§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Committee stage resumed.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5:
§ Endorsement of licence
§ 5.—(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence specified in Part I or Part II of the First Schedule to this Act, the court shall order that particulars of the conviction, and, if the court orders him to be disqualified, particulars of the disqualification, shall be endorsed on any licence held by him and particulars of any conviction or disqualification so endorsed may be produced as prima facie evidence of the conviction or disqualification.
§ (7) Where an order has been made in respect of a person under this section requiring any licence held by him to be endorsed with any particulars he shall be entitled, either on applying for the grant of a licence or, subject to a payment of a fee of five shillings and subject to surrender of any subsisting licence, on application at any time, to have issued to him a new licence free from the particulars, if the application is made not less than three years after the date of the conviction in consequence of which the order was made or, if it was a conviction of an offence under subsection (1) of section six of the principal Act, not less than 'ten years after that conviction.
A previous Amendment which I moved, which was not accepted by Her Majesty's Government, would have had the effect that if, in the opinion of the court, the offence involved actual danger would count towards those offences for which obligatory disqualification would be imposed within three years. On that occasion the Government said they would look at the matter again with a new form of wording. I should like to take the opportunity of moving this Amendment to say that there is a precedent for the making of a statement on an endorsed licence of whether or not, in the opinion of a court, the offence involved actual danger. Where, for instance, the driver of a public service vehicle is charged with exceeding the speed limit it is frequently stated on the summons that no danger was involved; and I cannot help feeling that this Amendment might be very useful to the courts in future. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 4, line 11, at end insert—
("Provided that where any person is convicted of an offence specified in the said Part
II the particulars of such conviction to be endorsed on the licence held by him shall include a statement as to whether in the opinion of the court the offence involved actual danger.") —(Lord Teynham.)
§ LORD ELTON
I may have missed what the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, said on his earlier Amendment but could he tell us what he means by "actual danger"? Am I right in thinking that what he has in mind, roughly, is that if a dangerous driver, whether drunk, incompetent or careless, drives his vehicle over the path there is actual danger if there happens to be a child there or within a few yards, which might be knocked down, but that there is not actual danger if nobody happens to be there at that moment? If that is so, we need to provide against not actual but potential danger. It is the kind of person who is capable of driving over a path that we want to restrain—the kind of person the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, referred to in your Lordships' House in an earlier debate as "a potential accident looking for somewhere to happen." Would not this Amendment, as worded, simply mean that that kind of person could commit indiscretions without penalty until the moment he actually hit somebody?
I do not want to become involved in discussing a previous Amendment, especially as Her Majesty's Government are to look at the wording of that Amendment. We shall be debating the whole matter again on the Report stage and I think it would be a great mistake to do so now.
§ LORD LATHAM
I would say how much I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I am the more disposed to agree with him in view of the fact that a few months ago, I and my wife, with my grandson, were on a main road travelling to Bournemouth. There was a concealed turning. A motorist came along travelling much too fast. He could not get round the corner and went right on the pavement; and but for the fact that, for some reason or other which I cannot remember, we had stopped, I am afraid we should all have been killed. It is the potential danger, not the actual danger, that is important in this connection.
§ LORD CHESHAM
There was quite a full debate on a similar Amendment 1388 moved earlier by my noble friend Lord Teynham, and we certainly do not want to go into that again. I believe that the reasons advanced at that time, on which my noble friend withdrew his Amendment, are still valid, as is the undertaking given by my noble Leader that this matter will be reconsidered; and the points that have been made by the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Latham, will cetainly be included in that reconsideration.
In the circumstances, and in view of what has been said by the noble Lord replying for the Government, I beg to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING moved, in subsection (7), after the words "date of the" to insert "last" [conviction]. The noble Lord said: I feel that Her Majesty's Government might accept this Amendment, and the others in this series, for they are quite simple. The endorsement on a licence is very useful evidence. Usually when a motorist has been convicted and the police are asked whether anything previous is known, they are able to state the full facts. From time to time, however, they report that "Nothing is known", yet when the licence is examined it is found to contain an endorsement. I feel, therefore, that it is a good thing to have the endorsement on the licence. Under the section as it stands it would appear that the endorsement can be removed from the licence after a certain period. It further appears that the endorsement should not be removed until there has been a continuous period with a clean licence.
§ I am suggesting, therefore, that no endorsement should be removed from a licence until the expiration of the period of the last endorsement on the licence. Speaking now in relation to the third of this series of Amendments, which are bound together, I feel that it is all the more necessary for the removal to occur after the expiration of the period of disqualification, for, as I mentioned on Second Reading, one motorist who had been disqualified for ten years appeared before a court again immediately he came back on the road. As a period of ten years had elapsed since the endorsement on his licence, I feel there must 1389 be a period during which no endorsement is allowed to be wiped out. I beg to move.
Page 5, line 23, after the second ("the") insert "last".—(Lord Swaythling.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
The nub of this argument really consists of what view one takes of endorsement. In the past, endorsement has always been considered as part of the punishment, involving some kind of stigma, and the effect of the Amendment of the noble Lord would be to preserve the status quo. The position to-day is that if a motorist has more than one endorsement he cannot get it removed until he has had three clear years from the last endorsement. But, as we know, this Bill is bringing in a new viewpoint, and the principle of cumulative obligatory disqualification for persistent bad behaviour. That involves endorsements, and it is quite firmly the view of Her Majesty's Government that an endorsement should no longer be regarded as part of the penalty and a stigma but only as a convenient record which can be put before the court. We have felt it right to restrict the number of endorsements on a licence to those which the court would require to see.
Of course, it is up to a motorist whether he has endorsements removed when that is possible, or does not bother to do so. But that is the reason why cannot quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, that even if we preserved the status quo the full facts would be shown on the licence; because, in fact, they are not. In certain circumstances a motorist can now apply to have endorsements removed, and he will continue to be able to do so. So that, I am afraid, is not good enough as a permanent record. Although it is not very difficult, we do not want the courts necessarily to have to go thumbing through and checking the dates of numbers of endorsements which they do not need to see. They will have to check the dates, anyway, to see that the obligatory disqualification provision applies. Therefore I think it is reasonable that the endorsements, which we think should be regarded as a record, should be limited, as much in the motorist's interests or the driver's interests as anyone 1390 else's, to only those with which the court should be concerned.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
I do not quite follow the noble Lord's assertion that my Amendment would continue the practice of regarding endorsements as a stigma. The very purpose of my Amendment is to have them as a record on the licence. The licence has to be produced in court, and the court can see the previous endorsements which the police may not have produced at the time. I thought it all the more useful when cases of a disqualification have prevented the driver from driving from the date of his endorsement until possibly just before the time of the occurrence for which he is before the court.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I quite see the noble Lord's point; but I do not think that he, in turn, saw mine. The only way of making a licence a current record is by making it impossible for endorsements to be removed. Even if I accepted the noble Lord's Amendment, endorsements would stay on for longer than they otherwise would, but they would still not be a full record of a driver's past, because after three years they could be taken off. That is the gist of the noble Lord's Amendment: that they can be taken off. Therefore, the endorsements, except for a very temporary period when they need not be complete, are not a complete record of the driver's murky past. That record is kept by the licensing authority, and that is available to the court when they need it. They must continue to rely on that in view of the unreliability of a string of endorsements on a licence.
§ LORD SWAYTHLING
In view of what the noble Lord has said—I quite agree with him—I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Clause 6 [Alteration of penalties certain offences]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I did not move Amendment No. 49 because I want to await and hear what the Government have to say as a result 1391 of their deliberations on Clause 3, but I should like the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill to tell me at this juncture what the policy of the Government is upon the question of monetary penalties. That is what Clause 6 deals with. I must confess that I am very bewildered, and I expect other noble Lords are, by the action of the Government—who are now pinning their faith to disqualification as the major deterrent, with which I do not quarrel—in increasing monetary penalties by approximately 100 per cent., in face of the fact that those penalties, although they have been progressively increased over the years, have not proved a deterrent.
I touched on this point during the Second Reading debate and I was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. In an Answer to Questions before we opened the Second Reading debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Office had to make some alarming admissions. I think it would be as well to refresh your Lordships' memory of the figures that the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, gave your Lordships' House. In 1959, which is the last year for which figures are available, the average penalty—monetary penalties are what I am now talking about—for driving under the influence of drink was £24, when the maximum was £100. For being drunk in charge of a vehicle, which is not, I would submit to the Committee, such a serious offence as actually driving a vehicle while under the influence of drink, the average penalty was £28, when the maximum was £50 for the first offence and £100 for the second. For dangerous driving the average penalty was only £15, when the maximum under the Act was £100 and for careless driving it was only £7, when the maximum penalty was £40 for the first offence and £80 for the second.
The noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, had to make this confession: that in 1959 there were only four cases out of 7,177 convictions, or 0.06 of 1 per cent., where the maximum was imposed for dangerous driving and in the case of careless driving the maximum fine was imposed in only 0.001 of 1 per cent.—75 out of 55,268 convictions. That is the record of the magistrates' courts of this country in using the monetary penalty as a deterrent to these offences. That makes 1392 the case, in my view, for automatic penalties. It is no use burking the issue that magistrates' courts have been negligent in their duty of using the penalties in the Road Traffic Act as a deterrent to wrong doing on the roads and bad behaviour on the roads, which has resulted in the problem which we are trying to face to-day.
I have said publicly that it is not for magistrates' courts or any other court in this country to flout the will of Parliament, and the will of Parliament has been expressed in Road Traffic Acts. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, said in open court that it was the duty of all courts to pay regard to the expressed will of Parliament. But can you say that the figures that I have read out to you are expressing the will of Parliament? I am quite prepared to listen to all the excuses that are made on behalf of magistrates. I once took it upon myself to address meetings of magistrates all over the country, and the excuses I had for this were remarkable. But I should like to give a case—and this may interest the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, who, if I have sensed his interjections aright, does not like criticism of magistrates' courts. It may also interest the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, because this must be a typical example of the type of magistrates' court he was telling your Lordships about earlier this afternoon. I quote from The Times Law Report of April 19.
