HL Deb 15 February 1955 vol 191 cc8-95

2.51 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clause 1:

Tests of satisfactory condition of vehicles

1.—(1) For the purpose of ascertaining whether the prescribed statutory requirements relating to the construction and condition of motor vehicles or their accessories or equipment are complied with, the Minister may make provision for the examination, whether by inspectors appointed by the Minister or by other persons (hereinafter referred to as "authorised examiners") authorised by him, of vehicles submitted for examination under this section and for the issue, where it is found on such an examination that the said requirements are complied with, of a certificate (hereinafter referred to as a "test certificate") that at the date of the examination the requirements were complied with in relation to the vehicle.

(2) Where a test certificate is refused on an examination under the foregoing subsection, the inspector or examiner carrying out the examination shall issue a notification of the refusal stating the grounds thereof, and any person aggrieved by the refusal or the grounds thereof may appeal to the Minister; and on any such appeal the Minister shall cause a further examination to be made and either issue a test certificate or issue such a notification as aforesaid.

(3) For the purposes of his functions under this section the Minister may provide and maintain stations where examinations under this section may be carried out and apparatus for carrying out such examinations.

(4) Any person who uses on a road or causes or permits to be so used a motor vehicle as respects which no test certificate has been issued within the last twelve months, or such shorter period as may be prescribed, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, or in the case of a second or subsequent conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months:

Provided that this subsection shall not apply—

  1. (a) to public service vehicles adapted to carry eight or more passengers, to tramcars or to trolley vehicles,
  2. (b) to the use of vehicles for such purposes as may be prescribed.

(5) If any person with intent to deceive falsely represents himself to be, or to be employed by, an authorised examiner he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or both such fine and such imprisonment.

(6) The Minister may make regulations for the purpose of giving effect to the foregoing provisions of this section, and in particular as to—

  1. (a) the authorisation of examiners, the imposition of conditions to be complied with by authorised examiners and the withdrawal of authorisations;
  2. (b) the manner in which and apparatus with which examinations are to be carried out, the maintenance of that apparatus in an efficient condition, and the inspection of premises at which and apparatus with which examinations are being, or are to be, carried out;
  3. (c) the manner in which applications may be made for the examination of vehicles under subsection (1) of this section, the manner in which and time within which appeals may be brought under subsection (2) of this section, the information to be supplied and documents to be produced on such an application, examination or appeal, the fees to be paid on such an application or appeal, and the repayment of the whole or a part of the fee paid on such an appeal where it appears to the Minister that there were substantial grounds for contesting the whole or part of the decision appealed against;
  4. (d) the form of, and particulars to be contained in, test certificates and notifications of the refusal thereof;
  5. (e) the issue of duplicates of test certificates lost or defaced and the fee to be paid for the issue thereof;
  6. (f) the keeping by authorised examiners of registers of test certificates in the prescribed form and containing the prescribed particulars, and the inspection of such registers by such persons and in such circumstances as may be prescribed;
  7. 10
  8. (g) the keeping of records by authorised examiners and the furnishing by them of returns and information to the Minister;
  9. (h) the production, on an application for a licence under the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, of a test certificate issued as mentioned in subsection (4) of this section, subject however to such exceptions as may be provided by the regulations,
and regulations under this section may make different provision in relation to different cases or classes of cases.

(7) Subsections (1), (3) and (4) of section one hundred and twelve of the Act of 1930 (which relate to forgery and other offences committed as respects certificates of insurance and other documents) shall apply to test certificates as they apply to certificates of insurance.

(8) If any person fails to comply with the requirements of regulations made by virtue of paragraph (f) or (g) of subsection (6) of this section, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, or in the case of a second or subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds.

(9) The powers conferred by this section to make regulations and orders shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, and regulations under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "whether," where that word first occurs. The noble Lord said: In moving the first of the 111 Amendments to this Bill, I would, with your Lordships' permission, make these preliminary observations. First, on behalf of noble Lords who sit on this side of your Lordships' House, may I recall that I said on Second Reading that at the Committee stage we would do all we could to help Her Majesty's Government improve this Bill. Every Amendment put down in my name has that intention; and on reading all the other Amendments I cannot find one in the name of any other noble Lord that has not the same objective. I hope, therefore, that we shall be able to end by improving this Bill. Secondly, in moving this Amendment, I would ask your Lordships to take into consideration Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 13, 14 and 15, because those are all consequential. The real heart of the Amendments that I am about to propose is Amendment No. 2 and not the one word that is dealt with in Amendment No. 1.

Subsection (1) of this clause says: … the Minister may make provision for the examination, whether by inspectors appointed by the Minister or by other persons (hereinafter referred to as 'authorised examiners') authorised by him. I take it that that wording means to embrace private industry in the motor vehicle retail and repairing trade. Let me tell your Lordships at once that I am fundamentally opposed to putting this responsibility upon private individuals and members of the motor industry. I do not often make this claim, but on this occasion I claim that I could speak for the entire motor industry in saying that it would be quite wrong to do so. It would put selected people in an invidious position vis-à-vis their own customers and in a still more invidious position with the customers of their competitors. I will not go into great detail upon that aspect, but, with your Lordships' permission, I shall make some points which may be thought to be a little away from the strict wording of the Amendment which I am moving but which, in fact, are very germane to the whole principle of this clause.

I have tried to preserve intact the approach which Her Majesty's Government consider is the right one for improving the mechanical efficiency of road vehicles, and on that aspect I want to tell the Minister in charge of the Bill that there is nothing between us. We are 100 per cent. behind him that everything possible should be done to see that vehicles using the roads of this country are in such mechanical condition that accidents which might be caused by mechanical failure are avoided. I am not going to make another Second Reading speech, but I gave figures in that speech, and I cannot gloss over the fact that, in my view, Her Majesty's Government are trying to cure something which, according to all the statistics, is of a very small nature when one considers the whole of the road accidents of this country. According to the Ministry of Transport statistics, the number of accidents attributable to mechanical failure represent 3 per cent., which is, I suppose, one of the smallest percentages of all the contributory factors that go to make up the appalling toll on the roads of this country.

I recognise the fact that Her Majesty's Government want to move in this way. Therefore I say one must leave out private enterprise; otherwise Her Majesty's Government are going to store up for themselves a great deal of trouble. Once a selected number is taken—and I estimate it will take about 15,000 inspecting stations to do what Her Majesty's Government want to do—and you have taken private enterprise out of the picture and have said that the Government eventually must erect 15,000 stations and examine 5 million to 6 million vehicles, you face an absolute physical impossibility. That is so, even if the lesser provision of Clause 1 only of an examination every twelve months is carried out, quite apart from what is involved in the other words "or such lesser time." If examinations were held every six months there might be 12 million vehicles involved.

Passing to the next aspect, where it is said that an excise licence or renewal of an excise licence for a motor vehicle is contingent upon there being a fitness certificate, I say the position is still more impossible. I believe noble Lords will readily appreciate that when I point out that if a fitness certificate is issued for a vehicle upon January 2, 1955, and a renewal of the excise licence is wanted on January 1, 1956, the certificate of fitness is valid. Is there a noble Lord in this House with the slightest knowledge of mechanics who does not know that although one may issue a fitness certificate for the brakes and steering of any vehicle, they can be out of order and accident-prone within twenty-four hours? Then how long is this examination to take? In this matter I speak from a life's experience. A cursory examination of brakes by jacking up a wheel and turning it is no test at all. It does not tell whether there are any brake-linings on the brake shoes or whether those brakes will be any good in twenty-four hours' time. Any mechanic or apprentice-mechanic could fake any vehicle which is going into an inspecting station so that, unless the inspector makes a really thorough examination of the brakes alone, taking perhaps two hours, it would be worthless.

What of the conditions under which the vehicle operates? If one of these vehicles, whether it is a private motor car or a commercial vehicle, makes a specified and appointed visit to a testing station, is it imagined that that vehicle is going to the station in such a condition that it will not get a certificate? Will it be loaded with the same load that it habitually carries? Consider the case of the small and antiquated motor car of the type of which your Lordships may have seen examples travelling along the Brighton road on a Sunday afternoon, carrying mother and father, auntie and uncle, the children and the dog. Will that little crowd be in the vehicle when it goes up for its examination? Then take the case of the commercial vehicle that is habitually overloaded. The older commercial vehicle is generally very much overloaded. But is it going to the station to be examined with a load on, or is it going empty? Of course, it will go empty.

I could go on for a long time in this strain. I hesitate to claim expert knowledge, for I see the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, is in the Chamber and I remember that he read me a homily one day the theme of which was: "never quote experts." But may I say that, speaking with some experience, in my view this is the wrong way to go to work, and, in a very few words, I am going to tell the noble Lord what I would do if I had to do the same thing—that is, to check and keep up to a certain standard the majority of the vehicles on the roads of this country. One can, of course, dismiss straight away the public service vehicles. They have to undergo examination at the present time. I think the noble Lord has two remedies ready to hand. On the Second Reading I pointed out the powers of the Minister of Transport under Construction and Use Regulation 103. There is power for any police officer, any examiner or any inspector appointed by the Ministry of Transport to stop any motor car or commercial vehicle and carry out an examination as set out in the regulation. I said at that time that there was hardly any evidence that these inspectors fully exercised their powers under this regulation in a substantial number of cases. I cannot find either that there is any sanction against any vehicle that is stopped and is found to be in a condition which does not comply with the statutory requirements of the regulation.

If your Lordships will turn to Section 17 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, you will find set out the whole procedure of spot examination under that Act, for the checking of the conditions under which A, B or C licences are operated. It is a condition of the issue of an A, B or C licence—which is a carrier's licence—that a certain standard of mechanical fitness shall be maintained, and the Minister has power to appoint examiners. I will not read the section, as it is a long one, and your Lordships may read it for yourselves. But it is quite concise in its application, and it provides a sanction, because if the standard of fitness is below what is required the examiner can either turn the vehicle in question off the road until it is put right, or he can say that he will not turn it off but will give the operator one or two weeks in which to put it right, and, at the end of that time, he will re-examine it. If, on re-examination, he finds that it is still not right, then he will turn it off the road.

If I had charge of this matter I would have an adaption of those two matters—the regulation and the section—because I believe sincerely that a spot check in conditions under which the vehicle is working is a far better test of the mechanical fitness of a vehicle than that which would result from asking that the vehicle in question should, by appointment, be taken to a station in three or four weeks' time, a specific date being given, and there subjected to examination. When the vehicle goes to the testing station after such an appointment has been made, it is, naturally, in such a condition that it passes the examination and a certificate is issued. But I believe that if there were something like a Sword of Damocles—as this would be, if my suggestion were carried out—hanging over the heads of motorists and commercial vehicle owners, if they knew that at any time their vehicle could be stopped and tested in respect of the matters set out in the Construction arid Use Regulations or others that the Government might think proper to include, it would provide a far greater incentive to them to keep their vehicles on the roads in a state of proper fitness.

Now let me return to the narrow point of this Amendment. I hope the noble Lord will give the matter serious consideration, for we on this side of the House feel strongly about it. We consider that it is wrong for private industry to be concerned with the operation of the issue of certificates required by Statute. There is a paraphernalia of appeal against a refusal which is going to cause friction in the motor industry. Unless they appoint every one, the Government will have to satisfy themselves as to the fitness and mechanical excellence of the equipment of thirty thousand repair shops in this country. That, I know, the Government do not want to do. I have in my speech explained my feelings in regard to the whole of this clause. I will now move the Amendment and perhaps we shall have the reply of the Government when other noble Lords have contributed expressions of their feelings upon it. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 10, leave out ("whether").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)

3.8 p.m.


In speaking to this Amendment, with the permission of the Committee I should like to deal generally with the whole of Clause 1. In fact, I think that the noble Lord who has just sat down has himself done so. I should like to obtain from Her Majesty's Government an explanation of their real intentions in this enabling clause—for that is what it is. And I should like to ask some very specific questions. One or two questions have already been put by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the first which I should like to ask is this: is it the intention to have vehicles tested by the Government's own testing stations, by specially authorised public garages, or by a combination of both? I should like a reply to that question. With an enabling clause of this nature, obviously many queries must come to mind. For instance, I should be glad if we could be told how often the proposed test is to take place. Further, is it intended to charge for the inspection and how much is that charge likely to be? The noble Lord has already asked what will be the scope of the inspection. Will it be just a general look-round of the vehicle without dismantling, or is it to consist of an examination which will call for skilled personnel and special testing equipment? In this connection, I should like to ask whether these matters have been discussed—as they may well have been—with the motor trade, in view of the present great difficulties in obtaining skilled personnel. Last, but not least, is it intended eventually to have compulsory testing of all vehicles, irrespective of age, including goods vehicles, but, of course, excluding public service vehicles?

I certainly do not want to weary the Committee with all the arguments against the compulsory testing of vehicles which I advanced during the Second Reading debate on this Bill, but I should like to emphasise one or two points. In the first place, it was suggested by Her Majesty's Government during the Second Reading debate that my figures regarding vehicle testing in the United States of America were not correct. The figures I gave the House were actually taken from a list prepared for me for the year 1954 by the American Automobile Association. Of course, it may well be that Her Majesty's Government have somewhat later figures. This list shows that the number of States having compulsory inspections is 15. States without compulsory inspection number 31, and States about which no reports have been received number 3.

Your Lordships may be interested to know that just before the last war a comparison was made between the accident records of six States which had periodic inspections and five comparable States which did not have them: the figures are really rather illuminating. Taking the accident figures at 100 in 1932, by the year 1933 the accident figure for the States having inspections was 111.1, whereas the States without inspections had a lower accident figure of 109.8. By 1934, the accident figure for the States with inspection was 120.3, and for the non-inspection States the figures was very slightly lower, at 120. I suggest to your Lordships that these figures indicate that it is very doubtful whether the proposed inspection of vehicles is going to improve very much, if at all, the excellent record in this country. I am very much in sympathy with the idea of improving the standard of vehicle maintenance, and, of course, the view that all vehicles should be roadworthy. I seriously doubt, however, whether the method outlined in this clause will be of any great value, and it might well be that a stepping up of the enforcement of Section 17 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, as put forward by the noble Lord who moved this Amendment, would be far better. The present plan appears to be very extravagant not only in cost but also in manpower.


I want to follow up what has been said by the two noble Lords who have preceded me. It is difficult to talk intelligently about this particular clause without having had some sort of statement from the Government as to what is contemplated under it. The Amendment immediately before us is to omit "whether," which I presume would have the effect of confining the operation of the clause to Government stations only. I think that is eminently desirable, because if the examination of vehicles is allowed to be undertaken by ordinary garages, there are all sort of obvious abuses which could easily creep into such a system. Supposing that there were two or three garages in a town, and that one of them was appointed an inspection station, with authorised examiners, and the rest of it, the other garages, would be its competitors. Might there not then be a danger that the garage selected would look very severely upon vehicles maintained by its competitors? Might it not be inclined to turn them down, or perhaps find unnecessary faults, or at any rate apply a very strict standard? It seems to me there would be a great danger of that happening.

Then there is the question of examinations. Who is going to carry out the examination? The only standard man who would be competent to carry out such an examination would seem to be somebody of the type of a garage foreman. But already these people are in extremely short supply all over the motor industry. The tremendous competition of other forms of industry in the motor world makes it extremely difficult for garages to get competent foremen and adequate staff. A garage would consider itself very lucky if it had one or two foremen. But remember the number of motor vehicles we are dealing with: over five million vehicles which have to be subject to examination every year. How is such an examination to be worked? Have motorists to make appointments, or will they just go along and join the queue, and hope for the best. Then think of the delay; think of the delay that one of your Lordships might be put to if you had just to go and join hopefully in the queue. You would go to one station and perhaps that would be full, and then you would go to another station. How far would you go, and what would the cost of all that be?

Talking of cost, I think it was Professor Glanville, of the Road Research Board, who gave a lecture on this very subject, and I believe he suggested that the fee should be 10s. a car. Do not forget the number of motor vehicles, and do not forget the sum of which their owners are already mulcted in taxation exery year. Are you really going to tell the motorists that they must pay a further 10s., plus all the cost of petrol consumed in running from one station to another in order to try to get the vehicle examined? And think of all the time it might take!

There are many other aspects in this clause—they were referred to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in his speech. A car might be examined to-day, and, for instance, any one of your Lordships' cars might pass its test; but who is to know how much of the brake linings is left? Unless the brake drums are taken off and the inside examined, you cannot possibly tell. Are the examiners going to do that? Then again, I happen to know of an extremely popular car in this country, a magnificent and very big car, which has been known to suffer from brake fade. If you took it to an ordinary station—even a new car straight out of the factory—it would of course pass its test; but, as your Lordships know better than I do, in order really to find out about brake fade, you have to run the car very fast and apply your brakes pretty hard when you are running very fast. It is only in that way that you find out about brake fade. Are the examination stations going to be equipped to deal with all that? I really should like to know. Before we get much further in the discussion of this Bill, the Government must tell us what is going to happen. We want to know whether these are going to be Government-controlled stations, or whether ordinary garages will be told to carry out the examination. If fact, we need a great deal more information, if the Government can give it to us, than has so far been put before the country.

