol 194 cc1181-90

2.52 p.m.

LORD HAWKE rose to move that the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1955, reported from the Special Orders Committee on the 2nd of November last, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, as your Lordships are well aware, the law regarding the speed limits of motor vehicles is extremely complicated. No one would deny that it contains some anomalies. The object of the Regulations for which I ask your Lordships' approval to-clay is to remove one anomaly. We are dealing here with dual-purpose vehicles of the shooting-brake type and the four-wheel-drive Land Rover type. The history of the speed limits applicable to this type of vehicle is tortuous and anomalous, and I will not attempt to weary your Lordships by a recital of it. The position at the moment is that, by decisions of the courts in 1952, these vehicles are subject to a 30 m.p.h. speed limit while carrying goods, but are free of limit when not carrying goods. This is anomalous and makes enforcement very difficult.

By these Regulations these vehicles become free of all vehicle speed limits whether or not they are carrying goods. We have had to draw up a definition of "dual-purpose vehicle" which would include all the recognised shooting-brake type of vehicles, as well as the Land Rover type. The definition lays down that the vehicle must have a permanent roof; windows, fixed or folding; transverse seats; that at least one-third of the distance between the steering wheel and the back of the floor should be occupied by seats; that it is of not more than two tons unladen weight; and (by reference back to the Road Traffic Act 1934) is to carry not more than seven passengers, excluding the driver. In addition, we bring in the Land Rover type, which has not a permanent roof, by including vehicles with a four-wheel drive. We are satisfied that these definitions will embrace all recognised types of genuine passenger car adaptable for carrying goods. They have been discussed with the various interests concerned. We do not pretend that these Regulations remove all the anomalies in the speed limit law, but the removal of one of them is a step in the right direction. The Regulations were approved in another place without debate, and the Special Orders Committee have given the opinion that they can be passed by your Lordships' House without special attention. Accordingly I ask your Lordships to approve them. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1955, reported from the Special Orders Committee on the 2nd November last be approved.—[Lord Hawke.]


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord had to call to his aid the fact that the Special Orders Committee thought these Regulations could be approved without having special attention drawn to them, and that they passed through another place without debate. Your Lordships will very likely have the most pleasant recollection that on one of the two memorable occasions when this subject was discussed during the passage of the Road Traffic Bill through your Lordships' House, your Lordships supported me in the Division Lobby against the Government and put this provision into the Road Traffic Bill. Unhappily, that Bill was lost, and the new Bill that was introduced into another place not long ago did not contain this provision. So the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, comes to your Lordships' House this afternoon asking your Lordships to approve, by regulation, of something which your Lordships determined at that time should be put in the Statute.

Let me say straight away that I think the Government have made rather a better job of this Regulation than I did of the Amendment that I persuaded your Lordships to pass in this House. I thought perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, would move up one or two places: I could see the glint of battle in his eye, for he and I had the most wordy, though pleasant, argument about this matter across the Floor of the House. As the noble Lord has said, this matter is one of the most difficult things to determine. The limit relates to a vehicle which can be used for two purposes: one, the purpose of a motor car and, two, the purpose of a goods-carrying vehicle. I always sympathise with the Government when they try to get a clear-cut definition that will clear up all the anomalies, and there have been many. As the noble Lord will recollect, in the past they put the police of this country into an impossible position. The law was interpreted in different ways. It meant that the good citizens of this country in some counties paid thousands and thousands of pounds in fines for exceeding the speed limit for a goods-carrying vehicle—which is 30 m.p.h.—when driving a dual-purpose vehicle and not carrying goods. And yet in another county where the chief constable regarded a dual-purpose vehicle as a motor car, they were let off "scot-free." I congratulate the Government. I think they have done a good job of work here, but have they not really gone back and caused even more anomalies than the old Act contained?

I want the noble Lord to tell your Lordships quite plainly and, through your Lordships' House, the thousands of owners of dual-purpose vehicles in this country, just where they stand. The noble Lord quite rightly said that these Regulations went through another place without debate. He should have told your Lordships that it was at half-past eleven at night, which perhaps accounts for that fact. I do not suppose many of your Lordships have armed yourselves with a copy of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, but I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has. In the First Schedule to that Act we have a definition of passenger-carrying vehicles, that is to say, vehicles constructed solely for the carriage of passengers and their effects. The noble Lord, by this Regulation, seeks to include the words but including dual-purpose vehicles, so by this Regulation he at once establishes the fact that the dual-purpose vehicle is in future a private motor car, a passenger-carrying private motor car. Then the Schedule continues with the definition of "goods vehicles," that is to say, vehicles constructed or adapted for use for the conveyance of goods or burden of any description. The noble Lord now seeks to add: but excluding dual-purpose vehicles. I construe that to mean that at the present time a dual-purpose vehicle can be used as a passenger vehicle and for carrying burden or goods of any description, whether it is in the course of trade or business, whether it is for the purpose of the owner of the vehicle, whether it is the doctor's little black bag, or the tradesman's samples—in fact, it can be used as a goods vehicle but it is subject only to the speed limit restriction which is applicable to a motor car.

