§ 2.13 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Chesham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 3:
§ Disqualification on conviction of certain offences
§ 3.—(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence specified in Part I of the First Schedule to this Act the court shall order him to be disqualified for such period not less than twelve months as the court thinks fit unless the court for special reasons thinks fit to order otherwise.
§ (2) Where a person is convicted of an offence specified in Part II of the First Schedule to this Act the court may order him to be disqualified for such period as the court thinks fit.
§ (3) Where a person convicted of an offence specified in the said Part I or the said Part II has within the three years immediately preceding the commission of the offence and since the commencement of this Act has been convicted on not less than two occasions of an offence specified in those Parts, the court shall order him to be disqualified for such period not less than six months as the court thinks fit, unless the court for special reasons thinks fit to order otherwise.
§ (4) Where a person convicted of an offence under subsection (1) of section six of the principal Act (driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of drink or drugs) has within the ten years immediately preceding the commission of the offence been convicted of such an offence, subsection (1) of this section shall apply in relation to him with the substitution of three years for twelve months.
§ (5) The period of any disqualification imposed under subsection (3) of this section or on a conviction of an offence under paragraph (b) of section one hundred and ten of the principal Act (driving while disqualified) shall be in addition to any other period of disqualification imposed (whether previously or on the same occasion) under this section or under the principal Act or an enactment repealed by that Act or under the Motor Car Act, 1903.
LORD GODDARD moved, in subsection (1), after "reasons" to insert:
which shall be stated in open court and entered in the court register".
The noble and learned Lord said: As your Lordships are aware, there are offences against the Act which involve automatic disqualification unless the justices or quarter sessons, as the case may be, hearing the case think fit for special reasons not to impose disqualification. That provision, I suppose, has been responsible for almost more special cases being brought up to the High Court than any other. It is often difficult, when a case comes up, to understand exactly what special reasons the justices had. I submit it would be a simple thing if the Act provided that when the justices are refraining, for special reasons, from imposing disqualification which otherwise they would be bound to impose, they should state what those special reasons are. That is the simple object of my Amendment.
§ It would often, I think, help the motorist; because when justices give their decision and do not state exactly what their reasons are the chief constable or the prosecuting authority are left in some doubt and very likely think that the case must be taken to the High Court. If they were told exactly what reasons were moving the justices not to impose disqualification, they might think there was reason there and that the justices were probably justified in coming to the conclusion to which they had come; then they will not ask for a special case and motorists will not be involved in the extra cost they would otherwise have. If the justices are saying that for special reasons they do not disqualify a man they are otherwise bound to disqualify, from every point of view—the public point of view, the motorist's point of view, the prosecution's point of view—it is desirable they should say what those reasons are. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 28, after ("reasons") insert the said words.—(Lord Goddard.)
§ LORD SILKIN
I hope that the Government will see fit to accept this Amendment, which is eminently reasonable and will operate for the protection both of the person accused and of the general public. The words "special reasons" are always difficult to interpret, and it would be good to build up a body of practice—I will not call it case law—so that it is known what constitutes special reasons 1178 and what does not as between one court and another and one part of the country and another. The only way in which that can be assured is to provide that whenever a court decides to exercise its discretion and not make the disqualification which it is authorised to make under this clause, it should give its reasons. They should be made public; everybody should know. I think that the noble and learned Lord has made a complete case for this Amendment, and I hope it will be accepted.
§ LORD DENNING
I should like to support this Amendment. There is already a certain amount of case law as to what are special reasons. They must be special to the offence and not the offender, as my noble and learned friend, Lord Goddard, laid down in a leading case. There is nothing like stating one's reasons in order to clear one's mind, and to put them in writing makes one's own mind even clearer. Magistrates do not, as a rule, give any reasons. Perhaps they follow the advice of Lord Mansfield,Give your decision but never give your reasons, because your decision may be right but your reasons are almost certain to be wrong.If the magistrates are hound to give their reasons in open court, it will clear their minds and help everybody. I would support this Amendment.
§ LORD LATHAM
I should like to support this Amendment and to put a question to the noble and learned Lord. I am a little intrigued as to why the noble and learned Lord, having put down an Amendment to add this obligation where special reasons are in case, did not do the same as regards subsection (3), where precisely the same words are used at the end of that subsection.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND MINISTER FOR SCIENCE (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
The answer is that he has.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD CHESHAM)
If I may "chip in" at this stage and point out to the noble Lord opposite that this Amendment, No. 22, is the same as Amendment No. 35, to which we shall come later, I think he will find his point is met. Even 1179 if I were not impressed, which I certainly am, by the case put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, I should certainly be so by the support that his suggested Amendment has received. So far as I am concerned, I should be most happy to accept this Amendment; but if the noble and learned Lord will allow me to say so, I should like to accept it in principle today because—I say this with much trepidation—it seems to me that the procedural questions involved ought perhaps to be looked at again. It appears that the wording he has used would make the Amendments apply to the superior Courts as well. If the noble and learned Lord will allow us to look at that point again and to put down on Report an Amendment which will give effect exactly to what he wishes, I shall be happy to accept the Amendment.
§ LORD GODDARD
I am much obliged to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill. I should be quite content if the words "and entered in the Court register" were left out, because if a man is being tried in an Assize Court there is no Court register. I think, although I am not sure, that there is a register for a quarter sessions court. However, so long as the principle is accepted, I am quite prepared to leave it so that it will be looked into and that there will be used a form of words which the Government think fit.
§ LORD CHESHAM
That is the only reason why we should like to look at it again. The principle that the noble and learned Lord is urging is perfectly acceptable.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: No.
§ LORD GODDARD
I thought it was accepted in principle. The noble Lord is going to consider it and bring it up again on Report. I understand he wants to consider just this final question of the wording.
§ VICOUNT HAILSHAM
If I may say so, I think that where an Amendment is accepted in principle with a view to substituting different words it is the more usual practice of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment at this stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 2.24 p.m.
LORD CONESFORD moved, in subsection (2) after "Act" to insert:
or of any offence which is specified in the Eleventh Schedule to the principal Act but is not specified in either the said Part I or the said Part II of the First Schedule to this Act".
§ The noble Lord said: In the debate on Second Reading, I drew the attention of noble Lords to what many of us believe to be both the worst and also the strangest feature of the present Bill. The Bill takes away from the courts the power to disqualify for a whole series of motoring offences for which they at present have power to disqualify and for some of which, I think, it is their general practice to disqualify. No Minister has explained that extraordinary step, either in Parliament or elsewhere. In the debate on Second Reading it was condemned by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, who has told me how sorry she is that she is unable to be present this afternoon to support me, by my noble and learned friend Lord Denning, by my noble friend, Lord Molson, a former Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, and by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth; and no one said one word in favour of it.
§ The Amendment which I am now moving removes this blemish from the Bill and ensures that the courts shall continue to possess all the powers to disqualify at their discretion. I am not proposing to put any of these offences into the list of those for which they are bound to disqualify: I merely restore the right to disqualify in every case in which they at present have that power. There is, I hope, no longer any need to stress the value of the right to disqualify. It was stressed repeatedly by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in the debates in 1956 when he strongly urged the courts to use this power; and it has been stressed by many speakers in our debates on this Bill. Disqualification is at once the most effective deterrent if considered as punishment; it is also often, I think, the most effective step that can be taken in the interests of road safety, apart altogether from any question of punishment.1181
§ I do not believe that the Committee will agree to take away from the courts any existing power to disqualify until they receive satisfactory answers to two questions. The first question is this: do the Government allege that any power to disqualify has been abused? So far as I am aware, the normal complaint has been precisely the opposite: not that the courts disqualify in too many cases, but that they hesitate in many cases to disqualify when they should. My second question is this: have the Government consulted Her Majesty's judges on whether they should remove the right to disqualify, and, if so, what advice did the judges give? I believe I know the answer to both those questions, but I think the Committee will prefer to hear them from the Minister who replies. The offences for which, as the Bill now stands, it will be impossible to disqualify are not all of equal importance, but not one of them is trivial. Some are very important indeed, and the right to disqualify is particularly valuable for them. The one that has repeatedly been given as an example from all quarters of the Committee is taking away a motor vehicle without authority. This is an offence for which the Government themselves in the present Bill propose a slight strengthening of the law as regards penalty, but they sweep away the most important penalty of all—namely, the right to disqualify.
§ As I reminded noble Lords in the debate on Second Reading, this offence of taking away a motor vehicle without authority is often the precursor to or accompaniment of other crimes—robbery, dangerous driving and a whole number of things. Is that an offence from which to remove the most effective of all sanctions? My noble friend Lord Dundee, in his final speech on Second Reading, conceded that I had convinced him as regards that particular offence, though he did not guarantee what he would be saying to-day. At least, I had that encouragement: he seemed to be impressed on that occasion. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, also quoted, as did other noble Lords, the case of disobeying the conditions of the provisional licence—a very great source of danger and an increasingly common offence. For those reasons I press the present Amendment.1182
§ May I say, in conclusion, a word on the form of my Amendment? In my view, and in the view of all noble Lords in different quarters whom I have consulted, it was desirable that the Committee should decide this vitally important point of principle as early as possible in our debate on Clause 3, the main clause dealing with disqualification. The Committee must, in my submission, decide whether it wishes or does not wish to sweep away the powers of the court to disqualify. Nevertheless, I shall quite understand if Her Majesty's Government reply that, while they accept the principle of my Amendment, they would prefer to give effect to it not by amending subsection (2) but by adding to Part II of the First Schedule the various offences concerned. That is an alternative way of doing it. Indeed, I have myself drafted Amendments, which the Committee will find on pages 9, 10 and 11 of the Marshalled List, to effect that purpose. Her Majesty's Government may prefer to accept these later Amendments to the Schedule, and that would make my present Amendment unnecessary. It is the principle of my present Amendment that is absolutely vital. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 31, after ("Act") insert the said words.—(Lord Conesford)
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I wonder whether I might answer at once one or two points raised by my noble and learned friend, because there is obviously a very great deal in what he has been saying, and also because I cannot give to his last invitation either a categorical "yes" or a categorical "no", for a reason which I am now going to give him. He has, of course, made a very powerful argument which has appealed to many besides himself. I hope that I am not doing wrong by speaking now, but I think it may help others who wish to take part in the discussion. I should like to say something of the philosophy underlying Clause 3 of the Bill. I think that that got a little forgotten in the Second Reading debate, though it follows a very careful plan.
The first thing I would say is this. We wanted to consider penalties afresh to some extent, with a view to simplifying and rationalising the theory under which they were applied. For instance, if one 1183 looks at Part III of the First Schedule one sees that in a large number of cases the penalty of imprisonment has been taken away. This is partly because this penalty has not been used and partly because it is now thought inappropriate to the cases to which it has previously applied. Our code of offences and penalties has grown up over the years and it has now reached a stage of complexity when I think some simplification is necessary; and I hope that the Committee will follow us in at any rate the general pattern of what we propose.
The first principle was to get rid of imprisonment except where it was useful. I would give a crude phrase to cover that: except in cases of wickedness of one sort or another or criminality of one sort or another, which covers a wide range of offences. The second point was that we wanted to make more use of disqualification, for reasons which were very well supported both by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and by other speakers, notably, I think, my noble friend Lord Somers, in the Second Reading. Inevitably, if you want to make more use of disqualification you are driven in the end by the facts (here I must anticipate something which will be said inevitably at a later stage of this discussion) to look for a wider range of cases where a compulsory disqualification is the only course open to the justices. As experience has shown again and again, they do not in fact disqualify where it is considered that they have a discretion. We were therefore driven to the conclusion that disqualification would have to be compulsory in a wider range of cases. We will discuss that point shortly.
But the conclusion followed from that, I think inevitably, that it was necessary to be very careful about the offences for which disqualification was provided. Here we followed the general principle that disqualification would be a penalty attached to things which could cause accidents rather than for things of which one disapproved morally. I have very much in my own mind (I do not know whether the Committee will find it helpful) that when, as a boy, I was taught to shoot I was told that if I pointed the gun at anybody I should have it taken away, whether it was empty or charged. I was told that if I did not take the cartridges 1184 out of the gun when I crossed a fence I would have my gun taken away, even if it did not go off, and that other offences of that kind were to be treated in the same way. In point of fact, this penalty was never imposed because I realised its justice, and like most other boys who are taught to shoot, I was careful not to offend. This is the philosophy, generally, which we have tried to use for disqualification under this Bill, first of all, in Part I of the First Schedule and, secondly, in Part II. In fact, this is not how it has been used historically in the penalties code as it exists. It has been used as a punishment of a much more straightforward kind.
If my noble and learned friend will look at the things he would put back into the discretionary disqualification class, if this Amendment were accepted, he will see, for instance, the offence of driving without a driving licence. That may be morally very shocking, because it is an offence against the Revenue, but it is not going to cause anybody any harm. In fact, we have all committed it if we have allowed our driving licence to expire for a fortnight. Therefore it cannot reasonably be said—or I should have thought not; and I would ask the Committee to say not—to be conformable to the kind of philosophy we have been trying to apply. Take another case: such lighting offences as we have not put into Part II of the First Schedule, which might involve vehicles standing on a road which has a system of street lighting, under Section 12 of the Road Transport Lighting Act. Or take the case of selling, or offering for sale, reflectors not complying with regulations, under Section 12 of the Road Transport Lighting Act. These are three cases where my noble and learned friend would be putting back into the disqualification class an offence which we deliberately removed, not because we want to make things easier for the motorist but because we wanted to rationalise the code on the principles I have referred to.
§ LORD CONESFORD
Does my noble friend say that those three examples are to be found in the Eleventh Schedule to the principal Act?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I have not checked it for myself, but I was advised that this would be the consequence, and 1185 I was taking my noble and learned friend at his word when he said that he was putting back in every case where we had taken it away. Neither of us wants to mislead the other, but that is the advice I was acting on. We think it ought to come into the case precisely because we are making more use of it.
I quite agree that there is a series of marginal cases, some of which the Committee will very probably wish to decide in the other way from that in which they were decided by the Government, provisionally, when they drafted the Bill. The Government may or may not have been right about those marginal cases; and my noble friend has quite rightly put down a series of Amendments to restore them to Part II. It may well be that, when the Committee has expressed an opinion about them, they will be put back. I should like to give one clear example, however, of the thinking behind this Bill, even if the Committee wishes us to alter it in the contrary sense. Take the instance which my noble friend mentioned in his speech and which certainly excited a good deal of attention on Second Reading: the case of driving a motor car away without the consent of the owner. It may be, of course, that this is a prelude to other offences which do give rise to danger. So is the offence of stealing a motor car. But you cannot disqualify for stealing a motor car.
I want to say one other thing. I am not pre-judging this case at all; I am only trying to point out what was in our minds. The history of this offence, as everybody knows, is due to the fact that, in order to commit a larceny at Common Law, you have to harbour the intention permanently to deprive the owner of the property in the article stolen. If, for example, a car was taken for a joy-ride, it was found before 1930 (I think it was) that it was quite impossible to get a conviction for larceny, and so this offence was devised. We thought of it, therefore, as an offence primarily to protect property, and not an offence to protect safety. I am quite sure that a powerful case can be made the other way; and, considering it on its merits and in isolation, I quite see that the Committee may desire to reverse that provisional decision.
We are not trying to be dogmatic about it. But what I would, with re- 1186 spect, resist from my noble friend would be not so much an attempt to put back into Part II of the Schedule seriatim the things which he wants to see put hack, but this Amendment, which seeks to put them back en bloc, because I think very different considerations arise about the different offences. It may be that either the Government will wish to make a concession, or (because this is not a matter which any false sense of authority or pride will enter into) that the Committee may want to make the alteration against the Government's advice. But I would ask my noble friend to argue the cases on their merits, rather than try to put the offences back en bloc, because this would seriously interfere with the structure of the Act.
