HL Deb 19 July 1960 vol 225 cc501-13

4.53 p.m.

Read 3a (according to Order), with the Amendments.

Clause 1 [Punishment without prosecution of offences in connection with lights, reflectors, obstruction, etc.]:

LORD CHESHAM moved, after subsection (9) to insert: ( ) In any proceedings for an offence to which subsection (1) of this section applies no reference shall be made after the conviction of the accused to the giving or affixing of any notice under this section or to the payment or non-payment of a fixed penalty there-under unless in the course of the proceedings or in some document which is before the court in connection with the proceedings reference has been made by or on behalf of the accused to the giving or affixing of such a notice or, as the case may be, to such a payment or nonpayment.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for putting down two Amendments on Third Reading, but they are more or less inevitable. I do not think I need take up much of your Lordships' time with them, however. The first Amendment has been put down to deal with a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and others on the Committee stage as to whether the fact that the driver had been served with a ticket could be quoted against him in court. My noble, friend Lord Bathurst promised to look at the matter again, and on that understanding the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, withdrew the Amendment he had down, which was designed to ensure that no evidence should be given in court concerning the payment of a fixed penalty without the consent of the person who made the payment. Unfortunately, it was not possible to knock an Amendment into shape for the Report stage.

There are two types of proceedings to which the question of whether reference could be made to the service of the ticket or the payment of a fixed penalty may be relevant. The first is proceedings for the offence for which the ticket was served, where the fixed penalty has not been paid; and the second is subsequent proceedings for a quite separate offence. In neither case could the service of a ticket or, come to that, the payment of a fixed penalty be referred to before conviction, because the evidence would be irrelevant to the question of guilt of The offence then before the court; and consequently, it would be in- admissible, except in so far as the accused might wish to raise the defence, in proceedings for a ticketable offence, that he had in fact paid the fixed charge. Since it cannot be mentioned before conviction, there remains the question whether the service of a ticket or the payment of a penalty could be quoted as part of a defendant's history after conviction when the court is considering sentence. Where the offender has been convicted of the offence for which the ticket was served the fact that he has chosen to exercise his right to contest the case instead of paying the fixed penalty ought not to be quoted against him.

The Government have come to the conclusion that it would be right to prohibit it specifically in the Bill, which is what the noble Lord asked for. On the other hand, where the fixed penalty has been paid, there is not a conviction. That has become abundantly clear owing to the Amendment we moved and carried stating that payment discharged liability to conviction. It is therefore not a conviction, and, could not be mentioned as part of the offender's antecedents; and it is right, I think, that he should also be protected against any reference to his having paid up on a ticket if he is before the court for a similar offence in the future.

The Amendment accordingly provides that the fact that a person has had a ticket, or that he has paid a fixed penalty, or has not paid it, should not be mentioned in the proceedings after conviction of an offence to which Clause 1 (1) applies unless it has been mentioned by or on behalf of the accused in the course of proceedings or in some document which is before the court—by which I mean a statement submitted on a plea of "guilty" sent by post, or something like that. I do not think there is anything more that I need say about it, and I hope that the Amendment will be acceptable to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 17, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Chesham.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having put down this Amendment. He promised me that he would, and I did not proceed with the matter on the Report stage, having complete faith that he would keep his word. There is just one question that I should like to ask the noble Lord. When this Amendment originally appeared in the Printed Paper Office—I think it was yesterday or the day before yesterday—it had one form of wording, but when it appeared in the Printed Paper Office this morning it had another version; and it is starred, with a note saying that the first two lines of the above Amendment had been altered. The original draft read: Page 3, line 17, at end insert … 'In any criminal proceedings (other than proceedings for a contravention of subsection (8) of this section) no reference …' and so on. In the Amendment which is before your Lordships it says: In any proceedings for an offence to which subsection (1) of this section applies no reference shall be made … I want to know what is the subtlety in the alteration—if subtlety it is. Is it because under the words "In any criminal proceedings"—that is, the original draft—no offence committed by that motorist under the Road Traffic Act could be brought in, and it is now narrowed down to no "offence to which subsection (1) of this section applies"? That really confines it to parking offences. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me whether that is the answer. I am puzzled to know what the answer is.


My Lords, perhaps I should have been a little more explicit, but there is no deep mystery in it. I am glad to be able to explain it to the noble Lord, and the explanation is this. It was realised that if the Amendment was left as originally put down it would mean that the ban on references to tickets would have extended to offences generally. We could not have that, because there might be cases in which the fact that a ticket had been served is an integral part of the circumstances of the offence, and reference to it, either before or after, would be neither unfair nor avoidable. The case which springs to mind is a case where the accused had either tried to bribe a traffic warden or policeman, or punched him on the nose or something like that, in the process of serving a ticket. We should have reached the rather queer position that if there was a case, say, of assault, then in the circumstances of the Amendment as originally drafted, it would not have been possible for the warden to give evidence that he was serving a ticket at the time he was punched on the nose. It is to overcome that particular legal difficulty—it is not a major affair—that the alteration was made.


