HL Deb 19 July 1960 vol 225 cc473-80

3.18 p.m.

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

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]


I think I ought to point out to the Committee that there is a mistake on the Marshalled List of Amendments, and that Amendment No. 2, which relates to Clause 2, should come after No. 3.

Clause 1:

Amendment of ss. (2) of s. 97 of Road Traffic Act, 1960, 8 & 9 Eliz. 2, c. 16

1. Subsection (2) of section ninety-seven of the Road Traffic Act, 1960 (which empowers the Minister of Transport by regulations to vary the minimum age for driving motor cycles, or moor cycles of any class or description, on roads) shall have effect as if for the words "(not being less than sixteen years)" there were substituted the words "(not being less than fifteen years)".

LORD ABERDAREmoved to delete all words after "for the words", and to insert instead: 'such minimum age, not being less than sixteen years, as may be so prescribed ' there were substituted the words 'such minimum age as may be so prescribed, not being less than—

  1. (a)sixteen years, in the case of motor cycles other than those of the class or description specified in the following paragraph;
  2. (b) fifteen years, in the case of motor cycles whereof the cylinder capacity of the engine does not exceed fifty cubic centimeters, being cycles equipped with pedals by means whereof they are capable of being propelled'".

The noble Lord said: This is the Amendment to which I referred in my Second Reading speech. Its object is to limit the powers given to the Minister to reduce the minimum age for riding motor cycles. Your Lordships will recall that the object of this clause is to allow young persons aged fifteen to ride low-powered machines, generally known as "mopeds"—motor-assisted pedal bicycles. The clause as it stands at present would allow the Minister of Transport, by Regulation, to vary the minimum age for driving any sort of motor cycle. This is too broad a power, and was never intended. It arose only owing to the difficulty of defining exactly what a "moped" was. Neither the sponsors of the Bill nor the Minister ever had any intention of using this power except in the case of the moped. Therefore this Amendment retains the minimum age of sixteen years for a licence to ride any type of motor cycle except, the mopeds, which are defined in paragraph (b) of my Amendment, as motor cycles whereof the cylinder capacity of the engine does not exceed fifty cubic centimeters, being cycles equipped with pedals by means whereof they are capable of being propelled". In other words, these machines are pedal cycles with very small engines, and we wish to allow young persons of fifteen to ride them. I hope that your Lordships will agree, even if you do not agree with the clause as a whole, that this Amendment would make it a more practical proposition. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 9, leave out from ("words") to the end of line 10 and insert the said new words.—(Lord Aberdare.)


I intend to ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment. As your Lordships will see, I have an Amendment following to delete this clause, and perhaps it would be convenient to your Lordships if I made one speech instead of two. As the noble Lord has said, the Amendment carries out what he promised on Second Reading. What it does, in fact, is to put back into the Bill what was taken out in another place at the express desire of the Government. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, may give us some elucidation. The Government do not wish to be tied because they have indicated their intention to deal at some time in the future with the gradations of the power of motor cycles and the age of those allowed to ride them. And one of the grounds on which this Amendment should be rejected is that it ties the Government to a definition. It is difficult to know from the noble Lord's definition whether a moped is a motor cycle assisted by pedals or a pedal cycle assisted by a motor. I should think that the Amendment falls out of order because it is not in keeping with the Long Title. The noble Lord's Amendment talks about "cycles equipped with pedals." Is the noble Lord going to tie the Government's hands when they tackle this serious problem of what to do with the most dangerous mechanically-propelled vehicle on the roads—the motor cycle? I think that would be a great mistake.

I sympathise with what the noble Lord wishes to do. I do not disagree with his desire but I do disagree with his method. In his speech on Second Reading, the noble Lord founded the whole of his case upon what happened in 1957. But the state of the roads in 1957, compared with what they are in 1960, was peace and quietness. The noble Lord puts forward his proposal as a valuable addition to the saving of life and limb on the road. Fact does not support him. The official figures show that from 1957 to 1959 the increase in casualties to the riders of mopeds was 81 per cent. and that the increase in the number of mopeds involved in road acidents was 78 per cent., while the total mileage travelled by mopeds increase by only 25 per cent. Far from becoming a safer method of locomotion, it is becoming more dangerous. The increase in casualties, comparing the period, January to May, 1960, with the same period in 1959, is 39 per cent.; the number of mopeds involved in personal injury accidents increased by 37 per cent., whereas the mileage travelled increased by only 33 per cent. and the number of mopeds sold by 16 per cent.