§ LORD CONESFORD
Before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether he would answer the two specific questions that I asked. The first is: Do the Government say that any existing power to disqualify has in fact been abused? The second question is: Have Her Majesty's Government consulted Her Majesty's Judges on this change in the law?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
We have not, of course, consulted the judges on the specific changes, because a very great number of changes are required, and we did not include this. But, naturally, the views of the Judges would be very welcome to us, in conjunction with those of my noble and learned friend.
As regards his first question, I think there is a confusion of thought here. If magistrates, having been given a power, and having been instructed by Parliament to use it as a punishment—for instance, in cases of driving without having a driving licence, or selling reflectors which contravene the regulations—then use that power given to them by Parliament, then I daresay it is not an abuse of that power so to use it. But what we are now asking the Committee to do is to say that this is a wrong conception of the value of disqualification as a punishment and for that purpose we make no charge against justices. I feel that, had I ever been involved in a case where either of those offences was the only element of criminality, any use of disqualification would have been an abuse—and I have no doubt that there have 1187 been such cases. But the point I am trying to impress upon the Committee is that we are now trying to put our legislative house in order. We do not think that that sort of case is a case for which disqualification is an appropriate penalty. So far from doing what we were charged with doing by some other noble Lords on Second Reading—namely, making it harder for everybody—we have tried to rationalise this code. And this Amendment, I seriously submit to my noble and learned friend (who is, if I may say so, always so reasonable in such matters), would go against our intention if it were done as a whole in the way in which he indicated it was intended to be done. I say that without any kind of prejudice to the individual Amendments which he may wish to move in relation to the second part of the First Schedule.
§ LORD MOLSON
I am sure your Lordships have been deeply impressed by both the speeches to which we have listened. My noble and learned friend Lord Conesford has pointed out that, contrary to the general impression given by the Parliamentary Secretary when he was introducing this Bill, the sanction (I abstain from using the word "punishment") of disqualification was particularly suitable from every point of view for driving offences, and that therefore the effect of this Bill would be, in the first place, to provide for compulsory disqualification in serious cases, and, secondly, for disqualification if an individual had been guilty within a short period of time of three minor offences. What did, I think, come as a surprise to us was to find when we examined this Bill, that in a large number of offences where the courts had had a discretionary right to disqualify under the Act of 1956 this Bill proposes to deprive the courts of that discretion—which has been only sparingly used and, so far as we know, has never been abused. I say that it has been sparingly used because the Parliamentary Secretary answered a number of questions at the beginning of the Second Reading debate, and the general effect of what he said was in how few cases, where the courts have convicted a driver, they have used the valuable additional sanction of disqualification.
I was very glad to hear my noble friend the Lord President say that the Govern- 1188 ment are quite prepared to consider accepting Amendments in marginal cases, so that some of those offences, and especially that of taking away a car without permission, should be removed from the category where they now are, and where the courts cannot impose disqualification, to Part II of the Schedule, where they may do so. That is certainly a great step in advance, and it may well be that this will provide a compromise which will be acceptable to your Lordships between the very weighty arguments advanced by my noble and learned friend Lord Cones-ford and the also weighty arguments that have been advanced by the Lord President of the Council. I am not sure, however, that the Lord President has fully appreciated exactly what the effect of my noble and learned friend's Amendment would be.
If this Amendment were accepted, there would be three categories of offences. In the first place, there would be those very serious offences, few in number, where disqualification would be compulsory, and where there would be no discretion in the court. In the second place, there would be the offences mentioned in Part II, where disqualification in each individual case would be at the discretion of the court. But if some rather careless driver had been convicted of three offences of this kind within a period of three years, then in that case there would be automatic disqualification. Now, as I understand my noble and learned friend's Amendment, it would create a third category of cases in which it would be perfectly proper and permissible for the courts to impose disqualification, and where I should have thought that that was extremely desirable.
Let me take the case that my noble friend the Lord President has given—one of those (as he would say) minor offences where he did not think that disqualification would be a suitable sanction; that is, driving without a licence. That offence may be of many different kinds. It may be due to a lapse of memory, in which case I would entirely agree with my noble friend, but it may be something very much more serious than that. It might be a case where a driver had not passed the test so as to obtain a licence, and in that case it seems to me it is only right that the court which took a serious view of this offence should have a discretionary right to impose disqualification.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think I agree with my noble friend there; but I believe I am right in saying that, in that case, he would be committing another much more serious offence which would attract the compulsory disqualification. In such a case he would never be prosecuted solely for driving without a licence; that is purely a revenue offence.
§ LORD MOLSON
There are many cases where someone is guilty of a number of simultaneous offences. It might very well be more convenient to prosecute him for driving without a licence, in which case I should have thought that there was no argument at all in favour of depriving the court of a discretionary right which it has at the present time. I ventured to intervene because I was impressed by both of the speeches to which we have listened. I do not feel that there is any incompatibility between the two objects which both my noble friends have in mind, and it may very well be that this Amendment is not the most suitable way in which to bring about the result which I think we all have in mind. I am sure we are indebted to my noble and learned friend for raising this very important issue. The question is really this: is it wise, when we are trying to legislate to increase the scope of disqualification, which is much the better sanction to apply in these cases, to deprive the courts of a discretion which they have exercised very sparingly in the past and about which we have not yet heard of any case of abuse?
§ LORD SILKIN
I am bound to say that I welcome very much the statement of the Lord President. It is refreshing to find that the Government have really been thinking, and I believe in this case thinking effectively. After all, we have to consider what is the purpose of this Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to increase road safety, and it is for that reason that we are imposing penalties. One of the most severe penalties we can impose is the withdrawal of a licence—disqualification. I think we ought to endeavour to impose this penalty just where it fits. I do not think it should be extended 1190 beyond where it is necessary. On the other hand, we want to include all cases where there is a danger to the public.
I think the Government have acted wisely in looking at these penalties again—it fits in with the earlier provision about looking at penalties afresh—and seeing what are the cases we want to aim at; that is to say, cases which merit disqualification because the persons involved are a danger to the public. I think the wise course, in these circumstances, is to let the Committee look at this matter again from the point of view that the Lord President has put to us, which I am sure all of us accept. These penalties should be no wider than necessary, but as wide as is required for the public safety. If we accept that principle, then I do not think any of us would wish to put back bodily all those offences for which, up to now, the penalty is disqualification. We want to look at them one by one and to see whether or not we wish to change their character. Speaking for myself, I should be happy if the Committee were given the chance to think about the matter between now and the Report stage, and leave the whole of the discussion of this part of the Bill to the next stage. We could have a discussion, as the Lord President said, seriatim on the particular provisions which are involved.
I would say from this side that I am completely convinced by the argument of the noble Viscount who leads the House, and I wish him every success. 'I should like to add only one thing, because I shall not be able to be here at the later stages of the Bill and shall not know what the wording is. I think one has to be very careful about imposing penalties for driving cars without permission. It occurs to me that a friend of mine may give me permission to drive his car, and if I have an accident he may be sorry he has given me that permission, and it may be difficult for me to prove that I have had verbal permission from him to drive his car. I am sure the Committee will have things of that sort in mind when they come to consider that portion of the Bill.
§ LORD CONESFORD
May I say at once that the point on which I agree with my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House is this. I agree on many grounds that, as I suggested in my 1191 opening speech, the right way of doing what I seek to do is by adding certain offences to Part II of the Second Schedule, rather than by the method which I chose to-day in order to raise the matter at this early stage. On that point I agree with him completely. The main point on which I wholly differ from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who has just intervened, is the idea that we should leave this to the Report stage. I am certainly not prepared to leave it beyond the Committee stage, when we come to discuss Part II of the First Schedule. But I should have asked leave to withdraw my Amendment with greater confidence had my noble and learned friend given some undertaking that he agreed with me about some of the specific offences which I am proposing to put back. His noble friend Lord Dundee agreed with me on the last occasion.
Perhaps the most serious of all the offences, as I gather from such talks as I have had with Her Majesty's judges, is this offence of taking away without authority. The noble Viscount treated that more or less as an offence against property. There are very few offences committed with a motor car that are associated with quite so much crime as this particular offence. Of course it ought to be one for which the courts can disqualify. My noble friend then went on to say: "Ah! but you cannot disqualify for the more serious offence of the larcency of a motor car". If my noble friend will turn to the Amendment which I have put down to the Schedule, he will see that I am proposing to remedy that defect by adding larceny of a motor vehicle to the offences for which one can be disqualified. I did that after discussion with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice, who said that within his experience he had known of cases where men had pleaded guilty to the more serious offence of larceny of a motor vehicle precisely in order to avoid the penalty of disqualification.
If we are really concerned with safety on the roads and the avoidance of crime, we must add several of the offences in respect of which the power of disqualification is now being taken away to Part II of the First Schedule. My noble friend spoke as though all dangerous offences 1192 were still there, but that is not so. One of the things for which power to disqualify is being removed is an offence under Section 35 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861 (injuring persons by wanton or furious driving), committed by a person having charge of a motor vehicle. Can it really be suggested that that is not dangerous?
Then there was the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, of disregard of the conditions of a provisional licence, for which at the moment magistrates are rightly disqualifying, to show an offending person at the very outset of his career that these rules are there to be obeyed. If we are considering safety, are we really indifferent to offences committed by a person driving a vehicle when he is too young to be able to drive that vehicle legally under the law as it stands? Most of the offences which I have put down as offences to be added to Part II of the First Schedule to this Bill are offences which it is vital to add if this Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, is to increase road safety instead of diminishing it.
I give notice that, on most of these Amendments, I shall certainly invite the Committee, when we come to them, to record its opinion, whether it really wishes to take from the courts a right to disqualify which at present they are urged to use, at the express wish of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, whose speech in 1956 has been quoted again and again in addresses to magistrates, urging them to disqualify. Now that they are beginning to follow the Lord Chancellor's advice, the opportunity is taken by Her Majesty's Government to take away the power to disqualify for some of the very offences for which they have been urged to exercise that power. Having given notice that I shall certainly press this matter again when we come to the Schedules, I ask leave to withdraw my present Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES
Before we come to Amendment No. 25, may I point out to the Committee that the Amendments which follow it—namely, Nos. 26 to 36 inclusive—all refer to the same subsection? If 1193 Amendment No. 25 is agreed to, the other Amendments which I have mentioned would not then be called, because they all apply to words which would then have been left out of the Bill. I couple with this point the suggestion that it might be for the convenience of the Committee if, generally speaking, all this group of Amendments were debated together; but, of course, it is for the Committee to say.
§ LORD CHESHAM
May I say that in the event of the first Amendment not being accepted, various of the other Amendments raise points of their own and therefore I do not think it would be possible to take them en bloc?
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES
My suggestion did not imply that there could not be further debate, in addition to the general debate on the first Amendment. Of course, it might be most convenient to have a general debate on the first Amendment and then, if that is carried, to have debates on each one of the others separately.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT moved to leave out subsection (3). The noble Lord said: I regret if the carrying of my Amendment does any noble Lord out of his Amendment in the future but I hope that that is likely to happen, if that is the effect of it. I regret, too, that my noble friend Lord Dundee is not here to-day and that I was unavoidably prevented from being here on the second day of the Second Reading debate, because, from my noble friend's winding up speech, it is obvious that he had not in the least understood the argument I had been putting forward the day before, and for that I myself, of course, must accept full responsibility.
The sentences of my noble friend to which I take exception are in the OFFICIAL REPORT of April 17 [Vol. 230 (No. 65), col. 515]:
I was going to mention the criticism made by my noble friend Lord Derwent, that a speed limit might be hard on professional drivers of large lorries for which the speed limit is at present 30 miles an hour. He suggested that it might give rise to some hardship if people were disqualified from driving bemuse they travelled faster than 30 m.p.h.
I suggested nothing of the kind. That is a rather inaccurate paraphrase of certain words I used in my argument,
taken out of their context, and it misleads as to the intention of my argument. It follows, therefore, I think, that I must repeat my argument in some other words than those I used before.
§ Part II of the First Schedule, which is to be read in conjunction with the sub-section we are discussing, details the less serious offences (if I may so term them), the more serious offences being in Part I. On the previous occasion I pointed out that some offences in Part II might be serious or they might be purely technical and of no great importance. On the occasion on which I mentioned speeding, I said that I was loth to bring that in, but on rare occasoins it was possible that even speeding was a technical offence. I went on to say that in the case of coach, lorry and other professional drivers, in view of the fact that they might be doing 30,000 or 40,000 miles a year, as compared to the private motorist's 10,000 or 15,000 miles a year or even less, the chances of committing a technical offence were all that greater. I shall go into what I mean by "technical offence" in a second. To take into account the commission of a purely technical offence three times in three years over a distance of perhaps a 100,000 miles is bearing very hardly on professional drivers.
§ In case your Lordships think that I am being unduly pessimistic about this technical offence, I would say that since the Second Reading I have had brought to my notice an actual offence that occurred near my home in Yorkshire. On a cold, wet night last January, an experienced lorry driver left his depôt. Evidence was produced in court that everything was in order when he left. He had gone three or four miles when a motor cycle patrol caught up with him, stopped him and said that one of his rear lamps was out. The driver looked at it and said that it had gone out since he left the depot. He took a spare bulb out of his driving cabin, saw that the lamp was all right, and off he went. Presumably because it was a cold wet night and the patrol policeman was fed up, a police prosecution was initiated. The magistrates found the offence proved. Certain of their comments made it clear that they took the view that, although the driver was technically the man against whom the charge had 1195 been brought, he had done nothing to bring about the offence. He was quite unaware that the light had gone out and there was no method by which he could have known it had gone out, and so no penalty was inflicted; there were a few shillings costs which were paid by the employer, and of course, the licence was not endorsed. Under this Bill, that man's licence would be endorsed, and, in so far as this subsection and Part II of the Schedule are concerned, that would have been one of his offences.
Doing the mileage that these people do, it is quite possible over as long a period as three years for them to commit some offence—a technical offence, as in this case—three times during that period and thereby lose their licence. When I lose my licence for six months it is nothing but an infernal nuisance; but for a professional driver, say, a coach driver, to lose his licence for six months would mean that he would never be employed as a coach driver, because certain regulations prevent it. I was shocked by a sentence in my noble friend's winding-up speech, because it evidently showed the thinking of the Government or of the Minister, or of both, in regard to this matter. The phrase which shocked me appears in the same OFFICIAL REPORT at column 513, and it is:
There may be a few odd cases of genuine bad luck, but that will be just too bad.
I agree, "just too bad": a clause that enables a man's livelihood to be taken away for three technical offences, when the man himself may not be to blame. I consider it "just too bad" that your Lordships should be asked to pass this clause in this form. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 33, leave out subsection (3).—(Lord Derwent.)
I support this Amendment. Although the offence in the first part of the First Schedule would justify in some cases automatic disqualification, I maintain that automatic disqualification for three offences listed in Part II would lead to great unfairness, and in some cases to extreme and unnecessary hardship. It would not be difficult to commit three minor offences on one occasion: there might be failure to comply with a traffic sign, exceeding the 1196 vehicle speed limit and, at the same time, having a reflector missing from the back of the car. This trio of minor offences would mean that a commercial vehicle driver would have his licence automatically suspended and would lose his livelihood.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I do not want to stop my noble friend from making a valid point, but I am told by my noble friend beside me, and I think it is correct, that the reflector point is a bad one. The noble Lord should choose another example. We have tried to winnow out from these offences those that do not necessarily involve an element of danger, and I think we have successfully winnowed out the reflectors. We may discuss individual cases later, but it is important that we should get our instances right as the Bill is drafted at the moment.
