HL Deb 19 December 1961 vol 236 cc689-716

4.17 p.m.

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 2 [Evidence on charges of unfitness to drive]:

(4) Where the accused, at the time a specimen of blood or urine was taken from or provided by him, asked to be supplied with such a specimen, evidence of the proportion of alcohol or any drug found in the specimen shall not he admissible on behalf of the prosecution unless

  1. (a) the specimen is either one of two taken or provided on the same occasion or is part of a single specimen which was divided into two parts at the time it was provided; and
  2. (b) the other specimen or part was supplied to the accused.


My Lords, would it be inconvenient to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, to discuss his first Amendment and my Amendment, No. 2, together? I shall put them both to the House later on.


My Lords, during the Committee stage of the Bill I suggested that a person from whom a specimen was taken must be made aware of his right to require a part of the specimen to be supplied to him at the time it was taken, which would enable the accused to have the opportunity of having the specimen analysed indepen- dently. I am very grateful to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor for setting down the next Amendment, Amendment No. 2, which appears to meet the point I raised. I therefore do not propose to move my Amendment.


My Lords, as my name also is on this Amendment, together with that of my noble friend Lord Teynham, may I say that I, too, am grateful to my noble and learned friend for his Amendment No. 2, and that I, likewise, do not propose to move the first Amendment?


My Lords, we have already had the discussion on this. I am very grateful to my noble friends for what they have said because, although, as they know and as I know, the Amendment does not go quite so far as they would like, I think it meets the spirit of what they wanted.

It is in that attitude of mind that I put it before the House. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 26, at end insert— ("() A constable requesting any person to consent to the taking of or to provide a specimen of blood or urine for analysis shall offer to supply to him, in a suitable container part of the specimen or, in the case of a specimen of blood which it is not practicable to divide, another specimen which he may consent to have taken.").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

4.20 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, after Clause 7, to insert the following new clause:

Disability disclosed in evidence

".In any proceedings for an offence under the principal Act or under this Act, if evidence is given which indicates that the accused person may be suffering from a disease or physical disability which would he likely to cause the driving by him of a motor vehicle to be a source of danger to the public, the court shall cause the licensing authority concerned to be notified of such evidence for the purposes of any necessary action under section one hundred of the principal Act."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must apologise twice. First, I must apologise for delaying your Lordships: I quite anticipated that the first two or three Amendments would take a long time. The other matter for which I must apologise is this. I put down two Amendments, this and another, on the Committee stage. Unfortunate circumstances made me hurry into hospital, where I was detained for three or four days, and I could not be present at the Committee stage.

My Lords, I have put down this first Amendment in response to the statements I made during Second Reading, when I thought that there was a flaw in the provisions which allow a driving licence to be withdrawn if the licensing authority are satisfied that circumstances warrant such withdrawal. The conditions are laid down in Section 100 of the principal Act, the Road Traffic Act, 1960, subsection (6) of which reads as follows: If it appears to a licensing authority that there is reason to believe that a person who holds a licence granted by them is suffering from a disease or physical disability likely to cause the driving by him of a motor vehicle, being a vehicle of any such class or description as he is authorised by the licence to drive, to be a source of danger to the public, and on inquiry into the matter the authority are satisfied that he is suffering from such a disease or disability as aforesaid, then, whether or not he has previously passed a test under this section, the licensing authority may, after giving him notice of their intention so to do, revoke the licence, and he shall, on receipt of the notice, deliver the licence to the licensing authority for cancellation. Then, of course, there is the proviso as to appeal, and so on.

Your Lordships will remember that on Second Reading I cited a dreadful case which happened at Middleton Stoney, where a motorist, at 10 o'clock in the morning, drove into a string of racehorses. There were four racehorses led by four grooms. Two grooms were killed, and two of the racehorses had to be destroyed. After preliminary inquiries, the case opened at an Assize Court. The defence was: "I did not know anything about it; I had a complete blackout". It transpired that the driver was an epileptic, aged 39, and had been one since he was very young. No one had told him, and his doctor said that he had never told him. The Judge of Assize said that he was exceptionally worried about the case. The jury disagreed, and the case was tried again at Staffordshire Assize about a week ago, where the man was acquitted both of manslaughter and of dangerous driving. But right from the start of the trial, the Judge kept on expressing his disquiet that this man could have driven a motor car for all these years when he was an epileptic.

When the case first came on, about three months ago, I made a great many inquiries as to how Section 100 of the Act operated and who was statutorily responsible for acquainting a licensing authority with any evidence given in any court as to the physical or mental disability of a driver. I found that there was nobody; it was nobody's responsibility. Unless a licensing authority perused the Press and picked up odd scraps of information, they had no means—certainly no statutory means—of knowing. They told me that it placed them in a very difficult position. That is the reason why I put down an Amendment on Committee stage.

Because this is an important point, I should like to read to your Lordships what the learned Judge at Staffordshire Assizes said in connection with this case after the verdict had been given—I quote from The Times of December 16, which states: The Judge said he would direct that a copy of the medical history notes should be sent by the court to the county council with a request that the licensing authority should note its contents". Then he went on to say: Although it is not for me to give any directions, if the matter comes before any appropriate person or body it is the view of the court, as a recommendation only, that no further licence should be issued to this man at any time". My Lords, the Judge himself took the responsibility of making that public statement. Although he said that he had no authority, he could make a recommendation. My Amendment does not seek to make any recommendation as to what a licensing authority should do after they had been acquainted with the facts.

