§ 3.9 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH rose to call attention to the scheme for the periodic testing of motor vehicles set out in Cmnd. 430; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name upon the Order Paper, may I take the opportunity of refreshing the memories of your Lordships as to the history of the White Paper which is the subject of this debate this afternoon. You will recall that in 1956 the Government introduced into your Lordships' House a Road Traffic Bill. The main clause in this Bill—the first one—was to institute for the first time in this country the compulsory examination of road vehicles as to their fitness to travel on the roads of this country. Speaking from this Dispatch Box, I took the attitude, on behalf of the noble Lords sitting on this side of the House, that while we yielded to no one in our desire that every vehicle on the roads of this country should be fit to travel, from a mechanical point of view, and while we were quite satisfied that a system of vehicle inspection to ensure their fitness should be instituted, we were opposed to the idea that examinations should be carried out by commercial garages and that commercial garages should have the responsibility of issuing fitness certificates.
§ I maintain that the only way in which a vehicle can be tested for its fitness, from the mechanical point of view, is to test it on the roads under the conditions under which it has to operate. As is commonly known to your Lordships, I am not without experience of road vehicles, their manufacture and maintenance, having spent more years than I care to recount in the motor industry. So convincing were the arguments against the Government's suggestion, that your Lordships decided to erase from the Bill the provision allowing commercial garages to issue certificates of fitness. When the Bill went to another place, Her Majesty's Government did not see fit to reintroduce the provision during its passage through another place. In point of fact, the then Minister of Transport seemed to me to be convinced of the fallacy of the provision which had been removed by your Lordships.135
§ Then came a General Election, and the Road Traffic Bill of that period suffered the fate (if I may use the technical expression) of "the slaughter of the innocents"—though not in this case, I would suggest, so innocent. After having been returned to power, the Government reintroduced a Road Traffic Bill later in 1956, but again did not put into the Bill a provision for commercial garages to carry out fitness examinations and to issue certificates. Then a strange thing happened. Under the pressure of the Opposition in another place during the Committee stage of the Bill, the Minister of Transport—a different one—undertook to introduce a provision for compulsory examination, and on Recommittal on Report stage a provision was inserted in the Bill which was precisely the same as that which your Lordships had turned out.
§ A Gilbertian situation arose. The Opposition in another place put down an Amendment, similar to the one that I had carried in this House, to remove from the provisions for compulsory examination the provision that in the main the examination should be carried out by commercial garages. The Government won. So that when the Bill came to your Lordships' House at the end of 1956 it included the provision which your Lordships had considered should not be in the Bill. I restated the case against the provision, and said that if the Government wanted compulsory examination of vehicles for fitness it should be carried out by spot check and by Government inspectors, not by private enterprise. However, your Lordships deserted me, and this provision appeared in the Bill when it eventually became an Act. The one thing we did was to extract from the Government an undertaking that, before any regulation was made to bring into force what I considered, and still consider, to be an unworkable provision, a White Paper would be produced. This White Paper is the subject of the debate this afternoon. I thought that it would be interesting to record the history of this provision.
§ I held firm views on this question in the early days of 1956, and after studying this White Paper and considering closely the provisions of the Road Traffic Act of 136 1956. I have not changed my mind. In point of fact, I hope to be able to convince your Lordships that a careful study of this White Paper proves the fallacy of this proposal, as I tried to tell your Lordships two years ago. There is no one in your Lordships' House, least of all myself, who will not work strenuously to remove accidents from the roads of this country. For a period, when I was in the Government as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, I was Chairman of the Committee on Road Safety, and the question of road accidents was my special care. I am in favour of the testing of vehicles, but I am not in favour of the method proposed in this White Paper.
§ The Government appear to be obsessed with the idea that because, it is alleged, compulsory testing of road vehicles is a success in America, ipso facto it must be a success in this country. The Ministry of Transport have imported the most peculiar ideas from America in the last two years. Parking meters are one: I have yet to be convinced that the British public like them. The 30–40 m.p.h. speed limit is another—one of the silliest things I have seen introduced into the traffic laws. Now we are to have compulsory vehicle-testing carried out by commercial garages. We are told now that mechanical failures are a major cause of accidents on the road. When I was in the Ministry of Transport all the official advice that I had, as Chairman of the Committee on Road Safety, was that that argument was a lot of arrant nonsense. The statistics carefully compiled by the Ministry of Transport, in conjunction with the police, showed that only from 2 to 2½ per cent. of road accidents could be said to be caused in any way by mechanical failures.
I do not know whether your Lordships have read what I consider to be one of the most authoritative discussions on this point, a paper which was read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Automobile Division, on "The inspection of vehicles for roadworthiness," by two eminent members of the Road Research Laboratory. Referring to the claim that the compulsory testing by garages in America has had a great effect on road accidents they said this:
It is much more difficult…to find reliable evidence of the effect of vehicle inspection on accidents. It is certainly true that the average death rate per vehicle-mile for all American States enforcing vehicle inspection is lower than that for all those without
it, but this is not conclusive proof of the effect of inspection, since those States which have vehicle inspection are probably those which are most interested in traffic safety and which make use of all kinds of other safety measures. The magnitude of the effect of inspection on accidents has not been, therefore, accurately assessed.
That is the opinion of two of the most prominent members of the Road Research Laboratory. I am quite certain, as I have said, that there is only one way in which to test a vehicle for its fitness to run on the roads: that is, on the conditions under which it runs—its load, its driver and everything else. That is why I have always advocated, and I sincerely advocate now, that a spot check by official examiners is the only way in which this scheme is going to prove workable.
§ I oppose the proposals of this White Paper, and in the main I do so on five grounds. The first is because the proposed scheme makes no greater contribution to road safety than the system of spot checking, which—and this is a great factor—can be operated at far less cost to the nation. Secondly—and this, I think, is absolutely conclusive against the Government's proposals—it is fundamentally wrong for the owners of commercial garages who have a considerable commercial self-interest to be given the responsibility of issuing certificates without which a motor vehicle owner cannot obtain an Excise licence. What are the Government doing? They are putting the onus of being Government inspectors upon the members of the most competitive trade in this country. No garage owner in this country can afford not to have his garage as an official testing station; he cannot afford to allow his customers to have their vehicles inspected by his competitor. There are on the roads of this country 2½million motor cars that are ten years old and over which will come within the Government's proposals. Those are the motor cars that change hands two, three or four times a year as part-exchange barter; those are the vehicles which one sees standing on "used car" lots on bomb sites all over the country. These are the cars to which a trade which has a big commercial interest in them is to be allowed to issue a licence in the interests of safety on the roads.