I appreciate what my noble friend says and that the taillight point may be out of place. Nevertheless, I would ask your Lordships whether you think that subsection (3) of Clause 3 is fair and equitable, as it stands. We all know that day-to-day traffic schemes are brought into operation, with different traffic signs, and it is quite easy to make a genuine mistake. It would be grossly unfair for anyone to be disqualified from driving for six months for failure to comply with traffic directions on these occasions. I suggest that subsection (3) is quite unacceptable in its present form.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
I was asked by my colleagues of the Transport and General Workers' Union to place my name to this Amendment. I say, quite frankly, that I cannot put forward the points for the Amendment better than they were put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in moving it; for the Transport and General Workers, in putting their points to me, mentioned most of those made by the noble Lord. I am empowered to say on their behalf that, in so far as real, serious offences are concerned, they will support the Government in every way possible to ensure the safest measure of driving on the roads, and will come down very heavily on their members or those associated with road transport grossly infringing the law.
1197 I think that most of your Lordships will agree that perhaps the greatest skill and courtesy is shown by the professional drivers, whether it be the chauffeur, the coach driver or the lorry driver; and perhaps because of practice, and the fact that it is their living, they are some of the best drivers on the roads in this country. I am empowered to say that, in so far as offences 1 to 11 in the First Schedule are concerned, they are quite prepared to admit that a persistent breaking of the law should be dealt with severely. But, after all, it is their living, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said. If you are doing, as many of these men do, up to 2,000 miles a month, you are more likely to have an occasional piece of bad luck and get caught. If we are honest, most of us have a clean licence because on some slight infringement we have not been caught; we have been lucky up till now. But the greater number of hours you run, the more likely you are to get caught. Early morning or late at night, when, quite rightly, police cars are on duty and traffic is less, and they have not perhaps more serious offences to keen their eye on—they have not had a wireless message to proceed here or there—it is possible, and right, for them to take up a slight infringement. But the view of the professional driver is that it is grossly unfair that he should be deprived of his living because of three of these very minor offences in the period of three years.
I repeat that, in so far as serious offences are concerned, the Transport and General Workers Union, and the drivers as a whole, are wholeheartedly behind the Government in saying that severe treatment ought to be meted out to those who persistently engage in practices which are a danger to the public. Minor infringements, of course, may still cause a danger. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, referred to the one light missing from the back of a lorry; and I agree that that is a danger, because someone coming up behind may see only the one red light and think it is the light of a motor cycle or a cycle and not the offside of a lorry. But I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is not such a risk and not such an offence as some of those which are included in paragraphs 1 to 11 of Part I of the First Schedule. There- 1198 fore it is with the greatest pleasure that I support this Amendment. I hope the Government will give thought to some amendment of this clause, not only from the point of view of the normal motorist, but from that of the professional drivers, whose livelihood may be affected.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I wonder whether it might be helpful if I were to say something now. This is a complicated matter. I have felt, I hope rightly, on previous Amendments that an early indication by the Government of the reasons which led them to draft the Bill as they have done has been of help to the Committee. I do not wish to curtail the debate in any way, but I want your Lordships to know exactly what is in the mind of the Government and why they have acted in the way they have done in drafting the Bill in its present form. Of course, this fits on to the discussion which we have been having on previous Amendments.
We came to the conclusion, as several noble Lords on both sides of the House did on Second Reading, and as my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford did in his remarks on his last Amendment, that it was inevitable that we should use disqualification more than it has been used in the past as an aid to road safety. This, as I tried to say on the last Amendment, was not because we have strong views of moral disapproval of the particular offences, but simply because a motor vehicle can be a lethal weapon and some sort of code of behaviour has to be enforced by discipline which will include disqualification. Experience has shown (I will not weary the Committee again with the figures which my noble friend the Under-Secretary gave on the Second Reading) that if it is left to the discretion of the court to decide whether or not they disqualify, then, disliking minimum penalties, as certainly I do, and as most people do, one must face the fact that one will not obtain disqualifications by that means. After 30 years experience I am afraid that one can say that with a certain degree of confidence. I start with that proposition.
The next point is: if there is to be compulsory disqualification, how is it to be imposed? I think everybody will 1199 agree in principle that there are a number of offences so grave that disqualification ought to follow automatically from the first offence. The drink charge is one. We have made manslaughter another; and I need not go through the offences in Part I of the Schedule, because we are talking about Part II. But in point of fact—and here one must face facts—most accidents are not caused by wickedness, but by negligence. Nobody who has practised in the courts for more than a quarter of a century, as I have done, can fail to realise this general truth. They are caused by failing to take safety precautions exactly comparable to those that I mentioned in connection with the last Amendment, which are imposed on every boy when he learns to shoot. He is using a lethal weapon, and he has to learn that there are certain things he must not do. There is not necessarily any great moral condemnation about these matters, but the fact is that if people do them habitually, they will cause accidents. This, I am afraid, is true of driving, too.
In a great many cases, the law as it stands attaches an almost mystical value to a second or third offence. I noticed—I could not help noticing, and I am sure he will not mind my mentioning it in anticipation of his Amendment—that when the noble Lord on the Cross Benches, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, put down an alternative version of penalties to that proposed by the Government, he went back to the present view of attaching a great deal of importance to a second offence. Under his schedule, for instance, a second offence for exceeding the speed limit attracts a minimum disqualification of one month. We think that that is quite an unscientific way of approaching the matter—for this reason, if I may venture to say so. It is, of course, a false conception imported from the general criminal law. If a man commits bigamy three times, one is entitled to say that he is a regular bigamist and is doing something which is very serious indeed. Generally, criminals tend to specialise in types of crime: there are confidence tricksters, the coiner, the forger, and so on. But in driving offences this is simply not the case.
The man who disregards the regulations will be convicted of one offence the first time, of another offence the 1200 second time and of a third offence the third time. If I might give an example, he may be convicted of dangerous driving on his first offence—and that is his first offence. He may be convicted of speeding on his second offence, of disregarding traffic regulations on his third offence, and of careless driving on his fourth offence. In those circumstances it would be fantastic to treat his fourth offence as his first conviction of careless driving, and therefore to treat him as a first offender; because in relation to driving offences of this kind, if we are to have any kind of rational approach to the matter at all, we have to look at the driving record as a whole in relation to those offences which cause danger. We therefore thought that it was both fairer, simpler and more rational to say that those offences which, in our view, constituted a serious breach of the safety code should be treated for this purpose as a single record, and that after a certain number of convictions had been incurred, within a certain period of time, this should attract an automatic disqualification. The more I think of it, the more I am quite certain that this is the right pattern, and that if we are going to make more use of disqualification, which I think it is the wish of the Committee, and certainly of the Government, to do, we must do something of this kind.
It can be argued that particular offences which ought to be in Part II are not there. The noble and learned Lord who moved the last Amendment enumerated five or six which he thought ought to be in Part II, and of which he gave notice he would move Amendments. There are, as a matter of fact, a great number of offences about which people may hold two opinions. Some people, for instance, will undoubtedly agree with my noble friend in referring to the tail-light offences as one which ought to be in Part III and not in Part II. Obviously a matter of that kind ought to be considered on its merits. A large number of people will say, rightly or wrongly, that although an element of danger enters into a lighting offence, electric lights being what they are, guilt may be incurred without such a serious breach of the safety code as ought to incur the kind of penalty which we are discussing in Part II. I quite understand that, if there is discussion about that, it 1201 might well be that such an Amendment either would be accepted or would win, because one wants to know the opinion of the Committee.
There is one Amendment which seeks to increase the number of offences that had to be committed before they incurred an automatic disqualification. That again is a matter for discussion, and it may be that the noble Lord (I think it is my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard who has put it down) has put it down as five offences within three years alone—or, rather, six offences, because it is five and then the compulsory one; the sixth offence leads to the automatic disqualification. That, again, is a matter of opinion. The Government would say that that was too many, and other people might say that the period of three years is too long.
If we are to make progress with this system which we have thought of, I am sure that we must do something of this kind. Whereas I would not in the least assert dogmatically that we have chosen the right offences without exception, or that we have chosen the right number without exception, these are all matters upon which the Committee would wish to express opinions, I would seriously ask your Lordships to endorse the general pattern. Because otherwise I am bound to say that I think all this talk of having more use of disqualification will be talk and nothing else. You will get nowhere in practice. Experience has shown that the people with a long list of convictions for offences of one sort or another against the traffic code are precisely those who tend to have the most accidents, and against whom we want to take this precautionary measure.
I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, from the opposite Benches, that one must be tender to the professional driver. That is not because he is a professional (because there I think the answer of my noble friend on Second Reading was completely conclusive: I think it was my noble friend, but if not, it was another noble Lord, who said that you would not say that about an airline pilot who had proved himself to be rather prone to have accidents; at any rate, not if anyone you cared about was going up in his aircraft), but because he has a very high mileage, and therefore there is more chance of an equally good driver incurring a penalty than one who drives for a relatively small number of 1202 miles. I quite agree that is something which is quite properly taken into consideration when you fix the number of offences which are to attract automatic disqualification, if any, or when you fix the period of time in which they are to occur.
But the attack which I have to meet on my noble friend's Amendment is a blunt attack on the principle, and there I must tell the House I must stand firm, because if this principle goes I know of no more just general pattern than this which will give the general effect which the House has asked for, namely, to make more use of disqualification without imposing injustice. This is the most just form I can possibly devise, because it has relation to a number of different offences and not to any individual offence. I would implore the House just to take this further consideration into account. We are rather apt to talk of some offences as being purely technical and others as being intrinsically very serious. This, of course, has an element of truth in it, but it has also an element of the misleading.
I can remember cases where a man has been actually convicted of dangerous driving, which most of us would agree was a highly serious offence, in which the circumstances of the particular offence were so full of mitigation that the court quite rightly treated it as purely technical. I can remember defending a man not very long before I took silk who was trying to get his wife to hospital because she was going to have a baby, and it reached a stage in the delivery when he really had urgently to take risks in driving, which he took, in order to get her there. Quite rightly, I think, the magistrates exercised a great deal of clemency in that case and treated it as purely technical. On the other hand and in the other sense, you get a great number of speeding offences which people are apt to treat as technical but which are not really technical at all. I quite agree that most of us have exceeded the speed limit inadvertently, or even advertently, at one time or another, without creating a great deal of danger.
§ LORD DERWENT
May I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount? On the question of the baby arriving on the way to hospital, there is no option, and that is an occasion when the magistrate could 1203 not be lenient; it has got to go down as an offence, endorsed on the man's licence.
I think that is exactly what is right. If you did in fact do what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, invited you to do, his licence would go, I think. That is what would be unjust. In order to lose it, without having disqualification for all except the most serious of these offences, you must have committed at least three offences within three years. It is precisely because we have had very much in mind that of all the offences, even the serious ones, there are some which can take place to any reasonably good driver without necessarily making it just to disqualify him, whereas a repeated offence of something even as simple as speeding may render him unfit to drive on the roads for a short time, that we have adopted this scheme of making repeated offences of a minor character involving danger the test of disqualification, and not tried to seek arbitrarily to define offences which were intrinsically worse than others and make them disqualify automatically the first time. I would not in the least preclude argument as to the number of times or as to the composition of the Schedule, but I would earnestly suggest to the Committee that if this kind of approach to the matter which we have all adopted in our speeches is really to be effective you should at least adopt the principle and pattern that is included in this part of the Schedule.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I do not know whether the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House has carried all your Lordships with him upon this vital question of the principle. He has not yet carried me. I still have an open mind, but I am going to make this suggestion to the noble Viscount, because this is the most serious part of the Bill. I suggest to him that he listens attentively to all the arguments that have been adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, on his previous Amendment, to all the arguments that are being adduced on this and will be adduced on all the rest of these Amendments on Clause 3, and that the Government should then take this Bill back, reshape the relative parts of it, and then recommit the Bill.
1204 I have tried to follow the rather intricate argument of the noble Viscount as best I could, but it appears to me that Clause 3, which is the subject of Lord Derwent's Amendment, contradicts the principle which the noble Viscount laid down in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, put up, I thought, a very good case, and then the noble and learned Viscount countered it by saying that what the Government have in mind is to use the penalty of disqualification only for those offences which constitute danger. I think I am right in saying that. Let us take subsection (3). Here is the case of a lorry driver—I will cite the lorry driver as the noble Lord did—stationary on the side of the road, and his nearside light has gone out. That is an offence under Part II. Three years previously he had been convicted of careless driving but he had not had his licence suspended. Careless driving is a Part II offence, and carries a discretionary disqualification. In the interim in between the two offences he has another technical offence which does not involve disqualification. So three years after the first, he commits a technical offence—and I use the word in its widest sense—which did not cause any practical danger, although theoretically it is against the law. He is then disqualified compulsorily for six months.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
It is the first, second and third; it does not really matter, in principle, if it is the third or fourth. The serious offence was committed first and that is the offence of careless driving, which was a danger, and it was optional whether he had his licence suspended; it was not compulsory. He has then, within three years, to commit one or two other offences, and they can be very minor offences not involving danger. But you can get another man who commits the same series of offences and has his licence suspended for twelve months. I do not see any justice in that. The noble Viscount's argument would convince me more if he had not to rely, as a basis, upon the magistrates' courts and their discretion but had to rely on compulsory convictions; then it would operate as he so desires.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am trying to follow the noble Lord. I am not quite sure what he means by compulsory convictions.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I will tell the noble Viscount what I mean. If a lorry driver or car driver does not have two lights showing the width of his vehicle, that is a fact and is contrary to the law. What argument can he bring forward before the magistrates to counter that fact? If you are going to have an automatic "Of course you are guilty", then the noble Viscount's arguments and his principles will hold water. But they will not at the present time, because one set of magistrates will take one type of action on an offence, and another set will take different action, and you will never get any uniformity. One of the great troubles of the Road Traffic Acts of the present time is that there is no such thing as uniformity in regard to action on offences.
Subsection (3) will not work, and I say, with great respect, that although I appreciate what the Government have in their minds, I believe their principle is a wrong one. I will not argue it now; I may have an opportunity of arguing it later on. The noble Viscount criticised an Amendment that I have down later, but at least that has the essential of fairness. This clause has not, because two different people committing precisely the same offence can be treated in two entirely different ways; you will not get magistrates to convict on the third or fourth technical offence if they know that by convicting they will involve the man concerned in a disqualification for six months. That will not happen unless there is a conviction, and you have to persuade magistrates to convict. If magistrates are faced with either minimum penalties or automatic disqualification they will not convict.
What I am going to do may meet with acceptance from all sides of the Committee. I am going to ask the noble Viscount to look again at this clause as a whole. It is vital to the Bill. The noble Viscount will, I think, agree that all the Committee are behind him in wanting to improve the law and to make an onslaught upon this dreadful scourge on life and limb, this loss and damage on our roads. I think this matter is getting a little too complicated, and I would ask him, after listening to all the 1206 arguments, to take back the clause and recast it in the light of the wishes of the Committee.
I should like to support, and agree with what has been said by, my noble friend on the Cross Benches. I cannot help feeling that in this matter the Government's thinking on principle is perhaps a little at fault. We all want the same thing, but I do not believe that this Bill does it. Obviously, there are dangerous offences and one wants to make suspension compulsory in those cases. It seems to me that the Part II offences in this Bill are very much mixed biscuits—some may be very serious, some are definitely not serious, and as to whether some are serious or not depends on the facts of the case. As I see it, what the Government are doing is to measure this most difficult thing to measure on a purely quantitative basis. If a man has three offences in this mixed category, whether the offence is really dangerous or not the magistrate has to convict. With great respect, I do not believe that that will serve the purpose which the Government wish to perform. I think it will make it difficult for magistrates, and basically it will be unjust to motorists.