One of the startling things about this case—and I quote as my authority the report in the Daily Telegraph of the same date—is that the defending counsel said he had learned yesterday that a licensing authority could in certain circumstances withdraw a driving licence. My Lords, I do not wish to criticise learned counsel. Even the most learned of counsel cannot know everything. But if learned counsel did not know the provisions of the Road Traffic Act, what about the thousands of magistrates? What about the thousands of clerks—magistrates' clerks and clerks or courts?

I have satisfied myself that there is a very wide gap in the law; that courts do not acquaint licensing authorities with the regularity with which I think they should. I do not blame them, because they have no statutory responsibility to do so. Nor have the police any statutory responsibility. Although it is a small point, if we could save a dozen lives a year by tightening up and stopping up one loophole, I think that your Lordships would count it worth while, because the figures recently published by the Ministry are really serious. There were 5,621 road deaths during the first ten months of 1961, 2 per cent. more than in the corresponding period of 1960. Surely we do not want to wait until death has been caused by blackouts, or by any physical impairment, before we take every step we can to stop it. The case I have quoted has been publicised a great deal in the Press, but there are hundreds of cases where motorists who appear before magistrates' courts give the popular defence to a charge of being drunk in charge of a car, that "I do not know how it happened: I had a blackout." And sometimes it may succeed.

I am conscious of the fact that this is Report stage and that I cannot speak again. I would say to the noble Lord that I have gone out of my way to discuss this matter with licensing and police authorities, and none of them has denied that this would be one step in the right direction in this campaign of ours to make some impact upon accidents and on solving the problem of death on the road. So I press the noble Lord to accept this Amendment. It is a small point, perhaps, but if I, or any other noble Lord, can think of one Amendment to this Bill which would at one fell swoop stop death on the road, we should be working a miracle. But there is only one way of curing this problem. Let us leave nothing undone that we can do, so that the mass effect of all our energies will help to do what we want to do. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

After Clause 7, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


My Lords, I do not think that it would be right and proper for me to say that I disagree with the noble Lord on the principle of his Amendment, but I feel it my duty to the House to try to put the matter in perspective, because I think that in some ways the noble Lord exaggerated the gap which he said existed as a result of the lack of any statutory duty on the courts to inform anybody of the circumstances. The noble Lord was perfectly correct in his explanation of the situation. Epilepsy or other mental diseases constitute an absolute bar on the holding of a driving licence. Whilst there is no statutory obligation on the holder of a licence to declare himself as having become an epileptic, if the licensing authority find out about it, they may straight away, on notice, revoke his licence.

The noble Lord called in aid a striking case. I do not know if I misunderstood his meaning, but if a provision of this sort had already been on the Statute Book, it would not have prevented the accident. As the noble Lord said, the learned Judge was perturbed about this case, but I should have thought that his perturbation was probably based on the fact that this man was apparently unaware of his condition. But it is not for me to comment on that; I must stick to the Amendment in hand.

I think that I should explain what happens at the moment. When the condition of an epileptic or the like comes to light, no one has the statutory authority to inform the licensing authority. But there remain the police. They have an obligation, though it is true that it can hardly be described as statutory, when such matters come to their notice, either through the courts or in some other way, to inform the licensing authorities so that they can take action under Section 100 (6) of the 1960 Act. They can do that in any circumstance which gives them reason for believing that a driver may be suffering from one of these disabilities.

The Department are in frequent contact with licensing authorities throughout the country in connection with the administration of the various provisions of the Road Traffic Act relating to the granting of driving licences, and those dealings provide evidence that the police work very closely with the authorities in order to ensure that they are in a position to fulfil their responsibilities in connection with driving licences in this and other respects. We know of quite a few cases where driving licences have been revoked, and in many of these cases the original information came from the police. The conclusion that one might perhaps draw from that is that the existing normal procedure covers the matter fairly well.

As a matter of interest, I have approached two or three local authorities to make a little more sure about the present position. From one I learn that they have reported to them about 24 cases a year, of whom 12 are alleged to be epileptics. Another authority received notices of about 50 a year, 20 of whom were alleged to be epileptics. Another receives notice of 60 or 70 cases, of whom about 25 are alleged to be epileptics. Therefore, it is not the fact that this matter goes by default. I can assure the noble Lord that the gap is not so wide as he may wish us to understand. Nevertheless, I find myself in agreement with the concluding part of the noble Lord's speech. If there is a gap which could be usefully filled and if, by doing so, we could save a number of lives, I think we should do something. I would therefore tell him that I can accept his Amendment in principle, although it will have to be looked at carefully from the point of view of drafting. We will put it down in proper form at a later stage of the Bill, which will probably be in another place.


My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord. Perhaps I rather overstressed this one case of epilepsy, but the clause of the Bill says "any physical infirmity". I hope the noble Lord will bear in mind that I do not want to turn the police into clerks. They have an extremely hard job now. I say that responsibility should rest upon the courts. I am quite prepared to leave myself entirely in the hands of the noble Lord, as I shall not be in your Lordships' House when Third Reading comes along, which is the time when I expect the noble Lord will put down an Amendment.