My Lords, may I speak again, by leave of the House? Of course I am not a lawyer, and neither am I in the habit of punching people on the nose. But I should have thought that the action of punching someone on the nose could have come into the category of "any criminal proceedings". However, I expect the noble Lord is right. I looked at it rather closely—and the noble Lord will forgive me for doing so, because, after all, it is my responsibility in Opposition to make the noble Lord make his case. The noble Lord does assure me, does he not, that there is no side wind by which the ticket offences, if they accumulate by a large amount, can be brought in under this? If he gives me that assurance, I am prepared to accept it.


My Lords, I am quite ready to say that there is no such side wind. It is for the reason I have stated, badly as I may have stated it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 15 [Charges for removing and storing vehicles]:


My Lords, this Amendment is a drafting Amendment of a minor character which has been put down for the avoidance of doubt. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 21, line 34, leave out paragraph (c) and insert— ("(c) in relation to a vehicle removed by a person other than as aforesaid from a parking place provided or controlled by a local authority, means that authority; (d) in relation to a vehicle removed by a person other than as aforesaid from a parking place in the London Traffic Area designated under section thirty-four of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, means the local authority (being the council of the county borough or county district, the Common Council of the City of London or the council of the metropolitan borough) within whose area the parking place is situate;").—(Lord Chesham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend's guidance? Is it in order for me to make a few remarks with regard to traffic wardens?

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, in moving that the Bill do now pass, I had it in mind to make a few remarks, and perhaps my noble friend would not mind if he followed me. Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill have naturally occupied most of the time that we have given to this Bill, and I think it is right that they should, because they introduce the ticket system and use of traffic wardens, which were both quite new means of enforcement. As a matter of fact, though, the ticket system is not wholly new in principle—I have not made this point before—because there has been over the last hundred years or so some means, well known to law, of compounding some offences. One offence that comes readily to mind is that of failing to buy a licence for one's motor car, or even failing to display it, as I found to my own cost (of approximately 10s.) in 1938. But the ticket system is new in all other respects, and it is right that it should have been examined very carefully. This is an experiment, and we want to start by examining how the system works on a limited scale and in relation to the simpler offences. What I might call the gradual element has now been more clearly embodied in the Bill as a result of the useful discussions we have had in the House, and I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to making the Bill conform more clearly to the Government's intentions.

I believe that the ticket system, with the safeguards that have been built into the Bill, will prove acceptable to the public. I think that most motorists—and, after all, an overwhelming majority, for better or worse, already plead guilty by post when they are charged with parking offences—will accept without difficulty the somewhat simpler procedure of paying the fixed penalty, while those who wish to contest the charges will recognise that they are perfectly free, as free as they are to-day, to do just that. I believe we shall find that it will be not only a valuable means of improving the flow of traffic through congested areas, but a real means of relief of the work of the police. Whatever happens in that way, the experiment will be subject to the control of Parliament at all stages. The extension of the ticket system, first to London, and then to other areas, will be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. So will the extension of its scope to include obstruction, which I gave your Lordships an undertaking to exclude from the scope of the system from the outset. Your Lordships will therefore have an opportunity to consider how the experiment is going before more widespread use of it is made.

Your Lordships welcomed traffic wardens to assist the police in their duties, but, very rightly I think, showed concern over the precise scope of what those duties should be. The employment of wardens is also experimental, and we must also go on gradually with it, giving them only a limited range of duties to begin with and considering an extension only when it has been justified by achievements. Your Lordships were very concerned that at first wardens should not be authorised to use the ticket system to deal with obstruction, and we amended the clause in such a way as to ensure that it cannot be one of the functions to be conferred on them by the first Order, which is to be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure, and also that any Order extending their functions made after October 1 next will be subject to Affirmative Resolution. As your Lordships know, the Negative Resolution procedure is laid down in the case of the first one, so that it may come into operation during the Recess.

I think your Lordships should know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has authorised the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to proceed on the assumption that the Bill will receive the Royal Assent before the Recess, and to begin to arrange for the early recruitment of traffic wardens with a view to their taking up their duties some time in September. It is hoped that in this way the wardens will be fully trained and will have had some experience of their duties in time to enable them to give really useful assistance to the police in traffic matters and the relief of congestion in central London during the difficult period which always comes up at Christmas.