There is one other point that I should like to bring in, although it is not perhaps relevant to this clause—namely, that this clause is in the Bill without any reference to two other things which the Government have done nothing about at all. I think they are dealt with later, as Amendments to the Bill. I refer to the state of the speed limits in this country and to the state of individual speed limits for vehicles. The state of speed limits in this country has for years been a mockery. These limits are all laid down by the local authorities. Some of the speed limits are sensible, some are frankly absurd. The same applies to individual speed limits for vehicles. Does any of your Lordships ever see on one of the open roads of this country, in an unrestricted part of the road, any lorry which goes at 30 miles an hour? If so, your Lordships are more fortunate than I; I never see that. Frequently I find them passing me at 50 or 60 miles an hour.
Unlike most of your Lordships, I have to confess that my licence is not clean; I have an endorsement for driving my farm van, which happens to have no windows, on an unrestricted part of the 1207 road at 40 miles an hour when I was unaware of the fact that the van was limited to 30 miles an hour. Exactly the same vehicle with windows is allowed to travel at 80 miles an hour, if it can do it—it is a Ford and its maximum is 70 miles an hour. To convict a man on that sort of evidence and to suspend his licence for six months, frankly, does not make sense. I believe we are all behind the Government on this Bill, but I honestly think—and here I support my noble friend—that they ought to have a look at this clause again, because I do not think that it is either sensible or just. I am quite sure that, as the debate develops, most of your Lordships will feel the same way.
I intervene only for one moment on this clause, to say that I have in the past year taken some part in helping a friend of mine to take positive action to make the roads of Aberdeenshire safer. I have in my pocket at this moment a letter from the Director of Education saying what a great help this has been. When we set to work to carry out my friend's scheme we did so on the principle that one would never get anywhere by assuming that a motorist was always guilty. I am entirely with the Government in what they want to do through this Bill, but I think my noble friend Lord Derwent is perfectly right in his argument about this clause. I think it ought to be thought about again, because there are so many offences that are purely technical and it is merely a matter of luck whether you get caught or not. One can go out on the Hammersmith Road on any night when people are going home and see the speed of the vehicles along the road which is limited to 40 miles an hour. I am not going to say that I always keep to that 40 miles an hour when every vehicle is going at 50 or 60 miles an hour. What I do say is that it is merely a matter of luck whether one gets caught and the police decide to take action.
§ LORD FOLEY
In supporting this Amendment, may I say that I feel we are getting away from the whole purpose of the Bill, which is to make the roads of this country safe. In my opinion, this clause does not do that. In order to do this, we have to be much more severe on the serious offenders and not so 1208 severe on non-serious offenders. You can be as severe as you like with serious offenders, but if you are going to penalise the unlucky motorist in regard to three trivial technical offences you are going to make worse, and not better, drivers; you are going to have more accidents, and you are going to have more nervous drivers. Thus you will put your accident rate up, rather than down. In my experience, and I think in the experience of all of us who have driven, one may drive for five years and never be caught for any offence; then, suddenly, one may get two or three in a row for no particular reason. I think that to have your licence taken away for exceeding the speed limit by two or three miles an hour, say, three times in three years, is unfair.
The whole question, surely, should be left to the courts and the magistrates. After all, if a person exceeds a speed limit of 30 miles per hour on a wet road at night, he deserves to have his licence taken away immediately. But if you are unlucky enough to exceed the speed limit by two or three miles an hour, say, three times a year and be caught because you happen to run up against a policeman who has nothing better to do, I do not think you should have your licence taken away. It is an individual thing. It is very important that the private motorist should be considered in this matter. We have spoken about lorry drivers and professional drivers, but the private motorists make up the majority of drivers, and I think they have a tough enough time as it is, with the roads in their present condition. I think this is a thoroughly bad clause and I would not hesitate for one moment to support this Amendment.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has rather made an accusation that magistrates would fail to convict in cases in which they ought to, because it was a third conviction in three years. I have heard the criticism that magistrates are not severe enough and that their penalties are not correct, but it is the first time I have heard it suggested that magistrates do not convict in a palpable case when someone has broken the law because they do not approve of the penalty.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I do not think I could have made myself 1209 clear. I said that I did not think we should get magistrates to convict on the third offence if that third offence was of a trivial nature—say, when the nearside parking lamp had gone out on a stationary vehicle—when they knew that if they convicted they had no option but to suspend the licence for six months.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
That is exactly the point I am making. The accusation is made that, when the evidence is there that the offence has been committed, the magistrates would not convict because of the penalty they would have to inflict. That is, I think, an accusation that should not be made against magistrates. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has suggested that we should leave out this subsection because of various offences of a technical nature. Surely the correct way is to amend it so that offences of a technical nature would be excluded and to keep in the subsection for such offences as are serious.
§ LORD DERWENT
I evidently again have not made myself clear. I said that the same offence, whether it is speeding or whatever it may be, can in itself be serious or can be purely nominal. Any individual offence can be both things: either serious or purely technical.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
I quite agree. The story which we heard mentioned on Second Reading and again to-day is one about the same offence. There is another offence that is in Part II which can in some cases be very serious, and that is failing to pay attention to a traffic sign. If it is the double white line, it can be a very dangerous action if one fails to pay attention to it. But there are other traffic signs which would come under the same Part and which would by no means involve danger. It is for that reason that, although I put down an Amendment concerning Part II—my Amendment is No. 27—I prefer Amendment 26, which I believe the noble Lords, Lord Merrivale and Lord Hawke, are going to move. I would support that to the full, because by passing an Amendment the ill-effects of subsection (3) would be entirely eliminated and I think there could be no objection to it.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
May I say that, like, I think, all of your Lordships, I listened with the greatest attention and 1210 the greatest interest to the reply given by the noble Viscount to the debate in the earlier stages. He almost persuaded me to be of his view—but not quite. The noble Viscount made the best case he could in favour of this clause. But I did not think, candidly, that it was good enough, because I am quite sure that, as a matter of principle, the method proposed by the employment of an automatic disqualification of the licence is not the right method. Personally, I am not at all opposed to automatic disqualification in certain circumstances: for instance, where there can be no doubt about the offence, where the offence is not a question of a matter of opinion but a question of certainty, and where it involves danger. But I think that disqualification, in the circumstances in which we live to-day, should be employed, in the first instance, as a warning and, in the second instance, if an offence is committed which carries disqualification with it, as an increased warning. In other words, in the first instance the disqualification might be for a period of ten days, and in the second instance for a period of a month; and if a third case of the same type (that is to say, of certainly and of danger) were involved within a limited period, then the disqualification should become serious.
As we have it proposed in this Bill, however, it is very much a matter of lottery. There is a great deal of chance as to whether or not a driver, whether he be professional or amateur, may become involved in the period of three years in circumstances which will take away his licence. I am quite sure that that element of uncertainty is not only bad law but also a very bad method of seeking to bring about safety on the roads. For one thing, I frankly cannot quite understand how this is going to work. It is quite probably, quite rightly, the custom of the police, when they are prosecuting, having found a driver who has committed an offence, to limber up in the course of their prosecution all the offences they can find that driver has committed; and a person is not infrequently prosecuted for a series of three or four offences. I have not been through the offences mentioned in Part II of the First Schedule which it is possible for a person to commit. But let us suppose—because of this there is 1211 no doubt—that a person could simultaneously commit two such offences, and let us assume that he is convicted on both counts. Does that count as two offences towards his disqualification or does it count as one? If it counts as two offences in respect of the same incident, then I think it is again unfair upon that driver.
Another point which perturbs me somewhat is the possibility that this provision may virtually introduce two penalties for the same offence. Let us say that a driver is convicted of an offence under Part I, as a result of which he sustains an obligatory disqualification. That may be for a period of, say, six months. He starts to drive again, and within the period of three years from the time he sustained his first accident he commits two entirely technical, trivial offences under Part II, in respect of neither of which does he sustain disqualification. Nevertheless, because he has had three offences within the limited period he does, as I understand it, again sustain disqualification, which can mean only that he is in fact again being penalised for the first offence for which he had already been disqualified. I do not think that that is a fair way in which the Bill should work.
There is one other matter that I should like to mention here, because my noble friend did not touch upon it in his reply; that is the way in which the Government understand these provisions are likely to affect the position with regard to the operation of the Magistrates' Courts Act. That Act, which was introduced by the Government quite recently, is working exceedingly satisfactorily. It results, as your Lordships know, in the less serious offences being dealt with swiftly and efficiently by the courts, without the necessary attendance of the person who is being prosecuted. There is singularly little objection by motorists to the way in which that Act is being operated. As I understand it, many of the offences which are covered by the Magistrates' Courts Act are offences which are contained in Part II. If the offence is one which is contained in Part II, it counts, of course, towards the possibility of a disqualification if, over a period of three years, two other offences 1212 are also committed. Therefore, the presumption is that the driver must fight that case personally, and not allow it to be dealt with under the Magistrates' Courts Act.
At the present time, as my noble and learned friend knows, tens of thousands of cases are being dealt with annually under the Magistrates' Courts Act. If, after the passing of this measure, even the majority of those cases involve the possibility of such serious consequences to the driver that he decides he can no longer rely upon the procedure laid down in the Magistrates' Courts Act, but that he must personally attend at court in order to contest the case, what effect is that going to have upon the situation in our courts at the present time? And what effect is it going to have upon the progressive and excellent measure which was introduced by Parliament in the form of the Magistrates' Courts Act? I ask my noble and learned friend to let us know what is the considered opinion of the Government on the relationship between these two procedures.
I would indeed support the proposal made from the Cross Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that further consideration be given to this clause. I cannot feel that it is the right way of achieving our object. We have not heard from the Government whether they have considered many of the alternative ways of seeking to deal with the type of offence contained in Part II of the Schedule which are in operation in other countries. Both America and many of our Dominions have altogether different ways of seeking to achieve this object, and in a great many cases they are operating it exceedingly successfully—but without imposing this peril of disqualification. They are not imposing the same obligatory form of disqualification; nor are they submitting the motorist or the driver (as the case may be) to the same anxieties and perils. They have methods which are much more of an educational nature, and they are achieving their object. I, for one, am rather disappointed that the Government have not sought to tackle the matter on a more modern and progressive basis than the one they have adopted in this Bill; and I should like to hear from the Government whether they have considered such proposals, or 1213 whether they would be prepared to consider the introduction of some such proposals, as are used overseas in other countries as an alternative to what they have put into this particular clause.
§ LORD SILKIN
I think the majority of the speakers on this Amendment have been critical of the clause, but for a variety of reasons. Some have objected to the whole of subsection (3) in principle; others have objected to the subsection because it can operate too severely to the motorist. My own view is that the principle of this subsection is right. On the other hand, I think that k is very much in need of amendment.
I have examined Pant II of the First Schedule, which includes the kind of offences for which a person may be disqualified after conviction on the third occasion. Some of them are very serious indeed, and I think it is right that a person who has committed three offences should be automatically disqualified. On the other hand, I think that the Government ought to consider the nature of the offence itself. A person may be convicted of, say, offence No. 13 or No. 14 of Part II, but it may be an aggravated offence or it may be a minor offence. The court may have taken a very lenient view of it—as in the example which was given by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent—and I do not think that, where the court has taken a less serious view, it should count as one of the three offences. On the other hand, even that very offence which the noble Lord referred to, of travelling without a rear light, if it were an offence which was carried out deliberately, where a person deliberately took a risk, then I think it should count.
§ LORD DERWENT
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but can he explain to me what he means by "counting"?
§ LORD SILKIN
It should be one of the three offences which together render a person liable to automatic disqualification.
The Bill. I am accepting the principle that, where there have been two previous convictions for an offence set out in Part I or Part II of the First Schedule, there should be a 1214 disqualification. I am accepting that principle: I think the Government are right. On the other hand, I think that there ought to be laid down in the Bill itself a means by which, if any of these offences is committed in a form which is not aggravated but which might be described as technical or innocent, then that should not count as one of the three.
I have endeavoured, in an Amendment which I have put down and to which there may be objection, to say that the three offences which would count towards disqualification should be offences comprised in Parts I and II of the First Schedule but only where the person convicted has had imposed a fine of not less than £5. That would give some indication of the gravity of the offence. It would then leave out the kind of case that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and my noble friend Lord Lindgren referred to, where I imagine there was no penalty but merely an order for payment of the costs. In such a case the offence would not count. But whether my particular proposal is good or bad, I think that some means ought to be thought out by the Government by which it was possible to distinguish between the gravity of the individual offences, even if they were offences included in Parts I and II of the Schedule. For that reason, I would support my former noble friend, but at present the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in suggesting that the Government might look at this matter again, although I would not go so far as to say that we should reject subsection (3) at this stage.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
Might I ask the noble and learned Lord the legal implication of the words "special reasons"? Because if "special reasons" cover a very wide area—for instance, if they include the offender as well as the offence—his clause may well be acceptable. Does the term "special reasons" include a man who exceeds the speed limit while, say, driving to see his child who is ill in hospital? Is that a special reason, or does that phrase mean only in connection with the offence itself, and not any peculiar circumstance in which an offender might find himself? I hope that I have made myself clear. I do not know whether my noble Leader understands 1215 what I am trying to say, but I feel that, if the Committee were given some ruling on the legal implication of the word "special", it would probably help us.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
In the debate on Second Reading I expressed a good deal of doubt on the wisdom of this subsection, and my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House has not, I think, entirely removed those doubts. The Committee knows from my previous Amendment that I am a very strong believer in the importance and effectiveness of disqualification. But I am not a very strong believer in removing the discretion of the court. The only reason which I think my noble friend gave for this subsection is that, without it, we should be deceiving ourselves if we thought that the courts would disqualify in the cases in which we all wish them to disqualify, or, at least, in which many of us wish them to disqualify. I wonder whether that doubt about the courts is justified. I agree with him that the courts have been slow to exercise this power. I think they were gradually acquiring, as a result of the debates of 1956 and what was said at meetings with magistrates and others, in which the Lord Chancellor's speeches were brought to their attention, the habit of disqualification in proper cases. That is why I objected so strongly to the removal of the power in cases where they are at present exercising it.
I wonder whether, if we embody this subsection in the Bill, it is really going to have the effect that the Government desire, or whether it is going to strike a great many people as rather haphazard and occasionally unfair. I suppose at the present moment the only alternatives which are before us are either to adopt the subsection, or to reject it. I should like to put to the Government a suggestion of a slightly different approach, which I think might command a far greater measure of assent. Instead of making disqualification compulsory on the third offence for any of the offences set out in Part I or Part II of the First Schedule, could they not devise in the Bill some sort of instruction or request to the court to this effect: that in considering whether to disqualify, and, if so, what length of disqualification to impose, for any of the offences set out in the 1216 first and second Parts of the Schedule, the court should consider the previous record of the motorist? I believe that would be less open to question than what is at present in the Bill. I am not suggesting that that particular drafting would do, but I honestly do not believe that this endeavour to coerce the court, so to speak, into giving an automatic disqualification will succeed. Whereas I do believe that it might be possible to educate the courts into disqualifying in more and more cases, and making it a more general practice, if that were known to be the wish of Parliament and appeared in some form in the Bill.
This is very much bound up with my earlier Amendment. My noble and learned friend, in answering that Amendment, talked about the difficulty of persuading the court to disqualify. Need we really be astonished at that difficulty if their power to disqualify is given in one Act, taken away in another Act, given back in a third Act, and taken away again? I heartily believe in giving them the power to disqualify and in educating them into exercising that power in a proper case. I believe that it is not beyond the skill of my noble and learned friend, and of the Parliamentary draftsman, to put in the Bill some such request to the courts as I have suggested. I believe that would be much better than subsection (3), which I believe will strike many people as unfair.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
I gave my views on this subsection on Second Reading; it is, I think, the worst subsection in a thoroughly bad Bill. Other noble Lords have said far better than I could what they think about the punitive proposal to be included in it, so I will restrict myself to putting once more the questions which I put on Second Reading, to which I received no answer at the time. They are purely administrative. What I should like to know is this. Is it or is it not a fact that there is at present no central register of speeding offences, or of certain other offences in Part II? And if there is not, how do the Government propose to prevent unscrupulous persons from losing their licences and asking for new ones, leaving out their present endorsement in the knowledge that they will not be found out? Lastly, if this hole 1217 is to be stopped up, roughly how many extra staff will be required in the local constabularies or in the Criminal Records Office? These are straightforward questions, and I think it would help us all if we could have the answers.