My third objection is that it is open to overwhelming abuse from which the
public and the honest trader are going to be the chief sufferers—I will elaborate on that later. My fourth point is that the legal safeguards which the examining garage will have to employ are such as will remove all the safeguards that I think the public should have—and I will elaborate on that, too, because I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is going to reply, some pertinent questions upon the legal responsibility. My fifth point, and perhaps the strongest, is that the scheme just will not work. If your Lordships have a copy of this White Paper, you will see that it states under the heading "Proposals for the introduction of a periodic testing scheme" that the Act—that is, the Road Traffic Act—empowers the Minister to make arrangements for the testing of motor vehicles by the following:
By commercial garages, or other persons or firms with the necessary facilities and experience appointed by the Minister as 'authorised examiners'".
So that anybody, commercial garages, municipalities, fleet owners, or any of your Lordships, can open a vehicle testing station so long as they have the equipment and experience which the Minister at some time or other will decide.
I estimate that there will be about 20,000 to 30.000 applications from garages to become testing stations, because it goes on in paragraph 5 to say:
…the sole oriterion will be the suitability of the premises, equipment and personnel of an applicant and his standard of work.
All the vehicles to be tested are those ten years old and over. That means that any car manufactured before 1949 will be subject to this examination, and also any commercial vehicle not exceeding 30 cwt.—light vans and tradesmen's vans, notoriously, perhaps, the most overloaded vehicles on the road. The road safety, from the mechanical point of view, of the steering and brakes of a commercial vehicle depends solely on the weight it is carrying. But they are all going to be tested without any load. What does this mean? Any operator of a fleet of vans and lorries under 30 cwt. can issue his own certificates if he has the necessary facilities for doing his own repair work, which quite a number of them have, and he can therefore be judge in his own case; he does not even have to go to an independent examiner.
Then it goes on:
No authorisation will be granted until the premises have been inspected by a technical officer of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and the Minister is satisfied that the premises and equipment are suitable, the personnel to be employed on the test are competent, and the general standard of work and conduct of the applicant is satisfactory.
I should like to ask the noble Lord what that means. I should estimate that we shall want about 200 or 300 examiners who will examine the examiners, because the personnel employed have to be examined by a Ministry inspector before they are granted permission to operate a testing station. It says nothing about standard. It says if the
personnel to be employed on the test are competent".
What is the standard of competency? Is the standard of competency going to be the same for Slotcombe-in-the-Slush as it is in the West End of London? Then it says:
…the general standard of work and conduct of the applicant is satisfactory.
May I ask the noble Lord what is meant by "conduct"? Surely the Minister of Transport is not going to set himself up as a judge on industrial morals. What does it mean? Then the White Paper goes on:
The detailed conditions under which testing stations will operate and the safeguards to be applied to ensure that the interests of the public are fully protected will be published in regulations.
I thought that the object of publishing this White Paper was to tell us all those things.
§ Let us take the safeguards for the public. I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is going to say in reply to me, but in my view one of the most interesting factors is this. Any commercial garage proprietor who accepted the responsibility of running a testing station, unless he had complete indemnity against risk or responsibility, contingent liability for accident, damage or anything, would "want his head seen to." If he has all this, where is the safeguard to the public? I expect that at some time or another all your Lordships have purchased a motor car, but I doubt whether many of you have ever read the guarantee, the conditions under which you purchased that motor car. The sellers of motor cars have found from experience that they have to contract 140 out of any liability, even the liability at Common Law. Suppose that an examiner has made an examination and has issued a certificate, in good faith, and that shortly afterwards the car meets with an accident, due to a mechanical failure. What is the legal position of the examining garage?
§ Then, again, what is the position of the motorist? To-day, any of your Lordships can take your car to be repaired or maintained where you will—you have a free choice. Under these regulations, the freedom of contract goes. You are told that, if you are the owner of a car over ten years old, you must go to an authorised station to have the work carried out. What happens? Whose liability is it, may I ask the noble Lord, if anything happens to that car while it is in the custodianship of that station? Who is responsible? Let me give your Lordships an example. Suppose that the car is put up on a hoist to examine the braking gear, and that, by some accident, it falls off the hoist. Who is going to pay for the damage? Is there going to be any indemnity against the examiner in Common Law? What is going to happen to the poor owner? If the noble Lord's answer—I do not know what it is going to be—is, "He will have to insure against it," I suggest that a fee of 15s. per examination will not be sufficient to cover the liability.
I come to the next point on which I should like some elucidation, and that is with regard to safeguards. The White Paper says:
Testing stations will be obliged to keep records of all vehicle tests carried out, including the result of the test and of any repairs or adjustments made at the station for bringing a vehicle up to certifiable standards, and of the charges made for such work.
Might I ask the noble Lord whether the Minister intends to set himself up as an arbiter, not for the testing of the vehicle for which a statutory fee is payable, but for the work carried out afterwards? Is the Minister going to consider any complaint by the motorist that the charge is too great to be justifiable? And is he going to listent to all the complaints that will be made against the 20,000 or 30,000 testing stations that the charges made for the work done are excessive? If he is, he is going to set himself up with a man-sized job of work. Cannot the Ministry go back and recall their war-time experience, when they had to adjudicate in some cases as to who should get a motor car and who should have petrol to run it?
My experience in the Ministry was that there were not enough mail vans available to take the sacks of mail to the Ministry of Transport from all those who did not get permission and who felt aggrieved and complained about it.
The next safeguard is the statement:
Authorised examiners will also be required to exhibit within the premises, in a position where it may be seen by the public, the Certificate of Appointment and the names of the people employed on vehicle tests and authorised to sign test certificates or rejection notices.
Who is going to be on this "roll of honour"?—the mechanic who makes the examination, the service manager or the proprietor? They are all going to be certified by a Ministry inspector as to their technical competence, their honesty and their general conduct. What if they change?—and personnel in this particular trade change at about the highest rate in industry. Suppose that somebody whose name is not on the list signs the certificate. Is it valid? Every time an employer changes the list of two or three mechanics, has he to call in the Ministry of Transport official examiner to check the competence of that mechanic before he can go on the list? What about the little village repairer who employs only two men, one of whom is off sick and the other has gone to a football match? What happens? Do you have to wait until they come back because their names are on the board? The trouble is this—and your Lordships will be the first to appreciate it. Once you let a Government Department get hold of something like this then the paper work flows like an avalanche. That is the trouble. And it is so tied up with red tape. Do not forget that the small village garage, run by the owner and his son, has to conform to the same standards as the West End repair shop of well-known people. These are pertinent points.