There is one other point that I want to refer to before I sit down. It seems to me that the real bone of contention, and the real thing that the Government should aim at, if they feel it worth while to do it, is to tackle the cars on resale. Your Lordships can see plenty of these cars to-day on the outskirts of any big town with the sale price painted on the windscreens—£180, £100, £30, £10, or whatever it may be. Those cars, or many of them, are twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, or twentieth-hand, very likely, and probably their maintenance has been conspicuous by its complete absence. That is the sort of car, more than the more modern variety, that usually needs examining on the roads, and I think much more attention should be paid to them and to the necessity for seeing that a car passes a test before it is resold. I do not want to weary your Lordships, and I hope you will forgive me for having said what I have; but I hope the Government will be able to tell us a little more about this proposal.

3.20 p.m.


I should like to reinforce one or two of the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Clause 1 is a long clause, somewhat involved, and I may have missed something which may answer the question I am about to put. My eye has been caught by two points. In subsection (1) line 11 refers to examination "by other persons" and subsection (6) (a) provides that the authorisation of examiners, the imposition of conditions and the withdrawal of authorisations are to be within the discretion of the Minister. I cannot see that anything is said about the qualifications of these inspectors or, more especially, about the qualifications of the "other persons." As the clause stands, it seems clear that the Minister could authorise the employment of the boy who works at the petrol pump as an "other person."

It may be said that the Minister could be relied upon not to authorise an "other person" unless he were satisfied that that person could carry out the duties, but we all have had the experience of most unsuitable people being suddenly appointed by a Minister to carry out various duties. For instance, a road survey was undertaken the other day on which the most ridiculous persons were employed, at very good wages, to carry out a census of road traffic. No doubt the figures ultimately arrived at were erroneous, in view of the quality of many of the people employed on the job. If the Minister is to be empowered to appoint inspectors and other persons in order to carry out these tests, which are of vital importance, I think something should be laid down about the qualifications of those who are to be so appointed. It should not be left to the Minister to make appointments which, as we have seen in other cases, may be entirely unsuitable.


We are debating a very big question to-day, and although we wish to get through the Committee stage of the Bill with the utmost expedition I am sure the Government can have no complaint about noble Lords raising these important points. So far as I can see, what will happen in this clause is that under subsection (4) the Minister will designate certain classes of vehicle which will come under the system of examination. But we all know the position which has arisen with regard to L-drivers. Often it takes many months for those who are all ready to take their tests to obtain appointments to undergo their driving tests, so that for many months these individuals drive round with L-plates. Under subsection (4) it will be an offence against the law to use a vehicle of the class designated for examination when the certificate has expired. There is no provision which will save a man from transgressing the law if his certificate has expired and he has submitted his vehicle for examination but owing to the system the Minister has instituted it cannot have an instant examination. He will be in a quandary. He will either have to use his vehicle and transgress the law or he will have to lay up his vehicle.

It is no answer to say that this matter can be dealt with by regulation, because this is a specific provision of the Bill and regulations cannot contradict the main provisions of the Bill but must carry out those main provisions within the boundaries of the Bill. I submit that between now and the next stage, the Government should consider this question of the delay which might occur and the position of the man who is subject to this delay. If the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is accepted and there is only one agency for carrying out these examinations, it may be that the delay will be greater. I do not know. But, in any event, what is required here is a provision which will protect the man who is willing and anxious to submit his vehicle for examination from being put into an unfair position because the Government is not instantly ready to examine the vehicle when it is submitted.


When the Minister replies could he make clear the position about the production of the excise licences? There is an ugly rumour going about that no one can take his car overseas without producing this licence, and his car may not get examined until the week before he has arranged to go overseas and might be failed.


I must apologise to the noble Marquess, but I have not got his point.


I am referring to subsection (6) (h), which calls for the production, on an application for a licence under the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, of a test certificate. Does that mean that a certificate has to be applied for and granted before a car can be taken overseas, even temporarily?


I have only a few words to add to what has already been said, but I, too, seek enlightenment from the Government about one or two points. I would particularly refer to one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth—that is, the question of whether this test is really valid over the period for which the certificate is given. I do not know what sort of certificate is going to be issued, whether it is going to be some kind of badge to affix to the windscreen to show the police that the car has been tested; but, whatever it may be, it seems to me that a very slight accident shortly after a test has been taken and the certificate given may readily deprive a certificate of any real worth, particularly in the case of the not-so-careful motorist. A driver may charge a kerb rather heavily and slightly bend his front axle. That is liable to set up a dangerous tendency to skid under certain conditions. The not-so-careful motorist may not notice it or worry about it, but throughout the year he will have a certificate of roadworthiness for that vehicle. I am certain the Government must have this matter in mind, and I would ask them how they are going to get over it. To my mind, it is the crux of the whole scheme. A test taken on any day is not a test after it has been taken and a certificate given.

My other point is one which I think has not yet been made. If compulsory tests are decided upon by the Government, surely there will be periods of the year and periods of the week, even times during the day, when it would be most convenient and most popular for owners of vehicles to have them tested. It seems to me that the queues that will take place during certain periods will make it almost impossible for any test to be taken, unless the motorist is fortunate enough to be one of the early comers. I do not know whether this test is going to be done solely by appointment in advance, or whether, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, suggests, the motorist simply turns up and hopes he will be lucky.

3.30 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, recommends the bigger and better whip for curing some of the difficulties which are apparent in the testing of this enormous number of vehicles. Supposing it is only 4½ millions, and as little as half an hour per vehicle is allowed, that represents 280,000 man-days to get the test done, which seems to be an impossibility; and the other remarks as to the test not being valid also apply. I suggest that the Government might apply the "carrot" method (most drivers of cars put their cars in for service in the normal way in their own interests) and produce a form on which the garage could give a receipted bill for the service of the vehicle—that is to say, that they have given attention to brakes, steering and lights, which are the main objects under discussion. If that were done, not once a year but once a quarter, the charge to the motorist would probably be of the order of 10s. each time; and if, when the motorist applied the next year for his road fund licence the Government allowed him to deduct 25 per cent. of those four receipted bills—that is to say, 10s.—from his road fund licence, it seems to me that the majority of motorists would probably avail themselves of that method.

Further, as any garage testing the vehicle would be only too keen, not only to tighten the brakes but to tell the motorist that they needed relining, it seems to me that people would be encouraged to get the work done without drawing on labour that is not readily available and without the cost of setting up these testing stations and all the queueing up that would be necessary. The work could be done more or less compendiously under existing facilities; and if there were the "big stick" method to supplement it, I think it might well work.


It may be to the advantage of your Lordships if I explain what the Government have in mind in regard to this clause. First, I would say that I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said. We are covering a certain amount of new ground in this Bill, and we should be a poor Government if we did not. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the Amendments which he has put down, which will test in various ways what we have submitted. I should like to start with this proposition. We agreed in this House in a previous debate that a motor car is a lethal weapon. It is elementary that whenever a lethal weapon, be it a shotgun or an atomic weapon, comes anywhere near the public, the necessary safety precautions must be taken. I do not think anyone would differ from that proposition. That has been the law of the land in regard to motor cars for many years, but it has not been effectively enforced. I do not think any Minister of Transport could bring forward a Bill without in some way dealing with the matters covered by Clause 1 of the Bill.

A number of points have been raised, and I will endeavour to deal with them. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that what is proposed is impossible and useless. If I may more precisely put together what I think the objectives are, they are these. Noble Lords may ask first whether all this trouble is worth while when one considers the number of accidents shown by the Statistical Report which are ascribable to mechanical failures; secondly, whether it is worth while when one considers the limited value, particularly in time, which these tests will, in fact, have; and, thirdly, even if that trouble can be overcome, whether the only practical way of dealing with the problem is by a safeguard—that one must either release a hoard of officials on the country or open up the possibility of malpractices by giving authority to people who should not have it. Before dealing with those questions, I would say that in the whole question of road traffic the primary method by which improvement in safety will be effected is by voluntary co-operation and not by punishment. Basically that must be our approach to this problem. Therefore, I am anxious in what I have to say to take your Lordships along with me, and also to take the country with me, because what we do here must be something which, by and large, people feel is fair and just.

I would now deal with the three points which I have mentioned. First of all, there are the statistics. There were 6,600 accidents in 1952 attributable to defects in vehicles. I think we must look at those statistics in this way. There are an infinite variety of circumstances which give rise to accidents. Anyone who has had experience of examining accidents will, I feel sure, agree as to the difficulty of giving a single effective cause, or, for that matter, of laying down the many contributing factors which must be taken into consideration. These statistics must be looked at in the light of those considerations. After all, statistics depend for their accuracy on the accuracy of the units or digits of which they are composed. If those digits are wrong, the inaccuracy may well be multiplied in the ultimate statistics. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that one must look carefully at the statistics. I have made inquiries, and I find that in the great majority of cases no examination of a serious character is undertaken of vehicles involved in accidents. I may add that in any serious accidents a competent organisation, rather like the Accidents Investigation Branch of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, would be needed to make quite certain that the right answer was reached. No parallel organisation exists, though I believe Scotland Yard have a small organisation which does something of this sort. It is for that reason that I do not think we should attach too much importance to the statistical angle.

I now turn to the question of limited value. I find that as regards the spot checks carried out, mostly on goods vehicles, in something like 20 per cent. of the cases a prohibition notice is issued. That indicates broadly that something more needs to be done. I also have some figures from the Road Research Laboratory, who were quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. They are an authoritative organisation and I believe are recognised both in this country and abroad. This is their opinion, and the only thing I can say is that it is an objective opinion of some value. They say in regard to lights, for instance, that about one in seven vehicles met is a dazzler, and one-tenth of them have lost 90 per cent. of their output when new—that is, the output of light from their lights. I have another quotation which is also a matter of opinion. They say that American experience indicates that compulsory testing and other measures which accompany it have resulted in an appreciable reduction in accidents. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for not having the statistics; I am giving only the opinion which has been expressed by that organisation. A further opinion of theirs is that statistic show that older cars which are known to have deteriorated as regards brakes, lights and steering, have more accidents per vehicle than newer cars. That seems to indicate that there is, at least, some ground for improvement in that direction.


Can the noble Earl indicate where these statistics come from?


This information is supplied by the Road Research Laboratory. They give this as their opinion. I have not the statistics on which they base their opinion, but I will endeavour to get further information about them. Defects do occur, of course, without accidents taking place. I have myself twice been in a car when the steering has failed completely, but fortunately on neither occasion did damage result to anyone. It may be argued, and has been argued, that if this test is carried out it will be of only limited value in time—that the test is done to-day and defects might appear to-morrow. With regard to the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, he said that if he had a licence or test on January 2, 1955, he would get an Excise licence on January 1, 1956; but, of course, he ought to have another test on January 2, 1956, if he wishes—as I am sure he does—to keep within the law. It is, of course, strictly true that the licence is only of limited value in time.


The certificate.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon—certificate. I go further and say that it is important that it should not be regarded as a continuing guarantee, because, of course, it is not in any sense of the word. All the certificate says is that, on one day of the year, the car is mechanically up to the minimum standard which the Minister of Transport requires, and the minimum standard which the Minister requires every day of the year. All we are asking—and it really is extremely elementary—is that you should show that your car is of that minimum standard on one single day of the year. That will cost, I think, something in the order of 10s. or two gallons of petrol, which I do not think is a large sum of money.

The point which the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, made I imagine is really this: that if it is a routine examination, most garages will "throw in" the test with it, if necessary. As a matter of fact, many drivers will be quite glad to have this minimum system of testing. Circumstances vary, of course. Some allow their cars to deteriorate without noticing it and other people are not mechanically minded, and are not aware that their brakes or lights have deteriorated. As I have emphasised, lighting is something we do not always notice.

Now may I turn to the question of method. Many noble Lords have remarked on the difficulty of knowing how to get this examination done, even assuming it is desirable. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, suggested a considerable extension of the present system of spot checking, That, of course, would be possible, but to make it effective a considerable increase would be required in the number of officials concerned—probably at least ten times the number, though I make a very tentative guess. Moreover, these people would require premises of some sort, because we intend not only that checking—that is to say, spot checking—should be more thorough than at present but also that it should be carried out more thoroughly than the sort of spot checking which goes on on the road at the present time. I am also not convinced that an extension of spot checking, by which people who are parked, or people driving on the road can be stopped by the police, and have their cars examined, would be very welcome. I think people would prefer to have examinations carried out in their own time. We do not believe that a vast expansion of officials is practicable or desirable.

We do not intend in any way to rush this procedure, which will have to go slowly at all times, in order to cope with the numbers to be examined. A number of noble Lords have emphasised that to queue or wait is most undesirable, and I absolutely agree with them. That means, of course, that the introduction of testing, if we do bring it in, must be made by easy stages. As I have already suggested, the older cars should come first. What the Minister proposes to do is this: All garages who could satisfy him that the competence of their staff and their equipment are of a requisite quality would be authorised to test on his behalf and to grant certificates. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, raised the question of qualifications. In the motor trade (I think I am correct in saying this) there are no laid-down qualifications, broadly speaking, and that would be a matter which, to a large extent, certifying officers or examining boards from the Ministry of Transport would have to judge. But, after all, what they have to do is a comparatively simple matter. In view of the emphasis placed on the absence of skilled personnel, there is no other possible way in which tests of this character can be carried out.

It has been suggested that garage proprietors might be placed in an invidious position with regard to their own customers' cars and others, and that they might either demand excessive repairs or perhaps not carry out proper repairs. Garage proprietors are in the habit of trying to persuade their clients to buy new motor cars, and it may be that they are in the habit of persuading their clients to do repairs which are not entirely necessary. But there is nothing new in that, and I do not think this sort of procedure will give any greater opportunity to them to do that sort of thing. What I do think is important—and I wish to emphasise this in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye—is that this scheme cannot proceed until there is a sufficient supply of authorised organisations to do the work. That is fundamental to the scheme being able to function at all. We do not propose that the examination should be very elaborate. Our initial proposals are that it should cover no more than brakes, lights and steering. But we hope to learn from the experience gained from the pilot station as to what is really necessary.

We do not think that the cost of equipment will be very high. We see no reason why any competent garage with the necessary equipment should not be able to carry out testing; and the fact that a great many do it will make it not only easier for the public but, I think, fairer to all concerned. There may be some suggestion that garages would grant certificates too lightly. This might well be the case, but the Minister of Transport would have to watch this closely, and if necessary he would take away the authorisation which he has given to these garages. I suggest that, on the whole, garages would be very jealous to see that they were worthy of the trust which was given to them. If their licences were removed, it would be a considerable reflection on them, which would certainly become known to other garages and their clients. I think it has some sort of similarity to A.A. or R.A.C. approvals which are given to some garages.

What we are asking is a very simple matter. It is that the minimum essential safety precautions of a car should be manifestly maintained on one day of the year. I think that is a small step, and one which at the present time is necessary. Our experience from the United States is that, on the whole, such a provision has not proved difficult and has had some effect. I suggest that the Minister of Transport would have to take a step of this sort in bringing forward a Road Transport Bill, and I believe this is the only effective day in which this can be done.


Before the noble Earl sits down, could he say anything with regard to the cost to the individual examinee and of the whole scheme to the country, as contemplated?


I think the figure the noble Lord himself gave is correct. We think it would be of the order of magnitude of about 10s. I do not want to be tied too closely to that, because we have not a great deal of experience about it.


And to the country?

3.50 p.m.


I welcome the attitude which the noble Earl has adopted. He has made it quite plain that there is no Party question in this matter, and I say for my part that I hold myself perfectly free to vote against some of the Amendments which my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has put down. But I ask myself, having listened to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, this simple question: What on earth is the good of this scheme? I am not a driver, but I have travelled by car a good deal, and I have a healthy regard for my own safety. The principle which I adopt now, and propose to continue, if I can, is to get a new car every year by paying a comparatively small sum, in order that I may have the satisfaction of presuming that the car is all right. By paying an extra £200 a year I find that I can carry on on those lines. That is a good system. If a driver knows absolutely nothing about cars, it is a good thing for him to keep out of the hands of garage people, not all of whom are scrupulously honest, so far as I can gather. It is absolutely foolish to think that, even in my case in the course of one year, my car is necessarily going to be all right during the whole of that year. One often finds that brakes get out of order, or steering needs looking after; and when I find that, even in a new car. I send it to a garage to ask for advice. But what is the good—the noble Earl has not told us; he said it is a very small thing to ask—of having a system by which a driver, on one particular day of the year, has the satisfaction, on paying 10s., of knowing that his car is in good order? It does not in the least follow that the car is in good order a week, a month or six months afterwards.