The noble Lord invites us to pitchfork into this state of affairs young boys and girls of fifteen years of age. As I said on Second Reading, this is an affront to public opinion. On Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that the Government would have nothing to do with this Amendment. Are we going to put on the Statute Book something which the Government have said they will have nothing to do with because they do not agree with it? Your Lordships are going into something which I think would be an affront to public opinion at the present time when we are grappling with a massive road accident problem. We are going to allow the schoolboys and schoolgirls on to the roads, to be a danger not only to themselves but also to every other form of road traffic.

Speaking during the Second Reading debate, on another Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, forecast the introduction of a Road Safety Bill next Session. I am going to ask him to see that in that Bill the whole machinery for testing drivers before they can ride motor cycles is looked into. At the present time, anybody who ties an "L" plate round his waist can get on to a machine, although he is as raw as a lump of meat, and in a short space of time may be as dead. When you are tested for driving a motor car you have somebody sitting at your side; and with a provisional licence you must not drive without a fully qualified driver. But with a motor cycle you can sit on the seat and off you go and launch yourself on the road. I seriously put it to your Lordships that a state of affairs like this needs to be thoroughly examined. Until the Minister and the Government have had an opportunity of examining it, I think we should be very remiss and culpable in passing legislation which would, first of all tie the Minister's hands, or which would in any way encourage boys and girls of fifteen years of age to ride mechanically propelled vehicles. So I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw this Amendment.


May I ask for guidance from the Lord Chairman? I am, as I daresay other noble Lords are, in favour of Lord Aberdare's Amendment, in the sense that I would rather the clause applied to mopeds than to motor cycles. On the other hand, I want to delete the clause altogether. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth said that he was making one speech. Does that mean that we are now to debate both the Amendment and the possible deletion of the clause, or shall we have another debate?


The answer to the noble Lord is that it is, as always, perfectly possible to debate at one and the same time two or more Amendments. In this case it would be Amendment No. 1 and Amendment No. 3. I have little doubt that it would be for the convenience of the Committee to do that this afternoon. On the other hand, I must put each Amendment in turn to the Committee and thus give every Member of the Committee an opportunity to vote on it if he so desires. I apprehend that the noble Lord, if I understand him rightly, will wish to vote in favour of both of these Amendments.


I take it then that I am in order now in supporting the Amendment of the noble Lord Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to delete the clause altogether, which I support most ardently. I hope that he will take his Amendment to a Division; and if he does I hope that your Lordships will decisively reject any suggestions of permitting children of fifteen to share in, and add to, the congestion and slaughter on our roads. We have been told that if this clause is passed in its amended form the Government will have to think a long time before they make up their mind whether they will take advantage of the powers conferred on them of allowing children of fifteen to go on the roads in this way. There I entirely agree with what I believe was said by the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Party here on Second Reading—namely, that if there is considerable doubt as to whether these powers will ever be used, then they had better not be granted. In any case, this is surely such an important step, to let all these children loose on roads such as ours, that it is the kind of step that should be deliberately taken by Parliament and not simply by a Department at same unknown future date. For myself, I am entirely convinced that it can never be right in the foreseeable future to allow children of fifteen to ride these machines on our roads, such as we know them to be. Therefore, what I want to see is the clause removed altogether.

A moped can be a very dangerous machine. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has quoted some statistics. I think we ought to bear in mind that in 1959, of the riders of mopeds—most of whom, presumably, were adults, and certainly none of whom was as young as fifteen, the age at which the Bill is seeking to admit people to the road—88 riders were killed, 1,360 were seriously injured and 3,974 were slightly injured: an increase, as my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has already reminded us, of 81 per cent. on the statistics of the previous year. I have had a letter from the Cyclists' Touring Club urging that this clause should be rejected. I suppose that the Cyclists' Touring Club probably know as much about light machines and pedal cycles as any noble Lord in this Committee, and they are most anxious that this clause should be rejected.


May I ask the noble Lord a question? I can well understand that the Cyclists' Touring Club object to the clause as it stands, but what is their view about Lord Aberdare's Amendment?