§ LORD WALSTON
I do not want to prolong this debate, which has gone on for a long time, but I should like to state that I am in complete agreement with the general principle of disqualification after repeated offences. On the other hand, it seems to me that this Bill (and one or two other noble Lords who have spoken have touched on this aspect) has run into a great deal of difficulty because it is attempting to legislate not only against the dangerous driver, but also against the incompetent magistrate. Many of us in other capacities sit on petty sessional benches. I think we are regarded in this Chamber as people of normal common sense. Surely, when we leave this Chamber and sit on petty sessional benches we have at least as much common sense as we have here. I do not believe that, in that capacity, we are in any way superior to our other colleagues who are magistrates.
I should like to see—and in this I support very strongly what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Conesford, has just said—far more discretion left to magistrates in dealing with these matters. I would not go so far as to say that we should give them absolute discretion. It seems to me very sound to lay down certain offences which can be classified as serious, such as dangerous driving. I would include in that category exceeding the speed limits on more than one occasion, even to a minor extent, as the type of offence where conviction on a certain number of occasions would automatically lead to disqualification. But there should be a schedule of offences, which may or may not be serious—tail lights, parking, loading of lorries and so on—where discretion should be given to the magistrates by this Bill. It should be left to them to decide whether, in their opinion, it is a purely nominal offence, for which they can impose whatever minor penalty they may have in mind, and that is the end of it, or whether it is more than a technical offence, which would require an endorsement of licence and count towards disqualification. I should like to see some modification to this clause which would enable that to be done and give back 1218 to the magistrates a little of the discretion which is slowly being taken away from them.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
A great number of points have been raised and I hope that your Lordships will forgive me, therefore, if I take a little time in replying to some of them. I would thank both the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat and my noble friend Lord Conesford for what I must regard as alternative, constructive suggestions. I promise that they will certainly be considered very carefully. I do not suppose that either of the noble Lords would wish me, without more consideration and without taking some advice, to answer them in detail now. If I did so, I simply should not be treating them as seriously as they deserve. I also say to the noble Lord opposite that I should welcome any opportunity I could find of maintaining the discretion of the criminal courts, whether it were a limited or an absolute discretion, provided I felt that the interests of road safety could be adequately protected.
There are two or three issues which this Committee has to face. Before this debate began, I hoped that we should have serious and detailed discussions upon the various issues raised by this clause. There is more than one issue involved, and I should have liked to see those issues argued separately and heard what the House thought about each one of them, because, as I see it, there are a great number of points upon which the individual views of noble Lords would be of great value to the Government in making up their minds. If the Government simply took back the clause, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has suggested, and recast it in the light of some internal inspiration, I think we should have achieved nothing by this debate. The truth of the matter is that we have first to find out what people severally think about these issues as matters of principle before we can draft any clause; and merely to take it away would be to leave it as we found it.
The issue of principle raised by this Amendment appears to me to be quite simple. It is: whether your Lordships' House is prepared to accept any automatic disqualification for this type of offence in respect of habitual offenders. The Government think "Yes", in 1219 answer to that. If your Lordships' House thinks "No", in answer to that, it is not worth while discussing a number of detailed Amendments which, in that event, would not arise. It is for that reason, and not because I think that the suggestion is an unreasonable one in itself, that I should not like to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I think that we should be wasting a great deal of time.
If the House is not prepared to accept, in respect of habitual offenders, a stage at which the court must disqualify, then I should like to know it. I should not like to proceed on any other kind of argument until that is out of the way; and there is only one way by which I can find that out. As the Government have their view on this matter, there can be no question of the Government not pressing that view; but, at the same time, it is not a matter on which the Government would feel that they are indubitably right; and the opinion of your Lordships' House on this question obviously would carry a great deal of weight with us. I would far rather that it was expressed than that I tried to guess what the House thought.
On the other hand, if that is to be what we do—and I myself should like it to be what we do—I want to be sure that that is what we are voting about and not anything else. I do not want to think that we are voting for or against the constructive suggestions that have just been made, or on whether a tail-light should not be in Part II of the Schedule, or on whether in some cases we should choose two previous offences instead of three. I should like it to be absolutely clear in my own mind what your Lordships are expressing an opinion about—that is, whether there is any point at which an habitual offender should be punished by automatic disqualification. Obviously, your Lordships' opinion on this point would be valuable, but it must not be taken in isolation from the great number of detailed points we have been arguing.
I will answer some of the detailed points, because I think that they are very good and I should like to deal with them; but I will stick to the fundamental point, which I think is a sensible and businesslike way of handling this issue. It is said that we all recognise that many 1220 of these offences, when they are committed, do not involve any actual danger. I do not find that a very convincing argument. If they involved any actual danger, they would already be the offence of dangerous driving, and if they involved a smaller degree of danger—though no court has yet persuaded me that I know (and I do not believe that any other person knows) what that degree is—they would be the offence of careless driving.
Over the years, experience has shown that certain safety precautions must be taken with motor cars, just as with guns. You do not point a gun at somebody, even if it is unloaded, because the safety precaution is that you must not. You take the cartridges from the breach when crossing a fence, irrespective of whether or not actual danger will be caused if you do not, because that is what safety requires. And I am bound to urge on the House the view that these speed limits, if looked at—and they will be looked at, that I undertake; I expect that soon there will be a statement from the Government in which speed limits will be modified in a realistic sense—must also be enforced, once they are modified. That there should be a speed limit independent of the law on dangerous and careless driving is a proposition upon which I must insist, and I must also insist upon the proposition that if a motorist habitually and deliberately Routs the law as regards speed limits, even though the prosecutions are not accompanied with prosecutions for dangerous or careless driving, he ought to lose his licence.
I once defended a man with seventeen previous convictions in a short time, and I kept his licence for him, too; but I did not feel that I had performed a great public service, except to the principle that a man must be properly defended, and I think he was. The same is true about disregarding red lights. If a motorist goes across red lights at a busy intersection, even without traffic, he is committing an offence of dangerous driving and is prosecuted for it. But if he is convicted of ignoring the red light, he is being convicted of a breach of the safety precautions in relation to a lethal weapon; and if he does it habitually or frequently, it ought to cause him to lose his licence, even though each offence is prosecuted with- 1221 out the accompaniment of a separate charge of dangerous or careless driving. That is the first proposition I would put forward and insist upon.
In the second place, I agree that in relation to all these offences, when they are made arbitrary, in the sense in which I have been trying to describe, there is the position where it can be bad luck if you are found out and if you are convicted: because almost everybody sooner or later commits a breach of some part of the safety precautions in relation to a motor car—and that is part of the trouble we are in. But, again, you can be unlucky too often, and I am not prepared indefinitely to take the view, and I hope that the Committee is not so prepared, that because in extreme cases, in which we know people can be convicted due to bad luck, if a man is convicted three, four or five times in three years, that is bad luck. Three times, in my respectful submission, is a lot; and if three times is not, then four times certainly is. I would respectfully say that people who habitually commit breaches of safety precautions in relation to lethal weapons should, as a matter of certain consequence, lose the right to use those lethal weapons, even though they may enjoy using them and even though it may be their living to use them. That, I feel, is of great importance, whatever view we take of this question.
Working backwards, I have dealt with the valuable suggestions of the noble Lord who spoke last. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, asked whether it is a fact that there is no central register; he then thought that in order to get over the difficulty, if there was none, a large number of extra staff would be required in order to supply the deficiency, and he asked how we should get round the ingenuity of a theoretical dishonest man who pretended to lose his licence and applied for a new one in order to get one clear of an endorsement. The practice is that, where a man is convicted of an endorsable offence, which is endorsed, the court which orders the conviction and endorsement sends that record of the conviction and endorsement to the issuing authority of the licence; and they, however many applications are made, will always re-insert the endorsement upon the licence when it is re-issued or when a duplicate is given for it.
1222 It is true, of course, that if you make it a matter of chance or discretion whether an endorsement is added for these offences, it makes it more difficult to enforce; and that is one of the reasons for a subsequent provision in this Bill. It is also true that under the existing law, and the law as amended, it will be possible for a man who is willing to risk a sentence of imprisonment to lie by pretending that he has a new address, going, therefore, to a new issuing authority and committing the offence under the Perjury Act, or whatever it is, of making a fraudulent application. That we can only safeguard under the criminal law, because it is, after all, an ordinary criminal offence; and it is for consideration, I should have thought, whether such a man, if he is found out, should not automatically be disqualified, although I do not think it is in the terms of the Bill as drafted. There is no central register of endorsements, nor is it feasible to set one up. The only difference between this Bill and the existing law, contrary, apparently, to my noble friend's opinion of it, is that under the Bill it will be easier and cheaper to enforce the existing law than before.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
Would not the noble Viscount agree that it would be possible for a person to apply fraudulently for a new licence from a different place and not be found out?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
It is always possible for perjury or forgery to be committed, and a certain number of evils will follow therefrom. But it is the first time I have heard that a good reason for refusing to enforce the law is because it can be got round by deliberate fraud. I do not think that is the kind of argument that would for one moment be taken seriously by the Committee.
I thought that my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford was, for once, a little unfair when he described the process whereby the power of the courts to disqualify is given, then taken away and then given again. So far as I know, all that has happened has been that it is proposed in this Bill, and subject to discussion, that in certain cases, where I should have thought disqualification was, at any rate, arguable as an unsuitable penalty, the power should now be removed, and that it should be retained only for those where it is necessary in 1223 the interests of the safety of the public. We have yet to discuss that subject, and if, in any detail, I should turn out to be wrong, I should be happy to add the power of disqualification where my noble friend Lord Conesford wants it done.
My noble friend Lord Brentford raised a number of interesting questions, some of which clearly ought to be looked at again, in the same sense that I have promised to look at suggestions from the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and from my noble friend Lord Conesford. In particular, I was impressed by the question my noble friend asked as to whether it would be possible for three or four offences to arise out of the same incident and thus to give rise to what I might call a technical automatic disqualification. That is not at all the purpose of the Bill, and obviously, if we go on with it, that would be something we should have to look at and examine in detail.
As regards his question concerning the Magistrates' Courts Act, the procedure to which he referred is one which arises only on a plea of guilty, when a letter is sent and the witnesses are dispensed with. I should have thought that if there was any widespread disuse of what I agree is a valuable procedure, it could be only either because we had included in Part II of the Schedule offences which ought not to be there, or because the principle behind the clause, which is what we are now discussing, was wrong. I do not myself think that we ought to refuse to disqualify automatically, if that is the right course, simply because in some cases people would rather have their cases heard with witnesses and go there themselves in order to defend themselves than send a letter of admission to the court. If my noble friend will allow me to say so, I think that would be to put a slightly wrong sense of values into the scale.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I am grateful to my noble friend, but there is one further point—a rather technical one. Under the Magistrates' Courts Act, if a person pleads guilty to an offence by letter he cannot be disqualified, because he does not appear in court; and before he can be disqualified he must appear in court. Nevertheless, the Magistrates' Courts Act still operates in regard to Part II offences. Will the offence for 1224 which he has not been liable to disqualification, because he has responded under the Magistrates' Courts Act, nevertheless carry what one might call the qualification of disqualification: would that case count as one in the event of his receiving three subsequent convictions under Part II?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Certainly I think it was intended to do so; but I appreciate that what my noble friend has put to me is something that will have to be examined by the draftsman, because it must be determined beyond a peradventure one way or the other.
§ LORD GODDARD
The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, says that a man cannot be disqualified because he does not turn up. Certainly he cannot be disqualified in his absence; but if it is a disqualifiable offence, then the court will adjourn the case and send a summons to say that the defendant must attend.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
That is correct, of course and I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord for putting us both right.
I will not deal in detail with many of the other valuable contributions that have been made. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is, I think, a valuable one. In a subsequent Amendment he proposes that automatic disqualification on a third conviction should attach only where the earlier convictions involved a monetary penalty of not less than £5. That suggestion I should like to consider when I am considering the two suggestions of the noble Lords, Lord Cones-ford, and Lord Walston, because they are in the same class. They are probably alternative suggestions, and they could not all be accepted. I think the Committee must now make up its mind, as a matter of principle, whether it is prepared to attach an automatic penalty of disqualification to an habitual offender at all. If not, then it will save me a good deal of time in considering the reasonableness of various modifications of that principle. If the answer is, "Yes", then I think the Government must show themselves, and I hope will show themselves, as considerate as they can possibly be in considering the various 1225 alternative implications which have been suggested. If there is any point which I have unwittingly omitted, I will gladly remedy the omission, but I hope that I have made the issue as plain as I could.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Could the noble Viscount help the Committee by informing us what he calls an "habitual offender"? He leaves us in doubt. If a man is found habitually guilty of a major offence such as putting the lives of people in danger, that is one thing. But would he call anyone having convictions for three or four of these minor offences—or, as the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, said seventeen—an habitual offender? Clause 3 mixes the most serious offences and the most minor offences. What would the noble Viscount say was an habitual offender?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I do not think that carries the matter much further. I was using the term to cover an offender who had committed whatever number of offences, of whatever particular kind this Committee thought fit to put in Part II of the Schedule. I have already argued the point about what should and should not be in Part II of the Schedule. I certainly should not be prepared to confine it to dangerous and careless driving, for instance. If it was to be accepted as a principle, I should want it to include what I have described as breaches of the safety precautions with relation to motor vehicles. What exactly is to be taken as coming within that definition is something we should go into in detail only if the Committee is prepared to accept the broad principle.
As the Committee knows, the great majority of offences are already in Part III, and would not attract the disqualification penalty at all. Indeed, the inclusion in Part III of a number of offences has already given rise to criticism from my noble and learned friend. I do not think it would assist the Committee at all if I described in detail what I meant by "habitual", because clearly the Bill speaks for itself. The real question before the Committee is whether noble Lords are prepared to accept an automatic disqualification for repeated offences—if I may use that word without causing any difficulty or offence—or not. If not, we had far better know it now, and we can go on 1226 on that assumption. I hope that I have said that both courteously and with the belief that this would help the Committee in order to proceed on its further discussion of the Bill.
THE EARL OF WOOLTON
May I ask the noble Viscount a question? I feel extremely stupid after listening to his speech, because I just do not know what he wants us to do. We are going to vote. On what point are we going to vote: on the general principle, or on the Amendment that is before the Committee?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I had understood that the Amendment before the Committee raised a general principle, and therefore I was not in that difficulty. My noble friend is one of the most intelligent Members of your Lordships' House. How it comes about that he feels in any way lacking in what is one of his most salient characteristics, I am not at all sure. But if I may say so, I am not sure that he was here throughout the discussions, which may have been one of his difficulties.
The Committee is faced with an Amendment to omit the whole of subsection (3) of Clause 3. That is the only Amendment with which noble Lords are faced. I would ask them to vote on that. I said in my speech, and I thought it met with a certain measure of acceptance, even by those who favoured the clause, that this Amendment in the present form raises the general principle, and raises it in a fairly clear form, and that it would not be worth while discussing what ought to be included and what ought not to be included in Part II of the Schedule, if in fact the true view of the Committee was that nothing ought to be included because subsection (3) was in itself an unworkable proposition. I hope that. I have been able to explain that to my noble friend.
