HL Deb 04 May 1961 vol 230 cc1363-82

3.20 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.]


May I just mention that, with regard to the first two Amendments, Nos. 39 and 40, the same point arises as occurred last week; so if Amendment No. 39 is agreed to, No. 40 will not be called. I would therefore respectfully suggest to the Committee that it might be convenient to debate these two Amendments together, and, indeed, possibly also the two next following ones, Nos. 41 and 42.

Clause 4:

Removal of disqualification

4.—(1) Where an order disqualifying a person for holding or obtaining a licence to drive a motor vehicle has been made by a magistrates' court or, on appeal from a magistrates' court, by a court of quarter sessions, the court to which an application under subsection (1) of section one hundred and six of the principal Act (which enables the court to remove the disqualification) may be made shall be the court of quarter sessions for the county or borough which is or includes the area for which the magistrates' court acted.

LORD MOLSON moved to leave out subsection (1) and to insert instead: (1) Section one hundred and six of the principal Act is hereby repealed.

The noble Lord said: I should like to speak to Amendment 41, as well as to No. 39, as in fact the two, taken together, do make an amendment in the law. These two Amendments, taken together, raise an important matter of principle and one which I think it is appropriate for us to consider on this Bill. There has been a remarkable measure of agreement throughout this debate that the most appropriate way of dealing with traffic offences is by disqualification of drivers who are convicted. That has been common ground between the Government and their critics, and I therefore hope that my Amendments may be acceptable to both.

Ever since 1930 it has been accepted that in certain cases where an individual has been convicted of a traffic offence the court may disqualify him. I wholly accept the view (as I think do the majority of your Lordships) put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, on Second Reading: that disqualification should not be regarded as a penalty, but rather as the removal or withdrawal of a privilege. Now there has been from the beginning a curious difference between this sanction and others that may be imposed by a court. In the case of a fine or imprisonment, there is no right, after an appeal has been heard and has failed, for the person concerned to go again to the courts and ask for the remission or removal of the penalty. A person sent to gaol, for example, cannot, after the lapse of a certain period of time, go to the courts and say that he thinks he has been in gaol long enough, and ask to be let out. The purpose of my Amendments is to bring this particular sanction in line with what is the general custom of the courts.

In the Act of 1956 we did, in fact, limit this right. Then, by what is now subsection (2) of Section 106 of the consolidating Act of 1960, we provided that in most cases a convicted person could not go to the courts and ask for the removal of a disqualification until about half the period had been served. Both Parliament and the Government have been trying to encourage the courts increasingly to use this power of disqualification, but I am sorry to say that, so far, we appear to have failed. The Parliamentary Secretary, during the Second Reading debate, mentioned that something like one-half of the sentences of disqualification are removed by the courts after the lapse of half the period that was originally imposed. I submit to your Lordships that that is an abuse of the existing provisions of the law. I am proposing, by these Amendments, to leave the full rights of any accused person under Section 105 of the principal Act to appeal against a decision to disqualify him; but that, in the event of his appeal failing, or of his not exercising that right of appeal, what has been imposed upon him in the way of a disqualification should be the final decision of the court, and it should not be open to him to go and ask that the matter be reopened.

There is no good conduct relevant to this matter than can be advanced as a reason for a remission of the period of disqualification. The only relevant conduct, of course, would be to have been driving a motor car with care, consideration and skill—and, of course, ex hypothesi, a person disqualified cannot do so. It may be argued that the effect of removing this right to go again to the courts would be to make the courts less willing to impose a period of disqualification. I do not believe that that is so. I believe that the effect would be that the courts would know, when imposing disqualification upon an accused person, that that period of dis-disqualification would stand, and that they would therefore consider with the utmost care what was the proper period for which to disqualify him.