§ There is one other point. If you Lordships would look at Part II you will see set out the standards of the test. It lays down how the braking system has to be examined. Then it lays down the braking performance. Then it goes on to the steering. I served my apprenticeship in the automobile engineering industry, and I know that nobody could conscientiously carry out all this work in Part II in less than an hour or an hour and a half. That is before one gets to the lighting. Here again, I want 142 the noble Lord, if he will, to look at this aspect. Under the Construction and Use Regulations it is a statutory obligation for any of your Lordships to have two side lamps and a tail lamp on your motor car, but there is no statutory obligation to have any headlamps at all. You take your car to a testing station, and one of your headlamps may be pointing to heaven and the other in a different direction. All you have to do is to say to the examining mechanic, "You need not trouble about those; I do not drive my car at nights." Does he issue a certificate? Because there is no statutory obligation for you to have headlights at all.
The obligation is set out here:
All vehicles subject to the test are required, during the hours of darkness, to carry two lamps showing a white light to the front,".
Dazzle is alleged to be one of the principal factors in road accidents at night, and yet whilst it says that a test has to be carried out for the focusing of headlights there is no statutory obligation for any motor car to have them. If your Lordships will look at page 11, you will see that it says, regarding lighting equipment and reflectors:
A certificate should be withheld if the obligatory side lights and rear lights and reflectors are not in working order,".
Head lamps need never be in working order. Does it not prove conclusively the point that I have been trying to make, that there is only one way in which these cars can be tested for their fitness to be on the road, and that is on the road in the conditions under which they will be operating?
The last point in the White Paper is a general one. I think this has a certain twist of humour:
If in the course of examination other faults are observed (for example a cracked chassis, a spring or mudguard broken or insecure, or a tyre badly worn or damaged) that are likely to have an adverse effect on braking or steering, a test certificate should be withheld.
My Lords, what a field for abuse by the unscrupulous!"Your tyres are so thin, sir, you must have four more before I can sign this certificate." After all, any one of these things, any one of these points from first to last, can only be a matter of opinion.
§ Are you really suggesting that any commercial garage can never be subjected to pressure? If the tester does 143 this job honestly and the customer says, "If you are going to adopt that ridiculous attitude I will take it somewhere else", what is the tester going to do? I beg the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, to be realistic about this matter. Whether a car is spot checked on the road or in any mechanical station, it can be only a matter of opinion, and one man's opinion is worth just as much as another's. I do not mind its being a matter of opinion as to whether a car is fit to be used on the road, but that opinion should at least be expressed by an impartial person, a Government inspector, and not by someone who has an overwhelming commercial interest.
§ I have one last point. What is the use of this certificate? It does not indemnify the motorist against a thing. You take your car into one of these testing stations and you are given a certificate that at that moment of time in somebody's opinion your motor car conforms to the standard laid down. That is all it does. It does not stop you from being stopped, within one hour, by the police under the Construction and Use Regulations and being taken to court and summoned if your motor car does not, in the opinion of the Ministry inspector or the police, come up to the standard laid down under the Construction and Use Regulations. The certificate does not give you any immunity. If you have an accident, if your brakes have proved defective and you run over somebody, it is no defence to say, "Here is a piece of paper. I had my car examined a week ago. I have this certificate." It is no defence at all.
It has happened. We have heard a lot about Hendon. I quote this from a London evening paper; I can only assume it is correct:
Four days after a car had been taken to the Ministry of Transport testing station at Hendon, Middlesex, the steering went out of control and the car swerved and hit a cyclist, it was stated at a Hammersmith inquest today. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death on…
I will not read the name of the person The report continues:
The car driver…said that when he went to the vehicle inspection depôt the brakes were found to be good. A drag link bolt in the steering system was said to be worn, but not dangerous.
An official of the Public Carriage Office
said he inspected the car after the accident and found that the drag link joint had come adrift.
That was within four days. This is at Hendon, the Ministry's own testing station. The only value, if value one can call it, that this certificate has is that, irrespective of the condition of the vehicle, within 12 months of your getting that certificate you can go and get an excise licence. That is held up as a contribution to road safety. Really!
§ I would ask the Minister to reconsider this. I have mentioned only some of the difficulties because I do not want to bore your Lordships, but I think this matter is vital: can you allow two million motorists to go about this country under the false sense of security that, having paid 15s., their car is safe? It does not give them any immunity against anything or from anything. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, quite sincerely—and I hope that nobody will question my sincerity when it comes to wanting to see badly maintained vehicles moved from the roads of this country: far better utilise the arm of officials. There will have to be examiners to examine the examiners. I say that it will take at least 250 examiners to police this scheme, because they will have to keep going round checking the equipment. What equipment is wanted is not specified. Its cost has been estimated at anything from£400 to£500. Is the village garage going to spend£400 on equipment with which to carry out these tests? The spot-check system is overwhelmingly more effective. For one thing the motorist will always have to keep his car in something like good order because he will never know when he is going to be stopped.
§ May I say this final word to the noble Lord—I hope that he will not think I am now at the stage when I want to be facetious. Does he know that the real way to get these old cars off the road is to take off purchase tax? Does he know that about the lowest-priced car that can be brought in this country to-day costs over£700? The high price of these motor cars is keeping these 2½million old motor cars on the roads when they ought to be off the roads. I cannot expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take that view, but I am certain that this scheme will never work. I understand from The Times newspaper— 145 whether it is accurate or not I do not know—that this scheme, which was supposed to come into operation in October, is now being postponed until the end of the year. I ask the noble Lord to put the case I have made, which perhaps other noble Lords will support, before his right honourable friend, to see whether he cannot take the advice your Lordships' House offered in 1956—namely, to develop some testing stations. I see no reason why there should not be some. I see no reason why municipalities should not enter into a scheme—after all, the local authorities are responsible for controlling the accuracy of the weights and measures system of this country. I see no reason why that sort of system should not be tied up with spot checking. But I beg the Government not to plant these seeds of corruptness—because that is what this scheme will do—in a trade which is so highly competitive, and where, in the long run, the trade itself and the motorist will suffer. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships must all have been most interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who has so much experience in this trade and all the cumulative experience of holding office in the last Labour Administration. So far as I am concerned, there are to be found on the roads vehicles which are in need of frequent examination. I am in favour of the examination of vehicles to establish the facts, but I cannot say that I look upon the Government's scheme, as embodied in this White Paper, as being at all ideal. There are all sorts of things, many of which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has mentioned, that have a bearing on this matter. There is purchase tax, which indirectly makes the replacement of cars rather more difficult.