This was a case before the Divisional Court on appeal from the Tunbridge Wells magistrates. The man was summoned for driving under the influence of drink. He was so drunk when they took him into the police station that he could not stand—what is known to those of us who have had experience as "flat out". This bench of magistrates dismissed the case because they said they were not satisfied that the man was sufficiently drunk not to be able to drive a car half an hour previously. Those are the grounds upon which they dismissed the case, and the matter went to the Divisional Court. The Lord Chief Justice said that he did not understand the decision of the justices, which was "thoroughly perverse". Mr. Justice Salmon, agreeing with the Lord Chief Justice, said thatthe argument on the defendant's behalf would not have deceived an ordinarily intelligent 1393 child of 12, let alone a bench of magistrates doing their best to arrive at a just result in accordance with the evidence.Why is it that, when Parliament goes on increasing the monetary penalties, magistrates pay little or no regard, with the sort of result that I have just read out? Yet we are asked by the Government in this Bill, in spite of the record, again to increase the penalties by 100 per cent. What I want to ask the noble Lord is: what is the Government's reasoning behind this? We heard a most interesting speech by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House when we were discussing Clause 3 of this Bill, during which he said that this Bill was a carefully thought out measure that was tackling this road accident problem on a very high and scientific basis; and, so far as I gathered, we had to agree with a certain principle. What is the principle behind this? I should like the noble Lord to tell me, so that we do know what we are doing. After what we have heard from the Government Front Bench during the course of this Bill, I would suggest that what they should do, if they want to carry out their avowed intention, is to decrease the monetary penalties and increase the enforcement of disqualification. That would appear to me to be the logical thing to do.
One of the chief reasons given me by magistrates is that they always have to consider carefully the means of the defendants. As to the value of money and the amount of money in the pocket of the average defendant who owns a motor car, the fact is that one has decreased and the other has increased considerably. Where I think the magistrates go wrong, and where I think the Government are going wrong now, is in failing to recognise that penalties are punishments. If you fine a man for wrongdoing, you are inflicting a punishment. You have not to say to him, "Look here, my dear fellow; what can you afford to pay?" You are not collecting a subscription for a charitable organisation: you are inflicting a penalty; and a penalty, I have always understood, should be something that hurts a bit. I do not say that it has to be so outrageous that it inflicts too severe a penalty upon the recipient. But, after all, dangerous driving is a real scourge. If you say that the average case is of average seriousness, and should 1394 attract at least the average fine—and that is how my logical mind works—if the maximum is £100, the average fine should be £50. Yet the average was £15. What kind of punishment is that? The defendant may have had other penalties included: he may have been disqualified at the same time.
§ LORD LINDGREN
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but will he not agree that magistrates have to take into account, particularly in dangerous driving cases, that some of the witnesses may have come from, say, Scotland? There are always the costs; and nine times out of ten the prosecuting counsel asks for an advocate's fee. So, in addition to the fine, there are costs and an advocate's fee. I think it is quite common that, in a number of cases where magistrates know that the costs which would otherwise fall on the county rate are likely to be £10 or £15, they may tend to knock the fine down a little.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Lord; and I appreciate all that. But so did Parliament. The noble Lord has been a Member of another place. When Parliament said that the maximum penalty should be £100, did it fix that figure by a wild guess, by thinking of a number? Is that what the noble Lord voted for in another place, when he passed the 1956 Road Traffic Act? He fully had in his mind that all these fines had to be plus costs. The magistrates seem to think that those in Parliament are lunatics; that they sit and pass these laws but do not expect them to be carried out. But most Members of Parliament, at least, have knowledge of all the facts which the noble Lord has stated.
How can we expect to cure this problem, which has now reached the stage of being one of the greatest social evils we have? As we are talking in this House, and as we are making all the excuses that possibly can be made as to why licences should not be endorsed, why courts should not disqualify, why they should not remit disqualification when it has been imposed, and why they should not take any notice of figures such as those I have quoted, the accidents are mounting up and up. What do the Government intend to do? We could all find excuses as to why things should not be done, but I am trying to press the 1395 Government to find reasons why something should be done. If the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, wants to be tough, I am going to suggest to him that, now that the Government have accepted the principle of making compulsory a figure as regards disqualification, they might also consider making compulsory a figure as regards fining. Because if they do not, if that has not dawned upon them yet, I see no reason to increase the penalties by 100 per cent. in this Bill.
I should welcome some suggestion from the Government as to how they can enforce the existing penalties. If they could enforce the existing penalties, I should think they would be quite enough. But if we are to follow the Government's thinking on this question, I suggest that they should make the monetary penalties for some of these offences about £1,000: for that might persuade the magistrates to increase the fines, on the averages we see to-day, to a suitable figure. I thought that this was the appropriate place to raise this question. I did not want to get into a discussion on my Amendment, which was put down only so that I could raise this matter. But I shall return to this question on Report stage, in the light of what the Government have to say about their thinking on Clause 3 and what the noble Lord tells me this afternoon as to what is the Government policy. What are we to understand the policy of the Government to be when, in spite of the record of fining by courts to date, they now propose to increase the maximum by 100 per cent.?
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I do not know whether the noble Lord wanted to have a reply to his remarks immediately on the question that Clause 6 stand part. He began by saying that he was a little bewildered by all the Government statements on matters connected with this clause.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Forgive me; I said nothing of the sort. The noble Earl must be very careful what he says when he purports to quote. I have been puzzled by the Government's statements on the policy of this Bill, not on this clause. This is the one clause which refers to monetary penalties in the Schedule, and this is the only time I 1396 can bring up this matter. What I am puzzled about, if I may tell the noble Lord quite plainly, is this. If the Government are going to pin their faith on disqualification as a major penalty—and the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of the Bill practically said that—and monetary penalties have been decreasingly effective, then what is the policy behind increasing the maximum monetary penalties in the Bill by 100 per cent.? That is what puzzles me.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
The noble Lord has exactly confirmed what I began to say. He said that he was bewildered by the Government's statement on matters arising out of this clause, which he quite properly extends to many other parts of the Bill. I was also a little bewildered by the fact that the noble Lord did not move either of the two Amendments in his name on the Order Paper; but I am very glad that he should have chosen the alternative of speaking on the Question, That the clause stand part. With a great deal of what he said I most profoundly agree, and I do not wish to carry the matter any further. The noble Lord said that in many, or most, cases the disqualification was a much more effective deterrent than a fine. With that view, of course, the Government agree. But one of our little difficulties in getting this Bill through your Lordships' House is that of persuading your Lordships, on certain points, that we are not being too severe in the matter of disqualification.
The noble Lord also said that, by and large, magistrates have not been imposing sufficiently severe penalties. With that the Government also agree; indeed, it was stressed by my noble friend Lord Chesham in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I do not know whether the noble Lord wishes me to say anything about the only remedy which, so far as I can make out from his remarks, he would put before your Lordships—namely, that instead of having maximum fines, we should have minimum fines, in the hope that the average penalty would, by that means, be raised. I am doubtful if it would have that effect. To introduce a system of minimum fines would be contrary to the established principles of the administration of justice. For one thing, as your Lordships know, the 1397 Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952, particularly requires that magistrates, in imposing monetary penalties, must have regard to the means of the person who is being fined. It seems to me that if we were to impose by law a minimum fine for a certain offence, it might have the opposite effect from that intended. Its effect might be that magistrates and juries would decline to convict because they considered that the minimum penalty that would result from conviction was unjustly high, at least in relation to the person who was accused.
I do not want to say anything more to take the edge off the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. The figures concerning convictions, disqualifications and penalties were quoted by my noble friend Lord Chesham on Second Reading. We are all agreed that we wish to stress that they have, in general, been too low, but they have been rising since the Lord Chancellor made his exhortation to the magistrates in 1956, which he has continually repeated since then. Our statistics show that there has since that time been a perceptible and steady increase in the level of the average fines imposed for the more serious offences. Although we all agree that disqualification has not been used widely enough, the use of disqualification has noticeably increased. In 1959 (the last year for which we have figures), the number of convictions for disqualifiable offences increased by 25 per cent., as compared with 1958. The number of cases in which disqualification was ordered increased very much more: it increased by 55 per cent.
I do not want to say any more, because I do not want to remove the impression which both my noble friend and Lord Lucas of Chilworth have tried to emphasise: that those increases are not nearly enough, and that there is room for a great deal more improvement. But it does seem to me that, by increasing the financial penalties—the fines—as we are doing in this clause and the First Schedule, the common-sense expectation is that the average penalties inflicted are likely to rise. I could not help feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was assuming that when Parliament imposed a maximum fine it was intended that this maximum should be the average fine.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
If the average fine were anywhere near the maximum, I think we should all assume that the law was being administered much too severely. There would be a strong inference that the maximum which we had fixed was much too low. Though we agree that the monetary penalty is not always as effective as disqualification, I think it is reasonable to expect that raising the monetary penalty by a substantial amount, as we are doing here, will have the effect of raising the average penalty which is usually imposed by the court, having regard to the circumstances of the offence and also the circumstances of the offender.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Earl, but he has answered a case I did not make. May I make just one correction? I did not say that I wanted the average to be the maximum; that would be an impossibility.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
That was the impression I got—the logical conclusion of what the noble Lord said. He said: What is the use of providing these maximum fines if they are not imposed?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
What I said, or what I thought I said, was this: What is the good of increasing the maximum fine when, even to-day, the maximum fine at the old rate was reached only four times out of 7,077 offences of dangerous driving? Do I understand that the Government did not take into consideration the means of the individual, when they imposed these maximum fines? Surely the Government did not guess these figures.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
The Government do not do that. It is the magistrates who have to take into consideration the means of the offender when they impose the fine.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
The Government did not just bring these figures, representing a 100 per cent. increase, out of the air they must have taken into consideration the fact that these fines should be substantially increased. But the noble Earl's last words to me, in answer to my question as to why the Government want to 1399 increase the monetary penalty in this Bill 100 per cent. over the figure to-day, were that it might induce the magistrates of this country to be a little more severe in the future. If that is the only reason, I think it is a pretty poor one. However, perhaps the facts and figures I have given this afternoon may be taken into consideration by the Government when they are considering other matters that they have promised to look at.
