HL Deb 13 June 1961 vol 232 cc98-117

3.57 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty The Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Road Traffic Bill, has consented to place Her Majesty's interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord,Chesham, moves the Third Reading, may I say that your Lordships have often found it convenient to take the Third Reading formally, then to consider the Amendment, in this case of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and then have the discussion on the Bill on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. It is entirely a matter for your Lordships, but you might find that a convenient course in this case.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Chesham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, your Lordships will expect some explanation of why I have put down an Amendment on the Third Reading when there have been three days on the Committee stage when it would have been far more appropriate for this Amendment to be moved. It arose out of a conversation that I had about road traffic problems with one of the London stipendiary magistrates, who drew my attention to a strange anomaly that would not have been corrected by the Bill as it emerged from the Committee stage. He told me that, whereas in the case of roads where there is no restriction on waiting the offence of obstruction may be penalised by a fine of £20, in the case of a road where "No waiting" restrictions apply the maximum penalty is £5.

It therefore appears that, in the case of those special roads and streets where it has been considered by the Minister of Transport necessary to impose special restrictions in order to promote the free movement of traffic, the maximum penalty for an infringement of the regulations is only a quarter of the penalty that may be imposed in the case of ordinary streets where those special considerations do not apply. I was very surprised to hear of this, and got in touch with my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary. It was found that as a result of the maximum penalty which had been put into regulations made by the Minister of Transport, this anomalous situation did in fact exist. It is for that reason and this anomaly, which I think has come to light only through the specialist experience of stipendiary magistrates, that I have ventured to put down this Amendment on the Third Reading of the Bill.

I have tried to explain in reasonably intelligible words what is the purpose and the effect of this Amendment, and I think it is now my duty to explain exactly how it operates; and should any of my Lordships not be interested in these technicalities, I beg him not to listen. I should not have been capable of doing the drafting myself but I have been greatly helped by the Ministry of Transport. This Amendment will alter paragraph 28 of Part III of the First Schedule which itself alters the maximum penalty for offences under Section 34 of the 1960 Act. It is under that section that the Minister makes traffic regulations for the London Traffic Area. Section 34 now provides that the penalty for contravening any regulations may be specified in the regulations themselves. The section also provides for a fine of £5 for every day the offence continues after notice of it has been given.

Paragraph 28 of the Schedule to this Bill at present provides that in place of the above provisions there shall be prescribed a fine not exceeding £50 in the case of any offence in respect of a motor vehicle by failure to comply with a requirement to proceed, or not to proceed, in a specified direction or along a specified part of the carriageway, and for a prescribed fine not exceeding £20 in any other case. These are still maxima, and the actual penalties will have to be written into the regulations. My Amendment would not affect the maximum size of the penalties but would provide that they should apply in the case of any offence against the regulations made under Section 34, and the maximum penalties would no longer have to be written into the indivdual regulations. That is the way in which the draftsman gives effect to the simple proposition which I have ventured to put forward. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 26, line 2, column 2, leave out from beginning to ("in") in line 6 and insert ("For subsection (4) there shall be substituted the following subsection:— '(4) If a person acts in contravention of or fails to comply with any regulations under this section he shall be liable on sununary conviction to a fine not exceeding,").—(Lord Molson.)

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Molson is, of course, perfectly right: there is here an anomaly which requires putting right. It is unfortunate that so simple a matter is so extremely technical, and I congratulate him on the way he has explained it. I have not thought of trying to add any explanation of my own, except to say that as the Amendment to put right this anomaly does not increase the maximum penalties which can be set under the law and under the Bill as it now stands. But as those maximum penalties, in the case of the London Traffic Area have to be individually specified by each regulation that is made; and as we think that these have usually been set too low within the maximum permitted; and as it makes for considerably easier administration; and finally, as it ties in with the general policy of penalties, I am very happy to accept it and I hope your Lordships will.


My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, but unfortunately this particular Amendment was circulated comparatively late, and I have not had time to consider it in detail. It is always a little difficult, of course, for a layman to deal with an Amendment of the kind, which deals with other legislation by reference. I think it is rather unhappy that we should have to accept an Amendment of this kind after the Third Reading of the Bill, which has yet to go to another place. There is plenty of time for this matter to be considered and dealt with in another place, and I do not therefore understand why there is such a rush to get an Amendment of this kind, which has not been fully considered, accepted before the Bill goes to another place. There is plenty of time for it to be done there.