My Lords, I have spent a minute or two on Clauses 1 and 2 again, because it has obviously been clear that it is these to which your Lordships have attached the greatest importance. I will deal with the rest of the Bill, if I may, rather more summarily. The remaining clauses have two separate objectives. To start with, they aim to amplify the Minister's powers to deal with the traffic crisis in London, and most of these powers are limited to a five-year period. It may be that recommendations will come from the Royal Commission on Local Government in London which will necessitate further statutory changes before the end of that period. But in any case the Minister does not think that they represent the final solution for London's traffic, and in the meantime it is his responsibility to do what he can to deal with the crisis, and so he has thought it wise to arm himself with these additional powers. The other clauses in the Bill are designed to help local authorities to deal with parking problems, both inside and outside the London Traffic Area.

Now, I think I should come for a minute to Clause 12, which was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and that also helps local authorities by removing an existing restriction on their right to prohibit loading and unloading. As you know, this clause has caused considerable apprehension to the operators of commercial vehicles, and at the Report stage I promised to make a further statement about it to-day. I have now had an opportunity to consult my right honourable friend, and he has agreed that we should immediately consult the local authority representative organisations and the organisations representative of commercial vehicle operators, a process which he is bound to do by Statute, in order to see exactly how to amend the existing procedure regulations in order to effect adequately the safeguards of the type which I mentioned.

Broadly speaking, this would mean that where a local authority are proposing to impose a ban on loading and unloading which is to operate for more than six hours a day, and where there are any unresolved objections, the local authority would have to hold a public inquiry and would be required to send a copy of the inspector's report to my right honourable friend at least a month before they proposed to make the order. This would ensure that my right honourable friend was forewarned of any possible trouble and would have time to discuss the matter with the local authority if he thought that anything which was proposed went beyond what was reasonable on traffic grounds.

My noble friend, Lord Derwent, expressed a fear on Report stage that the Minister would have no power of review as a result of the new Clause 12 as inserted in the Bill. I have consulted my legal advisers and I can assure your Lordships that this fear is groundless. I am quite satisfied that, even with this Amendment, any objector would have an absolute right to object to a local authority on the grounds that they were imposing a restriction unreasonably in the light of all the circumstances, and my right honourable friend would be fully entitled to use his powers under Section 27 if he thought that a local authority order was unreasonable. The words in subsection (4) of Section 26 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, would neither detract anything from any objector's rights, nor would it in any way restrict my right honourable friend's power to amend or revoke any local authority order. I hope that this assurance will satisfy those noble Lords who have felt some apprehension about the clause.

We have already given a good deal of time to this Bill, and I do not think that your Lordships would want me to go on much longer now. I should like to thank not only all those noble Lords who have co-operated so well in the passage of the Bill but all those unseen figures behind me who have done so much work, too, and who are usually to be found incarcerated in the officials' box. I am sure that we have made considerable improvements to the Bill during its passage through your Lordships' House, and particularly in the first two clauses. In particular I would pay my tribute to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, which have played no small part in the improvements to the Bill I have just mentioned. The amount of homework he must put in is, I should have thought, formidable, and, even if he and I do not see quite eye to eye, I am only too happy to recognise the sincerity of his endeavours. I look forward to further battles in what are, in reality, our joint efforts to improve the transport Bills which will undoubtedly, I assure your Lordships, be coming before the House in due course. I would also express my appreciation to my noble friend Lord Bathurst, who nobly and very efficiently took on a heavy load for me on the Committee stage when circumstances had made things a little difficult.

My Lords, as I said on Second Reading, this may not be a major Bill but it is a very useful one, and I am sure that it is going to make its contribution to the solution of some of our worst traffic difficulties. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Chesham.)

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, when this Bill came to this House it was a thoroughly bad one. It was woolly, and I despaired that even the skill of your Lordships' House could ever turn it into a good one. But your Lordships have done that with Bills upon many occasions and I do not think you have failed altogether upon this occasion. At least the Bill does now state, whether we agree with all of it or whether we do not, what the Government intend to do. I still have some misgivings about Clauses 1 and 2. I think that perhaps more could well come of the other clauses and the conditions and regulations that will be made under the other clauses. I do not think that, in the last analysis, traffic wardens will ever be a success. This Bill now has whittled them right down to nothing more nor less than car park attendants. But I am hopeful that perhaps outside agencies will come to our aid.

I think I read in the Daily Telegraph the other day (and if it is in the Daily Telegraph I always think that means that the Government are going to do it) that as a result of the Royal Commission police constables are going to get a very substantial starting salary—much more than they get to-day. If that is so, if real recruitment can be made into the police force and a traffic police force can be formed, that, in my view, is going to be our solution. I am not at all happy about ticket fining, but it is bound to come, I think. We made the first step when the Magistrates' Courts Act came into operation. I believe that in the course of time, in spite of the opposition which I expect the noble Lord will receive from the Home Office, it will be enlarged to cover quite a majority of motoring offences.