§ On Question, Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 agreed to.
§ Clause 8:
§ Speed Limits on Roads other than Restricted Roads
§ (2) The authority having power to make an order under subsection (1) of this section—
- (a) as respects any trunk road or any road in the London Traffic Area, shall be the appropriate Minister; and
- (b) as respects any other road, shall be either the appropriate Minister or the local authority.
§ (3) No order under subsection (1) of this section shall be made by a local authority except with the consent of the appropriate Minister, and the appropriate Minister may, after giving the local authority notice of his intention to do so, by order vary or revoke any order made by them under that subsection.
I have been advised not to press this Amendment and have no intention of doing so, because I realise that it is imperfectly worded, but I would say, while I have the opportunity, that I feel it is essential that the power to impose traffic orders should be taken out of the hands of local authorities and put into the hands of the Minister of Transport and his National Traffic Advisory Committee. I am not saying, by any means, that all local authorities are incapable of doing this efficiently, but a large percentage of them are. Often they are composed of men of narrow experience, who have seldom been outside their own country towns, and I do not think they should be authorities to make road orders. However, this is something which should be discussed later. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 6, leave out from ("section") in line 5 to the end of line 26, and insert:
shall be the Minister of Transport in consultation with a National Traffic Advisory
Committee appointed by him, and consisting of not less than 20 members".—(Lord Somers.)
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I commend this Amendment. I do not suppose that the Minister wants to accept it now, but I want him to give it serious consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, will remember that in the Road Traffic and Road Improvements Bill the Minister of Transport was compelled to take over the responsibilities of 128 local authorities in London, because it was the only way of bringing some sense and order into London's traffic. What obtains in London obtains in most of our big and medium-sized cities.
In the Bill, the Minister is taking more powers, and I am glad that he is, because the traffic problem is getting to such a state that, however much we may dislike the "gentlemen from Whitehall" and any semblance of dictatorship, the only way we are going to cure it in our big cities is by putting traffic control under the direction of a central authority. I ask your Lordships to look at the potential danger of the congestion caused in our big cities by indiscriminate loading and unloading of lorries parked along busy streets hour after hour, obstructing the vision of people who are crossing the roads, especially the elderly and the young, and causing people to dodge behind traffic, a potential danger every time they do so.
I hope that the Government will seriously consider taking this matter out of the hands of the local authorities. I hope that in all the main streets of our cities the clearway system will be installed and the streets used for the purpose for which they were intended, for traffic to pass along them, and not for shopkeepers to use them as garages for vehicles all day long. I support the noble Lord's Amendment. He does not want to press it and I am not going to press it for him, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, will give some encouragement to the noble Lord that the Government will keep this very much in mind.
§ LORD CHESHAM
If my noble friend had been pressing this Amendment I would have spent some time resisting it, on the ground of the Minister's position and because of his Committee of Twenty. But in view of the agreeable attitude he has taken, I can spare your Lordships and confine myself to one or two remarks. My 1401 noble friend talked of local interests and narrow experience, but his attempt to get away from that is a complete reversal of the trend of things over the last 30 years. The tendency has been to regard focal affairs as things which should be dealt with by local people.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, spoke strongly on this point. But the Minister of Transport, while giving up various powers for traffic regulation has retained his present degree of control on speed limits, particularly in the interest of road safety. I do not think that there can be much doubt that in many cases speed limits are very much local affairs. The local people are best placed to know on what roads they should be applied. The noble Lord shakes his head, but if the local people do not know, it is much more difficult for the Minister to know. I think that the point I am trying to make goes some way to meeting the points that the noble Lords have made, without going too far—a matter which we may discuss on the next Amendment. In this Bill the Minister takes extra power, by the provision that he may impose a speed limit in addition to his existing powers to vary or revoke speed limits. This small extra power is intended to be used only in the interests of uniformity and road safety. I think that this extra power goes some way towards meeting my noble friend's point.
I think my noble Friend has slightly misunderstood me, because he says that local authorities are best qualified to know what is necessary in the way of speed limits. In that case, it is a surprising thing that they have imposed such an enormous percentage of entirely unnecessary limits. That is the reason why, as I said on Second Reading, the speed limits are more honoured in the breach than in the observance. But, as I say, this Amendment needs a good deal of looking into, and I do not intend to press it now. In view of what the noble Lord has said, I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN moved, in subsection (2) (b), to leave out "either the appropriate Minister or". The noble Earl said: This Amendment is designed to raise a question of principle which 1402 perhaps should have been brought up on Second Reading. I shall quite understand if the noble Lord tells me that the Amendment does not have the effect I want it to, or, indeed, has quite the opposite effect, because that is the common experience of most of us on this side of the Committee. The point on which I should like some assurance is the rights of local communities as against the long-distance through-travellers. More and more conflicts between the two interests are occurring. The heavy traffic on the main trunk roads, and the congestion it causes, drives motorists off the main roads. No doubt noble Lords like to drive by the quarter-inch map, or even the one-inch map, in order to find ways of avoiding the known congested areas. But this means that more and more traffic is being driven through the villages and small towns, off the trunk roads and die Class 1 roads.
§ Obviously we must consider the interests of the national traffic flow and of the long-distance travellers who want a fast uninterrupted journey; but we must also remember the local communities through which these travellers pass. They want to be spared the dangers to their children, the old people and animals caused by through-traffic taking routes which were never designed to take that kind of traffic. The protection of the local communities seemed to me to be the power (a limited power, and subject to all sorts of consents and consultations) which they have to impose speed limits where, having in view the interests of the local people, they thought there was a particular need.
§ The principle of the speed limit in built-up areas has been recognised for a long time, and it is recognised that a restriction of speed is necessary in the interests of local inhabitants.
If I may interrupt the noble Earl, can be say how he defines a built-up area? Is it by houses or lamp-posts?
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
I will not go into that point. I know that there are disagreements about it. but the fact remains that a great many of us quite contentedly observe a 30 m.p.h. speed limit when we come to a place where there are likely to be people other than motorists wanting to use the road. After 1403 all, the needs of the long-distance motorists are recognised by roads which are classified as trunk roads, Class 1, 2 and 3 roads and unclassified roads; and in regard to trunk roads which are designed for the motorist the Minister has powers to override any local interest and control the pattern of speed on these roads. Clearly, priority on the trunk roads should be given to the through-traffic, as it is; but as regards the non-trunk roads, hitherto local authorities have had the right to ask the Minister for leave to impose a speed limit where they thought one was necessary, The Minister had to give his consent; the chief of police had to be consulted; 'and the Minister had power subsequently to vary or revoke these orders.
The difference between the existing system and what this Bill proposes is twofold, First, instead of only the local authority being able to initiate changes in the speed limit, the Minister now takes to himself powers to initiate changes. Secondly, whereas before when the Minister decided to vary or revoke a speed limit he gave notice to the local authority, and the local authority was able to insist on a local inquiry being held (as I understand the Act of 1960, local authorities could insist on a local inquiry taking place), that power is now removed and the Minister is not compelled to grant a local inquiry; the Bill (it is in Clause 9, I think) says only that he "may".
The Minister mentioned the word "uniformity". It sends shudders down some of our backs when we think of trying to impose uniformity upon a diversity of country districts or small towns, each having its own problem. The Minister said quite plainly that speed limits are local matters in which local communities should have a voice. If the noble Lord tells us that these powers are being taken only to cope with quite exceptional circumstances, where perhaps two neighbouring local authorities fail to agree on the pattern of speed limit for the area, I would suggest that it could be done by putting a proviso in the Bill without redrafting the law so as to remove these powers which, as I have indicated, local authorities at present have. There is a certain sense of uneasiness about a number of the provisions in this Bill where the 1404 Minister appears to be taking to himself much wider powers than he has had, with a corresponding curtailing of the powers of lower local authorities. I hope to hear that the Minister would agree to be content with something less than the powers he is taking, and that the noble Lord will accept this Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 8, leave out ("either the appropriate Minister or")—(The Earl of Lucan.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
I thought for a moment, when the noble Earl, looking a little serious, as he did, began to talk of the rights of local communities against long-distance travellers, that he was going to raise some extremely deep issues; but as he went on I was relieved to find that he was confining himself largely to the speed-limit issue. He put it in that way, I think quite rightly, because he first asked about the priorities of traffic as between through traffic and local traffic. So far as the speed is concerned, which is what he had in mind, it is not a question of Priority, because priority seems to indicate a basic quarrel whereby the through-traveller thinks he ought to be allowed to go at 60 or 70 m.p.h. or whatever the road will take, and the inhabitants of the built-up area (no matter by what definition one describes the place where people live) think he ought to be restricted to 30 or, perhaps, 40 m.p.h. There is no question of settling any priorities between them: it is merely a question of assessing whether that road needs, and is suitable for, a speed limit of one kind or another. So that kind of assessment of priority does not arise. Whether the actual stretch of road should or should not have a speed limit is assessed on its suitability, having regard to the local dwellers, the traffic, width, lay-out construction and visibility.
The noble Earl, I think, was rather more concerned about the powers of the Minister under this Bill. I believe I can reassure him because, as he mentioned, there are only two changes of any consequence; that is the one I mentioned, that he may impose a speed limit, and the requirement about the local inquiry. That brings up the question of uniformity, which frightened the noble Earl, and I am glad to have this opportunity to say a little more about it, 1405 because it is not the intention to go about "rubber-stamping", if that is the right term. I intended to imply that naturally each road must be treated according to its characteristics and circumstances.