Think of the matter in this way. Many of your Lordships have great experience of big works with a large number of employees. If a works has 3,000 or 4,000 employees, it is probable that there will be a car park for about 600 or 700 cars, most of them old ones. The owners of those cars will be the sufferers as the result of any scheme of this sort. Therefore, I think it behoves us to be sure that, in any scheme laid down by the 146 Ministry, hardship is not caused. The workers of the country depend on these cars to get to their work. Some of them come long distances, and if you tell them that their cars are not roadworthy it means simply that they will have either to try to repair their cars, if the defect is not too serious and can be remedied at little cost, or they will try to change their cars, if that is at all possible. I venture to think that a high proportion of the 2 million cars which the noble Lord has mentioned are, in fact, handled by, and belong to, workers throughout the country. Therefore, for heaven's sake, do let us see that we are fair in what we do!
According to the Government's scheme, one has to take one's car to a testing station. What seems to have influenced the Government towards having cars examined at testing stations, in the way suggested in this White Paper, seems to be the figures which have resulted from tests carried out at Hendon. I do not know how one can tell whether those figures are to be relied on. What we do know is that the Road Research Laboratory have come to a very different conclusion with regard to responsibility for accidents: only some 2 or 3 per cent. of accidents are due to the condition of the cars on the road. I personally do not attach any importance whatever to any of these figures: I think that many of them are largely artificial, and I do not believe they are the result of really careful observation. As against the Government scheme, I cannot help feeling that the spot-check system is a far more efficient way of doing what is required. One sees cars on the road which simply should not be there. If we only could have the spot-check system I think it would go a long way to satisfy everybody.
Another point strongly urged upon the Government when the last debates took place, was that when cars change hands they should be examined to see that they are in sound condition. I think that there is a great deal to be said for that. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said just now that cars change hands two, three, or four times. They change hands much more often than that: there are many cars on the roads to-day which have changed hands ten or twelve times since they last saw the factory. What we want to ensure—and I believe that it would be a much safer way of 147 achieving the aim of the Government—is that cars are sound when they change hands.
The White Paper fairly bristles with difficulties, and I cannot help feeling that Her Majesty's Government should be willing to think again about this matter. Surely the proposal that these vehicles should go to garages to be tested opens the door wide to every kind of undesirable circumstance or practice—call it what you like. I cannot help feeling that that is bad. How can we possibly ensure a really uniform system of examination under such a scheme? But unless there is uniformity in the examination then Her Majesty's Government will come in for a wealth of criticism. I believe that that should give them cause to think again. It is most important that there should be a uniform standard of testing, but if we are to bring in every little garage up and down the country how can we possibly achieve uniformity? For even with the most elaborate system of inspection, which is bound to be very expensive, I do not see how there can possibly be uniformity. I hope that when the noble Lord comes to reply he will give us, if he can, the real reason why Her Majesty's Government are so keen on bringing commercial garages into this scheme, as against properly equipped testing stations up and down the country, run, if necessary, by the Government.
Again, I do not think we have been told what kind of staff are contemplated for the supervision of the scheme. May we be told how many of the staff will be employed to conduct the initial inspection of the premises of applicants, and how many staff will subsequently conduct the routine examination? I welcome the appeal procedure laid down: I believe that that is about the only thing in this White Paper which is really good; and that, of course, was not provided for when this proposal first came before your Lordships. How can we expect a commercial garage to reject the cars of its own regular customers? I am sure that is asking too much of human nature. It will work with a well-conducted garage, but with lesser establishments I would bet anybody far more money than I should care to lose that this proposal, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said, just will not work 148 and will not achieve what Her Majesty's Government want, and that it will produce a whole volume of criticism which is quite unnecessary. The Government are anxious to increase road safety, and I agree. Have an examination of vehicles, but let it be a spot-check examination; and, apart from that spot check, let the scheme operate only when a vehicle changes hands. I believe that there is the real crux of the problem.
There are other points which arise. It is laid down that an examiner may stop a motorist and suddenly start to drive the car. I am not going to let an examiner suddenly start to drive my car. I do not care if he has power or not: nobody is going to drive my car like that. I will take my car to a testing station, but I will not have anybody just stopping me and saying, "I am going to drive your car for you." I shall just not have it, and I am quite sure that that will be the reaction of the great majority. I cannot help feeling that the Government scheme should be re-examined. I am quite certain that if Her Majesty's Government will provide for a spot-check system of examination, with suitable publicity and an expansion of the voluntary testing scheme, that would be a far more practicable way of arriving at the result which I believe Her Majesty's Government and all of us have in mind, and on which I entirely support the Government: that we should have vehicles maintained in a rather more satisfactory condition than perhaps they are maintained today. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will pay real attention to what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and will no doubt be urged by other noble Lords who intervene in this debate.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for only a few moments. I would not in any way dispute the vast knowledge and experience of the two noble Lords who have just spoken, but I must say that I do not favour their proposals with regard to spot checks, and in this instance I rather tend to agree with the proposals of Her Majesty's Government with regard to periodic tests of vehicles, even if those tests should be carried out by commercial undertakings or garages. I am glad to be able in this instance to support the 149 Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in some way because it was not so very long since we did not see eye to eye.