The noble Lord was very kind in his personal references. This provides me with the opportunity to congratulate him upon the manner in which he has handled this Bill. I knew that it was a tough assignment—I knew it even better than he did. I lived with this problem of traffic at the Ministry of Transport; and in my day, now many years ago, I had to battle with the Home Office about the enforcement of the traffic laws. I knew the size of his problem. I think he surmounted his difficulties admirably, with, if he will allow me to say so, a courtesy which sometimes was unexpected because I harried him hard at times—I think I harried him perhaps unmercifully at times. I make no apology whatsoever for that—it is my job. I conceive it to be the duty of any Opposition to make the Government state and make their case. If they cannot make their case, they must alter it, which is something the noble Lord did upon many occasions. I can only say that I hope that in my pressure upon him I did not drive over the white line of courtesy upon any occasion.

I should like also to echo what he said about the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, who had his baptism of fire in this Bill. I am sorry he is not in his place at present, because, if I may strike a personal note, I am certain that the distinguished lady, his mother, who was such an ornament to another place, and whom I knew before the noble Earl was even a twinkle in his father's eye, so many years ago—more than I like to remember; I am not going to be ungallant enough to say just how many they are—must have been very pleased at her son's first halting steps in a major contribution to a Bill in your Lordships' House.

I should like to say a word about Clause 12. I look upon this as one of the major contributions that the Bill has made to the relief of congestion. I was never apprehensive, as was the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. He, quite rightly, voiced his suspicions and fears, as he always does, with courtesy and restraint. But my experience has been that ever since we made our great mistake in the 1956 Road Traffic Act there has been no power in the hands of the police outside London to curb this curse of loading and unloading, and indiscriminately using the main streets not for unloading or loading but for garaging commercial vehicles. There has been only one weapon in the hands of the police—namely, that of prosecution for obstruction. They have had no other power to help them.

I am all for consultation. I think it is right that there should be consultation between the local authorities, the trade unions, the haulage associations and all the vested interests that one can bring in. But they must remember that we are not going to solve the problem this Bill seeks to solve if everyone says, "Oh yes, there must be great changes, and there must be these alterations ", and then take sidelong glances over their shoulders and make quite certain that there is going to be no inconvenience or alteration in their lives. That is what usually happens. I hope that the Minister, with the co-operation of the local authorities, will see that our main arteries of traffic are cleared, so that roads can be used for the purpose for which they are made. I wish the Bill well, and I look forward with keen anticipation to having in the future many debates with the noble Lord upon these problems.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I just thank my noble friend Lord Chesham for the trouble he took in trying to ease my fears about Clause 12. I can say categorically that the traders' organisations are much comforted by what has transpired in our debate on Clause 12; and after my noble friend's statement to-day, they should be even more comforted that further consultations are, by Statute, bound to take place as to the details of the regulations. I am sure that their fears, which I think were justified, and which they thought were justified, have now been put to rest, and I thank my noble friend for taking so much trouble about it.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for but a few moments. There are one or two comments I should like to make with regard to traffic wardens. Within the last few days a disturbing factor has arisen, and it has arisen out of a Written Answer which was made by the Home Secretary in another place on July 14, when he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 626 (No. 146), col. 119]: The Police Federation express objection to the introduction of the fixed penalty procedure and the appointment of traffic wardens. If I may refresh your Lordships' memories with regard to the Police Act, 1919, Section 1 (1) says: For the purpose of enabling the members of the police forces of England and Wales to consider and bring to the notice of the police authorities and the Secretary of State all the matters affecting their welfare and efficiency other than questions of discipline and promotion affecting individuals, there shall be established in accordance with the Schedule to this Act an organisation to be called the 'Police Federation'. In effect, this is a statutory organisation, and I wonder whether, in view of their objections, they will all over the country give the full support that is necessary for this Bill to be successful with regard 'to the appointment of traffic wardens, because in effect they have to train them.

Then, on the following day, July 15, the Home Secretary, again in a Written Answer to a Question said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 626 (No. 147), col. 146]: I have authorised the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to proceed on the assumption that the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Bill will receive the Royal Assent before the Summer Recess, and to arrange for the early recruitment of traffic wardens, with a view to their taking up their duties in the course of September. My noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that, too.

According to a statement in the Press, I understand that this training will take only two weeks. I am wondering whether by September uniforms will be available, and I am rather dubious as to the extent of any training that can be given in two weeks. I know that the noble Lord on Third Reading cannot, or would not in the normal course of events, reply to a question, but is the Police Federation objection based on the fact that the age group is too large, or that the training period is too short? I feel that it is rather depressing to learn at this stage, when one is looking to these traffic wardens to improve the parking situation and traffic problems, that the Police Federation are, in effect, against them. I am just wondering whether in the London Area and all over the country, we are going to get from the police the co-operation that one would hope for in order that this Bill can be a success.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.