By "uniformity", I mean when the same road runs in rather similar circumstances through the areas of several local authorities. One finds such roads particularly in the North, where built-up areas tend to be more extended, and the same road goes from area to area. When I referred to the need for uniformity I was thinking of the present situation where you find a stretch of 30 m.p.h. limit followed by a de-restricted 'stretch for a while, because the next authority do not feel like imposing a limit, then go back to 30 m.p.h., then 40 m.p.h. again, and later back to 30 m.p.h. That kind of thing is muddling and confusing for the driver, and is not in the best interests of anybody. The noble Earl indicates that he does not think it is muddling. Well, he and I rather fall out about that. But, rather than argue it with him at length now, perhaps we may find some more agreeable moment to do it.
I will go on to say exactly what is intended by the powers that the Minister is to take. Under the proposals in the Bill it is intended that the Minister should have this very moderate power so that he can intervene positively, as well as negatively, in this question of speed limits only where there is a case for his doing so. I can definitely assure the noble Earl and the Committee that the Minister will use this power to intervene only where there is a good case for him to do so. I do not think he is likely to want to make any greater use of his power to impose a speed limit than he has made up to now of the power he already has—and that is not very great—to vary or revoke them. If the noble Earl is worried that the Minister can "cut loose" in the country and go on imposing speed limits over everything, or taking them off, I would point out that he can do that now, in certain circumstances. It is the imposition I am thinking of, and which the noble Earl may be thinking of. There are two safeguards, in that if the Minister proposes anything he must give notice to the local authority; and that, in practice, means consultation, as I think the noble Earl would agree. Secondly, he must specify every stretch of road 1406 about which he proposes to do something. He cannot, because of the physical difficulty of doing it, impose limits over large areas. Those, I think, are quite sufficient safeguards. I hope the noble Earl will think that that is reasonable, and that he will not press his Amendment.
§ LORD LINDGREN
May we take it that the reference to "local authority" in the Bill dealing with classified roads is the highway authority—that is, on Class 1, 2 and 3 roads the county council, and on unclassified roads the district council?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes, it can be taken that the local authority is the highway authority by definition under existing legislation.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
I wish I could say that I am entirely satisfied by the noble Lord's reply. To say that the Minister will use the power only where he thinks it necessary is something that surely need not be said. Does any Minister exercise powers except where he thinks they are necessary? This is the question of the Minister's judgment against that of the local inhabitants. What I was thinking of, of course, was not so much the imposition of restrictions, as the removal of restrictions where local authorities think it necessary and desirable, having in mind the characteristics of the road, as the noble Lord said. Among the characteristics of the road would be the amount of local pedestrian and other traffic which requires to use that road. Having all that in mind, under the existing Act the local authority has power to ask for a speed limit; and it seems to me that those powers are being weakened by this Bill. To say that the Minister gives notice is all very well, but what does he do if he gives notice and the local authorities say they do not like it? Hitherto, they were able to call for a local inquiry. Why is that power removed? That is one more factor which undermines the power of local communities to settle their own affairs on their own roads.
Let me ask the noble Lord another thing. We are constantly hearing various Ministers, and politicians of both Parties, lamenting the fact that local authorities are having their powers whittled away. Here is one more case, surely, where the county councils and highway authorities are seeing one more 1407 small power they had removed. The noble Lord shakes his head, and I hope he will show me where I am wrong. But that is the important thing which makes me anxious about this. The noble Lord explained what he meant by uniformity, and I quite see that in the case of street lighting—and we have discussed it before in this House—it is desirable. Standardisation of lighting over a length of road is, of course, a good thing for the motorist; it helps him. As to its being desirable that a speed limit should be uniform, I see no force in that. We are all well accustomed to driving along a road and coming on a speed limit sign, whether it be a 30 m.p.h. limit, a de-restriction sign or a 40 m.p.h. limit. In the normal course of motoring you are always seeing changes in the speed limit, and that is a well understood system. Here I should like to see the local authorities, to the extent that they have been in the past, able to impose such conditions on their own roads as make the lives of their own inhabitants pleasanter and safer.
Before the noble Lord replies, I wonder whether I could just apply the noble Earl's argument to the railways, which, after all, are not dissimilar from the roads nowadays. We have very much through traffic on both of them. What would he think of a railway where the local authority had the decision and the power to arrange that all through trains should stop at their station, however unimportant, or to vary the speed limit—because, after all, railways have their speed limits too—and perhaps to vary the type of signalling and other matters like that? I do not think we should have very efficient railways.
§ LORD MOLSON
In every previous intervention I have made in this Bill it has been to urge that a great deal more should be done to ensure the safety of pedestrians, but in this matter I would urge your Lordships to bear in mind the need for balancing the safety of local inhabitants and the need to keep traffic moving. When I was Parliamentary Secretary I had much experience of local authorities urging quite unreasonable speed limits, and it was extremely difficult for the Government to resist this pressure. On many occasions I suspect that the officials and councils did not 1408 really believe that those speed limits were necessary, but the pressure of their electors upon them was such that they felt bound to ask for it.
The noble Earl spoke about the trunk roads as being the roads that are used for through traffic, and other roads, classified roads, as being those where the interests of the local inhabitants should be considered predominant. There are relatively few trunk roads in this country. Classification of roads is based upon the amount of use made of them for through traffic. Class 1 roads are essential to the free movements of traffic about this country, and it is most important that there should not be unreasonable and undue restriction upon speeds. I hope that in dealing with this Bill we shall try to maintain a balance between those two requirements: between the need for road safety, upon which I have spoken several times, and the need to keep traffic moving. Nor, indeed, is it necessarily the case that to impose speed limits where they are not necessary will conduce to the safety of pedestrians. I believe that the Minister is the best person to maintain a balance of this kind, to take a general view and not be unduly under the pressure of local inhabitants. I believe this is a wise and reasonable provision in, the Bill, and hope the noble Earl will not press his objections to it.
§ LORD ELTON
On the whole, I agree much more than I should have expected to with what the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has said. I rise only to say that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Somers, will not go away with the feeling that he has convinced your Lordships that there is a real parallel between railways and roads. One difference is that over 300,000 people are killed or injured on the roads. Another is that mothers do not live with their children within five yards of the railways and have them running across, with express trains coming. There are a number of other differences with which I will not trouble your Lordships.
§ LORD LATHAM
I do not think anyone would dissent from the general proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, but it is the case that in this Bill as drafted, Clause 4, will very substantially extend the powers of the Minister to the reduction of the powers 1409 of the local authorities. The Minister would have an opportunity of coming to a decision with the obligation to do no more than give notice to the local authorities of his intention to make an order on the decision to which he has come without any consultation with the local authority. The representatives of the local authorities would be glad to have an assurance from the Minister that before making an order he will consult with the local authority. Surely that is a reasonable request; it would be a reasonable assurance for the Minister to give, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, may feel that he is able to give that assurance.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I do not think I find much trouble about that, because I understand the matter to be as I have explained it to your Lordships already: that the local authorities have to be given due notice by the Minister before he can make an order. I think that is already dealt with.
§ LORD LATHAM
That is what I said. That is the intention. He has come to the decision, and it is only when he wishes to make the order that he has to give notice to the local authority of his intention to do it. There has been no prior consultation, at least under the provisions of the Bill.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I do not see that the position is very different from the present one, if he uses his power to revoke.
§ LORD LATHAM
If the noble Lord would be good enough to compare the provisions of subsection (4) with the provisions of Section 21 of the Act of 1960, he will see that there is a vast difference.
§ LORD CHESHAM
If the noble Lord is worried, I will certainly look at the matter and see how it appears when I look at it.
§ LORD CHESHAM
That is absolutely wrong. The noble Lord has no justification for saying that, if I may say so. I do not see how he can say they are being stolen when they are not being removed. He would be quite justified, I think, in saying that if the Minister were replacing the local authority, but he is not; 1410 they are keeping the powers that they have now. The Minister's power is being extended, but not a very large extent. No power to make orders is taken away, so far as I know, from the local authority. It is extended to the Minister, which is a different thing from robbing them of their powers. I think that should be recognised.
§ LORD LATHAM
The noble Lord has given me my case. At the present time the local authority makes the order. It is true the local authority must get the consent of the Minister. Under the provisions of the Bill that is not the case. The Minister can, with co-ordinate authority and responsibility and powers, make the order without even consulting with the local authority. It is only when he intends actually to make the order that he need communicate at all with the local authority.
§ LORD CHESHAM
But then the local authority are still able to make orders; they are not at present deprived of the right to make an order if they want, with the Minister's consent.
§ LORD CHESHAM
But, so far as I can see, that does not rob the local authority of any power. They still have the same power as before. The Minister has a little more than he had before. This is certainly not being done at their expense. I really do not see the justification for saying otherwise. I was sorry that the noble Earl opposite did not think that changing limits in a built-up area was not dangerous. Every considered opinion that I have ever heard suggests that it would create a sudden and confusing situation to a motorist not to know whether he was in a 30 or 40 m.p.h. limit. I hope that when he thinks the matter over the noble Earl will be able to attach a little more value to my point.
The noble Lord, Lord Molson, mentioned a most important point. I will not repeat the argument because I know I shall have to come back to it on another Amendment. It is a matter that is greatly in your Lordships' minds—namely, that speed limits must be reasonable and acceptable, otherwise they are no good. That is the reason why the 1411 Minister wants this little extra power. Although this is called a Road Traffic Bill, it is a road safety Bill. It is intended to promote road safety, and therefore the Minister wants the power to make sure in regard to limits. That is why I use the phrase "using the powers only where they are necessary"; it is to make sure that that aspect of the matter is reasonably well-conducted in the interests of road safety.