My Lords, all I would say to the noble Viscount, Leader of the Opposition, is that the purpose of this Road Traffic Bill is to amend the existing law upon the subject. We have an opportunity to correct an anomaly which has only just recently come to light. I have tried to explain that at the present time the maximum penalty for obstruction of a road which is not considered to be of sufficient importance to warrant "No waiting" regulations is four times as great as the maximum penalty for infringing a regulation made by the Minister in order to deal with a road where the traffic problem is very serious. I should have thought that perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, would be prepared to accept such an Amendment, as this is the last opportunity for it to be made in this House. It is, moreover, an anomaly which the Government desire to rectify, and I should have thought that it would commend itself to everybody who desires to bring order and logic into our traffic legislation.


My Lords, may I say that we do not propose to vote on this matter? I am still not quite satisfied, but I am quite content, having drawn atten- tion to the matter so that it may be considered by other friends in another place.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move that the privilege Amendrnent be agreed to.

Moved that the privilege Amendment be agreed to.—(Lord Chesham.)

On Question, Amendment (privilege) agreed to.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, as I come to move that this Bill do now pass, perhaps I may be allowed a few minutes to look back briefly at its course through your Lordships' House. As your Lordships will recall, we had a most useful and constructive Second Reading debate in April, and then we spent four days in Committee. Your Lordships made a number of constructive and useful criticisms of the Bill during the Committee stage, some of which were accepted at the time, while other points were met by Amendments moved by the Government on Report stage. I think I may justly claim, my Lords, that my words on the Second Reading were right when I said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 230 (No. 64), Col. 353]: I can only say that we shall listen to and consider most carefully everything your Lordships have to say now and at the later stages of the Bill, because our one desire is to produce as effective a measure as possible to save lives and injury. I well know your Lordships want the same thing". That is what I said; and so it has proved, because I do not think anyone could accuse the Government of a closed mind or dogmatic resistance to your Lordships' ideas in the matters we have been debating.

Nor could anyone say that your Lordships have done otherwise than amply demonstrate your desire to improve the Bill as a road safety measure. This has truly been done, my Lords, as I hope to point out in the course of what little I have to say. I think it is also true to say that, in spite of the changes that we have made, the main principles underlying the provisions in the Bill remain unaltered. Some of the changes, however, are extremely important, and I am grateful to your Lordships for the fact that they make the Bill a much more efficient and serviceable weapon.

On the major problem of drink and driving, your Lordships came to the conclusion, despite the calling in aid of Shakespearean quotations by my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House, that it was right to say "urine" and not "water". What was perhaps rather more important, we have put in considerable additional safeguards for any person accused of the offence of driving while under the influence of drink. A blood sample can now be taken only by a medical practitioner; a test can be formally requested only by a police constable, and the accused has a right to ask for a specimen which he can have tested himself, as a check, by his own analyst.

Your Lordships also decided, against the advice of my noble friend Lord Dundee, to accept an Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that the Secretary of State should make regulations to prescribe the methods of collection of specimens and the training of persons using breathalysers. As my noble friend said during the Report stage the Government have been carefully studying the problems that arise from this, and I must be frank and honest and say that we are still not satisfied that it would be right to be forced to prescribe methods of collection and analysis of specimens as is now provided. The study of this question, which is a difficult and complicated question is not yet completed, and therefore there is nothing definite that I can say at this stage. But I think I ought to emphasise that the Government may feel forced to move some further Amendment on this at a later stage, although, of course, if they do the matter will come before your Lordships again.

A large part of our debates on this Bill has been concentrated on the questions raised by Clause 3, dealing with disqualification. I am sure that it is right that it has been so, because it is the provision which appears to impinge most directly on the average driver, and it is also the one to which we attach the greatest importance, since we believe that great good for safety on the roads will come from it. Following the debates in Committee, my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House moved a series of Amendments last week which were designed to ensure that disqualification was imposed only where it was really deserved and that there was little or no chance that it would be imposed for what have been called "technical" offences. I will not go again into all the details, but I think at least the majority of your Lordships were satisfied that the new Amendments represented a major improvement on the provisions we had originally put forward.