I cannot, for the life of me, see the value of it. I could see some value in it if it was going to reduce accidents on the road; then I should be in favour of it—it would be vital—but will it? It seems to me that, at considerable cost and delay, you are setting up an absolutely illusory protection. So far as this particular Amendment is concerned, if we are to have this inspection at all, I would much rather have it by garages approved by the Minister rather than by any old garage, almost anywhere, because it seems to me that it may tend to lead to all sorts of undesirable practices. I believe that it has led to undesirable practices in America, and it may easily do so here. I beg the Minister to reconsider this scheme. If he wanted to satisfy his critics by introducing it, well he has done so and that is all right.

I am told that in America a testing station dealing with 40,000 vehicles per annum needs a staff of ten. To have 5 million vehicles tested once per annum would require a staff of 1,250. How you are going to get 1,250 competent people at the present time to deal with this I do not know. I thought the Minister did not make his case any easier by saying that it was not going to be a very elaborate test. To my mind it makes it all the more illusory because you have somehow or other to get 1,250 people. How are you going to do it? I should very much rather not have a protection which will involve a considerable expense. The test seems to me to establish absolutely nothing, except that which the noble Earl claimed for it—namely, it would prove that on one particular day in one particular year the car was in good condition. I ask, what is the good of that?

I beg the Minister to think again about this matter. There is no question of Party involved. If the Government withdraw this scheme, they will lose nothing in prestige. I feel tolerably certain that even amongst their own supporters there are a large number who would wish the Government not to press the scheme, because it is manifestly no good. Let the Government drop this, I humbly suggest, and get on to other and more serious matters. Let them take it back and say: "We will consider it again," or words to that effect. I can assure the noble Earl that if they do, neither he nor the Government will lose anything in prestige. It so happens that they have had foisted upon them a scheme which is not at all worth while and which would cause a good deal of trouble and give the unfortunate pedestrian, who is vitally concerned, absolutely no security at all.


I should like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, on one point with regard to the employment of certain selected garages. I quote my own case because I employ, in having my car regularly serviced, a very big and well-equipped garage. I put it to the managing director the other day and said to him: "Suppose you have an offer from the Government to act as a testing station?" He said: "I could not possibly touch it, for two reasons," and he gave them. "First," he said, "we are far too busy. Over there is a whole row of cars under repair. We are far too busy to undertake any more work." The second reason was: "We should anyhow be accused of abusing our position if we did so and would probably lose clients in consequence." I should like to know whether those considerations have entered the Government's head.


I should like to make my point clearer. What I suggested was not that a test should be thrown in with the service but that a receipted bill that the service had been carried out should render a test unnecessary. Sometimes a service at a garage is carried out monthly; sometimes it is four times a year. I suggest that a receipted bill showing that the work had been carried out on a particular car should render the test unnecessary—that is the point I tried to make—and that possibly part of that cost should be remitted when the driver applied for his Road Fund licence the next year.


I agree with a great deal of what the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, has just said. I do not know whether the Government are prepared to consider it, but I do ask the noble Earl, what is a test, not an elaborate test, on one day in a year really going to do? What is it going to tell us? Honestly, I cannot see. The Government are going to make the whole of the motor world, over 5 million to-day, and probably 6 million in a year or two's time, pay ten shillings a year each to have their cars tested (and it is not a very elaborate test) for brakes, lights and steering. What will that test tell us? I know a little about the spot checks that have been carried out on lights, because I have had correspondence with the Chief Constable of Oxfordshire about it. He carried out some spot checks at lay-bys on the Oxford Road and they were found to be of great value to the motorists. There were a number who had their lights wrongly adjusted. I agree with that idea; but I cannot understand what the Government feel they will get out of making everybody pay ten shillings a year to have a not very elaborate test.

May I ask the noble Earl one other question? He told me about the cost per individual. What about the net cost on the country? What is going to be the cost to the country of setting up this scheme, with all its authorised examiners, who, I suppose, will get a fee—or, at least, the garages will? I feel that the Government ought to be able to tell us what it will cost the country, as well as what it will cost the wretched individual. I do ask the noble Earl to have these points in mind. If only he could consider them and perhaps make a further statement on the Report stage of the Bill, I am certain that many noble Lords would be grateful to him.


I do not know whether the noble Earl would like to address your Lordships now.


I should like to say one word. I am grateful for the frank statements which noble Lords have made about this scheme. As your Lordships know, the situation is pretty serious. If the Government make any suggestions to improve the safety of the roads, what are they met with?—blank opposition.


Oh no!


Come, come!.


With great respect, the noble Lord said that it was completely illusory to say that a car was, on one day of the year, of the minimum standard required by the Ministry of Transport. I do not think that is so, because, at the present time, the car may never come up to the minimum standards required. That is the point. On one day of the year, under this proposal, the condition of the car is brought up to standard. That is at least a step forward —I think that is a fair way of putting it. One might ask oneself: what is the use of a medical test? After all, a man takes a medical test, and he may be ill the next day. This examination is really a parallel to the medical test. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, said that the garages would not touch the scheme. If that were the case, then we should have to proceed by other methods; but I am surprised to hear that might be the case. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked what the cost would be. It is our intention that the fee paid by the motorist should cover the whole cost of the inspection. It should not be more than 10s.; we hope that it will be less.

I quoted statistics which indicated that there was evidence that a good deal of testing had to be done, and this is the only effective way in which a substantial number of cars can be covered. There is no question at all at the present time of bringing in 5 million cars; it is intended to bring into the scheme at its commencement only a proportion of the total number of cars which can effectively be examined by the examiners. I shall be glad to arrange for a full discussion of the matter between now and the Report stage, if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, so desires. I think that we have got to make some progress in this direction, and I feel that it would make some difference if we could ensure that cars at a minimum standard of maintenance were brought a little higher up. If the noble Lord will agree, I shall be glad to arrange discussions.


May I say that I think the noble Earl has done rather less than justice to the Opposition. While we say that we do not think that this is the right way, we have put concrete suggestions as to which is the right way. The noble Earl has underlined it. He said that the spot check which is operating at the present time discloses a figure of 20 per cent. sub-standard vehicles. He has made a suggestion with regard to one day of the whole year. As has been pointed out, all that will do is to make sure that every vehicle on the road is up to a minimum standard on one day of the year. My whole point on this narrow issue is that the certificate to be issued has to be above commercial considerations. I cannot see why any private enterprise garage proprietor should be in the invidious position of having to tell his own customers that he will not issue a certificate; that is for the Government inspector to do. Unless the noble Earl gives me an assurance that, on any reconsideration of this matter, he will delete repair shops, or others than official inspectors,

I must ask your Lordships to divide.


If I may say one brief word, speaking as a magistrate with experience of many years of the usual stream of motoring offences which come before the bench, I can at this moment recollect only one instance in which the mechanical disrepair of a motor vehicle was involved in the case—only one over a very long period of years. I must say that my own feeling is that this matter can be dealt with by penalties. I have often been surprised in some cases, not before the bench on which I sit, at the insufficiency of the penalties which are passed. I feel that if severe penalties were inflicted where mechanical disrepair was shown to have been responsible for an accident, and if those penalties included suspension for a period of the licence to drive, we should deal quite effectively with this question of vehicles in a bad state of repair being on the road.


The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has asked me whether I am prepared to give an undertaking in this matter. I am afraid I cannot give such an undertaking because, at the present juncture, I cannot see how the work which we all agree should be done, could be done in the way he suggests, without considerable expense and interference with the public. The method suggested in the Bill is an effective and simple way in which the work can be done, and I am sorry that it does not commend itself to the noble Lord. If he wishes to divide, he must, of course, do so. I have offered him discussions, and he does not want them.

On Question, Whether the Amendment be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided:—

Contents, 45; Not-Contents, 33.

Camden, M. Stansgate, V. Kenswood, L.
Cholmondeley, M. Thurso, V. Killearn, L.
Willingdon, M. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Ashton of Hyde, L. Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.
Albemarle, E. Belstead, L. Macpherson of Drumochter, L.
Howe, E. Burden, L. [Teller.] Mathers, L.
Jowitt, E. Calverley, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Listowel, E. Chorley, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Douglas of Barloch, L. Monkswell, L.
Henderson, L. Morrison, L.
Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Hindlip, L. Moyne, L.
Esher, V. Hurcomb, L. Pethick-Lawrence, L.
Mersey, V. Inman, L. Rea, L.
Sempill, L. Strabolgi, L. Waleran, L.
Silkin, L. Strang, L. Winster, L.
Somers, L. Strathcarron, L. Wise, L.
Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Selkirk, E. Chesham, L.
Shaftesbury, E. Coleraine, L.
Salisbury, M. (L. President.) Digby, L.
Exeter, M. Leathers, V. Dovercourt, L.
Reading, M. Monck, V. Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Swinton, V. Freyberg, L.
Bessborough, E. Woolton, V. Hawke, L.
De La Warr, E. Leconfield, L.
Dundee, E. Balfour of Burleigh, L. Mancroft, L.
Fortescue, E. [Teller.] Balfour of Inchrye, L. Milverton, L.
Munster, E. Brassey of Apethorpe, L. Remnant, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Carrington, L. Sandford, L.
Rothes, E.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

4.12 p.m.


Do I understand from the noble Earl in charge of the Bill that he now accepts the next Amendment? I said that Amendment No. 2 was really the heart of the matter, and that is the Amendment upon which the argument has taken place. Technically, I could not move Amendment No. 2 because Amendment No. 1 was first on the list. May I take it that the noble Earl now accepts Amendment No. 2 without a Division? I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 11, leave out ("or by other persons (hereinafter referred to as 'authorised examiners') authorised by him,").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


I accept that Amendment without a Division and I shall have to secure further instructions with regard to Clause 1. I am wondering how the noble Lord would like to proceed.


This Amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 19, leave out ("or examiner").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)

LORD BURDEN moved, in subsection (4), after "road" to insert "or other place." The noble Lord said: Following that Division, I was waiting to see whether the noble Earl in charge of the Bill had anything to say before this Amendment was moved, but perhaps it would be better if I moved the Amendment and we shall then see whether the Minister has anything to say. This Amendment is designed for a more modest system of examination than that envisaged in Clause 1. As Clause 1 has been objected to from all quarters, the Minister has to consider the position arising as the result; but Regulations have been made under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, which empower a police constable or an examiner of the Ministry of Transport to test and inspect, either on the road or on any premises where a vehicle is, any brakes, silencers or steering gear fitted to a motor vehicle or trailer. That is provided for in the Construction and Use Regulations, 1952. I suggest that those arrangements could usefully be extended to enable the police or other duly authorised people to require that any vehicle, whether on the road or exposed for sale, should be submitted for tests as to roadworthiness.

There is a further point, although what one is now saying is conditioned by what the Minister may do in connection with Clause 1. Subsection (2) of Clause 1 provides for right of appeal to the Minister against a decision that any vehicle is defective, and subsection (6) of this clause enables the Minister to make regulations as to appeal. It is considered that there ought to be adequate facilities for a speedy right of appeal so that a vehicle is not unnecessarily kept off the road with the possibility of resultant hardship. Perhaps the Minister will give us an assurance to that effect. I ought to say, in conclusion, that these and subsequent Amendments on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend, Lord Milner of Leeds, and myself are submitted on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations who naturally have given close attention to the provisions of this Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 10, after ("road") insert ("or other place").—(Lord Burden.)


I am not very clear about the noble Lord's purpose. The Amendment says that a person who uses a car off the road should require a test certificate. I do not see the force of that argument. I thought the noble Lord had in mind equipment of the kind used in gravel pits, quarries and similar places. I should have thought that matter might better be dealt with under a Mines and Quarries Bill, or possibly under a Factories Bill. We do not intend this to be an inspection system but only a road safety measure.


I had in mind that there might be a good deal of legal discussion as to what is meant by the words "on the road." If the words "off the road" are put in, that would, of course, cover any conceivable instance where the vehicle was not actually at work on the road.


I wonder whether I am right in my understanding of this Amendment? The noble Lord who has moved it has used the words "on the road." If any kind of equipment is used on the road under its own power it has to have a licence and number plates. Therefore, it would come under this Bill, and I do not see why the noble Lord says "if it goes on the road." If it is used on the road it will have to be taxed, and it will necessarily come under the Bill. That being so, I do not think the Amendment is necessary.


May I ask the noble Lord for clarification on one point? There are many vehicles which never go on the roads. There are vehicles which are used on the farm—some old Austin 7, it may be, or some old van which is used as a general "hackabout." It is not licensed, and it does not carry any number plates. Any noble Lord who goes about on agricultural property knows the kind of vehicle I mean. If an accident happens with such a vehicle the employee concerned is covered under the ordinary provisions of industrial insurance. But if this Amendment were adopted, those vehicles, because they would be used on a road "or other place" would be subject to the official examination. That I am sure is not the intention of the noble Lord, for it would create an absurd position.


Perhaps my noble friend Lord Burden will allow me to help him. We are dealing in this Bill with all types of vehicles which need an excise licence. Farm tractors and any other vehicles which never go on the highway do not require an excise licence. I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, is right in what he says. If you put in the words "or other place," it would be interpreted that a particular piece of farm machinery that operated on that road "or other place" would need an excise licence and would come under the licensing law. I would advise my noble friend that what he seeks to achieve is already covered. This Amendment would rather complicate matters and tend to cause hardship in the case of vehicles which are specifically exempted from requiring excise licences. I will not mention the categories concerned.


I think the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is right, and I should be glad if the noble Lord, Lord Burden, would withdraw his Amendment. I do not think the Amendment he is proposing would be within the scope or intentions of the Bill.


In view of what the Minister and other noble Lords have said, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.24 p.m.

THE EARL OF SELKIRK moved, in subsection (4), after proviso (a) to insert: (b) to vehicles of such other classes or descriptions as may be prescribed.

The noble Earl said: This is really not much more than a drafting Amendment. As the Bill is drawn, the Minister may by regulations prescribe vehicles to which this clause will apply, but there is some doubt as to whether he can exclude vehicles at a later date by regulation. It is possible that vehicles may be brought in as a class and that it may be desirable subsequently to take them out. An obvious example is that of taxicabs. At the present time the hackney carriages of London have a very high standard of testing by the Metropolitan Police, and there is no intention to bring them under the Bill at all. Outside London, in some areas there is a high standard for taxicabs but in other areas there is not. In some areas there is no test, and for such areas taxicabs might be brought in, and if, subsequently, a test were imposed, the area would be excluded. It is to meet circumstances of that kind that this Amendment is put forward. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 20, at end insert the said paragraph.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)


I support the noble Earl's Amendment, and I hope he will not think I am too pernickety if I mention this matter. I have an Amendment later on almost the same lines, and I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he will include in his Amendment the word "age," so that the paragraph would relate to vehicles of: "such other classes or age…" He may find in time that he will have to exempt cars of one or two years of age to bring the whole scheme within manageable proportions. I am trying to help him. He will never inspect 6 million motor vehicles a year, and it may at some time be found advisable to say that only motor cars of, let us say, five years or four years of age and over shall be concerned. With the definition as it is now, it would not include age. If the noble Earl will include the word "age." I shall be quite willing not to move my Amendment when it is reached.


May I ask the noble Earl whether, in moving this Amendment, he has considered a difficulty that has arisen in other respects under the Road Traffic Act, with regard to the use of the words: "other classes or descriptions"? I hope that at some time while the Bill is in Committee some clause will be moved which clears up a doubt that has arisen about it. The position as disclosed by a case which was before the High Court not long ago is this. The Road Traffic Act divides motor vehicles into classes. It does not divide them into descriptions, or give any hint as to what is meant by descriptions. There are no sub-classes; there are certain classes. The noble Earl mentioned taxicabs. Taxicabs do not appear as a class in the Act, nor is there a description. The difficulty which arose the other day was this. There is a provision in the Act that magistrates, when disqualifying a man from holding a licence, can limit the disqualification. What is intended is that a man may, perhaps, be disqualified from driving a lorry but shall be left at liberty to drive a private motor car, or vice versa, or a motor cycle. But magistrates in a case the other day disqualified a man from driving a 5 cwt. van, or what was generally known as a 5 cwt. van. And, of course, that is not a class. It may be said to be a description, but one does not know what a description is, and so magistrates are enabled to give their own descriptions.

The Minister in various regulations dealt with different descriptions, but we have not yet been able to find how he has done that or what authority there is, and the court was strongly inclined to hold that the words "class or description" were tautologous. If we had done that, I think we should, by inference, have held that a great number of regulations that had been passed were ultra vires, and of course we were very careful not to do that. But it raises great difficulty in trying to administer a great many of the sections, because though the Act divides motor vehicles into classes, when one comes to "classes or descriptions" one finds that no one knows what "descriptions" are.