§ VISCOUNT CROSS
I should like to say a few words in support of the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and in particular to say something about the parallel which he drew with the railways. One point about that is that the driver of a railway engine knows his track and he knows what to expect round the next bend. The driver on a main road in this country, if he is not familiar with that road, does not know what to expect. To take a few examples, the A.4, A.5 and A.6 vary throughout their length as regards the composition and the colour of the road surface, the kerbstones, the lighting and the speed limits. I should like the A roads to be completely standard from one end of the country to the other. It does not matter about the B roads; they are country roads and are not so important as the A roads. As regards the through trunk roads, I should like somebody to decide what is a safe road, to design a road to that standard, and then drivers, pedestrians, pedal cyclists and everybody will be much the safer.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
I think there is something in what the noble Lord says: that the classification system of roads might be carried a little further. It might even come into this question of speed limits. I think it would be quite reasonable that Class 1 roads should be brought, with trunk roads, under the Minister's control. I am sorry that noble Lords do not seem to agree with me that people living on a Class 2 or Class 3 unclassified road should have rights which are reasonable, and subject, of course, to the Minister's approval. That was always the case, so I do not see how unreasonable requests need have been granted by the Minister. That was the Minister's power precisely: to guard against unreasonable exercise of the power of local authorities to make orders. After all, we say that we 1412 must keep the traffic moving. Certainly, on the main traffic arteries we must keep it moving. We want to keep it moving forward. But how can you say that it will keep moving without giving freedom to anybody with a car capable of 100 m.p.h. to drive at that speed? That is the factor that I hope your Lordships have in mind, even if you do not agree with my Amendment to the Bill. I hope that we can understand from what the Minister says that the power he is taking is to be used only in exceptional circumstances.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes. I thought I had made that clear. The use of this power is intended to be very limited and only where it is needed. The noble Earl need not think that people who live on secondary roads and the back roads are deprived of some rights of protection that they might otherwise have. Their status is not changed. If there is a case for a speed limit they can still have one. I tell the noble Earl and the Committee that that is all this power is for. It is in the interests of road safety and uniformity.
§ THE EARL of LUCAN
I thank the noble Lord for that assurance and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 8 agreed to.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ LORD HAWKE moved, after Clause 8 to insert the following new clause:
§ Speed limits of public service vehicles with pneumatic tyres
§ ".Notwithstanding anything contained in section twenty-four (Speed limit for vehicles of different classes or descriptions), the maximum speed of thirty miles per hour specified in the First Schedule to the principal Act shall not apply in relation to a public service vehicle fitted with pneumatic tyres and not drawing a trailer and the Minister shall not have power under that section to vary the provisions of that Schedule so as to impose a maximum speed in relation to any such vehicle lower than the speed or the maximum speed at which vehicles of any other class may be driven."
The noble Lord said: The day before yesterday my noble Leader, in column 1220 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, said that.
… soon there will be a statement from the Government in which speed limits will be modified in a realistic sense.
It is by no means clear whether he was speaking of road speed limits, or vehicle
speed limits, or both. My Amendment is what one might call a token Amendment, to point out the intolerable injustice which would occur if the Bill passed in its present form and vehicle speed limits remained unchanged. As your Lordships know, all commercial vehicles have a speed limit. The vast bulk of them probably come into the 30 m.p.h. category. My Amendment deals with buses. Their limit is 30 m.p.h., but precisely the same anomalies occur with all the others, particularly the lighter forms of lorry, delivery vans and so on. I have put down only one Amendment, however, which concerns buses. In practice, for all these commercial vehicles the speed limit is rarely observed and too rarely enforced. If it were observed, if all the commercial vehicles in the country chose to work to rule to-morrow, the traffic of this country would get into a terrible mess.
§ At present, if there is a prosecution for speeding at 31 miles an hour upwards, the court can fit the punishment to the crime. As the Bill stands, speeding becomes one of the many offences, both trivial and grave, included in Part II of the First Schedule, any three of which, regardless of the gravity or triviality of any one of them, must lose the driver his licence; and being a professional driver, with the loss of his licence he loses his job and probably does not get it back again after his licence is restored. A bus driver will probably lose his livelihood as a bus driver for ever. I have not put a speed limit in my proposed clause. The operators of buses themselves claim that their vehicles are safer at speed than private cars, because all their drivers have to pass a much stiffer test than ordinary drivers.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Is the noble Lord referring now to double-decker buses in London streets or to the coaches going all over the countryside? Does he distinguish between them?—because up to now he has mentioned only buses.
The technical term is "public service vehicle". Those drivers pass a stiffer test, and that type of vehicle is the only large class of vehicles liable to regular inspection by Ministry of Transport officials. Therefore such vehicles are probably the best maintained 1414 of any vehicles in this country. Moreover, they have a very fine accident-free record. But I quite imagine that public opinion would not be willing to have them without some limit. It is not for me but for traffic engineers and mechanical experts to suggest any suitable limit.
I feel sure that Her Majesty's Government must meet this point. While the general public would wish to see drivers losing their licence for three offences which they (the general public) would consider likely to be dangerous offences, I do not think they would be prepared to see a licence lost on grounds which could consist of three trivialities. In the eyes of the general public—and indeed, apparently in the eyes of the police, too—exceeding the speed limit as at present constituted is generally not considered to be an offence of gravity. How can it be when every commercial vehicle on the road, as a matter of course, exceeds 30 m.p.h. whenever the road conditions permit? It would not be proper to hold over commercial drivers the threat of losing their livelihood for doing something which the country relies upon them to do to keep the vital traffic of this country moving: exceeding the speed limit. This is a démarche to draw attention to this particular anomaly in the Bill. I am certain that my proposed new clause is badly worded, and is probably unnecessary, since I expect the Minister has power to alter speed limits by order. But I hope that I have managed to call attention to what I believe will be an intolerable injustice if this Bill passes in its present form. I beg to move.
After Clause 8, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Hawke.)
I should like to add my support for this new clause, and would draw attention to the fact that many public service vehicles are regularly running up and down the M.1 motorway without being restricted as to speed. I could suggest that there is no real necessity for speed limit on public service vehicles outside built-up areas. The drivers of such vehicles have to pass a special driving test; they are well equipped to handle a properly maintained vehicle on the road, and are able 1415 to judge the safe speed at which to proceed having regard to the relevant conditions. The continuance of a restrictive speed limit of 30 m.p.h. for a modern, well-maintained vehicle is quite unrealistic, and any figure which might be substituted for 30 could be only an arbitrary one. The removal of the speed limit on public service vehicles would in no way increase the danger to the public. On the contrary, it would, in many cases, lead to a more even flow of traffic outside built-up areas, and therefore increase road safety. For those reasons I support this Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I cannot agree with this Amendment, for it is perhaps elementary that a coach weighing 20 tons and travelling at 50 m.p.h. is a far more lethal weapon that a car doing 50 m.p.h., and especially does this apply if the coach happens to strike an icy patch and get out of control. I understood my noble friend Lord Hawke to say that it is the experience of coach operators that a coach going at high speed was a safer vehicle than a car travelling at the same speed. I really cannot subscribe to that argument, because a heavy vehicle, irrespective of how good its brakes are, is far harder to pull up, especially if it strikes ice.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has raised a very important question; and as he himself has said, he has done it in a token manner. The speed limits of this country are just chaotic and archaic, and if the noble Lord has done nothing else he has now raised that whole question. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, that there should be no speed limit on public service vehicles, and I believe that on second thoughts he would not really think so himself. But the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has also illustrated the handicap under which we are suffering. The noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House gave us the broadest of broad hints that, after giving careful consideration to this problem, Her Majesty's Government would come out and say what they intend to do in the future. Indeed, the very efficacy of this Bill depends upon their doing that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has said. I am hoping 1416 that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, will be able to lift the curtain a little so that we can discuss this matter, not only now but on all other Amendments and stages of this Bill, with a little more intelligence than we can to-day.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said in answer to the previous Amendment. This variation of speed limit in built-up areas is a curse and a nuisance and is not conducive to road safety. It is more honoured in the breach than in the observance; and to have to keep on watching for signs—and they are now legion—to see whether one is in a 30 m.p.h. or 40 m.p.h. zone is ridiculous. I do not know whether any of your Lordships travelling in an average motor car on a road within the 40 m.p.h. limit has ever tried to pass a double-decker bus that is doing 30 m.p.h. One cannot pass without exceeding the 40 m.p.h. limit.
I have always been an opponent of different speed limits for different vehicles in built-up areas. The whole secret of successful traffic engineering in congested areas is to move all the traffic at the same speed. That is a first principle, but it is disregarded, and the anomalies of the present time are absolutely ridiculous. A three-wheeled motor tricycle is a commercial vehicle if it carries some bread, and it is restricted, I think, to 30 miles an hour. The chief reason causing congestion in London is that there are so many vehicles which travel at different speeds. I hope that the noble Lord will give this matter attention. I feel certain that he will have to have a uniform speed limit, but I would ask him whether he could give it consideration. I do not know whether it has entered into the considerations of the Ministry up to date. If we want to have a 30 m.p.h. limit and a 40 m.p.h. limit and then an unlimited run, do not come back after the 40 m.p.h. limit to the 30; go on in a steady progression upwards and do not job backwards.
I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, wants to do anything with this Amendment other than make it a token one. But I agree that the modern coach is a masterpiece of British engineering. It is one of the safest vehicles on the road. I do not know whether your Lordships have ever driven one; I have. As someone who has spent his life in the motor industry, I think that 1417 the British motor industry have every reason to be proud of their present large coaches. They are magnificent pieces of engineering, and I would rather drive one of those large coaches on the roads of this country than I would drive a railway engine on a restricted track. However, I give my support to the noble Lord. I plead with the Minister to try to give us some news in the future on the subject we are talking about.
§ EARL HOWE
I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has just been saying. I think he has touched on a point that is of vital importance. Differential speed limits are a curse and they are no good. We have had a 30 m.p.h. limit and we have a 40 m.p.h. limit. What is the difference between the 30 m.p.h. and the 40 m.p.h. limits? How much better would it be if the Minister could say he was going to make the 40 m.p.h. limit universal and it was going to be enforced! I think that is the answer to a whole lot of things. I should like to give your Lordships the views of the national chairman of the Road Haulage Association. He said, the other day:Unlike private motorists, the public-service vehicle driver is restricted to the outdated and now ridiculous speed limit of 30 m.p.h. even outside built up areas. If this Bill becomes law it will mean that if a driver's sidelight goes out on Monday, his rear light goes out' on Tuesday, and he does over 30 m.p.h. on Wednesday, he must, in court, lose his livelihood for six months. Magistrates will be obliged to suspend a driver for not less than six months if three technical offences are committed within three years.We all know that. But I feel it is important to get away from differential speed limits if we can, and to have in the built-up areas a limit of 40 m.p.h. everywhere and to enforce it.