I am certain in my own mind that the noble Lord does not really mean that. I feel certain that alongside this Regulation he should have tabled another Regulation, or will have to admit that he proposes to do so at some distant date, to the effect that when this dual-purpose vehicle is carrying goods for hire or reward or in the course of a trade or business, it will be subject to the same speed limit regulations as a goods-carrying vehicle. I accept that under the existing Regulations of 1951 the doctor, the veterinary surgeon and the district nurse, can all carry their instruments in one of these utility vehicles and not be subject to prosecution because they are travelling at over 30 m.p.h. in a vehicle which is carrying goods in the course of their trade or business.

I ask what is the position of the police in the meantime. Are they to issue a summons in regard to people who are carrying goods for hire or reward in dual-purpose vehicles? The noble Lord seeks to say, in a definition of a "goods vehicles": that is to say, vehicles constructed or adapted for use for the conveyance of goods or burden of any description, but excluding dual-purpose vehicles. I think I am only doing my duty in asking the noble Lord to elucidate this point, for the sake of the 70,000-odd owners of these vehicles in this country who, until the noble Lord brings further Regulations before your Lordships, will now want to know where they stand in the eyes of the law. Apart from that matter, I commend this definition; I think it is excellent. I have no complaint whatsoever about it. I think it is a better definition of a utility vehicle than I submitted to your Lordships during the passage of the Road Traffic Bill. But, in my view, for some reason or another, only half the job has been done, and the poor, unfortunate owner of one of these vehicles is now in a vacuum—he does not know, for the purpose of speed limit regulations, whether he is driving a goods vehicle or a private motor car. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me.


Would the noble Lord clarify my mind on this subject? Would he tell us what licence the driver will be driving under when he is driving a dual-purpose vehicle for hire or reward?


It is a great compliment to ask me the question; perhaps the noble Marquess should ask the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. But I think it is a carrier's licence. Any vehicle carrying goods for hire or reward has to have a carrier's licence which, ipso facto, brings the vehicle under the speed limit regulations for a goods-carrying vehicle. But the Regulation which the noble Lord wishes your Lordships to pass, says that a goods vehicle shall be determined as one which is used for the conveyance of goods or burden of any description, but excluding a dual purpose vehicle. I can only think that what this Regulation means is that immediately your Lordships agree to the Regulation, a dual-purpose vehicle will not need a carrier's licence; that you can carry goods for hire or reward, you can do what you like with it, and it is a passenger vehicle. I do not think the Government mean that. I want to know what they do mean.


Thank you very much. That is exactly the point I wanted the noble Lord to clarify.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I will try to clarify this matter, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is well aware, the law is not too easy in these matters. In the last twenty-five years, by High Court judgments, the law that Parliament thought was the existing law proved not to be so. If I can explain it in this way it may be made clear. At present any light goods vehicle, including a dual-purpose vehicle, has a double speed limit, by High Court judgment. When it is empty t has no speed limit; when it is full it has a 30 m.p.h. limit. This Regulation abolishes that limit for this new category of dual-purpose vehicles, but it does not affect the C licence vehicles at all—that is, the other goods vehicles. A Bill is passing through another place at the moment which seeks to restore the original position of the light goods vehicle as being subject to 30 m.p.h., but it will not impose that 30 m.p.h. on the dual-purpose vehicles. So, as I understand it, a dual-purpose vehicle carrying goods for the owner, and not for hire or reward, not for the purpose of a business or profession, will have no speed limit at all. On the other hand, if the owner is operating it as a vehicle normally C licensed, I understand that he will have to have a C licence and he will then come under the C licence regulations, in regard to which, as I said before, there remains a gap at the moment. The High Court judgment of 1952 in regard to C licences still stands. The dual-purpose vehicle has the dual position: empty, free; full, 30 m.p.h. As I understand it, that will apply to the dual-purpose vehicle if the owner's trade, or whatever it is, compels him to take out a C licence.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know whether under the Rules of Order I have to ask your Lordships' permission to speak again, and whether I have a right of reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. But what the noble Lord has just said is precisely what I thought.


If the noble Lord is asking me about the Rules of Order, I must assure him that he cannot speak again unless he gets the leave of the House to do so.


Well, I thought I had the leave of the House from the fact that I heard no dissenting voices. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has confirmed what I thought. I quite agree that anybody who carries goods for hire or reward in any vehicle must have a carrier's licence. What this Regulation really seeks to do is to keep that unaltered but to make the individual immune from any prosecution under the speed limit laws of this country until the Bill just mentioned by the noble Lord and now passing through another place becomes the law of this country.


I am not sure that I understand the noble Lord aright. If Mr. X is using one of these vehicles for a purpose for which he requires a C licence and is carrying goods, running fully laden, he is subject to the thirty miles limit and can be prosecuted. It is only if the vehicle is empty that he is clear of the limit.