I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice for drawing attention to this matter. If I do not reply to him now, I should like to assure him that what he said will be very carefully examined. Motor cars do change in type and appearance, and that is one of the matters which make the description of a vehicle particularly difficult. As far as we are concerned, all we want to put in is that the Minister may divide cars into any classes or divisions which appear to him to be appropriate. I am informed that my Amendment is wider than that of Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but I will certainly have it looked at in order to be certain that it does include age.

4.30 p.m.

LORD WOLVERTON moved, in subsection (4), after proviso (a), to insert: (b) to goods vehicles licensed for the carriage of goods under the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933,". The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Stonehaven and Lord Hampton. I think your Lordships will agree that this is an important Amendment. It seeks to exclude goods vehicles from this first class of inspection, for the simple reason that we feel that goods vehicles are now amply covered under the 1933 Act. Sections 17 and 18 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, relate to obligations to maintain goods vehicles in serviceable condition. Section 18 provides that examiners shall have the powers of police constables. In the proviso to subsection (4) of this Bill, public service vehicles, tramway cars and trolley-buses are excluded from the examination because they are already liable to inspection: at any time a Ministry of Transport inspector can ask for a spot check on goods vehicles; and these inspectors do so. We feel that if the inspectors have those powers, and use them, it is unnecessary to rule that, in a voluntary capacity first, and, it may be, in a compulsory capacity afterwards, these goods vehicles should have an inspection by an authorised garage or, as the Amendment now stands, by an authorised examiner to be appointed by the Minister, because we think these vehicles are amply covered under the 1933 Act. I hope that I have made the point clear. With those few words, I move the Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 20, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Wolverton.)


If I may answer quite shortly, we are not satisfied that the present system of inspecting goods vehicles is adequate. It is not to be compared with the standards which are set for public service vehicles, which are very much higher. We think that if inspection is to be carried out it should include goods vehicles. I can tell the noble Lord that only a small fraction of the total number of goods vehicles are to-day inspected at all, and we think that the number which requires inspection is very much higher. I must therefore ask the noble Lord not to press this Amendment. I think the section to which he refers is not by any means as fully carried out as he may think or, indeed, as we all may wish.


I should like to add a word upon this, and upon my own Amendment, No. 9. I realise that it is opening the door rather wide, but as your Lordships well know, many large organisations and great industrial firms have extremely well-equipped garages, with all the proper appliances for repair and maintenance. If this Amendment were accepted and these organisations could seek exemption from compulsory testing, it would have two advantages. One would be that it would relieve the organisations and firms of what is, to my mind, a quite unnecessary extra test. Secondly, it would greatly relieve congestion, especially in large factory areas. It is opening the door rather wide, I admit, and it might be difficult to draw the line; but surely that could be done by firms or organisations which have such amenities applying to be exempted and being so exempted if, after inspection, they were found worthy of it.


I hope the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will reconsider this matter, because I should like to support the noble Lord in his arguments. This is where we come up against a rather anomalous position. All goods-carrying vehicles are subject to a carriers' licence, A, B, or C, and it is a condition of the grant of such licences that the vehicle should be maintained at a certain standard of fitness. It is a ground for the revocation of an A, B, or C licence that the vehicle is proved not to be in that state of fitness. This Bill as it stands today says that not only shall all the goods-carrying vehicles have a test, as the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, has stated, for the retention of their carriers' licences, A, B, or C, and to fulfil the conditions of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, but that they shall also have to undergo another test for an excise licence. What will be the position? Are we going to subject all these commercial vehicles to two tests?

The spot test is the one that is carried out to-day, and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has already told us that he had found in his experience, or his Ministry had told him, that 20 per cent. of vehicles were found to require some attention. Under Section 17 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, the vehicles to which the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, has referred, are subject to a test which, in my view, is the ideal one, because the sanction is there immediately: the inspector can turn the vehicle off the road. He cannot withdraw its excise licence, but he can withdraw the carrier's licence which, for a commercial vehicle, is just as effective. Or he can say to the owner, "This is not so serious that you must be turned off the road; I will give you two weeks in which to put the vehicle right. If it is not put right in that time I shall then turn you off the road." It is for the enforcement of that provision that I am pleading in my Amendment which has received the approbation of your Lordships. It is the simplest and the cheapest way, and does not require a lot of elaborate buildings and equipment. The inspector can direct the vehicle anywhere to have a further and more extensive examination if his first diagnosis convinces him that it is a bad case.

Moreover, these inspectors know the bad owners. They do not have to inspect these vehicles on one day out of 365 to make sure they are right. They can inspect them once a month if they know the bad owners, and they have a sanction straight away. That is a far better system, and I hope that the noble Earl will give this matter another thought, because it is worthy of very serious consideration by the Government. I believe that here lies the answer to their dilemma. I agree that it is necessary that the vehicles should be up to scratch; I yield to nobody in that regard, and I believe that this is the best way of seeing to it. But having subjected them to one test, you should not subject them to another. The withdrawal of their A, B, or C licence means that they are out of business—they cannot trade, they cannot carry goods; and it is, therefore, just as effective as withdrawing the excise licence. I hope this will be made an exception. You cannot say to them one day, "You are going to have your test for your A, B or C licence, and then you will have to go into a pilot station and have a test from a different examiner, with different views and ideas, who is not at all influenced by his colleague who has given the A, B, or C test." Surely you cannot make them have two tests. There must be some more thinking, and I should like the noble Earl to think about this point again, so that we can return to it at another stage of the Bill.


I was most disappointed in the noble Earl's reply. I understood him to say that a large number of these vehicles were not tested at all. If you have a statutory requirement for one test and that is not carried out, how is it going to help you if you merely have a statutory requirement for two tests? I must say that I did not think the reply was at all strong.


Before the noble Earl replies, I should like to know whether he can inform me where the Services come in here. The Royal Army Service Corps and the Tank Corps have a large number of vehicles. Do they come under the exemption for public service vehicles?


Yes. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is not putting the case fairly when he says there are two tests. There are no tests for A, B and C licences, as the noble Lord knows quite well. I am correct in saying that all cars are subject to a check from time to time. Actually, it is carried out only in regard to goods vehicles. I would say to the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, that the point about this Bill is that we are not satisfied that these mechanical checks are adequately carried out. We think that in the interests of safety, this checking should be carried further. I will certainly look at this again, but the noble Lord should be quite clear that it is contrary to the principle of the Bill that any important class of vehicle should be left out, though we may have to let out all vehicles that are under a certain age. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would withdraw this Amendment.


Before the noble Lord withdraws his Amendment, I must say that I am correct in what I have said. I will read Section 17 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933. which is entitled "Enforcement of obligation to maintain goods vehicles in serviceable condition." (1) For the purpose of securing in the case of goods vehicles their maintenance in a fit and serviceable condition and the observance of the provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and of this Part of this Act, the Minister shall appoint such officers (in this Part of this Act referred to as "examiners") as he considers necessary. (2) An examiner shall at any time, on production if so required of his authority, be entitled to enter and inspect any goods vehicle, and for that purpose to detain the vehicle during such time as is required for the inspection … I will not bore your Lordships by reading on, because there is a page and a half of this section; but I have gone far enough to show that it is a condition of the issue of an A, B or C licence that the vehicle shall be kept in a serviceable condition and that the licence can be withdrawn if the examiners find it is not kept in that condition.


But that is not a test, is it?


Have we come to that stage! How can an examiner find whether the brakes or the steering are all right without testing them? I am not a barrister—the noble Earl is—but that seems common sense to me. An examiner has to be able to test the brakes before he can say whether or not they are efficient. This Bill really does subject all these people to two tests.


I must say that I am disappointed. I did not read out the whole section, only the heading; but I read it carefully before coming to the House, and it seems to me that public goods vehicles are already covered. If the noble Earl will give me an undertaking that he will look at the point again before the next stage, I am prepared to withdraw this Amendment now, but I may return to it if not satisfied, because it is going to be an enormous job even to have only the private vehicles examined at the present time. I think possibly something should be done on those lines in the experimental stage, but to clutter up this Bill with something that is already provided for under the Road and Rail Traffic Act does not seem to be necessary. The Bill already excludes public passenger vehicles, such as trams and trolley-buses, which are dealt with under that Act. I am disappointed, but I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.


I will look at this again, but I cannot hold out any hope that these vehicles will be left out. We consider that the present standards of maintenance are inadequate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD WOLVERTON moved, in subsection (4), after proviso (a) to insert: (b) to a vehicle adapted to carry less than eight passengers and licensed as a hackney carriage by a local authority. The noble Lord said: This Amendment deals with a slightly different point. It deals with licensed hackney carriages with less than eight seats which are licensed by local authorities. It is the duty of local authorities to see that these hackney carriages are in a proper condition before they are licensed. Therefore, I do not think there should be an obligation on the owners, first of all on a voluntary basis and later on a compulsory basis, to have these inspected, as inspection has already been carried out. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 20, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Wolverton.)


The standard set by local authorities, if one is set at all, varies a great deal. Where the standard is good, we intend to exclude that local authority; where it is not good, we shall not do so. I hope the noble Lord will not press the Amendment, which covers all hackney carriages.


Where the standard of the local authority is not high, can it be brought up to standard?


That is a matter for the local authorities.


I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment, but I will look into the matter again.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

EARL HOWE moved, in subsection (4), after proviso (a) to insert: (b) to a hackney carriage licensed by the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolitan Police District under the provisions of the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act, 1869, The noble Lord said: I understand that this Amendment has been accepted.




In that case, I must put the case for hackney carriages. As I think everybody knows, a hackney carriage has to come up once a year for examination. The examining staff at the stations in the Metropolitan Police Area consist of officers selected for the work on account of their knowledge of engineering and their practical workshop experience. Every vehicle must be completely overhauled and must be presented for inspection and tested at a passing station, where it is subjected to road tests and a careful examination. In addition, all hackney carriages in London are subject to inspections, without notice, on the owner's premises not fewer than four times a year, and are also subject to inspections on cab ranks and stations. The Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is empowered to suspend a licence, if it is found that the conditions of fitness are not complied with. Under those conditions, what is the good of making the hackney carriage subject to any further examinations? It has to pass a test four times a year, as well as spot tests. Surely the Minister is able to accept this. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 20, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Earl Howe.)


The position is that the Metropolitan Police Area will be excluded by regulation. It is not put into the Bill because it was felt that it would be invidious to do that without dealing with other authorities who may have an equally high standard. I assure the noble Earl that it is intended that the London taxicab will not be subject to test under this Bill.


I thank the noble Earl very much for his answer and beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


This Amendment is consequential on the Government's acceptance of Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 24, leave out ("or to be employed by, an authorised examiner") and insert ("an inspector").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


This Amendment is also consequential on the Amendment accepted by the Government. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 32, leave out paragraph (a).—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


This Amendment is really drafting. All it says is that the vehicle should be tested in the state in which it is normally used; that is to say, if it has a trailer, or anything of that sort then the trailer should be attached. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 35 after ("the") insert ("conditions under which").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)


This is a consequential Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 11, leave out ("authorised examiners") and insert ("inspectors").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


This, too, is a consequential Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 16, leave out ("authorised examiners") and insert ("inspectors"). (Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)

4.52 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved to leave out subsection (9). The noble Lord said: The deletion of subsection (9) of Clause 1 should really be considered on Amendment No. 17. What I seek to do is to withdraw from this clause the Negative Resolution procedure and to put in its place a positive one. The history of legislation connected with our roads it one of reference and regulation. From 1930 up to now we have had four Road Traffic Acts, a Road and Rail Traffic Act, numerous Road Acts and Lighting Acts and numerous regulations, until now, if you want to get at what is the Statute controlling our road traffic, you have to wade through Act after Act and it becomes confusion worse confounded. Many of the Statutes controlling road traffic at the present time emanate from the 1930 Act, which was passed before the motor vehicle as we know it to-day was born. In my view, the provisions of this clause are so important and far-reaching that they should not be allowed to slip through under the Negative Resolution procedure but should require an Affirmative Resolution of Parliament, so that they can be debated.

What Clause 1 seeks to do is to erect pilot stations, and your Lordships have now decided that these stations—I estimate that something in the region of 15,000 will be needed—must be Government-owned and Government-operated. I object to a clause that would give the Minister power to go ahead with that sort of thing and spend millions of pounds without having to come to Parliament to justify his action. Who is going to be the judge as to whether this experiment is a success or a failure? With respect, Ministers come and Ministers go; and when the assessment of the pilot station has to be made, it may not be the broadminded Minister of Transport we have to-day who has to do it. As the noble Earl has admitted, this is in a number of respects an enabling Bill, and it is an enabling Bill in the widest possible sense.

The next thing this clause does is to give the Minister power, by regulations subject to a Negative Resolution, to say that nobody can get an excise licence for his motor car or commercial vehicle unless he has a fitness test and a fitness certificate. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who pointed out that this may put the owner out of business for three months, because at the present time in a number of districts it takes two or three months to get a date to have a driving test, and it sometimes takes three or four weeks to get an excise licence. The local authorities say that they cannot cope with the work. Are we going to say that this shall be done on a Negative Resolution, by regulations which may go through in the Recess, and that Parliament need never know about it? Later in this Committee stage I will give your Lordships an example of one that slipped through in a very quiet manner.

I think these are important matters on which the Minister should come to Parliament and seek an Affirmative Resolution from both Houses. The most peculiar thing is that the Highway Code,which has no legal enforcement, requires an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament before it can be printed. Here we are giving the Minister great powers, and they can go through on the Negative Resolution procedure. This is, of course, a big experiment—and I do not object to it. I would echo the words of the noble Earl, that the Government would not be worth their salt (I am paraphrasing but this is what he meant) unless they did make big experiments. So I think it is right that Parliament should have the opportunity to debate and approve this. That is why I move to delete subsection (9); and if your Lordships agree, I shall then move my other Amendment, which provides that only one pilot station cap be set up, and that no regulation shall be made under this clause except with the approval of both Houses of Parliament. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 36, leave out subsection (9).—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth)


I hope the noble Lord will allow me to follow the same course that he has followed—namely, not to limit my remarks to the first Amendment, but to consider at the same time his Amendment to Clause 1, at page 3, line 41, where he sets out what I might call his substantive case. As I understand the Amendment, it falls into two parts, and the purpose of the first part is to prevent the Minister from bringing the provisions of Clause 1 into effect until he has set up a pilot testing station and gained experience by the testing of vehicles. The noble Lord will forgive me if I am technical for a moment, because it is not my intention to deal with his point in a technical way; but I think he will see, if he considers his Amendment, that from a technical point of view he has not quite achieved his purpose, because it would be possible for the Government to bring it in immediately after the setting up of the station and before the experience is gained. I only put that point to him as something that he ought to consider.

The position is that it is, and it has been announced to be, the Government's intention to establish a pilot testing station at which vehicles will be tested free of charge, and the operation of which is expected to yield the valuable results that are in the noble Lord's mind. So far as that is concerned, I do not think there is any difference between us. The point where I should make an appeal to the noble Lord is that, although it is unlikely that the testing of any particular class or description of vehicles will be introduced until we have digested the lessons to be learned from the pilot station, I would ask him to consider whether he really wants to make the two things conditional. In your Lordships' House we know that we shall, before the Bill leaves this House, have hammered out between us, and with co-operation, a satisfactory method of dealing with this testing problem. The great majority of your Lordships, in all parts of the House, want to find an effective way of dealing with this point—for the very simple reason that not one of your Lordships who is in the House to-day can tolerate, any more than I can, these terrible figures of accidents without taking some step, and as I say, the best step which our co-operative intelligence can give—to deal with the problem; and I think that testing must be explored.

Therefore, I would ask the noble Lord not to press his suggestion at this stage, because it might go out that the noble Lord—who, I know, feels so strongly and clearly on this point—was apparently putting an obstacle in the way of a desirable state of things which we all want. I will consider it, and my noble friend and I will be pleased to meet the noble Lord to consider and discuss the matter with him. But I would ask him not to press this hard and fast condition which his Amendment would impose, at this stage in the Bill. If he feels that we have not met him properly, he will have ample opportunity of bring the matter up again at a later stage, but I hope that will not be necessary.

With regard to the second part, the noble Lord has been a Minister himself, and he knows that this is one of the most difficult problems which faces Ministers. On the one hand, as he has said, there is a danger, despite (I think my memory is right) the forty days which regulations have to lie on the Table and can be prayed against, that something may be missed. But after twenty years' experience, at both ends of the gun, I must say that it is remarkable how few things have been missed that have really touched the daily lives of the people of this country. It is a remarkable fact that, in my experience, any regulations that have a popular content, have usually been the subject of Prayers. Like the noble and learned Earl, I have in the past sat up until not merely what we in Scotland call the "wee sma' 'oors" of the morning, but far beyond, until the hours have got quite appreciable in number, listening to Prayers.