Clause 4 of the present Bill is, in my submission, worse than Section 106 of the 1960 Act, because it proposes that the right to ask for removal of a ban of disqualification should, in certain cases, be exercised by the defendant's going to a court different from that which had originally imposed the disqualification. Surely there can be no justification for allowing a matter that has been carefully and conscientiously considered by one court, with a full disclosure of all the circumstances of the case, to be reopened at a later time before another court. It would mean that another court, with less information and not so well informed of the full circumstances of the case, would then be entitled, at a later time, to review and modify the decision of the earlier court.]: believe that it is in accordance with the general principle of this Bill and with the views which have been expressed by noble Lords in all parts of the House that disqualification should be increasingly used as a sanction for driving offences. I submit that, when once such a ban has been imposed by a court, and when either a right of appeal has been exercised and has failed, or when the accused person has not exercised his right of appeal, the matter should be regarded as finally settled, and it should not be open to him to ask at some later time that the whole matter he reviewed. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 3, line 34, leave out subsection (1) and insert— ("(1) Section one hundred and six of the principal Act is hereby repealed.")—(Lord Molson)


I would support the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in everything he has said, except, perhaps, in one minor detail. He does not desire disqualification to be treated as a penalty, but rather as the withdrawal of a privilege. I am not so concerned with niceties of language like that: I am concerned that this House and Parliament should stiffen the deterrent. Because, as the noble Lord quite rightly said, the courts have failed lamentably in the past to give expression to the will of Parliament and to stiffen the deterrents against breaches of the Road Traffic Acts. There is no doubt that, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, quite rightly said, the disqualification penalty has in future to be looked upon as the major deterrent to wrongdoing against the traffic laws: and I have never quite seen the sense of permitting an application for a remission of this deterrent. I think it was originally one of those compromises in which Parliament occasionally indulges, and which I think only weaken the law. I think it is generally accepted now that this deterrent of disqualification must be stiffened.

I was interested in, and I would quote to your Lordships, a case which was reported in The Times only this morning, where an appeal was made for the remission of a sentence of disqualification in a certain case of dangerous driving. I will not mention who it was, but it was somebody very well known to all your Lordships; and he happens to be a wealthy man. The judge, Mr. Justice Hinchcliffe, said that he had no doubt that the principal punishment was the disqualification and, rejecting the application, added: In my view, it is important to keep dangerous drivers off the road for a long period". That is a dictum which I think we can all endorse.

I hope that the Government will accept this Amendment. I hope that as this Bill goes through this House they will accept a lot of Amendments which will do what I think the Government want to do. The Parliamentary Secretary in his Second Reading speech, which I characterised then as admirable (and I have no wish to resile from that), said that the Government intended to be tough. Well, it is no good being tough at one moment and then very lenient or excessively lenient at another. Therefore I hope the Government will accept this Amendment which, I think, will make some small quota toward what is expressed to be the general desire of the House.

3.31 p.m.


I do not wish to add anything to the admirable and, in my view, unanswerable case which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, made in support of his Amendment. It seems to me that the disqualification must be regarded as part of the penalty. It seems quite illogical that you should be able to go back to the court for a variation of one part of the penalty, whereas it is unthinkable that you would go back for any other. My purpose in rising is to say that, although I have down an Amendment, No. 40, which is apparently in some conflict with the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, because it presupposes that this particular provision to which he is objecting will be retained, and merely relates to machinery, I am wholeheartedly in support of his Amendment. Therefore, if his Amendment is carried, I shall be delighted not to move my own. It is only in the unlikely event of his Amendment not being carried that I shall move my Amendment. I hope the noble Lord will press this matter as hard as he can, and I can promise him my own support, at any rate, and I hope the support of my noble friends.


I should like warmly to support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and everything which has been said by the other noble Lord, I think one further point which might be made is that we can be quite sure, in view of the statistical evidence which we have had over the last few years, that the persons who have been disqualified have almost certainly richly deserved to be so disqualified. Your Lordships may remember, for example, that in 1957, out of 4,889 convictions for dangerous driving—which then carried with it automatic disqualification on the second conviction—only 35 per cent. were disqualifications. Many of those must have resulted from the automatic disqualification of persons who had been convicted for the second time. Only in 357 cases out of the 4,889 was the disqualification for more than one year. The following year the percentage rose from 35 to 36; and so it goes on.

The weapon of disqualification is not being used. The persons about whom we are now thinking are not the ordinary motorists. We are so apt to feel that, "There, but for the grace of God, go I". These are not ordinary motorists; they are the potential killers and manglers. These are the persons thanks to whose presence on the road, when one's wife or son is out late at night in a car and the telephone rings, one cannot help wondering whether it is not news saying that they are unconscious in 'hospital, because they had had the bad luck to encounter these persons who make a practice of driving every now and again on the wrong side of the road round a corner, or of showing off that they have cars capable of going over 120 miles an hour, or who cut in when there is five yards too little room. The noble Lord is surely right—although I think the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, differed here—that it is a privilege to take a lethal weapon on the road. As I say, these are not ordinary motorists but people who have shown that they have not got self-restraint, or consideration for others. Very often they have not got the competence to be entrusted with a lethal weapon like a motor car.