My Lords, if noble Lords will forgive me, that is not what this Regulation says. If your Lordships will turn the Regulation over you will see the explanatory note. The noble Lord says that in future the definition of goods vehicles shall be vehicles constructed or adapted for use for the conveyance of goods or burden of any description. The noble Lord now adds to that but excluding dual purpose vehicles. So that in future no dual purpose vehicle can be classified as a goods carrying vehicle; it is a private motor car, and private cars do not need a C licence. Therefore any goods can now be carried, for any purpose whatsoever, in a private motor car. You could always do that; you could carry what you liked in your own private motor car. As the dual purpose vehicle is a private motor car, the law as regards commercial vehicles cannot obtain until Her Majesty's Government—either by the Road Traffic Bill which is passing through another place or by additional regulation—bring into that definition a dual purpose vehicle which is carrying goods for hire or reward. I believe that the public who own these vehicles had better know the fact and chief constables in the country had better be fully aware that until the new Regulation and/or the Act is brought forward they remain in the same unfortunate dilemma in which they were in 1946. I am not trying to be awkward but I want Her Majesty's Government to tell the country where it stands.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to clarify one point? Until the noble Lord, by leave of the House, made a second speech, I understood that a dual purpose vehicle was governed by the ordinary dual purpose law: as a privately owned vehicle, used for your own purpose, or if you wished to carry goods for hire or reward, as a vehicle needing a C licence. But part of the time you may be carrying your own pig in your dual-purpose vehicle and part of the time carrying the noble Lord's pig in that same vehicle. When you are carrying your own pig you are using it as a dual-purpose goods vehicle for your own purposes, but when you are carrying the noble Lord's pig you become a common carrier and, therefore, subject to a C licence. What is the position if I own one of these vehicles and get a C licence to enable me to carry other people's goods for hire or reward? The noble Lord in charge shakes his head. I gather that the noble Lord is right and that you can do whatever you like with a dual purpose vehicle and override the general C licence.


My Lords, may I intervene? I believe that the noble Lord has got on the wrong trail. With a C licence you can carry only your own goods.


Then the position seems much more obscure and I simply do not understand it. I had thought that a dual-purpose vehicle was something used for two purposes, like the Chancellor of the Duchy and the Minister of Materials—that is, he is a general worker. What is the position? It seems to me to be completely nonsensical. If I may not carry my own goods without having a C licence, where does the dual-purpose come in? I am completely barred from any dual-purpose right because I am doing what I should have thought was the elementary object of a dual-purpose vehicle, either to carry myself on my own joy ride or to carry my goods on my lawful occasion. Most noble Lords own these vehicles and I certainly had no idea that I was under so many potential condemnations.


My Lords—


My Lords, the noble Lord is allowed to speak only once in a debate. The House quite properly allowed him to speak again, but there are certain limitations, and perhaps some noble friend of his on the Opposition Front Bench could deputise for him on this occasion.


A dual-purpose vehicle is one for carrying goods and passengers. That is its dual purpose. I understand that all the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, is doing is to remove from the speed limit certain dual-purpose vehicles which are defined in the orders. If the noble Lord wishes to carry other people's goods as well as his own, then of course he needs a B licence.


My Lords, I am not going to speak again, but that is not the point. With the permission of the Minister and the leave of the House I will ask a question. I do not want to carry anyone else's goods but I do want to carry my own goods. In order to do so (and, of course, dual-purpose vehicles were designed for the purpose of carrying myself and a fellow passenger or goods) do I need a C licence?


Yes, the noble Earl will need a C licence if he is engaged in carrying goods for trade purposes.


But not with a dual-purpose vehicle.


Apparently this is a triple-purpose vehicle.


My Lords, would it not be better to adjourn the passing of this Regulation until the House is clearer in its mind as to what is being done? I have heard this discussion and I must confess that I could not approve of the Regulation with complete certainty as to the position. We do not object to what we believe to be the principle of the Regulation, but there seems to be a considerable element of doubt, and if we could consider the matter within the course of the next day or two in the light of a clearer explanation, that would be much more satisfactory.


My Lords, I was not here at the beginning of this important discussion but I believe I understand what has happened. I am not in a position to give an authoritative ruling, and in view of the fact that there still seems considerable bewilderment in the House it would perhaps be better if we looked at this matter further. I do not mean to suggest that Her Majesty's Government propose to alter the attitude which they have taken up, but we will look at it so that noble Lords may have a fuller explanation. My difficulty is that if we delay, then Parliamentary time is taken up. It would perhaps be fair that the House should have some further explanation, as there are, on both sides of the House, noble Lords who seem to be not completely clear as to the exact effect of the Regulation. We will make that absolutely clear. With the agreement of noble Lords we shall return and give an explanation, when I hope it may be possible formally to pass the Regulation. I therefore move that the debate on the Regulation be adjourned.

Moved, that the debate be now adjourned.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.