My Lords, if I may interrupt just to take up that remark, I should not like the noble Lord or the House to take it from me as definite that the Amendment will be put down on Third Reading. The assurance I gave, and which in order to make clear I will repeat, is that we will undertake to put down an Amendment at a later stage, which might be in another place.


My Lords, that is quite acceptable to me. I am grateful to the noble Lord and I hope that our joint efforts will prove to the good. On that undertaking, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 [Temporary or experimental speed limits]:

LORD CONESFORD moved, after subsection (1)to insert: () Nothing contained in any order under paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of this section shall be deemed to require or to permit the driving of a motor vehicle at or above the speed so specified in circumstances in which driving at or above that speed would be dangerous.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as your Lordships may remember, when Clause 11 of the Bill was being considered in Committee my noble friend Lord Simon put down an Amendment to leave out paragraph ((b))of subsection (1) of this clause. He wished at that stage to delete altogether this power of the Minister to prescribe a minimum speed limit. I was in favour of the Government's having appropriate powers to experiment with minimum speed limits, which I understand have proved useful in other countries, but I thought that this novel provision in our criminal law—for we were creating a new crime —required careful consideration, and that the Government's clause as it stood would not do. Whenever we create a new crime we should do so with precision and make it clear what is to be lawful and what is not. In this case the Government have shown, by the terms of what is in the Bill already, when they say, subject to such exceptions as may be so specified… that there will have to be exceptions; but we are given no indication of any kind as to what those exceptions will be.

I pointed out on the Committee stage that there were novel and difficult legal points that could arise, and I was strongly supported by my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard. He pointed out that the Bill as it stood created an absolute obligation to drive at this minimum speed, subject to exceptions, about which we knew nothing and over which Parliament in the initial period of the experiment would have no control; and he thought that the only benefactors would be the junior Bar. I hope, in the circumstances, they will forgive me for moving this Amendment. If your Lordships will look at the beginning of Clause 11 you will see that this experiment can be made: Where it appears to the appropriate Minister desirable to do so in the interests of safety or for the purpose of facilitating the movement of traffic". It would be odd if it could be plausibly contended that, under a Bill designed to promote road safety, it might be obligatory to drive dangerously. To avoid that is the object of this Amendment. The Amendment says: Nothing contained in any order under paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of this section"— that is, the order establishing the minimum speed— shall be deemed to require or to permit the driving of a motor vehicle at or above the speed so specified in circumstances in which driving at or above that speed would be dangerous. I find it difficult to believe that anybody could disapprove of the substance of this Amendment; and I do not think, after what was said by my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard, that anyone could possibly contend that what is contained in it is already in the clause as it stands, because it quite demonstrably is not. It seems to me that, whatever may be the exceptions for which the Government will have to provide in any order that they make establishing a minimum speed limit, what is contained in this Amendment must be provided for. But if some provision must be contained in every order made under the paragraph, surely it should be put in the Bill.

Of course, I should have preferred the necessary Amendment to be drafted by the skilled draftsmen employed by Her Majesty's Government. The House may recall that when we were in Committee my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard was in favour of throwing out paragraph (b) altogether then. But I made an alternative suggestion to the Government; and I ventured to say with some experience of the House that, when a legal point was put with such force and clarity, as it naturally was put by my noble and learned friend, I felt sure the Government would take some notice of it; I thought they would come back with their own version of what they thought it right to put into the Bill at this point. I said that my noble friend Lord Simon, my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard and I, if we were at all dissatisfied with the Government's Amendment, could then move our own Amendments to that Amendment. But when no Amendment appeared from the Government, I took the liberty of drafting my own; and, whatever may be the limitations of its draftsmanship, it was at least sufficiently good to secure the support of my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard and my noble friend Lord Simon.

For all those reasons, I strongly urge the House, unless conclusive reasons are given against it—and I cannot conceive what they can be—to insist on the carrying of this present Amendment. It does not limit the right of the Government to make the experiment of minimum speed limits. Nor does it lay down what they are to say in their orders as regards exceptions. It simply says that whatever they may say in their order—over which, I remind your Lordships, Parliament will have no control—it will be no defence to a charge of dangerous driving to say, "I was driving at the minimum speed laid down." Nor will it be any defence in a civil action for negligence to say, "You cannot complain of my dangerous conduct because I was observing the minimum speed." I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 34, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Conesford.)

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to go over again the same ground that my noble friend Lord Conesford has just addressed your Lordships upon. I submit that he has put before your Lordships formidable reasons why this Amendment should be accepted. The reason why I think it is so important is this. The subsection creates a new offence which will be both a summary offence and an offence which may be triable on indictment. We are quite accustomed nowadays, perhaps unfortunately, to delegated legislation, but I submit that it is a dangerous thing to give Ministers power to create offences without saying exactly what those offences are, or of what they should consist. This allows the Minister to make an order subject to such exceptions as may be specified. It does not tell us anything about the exceptions. Some exceptions might, in the opinion of some of your Lordships, make the experiment more dangerous than it appears to be at first sight. It may be said, "Of course, in making the order we shall provide for safety." If you are going to provide for safety in every order, for goodness sake! why not put it in the Bill? What is the good of leaving it out of the Bill if it is put in every order? I do not know whether it is or not, but I submit to your Lordships that it is a dangerous precedent to give a Minister power to create a new offence without stating what the offence is, or how he is going to specify the offences or the exceptions. It is obvious, of course, that there must be exceptions. At present, I think I am right in saying that the only place in England where there is a minimum speed limit is in the Mersey Tunnel. Of course, that is quite different from the open road. There are no cross roads or pedestrians, and there will be no icy roads.