As the noble Lord so rightly asked, how can they have earned a remission? They may not have committed a burglary in the meantime. They may have done a lot of washing up for their wives and may be admirable citizens; but, of course, that has nothing to do with the offence, which is that of endangering the lives of other road users. Naturally, they cannot have earned any remission, because, ex hypothesi, as the noble Lord said, they cannot have been on the roads. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said: that this is one of those compromises which always lead to failure of one kind or another. It is a compromise—a concession—to that feeling which we all have, that we are all motorists and that we must not be too hard on the motorist. But let us remember that we are now thinking of a very small minority, the potential fillers of the hospitals. I urge Her Majesty's Government to accept this Amendment, because I think one of the best results possible would accrue from this Bill.


I cannot accept the sweeping allegations which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, just now, against motorists, even those who are convicted, but in general I accept this Amendment. However, one would be foolish not to see the flaws within the Amendment. After all, a large number of motoring cases, in the initial stages, particularly those concerning a person who, perhaps, is not so "fly" as some others, are taken before a petty sessional court, before lay magistrates. I am not attacking lay magistrates here, because I am one myself, and more often than not I take the chair in my own petty sessional court. But the weakness of the Amendment is this—and we might as well recognise it and see whether something cannot be put in its place. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, said that a person who is convicted of a crime, after having exercised his right of appeal, is given no further consideration with regard to a reduction of his sentence. Legally, that is true. But almost daily the Home Secretary reconsiders a case which has been to appeal, where very often the person has been convicted of an offence and sentenced to maybe four, five or six years' imprisonment, but he is allowed an additional remission by the Home Secretary in the light of circumstances brought to his notice from one quarter or another.

Therefore, I think there ought to be an opportunity given somewhere for a consideration of a case which a person has taken to a petty sessional court, at which court, perhaps, that person had not been legally represented. Perhaps, because of the circumstances, he was rather ashamed of himself for having been found guilty of an offence; perhaps he did not even use his right of appeal. But there ought: to be some opportunity, at a later stage, for the matter to be revised. Equally, I can see the reason behind putting an application to another court into the clause. In the petty sessional courts, again accepting the fact that those operating them are all laymen, and also accepting that they may receive excellent advice from the clerk to the court, there are still prejudices; and if there is a prejudice within a court, a person might think he would stand a better chance of an unprejudiced revision of his case in some other court.


Would the noble Lord forgive my interrupting? He used the words, "prejudice within the court". Would he explain precisely what he means?


Lay magistrates are ordinary men and women. They have not legal training. Sometimes they may have a prejudice against a particular type of offence. It might be argued whether or not a bench of magistrates ought to hear these cases; but on the whole it works well, as things generally do in this country, though not always logically. A person charged with being drunk in charge of a car may live in the area and know that four out of five of the magistrates are rabid teetotallers. In this instance, whether these lay justices are right or wrong, that individual may think that he would have a better chance by going to quarter sessions.

In spite of these two weaknesses which I can see in the noble Lord's Amendment, in general I am in favour of it because I feel that the basic penalty is disqualification. Many who have other penalties placed on them do not feel them to any degree. What does disturb them, and what is likely to be a check on further misconduct, is disqualification.


I hesitate to intervene, but I have heard of a friend of mine, who happens to be a foreigner, who the other day, while driving round the new works at Hyde Park Corner, found something a little in his way, and his car touched a "No parking" sign, although he did not touch it sufficiently hard to upset it. He went on to the next turning where he waited, and the policeman who had seen this happen stopped him and said, "You are drunk." My friend said. "I am sorry that you take that view, officer; I have had nothing to drink at all." The policeman said, "Then you are drugged." My friend said, "I haven't been to a doctor or anything like that." The policeman made a report about it, but in the end my friend received a letter to say that the police did not intend to take any further action.