The reason for my preference for periodic vehicle testing within garages against spot checks is due in some measure to the fact that I have lived abroad for a number of years and I have particularly in mind France, where spot checks are in force. Over the last few years the police have been given increased responsibilities which, I believe, has tended to make their attitude towards the average driver somewhat highhanded. Police also tend in France (a country of which I have greater knowledge than of some others) to adopt an attitude of intimidation. I think it is a good thing that testing should be done in authorised testing stations. I must say, though, that in this country we are extremely fortunate in having a courteous and efficient police; and I agree that the temperament of the Englishman is quite different from that of the average Frenchman. But I do not think we should wish to place extra responsibilities on the police, who are already having a great amount—
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me? I hesitate to interrupt him, but for the sake of accuracy may I say that I never mentioned the police? I never wished to put the slightest responsibility upon them. I suggested official examination by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, as they have now. Nor did I hear that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, wished to put this burden on the police.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for making those remarks. I am sorry if I stressed the police but I meant either the police or a similar body of men who would be empowered, at any moment, to wave down any vehicle. In other words, the onus of responsibility would not be left with the driver to go and have his vehicle tested; he would be waved down to have a test on the spot, and it is with that in mind that I made those remarks. In the same way, whereas in France one can be stopped and fined on the spot, in this country one car be stopped, but it is not left to the individual who stops one to decide 150 whether one should be fined or not; it is left to the courts.
I should now like to come to the question of the tests themselves. I note that they will be concerned with only brakes, steering and lighting. Here I must say that I agree in a certain measure with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth said, in that if these tests are to be carried out effectively, as laid out in the Appendix, a charge of 15s., including the shilling for administrative costs, may well be a somewhat low figure. As the noble Lord said, it might well take an hour or an hour and a half for the work to be efficiently carried out. With regard to the lighting tests, I sincerely hope that these will be very effectively and efficiently carried out, for at the moment it is a great strain to travel at night in view of the large variety of lighting to be found on vehicles; and not only because of the variety of lighting but also because of the way in which this lighting is adjusted. I think it is an interesting fact with regard to the lighting of vehicles—I do not know how much that has contributed to accidents—that, according to the Ministry of Transport's Report last year, the largest number of accidents occurred between 10 and 11 p.m.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred to the question of vehicle tests in the United States. I know that statistics can be made to read one way or the other, but I think that they have been proved satisfactory over there and there is no reason why they should not be proved satisfactory over here. However, there is one aspect of the question of accidents arising out of different causes which, I think, is important: last year 5,082 accidents arose out of mechanical defects of vehicles. This number seems to be maintained, for the number during the month of April this year (the latest figures I was able to obtain) was 425, which would make it appear that the number of accidents that occur on account of vehicle defects is constant. The number of accidents which occurred arising out of the actions of drivers of cars and motor cycles—for instance, in turning to the right without due care—reached the figure of nearly 13,000 last year; while the number of accidents which occurred arising out of some action taken by pedestrians on the road amounted to over 151 47.000. I should like just to take this opportunity to ask Her Majesty's Government what they propose to do with regard to the pedestrian problem.
§ 4.14 p.m.
My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes on one or two points. I am inclined to agree to a certain extent with views which have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I agree that the spot check is infinitely superior in many ways to a general examination of vehicles, largely because in the case of the spot check the vehicle has its working load, and that I think is very important. The arrangement as set out in the White Paper will mean, I believe, that the decision as to the issue of a certificate will be left largely to the discretion of individual personnel, because no specific standards are laid down for most items. I cannot help feeling that there will be difficulties and that motorists will be critical of the scheme owing to the lack of uniformity which will exist, and I think that that is a bad thing and that we should have in mind the feeling of the motorists.
I should like to take this opportunity of welcoming the provisions for vehicle owners to have the right of appeal to the Minister against the refusal of a certificate—this is certainly a great point. I should like also to suggest that the Minister of Transport should give an assurance that any legitimate claims which may arise in respect of damage to vehicles while under test by the official examiners will be satisfied. Surely a vehicle owner should be entitled to compensation in those circumstances.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, that is a most interesting point, but would the noble Lord give the House his opinion as to who should pay the compensation?
I think that undoubtedly the compensation should be paid by the Government, because the cars are going to be tested by a Government inspector. Now that examination is laid down by an Act of Parliament we must accept it, and it is rather difficult for Her Majesty's Government to take another look at the methods; but I hope they will consider the details I have mentioned to find out whether they cannot really draw 152 the scheme together a little better so that we have no difficulties.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD MANCROFT)
My Lords, we always knew that this scheme for the periodic testing of vehicles would give rise to controversy. Some of the original controversy that arose when the two Bills—one of them now an Act, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred—were going through your Lordships' House has to a certain degree died down. I hope that I shall be able to deal shortly with a few points which are still causing, your Lordships some difficulty. I suspect, however, that I shall not satisfy those, like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who are fundamentally opposed to the scheme in its present form. I have, however, had the honour to answer for the Ministry of Transport in your Lordships' House for well over five years now, and I am beginning to realise from bitter experience that no scheme affecting roads, or the vehicles that use them, or the people who drive on them, is ever likely to be acceptable to everybody. Everybody wants the Government to do something about the state of the roads—to do something about the vehicles and the drivers who use them, to do something about the death and destruction upon the roads—but, my Lords, the cry, "Why doesn't the Government do something about it?" is invariably followed by the even louder cry, "Well, no; we didn't quite mean that."
I believe that this scheme, this periodic vehicle test, will make an important contribution to safety on the roads. I readily admit that it is not easy to uphold this assertion merely by statistics; it is not easy for me to prove to your Lordships by figures what accidents, and how many, have been caused by the faulty maintenance of a vehicle. As often as not, as your Lordships who motor are well aware, the vehicle is a couple of miles away, wobbling cheerfully down the middle of a by-pass at about 17 miles an hour, by the time the victims of its faulty braking or suicidal steering have sorted themselves out. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice expressed himself strongly the other day on this very subject, the subject of death upon the roads, and used the expression which he has used once before: "Mad dogs." He was talking about reckless or very fast drivers. "Mad dogs" he called them.
153 I would, with great respect to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, add a postscript to that. There are some accidents—too many, I think —that are caused not by mad dogs but by slow, old, mangy dogs. Slow driving and over-cautious crawling down the crown of a by-pass causes many more accidents than we give credit for. I do rot say for a moment that I am pinning the whole of my case on statistics, but your Lordships may be interested in these figures for the first three months of this year. During the first three months of this year, 28 people were killed, 450 were seriously injured and about 1,000 were slightly injured on the roads of this country through accidents directly related to mechanical defects. I think that any slight personal inconvenience which this scheme may occasion, and any doubts we have in our minds about its complete efficacy must be set in perspective against that bill—1,000 slightly injured, 450 seriously injured and 28 killed.