As my noble friend Lord Simon pointed out in Committee, if a man comes to one of these patches of road on a frosty day and finds that it is a dangerous road, is he to go dashing along at the speed which may have been laid down as 40 or 50 miles per hour, or is he to commit an offence by going along carefully at 15 or 20 miles per hour? I submit that until the Minister tells us exactly what the offence is going to be, and exactly what the provision is going to be with regard to minimum speed, and whether it will be an offence if you are not driving at a minimum speed, your Lordships ought not to give him power to do it.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I believe it might be for the convenience of the House, and will assist your Lordships, if I take a moment or two longer over this matter than I otherwise might, and make it quite clear, as far as possible, what it is we have in mind. In so doing, I shall come on to discuss what has been said by my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard.

I think it would be advantageous, first of all, to tell your Lordships what is the use of this minimum speed limit power that we have in mind—it is an experimental power at that. The two possible uses that we see are, first, something like a minimum speed limit of 40 miles an hour on the fast or inner lane of a dual carriageway. In many places up and down the country we are providing short stretches of dual carriageway on not very good roads to give the congested traffic a chance to sort itself out and pass in an unfrustrated manner. It is visualised that if we had a limit of that kind in such circumstances, it would obviate the half mile, three-quarter mile, or mile length which has been provided just for passing purposes being frustrated by two heavy vehicles or slow motor cars, side by side. with a differential speed of two miles an hour, taking up the whole of that road and keeping the rest of the traffic behind them, as it was before.

That is one set of circumstances. Another is something in the nature of a minimum limit of 15 miles an hour on peak hour clearways. The idea of that would be for a limited time each day to prevent very heavy, slow-moving traffic or very light, slow-moving traffic from creating its effect on a heavily-used high density traffic block. Those, or something very like those, are the purposes to which we wish to put it.

It was mentioned on the last occasion—perhaps I did not make it clear, so I should like to do so now—exactly why we want to do that and what ground we have for thinking so. I do not want to weary your Lordships with a long series of quotations from reports we have had from bodies like the Institution of Traffic Engineers in Washington. They say that experience shows that the smoother traffic flow, the avoidance of overtaking and of the consequent frequent changes from one lane to another, are of benefit in road safety. As I have a few more things to say, I hope your Lordships will be able to take that from me, because I am going to say that our own experience and that of the police, in a slightly different context, has shown that a measure which conduces to a smoother traffic flow—in this case the 40 miles per hour limit—has been very beneficial in the same way. That is the object we are out to achieve—a smoother traffic flow. I hope your Lordships will not think that by "smoother traffic flow" I am necessarily talking about a faster traffic flow. That is not the object of the exercise, although it is possible it may ensue. The object is a smoother flow. The less the traffic bobs and weaves and changes from one lane on the road to another, the safer is that traffic; and the more the amount of overtaking is reduced, again the safer is that traffic. That is what we want to try—not to bring it in as a permanent thing until it: has been well tried. Those are the lines on which we wish to conduct experiments.

Naturally, your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that I paid great attention to what was said in the Committee stage, when noble Lords and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, spoke, and in addition I did what the House wanted me to do; I consulted my noble friend Lord Simon. We consulted, I think it would be true to say, at some little length—and most amicably, I am glad to add. But I felt—perhaps I am over-sensitive—that my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford did us a little less than justice when he implied that the Government had done nothing about this matter. Because in the course of my consultation, we did discuss certain things that could be done, and I rather understood that they would not be acceptable. One, I recall, was not a thousand miles apart from the next Amendment, but I rather understood that that would not be found very acceptable.

Of course we cannot oppose the concept behind the Amendment, because, clearly, neither the Minister, in particular, nor anyone else, wishes to force people to drive at speeds which would in the circumstances be dangerous. We propose to deal with the matter by making the minimum speed limit subject to exceptions, about which the noble Lord has expressed doubt, and these exceptions should cover all the circumstances in which it would be dangerous to drive at a minimum speed. Such circumstances would be bound up with bad weather, reduction of speed on police instructions or to avoid an accident, or on approaching a junction or traffic lights, or things of that kind. Such exceptions would, I feel, cover the kind of matters that the noble Lord has in mind.


Can the noble Lord say whether the exceptions would be notified?


The exceptions would be in the order.


I mean on the road itself.


My Lords, can my noble friend say whether he has in view also such exceptions as a vehicle being incapable of going at the minimum speed?