We could agree with much that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and other noble Lords on disqualification, if it were not for the fact that under the Bill the discretion of disqualification is taken right out of the hands of the courts. Suppose, in the case of the friend I have mentioned, he had been "had up"; he would have faced a very difficult charge and might have been convicted. That would have resulted in a period of disqualification under the Bill. Where a motorist has misconducted himself on the road and a court takes the action of disqualifying him, I think we should probably all agree; but where, as in Clause 3 (3), there is automatic disqualification, this seems to me quite different, and it should be possible for the driver to bring the facts before a court and have them looked at impartially before the sentence is imposed.


Is the noble Earl suggesting that after such a person has had a trial, been found guilty, has appealed and the conviction has been upheld, he should then have another opportunity of putting the facts before a different tribunal altogether? Where do you stop?


That is why I so regret the provisions in the Bill, which take this matter entirely out of the hands of the courts. I am against the automatic disqualification, and with a Bill like this there should be power to bring the matter before a court. I know it can be said that there is power, but the court is not going to be the same one before which the motorist was charged in the first instance.


My noble friend will forgive me. I have been trying to follow him and it seems to me that he is making a case against a clause which we have already discussed. At the moment we are discussing Amendments to do with getting a licence back after disqualification. I was wondering whether the noble Earl had some point on that.


We have been asked to discuss all the Amendments to Clause 4 at the same time, before the individual Amendments are put; therefore I shall speak to your Lordships about Amendment No. 42, which I put down for two reasons. The first is that while I see that there is a great deal to be said for removal of the power to restore licences, I still think that, on the whole, it is a good thing to leave that power to the courts. The right to restore licences in cases where circumstances have changed since the licence holder was disqualified should be conferred on the courts. Such cases come before the courts from time to time, and I have heard that in certain cases the licences are restored, but in the majority of cases, if there is no change in circumstance, the licences are not restored.

I should feel more sympathy for the removal of the power of restoration if it was confined to the cases which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned, where disqualified drivers were disqualified for dangerous driving or some other offence that has caused considerable danger to other users of the road; but in the Bill as it now stands there is compulsory disqualification in cases which are not dangerous. In these cases I feel that there is ample reason for the power of restoration.

The second reason why I put down this Amendment is one I mentioned on Second Reading: that is, that I heartily disapprove—and every magistrate I have spoken to equally disapproves—of the suggestion that applications for the restoration of licence should go before quarter sessions in future. To my mind, they should always go to the court which imposed disqualification, which knows the details fully. There may be many more disqualifications owing to the compulsory disqualification under the Bill, and it may well be that quarter sessions will be completely flooded. At the moment the calendars of quarter sessions are very much overloaded, and if every application for restoration of licence goes before them, some quarter sessions may find their calendars completely unworkable. For all these reasons I have put down this Amendment to leave out Clause 4. If it were left out, the law would remain as it is at present.


Did I hear the noble Lord say that some of the offences which under this Bill will involve obligatory disqualification do not involve danger?


Yes, I did say that. There is one that I hope will be moved out of Part I, and that is paragraph 7, the use of a motor vehicle uninsured or unsecured against third party risks. When we come to debate that we shall see whether it is left in Part I. It does not actually involve danger, but it is a serious offence, although one that might well have mitigating circumstances. The driver of the vehicle might well think that he was secured, but find that he was not. That is the sort of case I have in mind.

3.51 p.m.


I have listened carefully to what your Lordships have been saying about this Amendment because it is necessary for me to get my own position absolutely clear. I have heard little from any noble Lords who have spoken, at any rate so far as the principle is concerned, with which the Government are not in agreement. We started drafting this part of the Bill thinking (and with this your Lordships largely agree) that disqualification is an effective weapon, and thinking, in addition, that it was at the present time too easy to get a licence back after disqualification. We thought that part of the reason for this was that magistrates' courts were a little too lenient. I know that exception is taken to the way we have done it, but, for reasons which I will come to later, we thought it should be done so that there should be some right of review but that it should be more difficult.

It is said that there are objections to going only to quarter sessions, and this I must think about carefully. But it was intended to make it difficult; that was the whole point of the operation. While it is reasonable to say it is better to go back to the court which imposed the disqualification to discuss its removal, because they will know all about it, that would be so only if the same magistrates were sitting, which perhaps a year, eighteen months or two years later might not be the case.