But I should like to put it to the noble Lord on a wider issue than that. That is a matter of opinion, and the noble Lord might well say, "If some may be missed, that is enough for my argument." I think it is more than that, however. One has to consider both Houses of Parliament, and whatever Party is on the Treasury Bench, indubitably, if our experience of the last thirty years is not going to be changed with a suddenness which none of us expects, there will be a tight legislative programme for as far into the future as we can see. The difficulty of providing for an Affirmative Resolution, as the noble Lord knows so well, is that one has to find Government time for it, either within the usual hours or by suspension of the Rule. Therefore, I think one has really to consider an order of merit of regulations—the top half, the most meritorious of which will come into the Affirmative procedure, and the others into the Negative procedure.

One does not want to put either Governments or Legislative Assemblies into the position of spending unnecessary time. The short and businesslike point that I put to the noble Lord is that these regulations must cover certain things which are important, but they must also cover ancillary matters which are not so important but which must be brought into effect. For example, if regulations are made as to duplicate and loss of certificates, and a number of matters of that sort, clearly I do not think the noble Lord, from all that I have heard him say, would for a moment suggest that that is the sort of thing that should be brought into the Affirmative procedure. I agree that the case is more arguable—I want to put a perfectly fair case to the noble Lord—if one is considering, say, different classes of vehicles or things of that kind. But taking the whole range, and taking the general problem that I have endeavoured to pose, I suggest that the Negative Resolution procedure, by which the important matters can be selected by watchful noble Lords and by watchful Members of another place and brought up, is more fitting in regard to our subject matter.

As I say, I admit at once that this is a very difficult point, and I am glad that the noble Lord has brought it up and has discussed it in the way he has done. If I may say so, with respect, I think the House ought always to be on the watch to see that the liberty of the House is preserved in this way. But I should like to put the other point to the noble Lord. A long time ago, in the old Coalition days, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, appointed me as chairman of a sub-committee to consider this sort of point when we were thinking collectively of future Parliamentary methods. He may not remember it.


Yes, I do.


I remember it very well. We tried to consider this point and to envisage the sort of value that regulatory powers have. The real value is twofold. One is the relief of business in another place, which may or may not be important; the other is that regulations under our modern legislative procedure can be tested and discussed with those who are going to be affected—that is perfectly good legislative practice—even before they are ultimately made. That sort of thing is important. Also, it is important, as the noble Lord knows so well from his own experience, that we should be able to apply right away certain regulations to deal with some hardship which they may be drawn to avoid. Therefore, for all these reasons, I ask the noble Lord to reconsider this matter and not press his Amendments today. If I can be of any service in any difficulty that he has, I am at his command, and shall be glad to meet him.

5.10 p.m.


The Lord Chancellor has taken exactly the right line which always appeals to Members of this House. He has made a speech of sweet reasonableness and said that he will look into this matter. I do not know what attitude my noble friend will take, but I should suppose that he would accept the principle of what the Lord Chancellor has said and let the matter be reconsidered between now and the next stage. I hope very much that, when the Government reconsider—I am not on the particular merits of Amendment No. 17; I am on the simple point of an Affirmative or a Negative Resolution—they will come down, in this case, in favour of the Affirmative Resolution. The Lord Chancellor was, of course, perfectly right. Every Government—and I, too, have been on both sides of the gun—resists the Affirmative Resolution and tries to get the Negative Resolution, for the reason that the noble and learned Viscount gave: that the Affirmative procedure means the provision of time. As he rightly said, and has been the case ever since I have known Parliamentary time—and that is a very long while now—there has always been a tight programme; and, I suppose, always will be.

Here, to my mind, we have the sort of canons that make an Affirmative Resolution a justifiable request. First of all, this scheme is largely experimental; we are launching out into something quite new. The Committee, in their wisdom, have eliminated the idea of the authorised inspector: these are all going to be Government inspectors. Frankly, my fear—perhaps not my fear but what I believe will happen—is that it will not be possible to get nearly enough inspectors. You have to cut your coat according to your cloth. Therefore, in practice, you will have to limit strictly and drastically the number of vehicles to be examined, for in no other way will you be able to undertake the task. Then it may be said, with some force; "You leave out so many vehicles that it will become really hard and arbitrary on the comparatively small number of vehicles which have to go through this test." But all that is a matter which needs the careful consideration of Parliament, both here and in another place.

This scheme being experimental and open to the objection which I have indicated—and I do so in order that the Lord Chancellor may turn it over in his mind—it seems to me that this is a case in which this House ought to insist upon an Affirmative Resolution, in order that we may be quite certain that this matter is brought to our attention and that we can examine it. For that reason, although I do not know what attitude my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth will take, I can well understand that he may be disposed to agree with the Lord Chancellor's request and to have a discussion with him between now and the next stage. I very much hope that, when that discussion takes place, if not at the next stage, the Lord Chancellor will think this is an appropriate case for an Affirmative Resolution. If that is not so, I feel sure that my noble friend will desire at the next stage of the Bill to take the opinion of the House thereon.


My learned and noble Leader has echoed my thoughts precisely. I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor. He has treated the Opposition as I think Her Majesty's Opposition should be treated, with patience, and has given an exposition of his case. I quite agree with him that the matter is one of difficulty: in a wide clause like this when you sweep up all the powers, you sweep up the wheat and the chaff at the same time. It is so difficult to dissect it. I readily accept the invitation of the noble and learned Viscount. I should like to discuss the matter with him. It would do me a lot of good: I should learn much by discussing it. But I ask him to bear in mind that one or two of the powers the Minister is given are very wide; the others, I agree, are trivial. I will not detain your Lordships now. I will accept the noble and learned Viscount's offer and discuss this matter with him. I know that he will accept what I say now: that, if I am not satisfied after consultation with my colleagues, the Amendments may reappear in some form at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


This Amendment is drafting. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 37, leave out ("and orders").—(The Earl of Selkirk.)

5.16 p.m.

LORD TEYNHAM moved to leave out Clause 1. The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment, I think I should say that many noble Lords on this side of the House believe that further testing is necessary, but they feel that the only satisfactory way is to increase spot checks which are already covered by Section 17 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933. By this method any large increase of staff would be avoided. I have no doubt that the threat of the spot checks would go a long way towards the keeping of cars in better order. In view of the very adverse views on the working of this clause, I feel that I must move this Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 1.—(Lord Teynham.)


Now that we have got rid of what I regarded as a pernicious practice, the appointing of authorised persons to examine motor cars, we are left with Government stations. As has already been so well said by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, the number of cars that would have to come to these Government stations is, so far as I understand the position at the moment, more than could possibly be dealt with. Therefore it seems to me that it will be necessary for the Government to reduce the requirements. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has suggested that the spot check may be necessary. It seems to me that there is another principle which the Government might put forward and which I think would receive a great deal of support, and that is that any motor car should, on change of ownership, be subject to examination and should require a certificate. Whether or not that is possible, I do not know, but I should greatly value from the Government some sort of statement about it; or, if they are not prepared to say anything about it at the moment, at least an assurance that when we come to the Report stage they will deal with that particular point.

I cannot help feeling that that is where most of the trouble lies. One sees these small-power cars going about, and obviously, they are not maintained 100 per cent. by garages. They are the ones which I am sure the Minister and all of us want to catch. For obvious reasons, they are a potential menace, when they are on the road. If their owners were told that on resale and change of ownership they would have to obtain a certificate, I cannot help thinking that the result would be valuable. I hope the Government will be able to give us some assurance that they will look into the matter again; otherwise, I should feel inclined to get rid of the whole clause, because I do not think it will do the slightest bit of good. There is a not very elaborate examination which will cost the people who go in for it 10s.; and what are they getting for their 10s.? There are the great delays and bother involved. I do not believe there is need for it. Only 2 per cent. of accidents are alleged to be due to defective vehicles, and I submit that in cases where accidents occur it may well be that, to save himself from being blamed, the driver says, "My brakes did not act," or "My steering did not work," or something of that sort. It may be that many of the accidents chalked up against the failure of a vehicle may have been due much more to the failure of the driver. However that may be, I hope the Government will be able to give us an assurance of further consideration of this matter.


I, too, hope that the Government will be able to reconsider this matter. The noble Earl the Paymaster General, in his initial speech this afternoon, said, with some asperity, that any proposals for increasing safety are met with flat opposition. I think that is a most unfair statement, because it is the general wish on all sides of the House that we should promote safety and preserve human life. What we differ about is the best way of doing it. The Government's proposal has found no friend in any quarter of your Lordships' House. Very rarely have I heard proposals such as are contained in Clause 1 so riddled with argument.

As the noble and learned Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, said, this is no Party matter at all; we all have a common purpose. Various alternative suggestions have been made as to how this safety, which is the common purpose of us all, should be achieved. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, mentioned one just now, and Lord Teynham mentioned another one—a proposal for increasing spot checking. I am not competent to argue upon those. All I think we are united about is a resistance to the proposals as put forward and explained by the Government this afternoon. I sincerely hope that the Government will take the view expressed on all sides of the House that their proposals, brought forward with all sincerity, and, with the best will in the world, put forward for the Committee to discuss, have not been found acceptable to your Lordships and therefore should be withdrawn for further consideration as to how this common purpose can be achieved.


I should like to say a word or two in support of this Amendment. All of us would wish that there might be some additional power to test the roadworthiness of road vehicles, but it should be something much more modest than has been proposed in this Bill. In regard to the city of Leeds and to this question of roadworthiness, I have some statistics which might interest the Committee. There are in Leeds some 46,590 vehicles registered, and from January, 1954, to November, 1954, the following were the figures of prosecutions for defective vehicles: tyres, 22; brakes, 391; vehicles otherwise in a dangerous condition, 459. That is a total of 872 prosecutions out of a total number of 46,590 vehicles registered. That is roughly 2 per cent., in a city where we have a most active chief constable and police force. A large number of these offences related to braking offences (where a handbrake was not effective and that sort of thing); vehicles in a dangerous condition included those where the steering was not all it ought to be, although in some cases it was quite effective, and vehicles, for example, whose mudguards were found to be jagged or otherwise damaged. Therefore, those figures surely suggest that the expense involved in setting up the wholesale machinery which this Bill proposes is quite out of proportion to the problem. It would perhaps seem that more attention ought to be paid to the drivers and not to the vehicles, because in that same city of Leeds, during the same period of eleven months, 754 drivers were prosecuted for dangerous driving, driving without due care and attention, and driving without reasonable consideration.

I submit that in its present form and in so far as it relates to the setting up of this large inspection machinery, the Bill is quite out of proportion to the problem. I am bound to say that I am attracted by the suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who has great experience in these matters, whereby some inspection might take place when second-hand vehicles change hands. That would be a modification of the present proposal. Some system of testing might be provided in many cases where second-hand motor cars, sold perhaps at auction marts and so on, are, so to speak, just made up for the occasion and at present are not properly tested. Your Lordships may know that many of the larger motor companies now have a special system whereby they do not sell second-hand cars except after full inspection, and where the cars are guaranteed for a period of three or six months. In cases where a reputable firm gives that guarantee or the makers give such a guarantee, it might be possible to proceed without any inspection; but I should have thought that there could not be the same objection to the inspection of a limited number of vehicles (such as those which change hands from the first to the second owner or from the second to the third, and so on), as there is, in my view, to the wholesale inspection proposal included in this clause. I hope that the Committee will reject the clause in its present form.


I should like to say a word in support of my noble friend Lord Teynham. I feel that something ought to be done and that the Government and the whole House ought to have second thoughts on this clause, because it is not satisfactory as it stands at present. I have been told that in relation to the two clauses that I moved (Clauses 17 and 18) of the Road and Rail Traffic Act there is not satisfactory inspection. I, too, must say that I was most attracted by the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Howe, that it is really the older vehicles which should be first inspected at an experimental station. I do not think we ought to embark on a large scheme of inspection until we have gained more experience. I should like to see an experimental station set up. Naturally, if one can stop any fatal accident one must try and do it, but the figures show that only 2 per cent. of the total number of accidents in the country are caused because of faulty mechanism. That is not a very large amount, and I suggest that we ought to go warily on this matter. As the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said, we must try to break new ground, but in doing that I think we ought to go warily and think again on this clause before we pass it in its present form.


I should like to support this Amendment, on two grounds. First, I do not think that the frequency with which mechanical defects are associated with causes of accidents is so great as to justify the elaborate machinery which Clause 1 seeks to set up; and secondly, supposing, for the sake of argument, it were admitted that some machinery nevertheless was necessary, I think the machinery set up for the purpose is most exaggerated—too exaggerated for the purpose in view. Apparently you get a check on January 1, and then you can proceed to let your car drift into disrepair until the 31st December, when hurriedly you have it put in order and proceed to get your certificate again on January 1. I think the precaution is illusory. I do not consider it deals effectively with the point which the Government have in mind. Those are the two reasons for which I would support the Amendment. I could not agree with the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that the purchaser of a second-hand car must obtain a certificate of roadworthiness from the seller. I prefer to stick to the old motto, caveat emptor. If a man is so foolish as to buy a second-hand car without going to the trouble of getting an expert opinion upon it, he fully deserves any penalty to which the mechanical defects of that car may render him liable in case of an accident.


May I ask the noble Lord what happens in the event of an accident?


I have just said that I think the purchaser must accept—and fully deserves—the penalty to which he may be liable if he buys a second-hand car without getting a proper opinion upon it.


But what of the public? What if that driver knocks someone over as the result of a mechanical defect?


The position is the same to-day. I stick to my point: it is a case of caveat emptor, and a man who buys a second-hand car without getting a proper opinion upon it deserves any penalty in which he may find himself involved. Something was said about spot checking. As a general principle I hope that that will not involve the police to any great extent. The time of the police is already taken up to far too great an extent with motoring offences and precautions. The remedy for that is to institute a traffic corps to deal with these matters and to relieve the overworked police of their burden. I believe the proper way to deal with the matters which Clause 1 is intended to cover is for magistrates to be vigilant and, in cases where accidents are proved to be due to mechanical defects in a car which the driver and owner have neglected to repair, to inflict far more and severer penalties than many do at present.


Before I make any observations on this Amendment I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that we seem to have been discussing Amendment No. 59 for half an hour. There is an Amendment down in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, which covers the physical condition of vehicles on sale and on change of ownership. I do not want to discuss that matter now, as I may have some observations to make when the subject comes to be debated; but perhaps it would be advisable if we left discussion on that particular item until we get to that specific Amendment.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. My noble friend had just drawn my attention to Section 8 of the 1934 Act. May I ask you to consider the general position of testing? I told your Lordships a few moments ago that Her Majesty's Government were quite prepared for discussion and that I believed that, by our common intelligence, we could work out a system. I hope noble Lords will forgive my being personal for a moment, but it happens that my own experience at the Bar, for the first ten or fifteen years, was largely concerned with what, in these happy days, we call "running down" cases. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, has spoken on this Amendment, he may remember that the first time we met was at a coroner's inquest after the Harrow Hill accident in the East Riding, a longer time ago than either of us now would like to think.

I should like noble Lords in all parts of the House to reconsider their approach to the question of the condition of vehicles and their contribution to accidents. In my own experience, time and time again I saw young men getting hold of a car, bought in those days for £5 or £10, at fifth or sixth hand, and taking it on the road. I ask you to apply the personal test and to think of your own first car or the first car of a number of your friends. In most cases it was anything but a first-hand car. I am not going to make any admissions that can be held against me, but I should not like to say very much about my own first car or how many hands it had gone through. Seriously, that is a fact of human nature and human experience which has to be taken into account, and even the figures of the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, if I have got them right—I think there were over 800 cases of defects in the vehicle and 750 cases where drivers were convicted—


They were prosecutions.


That does not weaken my point; because, even if there are only 2 per cent., if there are as many cases where there are defects in the vehicle as there are defective drivers, we are dealing with a very serious point. I believe the noble Lord spoke of about 350 cases of vehicles with defective brakes. That is a terrifying fact: that in a city like Leeds, which I know well, or in any of the big cities we know, there should be 350 people who will take a defective lethal instrument on to the roads. It may mean that, at a critical moment, proper command is absent and somebody's life may go. I paid great attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Winster, said with regard to the question of a purchaser, and I entirely agree with him that caveat emptor is a very sound rule. But what we are worried about is caveat moriturus; and there have been far too many morituri in the past few years, and far too many who have died because of this aspect, among others. I am not saying that this is the only factor or the most important—I could not argue on that—but that it is important twenty years of personal experience have convinced me.

We, as a House—if noble Lords will allow me to put it in that way—have to do something about it; we have, therefore, to give further consideration to this question of testing which Her Majesty's Government have proposed. It is the good fortune of the Government that we have had a number of suggestions put forward and these will be considered and we shall try to find the best method; but (and I choose my words with the greatest care) I say that it would be a major tragedy if, at this stage in the Bill, your Lordships' House were to eliminate the suggestion of testing and so eliminate what I believe will be a great help in dealing with our problem. I hope that I have satisfied my noble friend Lord Teynham by saying this. I repeat that we shall be very pleased to consider any suggestions as to methods and any improvements. I do ask him, however, at this stage to leave this provision in the Bill, and not to press for its exclusion, for it represents a most important aspect of road safety. Let us go on, as I say, co-operatively, in order to try to get the best Bill we can. But for us to delete the clause, and for it to go out from this House that we are prepared to tolerate the danger of ill-conditioned vehicles and ineffective brakes, would, I repeat, be a major tragedy; and I ask my noble friend not to press us into that position today.