We do also place considerable reliance upon the figures thrown up by the voluntary testing station at Hendon. They show that 34 per cent. of vehicles ten years old, or more than 17 per cent. of newer vehicles, had severe defects of the braking or steering mechanism, and that these figures increased to 43 per cent. and 20 per cent. respectively when account was taken of lighting defects likely to cause accidents. Other tests carried out on a voluntary basis in various parts of the country have given comparable results.
The practice in other countries—not only in America—gives us encouragement. Let us take America first. In America, 18 States now have statutes requiring motor vehicle inspection on a State-wide basis, and 13 States use the appointed private garage system, which we are proposing to use. Many other countries operate compulsory testing schemes, including Austria, France, Western Germany, New Zealand and the Canton of Zurich. South Africa inspects all vehicles on re-sale. Belgium is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the inspection of goods vehicles. The Belgians also now propose to extend their scheme to include private vehicles. My Lords, I think we are in pretty good company. I think we should be very remiss if we did not now follow the 154 example of those other countries who find that the inspection of vehicles in one way and another helps to keep death off the roads.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Would the noble Lord forgive me if I interrupt him? Like him, I am, of course, appalled at the figures for the last three months—twenty-eight deaths! But would the noble Lord tell us the age and type of the vehicles involved in those accidents?
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, I will certainly try to find out that information. I imagine that it must be available, and I will certainly try to get it. The only point I was making to the House on those figures was that they were due to mechanical defects. I will certainly find out the age of the cars involved, and I will let the House know.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
This is very important. The noble Lord has made an excellent point, but I maintain that there are as many accidents caused by the mechanical defect of cars of more recent vintage than ten years as are caused by older cars.
§ LORD MANCROFT
I would not argue with the noble Lord on that. He may well be right. In due course we hope to widen the scheme to embrace all cars, but that is going to take a long time. We are starting off with a reasonable number; but that does not in any way detract from the noble Lord's point.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have raised many criticisms, but we are debating a White Paper and not regulations laid before the House. The regulations will be based on that White Paper. They will be based on the proposals that have been put forward by informed critics of the scheme, and, of course, we will take careful note of what your Lordships have said. I do not pretend for one moment that this scheme in its present form is foolproof. We have, for instance, run into legal difficulties on one or two technical points, which will necessitate the postponement until the turn of the year of the date on which it is proposed this scheme should commence. We had hoped to introduce it a month or two beforehand, but we will look at all these 155 points very carefully. We want to get as big a measure of agreement as possible among all those who desire, as your Lordships do this afternoon, to contribute towards the removal of death from the roads. So I say that this scheme still has its i's to be dotted and its t's to be crossed.
Let me now try to deal with one or two of the points that have been raised in the debate this afternoon. The principal one, clearly, has been the use of commercial garages. If your Lordships will forgive me, I will not go into the principle of that in any detail. We threshed it out in wholesome detail when we were discussing the two Road Traffic Bills in the years gone by. We have given very careful consideration to the possibility of setting up Government testing stations. We decided, however, that this could not be justified at present. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asks why. First, the cost would be very heavy. The buildings alone for one testing station per county might cost at least£1 million; and this would not take into account site values, which are bound to be very high in the areas of heavy population density, where the stations would, of course, be most needed. In practice, I think that many more than one per county would be required if motorists were not to be involved in long journeys and even longer delays. Government stations would also involve, I suggest, an extravagant use of national resources; existing facilities would be duplicated, and there would be unnecessary delay while sites were obtained, buildings constructed and equipment installed.
Government stations would also obviously necessitate the withdrawal of skilled mechanics from productive work, and even if they could be obtained I wonder whether this would be wholly justifiable. At the moment we are using the 230 existing Ministry examiners, and we shall be augmenting those with 50 more. The numbers we should require if the Government stations took over the whole scheme would be very great indeed. Further, I think it would be difficult to guarantee a continual flow of work, and some wasteful employment of skilled staff would be inevitable. The Government therefore decided to rely on the existing facilities of commercial garages and of those municipalities who 156 are willing to provide the service. I have not an accurate estimate of the number of garages likely to be appointed as testing stations, but my estimate is less than that of the noble Lord. I should have thought about 15,000—but I will not quarrel with him over that figure. We hope that every garage that can undertake the test will apply. I am sure that the public will be better served by a very large number of commercial testing stations than if we were to rely on a much smaller number of Government testing stations.
In short, my Lords, the use of commercial garages is, I feel, the most efficient way of getting the testing scheme into operation. It would also cause the private motorist the least inconvenience. Despite all the accusations against the commercial garage trade—and some of these, I think, have been less than fair—the average motorist will find it more convenient to have the test done at a garage which can carry out any necessary minor adjustments on the spot and which, in many cases, would be already employed on the maintenance of that particular vehicle. Government stations would not, of course, be able to undertake repairs. The garage trade have been accused of being over-anxious to play the leading rôle as examiners in the vehicle-testing scheme. This, I suggest, is also hardly fair, since the consequential repair work would still have fallen to them even if the tests had been carried out exclusively by Government or other independent stations. Garages then would not have been the target of so much adverse criticism; nor would there have been any control of their charges. Now, of course, there will be.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asks: Why is this examination system that I am describing to be preferred to spot checks? I think there is a slight misapprehension here. The Act, as the noble Lord will remember, provides for both systems; and both systems will be employed. But the spot check system by itself, being advisory, will be less effective in bringing about an improvement in the condition of vehicles. Only a relatively small proportion of vehicles can be examined in this way except at great inconvenience to the motoring public; and, of course, not all defects are revealed by a spot check. But I 157 repeat that a spot check system will be used alongside our examination system.
Your Lordships have asked about the types of testing stations. Garages, repair shops and service stations will be appointed to test a particular class or classes of vehicle—that is, all motor cars or only motor-cycles—provided that they meet the standards which we shall lay down. A garage specialising in motorcycle repair work will not therefore be excluded from appointment as a testing station just because it is not suitably equipped or does not want to deal with motor cars.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, the noble Earl thinks of everything. I am quite certain that if any scooter garages want to set up exclusive scooter stations, they will do so with the greatest possible encouragement from the Government. Whilst service depots maintained by vehicle manufacturers, and scooter manufacturers, will be eligible for appointment as testing stations, we do not propose to make limited testing stations for particular makes of vehicle. I do not think that this is likely to cause difficulty. It is unlikely that anyone would take a car of one make to a testing station set up by the manufacturer of another make.