Naturally, one of two things would happen; either the vehicle which could not go at the speed concerned would not be able to use the road, or, if through mechanical failure it was unable to maintain the speed, there would have to be an exception for that contingency as there is, for instance, in the existing minimum limit in the Mersey Tunnel, where some vehicles, I am told, are sufficiently impertinent as to stop altogether through a mechanical break-down.


The noble Lord has mentioned the words "40 miles an hour" but there are a great many vehicles on the road, particularly very light motorcycles and so on, which are not designed to go at 40 miles an hour.


The noble Lord is anticipating points I am coming to in my speech, and perhaps I may ask him to be a little patient, because I shall be dealing with them in a moment or two. Right now I should like just to consider the effect the proposed Amendment would have on the proposals I have just outlined to your Lordships.

The effect it would have would be to make the operation of the minimum speed limit an uncertain thing, because drivers, if they were challenged by the police for driving too slowly, would have a built-in defence in the Bill that they considered it dangerous to comply with the speed limit.


May I interrupt my noble friend for a moment? I deliberately did not put in my Amendment "in the opinion of the driver". It would, of course, under the terms of my Amendment, be decided by the court, if there were a prosecution. I think he will see that that is what my Amendment, in fact, provides.


Yes, I will try to see, but I should like to say that in one respect my noble friend is as guilty as my other noble friend.


You are exceeding the minimum speed limit.


I was just about to say that the driver has only to say that he considered that it would have been dangerous to drive at the speed limit, although, as my noble and learned friend has just said, the test of what are the circumstances which would make driving at the minimum speed dangerous would be an objective one, and one to be decided at the courts on the evidence. But it would be unlikely, it seems to me, that a court would convict if a driver claimed that in his judgment he thought it would be dangerous to drive faster. In those circumstances the minimum speed limit would become unenforceable in practice, and, if I may borrow words used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard on the Committee stage, when he said that the clause as it stood would provide a happy harvest for the junior members of the Bar, I think that, without any question of doubt, the same could be said about this Amendment.

The next thing the Amendment would do would be to knock out any force that there was in the 40 m.p.h. limit on the fast lane of a carriageway. If a driver thinks that that is too fast in the circumstances, he has the other lane in which to drive. Obviously the driver who is likely to judge it dangerous to drive at 40 miles an hour minimum is likely to go more slowly. The defence for a man who drove at 30 m.p.h. in a 40 m.p.h. lane would be to say he thought it was dangerous to go faster. I believe the better answer in that case is that he should have been in the other lane. There will be such exceptions to be specified and laid down in the order. We have in mind that the minimum speed limit would not apply within a specified distance on the approach side of any junction—of which there are two in the Mersey Tunnel, incidentally—as well as traffic signals, and that it would not apply where weather conditions are such as to make it unsafe to maintain whatever is the minimum speed. The precise nature of this provision will depend upon the speed specified, and on the time of year at which it is to apply.

I was left with the idea last time, and I have certainly been given it again to-day, that your Lordships are worried about what these exceptions will be and that they shall be reasonable and guard against any question of so-called forced dangerous driving. I agree with that, as I said then. For my part, I think it is a pity that my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford did not speak on his two Amendments together. I had hoped that he would, because if he had I should have been quite prepared to accept the underlying principle of his second Amendment, No. 6, that the matter should be laid before Parliament and could be debated by Parliament before such an order was made, to ensure that the proper exceptions were put in and thereby set a pattern. If the noble and learned Lord would care to withdraw this Amendment, No. 5, I would accept the underlying principle of No. 6, although it would have to be re-drafted and put down in another way to achieve that the first, or one, such order should be debated by Parliament and should be subject to Resolution of both Houses. I would have given him a strong undertaking to put down an Amendment at a later stage of the Bill in order to do just that. I hope, therefore, that my noble and learned friend may see fit to accept what I have just said.


My Lords, may I make one point arising out of what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has recently said? I think it is agreed between both noble and learned Lords in whose names this Amendment stands and by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that there will be many exceptions which will apply to each and every order which is likely to be made under this clause, exceptions dealing, for instance, with bad weather, mechanical breakdown, and so on. If that is accepted, is it not worth while adopting the suggestion which the noble and learned Lords, Lord Conesford and Lord Goddard made, that these exceptions, to be common to every order, shall be inserted not by repetition in every order but in the Bill, once for all?


My Lords, there is just one further difficulty, I think, in the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has put to us. We all know that when an order is submitted for Resolution it is a complete order which the House has to agree to or reject. There may be some parts of the order which are satisfactory, and it may be that amendments would be necessary or desirable. Would it be possible, before it reaches the order stage, where acceptance or otherwise are the only things possible, for these draft orders to be considered in a way so as to get them in the most satisfactory form for Parliament to consider?


I must not, of course, speak twice, but perhaps I may deal with the question which is put to me. That is precisely what I meant by the necessity to redraft Amendment No. 6, because it is quite possible that something in the nature of the laying of a draft order might prove to be the way to do it.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, for explaining so very clearly and fully the Government's feeling about this Amendment. As the noble Lord said, he was good enough to spend quite a lot of his time explaining this to me. I am afraid he did not convince me that my original idea that we should get rid of these minimum speed limits altogether was not the right one. But he did convince me that the Minister had made up his mind that he wanted this power, and I realise that the general feeling in your Lordships' House is that this experiment should go forward.