5.40 p.m.


I, too, in my early days at the Bar, had a very large practice in "running down" cases. I think I had the honour of appearing for the London General Omnibus Company in those days, and I got to know a good deal about these matters. What I say to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, is this: it is not correct to say that we would tolerate these ineffective brakes and these cars in bad condition. But we feel that the system provided for under Clause 1 is not the most effective way of dealing with this matter. I think he will realise that that is so if he will consider it. The Committee, in their wisdom, have eliminated the idea that authorised garages were going to do this, and the inspections have now to be done by Government inspectors. In the nature of things, we are really playing with this question, and we are deceiving ourselves if we think that it will be possible to have a very large number of inspectors. Of course it will not.

The point for the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to consider is really this: Are the Government going to spread the services of the few inspectors they can get over the whole range of vehicles, most of which do not need inspection at all? Or are they going to concentrate on particular types of vehicles which ought to be inspected, and, in my view, ought to be inspected much more often than once a year? The real trouble, as I said before, is that you do not get anything out of the inspection once a year. You get brakes tested, steering tested, and so on. But what guarantee have you that, having had brakes tested and steering tested on January 1, they will be in order on February 1?

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winster, that if, when a case goes before magistrates—in Leeds or anywhere else, and whether there has been accident or not—a person is convicted of driving a car with defective brakes or steering or anything of that sort, the magistrates should take away his licence for a long time. That is the effective way to deal with this matter. By all means continue to have spot checks and all that sort of thing. But I say to the Lord Chancellor that in Clause 1 he has an unworkable clause. He will, I hope, consider between now and the Report stage whether it would not be advisable for him to move a much better clause, a clause containing some different conception altogether. The conception of the clause as it now stands is, I say frankly, quite unreal. I beg the Lord Chancellor to consider whether the right thing to do now is not to clear away this clause which really cumbers the ground at the present time, and think the problem over again.

Do not let it be said that we do not want to cure the evil arising from these defective vehicles: we do. But we do not want, because we are frightened of the morituri or of a large number of people becoming mortui, to take unreal and ineffective steps, which will do absolutely nothing to cure this evil. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will say: "Let me have Clause 1 out of the Bill and see whether I cannot devise some better method of securing the safety of the public and of seeing that vehicles are properly inspected as often as necessary." I am sure that that would be the wise course for the Government to follow, instead of hanging on to a clause which does not command any assent in any part of the Committee.

5.47 p.m.


May I draw the attention of the noble and learned Earl to a provision near the end of the Bill which I think meets one of his points. I refer to Clause 25 (2) (b) of the Bill. There we have made special provision that: different days may be appointed for the coming into operation of subsection (4) of section one of this Act in relation to different classes or descriptions of vehicles. I think the noble and learned Earl will see that that is no mere debating point, and that it does mean that the Government can approach this problem under the present procedure by stages which will deal with those classes of vehicles which seem most necessarily to require the provision.

On the general point that the noble and learned Earl has made, I do ask him to reconsider his recommendation to the Committee. It is, I think, one of the most difficult things in legislation to provide for improvements, and to secure assent for improvements, which are at the same time restrictive and lay further burdens on large sections of the community. I have listened to a great deal of the debate on the Second Reading and to-day, and, so far as I know, no one has suggested methods which do not involve restrictions and extra burdens on motorists. And no one has said, as I understand noble Lords, that positively, as opposed to relatively, in relation to other matters, there should not be tests. I have heard the views of noble Lords—and opinions such as those expressed by the noble and learned Earl are opinions to which I attach the greatest weight—and I have heard them say that, despite a test on February 1, a car may be useless by March 1. But the thing I have seen kill people is a car that has not been tested or been to a garage for three years. That is the fact that has existed, and it would be a very good thing if some of the cars I have seen involved in accidents had been tested even as infrequently as once a year.

Your Lordships were good enough on the last Amendment to take one aspect of the matter on which discussions might prove fruitful, and I am perfectly prepared, and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, is prepared, to consider any suggestions in a way which appeals to your Lordships. But to take away the basis of the work that has gone into the Bill and, above all, [...]o force this Amendment through would have the undoubted effect on people outside of making them think that your Lordships' House was not really prepared to consider testing or to attach importance to it. I ask your Lordships to reflect on this point: that, whatever may be said on the question of whether there is a better system of testing, if your Lordships eliminate a clause which provides the test, the effect will be a blow to the Bill at the outset from which it will be very difficult for it to recover. Therefore, I do ask your Lordships to give us this further chance and, accepting What I have said about our readiness to discuss, to leave this clause in. If your Lordships so desire, if you feel that we have not met you and that we have not satisfied you, then you can come back to the attack on the Report stage; but I appeal to you not to take action at this stage which, with the utmost respect to your Lordships, I am sure you would regret in the future.


I want to say only one word. I do not know whether the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor was in the House when I made my opening speech, but I think he would like to correct something he said, because I should not like it said that I personally am against testing vehicles. I said at the outset that I was at one with the Government in saying that vehicles should be tested. We cannot afford not to have vehicles tested, and tested more often than this Bill envisages. But, as my noble and learned Leader has said, I put forward an alternative, so I hope the noble and learned Viscount will not say that, so far as I am concerned, I am not in agreement—and no other noble Lord that I have heard has been in anything but absolute agreement—with the necessity of testing vehicles. That is the only point I have to make.


May I submit one point to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor? In order to try to make this Bill effective could not testing be concentrated on the change of ownership, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Winster has said on this particular point? It seems to me that if you do that in the first instance, you may be able at a later stage, when the scheme has developed, to bring in other classes of vehicles. I think the vehicle that changes ownership six, seven, eight or more times is the vehicle on which we ought to concentrate. I am quite certain that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has seen that class of vehicle, and he spoke about it in his speech.


I fully appreciate what has been said by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor about this Amendment and this clause. I am sure that it is quite clear on both sides of the Committee that we do not wish it to go out that we do not want some improvement in the form of testing; but many of us think that the method suggested in this clause is the wrong way of doing it and that there may be a better way. I understand from the noble and learned Viscount that he has given an assurance that this matter will be looked at again before the next stage of the Bill, and on that basis I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 1, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


Before we leave this clause may I raise two points, merely for information? The first is in regard to the words "or causes to be used on the road," and it arises out of the points which have been made in regard to second-hand cars. Everyone has seen dozens of cars exposed for sale on the main roads. Are those cars on the road if they are exposed for sale in a yard belonging to a garage? Secondly, if a person buys a second-hand car which has not with it a certificate, will the seller of the car be the person who causes the car to be used on the road or will it be the person who is driving the secondhand car who causes it to be used on the road?

The next point is this: everyone knows that since the duties and responsibilities in regard to inspection, and so on, were placed on the police following the 1930 Act, the police in the various forces have acquired a vast amount of knowledge in handling problems connected with motor lorries and motor cars, and the point of the intervention made by my noble friend, Lord Milner of Leeds, was to illustrate that under the present system the police are "picking up" a number of people who are under the existing law guilty of offences. I should like to ask the noble Earl what will be the position of the police under the projected new set-up, assuming that agreement is reached in regard to the appropriate form of Clause 1. Is it not possible that further and increased powers could be given to help the police solve the problem, in view of the difficulty of getting trained personnel to deal with this very great question, as the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has rightly indicated? Those are my questions, but I am not pressing for an answer now, though if later on the noble Earl could let me have answers I should be very much obliged.


Perhaps the noble Lord will excuse me if I do not answer in detail. We have not yet passed this Bill, so it is very difficult for us to interpret it. Moreover the Government have just been defeated on an Amendment, and that makes it even more difficult to say how we stand. I think I can say, by and large, that vehicles exposed for sale are not necessarily on the road. It depends on the facts. In the ordinary course the person who drives would, I take it, be the owner, and there is no intention of interfering with the powers of the police. Our intention rather is not only to maintain the existing law but to get it enforced more effectively. That is the whole purpose of this clause.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2:

Removal from roads of vehicles causing obstruction

2. In paragraph (c) of subsection (1) of section fifty-nine of the Act of 1930 as amended by section twenty-two of the Act of 1934 (which paragraph empowers the Minister by regulations to provide among other things for the removal from roads, and safe custody, of vehicles which have been allowed to remain at rest on a road so as to be likely to cause danger to other users) after the word "danger" there shall be inserted the words "or obstruction."

5.56 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved to omit all words after "word" and to insert instead: 'road' there shall be inserted the words 'or obstruction to the free passage of ambulances, fire appliances or other similar vehicles engaged in the saving of life or the preservation of property'.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment seeks to remove from Clause 2, page 4, line 7 the word "obstruction" because I feel that it is too wide and it gives far too much power to the police, who can move any motor car on the street for obstruction, serious or not. I am not tied to the wording of my Amendment. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has pointed out once before that I am but a poor Parliamentary draftsman, and I admit it. The only reason why I have used these words is because they are precisely the words that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, used in his Second Reading speech. I will quote from column 569 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of Tuesday, December 21, 1954. In the debate in your Lordships' House Lord Selkirk said this [Vol. 190 (No. 10)]: It will now be possible for them to be removed if they cause obstruction. I think your Lordships will agree that such a course is necessary, particularly where an ambulance or a fire engine is obstructed, for one car can cause a hold-up over a wide area. That is the reason why I used those words.

There is an Amendment down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, which seeks to do precisely the same as I seek to do—that is, to remove the word "obstruction"; but he wants to insert "serious interference." That kind of phraseology makes me shudder. What is "serious"? In road traffic law we have had some very unhappy experiences by reason of loose descriptions. If the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who will reply on this Amendment, will tell me that he accepts the principle of what I want to do, though he does not like my wording, I shall be perfectly happy. Perhaps he will produce a better Amendment at a later stage. I think your Lordships would agree that to say that a vehicle can be removed for obstruction can mean anything—it is far too wide. I think noble Lords could give many cases in which motor cars have been towed away by the police for the most trivial reasons. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 7, leave out from ("word") to end of line 8 and insert (" 'road' there shall be inserted the words 'or obstruction to the free passage of ambulances, fire appliances or other similar vehicles engaged in the saving of life or the preservation of property '.")—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


In view of the text Amendment on the Order Paper which stands in my name, I think I had better speak to this Amendment. It is true to say that there are many thousands of vehicles now standing in the streets of London which could be removed at any time, and at a time when the Government have not yet commenced building any of the new underground or multi-storeyed garages recommended by the Working Party on Car Parking in Inner London. As the law stands at present, the police have power to remove vehicles which have broken down or are likely to cause damage or danger to other traffic. I am certainly in sympathy with the intention of the Government to get rid of all-day parking in the busy streets of London, but I do not think this is the right way to do it. I suggest that to harass motorists and commercial vehicle owners in this mariner is going too far, and I think the proposal needs some qualification before it can be accepted by your Lordships. I also suggest that if the present powers of the police were extended in the manner envisaged by this clause, too much power would be placed in the hands of the individual police constable. The individual policeman would become the sole arbiter in a matter at present decided by the courts when a prosecution for creating an obstruction takes place.

I understand with regard to commercial vehicles that proprietors have in some cases been charged under Regulation 88 of the Construction and Use Regulations, 1937, with causing unnecessary obstruction, but it is interesting to relate that in every case the court has dismissed the charge on the ground that the obstruction was necessary in the course of business. Surely that clearly demonstrates that if the words "or obstruction" are not modified in this clause, they may well lead to misplaced zeal on the part of the police in not making allowance for necessary obstruction in the course of business—except, of course, in cases of emergency. I feel strongly that the wording of this clause should be modified, not only because I think that as it stands it would defeat the course of justice, but because I feel that it might well produce harmful antagonism between the motorists and the police. I hope the Government will give the matter their earnest consideration. I am certainly not tied to the wording of my Amendment, and if the House would permit I should like to put forward a Manuscript Amendment as an alternative to the one which has been moved.


On a point of order. I have an Amendment before the House, and I should like to hear the Government reply before the noble Lord moves his Manuscript Amendment.


If it is acceptable to the House, I shall try to deal with the noble Lord's Amendment and then devote myself to Lord Teynham's Amendment. I think we are at one on the problem. We have only to go out from here and walk north to see the intolerable congestion of our back streets—and the back streets of other cities are in the same condition—to realise how acute is this problem. Street after street is practically impassable during rush hours. Obstruction may be caused by one misparked car. One car may jam up a whole street. That is what we are really trying to deal with in this clause. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was correct in mentioning the cases of fire engines and ambulances. In our Second Reading speeches, my noble friend Lord Selkirk and I both gave those as examples—but only as examples, because those two cases are occasioning the police the most trouble. The London Fire Brigade have more than once represented to us at the Home Office their anxiety that in places like Soho they may very soon be faced with the fact that they cannot get their engines through several streets. As your Lordships probably know, in London every fire call is answered by two stations at once in order to prevent the risk that one engine may become completely jammed in the streets. I also mentioned ambulances because we had a case recently of a gentleman who saw fit constantly to park his car outside the ambulance exit of one of our leading hospitals, and his car could not be moved because he was only causing an obstruction.

The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has explained the law on this matter correctly. The police have the right to remove a vehicle if it is parked in such a way as to cause danger; but they cannot remove it for causing an obstruction. It is not only fire engines and abulances we are worrying about; one misparked car in a street will obstruct not only a fire engine or an ambulance but also the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in his Rolls Royce, and any other car passing down the street. It is the duty of the police to keep the streets open to all traffic that desires to use them: the police earnestly require the powers in this clause because they say that without such powers to remove a car that causes an obstruction, they do not think they will be able in the near future to carry out their task in the crowded streets of our cities. I cordially agree with noble Lords who would say that we must not put too much power in the hands of the police. We must not run the risk of antagonising the public against the police for over-zealous use of their powers.

The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, asked what is an "obstruction." I hesitate to say this in the presence of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, but so far as I know there is no statutory definition. The word is, however, tolerably familiar in the courts and has come up on numerous occasions for consideration. On the other hand, the words which the noble Lord mentioned in his speech would be less easy to construe. I am not at all convinced that his words would be an improvement on ours. It has been suggested that the police might carry out with an excess of zeal the removal of a vehicle which is causing an obstruction. Surely this would not happen. They have to go through the physical work of removing the vehicle and they are not going to do that irresponsibly, as an afternoon's "jolly" for the police, to see how many more vehicles one division can remove than the next. As your Lordships well know, they will remove a vehicle causing obstruction as quickly, as fairly and as decently as possible. I think it is only fair to say that in the past, in such extremely difficult tasks the police have exercised much discretion and tact and as much care as they possibly could

We are asking for this additional power for the police, but of necessity it will be used sparingly, because it is in the interests of the police themselves not to use it excessively. If they are not given this power to remove vehicles which are causing obstruction, the time will shortly come when the streets of our big cities will become completely impassable. I hope your Lordships will not accept the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, limiting the powers of the police to occasions when obstruction is caused to the passing of ambulances and fire engines, because I think it would be quite impossible to carry it out. One cannot say that a vehicle is causing obstruction to a yet unarrived fire engine, any more than one can say it is causing obstruction to a yet unarrived Lord Lucas of Chilworth in his Rolls Royce. I suggest that the wording we are proposing in this clause is fair and desirable and meets a problem which, if not met now, will shortly become intolerable.


This is one of the many difficult practical questions which arise on this Bill. My difficulty is that, in my experience, the police bring summonses for obstruction without proof of actual obstruction. A motorist may leave his car in quite a wide street, and there is no proof whatever that anyone has been actually obstructed; yet a prosecution is brought. It has been suggested by a high authority that the mere fact that a car is left for an unreasonable length of time may be proof of obstruction. I am not sure about that, although it may be so. But in any event, if the noble Earl in charge of the Bill would make it clear that there had to be proof of actual obstruction before a car was removed, and not mere proof of parking, then I think I should take a different view. Unless that is the case, it seems to me that the clause as at present drafted lays the motorist open to considerable difficulty, and possible persecution, because the matter is left entirely in the hands of the police; whereas, if there had to be proof of actual obstruction, then evidence would have to be brought that some person or persons had been obstructed. In that event, I should have no objection to the clause. Otherwise, I think I must support the modification put forward by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, although I am not altogether happy about it, for some of the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. Perhaps the noble Lord could say a few words on the proof of obstruction.