On Report the House accepted our proposal that there should be a complete recasting of the provisions whereby a person who has been disqualified can apply for the removal of his disqualification. I realise that these provisions do not go quite so far as some noble Lords might have wished, but again I think they meet the views of most of your Lordships. In future whilst the great majority of those who are disqualified will not be entitled to apply for removal of their disqualification, and disqualification will therefore, as we intended, bite harder and wider, we have still retained provision whereby the more severe orders will be subject to review after a statutory minimum period. On the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, we also put in an important new provision whereby courts that find special reasons for not disqualifying will in future be required to state the special reasons in open court, and in the case of magistrates' courts to record them. I believe that that will be of considerable help to those whose duty it is to administer our laws.

Your Lordships will also recall that we included a number of other minor but useful new clauses, which you will not want me to go over again at length now. We also accepted a number of Amendments to the First Schedule, some designed to remove from Part II those offences which were of such a kind that in certain circumstances they could reasonably be classified as trivial. Others, on the other hand, were designed to include in that Part of the Schedule a number of offences which were such that your Lordships thought a court should have power to disqualify in respect of them.

Again during the Report stage, my noble friend Lord Dundee promised that the Government would give further consideration and make a further statement about the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who was concerned about the fact that we had not yet brought into effect Section 102 (4) of the principal Act, which relates to having a string of provisional licences and not taking a test. I have discussed this matter with my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, and he, as your Lordships have already been informed, is determined to bring this important provision into effect at the earliest practicable date. He is certainly most anxious not to overload the existing testing organisation, but on reflection he feels that it should be possible to proceed on the gradual basis outlined by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu on a previous occasion.

He has therefore taken steps to summon a meeting of representatives of the licensing authorities concerned, in order that the details can be fully discussed and a final date fixed for bringing the section into force. While I cannot tell your Lordships at the moment exactly what that date will be, pending the discussions, I can assure you quite clearly that it will not be later than the date which would have followed from the Amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. We already have power to do this by order, and I have not therefore proposed to put down any further Amendment to this Bill at this stage. I certainly hope that that assurance will be sufficient for my noble friend and your Lordships.

Last week, on Report stage, the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, asked what was to happen to this Bill during this Session, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, also inquired what its prospects were. I think I should perhaps say a word about this, in order to help your Lordships as best I can. This Bill, being a complex measure and of wide application, has, of course, aroused considerable public interest and comment, and, as I have said, it has had the benefit of detailed constructive criticism in your Lordships' House. The Session is now far advanced, and it may be that pressure of other business in another place may prevent the allocation of sufficient time to the Road Traffic Bill. If this Should prove to be the case, Her Majesty's Government would be able to study further the criticisms already made and to introduce a new Bill based on that study. If it is in fact found impossible to complete the Bill this Session, a further statement will be made about it.

Therefore, as your Lordships efforts will not be wasted, I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation and gratitude to the many noble Lords who have worked so hard and constructively on the Bill. I am particularly grateful to my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House and to my noble friend Lord Dundee, who have done so much hard work in piloting the Bill through your Lordships' House. I am also most grateful to noble Lords opposite who have approached this Bill in a most helpful and constructive spirit. It would perhaps be invidious to mention names, but I am very grateful indeed to all those Members of your Lordships' House who have worked so hard to ensure proper discussion of the Bill and to do their utmost to improve it. Certainly, as I forecast originally, it is a controversial measure, but all your Lordships have approached it in such a helpful and practical way that I feel confident that in its present form it will have a real effect on the problems of road safety. Having said that, I think that there is nothing more for me to do except to move that this Bill do now pass.