That being so, it seems to me absolutely necessary that we should set out in the Bill the minimum conditions that must be applied to every such experiment. The clause starts with reference to the interests of safety and the facility of the movement of traffic, but I am quite sure your Lordships would be unanimous in agreeing that the interests of safety come before facility in the movement of traffic. It may be, as the noble Lord said, that in certain circumstances free flow of traffic is safer than when traffic is moving at different speeds, and it is suggested that that is the experience that has come to us from the experiment in America. I confess that I did not find it tremendously convincing.

I turn now to the case of the 40 miles an hour speed limit on a dual carriageway. The noble Lord referred to the risk of accidents arising when one is overtaking or being overtaken. But surely it is easier to overtake a car going at 30 miles an hour than one going at 40 miles an hour. Having a minimum speed limit of 40 miles an hour is not going to stop overtaking, because the high-powered car will be going along the dual carriageway at 50 or 60 miles an hour. If there is someone on the carriageway whose natural speed is 30 miles an hour, it would be much safer to overtake him at that speed than if he were compelled to drive faster.

The noble and learned Lord who introduced the Amendment has made it quite clear that we feel that before this clause is put into the Bill we must agree, at least in broad outline, what it means. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, interested me very much by saying that what the Minister had in mind was that exceptions would cover all the circumstances where it would be dangerous to exceed the minimum speed limit. If, in fact, the intention is to cover all those circumstances, I cannot help feeling that it is a much easier bit of drafting to do, with some Amendment, what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has done in this Amendment, than to try to specify all the conditions in which it would he dangerous. I should have thought that a very strong argument in favour of accepting this Amendment, rather than acceding to the noble Lord's suggestion that this Amendment should be withdrawn and that the House should accept an alternative Amendment.

I think it is right to say that when the courts have had to interpret the law in cases of dangerous driving they have held, and I think rightly held, that dangerous driving does not depend upon whether there is in fact any danger. A man can be convicted of dangerous driving even if there is nothing else upon the road. And I hope that in interpreting this law, if it does become law, courts will take the same line. If they take the same line, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has said: that it makes it extremely difficult for the police to get a conviction for an offence against this clause. Personally, I do not regret that at all.

When we discussed this matter in Committee I said that I felt the Government and the whole House was in something of a dilemma, because either the insistence on the minimum speed limit was introducing a possibility of danger, or else, if provision was made that it should be a defence to say that to have exceeded the speed limit was dangerous, the law would not mean very much. I agree. That is one of the reasons I advanced in favour of not having a minimum speed limit at all. If we are to have it, I feel we should make it perfectly clear that no driver should be required—or, as this Amendment says, should be permitted—to exceed the minimum speed limit if it is dangerous to do so. After all, if a driver in these circumstances errs on the side of safety, which of us in this House would say he was doing wrong? I strongly support this Amendment. I do not know what my noble friend, Lord Conesford, will do about the appeal made to him, but if he decides to press the Amendment I will support him.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I must ask the forgiveness of the House for intervening in this matter, but I wonder whether we are not really losing sight of the wood for the trees here. The first thing I should like to say to the House is that we are not discussing a permanent change in our law at all. The clause deals with experimental speed limits for a mere period of four months. I think it is important to bear that in mind. I think that we have now reached a high level of agreement, whatever the merits of these Amendments. First, we want to give the Minister power, after discussion, to make experi- mental speed limits. My noble and learned friend made that quite clear in his opening and, on reflection, I should have said it is obviously a good thing to do. Secondly, we are all quite clear that a driver who drives below the experimental speed limit must, in various circumstances, for one reason or another have a defence if he does so in the exceptional circumstances provided for in the clause. I think we are also in agreement that the overriding point which my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford puts in his draft Amendment is one which will have to be taken into consideration in one way or another—whether by way of insertion in the Bill or by way of insertion, in one form or another, in the regulations.

Of course we must all go away and take this thing back in our thoughts, and of course another place will have the opportunity to consider the matter afresh, should they desire to do so; but I would frankly submit to the House that we have to consider whether, having regard to my noble friend's offer that regulations should be subject to positive Resolution, that is not really the more flexible way of dealing with what is admittedly an experiment. If we were making a permanent change in our law, it might very well be true that the noble Viscount who sits opposite would be right in saying that it ought to be inserted in the Bill. But we want to experiment with exceptions, I should think, no less than with the roads. I would freely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Burden, that in dealing with regulations, especially those which are subject to negative Prayer, it is sometimes most inconvenient to have to accept or reject the entire cake without being able to cut it up into slices. But, there again, my noble friend has promised to take the positive course of making each House of Parliament pass a Resolution approving of each set of regulations.


My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble Leader. If he means his last remark, it will remove all my difficulty. What troubled me was that my second Amendment, to which I can allude only by way of anticipation, was limited to the first such Order. I should not mind that as a supplement to passing the present Amendment, but anything limited to the first such Order would be quite unsatisfactory without something on these lines.