§ LORD CONESFORD
The view that subsection (3) is undesirable is perfectly compatible with the view that a great deal more ought to be put in Part II of the First Schedule.
Could my noble friend explain what he means by "repeated offences"? Does it mean offences of the same kind? I may put in a spare tail-lamp bulb because one of the two has gone out, and while it is out I am committing an offence. But the new one has been a bad one. There are so many trivial offences that it is quite possible that all three could happen at the same time.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think my noble friend is raising a point which I have dealt with in the course of the debate. Of course, it is perfectly arguable that lighting offences, because of what electric lights are, ought not to count for the purpose of automatic disqualification. It is perfectly open to my noble friend, if he thinks so, to put down an Amendment to the Schedule to omit them, and to omit any other offences which he thinks inappropriate. But it would not be worth while either his going to the trouble of doing so, or my redefining the contents of the Schedule, if the Committee as a whole is not prepared to accept the proposition, for instance, as regards careless driving, speeding offences and disregarding red traffic lights.
§ LORD SILKIN
May I ask the noble and learned Viscount before we vote—if we are going to vote—a further question? I think most of us feel that the subsection in its present form is unacceptable. Some of us feel that it cannot be made acceptable at all and that is why we object to it in principle. I myself feel that it could be made acceptable by Amendment. Are the Government prepared to give some sort of undertaking that they will amend the clause, or seek to amend it in such a way as to make it acceptable to a number of those noble Lords who criticise it in detail?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I should certainly try after this debate. I shall certainly bring it back and try to do that very thing. On the other hand, there are some people, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has frankly admitted, to whom the subsection would not be acceptable in any form. It is rather to ascertain that, before we go to the trouble of trying to recast it, that I think it far better and more sensible that the Committee should express an opinion in the only method open to it, otherwise I feel that I might be misunderstood or my undertaking considered too vague. I would far rather that those who think it unacceptable in any form should express that opinion in the Lobbies, not because I feel any resentment of what they have said, but because I should like to know how many have said so.
§ LORD DERWENT
May I say that I agree 100 per cent. with my noble Leader that this is entirely a question of principle. The view I take is that this subsection is not capable of amendment, because it is wrong in principle. It is wrong in principle for this reason: that it deals with offences which can be serious or can be trivial. The same offence can in different circumstances be either. And nobody is going to be allowed to say whether it is trivial or whether it is serious. All that can be said is that it is an offence, and the courts, who are the proper people to say whether a thing is trivial or not, according to the evidence, will have no say in the matter. My case is that that is wrong in principle and that this subsection as such ought to come right out.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 52; Not-Contents, 77.1229
|Airedale, L.||Conesford, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Craigmyle, L.||Hawke, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Croft, L.||Howe, E.|
|Arran, E.||Derwent, L.[Teller.]||Jessel, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Devonport, V.||Lindgren, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Exeter, M.||Lloyd, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Ferrers, E.||Long, V.|
|Birdwood, L.||Foley, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Fortescue, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Cawley, L.||Gage, V.||Mersey, V.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Goschen, V.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Grenfell, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Northesk, E.||Sinclair of Cleeve, L.||Teynham, L. [Teller.]|
|Raglan, L.||Sinha, L.||Torrington, V.|
|Rea, L.||Somers, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Strathcarron, L.||Twining, L.|
|Saltoun, L.||Terrington, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Hastings, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Amory, V.||Henderson, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Horsbrugh, B.||Robins, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Attlee, E.||Iddesleigh, E.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Salter, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Shackleton, L.|
|Bossom, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Boyd-Orr, L.||Lansdowne, M.||Simonds, V.|
|Carrington, L.||Latham, L.||Sinclair, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Lawson, L.||Soulbury, V.|
|Chorley, L.||Listowel, E.||Stonham, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Lothian, M.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Luke, L.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Margesson, V.||Stuart of Findhorn, V.|
|Crathorne, L.||Merrivale, L.||Summerskill, B.|
|Denning, L.||Merthyr, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Milverton, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Molson, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Dynevor, L.||Monsell, V.||Teviot, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Walston, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Morris of Borth-y-Gest, L.||Williams, L.|
|Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Morrison of Lambeth, L.||Williams of Barnburgh, L.|
|Goddard, L.||Newton, L. [Teller.]||Wise, L.|
|Guest, L.||Parker of Waddington, L.||Woolton, E.|
|Hailsham, V. (L. President.)||Peddie, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE moved, in sub-section (3) after "Part I or" to insert: "paragraphs 8, 9, or 11 of". The noble Lord said, My Lords I beg to move Amendment No. 26 on the Marshalled List which stands in the names of my noble friend Lord Hawke and myself, and I trust that it will commend itself to your Lordships. It is a compromise, and I hope that it will satisfy you in so far as I feel it should be in agreement with some of the proposals put forward by my noble Leader and also with the views of other noble Lords who have spoken on the previous Amendment.
§ The purpose of this Amendment is to retain only three compulsory disqualification offences under Part II of the Bill—namely, dangerous driving, if the offence was committed beyond three years of a previous similar offence; careless driving, under Section 3 of the principal Act; and being in charge of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drink or drugs, as defined by Section 6 (2) of the principal Act. With regard to the other offences contained in Part II of the Bill, the courts would retain their 1230 discretionary powers with regard to disqualification. Noble Lords may ask: why not include also speeding, or leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position? To that, I would reply that, with these offences, it would often be a question of degree. Therefore, I think it should be left to the court to decide, after hearing all the relevant evidence, whether or not to disqualify.
§ I think it would be quite wrong compulsorily to disqualify anyone for at least six months for a third offence within three years. The person concerned may be a doctor, a lawyer, the driver of a public service vehicle or the holder of an A licence. Any one of these persons that I have mentioned may just slightly have exceeded the 30 miles an hour speed limit in a built-up area, and at a time of day when there was no traffic about. I will not develop that point as it has been mentioned earlier to-day by other noble Lords as a very minor technical offence. Equally, it seems to me quite wrong that there should be a compulsory disqualification for three consecutive offences involving, for instance, regulations which appertain to the construction and use of vehicles—that is, with regard to vehicle lights, safety glass windscreens 1231 and hooters. Those are very minor offences.
§ A driver may commit his third offence by parking his car with its lights switched on, on the wrong side of the road—that is with the car facing oncoming traffic. He may have parked it there when there was no traffic, and it may have been convenient for him to pull up outside his house. Again, in my humble submission, that would be a minor, technical offence. But again it would add up with others to compulsory disqualification for six months. Surely such regulations will impose greater hardship upon a driver whose livelihood depends upon his being able to drive than upon a person who drives solely for pleasure, the Sunday driver. The chances of committing a minor offence increase with increasing mileage. That point was stressed by my noble and learned Leader, as well as by my noble friend Lord Derwent.
I turn to offences against traffic orders, involving "No Entry", "No Parking", "Keep Left" or "Keep Right", and "One-Way Street" signs. The Minister is at present initiating various one-way schemes. Such a regulation could often, quite unjustifiably, call for compulsory disqualification. I think that the following brief extract from an article which appeared yesterday in the Daily Telegraph may be of interest as it affects this question. The article reads:
Smooth flow in one-way experiment. Drivers found little difficulty in negotiating the comprehensive one-way traffic system which came into operation yesterday in the Tottenham Court Road-Gower Street area. But more temporary route direction signs may be needed if confusion is to be avoided under weekday rush-hour conditions. Some of the present signs could be obscured by buses when traffic is heavy and drivers might easily find themselves in the wrong lane.
On February 28, in the Evening Standard there was an article which mentioned new signs, again in that area. The article goes on to say:
One sign is for a left-hand diversion before a right turn prohibition.
A single confusion with regard to such a sign may again be a case which could lead, if it was a third offence, to compulsory disqualification.
§ Finally—and this is a point which was raised by my noble friend Lord Teynham and by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford—there is this question. I am 1232 glad that the noble Viscount my Leader is going to look into it. If one had committed three minor technical offences on one occasion I think it would be absolutely wrong that they should count (to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin) towards compulsory disqualification. I am completely in agreement with my noble and learned Leader when he says that one wishes to impose restrictions on the persistent or habitual (or whatever the term may be) offender. But I should like to see them applied only in cases of driving under the influence of drink or drugs or when dangerous or careless driving is involved. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 34, after ("or") insert ("paragraphs 8, 9 or 11 of").—(Lord Merrivale.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
I think perhaps it might be useful in some ways if I repeat, very briefly, what it was the Government set out to do with this Bill. I should like specifically to mention what I myself said on Second Reading. I said that the Government felt that the best method of dealing with misbehaviour and bad behaviour on the roads was by a much greater use of disqualification, both for serious offenders and for those who, by their habitual offences, prove that they ought to be off the road. When I said that a goodly number of your Lordships said, "Hear, hear!" Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the principle of disqualification to be applied to drivers who commit serious offences or who show that they are unreliable kinds of people to have about the road seemed to commend itself to a fair number of your Lordships.
The cumulative system has been put forward, and the Government tried in Part II of the First Schedule, at great length, I may tell you—they leant over backwards—to limit it to those offences which would be acceptable in that category. That attempt may not have been perfect. I do not think that anyone at any stage has made any bones about the fact that it will be necessary, when we came to that Schedule, to discuss individual offences and whether they should be in or whether they should not. But we made what we thought was a very good attempt. It seems now, in view of what has been said this afternoon, that we shall certainly have to see whether we cannot find some way of 1233 sorting the sheep from the goats. Particularly in a number of cases, it would appear to be necessary to sort the back half of the sheep from the front half of the sheep, or something like that.
This afternoon noble Lords from all over the House have been at tremendous pains to emphasise what they regarded as the trivial nature of many of these offences. They have completely left out, and nobody has mentioned, the other extreme of the scale. My noble friend Lord Merrivale was talking about the technical, trivial innocence of his friend who left his car parked on the offside of the road with side-lights on, facing the oncoming traffic. He claimed that it did nobody any harm. But has he thought about it in a slight mist that might spring up? Has he thought about the crash that ensues when you find a car in front of you and automatically swing to the right, and find that it is parked on the wrong side of the road?
My noble friend Lord Derwent nearly made our eyes weep with his story of the lorry-driver whose tail-light had inadvertently gone out and who was pulled up by a policeman for committing an offence. I would sympathise, and I quite agree, with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren; I have the greatest admiration for lorry drivers as a race, and I certainly do not want them to be disqualified or prosecuted. I think they have a big burden to bear. I am sorry to continue about this point, but the noble Lord started it. He did not say anything about the kind of thing that happens when that lorry suddenly turns up somewhere in the dark and someone crashes into its unlighted back. He did not make that point. I could go on right through the whole of Part II of the Schedule making that kind of point about every offence.
Therefore, I do not believe that we should accept this Amendment in the form in which my noble friend Lord Merrivale has moved it. I think it is much too narrow. I have admitted that we have to look at it again to try to find how to sort the trivial from the important. But if we are to accept the principle, which has just been accepted by the Committee, that we must have disqualification for the habitual offender, there must be some offences entailing disqualification for him to commit. My noble friend cannot persuade me that he 1234 is picking out serious offences by specifying only the three paragraphs which he has specified, Nos. 8, 9 and 11, when he is leaving out, as he admits, speeding, which can just as well be 75 m.p.h. in a built-up area as the 31 m.p.h. which is the highest speed yet mentioned in this debate.
Another point on that matter is this. I do not know that many people are prosecuted for doing 31 m.p.h. If the traffic we see around is anything to go by, the answer is that they definitely are not. I think that these cases have been slightly overrated as regards what is possible in this connection and what in fact happens in real life. The traffic streams along at speeds which are greater—we shall discuss this matter again when we come to speed limits. I am merely emphasising the point that prosecutions and convictions that are possible for these very trivial things are not in fact very frequent.
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but apropos of speeding, if anybody was doing 75 m.p.h. in a built-up area he would be prosecuted for dangerous driving. Where we have a speed limit, where one does one mile an hour over that limit one is technically speeding. If my noble friend expects anybody to drive with his eyes glued to the speedometer, then we shall certainly have a good many more accidents.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I find the Minister's explanation peculiarly unconvincing. I have been listening to what he says.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
am sorry. I hope that the next half will be more convincing than the first.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I had several points that I wanted to make, and I crave the indulgence of the Committee because I believe I perhaps led myself away into using too many cases to prove my point. I apologise to noble Lords if perhaps I did get off a little on to things that I should not be discussing; but that was the point. To be brief and, I hope, a little more convincing, if you are going to have this system, I do not think you can ignore and allow people 1235 to "get away with" offences such as ignoring pedestrian crossings, ignoring school crossing patrols, failing to stop after an accident—which is not a technical offence, because we hear quite a lot about it and "hit-and-run" drivers—and offences of that kind. This schedule of offences in respect of which obligatory disqualification is to be applied after three convictions must be a realistic one. We will try, as I said, to make it realistic, and will try to rule out the trivial, but I must resist what my noble friend has suggested, because it makes it too narrow. We ought to look at what offences should be in when we get to the Schedule, and examine them all individually. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will not press his Amendment at the present time.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I must say that I find the second half of the Minister's speech slightly more convincing than the first half. If, with great respect, I may make a criticism, I would say that he embarked upon wide generalities of a nature with which we all agree: the main purpose of the Bill, the serious offences, habitual offenders, the unreliable conduct—all grand generalisations which do not really deal with the specific Amendment which my noble friend Lord Merrivale has put forward. Accepting the argument of the Minister that he must look again at the Schedule, I ask whether it would not be quite reasonable to accept Lord Merrivale's Amendment and then for the Government themselves, at a later stage, to bring forward certain further additions to the list of offences as to which there shall be no discretion, on the lines of Lord Merrivale's Amendment. It is all very well to disparage the trivial but, as I read the Bill at present, if somebody was confused in the new Hyde Park circus, he could, under paragraph 12, commit an offence; the gentleman of whom we have heard quite a lot to-day, who has done 31 miles an hour when he ought to have been doing only 30, even though it may be he was doing 31 in order to pass some vehicle in the interests of safety, has committed an offence. And then, finally, a Member of your Lordships' House who has perhaps committed those two offences and who has a house in Cowley Street, Westminster, 1236 and puts two wheels of his car on the pavement, would be liable for an offence under paragraph 17, and would therefore automatically have his licence suspended for six months. I really think the Government might be a little more forthcoming. Am I wrong in that?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think that in that case my noble friend is wrong. He is making a very good paint, but No. 17 is a bad example of it.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
Well, one could quote cases of three different, trivial offences, and then comes the automatic suspension, which is neither what the Government want nor what the ordinary public will accept. Therefore, while agreeing with the broad generalisations so admirably exposed by the Minister on Second Reading and during this stage of the Bill, I would ask whether he could not accept Lord Merrivale's Amendment on the understanding that, later on, further exceptions will be added in the same way as Lord Merrivale suggests, of offences for which automatic disqualification should take place. It is really doing the same thing the other way round. Would the Minister do that?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think the convenient course is really what my noble friend has suggested. I agree that we have first of all to consider subsection (3)—and, of course, a good deal will depend upon the, particular way in which we decide to amend that. At least two suggestions were made in the course of the last debate that there should be a limited discretion. Speaking for myself, I am attracted to there being a limited discretion if it can be drafted in such a way as to be really effective. Obviously, I cannot commit myself on that point this afternoon, because I shall have to consult my colleagues, and I may be wrong about it, but I am attracted to there being a limited discretion. If there is a limited discretion, what I would put in Part II of the Schedule would depend, up to a point, upon the way in which I recast subsection (3). For instance, if my noble friend will look at paragraph 22—this was an item, I think, which brought some of the strongest commendation on Second Reading, dealing as it does with the offence of failing to stop after an accident (I may be wrong; we most of us have different opinions about this, and many 1237 of the opinions I express are necessarily individual, but I regard that as one of the worst offences after the first class)—he will see that if that were the only reason why I could not accept the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, it would still be a good one.