Their view is that Clause I should not exist at all; that boys of fifteen should not be in charge of any form of mechanically-propelled or mechanically-assisted vehicle on the high road.

As to the suggested argument in favour of the clause, that what really matters is experience and not age, that may or may not be true as a general proposition. It does not seem to me, after carefully reading the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on Second Reading, that the passage which he quoted from the official survey proved this in any way; it merely asserted it. But it may be true, and I am quite prepared to believe that experience may be more important than age. However, it is completely illogical to pass from that to the proposition that, because experience is more important than age, therefore age is not important and can be disregarded. That would be much as if a policeman, seeing a thug armed with (shall I say?) a dagger and a cosh advancing on a peaceful citizen, were to confiscate the dagger and then say: "All is well; the thug can proceed with his attack on the peaceful citizen with the cosh, because I have removed the more lethal of the two weapons." So I do not think we ought to pay very much attention to this argument.

Moreover, in the nature of things, there can be no evidence in favour of that argument in respect of boys of fifteen, for the simple reason that boys of fifteen have never yet, thank God!, been allowed on the high roads on any form of motor vehicle. So we simply do not know whether age, when you come down to fifteen, is, or is not, more important than experience. But we can certainly say age must be very important, because there is nobody sitting here who does not know that a boy of fifteen is less responsible than a boy of sixteen and a boy of sixteen is less responsible than a boy of eighteen. What is the prefect system at a public school unless a recognition of that fact? So do not let us be led away by any suggestion that age is not important in the riding of motor cycles.

A boy of fifteen, after all, may be, and very likely is, still at school, and in local grammar schools a great deal of borrowing of and tampering with machines goes on. Picture a boy arriving in the morning on his moped. You do not know what is going to happen before the day is out. There was a case in my neighbourhood a few weeks ago in which a girl was nearly killed riding down the hill into the local market town because her brakes failed; she just managed to fling herself off in time. The case subsequently came up in court. We were told that the brakes had been tampered with by one of her school fellows. The headmaster complained that this was constantly happening, and that there had been several cases in the last two or three months of machines being tampered with as a form of practical joke by school fellows. That will not add to the safety of the child on the moped.

Then, we are told that the moped goes only at 25 m.p.h. I think that that figure was derived from 1957. I am told that now the tendency is that they will go even faster than that on the flat, and goodness knows at what pace they may go downhill! The juvenile moped owner will be hearing the boasts and envying the record of his elder brother and his elder brother's friends, who will be boasting how they got 110 m.p.h. out of one of their higher-powered machines, and it is difficult to believe that he will not be doing his best within his limits to emulate that.

My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has twice told us that this clause is an affront to the public conscience, and with that I thoroughly agree. With casualties last year on the roads of over 330,000 and we at our wits' end to know what to do to reduce them, and the present Government and the present Parliament having done nothing whatever to reduce them, to pass this measure now would be a retrograde step. It would be making a deliberate or, I should say, intentional contribution to the increase of those casualties, and I devoutly 'hope that your Lordships are not going to pass the Bill in its present form.


I intervene for only one moment. If I had to choose between the deletion of the clause and what I understand would be the case if the clause existed—that, provided an Order is made, any boy of fifteen may ride the kind of high-powered motor cycle which a boy of sixteen may ride to-day—then, without any hesitation, I should be in favour of deleting the clause. I think sixteen is quite young enough for boys to be riding high-powered motor cycles. As I understand the law to-day, at sixteen a boy may get a motor cycle of any power—and some of these motor cycles are enormously powerful—put an "L" plate on it and then ride it. I should have thought that at that stage he might be extremely dangerous, and that there was something to be said, provided that the definition is right, in limiting What the fifteen-year-old would be allowed to ride—that is, a bicycle with a very small auxiliary motor on it—so that when he reached the age of sixteen and was automatically entitled to ride the sort of dreadnought which these boys ride about the roads, he would have at least some knowledge of what managing an automotive animal is like. I am not going into the great number of casualties. Of course they are terrible, but that is a Second Reading point. What we have to decide here is what is the best thing to do in order that boys who do ride may not be national perils. On that specific point, I should like to hear what the Government have to say.


I think it might be convenient for your Lordships to hear the statement I mentioned earlier. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(The Earl of Home.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.