HL Deb 29 May 1957 vol 204 cc61-5

THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF DEFENCE (LORD MANCROFT) rose to move, That the Draft Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Order, 1957, reported from the Special Orders Committee on the 22nd of May, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Order is laid under the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act, 1952, and requires an Affirmative Resolution of each House. The making of this Order is necessary before the United Kingdom can ratify the International Convention of 1949 on Road Traffic. The Order will also enable us to give effect to Article 4 of the Agreement regarding the Status of Armed Forces of Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty. Ratification has become a matter of urgency.

The most important provisions of the Order relate to the recognition of foreign national and international driving permits held by temporary visitors to Great Britain, and to foreign national and military driving permits held by members of visiting Forces in this country. Under our existing law, no one may drive a motor vehicle in Great Britain unless he holds a British driving licence. As a result, we have been forced, up to now, to issue British driving licences, without test or fee, to visitors holding international driving permits issued under the 1926 Convention on Motor Traffic. This was nothing more than a tiresome formality. The Order now before your Lordships accordingly provides that a visitor from abroad who holds a national or international driving permit, need not obtain a British driving licence. This concession holds good for twelve months.

A similar provision, but without a time limit, is made for members of visiting Forces and for civilian components of such Forces holding foreign or military driving permits. Visiting drivers of buses and coaches and heavy goods vehicles, provided they hold foreign national or international driving permits for those classes of vehicles, will further not he required to have additional vocational licences to drive these classes of vehicles. They will not be subject to the minimum age limit of twenty-one years prescribed for drivers of these classes. These two concessions are, however, to be confined to the driving of vehicles brought temporarily into Great Britain, and drivers must be at least eighteen years of age.

The remaining provisions of the Order are a little complicated, rather technical and of a procedural nature. They do not, I think, give rise to any points of controversy, but I shall be happy to try and explain them to your Lordships if you should so wish. I think this Order is obviously a sensible and necessary Order, not least from the point of view of the tourist industry. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Order, 1957, reported from the Special Orders Committee on the 22nd of May, be approved.—(Lord Mancroft.)

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that this is a wise and sensible thing to do and we shall not oppose it; but there is one question that I should like to ask the noble Lord, and one suggestion I should like to make. Could the noble Lord tell us how many drivers this is going to affect in the course of twelve months? Then—though I am afraid that this is an awkward question to ask on the spur of the moment—can he tell us the number of nationals who come in and who will be affected by this? The reason I ask is that we in this country have put great store upon driving tests. Many drivers who come here come from countries which do not have driving tests. To help that position, would the noble Lord consider it a wise suggestion that Her Majesty's Government should present each of these drivers with a copy of the Highway Code, printed, I would suggest, not in every suitable language but, say, in the two languages which would cover the majority of drivers, which probably would be French and German? I do not suggest that there should be any other language for the Americans, who would form the bulk of the numbers. That might help us and assist the Ministry of Transport in their laudable effort to decrease road accidents in this country.


My Lords, on the Committee stage of the Act I raised the question whether these people would be fully covered for third party insurance. I received from the Department information to the effect that they are covered. Perhaps the noble Lord would assure the House that such is the case, especially with regard to members of foreign Forces in this land.


My Lords, although I do not in any way complain about this Order I should like to take advantage of the rather kind Rules of this House to raise a question which is really a little outside this Order but which, as the Order seems to deal with international circulation, I feel should be raised: that is, the question of the rule of the road—keeping to the left and keeping to the right. Apparently soon, if we are to have free trade in Europe and also a Channel tunnel, there will be a much bigger circulation of vehicles than at present, and to chop and change from left to right is bound to introduce a certain amount of danger. I remember that years ago in Austria they had the rule of the road as the left in one part of that country and the right in another; and one had to change by virtue of a notice in the middle of the road. In future, this notice will be in the middle of the Channel. There is here a certain aspect affecting safety. But I should like also to draw attention to the fact that British manufacturers are considerably handicapped in that, if they are to export motor vehicles, they must make a left-hand drive model, whereas for home consumption a right-hand model is required. Foreign countries, on the other hand, unless they are going to export to this country, have not that disability.

I have always been under the impression, to be thoroughly Irish, that left is right and right is wrong, but I will not adumbrate arguments upon that there are advantages and disadvantages. I do not think there is much disadvantage for the private motor car, but from the point of view of public transport, where now we catch a bus from the kerb, if we reverse the rule of the road we shall have to load public transport vehicles in the middle of the road, which would be a matter of considerable danger I would ask the Minister, when replying, if he would refer the matter to the Department to see what is their view; because a pronouncement upon it would be valuable to everybody, so that we may know whether we are to continue indefinitely and for ever to keep to the left or whether, one day, we shall adopt the general, but I believe erroneous, practice of keeping to the right. That would be an advantage, because if such a change is to be made we shall certainly want at least fifteen years' notice of it.


My Lords, in regard to the sound suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I believe I am right in thinking that something of this sort is already done by motoring organisations in that they hand out to people coming here instructions, in most cases in the appropriate language, on the rule of the road and so on.


My Lords, I will certainly refer to my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation the observations of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara about the desirability of changing the rule of the road. I suspect, though, that he may already have heard of it at some time in his professional career. I am glad that the noble Lord gives us fifteen years' notice. I suspect that we shall probably get the change about the same time as we get the Channel tunnel, the decimal system and a fixed Easter.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, asked me how many people this Order affects. I do not know whether any firm figures are kept, but the approximate figure is estimated to be of the order of 50,000; and obviously we hope that it is rising; so that an increasing number will be affected. If we have a Channel tunnel more will be affected. My noble friend Lord Gifford is quite right. The Highway Code, in English, is given to most, if not all, visitors to this country. To print it in other languages would be very expensive. Most visitors to this country seem to understand English fairly well, and judging by the high standard of safety they observe on our roads during their visit they pay a good deal more attention to the Highway Code than some of the natives themselves who drive on the roads. In conclusion, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, that the point he has made has been taken care of, and that the necessity for third party insurance—the old green card system—being held by all visitors to this country is in no way affected by these Orders.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? I do not know whether he had an opportunity of seeing a television performance the other night on the difficulty of foreign pedestrians finding their way about London. If the foreigner drives a motor car, unless he has the Highway Code printed in his own language I should think it would be confusion worse confounded.


My Lords, the noble Lord's desire to help the foreigner should perhaps he extended to the natives, as many of us find it difficult enough to find our way about London. I will draw the attention of both motoring authorities and the police to the point which the noble Lord has made.