§ 3.0 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what were the average amounts of the fines imposed by magistrates' courts for the offences of careless driving, dangerous driving and driving, or being in charge of, a vehicle when under the influence of drink, respectively, during the period of six months beginning 1st October 1956, and during the corn-parable periods in each of the two previous years, together with the percentages which those figures show of the amounts of the maximum fines in force during those periods; also, what percentage of penalties imposed by magistrates' courts were either quashed or reduced by higher courts during the same periods.]
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, the average fines imposed by magistrates' courts in England and Wales for the offence of careless driving during the periods of six months beginning on October 1, 1954, 1955 and 1956 respectively were £4 0s. 1d., £4 4s. 4d., and £5 8s. 10d. For dangerous driving the average fines for the same periods were £10 17s. 1d., £11 9s. 7d. and £13 9s. 10d. respectively. For driving or being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of drink or a drug the average fines for these periods were £17 7s. 1d., 810 £18 16s. 4d. and £21 12s. 10d. respectively. Expressed as percentages of the maximum fines which could be imposed during these periods on first conviction for these offences, these average fines were 20, 21 and 15 per cent. for careless driving; 22, 23 and 15 per cent. for dangerous driving and 35, 38 and 24 per cent. for driving or being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of drink or a drug.
The maximum fines which can be imposed on first conviction for these offences were doubled by provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 1956, which came into force on November 1 of that year, and in relating average fines to maximum tines during the period of six months beginning October 1, 1956, allowance has been made for the fact that the higher maximum fines were in operation for only five out of the six months. Information regarding appeals against conviction or against sentence imposed by magistrates' courts in these periods is not available, but I can tell the noble Lord that in 1956 there were 45,749 convictions at magistrates' courts for these offences and 320 persons appealed to quarter sessions; convictions were quashed in 60 of these cases and sentences varied in another 88 cases.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, would the noble Lord accept my grateful thanks for the trouble to which he and his advisers have gone to get this information, which is of vital interest to the public? Would he not agree with me that, on the figures he has read out, in view of the fact that Parliament expressed its grave concern at the seriousness of these offences by doubling the fines, the magistrates' courts of this country have, if I may say so perhaps with some slight stretch of exaggeration, for which the noble Lord will forgive me, been acting in rather a perverse manner, because they have inflicted penalties at a lower percentage than had been prevalent in the two previous years? In view of the exhortations of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack about the express wish of Parliament, does the noble Lord not think that this state of affairs gives Parliament grounds for grave concern? Regarding the last figures he gave, I am glad to see—I am sure he will be grateful for this—that the alibi, if I may so put it, the reason 811 why magistrates did not impose higher sentences was because the higher courts were quashing or reducing the sentences, is not borne out by the facts of the case.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for the kind words with which he started his supplementary question, which I shall be glad to pass on to where they will do the most good. Naturally, I am well aware of the reason why these penalties were doubled, but I think I should be extremely cautious in expressing my agreement with the noble Lord that the situation is one at this present stage from which one can draw any very positive conclusion. These figures are very early ones, and although at face value they rather appear to indicate a tendency I think it would be a little unwise to try to draw a positive conclusion from them at this stage.