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

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a moment or two, but in view of the speech to which we have just listened, which has already been likened to me to a funeral oration—or it might be described as, "I come to bury Caesar, but remain to praise his friends" (and we thank you for the praise you have given to the friends who have worked so hard on the Bill)—I feel that it is a most serious matter that the business of the Government cannot be a little better managed than it has been. No possible blame can be attached to the leaders of the Government up here—I am not suggesting that for a moment. But there it is. We have two important Bills which will have passed through your Lordships' House after a good deal of work. I should think that, putting the whole thing together, one can say that between the two Bills we have spent three and a half months: and both Bills are being buried. There it is. We shall have to accept the fact for what it is worth. I think that any tears shed about it will do no good, but I do beg that in the consideration of how business is to be allocated, first consideration in the future will be given to these facts.

I am much indebted to my own friends on these Benches for the way they have done their best to help in regard to both of these important Bills which are now being dropped. I should like to say, while many of them are here, how grateful I am for the amount of work they have taken off the shoulders of the rest of us. When these technical Bills are sent to us and we put in this amount of work upon them, they ought to reach their final destination.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, last week when my noble Leader had something to say on this point I supported him, and I should like to say just one word more in regard to how frustrated we all feel at the news we have just heard, which I am afraid does not come altogether as a surprise. There can be no real excuse for this. This Bill was introduced in this House, and no difficulties have been put in the way by noble Lords on any side of the House. There has been no unnecessary talk about it; I think every Amendment that has been put down has been discussed in a rational manner. Yet we find that a Bill that has taken its normal course in this House and has gone through—the noble Lord opposite has paid tribute to the great improvement that has been made to it—cannot now pass into law.

Apparently, what has gone wrong is that it was introduced into this House too late. There has been a suggestion that as regards other measures there has been delay in another place. But that cannot be attributed to this particular Bill. I have not the dates clearly in front of me, but so far as I can recollect there has been no undue delay at all in any part of the House in dealing with this measure. How, then, does it come about that, having gone through this House, it cannot go through another place?

The noble Lord also spoke about introducing a fresh Bill next Session—I thought those were his words. Perhaps he will refresh his memory, because that was the impression he gave. Is there not some machinery by which this same Bill can be carried forward into another Session in exactly the same form as it leaves this House, so that we do not have to go through the painful process of discussing it once more in all its stages? If that were possible, I think it would be a great help. If we are to have another Bill introduced, and have to go through all its stages once more, as we have done with this one, I can see little likelihood of its going through even in another Session, unless it is introduced at the earliest possible date.

I should like some explanation about what is going to happen to this Bill and to all the work that has been put into it. Is it to be thrown away? Are we to have another Bill? The noble Lord said that the Government would give consideration to everything that was raised on this Bill. To me, that sounds very much as if we are not going to get this same Bill but something which is going to be based on the Bill and on the discussions in the course of getting it through. I hope that that is not so. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House can give us some explanation as to what is to be the future of this Bill, if it is not to go through this Session.


My Lords, I am sorry to continue this discussion, but this is a case of bad Parliamentary management. As my noble friend Lord Silkin has said, this Bill came here late, and a lot of time has been spent and wasted. Might I ask whoever is going to reply whether, if this or a substantially similar Bill is to be introduced next Session, it will be introduced in this House or in another place? It may be that as this House has wasted a lot of time we ought not to run the risk for a second time, and perhaps it would be better if the Bill were introduced in another place, where the risk would pass to another place, which I am sure would not take it as well as this House is taking it. Perhaps we could have an indication of the Government's intentions in this respect.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think we should speculate to see what is the state of Government Business in another place. Of course, noble Lords realise that this is a matter which, in part, is hotly contested between the Parties in another place. It would be easy to excite controversy between the Parties here, but I think that, on the whole, we have carried this Bill through here very well. I do not think it was introduced too late. I do not think I should enter into too many details, but it is quite cleat that another place has been discussing a number of matters which were not anticipated at the beginning of the Session, some of which at any rate were not the fault of either Party, and I do not think therefore that one should plead guilty to bad Parliamentary management as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, suggested. To be frank, I would far rather have it said against us that we had attempted more than we were able, with proper Parliamentary discussion, to achieve than that we had attempted too little.