§ LORD FORBES
There is another aspect of this question. If commercial vehicles are allowed to go faster, it will automatically reduce the cost of transportation to a certain extent, because there is nothing more expensive than driving a commercial vehicle at a very slow speed, with the driver changing gear the whole time.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I must admit that I was very glad to hear from my noble friend Lord Hawke that he was putting forward this Amendment in a token 1418 manner, because I could not exactly agree that, as it stood, I should view it as greatly in the interests of road safety. But, at the same time, I readily agree with what has been said: the present 30 m.p.h. limit is hardly appropriate for public-service vehicles. I do not go all the way with my noble friend Lord Teynham, because the performance, and no doubt safe performance, on the M.1 is probably all right in those rather special circumstances, but I do not think I could accept it at all as an argument for a similar lack of restriction on other roads.
Of course, I know that the Committee agree with me in saying—it has been said and made perfectly clear—that if this new system of penalties and disqualifications is going to work, speed limits of all kinds, both on roads and vehicles, have to be realistic. That is the first point. The other point is the undertaking which my noble friend gave to sort the trivial from the grave. But the Committee know, I think, that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has been engaged on a comprehensive review of all vehicle speed limits; and I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that he has now decided that the speed limit for buses and coaches outside the built-up areas should be raised from the present maximum of 30 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. I am sure your Lordships will regard that as evidence that my right honourable friend means what he says in this matter and is proceeding in a thoroughly practical way which will be of help to the operators and drivers.
§ LORD CHESHAM
It certainly does. I was saying that I think, apart from being reasonable, it will be of benefit for the operators and drivers. The necessary draft statutory instrument to achieve this change, which has to be approved by Resolutions in your Lordships' House and in another place, will be laid before your Lordships shortly.
The question of a possible increase in the maximum permitted speed for goods vehicles is rather more complex. Goods vehicles vary a lot in their construction, in their size, in their operation and in 1419 their maintenance. You cannot generalise in the same way, perhaps, as you can for public-service vehicles. Therefore, the whole question of the upper speed limit for goods vehicles is being referred now to the Departmental Committee on Road Safety for urgent consideration and report to my right honourable friend.
May I just interrupt the noble Lord? Would he bring to the attention of this Committee the great difficulty of a coach travelling at 40 m.p.h. passing a heavy goods vehicle and a trailer laden with bricks travelling at 30 m.p.h.? The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned this point just now, but I am sure the noble Lord knows it as well as I do and I think he will admit there is a great difficulty in it. It can create a long period of waiting at traffic friction points.
§ LORD CHESHAM
That is perfectly true. I take the noble Lord's point. It is a thing that is not confined; it also frequently happens with commercial vehicles as it is, with the same speed limit. While the point applies here, it is a much wider one altogether; it does not stop at that case. Fortunately, I happen to be chairman of that Committee, so it will not be difficult to include it in the discussion.
While we are talking on the subject of reasonable limits, perhaps your Lordships will allow me a moment's latitude, in view of the concern you have expressed about speed limits, in the context of offences for disqualification being perhaps only technical or trivial, or whatever the word might be. I should also like to correct some misapprehensions which seem to have occurred and been expressed publicly here and there, arising from the undertaking that my noble friend the Leader of the House gave the day before yesterday about the attempt he would make to devise a means of sorting the grave offences from the trivial ones, in which he included the words, I think, "a review of the speed limits". I think he was forecasting what I was gong to say to-day. There has been some misunderstanding, because I have heard it said and seen it stated that we intend to introduce a large number of 1420 varying speed limits, all kinds of miles per hour, in all kinds of places all over the country. That is not so at all, because my right honourable friend recognises that, if it is important for vehicles, it is equally important for roads that the actual speed limits should be reasonable and should, in consequence, be fully respected by the majority of motorists.
Having said that, and with that in mind, my right honourable friend has already instituted a review of speed limits on all trunk roads throughout the country which are his direct responsibility, to ensure that they are realistic and based on common criteria all over. As a result of this review, it may prove possible to remove the speed limit altogether on some roads and to raise it from 30 to 40 m.p.h. on others, although it may, of course, be desirable to impose a 40 m.p.h. limit on roads that are at present unrestricted, rather like what has been done around London. I hope this review will be completed within twelve months. That is in respect of the roads for which the Minister has direct responsibility.
The responsibility for speed limits on other roads rests primarily with the local authorities, and it will be for them to carry out a review of the existing speed limits on their roads on the same basis. My right honourable friend will be writing shortly to local authorities, urging them to carry out the same kind of review for their roads as he has instituted for the trunk roads. In doing so, he proposes to draw their attention, in particular, to the importance, in view of the new provisions in the Bill, of ensuring that their speed limits are realistic, so that they will be both respected by the motorist and capable of being effectively enforced by the police. A circular on these lines to local authorities is already being prepared, and I hope that it will go out within the next few weeks. I am sorry I have rather digressed, but I hope your Lordships will be pleased that I have. In particular, in view of the announcement that I have made, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his Amendment.
I cannot help feeling that the arbitrary figure of 40 miles per hour suggested for the public service vehicle is too low. I should have 1421 thought that it should be at least 50, which would get over the passing difficulty which we have already heard about.
I am glad that my Amendment has produced such an interesting and long statement from my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I, too, am surprised that the Minister should plump for the figure 40, but I suppose he had engineering and technical calculations to support him. There is one point which has not been raised about this matter, I believe, during all these debates. When the Committee are looking into all these things, I wonder whether they can watch the question of different limits for the twin-track roads as against the other roads. I also hope that the Committee, of which my noble friend is apparently going to be the Chairman, will look from a more realistic point of view—from a road safety point of view rather than from a fiscal point of view—at the 30 miles an hour limit on what I believe is known as a dual-purpose vehicle. With those few remarks, I thank my noble friend and beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10 [Temporary or experimental speed limits]:
§ 6.25 p.m.
Page 7, line 42, leave out ("after giving public notice of his intention to do so, by order") and insert ("by order made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament").—(Earl Howe.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am grateful to my noble friend for being so brief in his introduction. I am bound to say, if he will forgive me, that his drafting contains an error, but I will not say anything about that until, at any rate, we know what happens to the Amendment. If that error were corrected, the Amendment, as the noble Earl pointed 1422 out, would require that, to impose any of these experimental temporary speed limits, my right honourable friend would have to come to Parliament for approval. If I may be straightforward and blunt, I would say that that would completely defeat the object of my right honourable friend in relation to experimental and temporary speed limits. I do not think I need again go right through what is their purpose. The 50 miles an hour experimental limits imposed last year, which are to be repeated on a considerably wider scale this year, are merely typical. We feel it is most necessary that my right !honourable friend should have this power in order to be able to act quickly, where circumstances seem to warrant it, in the interests of road safety only, and 'be able to get on with it and find something out.
So that it cannot be overdone in any way, and particularly so that there can be no question of my right honourable friend or anyone else in years to come slapping a speed limit indiscriminately over the whole country, there is the very powerful safeguard that nothing he can do under this Bill in relation to putting these speed limits on can last for more than four months. If he wants it to last for more than four months, then he does have to come to Parliament to get approval. He cannot even cheat by letting it off for one day and then putting it on again, because there is a minimum period of two months before it can be repeated. If may say so, I think that to accept this Amendment would be to stand somewhat in the way of progress in road safety; and I hope that, with the assurance that Parliamentary control comes in after a four-month period, my noble friend will not press his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
§ Clause 12 [Head lamps]:
LORD TEYNHAM moved, in subsection (2), after the first "shall" to insert:
be fitted with yellow bulbs or yellow screens and shall
The noble Lord said: I do suggest that the effect of this Amendment would be greatly to reduce the danger from dazzle on the roads at night in this country. In France, it is compulsory to have either a yellow bulb or yellow screen on your car lights. I am sure many of your Lordships have noticed on your return to England, after driving abroad where yellow bulbs are in force, how much stronger is the dazzle in this country, with the use of white bulbs for the usual form of lighting on our vehicles. I strongly urge that the Government accept this Amendment, which I feel will be yet another form of assistance in the reduction of accidents, especially at night. I beg to move.
Page 9, line 26, after ("shall") insert ("be fitted with yellow bulbs or yellow screens and shall")—(Lord Teynham.)
§ EARL HOWE
I am extremely anxious about this Amendment and I desire to support it in every way I can. I was one of a number of drivers who were asked by the Road Research Board to go down to London Airport and carry out trials with yellow lights as compared with white lights. There were eight of us altogether, and we carried out very carefully observed trials. Of those eight, seven were entirely in favour of yellow lights. We tried to be as impartial in the matter as we could, but seven were entirely in favour of yellow lights.
Yellow lights have other advantages besides lack of dazzle. They are not nearly so dazzling to other drivers in mist or fog. Yellow lights do not seem to be affected by droplets of water in the air, as are white lights, and I suggest that that is an additional advantage. On the subject of dazzle, there are no two ways about it. If you go abroad and visit France, you soon see which are the more dazzling and if you have white lights on your car, probably you will find all the French lorry drivers switching on their lights and going for you as hard as they can. I hope the Government will take a favourable view of this Amendment, and I desire to support it.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Before the noble Earl sits down, could he tell me when these trials in which he took part took place?
§ EARL HOWE
I cannot remember offhand, but it was about two years ago. I cannot be bound absolutely to that, but it was about two years ago. Experiments were carried out in conjunction with the Road Research Board, and all cars had their headlights tested before they went out on to the airfield to see that they were properly lined up.