Noble Lords have asked about safeguards. As I say, I think that the fears which have been expressed in the Press, in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, about the conduct of commercial garages are rather exaggerated. Nevertheless, we have devised what we believe to be adequate safeguards against abuse. These are set out in paragraph 10 of the White Paper. In particular, the withdrawal of authorisation in the event of any irregularities or skulduggery will prove a pretty effective safeguard. Motorists—I certainly should—are likely to look with a jaundiced eye upon a garage from which authorisation has been withdrawn. Its ordinary business would therefore also obviously suffer, and I think that the garages will be aware of this. I think that they will be pretty anxious to preserve their status as authorised examiners.
Your Lordships also asked about the qualifications of testers. We do not intend to insist on rigid professional qualifications of testers. But they must 158 be competent. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, asks what "competent" means. I am afraid that competence is no more easy to define in this respect than the word "reasonable", which we were discussing the other day, but I think that it is pretty easy, in fact if not in theory, to know that by a competent mechanic, we mean a mechanic with the necessary experience who can work without supervision. When the Ministry's technical officers inspect testing stations before appointment and regularly after appointment, they will have to satisfy themselves of the competence of the staff to be employed on testing. They will, if necessary, give the staff practical tests. At a later date it may be feasible to raise those standards. In any event, we expect that testing stations will be available in sufficient numbers to give vehicle owners a pretty wide choice.
Your Lordships have expressed a desire for uniformity. The noble Lords, Lord Howe and Lord Teynham, both raised this point. How can testing mechanics be able to maintain a standard of uniformity from Land's End to John o'Groats? If I may make a personal remark, both noble Lords served in the Royal Navy. Both, I expect, underwent a medical test before entering the Royal Navy; they may possibly have been tested by the same doctor. I hope it is not an impertinence for me to claim that the requirements laid dawn were so reasonable that both were admitted to the Navy on roughly the same standard. I think that the same will apply to this case. I am not, of course, comparing my noble friends to two broken down old crocks. Paragraph 9 of the White Paper states clearly that the scheme will not be brought into effect until some sort of uniformity throughout the country can be assured.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, also asked me about the rapid turnover of employees in garages. The persons employed who sign certificates would be experienced men of the charge-hand type, who do not generally flit rapidly from garage to garage, and all changes in personnel in garages have to be reported to the Ministry.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question on that point? If a charge-hand is 159 going to sign the certificate, 15s. for an examination will not allow the charge-hand to do the work, so a junior has to do the work for which the charge-hand signs the certificate. I think that is what the noble Lord really means, because one cannot get a charge-hand, at the rate being paid to-day, to do this work himself and then sign the certificate.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, I will come to that point in a moment when I deal with the question of fees. I should like to finish this question of the standard of testing. The technical points which your Lordships have raised about lights, braking and loads will be carefully considered. I am not qualified to comment intelligently upon them. I can only tell your Lordships that we have already received several objections, on the lines along which noble Lords have objected, since the White Paper was published. Some objectors have told us that the standards we have laid down are too high. An equal number of objectors have told us that the standards we have laid down are too low. This is very comforting; it means that the standards are just about right.
Paragraph 8 of the White Paper refers to the possibility that a few special exemptions may be made within the general class of the vehicles which we propose to bring within the initial scope of the tests. I should like to refer to this point, not because your Lordships have raised it, but because it was raised during Second Reading of the Bill, and I made a particular promise to the House that I would look into this point when the White Paper was produced. What we have in mind is the possibility of exempting, at least in the initial stages of the scheme, specialised vehicles like milk floats. Taxicabs, which are already subject to annual inspections competently carried out, may also be exempted. We do not intend, however, that certificates of roadworthiness issued for insurance purposes shall be accepted as substitutes for the official test certificates.
Veteran cars and motor-cycles present special problems. We are in consultation with the motor organisations about this question and hope to work out a reasonable arrangement; but, as I explained to your Lordships on Second 160 Reading, we have no intention whatever of starting a vendetta against "Genevieve" and her friends. In any case, most veteran cars are immaculately maintained by their owners, who are far too proud of them to risk their being involved in anything so vulgar as an accident. Their record of roadworthiness in the past, so the figures show, might well be a salutary example to vehicles young enough to be their grandchildren.
Turning to fees, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred, these have been fixed at 10s. 6d. for the inspection of solo motor-cycles and 15s. for other vehicles. These fees include 1s. to cover the cost of administering the scheme. Let me assure the noble Lords, Lord Merrivale and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that these have been fixed after long discussions with representatives of the motor trade. They allow, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, rightly said, for a forty-five minute test. I do not believe that a charge-hand in a busy garage on a main road could deal with every single one of these tests. If it is a competent garage, with delegation competently carried out, I cannot see the charge-hand putting his name to a certificate unless he himself has inspected the work or is satisfied that the work done under this command has been competently carried out. Surely that is the ordinary way in which delegation can be relied upon to produce the right results. The figure of 15s. was fixed in the light of experience gained at Hendon and in the light of sample tests carried out jointly by the Ministry and the trade. I think that the fees are reasonable. I think that 15s., in any case, is a good deal less than the average conscientious owner, such as your Lordships, would spend on a regular inspection at a garage.
Some critics have suggested that the scheme will have the effect of compelling motorists to incur expense on repairs which they would not otherwise have undertaken. I think, if I may say so, that they overlook the fact that it is already an offence to use on the roads a vehicle the condition of which does not comply with regulations which have been in force for many years. I have been asked what will be the likely effect if a recently examined car is involved [...] 161 an accident due to a mechanical defect. The responsibility is still that of the owner. A test certificate is not a certificate of warranty: it says merely that at the time of the examination the car complied with the requirements laid down in the regulations.
This White Paper was laid before Parliament to meet a promise given by the Government during the passage of the Road Traffic Act. It sets out the general principles and, in some cases, the details upon which we propose to act. It is not, I repeat, the final word. Your Lordships' criticisms in detail will be carefully considered before the regulations imposing the compulsory tests on motorists are finally laid before your Lordships. Before we make these regulations we want to make certain that adequate testing facilities are available. We want to make certain that any opposition which may still exist has, wherever possible, been met. We want to make certain, in short, that the scheme will work. As I have said, I know that there will be opposition to every scheme concerned with safety on the roads. The Government, however, are determined to do everything in their power to reduce the appalling slaughter on the roads. We are firmly convinced, and all the evidence supports us, that a scheme such as this will play a considerable part in reducing the appalling slaughter upon the roads. I hope your Lordships will agree that a little personal inconvenience to some of us is a small price to pay, and I hope that the scheme, when it is put into practice, will be widely supported and even more widely effective.