This is a highly desirable measure. I will not accept for an instant that we have wasted our time here. If I may just give my own experience of the matter, we did, of course, discuss this Bill in the Government, as all Bills are discussed before they are ultimately brought to Parliament. It is a matter about which, at any rate, in my experience, no two intelligent people have exactly the same point of view. I myself could not have predicted in advance of the Committee and Report discussions, exactly the form in which this Bill would emerge, and I am quite certain, as my noble friend has stated, that we have performed an absolutely indispensible public service in carrying the Bill through this Chamber, as I hope we are about to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has raised a perfectly legitimate question, but he must know with his vast experience, as well as I know with certainly not very much more experience than he has, that there is a general rule that, if it does not pass both Houses during the course of a Session, public legislation falls and must be introduced again if it is to pass. This is the law of Parliament, and it would require a general change in the law of Parliament to alter it.

There probably is a very great deal to be said from every point of view, although I do not want to give any undertakings to-day (I am not authorised to do so), for introducing substantially this Bill into another place rather than into this House again, because naturally one would want to know what another place thought about the Amendments and policies we have passed. That would probably save a great deal of Parliamentary time to both Houses. I am absolutely in no doubt that, after the discussions we have had, whatever may be the future of this Bill in this Session, any future Bill will be vastly better when it is introduced and will take up a very great deal less Parliamentary time.

I certainly do not want to enter into any acrimonious discussion. I should like only to reiterate the thanks which we on the Government Benches in this House feel to the Opposition in this House for the way they have carried on our debates and contributed to what I believe to have been a great improvement to the Bill. I shall certainly try to keep noble Lords opposite apprised of the plans of the Government. The state of Business in another place has not, I think, resulted in firm decisions being announced there, and we must await a firm announcement in another place as to the state of their Business before we can discuss the matter further here. I think that the best course is to hand this measure on, as I hope we are about to do, in the knowledge that we have conducted our Business expeditiously and have performed a useful public service.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Viscount. I do not want to debate the matter further, but I think that your Lordships in all parts of the House have worked very hard upon this Bill, and that was done because they believed that it was going to be a contribution to saving life on the roads. Therefore I hope that the Government will in the future regard this as a matter of very great urgency.


My Lords, I had hoped that the noble Viscount was going to say that there is a great deal to be said for changing a Parliamentary procedure which results in this sort of thing. It has been criticised for as long as my memory of politics go back. It is an antediluvian procedure, and I should like the Government, and indeed the Parties generally, to look at it again. That a Bill cannot go through from one Session to another in the way any common-sense person outside would expect, seems to me to be quite wrong.


My Lords, I do not think I want to comment on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, but I should like to say to the noble Lord who has just spoken that this is a matter of law which is for the protection of Oppositions rather than of Governments. Obviously it is to the advantage of a Government that a Bill should continue from Session to Session. But as we all from time to time spend some of our lives in Opposition, it has, I think, continued from generation to generation in the hope that freedom might be preserved. If there were any general feeling on the part of all Parties that the time had come to change the custom—I see noble Lords on the Front Bench shaking their heads—no doubt it would be conveyed to us through the usual channels and we might be prepared to consider it.


My Lords, may I raise this point, a point I raised in another place year after year? We talk about the congestion of public business, which is likely to increase. Is it altogether out of place to raise the point about the length of the Recess? It would take about a week—if I am out of order I will not proceed.


My Lords, I think it really would be a little rough on the House to have to discuss the length of the Recess on a Motion that the Bill do now pass.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I thought that there were a number of noble Lords who were going to speak on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, but, since none of them has risen, I wish to make a few observations. When this Bill was introduced and came before the House on Second Reading, although there was much good in the Bill, there were, I thought, a number of defects to which I considered it my duty then to call attention, and I attempted to deal with those defects on the Committee stage. From my experience, I must thank the Government and pay a tribute to them, and, in particular, to my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House for the great ability and patience with which he has conducted this measure through the House.

I myself had the experience of moving more Amendments and having them accepted than I had done in the whole course of my Parliamentary life on any Bill, with the exception of those that it was my duty to introduce as a Minister. As a result, I believe that this Bill is a very much better Bill than it was; and I should share to the full the regrets that have been expressed from the Opposition Front Bench if this Bill were to go no further. I should not feel that, in any event, our efforts had been thrown away, because, even if they do not go further this Session, I cannot help thinking that the Bill substantially as it now leaves the House will be introduced in another place in a subsequent Session, though I share the regret that it should not pass into law this Session.