To whom are the police to offer proof? They find the car of the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, causing what they, in their opinion, firmly believe to be obstruction to a potential fire engine. They cannot find the noble Lord, who is about his lawful business elsewhere in the city of Leeds, so, under the powers given by this clause, they remove the car, either to a pound or elsewhere. To whom have they got to prove, and how can they prove, that in the back of their minds was the opinion that the noble Lord's car was causing obstruction to potential but non-arrived fire engines?


The answer is that I should much prefer to be prosecuted for obstruction than to have my car removed, with the consequent difficulties that would arise.


No doubt; but what about the fire engine?


Thereupon it would be the duty of the police to prove obstruction at the court, and I should prefer that to be the case. At present it is not so. I think I am probably safe in saying that if two police constables go to the court and say that my car, or that of the noble Lord, was parked at a certain place, without proof of obstruction of any person or any other vehicle, there would be a conviction, at any rate in London—and I have had some experience of this.


I am afraid the noble Lord has completely misunderstood the purpose of this clause. This is not improving the procedure in the courts. I am afraid that nothing the noble Lord has said so far has directed my mind to that problem.


Usually the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is persuasive, but this time he has been the reverse. He must think of something better than he has in the Bill at the moment. The noble Lord knows from his experience that this power in the Bill may be misapplied.


So could most powers.


Quite; and this has been misapplied. This may be the method used to clear the streets of London of parked motor cars, because once you clear the front one, as the noble Lord says, the one and only motor car that is causing obstruction, you then find that the one behind is causing the same amount of obstruction; and on you go. No reasonable person can sympathise with the man who causes obstruction; but I have had cases related to me where locked motor cars have been forcibly towed by the police where no obstruction could have been caused; technically, yes, but actually no. If this were to be done, the police authorities would want a fleet of towing cars of such a size that, if I could influence their sale and get the profit on it, I should then possess the mythical Rolls Royce of which the noble Lord appears to be so envious—I believe he must be slightly influenced by that vehicle that came to rest for such a long time in Montagu Square. I am not tied to this wording. I am going to give the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, an opportunity of moving his manuscript Amendment, and I will watch the outcome of that. I propose to withdraw this Amendment for the time being, but unless the noble Lord is going to be slightly more conciliatory to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, he will find there is a serious obstruction on the Report stage of this Bill, because I shall put this Amendment down again.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.15 p.m.

LORD TEYNHAM rose to move to leave out "after the word 'danger' there shall be inserted the words 'or obstruction' "and to insert for the words 'or to appear to have been abandoned, and of the loads carried thereby' there shall be inserted the words 'or which actually interfere with the free movement of traffic thereon, or which appear to have been abandoned'. The noble Lord said: This Manuscript Amendment, which will effect an amendment in Section 22 (c) of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, I think affords the best way of dealing with the matter. Paragraph (c) would then read as follows: for making provision for the removal from roads, and safe custody, of vehicles (and of the loads carried thereby) which have broken down, or which have been permitted to remain at rest on a road in such a position or in such condition or in such circumstances as to be likely to cause danger to other persons using the road,"— and this is the important suggested change— or which actually interfere with the free movement of traffic thereon, or which appear to have been abandoned. I suggest that that is a much better Amendment.


I am not clear with what words the Amendment of the noble Lord would start so as to fit in with this Bill.


In Section 22 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, after the word "road" would be inserted the words, or which actually interfere with the free movement of traffic thereon, or which appear to have been abandoned.


That is at page 4, line 8, of this Bill?


It is page 21 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934.


But what page in this Bill?


It is page 4, line 8, of this Bill.

Amendment moved— Page 4, leave out lines 7 and 8 and insert the said new words.—(Lord Teynham.)


In the middle of this procedural drafting tunnel into which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, without warning, has led me, I must now emerge towards the only piece of light I can see; that is, the words "interfere with the free movement,"—which I hurriedly took down, not being as familiar with the Act from which he was quoting as I should be—which, so far as I can see, he would rather have in this Bill than the word "obstruction." For the life of me, I cannot see the difference between "interfering with the free movement" of something and "obstructing" it. If somebody obstructs the passage of this Bill, they interfere with the free movement of the Bill; and so they do with a motor car. I am taken completely by surprise by the Amendment, and I would ask the noble Lord to be good enough to withdraw it so that I can take advice upon it. I do not know what other members of the Committee think, but I should have thought that the words proposed by the noble Lord as a substitute mean the same as those which I suggest your Lordships should retain in the Bill.


I should like to support the view the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has put before the Committee. The words which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, wants to substitute are saying "obstruction," although using rather more words. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who asked whether there was a statutory definition of "obstruction." There is not. "Obstruction" is that which obstructs. If the free traffic over a road (because the public have the right to use the whole of the road) is obstructed—that is to say, if the public cannot move over the whole of the road—of course there is obstruction. Surely, we can trust the police to use a certain amount of common sense, and trust the magistrates, if they are satisfied that there is no ground for bringing the proceedings, to give an absolute discharge. I think it would be a great pity if we did not allow the police to move from the road vehicles which are causing an obstruction, and thereby a public nuisance. It seems to me that the words which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, used are exactly the same as the words proposed to be put in the Bill.


In view of the fact that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill is going to look at this Amendment again, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.21 p.m.

VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN moved to add to the clause:

"(2) The following shall be inserted at the end of subsection (3) of Section fifty-nine of the Act of 1930— 'Provided that before commencing any proceedings to recover expenses under subsection (3) of this section the Chief Officer of Police shall cause a notice of the amount of such expenses to be served on the owner of the vehicle who if aggrieved by the amount of such expenses may within fourteen days of the service on him of the notice appeal to the Minister who after making such inquiries as he thinks fit may confirm or reduce the amount of such expenses.'

The noble Viscount said: This Amendment seeks to give to anybody who is aggrieved by having had his vehicle removed from the road an opportunity to appeal. May I quote an example of where there may be obstruction, and yet it could hardly be held to be the driver's fault? Suppose someone driving a car were suddenly taken ill. If it was a wise man or woman, they would draw up to the side of the road, and if they were seriously ill would leave their car where it was rather than endanger the public, and possibly go into a house or be taken to a hospital to be dealt with. It would be bad luck on them if the police came along and towed away their vehicle, possibly to the outskirts—because I cannot imagine its being in the centre of London—incurring a heavy bill which the unfortunate individual would have to meet without any right of appeal. If he felt that he had the right to grumble, and it was pointed out that it was bad luck but there the matter stood, it would be a considerable benefit to his feeling and the good feeling of the public if he knew that he had the right to appeal. I do not see that on the face of it it would make very much difference in the cost or cause very great difficulty if this Amendment were allowed. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 8, at end insert the said proviso.— (Viscount Stonehaven.)


I beg to support this Amendment. I have recently looked into one or two of these cases of removal, and I know it is a severe blow to the owner of a small car to have to go to the legal expense of suing. This Amendment makes matters much easier and should help in fostering good relationships with the police, in the saving of costs and in possibly discouraging the police from removing cars without sufficient cause.


I think I can set my noble friends' minds at rest on this matter and convince them that their Amendment is not necessary. May I draw their attention to Section 59 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, as amended by Section 22 (2) of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, the relevant passage of which reads as follows: Expenses payable out of a police fund incurred in the execution of duties imposed by regulations made under paragraph (c) of subsection 1 of this section shall be recoverable summarily by or on behalf of the Chief Officer of Police as a civil debt from the owner of the vehicle, and the sums so recovered shall be paid into the police fund. The effect of this is that in the infrequent cases in which the police have to charge anyone with the cost of removing his vehicle the bill for the amount is normally sent to him before any question of proceedings arises at all. The first part of the noble Viscount's Amendment does not, therefore, do anything more than to instruct the police to do what in point of fact is already done. If, on receipt of the bill, the owner thinks that the charge is exorbitant, the law already provides him with his remedy: he can refuse to pay and wait until the police sue him for the recovery of the amount. Then if the court decide, as the noble Viscount may think they should, that the police have not been in the right, they will reject the claim. The Amendment my noble friends put forward only proposes, therefore, to place on the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation a duty which the courts already have, and which, I hope the noble Viscount will agree, they are better fitted to perform than the Minister.


But it would be more expensive and much longer.


Not necessarily.


Yes, because there is no charge, and directly you go to the courts there is a charge, and a very heavy one.


I do not think a defendant going to a court in a case like this would find himself very heavily in debt. He would be the defendant, remember.


Surely it is better, if there is to be a dispute as to charges, that it should be decided in a court, and not to have another secret tribunal. Everybody is saying nowadays that so many things have to be decided by the Minister. How is he to decide this question? Surely it is better to have it fought out in court, where the costs will be very small.


I thought that if a note from the Minister could be sent to somebody who was aggrieved, explaining the fact that he had not much to grumble about, he would not waste the time of the courts by going to them. On the explanation given by my noble friend, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

6.27 p.m.

LORD MERTHYR moved, after Clause 2 to insert the following new clause:

Causing death by reckless or dangerous driving

".—(1) Any person who causes the death of another person by the driving of a motor vehicle on a road recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the nature, condition and use of the road, and the amount of traffic which is actually at the time, or which might reasonably be expected to be, on the road, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

(2) An offence against this section shall not be triable by quarter sessions; and where proceedings are taken before the sheriff the maximum term of imprisonment which may be imposed on conviction shall not exceed two years.

(3) Section twenty of the Coroners (Amendment) Act, 1926 (which makes special provision where the coroner is informed before the jury have given their verdict that some person has been charged with one of the offences specified in that section) shall apply to an offence against this section as it applies to manslaughter.

(4) Upon the trial of a person who is indicted for an offence against this section it shall be lawful for the jury, if they are satisfied that he is guilty of an offence under section eleven of the Act of 1930 (which relates to reckless or dangerous driving) to find him guilty of that offence, whether or not the requirements of section twenty-one of that Act (which relates to notice of prosecutions) have been satisfied as respects that offence."

The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment, I should like to put before the House very shortly five simple propositions. The first is the most simple, but the most serious: that there are too many deaths on the road. The second is that Section 11 of the 1930 Act, which charges the offence of driving recklessly or dangerously, is not sufficient to deal with the worst of the cases that come before the courts. The third is that the only alternative—namely, the charge of manslaughter—is an unwieldy weapon, inappropriate, unsuitable and, above all, too complex to serve as a useful charge in these cases. As your Lordships know, it involves the learned judges in having to instruct juries lengthily and on the various degrees of negligence. Such instruction is, as I understand it, in every case unavoidable, but it does have the effect, so I am informed, of complicating the matter unduly in the minds of juries, with the result—and this is my fourth proposition—that juries often fail to convict guilty men on these charges. Therefore, fifthly, something is required in between these two extremes of manslaughter and dangerous driving. Hence the clause which I now beg to move.

I should like to make a few points in moving this clause. First, in the most serious cases of all it will still be possible to charge manslaughter—that is not ruled out by this Amendment. Secondly, it will be substantially simpler for juries to comprehend the evidence and the charge to the juries in these cases, because it will be necessary only to prove reckless or dangerous driving and the fact that somebody's death was caused by it. That is very much simpler than the necessary proof now in manslaughter. Therefore, as I have said, more guilty men will be convicted and fewer guilty men will be acquitted—in my view, a desirable thing.

Your Lordships may have noticed that in this Amendment there is no mention of "driving under the influence of drink." The reason for that omission is that the fact that a man may be drunk is not the direct cause of the death: it may be the indirect cause, it may be a very substantial cause, but it is an indirect and not a direct cause. The direct cause is the reckless or dangerous driving. I should like to mention this. If there is any doubt—and I believe there may be—whether on one of these charges evidence that a man has consumed liquor is admissible, then I think that at a later stage something ought to be put in the Bill to remove that doubt. I say "if" there is any doubt because, in my humble opinion, there is no doubt that evidence that a man was drunk at the time of the accident is admissible on a charge of dangerous driving, and still more so on a charge of manslaughter. On the other hand, I have heard it argued the other way and, if the contrary argument is to prevail, then I should like later, if this Amendment is passed to-day, to insert something to make it perfectly clear that in future evidence of that kind may be admissible in a court.

With regard to subsection (2), I would only point out that in Scotland bad cases can still be taken to the High Court, and not all cases will go to the sheriff. With regard to subsection (3), to save time I will ask your Lordships, if you will, to accept from me that, if subsection (1) is passed, subsection (3) is not only desirable but almost necessary merely as a part of the machinery of the law. Subsection (4) would enable a jury to convict on the lesser charge of dangerous driving under Section 11 of the Act of 1930. Your Lordships may ask why that is necessary. It is put in only for this reason—and I think it will be a very [...]e case. If a jury found that, although a man was killed, and although the defendant was driving dangerously, nevertheless the dangerous driving did not cause the death, then they would be entitled to bring in a verdict of "dangerous driving" on a charge under the section comprised in this Amendment. I admit that I think those circumstances must be very rare, but subsection (4) would avoid the duplicity of charges which takes up so much time in the courts and involves defendants' being put on trial twice arising out of the same circumstances.

In asking your Lordships to pass this Amendment, I would say this to a hypothetical motorist: "If, in fact, you are innocent, this Amendment will do you no harm whatever. It will be no worse for you; you will, in fact, be in less peril than you are now. Your trial will be simpler, therefore shorter, and therefore less costly." I would also say to the same hypothetical motorist: "If, in fact, you are guilty, then I admit you are rather more likely to be convicted, but I make no apology for that." If the hypothetical motorist is a reasonable man, he will, I apprehend, agree with me that it is right that, if he is guilty, he should be convicted, and therefore that it is right that he should be more likely to be convicted. But I would add this to the same motorist: "If, being guilty, you are convicted under this clause, instead of for manslaughter, the maximum sentence for which you can be sent to prison is five years instead of life." Therefore, I do not think that the passing of this clause into law could be held by any reasonable man to be a disadvantage to motorists in general. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 2, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Merthyr.)

6.36 p.m.


May I make one or two comments on this Amendment? I hope we shall have the advantage of the advice of the Lord Chief Justice. It is perhaps rather presumptuous for me, not having heard that advice, to offer comments, but may I, first of all, comment upon the propositions which the noble Lord has put forward in support of his Amendment? Of course, we all agree that there are too many deaths on the road; and we also agree, I hope, that there are too many injuries on the road. The kind of driving which causes death and the kind of driving which causes injury are the same. Therefore, in my submission to the House, there is something fundamentally illogical in attaching a special penalty to an offence, which is intrinsically the same, according to whether or not it actually causes death. I am aware that that is the present law of manslaughter, but I have always thought it anomalous, and I have always thought, in a sense, that one of the reasons why we get a number of perverse verdicts in manslaughter cases is precisely that juries are aware of that anomaly. So much for the first proposition.

Secondly, the noble Lord said that the penalties attaching to Section 11 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930—that is, reckless or dangerous driving—are inadequate. I have forgotten, but I think that two years is the maximum. Let us assume that that is correct. If they are inadequate, the right way of approaching this problem is by increasing the maximum penalty for an offence under Section 11 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. What must be fundamentally illogical, in my submission, is to increase the maximum penalty if the motorist happens to kill his victim but not if he happens to make him a cripple for life. That seems to me to be a radically illogical way of approaching this particular offence. It is just as bad to drive recklessly and cripple a man for life as it is to drive recklessly and by chance kill him instantly or let him die in hospital. The offence must be the same; the danger to the public is the same, because the motorist cannot foretell what the results of his dangerous or reckless driving may be. Therefore, if it is true, which I do not dispute, that in very bad cases the penalties attaching to Section 11 are inadequate, I can see no possible advantage in increasing them if death happens to result but not where a death does not happen to result. That, to my mind, is a serious criticism of the proposed new clause, as drafted, dealing with the second of the propositions.

In proposition No. 3, the noble Lord says that a charge of manslaughter is an unwieldy weapon. I entirely agree with him: it is unwieldy as a proceeding, and it is not easy altogether to direct a jury—at least, I should not think it is altogether easy to direct a jury, though I have never had that task myself—what they should bear in mind in considering a charge of motor manslaughter. I have prosecuted, and defended, in such cases, and I think I know some of the difficulties involved. Does the new clause make the position any easier? I could understand my noble friend's Amendment if he proposed to abolish motor manslaughter altogether. But just consider the difficulty and the complication attending a prosecution if motor manslaughter is not abolished and we pass this Amendment. This Amendment makes it a separate offence to cause death by dangerous or reckless driving. The Court of Criminal Appeal have held that the degree of negligence necessary to constitute dangerous driving does not necessarily constitute manslaughter if the act results in death. That was a matter which was disputed at one time, but has now been established. I wonder what the Lord Chief Justice would say to me if I were defending a man for manslaughter and in his presence were to say to the jury, "It is true, perhaps, that my client was driving recklessly—that is to say, not caring as to whether or not he caused injury to life; it is true that that in fact resulted in death, but he is not guilty of manslaughter." The Lord Chief Justice would not hesitate to tell me that I was talking nonsense.