I have heard your Lordships supporting my noble friend Lord Molson and hoping that this Amendment will be accepted, but I cannot accept it just like that, because I think it goes a little too far. I feel, although my noble friend does not agree, that to take away any right to have the case reconsidered in any circumstances could produce some hardship. An instance which comes to my mind is that of a young man in a wild, drunken state at the age of nineteen who might have his licence suspended for life, which at the time might be a reasonable thing to do; but to take away his right to have the disqualification removed at the age of 45, when he had settled clown, reformed and changed completely in every way, might be going too far. There are no doubt other cases that could be cited.


Could the noble Lord give us an example of reform as applied to a person who has been convicted of dangerous driving and been disqualified?


I thought I had just given a hypothetical example: that there might be a good deal of difference between a wild young man of nineteen who drank, and that same man at the age of 45, when he had become a respected and solid citizen, who no longer drank, was the father of three and looked up to by all the parish. I think he might have a case for being allowed to have another go.


May ask if a case is known of a boy of nineteen having been disqualified for life?


I do not know of one. I was trying to produce the kind of instance in which it is not reasonable to take away the right altogether. Perhaps I did it badly. But I do feel it is not reasonable to take away that right altogether. Then, although my noble friend does not agree, I think it would rather inhibit courts from applying longer sentences—although I think his point that it will make them consider more carefully is a good one. The noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, prefers the present state of affairs. While I agree with him when he says that he thinks there ought to be preserved some element of the ability to get the licence back, I am afraid I do not agree with much else that he said. We think that the status quo, which is what would be preserved if we accepted Amendment No. 42, is too weak and is resulting in too many people getting their licences back too easily.

I am not quite sure what I should do, because I do not feel that I can accept this Amendment; but, on the other hand, I am sufficiently impressed by what I have heard not to wish to reject it. I would, therefore, if I may, put forward the suggestion that if my noble friend does not press the Amendment to-day we can look at it again in the period before Report and try to find some form of Amendment which, while meeting the objections that I have, will also be in accordance with the wishes that your Lordships have expressed.


Before the noble Lord, Lord Molson, speaks, would the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, mind answering a question? What virtues do the Government attach to chairmen of quarter sessions, or even to recorders, in matters of this kind that are not possessed by magistrates' courts? My experience has been that in matters such as this they are just as soft as the delinquent magistrates' courts. What is the advantage of making the application for the restoration of a driving licence to quarter sessions? Is it the view of the Government that quarter sessions are tougher or more knowledgeable, or what is it? Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me.


What was in mind was roughly what the noble Lord has said: that they would be tougher, more coldly analytical and more knowledgeable. In short, we thought that a man would have more of a job to get his licence back on presenting the facts at quarter sessions than he does at a magistrates' court.


Would not the noble Lord agree that that assumption can be proved or disproved by statistics? Would he look at those statistics? They are available. My impression is that the statistics would show that quarter sessions do not possess the virtues of being either tougher or more knowledgeable, as the noble Lord attributes to them. I may be wrong, but that is my general impression after making inquiries all over the country.


May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that one of the virtues of the court that is now suggested in Clause 4 is that there will be a legally qualified chairman. I apologise to my noble friend who moved this Amendment for having missed his speech—I was detained elsewhere. I hope that my noble friend, whose Amendment has clearly commanded a great deal of support, will respond to the suggestion that has been made by the Minister in reply. I think this Amendment has great virtue, but I think there may be cases which need to be provided for. I must say that I thought the particular example given by my noble friend Lord Chesham was a rather improbable one. I think it would be very improbable that a young man would have received a life disqualification. If he had received such a disqualification, he would certainly have appealed, with some prospect of success.

I think that this matter is not incapable of compromise. Under the section in the principal Act which it is proposed to repeal, there is already a time limit before which no application can be made, and I think further restrictions are possible to guard against the possible case of an extremely long disqualification. It may be necessary to give some sort of protection in the case of an exceedingly long disqualification, but in general I think this Amendment has merits, and I would suggest to my noble friend that he might well respond to the Minister's suggestion.


I should like to thank my noble friend for what he has said, because the kind of provision which already exists is rather what I have in mind. I will look again carefully at what noble Lords have said, and I will certainly not disregard what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said, which is that we should be tough about disqualification. That is one of the last things I would disregard. I should like to say that if my noble friend Lord Molson accepts my suggestion I will, of course, look into the point that he raised when considering the whole thing.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said. The chairman of quarter sessions has legal training, but the appeals for the restoration of a licence are hardly ever based on legal grounds; they are always on compassionate grounds. My experience has been that a chairman of quarter sessions, or a recorder, has more compassion than the chairman of a magistrates' bench or a bench of magistrates. If you are to give a right of appeal I see no reason for changing it from a magistrates' court, because in my experience they are tougher than chairmen of quarter sessions or recorders.