Before my noble friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies, I should like to say that I am afraid I am not with my noble friends Lord Teynham and Lord Howe. I do not think the tests that he was referring to can really stand up. I am certain that the Road Research Laboratory will agree with me that the lamps that they were using were British lamps. The reflectors are differently constructed, and you are not comparing like with like when you compare British lamps with yellow lamps in French headlights. I know that the noble Lord will come back with a lot of answers, and I know that the Road Research Laboratory has done a lot of work, but there is really no difference between the kind of dazzle you get from a French lamp with a yellow bulb and a French lamp with a white bulb. It largely depends on the reflector around the bulb, and one can be misled by rather ad hoc tests.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I have been in the past, and occasionally I still am, very tempted to side with my noble friend Lord Teynham about this one, because, purely as a personal matter, I have a sneaking liking for yellow lamps on my own car as well as on everybody's else's. But I am afraid that that is only a question of personal taste and opinion, and I must pay some regard, I feel, to the report of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, which is in fact a pre-war one. That Report said the following, which I will quote, if I may:None of the claims made in favour of using a coloured, and in particular a yellow, headlight beam, rather than a white beam of no greater power, have been substantiated. The claim for a greater range of visibility in fog may be regarded as definitely disproved. On the other claims for less dazzle and greater facility of vision the evidence is inconclusive; but it is apparent from the information at present available that further work 1425 is unlikely to show that any considerable advantage can be secured by using coloured light.That was from the Report of the D.S.I.R.
The Road Research Laboratory carried out some trials in 1954. I have not the results of the trials in which my noble friend took part; they must have been different ones, because I understand that many drivers took part in the trials in 1954, in fact rather more than the noble Lord described. The results given, as I have them, were that over 50 per cent.—it does not say how much over 50 per cent.—preferred white lights when they were meeting cars with white lights; 90 per cent. preferred white on a clear road: and 60 per cent. thought yellow was less glaring, but only slightly less. I am not trying to comment on those figures; I just state them. I know that we are always impressed when we go to France and see these yellow lights, and France is the only European country which requires them. It is very tempting to say that they are much less dazzling, but, as my noble friend Lord Waleran correctly hinted, the reason is that the average power of a French headlamp is about 20 per cent. less than that of the British headlamp, and that is what matters. It is the intensity which is important.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
Could the noble Lord tell us what is the maximum wattage employed in this country, because it is an important point? Could he make a categorical statement with regard to the wattage?
§ LORD CHESHAM
I have no idea what is the wattage of French lamps. The noble Lord can check me and put me right if he has the figures with him, but I understand and believe that the average power of French lamps, either due to the wattage or the design, or anything you like, is about 20 per cent. less; and that is the important part—that the lamps are less powerful. A more important matter than that is not so much the colour but the aiming, or the focus (if you like to call it), of lamps. There are anti-dazzle provisions on those lines contained in the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations of 1959. The other thing I must say is that we keep in touch as much as we can with international developments on such matters, 1426 and we are actively doing so at the moment in discussions which are going on under the auspices of E.C.E. It is a European affair. The work involved is very complex and technically detailed, but it is interesting 'that the participants in it are working entirely on the basis of white lighting, not yellow.
Apart from anything else I have been talking about, if I were to accept this Amendment it would have the extra effect of putting us out of line with the work and thinking that other countries are doing. But despite that, I should like to help my noble friend Lord Teynham as much as I can, so I would draw his attention to the fact that Clause 13 already contains a provision which would enable my right honourable friend to prescribe the colour of headlamps; and if, in due course, it is proved that yellow is more suitable, he will be able to so prescribe.
I appreciate the view put forward by the noble Lord who is replying for Her Majesty's Government, but it is a little difficult to accept it, in view of what has been said by my noble friend Lord Howe. Other countries, as well as this one, are now studying the matter and I hope that they will come to a more satisfactory conclusion. But the fact remains that one has only to meet a car coming directly against one, which has obviously been recently on the Continent and still is fitted with yellow bulbs, to see that the dazzle is far less. I certainly do not press my Amendment to-day, but I hope that the Minister will consider this in future under Clause 13, in which he has power to act, when we know a little more about the results of the investigations going on both in this and in other countries on this very matter. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, whether Clause 12 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
Before we pass on, I should like to raise a question, on which I have to declare an interest—namely, the operation of vintage vehicles on the road. I think that the noble Lord is aware that veteran vehicles rarely go on the road at night, but owners take great pride in the originality of their vehicles. I think it 1427 would be a great shame if regulations were made which would prevent these vehicles from going on the road if they did not carry modern headlamps. I have had many representations from owners on this point, and I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would look sympathetically at this question before making any regulations.
§ LORD CHESHAM
The answer is simply. Yes. My noble friend understands why this clause is included—for road safety purposes in areas of the poorest illumination. I think it is wide enough to permit attention to the point he has raised, and I will certainly see that it is kept in mind.
§ Clause 12 agreed to.
THE EARL OF LUCAN moved to insert, at the end of subsection (1)
(b) for controlling the position, colour and power of flashing indicator-lamps.
§ The noble Earl said: This Amendment can be quickly explained, but perhaps I should apologise because the printing of this edition of the Bill is not easy; the line numbers do not coincide with the lines. The intention is to add a paragraph to subsection (1) of Clause 13, so that the subsection will then have two paragraphs, (a) and (b). I expect that your Lordships have noticed that a variety of turn indicator lamps are fitted on cars nowadays, and more and more variety seems to be creeping in. I have seen lamps showing at the rear red and yellow and white. I have seen square, oblong, triangular and round lamps and I have seen them on different places on cars.
§ The chief defect which calls for some control, which we advocate in this Amendment, is brightness. There is a difficulty here. Flashing lights have been brought in, I suppose, to cope with fast traffic on motor roads and I agree that, with traffic moving at a fast pace, a considerable warning time is needed before a car turns off. That is the advantage of the powerful indicator lamps. On the other hand, in urban traffic these flashing lamps add one more hazard to driving. When we get different coloured lights flashing against a background that may have half the colours in the rain- 1428 bow, flashing on shop signs, and advertisements all round, it gets very difficult. Moreover, the power of these rearward facing indicator lamps produces a dazzle, particularly by their reflection on wet roads. Unless the driver's windscreen is perfectly clear, it dazzles to quite a dangerous degree, when one is driving close behind in a stream of traffic and these lights go on. I think the Minister should take powers to standardise these lights, and I hope he will standardise them at a fairly low level of power. I beg to move.
Page 10, line 12, at end insert the said paragraph.—(The Earl of Lucan.)
I should like to support this Amendment very strongly. I have felt for a long time that the only ideal system of flashing traffic indicators is to have them amber, both in front and at the rear, and they should not be incorporated with the side or rear lamps—though, if they are that colour, they could not be. If they are amber, that will avoid any confusion with braking by drivers. I think that amber indicators would avoid a lot of confusion.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I agree that there are problems associated with flashing indicators and with the semaphore type as well. I do not think there are many aspects that have been mentioned which have not been considered, but I would ask the noble Earl to withdraw his Amendment simply because it is unnecessary. The Minister already has the necessary powers for the purpose in Section 64 (1) of the 1960 Act. If I may, I would read out what it says:The Minister may make regulations generally as to the use of motor vehicles and trailers on roads, their construction and equipment and the conditions under which they may be so used, and in particular, but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions, may make regulations with respect to any of the following matters:—(i) the appliances … for intimating any intended change of speed or direction of a motor vehicle, and the use of any such 1429 appliance, and for securing that they shall be efficient and kept in proper working order;I think that that covers the matter very well. Under these powers the Minister has already made regulations for both flashing and semaphore indicators. At present, they do not make the fitting of direct indicators compulsory, but power to do so exists, if it seems desirable. Where indicators are fitted, then they must comply with the requirements of the regulations. The regulations lay down the following details: if it is a flashing type, the rate of flash; the extent of the illuminated area of the indicator; the power of the bulb; the limits of height within which indicators must be fitted; the colour of every indicator; and requirements for "tell-tales" visible to the driver to indicate that an indicator is operating. All those are laid down and, therefore, as I say, the noble Earl's Amendment is not required.
In addition, I would say this, in view of what has been said. There are various difficulties, which are somewhat technical and which account for the variation in size, type and particularly colour, either white or amber, or at the back sometimes red. That is due, again, partly to the practice of various manufacturers in this country and in other countries. It is affected by the export problem; it is affected by the practice in other countries whose regulations are different from ours. It has been suggested that it should be amber here, whereas in Italy they insist on white, and so on. But, with the aid of the industry, we are making steady progress to what we believe to be the correct goal—namely, that they should all be amber, back and front. That is where we are going as best we may. I should like to say, finally, that on the subject of the intensity of the bulb some work with which we have been associated has been clone in America. They have not been able to find a single light which is bright enough to be seen on a sunny day without being dazzling at night. These problems are not as easy as they appear, but they are being attended to.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that statement and for the information, which I had overlooked, that the original Act makes pro- 1430 vision for this. I hope it will be enforced. If it is a question of conformity with requirements of other countries, here surely is a case for some international agreement, and I hope the Government will do their best to get that agreement. I hope the regulations will not allow the styling (as I think it is called) of motor cars to influence the shape or size and, therefore, the safety of the indicator lights. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.53 p.m.
EARL FERRERS moved to add to subsection (3):
and shall provide that the rear light of any bicycle, tricycle or invalid carriage shall be of a diameter of not less than 2½ inches".
§ The noble Earl said: The object of this Amendment is quite simple: it is to ensure that bicyclists carry a more effective rear light than they normally do. The majority of bicycles, as your Lordships know, are totally inadequately lit from the rear, and when you are progressing along a road at night with a bicyclist in front of you, the moment an oncoming motorist appears with his headlights on, the bicyclist is frequently eclipsed. There are two ways in which you can control a light emitted from a torch: one is by the brilliance of the power, and the other by the diameter of the light. The brilliance of the power is difficult to control, but what you can do is to make the diameter of the light larger. I should like to see bicyclists carry a rear light of sufficient size so that they can adequately be seen and, therefore, protected. I beg to move.