If that is correct, let us see where we have got to on this issue of simplicity. There is the potential offence of manslaughter which may consist, as I understand it, rightly or wrongly, of causing death by wicked negligence in driving—which I understand to mean the negligence that is constituted by driving recklessly. Under this new clause there is proposed to be a totally separate offence, constituted by driving recklessly or dangerously and so causing death. There is an alternative verdict for the jury, under subsection (4) of the clause, which involves a potentially alternative verdict of dangerous or reckless driving without causing death. We have got, I suppose, the coroner's verdict of manslaughter, which may or may not exist under subsection (3) of the Amendment. To my mind, amendment of the law in this way would produce a legal tangle which was worse, and not better than, the position which it is sought to remedy.

The fourth proposition was that at present juries often fail to convict guilty men. I think there may be a good deal of truth in that, and I believe the reason to be that it is fundamentally illogical to attach a special penalty to driving which results in death. I believe that a properly directed jury in a proper case ought always, on an indictment for motor manslaughter, at least to find a verdict of dangerous driving, which they are entitled to do, I think, under Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934.

The conclusion which the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has drawn from all this is that we require a totally new offence—new because it is not manslaughter; new because it is not careless; new because it is not reckless or dangerous driving, but something in between. To my mind, that is adding a fifth wheel to an already overburdened coach. What is really wanted, and the simplicity of what is really wanted, is to increase the maximum penalty for dangerous driving and to allow motor manslaughter to fall into desuetude, so that, when serious accidents occur, a proper prosecution can be brought, carrying with it, if you like, the maximum penalty which the noble Lord proposes in his Amendment. Let the man be judged on his driving, without the complicating factor of whether his bad driving results in death or serious injury. I believe then that there would be fewer perverse acquittals. I believe that it would provide a much simpler task for the judge, and would also make much simpler the task of those who have to face a charge of this kind. After all, none of us wants those who have to face a charge of this kind to suffer embarrassment in preparing their defence; on the contrary, we want them to direct their attention to the merits of the case.

6.45 p.m.


If I may say so, I heartily welcome this clause and commend it to the Committee. I believe that if it is passed it will remedy a state of affairs which is not creditable to the juries and to the general administration of the criminal law in this country. The number of cases in which motorists are charged with reckless driving and in which the evidence is sufficient to shock decent people, and yet juries will not convict, is truly remarkable—and no one has yet been able to find a way of depriving a British jury of its privilege of returning a perverse verdict. I entirely agree with what the noble Viscount who has just addressed the Committee has said: as the law stands, it is often illogical. To some extent, there will always be some illogicality in saying that it should be a more serious offence if a man drives recklessly and kills a person than if he drives recklessly—because the real crime, of course, is the reckless driving. I have often addressed magistrates in that vein when speaking to them up and down the country. I try to remind them that the offence of driving dangerously ought not to be judged merely on the fact of whether or not there is an accident. On the other hand, is it more illogical to say that if death does result the offence should be treated as a more serious one, than it is to say that if you charge a man with attempted murder, it has not such a serious result as the offence of murder, although the wickedness in his heart may be exactly the same?

What is the present position? I should like the Committee to bear this in mind. I am going to make a confession; to some extent, I suppose, I am partly responsible for a suggestion made to a former Minister of Transport which brought about the present position. If a man drives recklessly or dangerously and causes death, then, prima facie, that is manslaughter, except that a jury always has the right to say that the degree of danger is not sufficient to justify a finding of manslaughter, that the degree of negligence is not high enough. But if there is reckless driving which results in death, it always was, and always ought to be, manslaughter. Juries hate the word "manslaughter." They see in front of them a sentence being given of ten years, fifteen years, or something of that sort. They associate manslaughter with murder trials and, for some reason or another, although the judge may tell them that they need not be afraid that anything approaching murder is involved in the matter, they will not return a verdict of manslaughter when they ought to.

Accordingly, when the Bill of 1933 was being discussed in Parliament, I and two other judges suggested to the then Minister of Transport that it would be a useful thing, as indeed it has been, to put into the Act a provision that, on a charge of manslaughter, a jury could find a defendant guilty of dangerous driving. I agree that it is illogical; and it has worked illogically. But it did at least give the court a chance, if the jury should convict of dangerous driving, of dealing with the offender's licence and of disqualifying him for a considerable period. But of course the result has been this—we foresaw it, but we did not see any way out of it at the time—that it is extremely difficult to sum up these cases satisfactorily to juries. You first have to consider them and direct the jury upon the degree of negligence which will justify them in returning a verdict of guilty of manslaughter. You may use what phrases or classes of words you like, but it is very difficult for juries, who are ordinary men from the street, the farm of the factory, to understand the niceties of these things. One can only say to them, "You must be satisfied that if you had seen that accident yourself you would say, 'That man deserves punishment'." That is one of the tests one can put to them.

They have then to be told that the Statute allows them to find the man guilty only of dangerous driving although he caused a death. Thus the jury may see the degree. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, on that point; it is illogical. If the jury convict at all, they will convict of dangerous driving. It is the rarest thing to get a conviction for manslaughter in motoring cases, however gross, in these days. Very often a court can think themselves lucky to get a conviction of dangerous driving. At this time of the evening I will not trouble your Lordships with details of some of the cases which have been prepared or with abstracts of recent verdicts of "Not guilty" in cases in which one cannot see that there was any defence at all; but the juries will go on acquitting. As I see it, the merit of this Amendment and the great advantage of this clause will be that a simple issue can be put to the jury. I should not object if the noble Earl in charge of the Bill put in a clause at a later stage to say that if death is caused by a motorist by reckless or dangerous driving the motorist shall be indicted not for manslaughter but under this clause; but we will leave that for the moment. If there has been a death caused by dangerous driving, if it is found that the man was driving dangerously, then, if he has caused the death of a person there lies the offence; and one will not be taken up with nice distinctions between dangerous driving or driving sufficiently dangerous to justify a charge of manslaughter, or something else.

I wish to say a word with regard to subsection (4) of this proposed clause, because, with all due respect, that seems most objectionable. It is going to recreate the whole position that I hoped this clause was going to get rid of. It will give a jury the alternative that, although a man has been killed by a reckless driver, and although they think that there was reckless driving and an unfortunate man has been run into and killed, that jury has still the option of saying it is dangerous driving. In charging juries we shall then have to tell them of this alternative verdict, and of course they will take it in every case. I beg the noble Lord who is moving this Amendment, or Her Majesty's Government if they accept it, to abandon that subsection. I am afraid that the ground that the noble Lord gave for putting it forward is too subtle for me and may be too subtle for a jury. He said that the jury might find that although a man was driving dangerously he did not kill a person; but surely this charge will be put forward only where a man has been struck by a motor car and killed; therefore I do not see the point of subsection (4). I beg your Lordships not to pass that subsection, for if it is passed one gets back exactly to the mischief which I hoped was to be removed by this clause.

The noble Lord said that there was no mention in this clause of "driving under the influence of drink." The exact words of the Act are: … under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle. I know there is some difference of opinion on the subject of how far one can give evidence to-day about drunkenness where the charge is merely one of dangerous driving. There are objections and I do not think there has been any decision; but I suggest that if this clause is accepted by your Lordships, on the Report stage the words relating to drunkenness should be included, because then there will be no doubt as to the ability to give evidence in connection with drunken motorists. In many cases of driving dangerously drunken drivers are involved. I have always considered it rather a reflection on the law as it stands that driving under the influence of drink is punishable only by a sentence of six months' imprisonment, while driving dangerously is punishable by a sentence of two years. I am glad to see that, in this Bill, the sentence for drunken driving is increased, because I submit that for people to drive motor cars under the influence of drink is almost as serious an offence as attempted murder. These people are mad dogs.

There is one unfortunate factor (and a particular reason why I should welcome this Bill) of which I was reminded when the noble Lord, Lord Winster, was dealing with Clause 1 of the Bill and saying that the proper remedy was increased sentences. The trouble is that one cannot get courts to pass proper sentences in these cases. One finds that in many cases magistrates pass ridiculously light sentences. I believe it is because they fear that if they pass severe sentences people will always elect to go for trial—and quarter sessions juries nearly always acquit. Perhaps that is going beyond the scope of the clause, but I commend it to your Lordships. I do not think it will make a fifth wheel in the coach, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, fears, for I am quite certain that if this becomes part of the law the proper authorities—the Director of Public Prosecutions and so forth—will not prosecute for manslaughter but for offences under this section, the penalty being adequate. I therefore commend the clause to your Lordships and hope it will be passed.

6.58 p.m.


I could not enter into this debate on the level on which it has been conducted, but I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, for stating a case so clearly, so concisely and with such restraint. I should like to thank also the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, for his contribution to our knowledge on this subject; and my thanks are also due to the Lord Chief Justice. Having listened to what has been said, I feel that one of the reasons why it is necessary for the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, to bring a subject like this before your Lordships is that mentioned by the Lord Chief Justice at the conclusion of his speech. I believe we have to do away with dangerous or reckless driving, and careless driving at the other end of the scale. When I was at the Ministry of Transport road safety was my especial responsibility, and it was always the burden of my complaint that, while Parliament in its wisdom rated all those offences very highly, the lowest courts of the land—the courts of summary jurisdiction—were so perverse as entirely to disagree with Parliament. There is the root of the trouble.

I remember discussing it with my noble and learned Leader when he was Lord Chancellor. He said I had no power. It has always been drilled into me that it is never the job of the Executive to dictate to the Judiciary, although of course the obverse occasionally happens. I remember going to the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken, and I had long and anxious talks with him about the same subject. He very kindly volunteered to give up sitting in court for weeks on end in order to go round the country and, as he has disclosed to your Lordships this evening, address the magistrates of the country with a view to trying to give them a greater sense of responsibility. For what sense of responsibility is there, when on charges of careless driving, for which Parliament thinks there should be a maximum penalty of £50, the average fine inflicted is 50s.? On the whole, the level of fines in the lower courts in this country which the Home Office has disclosed is no deterrent at all. That is why I feel it is necessary for the noble Lord to bring this Amendment before your Lordships.

I want to ask the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor whether some way cannot be found of starting at the other end of the scale. That, in my view, is where the corrective should start. I have said this ad nauseam, and I repeat it: that if we in this country rest our social structure and our legal structure upon the basis that punishment should be a deterrent to wrongdoing, then punishment must be made a deterrent to wrongdoing. The fact that magistrates have taken a completely different view from Parliament and have inflicted fines amounting to only about one-fifth of the maximum has really been, in my view, the greatest single, factor in the failure to bring home that due care and attention should be exercised by everyone on the roads to-day. I am not qualified to enter into technical discussions such as those which have been carried on between three eminent lawyers here, but I want to emphasise this point, and I think this is the right place at which to do it. If the Lord Chancellor could direct his attention to that matter, not only at this moment in your Lordships' House but in the months to come—that is, to the problem of how to inculcate a greater sense of responsibility among the occupants of magisterial benches, so that their ideas of the severity of these crimes line up somehow with those of Parliament—a great deal of good will be done.

7.3 p.m.


I am sure that every one of your Lordships present to-day is grateful to my noble friend Lord Merthyr for bringing this matter before the Committee, and I should like to join with Lord Lucas of Chilworth in congratulating Lord Merthyr not only upon the content of his speech but also on the clarity of it. This is a difficult question, and I want to admit quite frankly that Her Majesty's Government were anxious to get guidance from your Lordships upon it. Therefore we are grateful to everyone who has spoken. But if, for the moment, one limits oneself to the debates on this Bill, I am sure that as we have dealt with this Amendment the thoughts of everyone here have gone back to the speech of the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition on the Second Reading, because, if he will allow me to say so, he then put graphically the difficulty which the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, has mentioned today—the difficulty of the judge in endeavouring to sum up in one of these cases at the present time.

I have tried to carry out an analysis in this connection, and if one searches the reports and the books, one can certainly get six categories of negligence. I do not know whether they are exhaustive or whether, perhaps, someone with greater learning and powers of research could get more. There is the negligence necessary for manslaughter, the negligence necessary for wanton driving, the negligence necessary for dangerous driving, the negligence necessary for reckless driving, the negligence necessary for driving without due care and attention, and the negligence necessary to found a civil action—that is six categories. It is a terrible problem for anyone, however careful and experienced a judge may be, to have to try and instruct twelve laymen on that problem in the course of one short case.

I feel it is right that we should try to deal with the problem, and I think the real basis of it is that when you have these different legal degrees of negligence, then the verdict you get from the jury is bound to be a "hit or miss" one, however careful the judge is; and one gets into the difficulties of which we have heard to-night. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has spoken of a difficulty which is an interesting one and a fundamental one in penal philosophy but not, of course, a new one. It is one of the aspects of any theory of punishment that you have to consider whether or not the element of the results of the act comes into play to affect the punishment—you can call it vindication or anything else you like. But the common sense of the developers of the Common Law in this country has always led them to recognise this. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice took the difference between murder and attempted murder. One could take the difference between wounding with intent and murder. It is clear that wounding with intent calls for a different sentence. One might take the case of assault where death results, which is manslaughter and attracts a very different penalty.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has expressed his doubts, and those doubts have, of course, affected every penal thinker and penal reformer. But, in the end, no one has been able to translate those doubts into a workable penal system. Results must be taken into account if the penalties are going to have the effects which it is desirable they should have. I know that the noble Viscount will not think I am dealing in any way consciously superficially with his argument. I am trying to meet it because I know the sincerity with which he believes it, as well as the force with which he expresses it. That is one difficulty I have always seen in this matter. The other is one which is not limited to the profession to which I have the honour to belong. May I put this to your Lordships. My right honourable friend, the Minister of Transport, who is responsible for this Bill, has tried—whether he has succeeded or not is a different matter, but his motive has been to try—to keep a balance in this Bill between the motorist and the pedestrian, and not to weight its provisions too much against one or the other. I was anxious and interested to know what would be the reactions in the Committee to this suggestion from that point of view, entirely outside the legal problem: whether your Lordships might think this provision would weight the balance too much against the motorist. So far as I can judge, not only from the speeches, but from their reception in this House, that feeling has been absent. I think I am entitled to assume that, and I intend, as at present advised, to act on that basis.

Those were the two a priori points connected with the matter. May I pass to some practical matters that have been raised? My noble friend Lord Hailsham raised the difficulty as to how this provision would work out in practice. As I see it, it would work out in this way. In the ordinary case where death has been caused by the driving of a vehicle, and there is evidence that that driving was reckless or dangerous, the Director of Public Prosecutions would proceed under this section. He would not indict for manslaughter, unless the case was an exceptional one. Again, for the sake of ease, let me give the sort of case that is present to your Lordships' minds, of a jewel thief who has stolen the car and is driving it along a crowded roadway at 60 miles an hour and takes no notice of the police who try to stop him but drives into them. That is next door to murder, and in these cases I assume that the Director of Public Prosecutions will still prosecute for manslaughter; but in the ordinary case he will use this clause. I think that would be a practical and realisable method of procedure. I confess that I had not considered the—I will not say refinement, but the amendment put forward: that it might be possible to introduce some prohibition against prosecution for manslaughter in some cases. Frankly, I should like to consider that. I think it is an interesting suggestion, and I should like to go into it further.

I have also listened with great attention to the view of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice against subsection (4)—that is, the possibility of having a verdict of dangerous driving only. I understood that my noble friend Lord Merthyr intended it to meet the case where the view of the cause of the accident taken by the police was not shared by the jury; that is, where the police alleged that the death had been caused by the accident, but the jury took the view that the police were wrong in making that allegation and believed that, though the dangerous driving had not in fact caused the death, the driving was dangerous. I am not going to weary your Lordships with this point, and my noble and learned friends are all too conscious of the years spent in an almost metaphysical pursuit of theory of the causation by our courts in "running down" cases some twenty-five years ago. But again I should like to have a look at the point. I think that naturally, after what the Lord Chief Justice has said, it is one which merits consideration, and I am sure that my noble friend, Lord Merthyr, will agree.

In view of these points, I should like your Lordships to allow me to assume from this debate that you are in general support of the principle of this Amendment; that is, of constituting this new offence and using it in the manner which I have attempted to describe. On that basis I will consider, with such assistance as I can command, the points that have been raised, and I may also have a look at the coroners' provisions, which are slightly difficult. I should like to look into those matters again in the light of the debate, and I undertake to bring back on Report a clause which I think will express the view of the Committee. I hope I have interpreted the view of the Committee correctly, and that, on my undertaking to bring forward another clause for the consideration of the House when we come to the Report stage, my noble friend Lord Merthyr will withdraw this clause.


I need only refer to the very last words which fell from the noble and learned Viscount, and on that undertaking I certainly do not wish to press this clause this evening. The noble and learned Viscount has been good enough to say—and I thank him for it—that he will give serious consideration to this clause and to the detailed wording of it. I hope that I may take it from him that, if the wording can be improved satisfactorily, he will look favourably upon the principle of the clause at another opportunity—without, of course, giving me any promise on that score tonight. I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.