My Lords, there is one point on which I must put a question to Her Majesty's Government. I had every hope that it would be dealt with by the noble Lord who moved the Third Reading and the Motion that this Bill do now pass. It was the point to which I drew attention in the very last speech made on the Report stage of this Bill, when I drew attention to a case in the Court of Criminal Appeal which was reported on the very day that we last considered the Bill on the Report stage, namely, June 6. That was the case of Regina v. Smith. The Court of Criminal Appeal drew the urgent attention of Parliament to the need for an amendment of the law.

It may surprise the House to know that the maximum penalty for driving while disqualified is six months' imprisonment. This was a very terrible case in which a man had on his last previous conviction been disqualified for life. His habit was constantly to drive motor cars when drunk. He was in every respect a serious public menace. So great a menace was he that in the court of first instance in the case that came before the Court of Criminal Appeal he had been sentenced to the maximum sentence of six months for driving while disqualified, and for his driving while under the influence of drink they had imposed a sentence of eight years' preventive detention.

For reasons that will be clear, I think, both to the House and to all lawyers, the Court thought that that penalty of preventive detention was not appropriate because he never had had previously any sentence at all approaching it. But they did express themselves in these words as regards the need to alter the penalty for driving while disqualified. Let me read a short passage from the report in The Times, under the heading "Call to Westminster": The maximum sentence for the offence of driving while under the influence of drink was two years, and for driving while disqualified six months. In the view of the Court, that second maximum sentence was one which on the facts of the present case called and called loudly for the consideration of those responsible for dealing with such matters. If ever a man deserved more than six months Smith was that mart. My Lords, really, when observations of that strength are made by the Court of Criminal Appeal, some notice should be taken by Her Majesty's Government. In the hope that some notice would be taken, I intervened on the last Amendment on Report to say that I hoped that, when the Bill next came before the House, there would be a Government Amendment to deal with the matter. I thought of putting down such an Amendment myself, but refrained from doing so because I should much rather have the Amendment moved as a Government.Amendment in the form which they themselves desire. I should have no criticism of Her Majesty's Government for not doing it on this occasion, on Third Reading, provided that they are good enough to give an undertaking that the point will be met in another place. The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, in another connection, that another place will have the opportunity. Whether it does so on this Bill or when a new Bill is introduced, I do not know; but I think that, as there is going to be another Government speech winding up the debate on this Motion that the Bill do now pass, the House really has a right to expect the Government to say that the point so emphatically made by the Court of Criminal Appeal will receive their attention, and that of Parliament.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the House for not speaking in my proper place on the list. I had supposed that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, whose name appears on the list immediately above mine, was going to speak. There is only one matter I desire to deal with, and that quite shortly. At the Report stage my noble friend Lord Swaythling drew attention to the fact that there appears to be nothing to prevent a car from being driven on the roads displaying "L" plates when there is no learner driver present in the car, and the noble Lord introduced an Amendment to make the practice of such an improper use of "L" plates an offence.

It was said, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that this practice did not seem to be a prevalent one, and that it was not serious enough to justify legislation. I venture to doubt whether that is so. I am thinking of the case of the family car which is used upon occasions, probably at week-ends, to teach a member of the family to drive. For the rest of the week that car is quite likely driven by an experienced driver, another member of the family, and because of the slight inconvenience and bother of removing the "L" plates and fitting them on again they are not removed. It may happen that, by the time the first, the eldest, child has passed the test, the next member of the family is ready to take driving lessons, and so it will go on. It may well be that that family cat will spend most of its life on the road displaying "L" plates, but that for most of the time is will in fact be driven by an experienced driver who is really using those "L" plates quite improperly.