I do not want to dictate to the noble Lord what he is to do about this Amendment, because it is his Amendment, but I should like to say what I feel about it. I find it difficult to reconcile the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, with which a number of noble Lords are in agreement, with the idea that it should still be possible to go back to the court to get the disqualification removed. Would the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, say more clearly what he has in mind? He says that he is in sympathy with the Amendment. But being in sympathy with it would lead to the result that you could not go back for the removal of disqualification. Has he in mind the possibility that there might be certain extreme cases which he would set out in the clause—that is, he would amend Section 106 of the principal Act by making it far more difficult to go back in the normal case, but that there might be certain exceptional cases which he would stipulate? If that is what he has in mind we may possibly "do a deal ". I would suggest that if the noble Lord, Lord Molson, feels disposed to accept the proposal, it might be possible to have discussions on this matter before the Report stage to see whether he is satisfied with what is proposed, or, alternatively, so that he may have an opportunity of putting this Amendment down at the Report stage, if he is not satisfied.


May I answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, before my noble friend makes up his mind? No, that is not what I had in mind. If the present proposal regarding quarter sessions does not find favour, as it does not seem to do, what I was considering was something in the nature of the present provisions. I had in mind —I say this without commitment—that the period before which you might go back and apply for your licence to be restored should be greatly extended. It would be much longer before you would have the right. I think there is room for manœuvre and consultation, and I should certainly be pleased to consult with my noble friend on that matter to try to reach a satisfactory solution.


Do I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that when he looks into this matter further he will also consider the question of necessarily going to quarter sessions?


Is there not some Amendment on that?


Yes. That is what I had in mind. If this provision does not seem quite right, we could look at it in another way and see whether it can be done by altering the periods before which you may not apply.


I naturally want to respond to the appeal of my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary, especially as he has expressed such sympathy with the point of view of myself and my noble friends. I have had personal experience of being in the same position that he is in, of wishing to make a concession and of not being able to do so without the authority of the Minister. At the same time, I want an assurance from him that, if I accept a compromise, it is going most of the way towards getting what noble Lords who have spoken to-day unanimously desire, even my noble friend Lord Howe, who drew attention to certain difficulties that might arise. In point of fact they were all matters of an erroneous conviction which could, and should, have been put right by an appeal. I am not proposing to do anything to take away the right of appeal.

In 1956, there were so many cases of licences being returned to convicted drivers very soon after the court had disqualified them that when we were drafting the Act of 1956 we put in subsection (2) of what is now Section 106 of the principal Act. What in fact has happened? My noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary told us on Second Reading that approximately half the disqualifications which are properly imposed after due trial do not last the whole of their time. As soon as it is possible under the principal Act for convicted drivers to go to a court, they go, and in 50 per cent. of the cases they are successful in getting their licences restored to them long before the court which tried the original offence considered that it was desirable that they should do so. If I do not press this Amendment, which has obtained, I think I can say, unanimous, if not unqualified, support from all those who have spoken this afternoon, I want an assurance that disqualification will be removed only in quite exceptional cases.

I cannot say that I was altogether reassured by my noble friend's remark about a young man of 19 who is drunk and drives dangerously; he suggests that at the age of 45 or 46, his actual words were "he should have another go". I am not at all anxious that people who drive dangerously should be allowed to "have another go." I have very much in mind the victims. Provided my noble friend will give me an assurance that when he is proposing a compromise it will be in only really exceptional cases, where disqualification has been for a long time, and that only then will it be open to some higher—I will not say the High Court, but some responsible court to remove the disqualification, then I shall be willing to respond to his invitation. But I ask for an assurance on those lines.


I can quite understand what my noble friend feels about this matter, but. I am sure he will appreciate the difficulty that I am in in giving him a positive assurance exactly as he has asked. Having offered to reconsider the matter and discuss it, I do not think I can give him an assurance that I will come to a definite and positive conclusion at a certain degree. What I can give him an assurance about is that I will do my best to meet the point he has made and which your Lordships have supported, and if I am unable to do so I certainly recognise that my noble friend is in no way inhibited from putting his Amendment down again at the next stage.