§ LORD AMWELL
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I put one point? It is rather a side issue, but did I understand him to argue that the careful, sober dog, however mangy, has more onus of responsibility for accidents than the madder dog? Or, to put it another way, is the cyclist more responsible for the fatal accident than the motorist who runs him down?
§ LORD MANCROFT
False analogy is a fruitful parent of error. Let me put it in ordinary language. I agree respectfully with the Lord Chief Justice that very fast driven cars are responsible for accidents. I added, I hope respectfully, as a rider of my own, that the very slowly driven car, even carefully driven, bumb- 162 ling along in the middle of the road, also makes a contribution to the accident rate which has hitherto been slightly overlooked.
§ LORD AMWELL
I do not think that is an answer to the question. My point is on the use of the Queen's highway. Why should not any citizen use it at what pace he pleases? Why all this "get off the earth" business?
§ LORD MANCROFT
I have the feeling that I have seen the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, driving on one or two roads on a summer Sunday, and I think, from the point of view he is advancing, that he is just one of the people I am talking about. He is committing no offence, and he is entitled to be on the road. I suppose he is entitled to drive at 17 m.p.h., and he is committing no offence if he drives in the middle of the road. All that is happening is that he is bringing about accidents.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, with his usual courtesy has replied to the debate. I absolve him from any blame for not dealing with some of the technical subjects; I could not expect him to do that. I may say, however, that he has dealt with them far better than the majority of laymen would. It only remains for me to ask him one or two questions, but before doing so, I would say this: I am 100 per cent. with him in saying that everything must be done—I yield to no one in my efforts—to stop road accidents. If I thought this scheme would make an effective contribution to that end, I should be its really enthusiastic supporter. It is because I do not think it will that I am not.
There are one or two questions the noble Lord did not answer, and I think they are important. The first was raised, as a supplementary to what I said, by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham: Who is going to accept the legal liability in respect of an accident to a motorist's vehicle when it is in an authorised testing station? When the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, responded to my question, I said: "Who is going to pay?" He said: "The Government, of course." I think he is an optimist. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, did not answer that Question. If the garage proprietor is to be liable, 163 he will need a legal indemnity. He will have to contract out of Common Law and all such obligations, in the same way as he now does when he sells a new motor car, or any other motor car, when the guarantee does not cover any Common Law obligation whatsoever. That is an important point. The Government will not pay, and if the Government are not going to allow the garage proprietor to cover himself, either by a contract with the owner or by an insurance policy, he will not handle the car. If I were a garage proprietor I would not handle a motor car until the owner had signed a contract with me that would relieve me of every obligation under Common Law, Statute or anything else. And if I have to go to an insurance company to get cover, 15s. inspection fee will not be enough to cover it.
The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said that the fee had been settled after discussion with the trade. I will not accuse him of a legal nicety, but he did not say whether the trade agreed. My information is that they did not, but had to accept it as the best bargain they could get. In my view, the trade have had some very bad advice over this matter. Once again the noble Lord underlined one thing, and I am grateful to him for so doing. He said that one of the safeguards for the owner is contained in paragraph 10, where it says that the repair garage has to keep records of the charges it makes for doing consequential repairs—that is, repairs consequential upon the examination. In other words, the Government are going to set themselves up to control the charges for repair work in the garage trade. The noble Lord went on to say that this scheme is going to be extended; it will not stop at motor vehicles that are ten years old. The trade had better note this: that if in the opinion of the Ministry a garage proprietor charges too much for the consequential repair work, he will lose his licence.
These are some of the things about which I think the Government should think again seriously. My advice to the garage trade of this country, as this scheme is written in this White Paper and as it has been implemented by what the noble Lord has said, is to have nothing whatever to do with it. They will rue 164 the day; because they have proved over years and years that the legal safeguards they must have to the contingent liability for a motor car, once it has left their control, are worthless. As I said to the noble Lord in my speech, and I hope your Lordships and I hope the Ministry will take note of it: that certificate is not worth the paper it is written on, except at the moment of time it is written; when the car has gone 100 yards up the street, it is worthless. The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, mentioned the police and Lord Mancroft referred to Government testing stations. I agree that Government testing stations would be far too expensive. Nobody raised the point, so the noble Lord answered a question that was not raised.
Those are the two points that I think are germane. I do not hold with any of the criticisms made against the garage trade in general. There are as many honest garage proprietors in this country as there are honest men in other trades. But in this country it is the honest man who is going to suffer. I want to ask the noble Lord one final question, and I hope he will answer it: I put the question before, but he did not answer it then. Will he tell me what is meant by paragraph 9, where it says:No authorisation will be granted until the premises have been inspected…and the Minister is satisfied that…the general standard of work and conduct of the applicant is satisfactory.Suppose that the proprietor of a certified testing station wished to pose as a benefactor to the motorist and said, "I will carry out all tests under this scheme free of charge"—of course, the Government would think that was a gallant gesture, would they not?—what would the Government's view be of an action like that? Would they say, "We will now enter a field of restrictive trade practices and not allow a garage proprietor to test his customers' vehicles free of charge"?
I am very grateful to the noble Lord. He said that all the criticisms that I and other noble Lords have made will be considered. I think they must be considered, because once he sets his hand to this scheme and it is not a success, then the position will get worse. I am grateful for the noble Lord's assurance that the spot check is going to be carried out and that it will be intensified. In the 165 last analysis, I feel certain that that will make a greater contribution to road safety than this scheme, which in my opinion, in spite of what the noble Lord has said, will not work. Having aired the matter, we will await the regulations to see what they say in the light of what has been said this afternoon. Before I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion, would the noble Lord answer the last question I put to him, which is very important?
§ LORD MANCROFT
No, my Lords, I will not, because I cannot possibly answer the question of what would happen if a garage proprietor announced that he was not going to charge a fee. I remember Lord Cherwell telling us in days gone by of the immense excitement caused when he refused his Ministerial salary. I will look up the records and see whether the two are parallel in any way. That, I think, will require considerable research.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, it might be convenient for the House now to adjourn during pleasure until 5.45 for the Royal Commission. Might I point out to your Lordships that it would be desirable to have a reasonable attendance for the Royal Commission?
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.