My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend. I do not want to take a false point, which I was just about to do, although quite innocently. I had overlooked the fact that my noble friend's second Amendment was limited to the first such Order, and I had not authority to extend it to any subsequent Order. So I am extremely grateful to him for pointing out what was quite a genuine error of my own. I am glad to see the noble and learned Lord on the Cross Benches back in his place, because I was going for once to differ most humbly from two of his remarks. The first is that I cannot altogether agree that every time we create a summary offence—and this is a summary offence, as the subsection makes clear—we should specify the exact circumstances of the offence. That would take away the value of regulations altogether, and I am sure the House would not wish to do that. As regards the Mersey Tunnel, I must point out to the noble and learned Lord that there are two junctions with branch tunnels as well as traffic signals; so that I do not think it was quite so bad an analogy as was thought when it was originally put forward.

However, I do not want to lose myself in detail. I should hope that my noble friend Lord Chesham would consider this matter again before the Bill goes to another place, and also that the House would, on the whole, feel that in accepting the principle of the positive Resolution put forward by my noble and learned friend in the second Amendment, my noble friend Lord Chesham had gone quite a long way towards meeting the point which was made; and that really, in relation to an experimental speed limit as distinct from a permanent change in our law, it was really going too far to start trying to draft in the Bill every one of the regulations, or even the overriding regulation which my noble and learned friend puts forward. However, I do not think there is much between us, and I was wondering whether, in the light of the fact that there is not much between us, my noble and learned friend would now feel it possible to withdraw his Amendment on the undertakings given.


My Lords, I should greatly like to make a speech, but I should be out of order if I did. In moving the next Amendment I hope to explain something of what I feel, but I think that I should be meeting the views of my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard, and my noble friend Lord Simon, if I acceded to the request of my noble Leader and asked leave to withdraw the present Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.27 p.m.

LORD CONESFORD moved, after subsection (1), to insert: () No order under paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of this section shall come into force until one such order has been approved by Resolution of each House of Parliament.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I now move the Amendment which my noble friend Lord Chesham has said he will accept in principle and embody in the Bill in another place. I must frankly admit that even I can see that my draftsmanship of this Amendment is faulty, so that I could not press for its acceptance in its present form. But may I say that the argument for this Amendment has been conceded both by my noble Leader and by my noble friend Lord Chesham. Had my noble Leader been right in his first impression of what it contained, I should have been wholly happy to withdraw my first Amendment but the undertaking of my noble friend Lord Chesham is limited, I am afraid, really to the first such order.

As there will be plenty of time for him to consider the form of the Amendment before it is introduced in another place, I should like him seriously to consider this suggestion. While providing, perhaps, for a positive Resolution in the case of the first order, he should meet the views of my noble Leader to the extent that he should provide for a negative Resolution in the case of subsequent orders. That would give some control to Parliament in every case; and I think, for the reasons given by my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard on an earlier occasion, we should have that possibility of Parliamentary control.

The only allusion I would make to the Amendment which I have withdrawn is that I can quite see that it might be satisfactory if every order provided for every case where it might be necessary in the interests of safety to reduce speed. But to see whether or not every order does do that, it is necessary, in my submission, to provide for some Parliamentary control. While I move my Amendment, as I am bound to do, in the form in which I have set it down, I hope that my noble friend, in accepting it in spirit, will go beyond it in introducing an Amendment in another place, and if he does not go beyond it I hope that Members of another place will observe what my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard and I have said on this subject. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 34, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Conesford.)

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that my noble and learned friend will not take it as any form of precedent, or even a unique occasion, in seeking to suggest that an inadvertent and, may I say, exceedingly rare slip on the part of my noble Leader should also bring me down. But, more seriously, may I say that we have all listened with great care and seriousness to what has been said. I am glad to say to my noble and learned friend that I will certainly consider what he has asked me to consider in the intervening period. Of that I can give him my assurance. I can, of course, not give him an assurance about what will happen after consideration, and I do not think that he will ask me to do so. But if I can help at all by saying that we will certainly most seriously consider what he said, then I will do so. Otherwise, I am glad, as I said, to accept the underlying principle of this Amendment which shall be put down in the proper form at a later stage.


My Lords, I would only observe that my noble Leader, far from bringing about the fall of my noble friend Lord Chesham, in fact saved him by a mistake that showed that he was concerned with the merits of the case. On the undertaking that has been given by my noble friend Lord Chesham, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 [Test fees]:

5.32 p.m.

LORD AIREDALE moved, in subsection (2), after paragraph (c) to insert: () if the person for whom the appointment is made does not keep the appointment, but the test could not take place by reason of adverse weather conditions;

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an Amendment to Clause 20. Clause 20 deals with driving test fees and subsection (1) removes the limit of the maximum fee which may be charged for a driving test. Then subsection (2) specifies four sets of circumstances under paragraphs (a) to (d) in which the Minister may refund a test fee which has been paid. It is to be in those four circumstances "and not otherwise": those words "and not otherwise" are important. I am seeking by this Amendment to include a fifth set of circumstances. The paragraph to which my Amendment is most nearly related is paragraph (c) which says that if the learner driver keeps the appointment but the test does not take place, or is not completed through no fault of his or of his vehicle, then his fee may be refunded. My proposed Amendment seeks to say that if he does not keep to the appointment, but the test could not take place by reason of bad weather, then in those circumstances, too, his fee may be refunded.