If that is so, and if that comes to be generally recognised by road-users, surely the result is a debasing of the coinage, as it were. People will get the impression that the chances are, probably, that a car fitted with "L" plates is not in fact being driven by a learner driver, and people will cease to give that special consideration to learner drivers which Parliament has said that they must give. It was said by the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary during the debate on this matter on the Report stage that it would be inappropriate to introduce into the Bill any new offence which did not materially contribute to road safety. All I can say is that I should have thought that any measure which ensured that road-users gave the fullest consideration to learner drivers upon the roads would materially contribute towards road safety.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, went on to say that the Home Office figures did not appear to show that this was at all a serious problem. I am not at all surprised to hear that. If the police do not have the power to prevent the improper use of "L" plates on cars, I do not suppose they try very hard to do the impossible. They have a great many other duties in connection with traffic, to say nothing of the crime wave that we are suffering from at the present time; and of course, if the police do not bend their energies in this direction, it is understandable that no figures about this problem arrive in the files of the Home Office.

The Amendment set down by my noble friend Lord Swaythling would have enabled the police to tackle this problem and to ensure that "L" plates on motor vehicles were properly used and only properly used. Under it, every time a police constable saw a driver alone in a car on which there were "L" plates he would know that an offence was being committed: either a learner driver was driving it unaccompanied, or an experienced driver was improperly driving it using "L" plates. Furthermore, if the police saw a particular car continually being driven with "L" plates, under this Amendment they could have stopped the car and inquired whether any of the occupants were holders of a provisional licence; and, if no occupant was, then the appropriate action could have been taken.

I should not have expected a great flood of prosecutions to arise if Lord Swaythling's Amendment had been accepted. The police would no doubt begin by means of cautions, and it would quickly become known that it was no longer countenanced for experienced drivers to drive using "L" plates. If there were a few who continued to snap their fingers at the Statute, they would deserve to be prosecuted and they could be. It may be a little tiresome to remove an "L" plate and replace it again every time a learner driver is having a lesson, but in my submission it would not be in the least difficult to cover an "L" plate; and I should have thought that road-users might well be expected, in the interests of road safety, at least, to cover up an "L" plate when the car was being used other than for the purpose of giving a driving lesson.

My Lords, may I say one word upon the Bill in general? I suppose we are none of us daring to hope that this Bill, if it goes through as it stands, will very materially affect road safety, but, from the attention and time that it has been given in your Lordships' House, undoubtedly some good will come from it. I wish it well on its way through the remaining stages of its journey into the Statute Book.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I certainly join with the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in saying that this Bill has been greatly improved since it was introduced in your Lordships' House, and I much appreciate the Amendments that Her Majesty's Government have put into the Bill. On the other hand, I do not think it will have very much effect in reducing road accidents, because they are frequently due to many causes that are not covered by the Bill. But, of course, if it is instrumental in saving a few lives, then this Bill will have done a good job.

It is easy to have second thoughts on a Bill of this nature when it is passing through its final stages in the House, and I trust I shall not be out of place if I mention one of them. I would refer to the danger caused, not only to health but to traffic, by the emission of black smoke by diesel-engined vehicles. I am sure many of your Lordships have found difficulty in passing slow-moving lorries on hills when they have been emitting black smoke. Sometimes the smoke is so black that oncoming vehicles cannot be seen at all, and it really produces great danger to traffic generally. I thought it might be necessary to set down an Amendment to the Bill, but I understand that the Ministry of Transport already have full powers to deal with this matter of black smoke. In the past, very few convictions have been obtained, owing, I believe, to the difficulty of determining the degree of black smoke which is in fact issuing from a vehicle, but I understand that there are now suitable black smoke meters which can determine the matter.

I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply on behalf of Her Majesty's Government whether he would now consider enforcing the prohibition of the emission of black smoke in a more rigorous manner, not only in the interests of health, but also in the reduction of the great element of danger. I am fully aware of the difficulties of application of the smoke meter, but surely it is now possible to make use of this instrument as contributory evidence toward a conviction. I cannot help feeling that if it became known that the Ministry of Transport intended to enforce the law with regard to this matter, we should find that no false economies would be made by not providing adequate power to deal with excessive loads, and that transport operators generally would ensure that they had an adequate and practical maintenance programme for their fuel injection equipment. I also suggest that it might be advisable for Her Majesty's Government to initiate a publicity campaign showing that smoke is simply wastage, and wastage which it is equally important in the interests of the operators to curb, as it is also in the interests of the public. I hope that the Minister who will reply for Her Majesty's Government to-day will be able to say something on this really important matter.