When I came to the House this afternoon I naturally thought that, of the Amendments down on the "menu", those of the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, and myself were by far the best dealing with this particular clause but as the argument developed, at very treat length, during the course of the afternoon, I came to the conclusion that we were getting involved in a completely impossible situation, and that the only correct solution was the "root and branch" one, which was to expunge subsection (3). Accordingly, I voted for striking it out. I am sorry I was on the losing side, because I think it would have saved Her Majesty's Government a great deal of difficulty, for they would then have known exactly where they stood, whereas now they do not.
My noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary has tried to attack this particular Amendment and, frankly, in so doing I thought he made a wonderful case for it; because it became perfectly clear that every one of these listed offences contains a triviality and a gravity. It is quite impossible for a code of legislation to lay down in advance what would be an appropriate and correct penalty for each one of the degrees of triviality and gravity which exist within the same offence. It is like trying to classify all the offences in the calendar under degrees of gravity, and informing the court precisely what sentence it is to impose in each of them in advance. I do believe that Her Majesty's Government will have to go back to the system of the existing law, under which the court is given discretion to decide between the gravities and the trivialities.
Many instances have been given, but I greatly welcome the statement of my noble friend on the question of speeding, because, as the law stands at the moment and as the situation lay before this afternoon, it seemed to me utterly immoral to bring in legislation which could deprive a professional driver of his livelihood for something which every 1238 professional driver in the country is doing most of his driving time and which, if he did not do it, would result in completely snarling up the traffic. That is one reason why I could not agree to include speeding among these three that my noble friend and I have lifted out as being of rather greater gravity than some of the others. But I would suggest to my noble friend that he should not press this Amendment at this stage, but should leave the Government to consider the whole of subsection (3), and see what sort of subsection emerges at the next stage of the Bill.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
I feel that a number of your Lordships went into the Division Lobby just now to support the Government in the hope that they would accept some of these Amendments. I think this Amendment: is a very reasonable one to accept, because there can be no question that the paragraphs which it is suggested should be affected under subsection (3) are those which, if the offence was repeated three times in three years, would carry compulsory disqualification. The offences that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, mentioned—there were quite a number of them—were, as has also been said, those which are entirely dependent upon degree. To my mind, he overlooked completely the fact that disqualification was discretionary in all those cases. If they are bad cases, the magistrates have the opportunity to disqualify, without having to consider whether they must compulsorily put on an extra six months because it is the third offence. I feel that this Amendment is one which the Government should certainly accept, and I hope that the noble Lord who moved it will press it.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
With respect, I am supremely unconvinced by my noble friend Lord Chesham's speech. I think this Amendment has a lot to commend it. Like others, I think it would have been better if we "chucked out" subsection (3) root and branch; but if we cannot do that, I feel that at least we should get the offences into reasonable categories. To try to classify dangerous driving committed otherwise than as mentioned in paragraph 3 of this Schedule (it still remains dangerous driving, even if it is only the first offence) in the same category as contravention of pedestrian-crossing regulations, or 1239 going down a one-way street the wrong way, which offence a driver commits certainly unintentionally, purely because he fails to see the sign at night, is, in my opinion, quite ridiculous.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, this Bill applies to Scotland, too, and in Scotland we do not have any magistrates. We have professional law officers called "sheriffs" to deal with cases of this sort, and I think that in the more serious cases the sheriffs would not hesitate to disqualify people. They have done so in the past, and they will do so again. It is well known which counties have what are, from the drivers' point of view, the bad sheriffs, and which counties have the rather better sheriffs. I would ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would consider, if they still fancy subsection (3), whether they might not exclude Scotland, where the whole setup of jurisdiction is somewhat different.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I do not think we could discuss the omission of Scotland from subsection (3) on an Amendment which confines the application of subsection (3) to three known offences in Part II of the Schedule. I think we should get ourselves into very serious procedural trouble if we did that.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am afraid that that is also outside the scope of my noble friend's Amendment. I have certainly taken note of everything which has been said. I am far from saying that we cannot, when we come to discuss these things, give effect to a great deal of what has been said, but I would far rather leave it, on this Amendment, exactly where my noble friend would have done, bearing in mind that we shall have the opportunity of discussing individually each one of these offences on the Schedule. It may be there are some who favour the inclusion of one, but will not favour the inclusion of the other. I still think that that is the handsome way of dealing with it, because then we can discuss the things separately. I am very sympathetic to what has been said, and I assure my noble friends that this matter will be looked at very carefully in the light of the debate.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
May I ask the noble and learned Viscount, if he intends to deal with it in that way, how he will get over the difficulty of removing an offence from Part II in order to avoid its coming under subsection (3) of Clause 3, and yet keep a discretionary disqualification for the magistrates? If you are simply going to exclude it from Part II, you have done away with the discretion to disqualify.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
That difficulty need not arise. I agree that it is one of the issues which may have to be faced, and I am glad the noble Lord has raised it; but that need not arise, and for this reason. If, for instance, you think that the tail-light one (which I think is the last but one on the Schedule) ought not to be in Part II, it is probably because you think it should not carry a disqualification at all, and certainly that would be my view. I think the real choice with half of these offences is to say that they are primarily the kind of offence which is too chancy to make the subject of disqualification. If it does arise—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am sorry; I will give way, but I should like to conclude my argument. If it does arise—and it will arise in relation to some of the offences—if it is desired to exclude them from the automatic disqualification, it could be discussed very much better after we had had a preliminary discussion on the Schedule. There are at least two ideas in my mind which would give effect to that, if it were the wish of the Committee.
What I have been particularly anxious about with regard to these Schedule offences is that we should at any rate go through them on Committee stage and see what noble Lords think about them individually. Because my experience, if I may say so, inside the Government machine is that it is very difficult to tell in advance what public opinion will be, and I should welcome the views of the Committee before finally adopting an attitude to any one of them. It may be that we are driven, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said in an earlier speech on an earlier Amendment, to a third category of 1241 offence—namely, those which carry discretionary disqualifications without the necessity of an automatic disqualification attaching to a number of offences. I am anxious to avoid that category if I can, because I think it will unnecessarily corn-plicate the Bill and make it less easy to understand. But if there should turn out to be a large number of these cases, when we look at them in detail, obviously I shall have -to give effect to them. The point is that, if there were only one or two, then I think the disadvantages would outweigh the advantages.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
I hope that your Lordships will not mind my mentioning it again, but I should like to point out to the noble Viscount No. 12, "failure to comply with traffic directions". That, as I mentioned on the previous Amendment, can vary so widely between the double white line and others that I think it would be dangerous to take it out from the discretionary disqualification.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am fully alive to the noble Lord's point, and it may well be a good one. The only thing is that I am anxious not to complicate the matter, and I am sure he agrees with the necessity for that. Secondly, there must come a point with all these offences, which can cause danger, at which, if you commit enough of them, it is your record which disqualifies you, not the last offence.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
Before withdrawing this Amendment, I should like to say that I am very sorry that my noble and learned Leader cannot see fit to accept the suggestion put forward by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I should have thought that it would be equally feasible to discuss various Amendments in the Schedule, once one had accepted this Amendment, if one tabled further Amendments which affected the Schedules. I should have thought this was an effort, as it was put by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, to sort out the sheep from the goats.
I do not propose to press the Amendment to-day, in view of what was a favourable undertaking given by my noble Leader to look at the whole question again in the light of what has been said with regard to this Amendment, though I think that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, was a little unfair when he referred to the driver who was parked 1242 with lights. If he had pulled out in a dangerous manner, say, in a mist, then I should have thought the court would disqualify him. Also if someone drove at 75 m.p.h. in a 30 m.p.h. speed limit, that would be definite speeding, and no minor technical offence; and again I should have thought that the court would disqualify. But I am very grateful to my noble Leader for his undertaking to look at this point again, and beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.41 p.m.
The object of this Amendment is to ensure that no individual should be unfairly or unreasonably disqualified for offences which do not actually involve danger. I may be wrong, but I understood my noble friend the Leader of the House to say, during one of the discussions to-day, that disqualification would depend on whether the offence would have caused an accident. I think that my Amendment meets his point. As I told the Committee on Amendment No. 25, many of the offences in Part II of the First Schedule are purely technical, and to extend automatic disqualification to them in all cases would lead to great unfairness, and in some cases to extreme hardship. I suggest that my Amendment covers the point that really matters—that is, danger—and it would not preclude Amendments to Part II. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 34, leave out ("or the said Part II") and insert ("or of an offence specified in the said Part II which in the opinion of the Court involved actual danger").—(Lord Teynham.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
I cannot help having some sympathy with the case that my noble friend Lord Teynham has made in moving his Amendment and it has certain superficial attractions. It is another attempt to try to sort the sheep from the goats, and to emphasise that in the case of offences in Part II there is in every one of them the possibility of danger or no danger. It has also been attempted, in the words of my noble friend, to sort out gravity and triviality. What, in effect, would the noble Lord's Amendment do? It would create a situation which would be difficult—perhaps almost impossible; because it is possible 1243 to visualise situations which one would regard as definitely dangerous—for instance if a motorist went down Regent Street at 60 or 70 m.p.h., or went round a blind corner on the wrong side, or went over the double white lines. Yet if he was able to prove that it did not actually endanger anybody, he might "get away with it". I do not think that that would be right. It is even possible to argue that, having been run in for dangerous driving, a motorist might be able to prove that it was in fact not dangerous. That would create a peculiar position.
§ LORD CHESHAM
But if this is included in the Bill, it becomes incumbent on the court to decide whether every individual offence causes danger or not. This would cause great difficulties for the court and for the prosecution, and it might well be for the defence as well. The courts would have to decide not only whether or not a defendant was guilty but whether danger was involved. I hope that, following the suggestion of my noble Leader about tackling the whole of this matter, my noble friend will not wish to press his Amendment now.
§ LORD DERWENT
If my noble friend withdraws his Amendment would my noble friend Lord Chesham consider some wording such asor an offence specified in Part II which in the opinion of the court was likely to involve danger in all the circumstances of the case".That would give the court jurisdiction to say that where a motorist had obviously pulled out without looking it was likely to involve danger in all the circumstances of the case. He would not then have to prove that there was actual danger, but only that the circumstances of the case were likely to cause danger.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think that we could consider this, of course, in relation to the other undertakings made. My difficulty about the use of the word "danger" is that it is much more difficult to construe than it seems at first sight. If you point a gun which is not loaded at somebody, is that causing 1244 actual danger? I should have said not, and some would say to the contrary but I should have thought it a good reason for taking a boy's gun away. If a person goes round a blind corner on the wrong side and there is not a car there, is it causing actual danger? I should have thought probably not. On the other hand, it is a dangerous practice which, if done habitually, would land people in accidents. For this very reason I am not attracted by the word "danger". I will look at the phrase used by my noble friend. It is clear that I shall have to do some hard thinking before Report, but I will try to think of some way of giving effect to what my noble friend has in mind.
§ LORD GODDARD
I should like to support the view of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in this matter. One of the difficulties so often found in these cases in the High Court is that an offence has been committed. Somebody has done something which the Act says he is not to do. Often the excuse which followed was that there was no accident or no actual danger. But it is the blessing of Providence that people have got away without danger. The real effort of the Bill is directed at matters which are thought to be dangerous, which can cause danger. It is no merit to the defendant, if he has violated the Act, that he has, fortunately, got away without any danger.
I hesitate to question the noble and learned Viscount, but does he really think that driving at 31 m.p.h. can cause danger?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I do not want to talk too much or too often, but surely the answer to my noble friend is this. You must first make up your mind whether it is for the safety of vehicles on the road that you have a speed limit at all. It may be that we have the wrong ones. I think my noble friend will be agreeably surprised before long when he finds that some of them are revised—and they ought to be revised, if we are to enforce them properly, because unless they carry the motoring public with them they will not do any good. But, having made up your mind that you are going to have a speed limit, it must be expressed in miles per hour. The sea-lawyer may argue that if 39 m.p.h. is all right, 41 m.p.h. is only 2 m.p.h. more, 1245 but this makes no sense in the end. If you are going to have a speed limit you must take a point beyond which it is an offence to drive.
In order to make that work fairly, I think most police forces, and I daresay I should be right in saying all police forces, usually give a good margin of practical error in administering the law, and make sure the people whom they prosecute have gone above the limit. But it is impossible to talk in terms of any offences of this kind—that is to say, red traffic lights, speed limits and so on—without realising that you are substituting certain arbitrary safety precautions (as I prefer to call them) for the offence of dangerous driving: because certain practices are, in fact, dangerous if they are carried out by motorists at large. One must face the fact that, where there are 9 million vehicles on the road and casualties happening at the rate that they are, motorists must observe a code of behaviour in the interests of safety, and not say simply that it is only 1 m.p.h. above the limit in the Act, provided you are satisfied with the limit.
I am equally anxious to prevent accidents as the noble and learned Viscount, but I cannot see that that is even one of the chief causes of accidents or of danger. However, on his assurance that a reasonable margin will be given, I withdraw anything that I have said.
I appreciate the view put forward by the noble and learned Viscount as regards the difficulty of the word "danger" in a court of law. I understand that he is prepared to look at the words "likely to cause danger" put forward by my noble friend Lord Derwent, and on that understanding, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD AIREDALE
Before the noble Lord withdraws it, may I suggest that perhaps the word "likely" is a little strong, and that "liable to cause danger" might be a better expression?
§ LORD DERWENT
I think the right words are, "likely to involve some kind of danger", as used by my noble friend Lord Dundee on Second Reading.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1246
§ 5.55 p.m.
LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (3), after the second "convicted" to insert:
and sentenced to a fine of not less than five pounds.
The noble Lord said: This Amendment is another attempt to meet the difficulties about which nearly every noble Lord has spoken on this clause: that is, to distinguish between offences which are grave, those which are less grave and those which some noble Lords have described as technical. The point of this Amendment is that if the courts have inflicted a penalty of a fine of not less than £5 that is a measure of the gravity which they attach to the offence. If the fine is less than £5, then it can be assumed that the court did not take a very serious view of the offence. I put this forward. The noble and learned Viscount has said that he will examine it with other Amendments and see whether something can be evolved from the various suggestions made. I do not wish to press the Amendment at the moment, and I have said all that I need say in support of it. I should like to move it, and have it put, and then I propose to withdraw it. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 36, after ("convicted") insert the said words.—(Lord Silkin.)
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
As I have said, this Amendment will be examined with other suggestions, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for putting it forward. The part of it which is unattractive to me is the danger that the courts might inflict a penalty of lower than £5 when it deserved intrinsically more, in order to avoid the consequence of endorsement and disqualification. I would rather achieve the object by some other means if I could.
§ LORD SILKIN
I was rather expecting some noble Lord to stand up in horror at the thought that magistrates would do any such thing. But I see the point. It is something that ought to be considered in relation to the whole matter, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD moved, in subsection (3), to leave out "two" and insert "five" 1247 [occasions]. The noble Viscount said: The ground has been fully covered in regard to offences under Part II, and I do not propose to repeat what has already been said. Some of these offences are those of emitting smoke, making excessive noise, ignoring a sign, breaking the speed limit, or of having one of your rear lights out; and, as has been pointed out, some of them are absurdly trivial. I have been driving along and a stone has smashed one of my rear lights. That could hardly be said to be my fault. What I am really concerned about is the driver who earns his living by driving. We have heard a lot about lorry drivers, and I think they have a case here. I voted for the Amendment to strike out subsection (3).