I am much obliged to my noble friend, and in view of the assurance he has given I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.13 p.m.

LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (1), to leave out all words after "shall be" and to insert: magistrates' court or court of quarter sessions, as the case may be.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment has been discussed by every speaker who has spoken on the previous Amendment except myself. I should like to put the case for this Amendment, on the assumption, of course, that Lord Molson's Amendment will not be pressed at a later stage and that there will be some opportunity on the part of some people to apply for the removal of the disqualification. I think the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, explained that the reason why it is proposed in the Bill that such an application should go to quarter sessions is to make it more difficult. I am sorry, but I cannot accept that as a good reason. I think if people are to be given a certain legal right it must not be made too difficult for them to take advantage of it; you have to facilitate it. It seems to me that that is the case against the provision in the Bill. It makes it too difficult for a number of people, assuming that it is thought right to give them this opportunity, to take advantage of it.

The first point is that going to quarter sessions involves delay, and if it is one of those exceptional cases where a disqualification ought to be removed, it should be removed without the need for long delay. Secondly, application to quarter sessions involves personal expense. There are some people who do not mind, but there are others—and perhaps the most deserving cases—who cannot afford to instruct solicitors and counsel, which would be essential to appearing at quarter sessions. I am not making the case, but I think the noble Lord was perfectly right in saying that it is desirable to go back to the same court, especially if it is intended to prolong the period which must elapse before it will be possible for the defendant to go back. I agree that there is no guarantee that the same bench will be sitting nor is there any guarantee that, if a man goes back in six months' time, with the multiplicity of cases that magistrates have, even if it is the same bench, they will remember the details of his particular case. Of course they will not. They have so many that they could not possibly be expected to remember. So that is not my case. My case is simply that if this right is to be given to people, it should not be made so difficult that they cannot take advantage of it.

We should not prohibit certain people from taking advantage of it on the ground of expense or on the ground of delay. I will move this Amendment, but in view of the fact that the noble Lord has given the undertaking that he will look at this point again, I will not press it. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 40, leave out from first ("the") to end of line 42 and insert the said new words.—(Lord Silkin.)


As I could not be here earlier, may I say a word on this Amendment? If my noble friend Lord Molson's Amendment is not accepted, I certainly hope that this Amendment will be. I happen to be a chairman of quarter sessions, and I am sure that it much better for the court which has dealt with the original disqualification to deal with the removal of the disqualification, if there is any power to do it. One does remember; the case one has heard soon comes back to one. I think it far better that the court which dealt with the case, if there is power to remove a disqualification, should deal with that also. Apart from that, as I was not here earlier, I may say that I hope there will be no power to remove the disqualification and that Lord Molson's Amendment will eventually be accepted.


Before we leave this clause, I hope that it may be relevant, since so much of what we have said has turned on the exceptional case, to say how disturbed I was by the imaginary case quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, of the boy of 18 who is disqualified for life and then, at the age of 45, is a good father and should have his licence restored. Obviously the noble Lord would not quote an instance which he did not believe could possibly happen, and it surely shows an extraordinary—I will not say ignorance, but lack of knowledge of what happens in court, to suggest that a boy of 18, after a drunken frolic, could conceivably he disqualified for life. May I remind the noble Lord that last year, in a stipendiary magistrates' court an adult, dead sober, was convicted of dangerous driving which killed a mother and two children, and he was not disqualified? Will the noble Lord tell me that a boy of 18 could ever be disqualified for life? If that sort of argument is needed to support the view for exceptional treatment, I must say that I find it disturbing. I do not suggest for a moment the noble Lord is misleading anybody, but I think he must be misinformed.


If I am misinformed, I have misinformed myself. Perhaps I am guilty of an error of judgment. Perhaps I did not give sufficient consideration to an imaginary case which I drew out of the air for myself. The noble Lord must not read any undue depth or any hidden meaning into what I said. I will withdraw, if he wishes, that hypothetical case; but that does not prevent me from thinking that there are cases where the complete removal of this power would create hardship. I shall be extremely cautious and go no further than that. It does not quite apply to Lord Silkin's Amendment, but as my noble friend said that, I thought that I had better reply. I am obliged to the noble Lord for the way he spoke to his Amendment, and in view of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning has said, I should like to embrace this Amendment within the compass of the reconsideration that was mentioned on the previous one.


In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Viscount Hailsham.)

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