My object is that I want to keep learner drivers, of all people, off the roads when the roads are treacherous and there is no possibility of the object of the exercise being fulfilled, because if the learner driver succeeded in getting to the place where the test was proposed to take place, it could not in fact take place because of the treacherous nature of the roads.

It may be said that these learners should be glad to stay at home and forfeit their fees in the interests of road safety, and should have no complaint. I do not see why they should accept that position, and I can think of three very clear reasons why many of them do not. The first is as I have mentioned, that the door is wide open for this fee—which at the moment is £1, a not insignificant sum—to be increased without limit. Secondly, there is the fact that many learner drivers must come from a section of the community which is not well-off. Many of them no doubt are students, apprentices, people saving up to get married, or young married people saving up to set themselves up in a home—people who will not lightly agree to pay £1, 30s., £2, or whatever it is going to be, for a driving test which does not take place.

Thirdly, I think it is fair to say that in the average English winter this hardship may fall upon a particular person not once but several times. Somebody may apply for a driving test in November; there may well be thick fog on that day so no test takes place and he loses his fee. He makes an appointment for January; there may well be ice on the road that day so he makes another appointment for February. One could go on surmising how often it is likely to happen to a particular person. In my submission, it will happen under this clause as it is now drafted that a person who is prevented by bad weather from getting to the place of appointment for his driving test will pay his fee once, twice or three times and no test will have taken place.

The result of this is likely to be that every winter there will be people, exasperated by losing their money in this way, who will say, "Now under paragraph (c) of Clause 20" (they will not say it in precisely these words, but they will know that it applies) "if I can get to the place of appointment and keep my appointment, although I shall not have a test in this weather, I shall at least recover my fee." We shall have people on motor bicycles, scooters—learner drivers—creating hazards for themselves and for other people upon the roads, with this ridiculous object. I cannot see the sense of this, and therefore I introduce this Amendment which seeks to say that, although the person does not keep the appointment, if the test is impossible because of bad weather conditions then the fee may be repayable.

There is the small point of the potential loss of a little revenue here, but I am not going to pursue this one because, from discussions that have taken place in earlier stages of this Bill, T believe that this is not an aspect of the matter about which Her Majesty's Government are in the least concerned. I submit that this Amendment is one which the Minister would be pleased to be given the power to exercise, and accordingly I beg leave to move the Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 14, line 22, after ("test") insert— ("() if the person for whom the appointment is made does not keep the appointment, but the test could not take place by reason of adverse weather conditions;").—(Lord Airedale.)


My Lords, may I add one word to what the noble Lord has just said? As the years go on I think that the English public are intelligent enough to feel, naturally, that during the winter months, when the weather is likely to be treacherous, they will not want to lose fees continually. Therefore, they will confine their applications to the summer months, which will result, of course, in an intolerable overcrowding of applicants during that time, when they might be taking tests during the winter months.


My Lords, I am sorry, since the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, moved his Amendment in such a beguiling way, that I must say to him that I am unable to accept it and shall in due course recommend the House not to accept it. But I think in doing so I can offer him an unusually large measure of comfort on this matter, by explaining together what is and what will be the position. He said that he could see no sense in this; nor would there be if he were quite right from the point at which he started. Bad weather conditions, as he pointed out to us, can do two things, either because it is bad at the place of test and on the test route or because it is bad at the candidate's home, which may be some distance from the place of test and which, of course, may be far enough away for the weather conditions to be different. My Lords, in the first case, when they are had at the test centre, if the candidate presents himself, having started in reasonable weather conditions, and finds that it is foggy and icy when he gets there, the test would, of course, be cancelled by the examiner on the spot. In that case, the candidate's money would be perfectly safe, because the provisions of paragraph (c) of subsection (2) of Clause 20 would apply, and he would either get his money back or would arrange to leave it as the fee for a further test.

The latter case, where it is bad at his home—that is, where he is prevented from setting out from home by bad weather—we intend to deal with by administrative action, as in fact is now done. I do not know whether or not the noble Lord has seen one, but the appointment card which is sent to a candidate includes on the face of it now an instruction to the applicant to telephone the driving test centre in the case of fog, ice or snow. A candidate who does this and can show that he is justified in not setting out for his test would be told that the Department would agree to the cancellation of his test. In that case, my Lords, in the words of paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of Clause 20, the appointment would have been "cancelled by or on behalf of the Minister", and there would be no forfeiture of the fee. The normal drill would then be that another appointment would be offered to the applicant.

I think, therefore, that the thought behind the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, will in fact be fully met, partly by the provisions of Clause 20 as they now stand and partly by the administrative action which we will take and which, indeed, we already take in dealing with the bad weather circumstances. I should like to give the noble Lord an assurance now that that administrative action with regard to the applicant's card will be continued, and that it does cover this matter; and I hope that, in the light of that, he will withdraw his Amendment.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. I think he has completely answered the point that I raised, and I have the greatest pleasure, on the strength of what he has said, in withdrawing this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 [Short title, construction, commencement and extent]:

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, this is a very small Amendment of a drafting nature to remove a rather abstruse legal doubt. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 20, line 28, leave out ("day on") and insert ("time at").—(Lord Chesham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

First Schedule [Disqualification and penalties]:

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