§ I asked the noble and learned Viscount earlier whether he could explain to me the legal implications of "special reasons", because if, as I have already said, these two words cover a driver who earns his living by driving, or an overanxious husband who is dashing to the hospital when his wife is in danger, then subsection (3) might be more agreeable. I have looked up some old law cases on these words "special reasons", and I have come to the conclusion that under the existing law "special reasons" do not apply to the offender. If a man is driving too fast, that does not come under "special reasons". If he happened to strike a patch of ice or oil on the road, that would appear to come under "special reasons". I should like to have this point clarified, if it is possible, because the clause has a great bearing on these words. If the courts have great discretion, then this clause is not so severe; but if the courts have no great discretion I call it very severe. I hope my noble Leader can give me some guidance on this word "special". I beg to move.
Page 2, line 36, leave out ("two") and insert ("five").—(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)
LORD SOM̃ ERS
My noble friend has mentioned one class of drivers, those who earn their living by driving. Might I mention one other class—those who live in very remote parts of the country where there is literally no other means of transport?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
This was to have been an Amendment replied to by my noble friend, but the point which is raised is perhaps one rather for me, if I can answer it at all. I must apologise to my noble friend who asked the question for having forgotten to answer it when he raised it, quite properly, in relation to the retention of subsection (3). He is quite right that the words "special reasons" have been given a meaning by the courts. There are a whole series of cases, and one of the reasons which makes me refrain from giving a clear answer is that the learned Judge who decided almost all the cases is sitting there looking at me from the Cross Benches, and perhaps the answer would come rather better from him than from me.
Broadly speaking (I speak subject to correction, from that or any other source) I think I am right in saying that it has been decided, at any rate in relation to the existing case, that where the words "special reasons" have been used they mean special to the offence; not special to the offender. I am bound to say that that is not Clause 3; no case has been decided under Clause 3, because of course that has not yet been passed into law. But where they have been used, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, sitting judicially, decided that the reasons were special to the offence and not to the offender. That is the formula which was used. I am not quite sure that, in the first instance he gave on the earlier Amendment, my noble friend appreciated fully the distinction between "offence" and "offender." If I may take an example—again I speak subject to correction—my recollection is something like this. It is not a reason for avoiding an automatic disqualification that a man drives for a living. That is special to the offender, if it is special at all. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, said that it was not special at all: it was as general as it could be. On the other hand, supposing one can find a very special set of circumstances relating to the offence itself, then that is a matter which the court can consider and exempt from disqualification.
If one were to start giving examples, one would have to go into very intricate detail, and very often get it wrong, because it is not an easy conception. I would say this to my noble friend. I am 1249 again on his question, rather than on his particular Amendment, which was for five previous convictions only to count. Since I have heard this debate and heard his questions on this point, I am not absolutely sure in my own mind that, in relation to what the Government have intended for the purpose of subsection (3), the word "special" ought to be used in the same sense as it was used in relation to the other automatic disqualification where the noble and learned Lord decided the matter, because in relation to subsection (3) we are dealing with a series of offences. I think if one was then going to apply the noble and learned Lord's judgment to a series of offences, we might get into serious difficulty unless one said that they did not apply at all. Therefore, when I gave an undertaking that the wording of Clause 3 would be considered again before the Report stage, I had it expressly in mind that the suitability of this particular phrase limiting the court's discretion in the matter was one of the things that I should ask the draftsmen to look at, for the very reason my noble friend suggested. I do not think it is necessary, if I may say so, for my noble friend Lord Chesham to deal with the point about five, because I know what he would have said, which is that five is too many, and that the sixth offence is too many, although obviously we consider there is nothing sacrosanct about two and one.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I thank the noble and learned Viscount for his explanation. I am extremely sorry to hear that he considers that five offences is too many, because with these trivial offences I cannot see how they can be. Could my noble friend give me an assurance? The noble and learned Viscount said that he would probably re-draft subsection (3). I hope that when the draftsmen are re-drafting that subsection, they will try to include five instead of three. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD GODDARD
As the noble Viscount gave an undertaking earlier to consider the words in this Amendment, I wonder whether he would look at them in the same way at the end of the subsection. Might I remind him that there is a provision in the Act of 1930 for a 1250 person who drives when he is disqualified? The Act provides that he shall be sent to prison unless the court decides for special reasons that a fine would meet the case. I think that might come in. I have not put down an Amendment because I overlooked it at the time, but perhaps the noble Viscount would look into it at the same time. I beg to move.
Page, 2, line 39, after ("reasons") insert ("which shall be stated in open court and entered in the court register").—(Lord Goddard.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
Of course I am very happy to do the same with this Amendment as with the previous one if the noble and learned Lord is agreeable. I am grateful to him for drawing my attention to the other point, where we can no doubt consider doing the same sort of thing.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved to leave out Clause 3 and to insert the following new clause:
§ Compulsory disqualification
§ "3.—(1) Where a person is convicted of one of the offences specified in the first column of the table below, the court shall order him to be disqualified in accordance with the second and third columns of the table.
|Offence||Conviction||Minimum period of disqualification|
|An offence under s. 4 of the principal Act (Speeding).||First Second Third||None One month Six months|
|An offence under s. 3 of the principal Act (Careless driving).||First Second Third||None Three months Twelve months|
|An offence under s. 2 of the principal Act (Dangerous driving etc.).||First Second Third||Six months Twelve months Two years|
|An offence under s. 6(1) of the principal Act (Driving etc. under the influence of drink or drugs).||First Second Third||Twelve months Two years Life|
§ (2)"There shall be no appeal, except on a point of law, from an order made under this section; and no application may be made for the removal of any disqualification ordered under this section."1251
§ The noble Lord said: This was my attempt to clarify the position, which I viewed as so obscure, in subsection (3) of this clause. I took, and I still take, the view that the four most serious offences of causing danger to the public, speeding, careless driving, dangerous driving and driving under the influence of drink or drugs, should be separated from all these other technical and trivial offences, and that there should be a clear-cut schedule of penalties. It is no good denying that the penalty of disqualification, while it is the best weapon to solve the problem which we are trying to solve, has not been used to anything like the degree it should be.
It is no good getting away from facts, and the facts are these. Up to 1959—these are the latest figures available of all the convictions for all these offences for which the magistrates had discretionary powers to disqualify and the court had to disqualify compulsorily, which under the 1960 Act was only for driving under the influence of drink or drugs—the number of disqualifications was 3 per cent, of the convictions. That is one of the reasons why we have never been able to tackle the problem, because the penalties have never proved a sufficient deterrent. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, in a speech made in your Lordships' House yesterday (I regret I did not hear it, but I read it) said these words. She was talking on the Criminal Justice Bill, and she was saying that all connected with the problem had to be humble, even modest and even ashamed. She went on to say [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 230 (No. 72), col. 1156]:
And if I may say so without disrespect, that surely goes for Her Majesty's Judges, for magistrates and for prison officials. For we are all great failures. The evidence, my Lords, lies in the criminal statistics.
§ The failure of the courts to get to grips with this great social problem of road casualties lies in the statistics. I listened this afternoon with the greatest respect and interest to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and your Lordships have made a certain decision. Whether your Lordships know what you have decided I have my grave doubts. However, I am still hopeful that the Government will take into consideration the principle at least of what I have 1252 tried to put into this Amendment; that there should be a schedule of minimum penalties of disqualification. And I stress that these are only minimum penalties. I have none for the first offence of speeding, and none for the first offence of careless driving; but that does not inhibit magistrates' courts from disqualifying for any length of time they like, as these are minimum periods of disqualification and not actual fixed periods of disqualification.
§ The period I suggest goes up in progression, and if that will not bring these errant motorists, these careless motorists, to their senses then I do not know what will. Your Lordships will notice that I am particularly severe upon the offence of driving under the influence of drink or drugs, and on the third conviction I would take the licence away for life: I would not allow the person on the road. If a driver—and I care not whether he is a public service driver or an ordinary motorist—cannot behave himself on the roads of this country, and drive with due consideration for other road users and pedestrians and everybody else, then he should not be allowed to drive at all.
§ That is the principle, and I do not believe we are going to make any progress—and I say this quite sincerely to the noble Viscount—on the main problem while we tie that main problem into a lot of inconsequential petty offences and trivial offences in which it should be, as has been said by so many noble Lords this afternoon, within the discretion of the magistrates' benches to assess the degree of danger. As I tried to point out earlier this afternoon, there are many degrees of danger; in some of these trivial offences, the danger is small. In others, far-reaching offences, it may be great. The case was cited of taking away a car without the owner's permission. It is a sad thought that the chief weapon of most of the criminal gangs of this country is a motor car. A great deal of the juvenile delinquency of this country is due to a motor car and a mechanically propelled bicycle. It is necessary, in my view, to take the strongest possible measures against those who are guilty of these offences. In drafting this clause I have tried to put in what I thought was the main thing we want to do and to leave the rest of the offences to be covered by the 1960 Act. 1253 There are sixteen specific offences in the Eleventh Schedule to the 1960 Act which are now removed from discretionary disqualification by the magistrates.
§ Your Lordships will see that I say that there should be no appeal, except on a point of law, and there should be no remission. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in his Amendment, which is to come later, means that he would not have any remission of disqualification. If so, I agree with him. After a magistrates' court, with all the facts before them, have disqualified for twelve months, on what grounds can anybody come back in three months and get his licence back? I fail to see. As the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, admitted on Second Reading, 50 per cent. of them get their licences back. What kind of punishment is that? My experience;3 that some of those habitual bad drivers are ordered a suspension of two or three months and then within a month or two months they go and apply, and are granted the licence back again. If we are really serious about this—
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
Surely the noble Lord is wrong. I believe that one cannot apply for one's licence back until after six months.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
May I intervene here? I think the noble Lord is going rather wide of his Amendment here. The question whether there is an appeal or not is one question; the question whether you cannot apply after sentence for removal of disqualification is another. The noble Lord is quite inaccurate in what he says about the latter, but as it is not apposite to his present Amendment I think we might postpone discussion on that until my noble friend Lord Molson moves his Amendment.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
But surely it is apposite. If the noble Lord would trouble to read the Amendment—
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Then subsection (2) reads:There shall be no appeal, except on a point of law, from an order made under this section; and no application may be made for the removal of any disqualification ordered under this section.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Then I will apologise for being slightly inaccurate about the six months and for saying two or three months.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Let me say that there should not be any remission of disqualification at all. I do not suppose that the Government have any desire to accept this Amendment, but I hope that when they come to consider it alongside the rest of Clause 3 they will at least try to make clear what period of disqualification there can be. It is not clear. I think Clause 3 of this Bill is one of the worst clauses I have ever seen in any Road Traffic Bill—and I have had some experience of Road Traffic Bills. It is not as clear as the 1960 Act, as it stands at present. I do not think I need say any more. The Amendment is self-explanatory. I should like to hear the comments of other noble Lords, if they think fit to make them. I beg to move.
Leave out Clause, 3 and insert the said new clause.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
Might I ask the noble Lord whether he really intends the third offence to be after a possible period of 40 years? Would he intend that to be the period to the third offence?
In the Amendment the noble Lord has a first offence, a second offence and a third offence. The third one might be after one had been driving, as I say, for about forty years or more.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I would, if I may, help on this point. I really do not think this Amendment will do, with great respect. May I give a number of reasons why? It is, I think, rather a crude attempt to do what the Bill is trying to do, but without any of the advantages of the Bill and with every disadvantage which has so 1255 far been expressed against it. One object-lion is, as my noble friend has just said, that in the schedule in the third column, whereas the Bill before the Committee says that there should be a period of three years within which the offences may not be repeated, in none of these cases is any such period suggested. For instance, if in 1961 you commit a speeding offence you do not get an endorsement or a disqualification, but if thirty years later you commit another offence you may get one for a month—an odd result. Then again, it reverts to the absolutely irrational point that you punish again for an offence of the same kind.
Suppose a man commits an offence of driving under the influence of drink: according to this Amendment he then gets a twelve months' disqualification. He then drives again during that disqualification, but, for some reason, the noble Lord has not mentioned that in his schedule as having any particular effect. But I suppose that could be remedied. The man then commits careless driving in the same twelve months. It is his first offence of careless driving, and he does not get any disqualification as a minimum at all. He then commits a speed- in offence and gets none either, because it is his first offence. This is again a most odd result. If, on the other hand, you reverse the process, you will find that it can be much too lax or much too severe, because it is not true that if you commit two speeding offences you ought to have your licence taken away, ever if you do it within six weeks; and it does not follow from the Bill. But in the noble Lord's schedule it would follow that because it is a second offence for speeding there would be compulsory disqualification. Quite frankly, the noble Lord has tried to do what we have been trying to do. It is true that what we are trying to do has earned a good deal of criticism, because this happens to be a very complex subject. But you cannot achieve very much by just having shots at it, and that is what I think this is perilously nearly attempting.
I come to the second part of the schedule, which says that there should be no appeal. Why on earth should there be no appeal except on a point of law? Disqualification is, by general agreement, a most serious deterrent, but it is also something about which courts 1256 can go wrong. Why should the magistrates be treated as infallible without an appeal to quarter sessions, when in every other case under our whole criminal code an appeal is allowed? Why on earth should a court of quarter sessions, sitting as the court of first instance, as it often does, be entitled to impose a dis-qualificaton, maybe for life, and the Court of Appeal not have the power to upset that decision? I simply do not understand what reason there is.
In regard to the last sentence, I must again apologise for not having noticed it, or for having overlooked it, when the noble Lord was making his speech. There is the perfectly separate provision, which is that contained in Lord Molson's later Amendment, that the power to apply for a removal should be taken away. That is a quite separate question. It is not tied up with the rest of this Amendment, and although we shall discuss it and I do not undertake in any way not to criticise it, it is something for which there is a great deal more to be said, because this is a method which has been adopted widely in going behind the decision of a court otherwise than by way of an appeal. Clearly, it is something which requires discussion. I should not like to commit myself in advance against that part of it, but I would frankly say that this is not the way to approach this particular problem, which is far too complex to be deal with in this rigid, rather haphazard method which yields almost every anomaly that one can think of.
§ 6.28 p.m.
There is only one point I should like to make on this Amendment. I think most of us have been impressed by what the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House has said. I do not think that this is a workable Amendment, but at the same time some of us are not happy about subsection (3) as it stands. A number of us see what the noble Lord is trying to do—perhaps the noble Viscount does not—and it is something which many of us feel we should like to do. To that extent I think there is something to be said for this Amendment. The noble Lord is trying to indicate that some forms of offence are more serious than others, and that those offences which should properly involve 1257 disqualification should be separated from the rest. I do not think that the Bill does that at the present time. I am sure that that is the right principle, and I hope that when the Government reconsider subsection (3) they will at any rate see that we have a satisfactory subsection. I feel that we have to deal with the serious offences quite separately from the rest, otherwise we shall never have a satisfactory Bill. To that extent, I think the noble Lord's attempt to do that has merit.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am most grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd. I beg the noble Viscount to give consideration to subsection (3), because I can assure him that we are most unhappy about it. I should not like him to think, although the Government had a majority of about twenty in a very large vote, that they can rest content that that principle has been accepted; because I am very certain that they will not carry public opinion with them upon the arguments that were put forward. Do not let them put their head in the sand and think that, because they have got subsection (3) through your Lordships' House this 1258 afternoon, everything is going to be a very quiet life.
I shall be very surprised if Clause 3 goes through this House in its present shape. I am not very impressed, I never am impressed, with promises that Governments are going to make a radical alteration in a Bill in which they have a very great vested interest. However, I hope that the noble Viscount will give some thought to the clarification to which the noble Lord and I referred, though it may have been crude. But I believe that the noble Viscount's scheme is so tied up with circumlocutions that he will find it too complicated to be workable. With those words I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think that this is an appropriate moment at which I should move, and I do move, that the House do resume.
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Viscount Hailsham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.
§ House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before seven o'clock.