Page 10, line 29, after ("ascertained") insert the said words.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
While I have considerable sympathy with the object of this Amendment, I think I should point out to my noble friend exactly what it is he is proposing The present regulations call for a lamp of not less than 1½ inches, and therefore he is proposing an increase of one inch on the present prescribed size. But unfortunately it is not a question of the diameter of the lamp, as he mentioned, that matters but a question of the intensity of the light coming from the lamp. I feel that the way we are tackling this problem may 1431 perhaps commend itself rather more than my noble friend's suggestion.
There is a regulation which says that the tail lamps of all registered vehicles—motor cars and so one—after March 30, 1959, must be marked with a specification number of the British Standard for tail lights for vehicles. Those lamps are of a British standard, and they have to emit a light through certain horizontal and vertical angles; they have to be measured for a set test distance; and they have to have the minimum intensity laid down in the standard. My right honourable friend is proposing to make similar regulations under which pedal cycles and bicycles will, from a date which will be twelve months after the regulations are made, be required to carry rear lamps marked with the appropriate British Standard number. The effect will be that these rear lamps will meet the conditions for the minimum intensity set out in the standard. The standard itself, incidentally, is being improved a little in respect of cycle lamps.
The new lamps, therefore, will do a much better job, and I believe will probably do what my noble friend wants. After all, it is the intensity of the light that comes out which is vital, and not the size of the lamp. There is also the small objection that the Amendment presupposes that they all have to be circular, which they need not be; that has never been the requirement. The other thing that I might mention, in passing, is that we should then have prescribed a larger tail lamp for a bicycle than we do for a heavy lorry. I hope that my noble friend will feel that our way is the better way, and agree to withdraw his Amendment.
May I ask my noble friend whether it is an offence, or whether the Minister intends to make it an offence, to ride a bicycle with one's clothes obscuring the rear lamp?
I am grateful for that reply from my noble friend. Do I understand him to say that these new regulations will affect the new lights that are sold; or are they going to be regula- 1432 tions that affect the bicyclist? I am aware that at the moment the Ministry set a standard of 1½ inches for a rear light, but a great number of rear lights with a diameter of less than 1½ inches are carried. The other point the noble Lord made was that 2½ inches was in excess of a lorry rear light. I am perfectly aware of that but, of course, the operative thing in a rear light on a bicycle is the battery. The intensity of brilliance is important, and it may be that 1½ inches is adequate when the battery is new, but when it is half run down I would suggest that a diameter of 2½ inches is much better protection that one of 1½ inches. However, I do not propose to press this point and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 13 and 14 agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from two minutes past seven o'clock until eight o'clock.]
§ Clause 15 [Approved driving instructors]:
LORD MOLSON moved to leave out Clause 15. The noble Lord said: I am not going to make heavy weather of this Amendment. This is a clause which I think nobody—not even the Government—would claim is going to achieve anything very substantial. It begins by saying:
There shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament any expenses incurred by the Minister in connection with any arrangements made by him for compiling and maintaining a register of Persons approved by him as qualified to give instruction ….
There is no obligation on people who are giving instruction to satisfy the requirements of the Minister. There is no obligation on people who make charges and set themselves up as professional instructors to meet those requirements. This is one of those compromises between complete laissez faire and rigid control which in some circumstances may be wise, but which in this case, I think, is likely to be completely ineffectual. It says merely that the Minister may set up a machinery for laying down certain standards in schools of driving, and those who satisfy them may enjoy the use of a title, not yet decided upon, which the Minister may think out and without complying with a standard that the Minister
may lay down. I could understand if it were thought this was a matter of such importance that the whole thing had to be taken completely under the control of the Government.
§ I believe I am right in saying that all schools in this country are subject to inspection by the Ministry of Education. I think there is a great deal to be said for leaving it (that is what I would recommend) to private enterprise. But that the Ministry should set up an organisation for approving driving teachers and not prevent people who do not satisfy those requirements from making charges for giving driving instruction, is, I think, the kind of compromise which is not likely to be effective from any point of view. I have no doubt that there are a number of driving instructors who are not really fit to instruct. The law is that a person may pass his driving test in the morning and begin instructing in the afternoon; and it may be—though I do not think so—desirable that a particular standard should be laid down, so that everybody who gives instruction should reach a certain standard. I believe this to be the kind of compromise between different views, which is "grandmotherly" legislation, and I do not think it is likely to achieve any useful purpose.
§ It is not, in my view, one of the duties of the Government to make certain that people who wish to have driving instruction should be able to go only to people who attain a certain standard. I think it would be far better for them to be allowed to seek instruction wherever they like to find it, whether from members of their own family—which of course is not precluded by this clause—from people who make a charge but may not be very efficient, or from those who make a charge and are efficient. This is just the kind of thing where I think that, in a free society, it is desirable that every kind of encouragement should be given to people to go to reputable bodies.
§ I have here regulations laid down by the Royal Automobile Club for the registration of driving instructors. That is exactly the kind of voluntary organisation which I believe to be in line with our general way of doing things in this country, and I believe it to be extremely effective. Sensible people will make inquiries about the qualities of a school before they go there to be taught. The 1434 Royal Automobile Club is one of the organisations which has laid down standards, which I think are almost generally accepted to be good. There are private schools of teaching (it would be invidious to mention them, but they are generally known) which give extremely good instruction; but on the other hand. I have no doubt that there are some which are very unsatisfactory. But the penalty of being an unsatisfactory school is that sooner or later it will be found out. I think it is desirable that people should be left to seek instruction where they like to find it.
§ The test is in the driving test, the standard of which is laid down by the Minister of Transport. If it were possible for all those concerned in teaching to get together and voluntarily to establish certain standards, and for the whole of that to be done by a voluntary organisation of schools of motoring it would, in collaboration with the Royal Automobile Club, I believe, be entirely satisfactory from everybody's point of view. That the Government should undertake some kind of responsibility for setting up an organisation for testing teachers and giving them a certificate and giving them a name which has not yet been decided upon, seems to me to be the kind of "grandmotherly" intervention which does not go far enough to be effective and which I think is likely to interfere with the general operation of teaching motoring in this country.
§ The important thing is the standard which is required by the Ministry of Transport before a person is passed as fit to hold a permanent driving licence. Anything that increases the scope of Government responsibility without there being a real need for it seems to me to be regrettable; and while I do not feel that this clause is going to do any very great harm I feel that it is the kind of rather muddle-headed thinking which your Lordships should excise from this Bill. I beg to move.
Leave out Clause 15.—(Lord Malson.)
§ LORD CONESFORD
This Amendment has been so admirably proposed by my noble friend that I propose to add only a very few words. The case against this clause is, in my opinion, that it is unnecessary, expensive and bureaucratic, and will effect no useful 1435 result. I am a strong general supporter of this Bill, and if I thought that this clause was going to promote public safety I should certainly not support this Amendment, but I do not think it will. I do not mind how severe the Government make the test before a person is entitled to drive a motor car upon the roads. I think that they are fully entitled to insist on a high degree of driving ability before a man is allowed to drive on the roads, but how a man acquires that ability is for him and not for the Government. Nor, indeed, do the Government lay down that he has to acquire his skill from one of the people on their register, if they do set up a register. A man or woman will still be entitled to acquire his skill in any way that he or she thinks fit.
My noble friend has said, quite truly, that the Royal Automobile Club, of which other Lords have far greater knowledge than I, has itself compiled a register of competent instructors. Any person wishing to find out who is a competent instructor can no doubt obtain the information from the R.A.C. or from any appropriate organisation. Nor would it be true that, if he fails to obtain such information and is given inadequate instruction by persons who claim the skill to teach without possessing it, a person so victimised would be without legal remedy at Common Law. He would have legal remedy at Common Law for breach of warranty of skill in teaching —I am using general terms. Why should the Government set up a register of persons qualified, when it will not be compulsory to use people on that register, when people not on that register can be quite as skilled as those on the register, and when every evil against which the Government are seeking to guard can be guarded against in other ways?
A severe test of efficiency in driving is the Government's remedy. Let them make the test of the person who seeks to hold a licence as severe a test as they like; but let the person submitting himself to that test be allowed to acquire his skill in whatever way he thinks fit. Do not set up a branch of a Government Department for which there is no need at all, in order to create a wholly unnecessary piece of bureaucracy, to provide for something which is unnecessary, 1436 and to guard against a danger for which there are existing remedies under the Common Law.
I hope that my noble friend who is to reply will not feel that just because this clause has been inserted in the Bill he is bound to defend it as necessary. I believe that it is quite unnecessary. I believe that the purpose which it seeks to achieve can be achieved by other methods. I would remind the Committee that my noble friend speaks with all the knowledge of a former Minister in the Ministry of Transport, and I beg to support him.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
Although this Amendment has been moved and seconded by the two noble Lords opposite in excellent fashion and with quite a cogent argument, from their point of view, I hope that the Government will not be influenced by it. May I say to both noble Lords that a whole series of legislation has been passed by successive Governments in our generation to protect the consumer in regard to services rendered to the public. We have a Weights and Measures Act and we have weights and measures inspectors. The average shopkeeper is a decent fellow who observes the weights and measures regulations, but the Government have had to protect the public against the unscrupulous person who would defraud people by giving short-weight. Those of us who have been connected with the trade unions have, over the generations, urged upon successive Governments to bring in Factories Act legislation. In his organisation of his factory the decent employer has always been 20 years ahead of any Government and the legislation passed by Governments. But the Government have had to place the Factories Acts on the Statute Book in order to protect workers against other employers who would never come up to the standard of the best individual employers.
Let us admit straight away that in this field of motoring instruction there are a number of most creditable organisations whose standard of instruction is on the highest level. The people who go to them for instruction receive as competent a degree of instruction as it is possible to give. But the two noble Lords who have spoken have ignored the fact (here 1437 I may be accused of speaking of some of my own colleagues) that all over the country there are people with a car who cannot really afford to run it, and who, in order to maintain it, give spare-time driving instruction. They advertise in the local paper in a rural area or small town, sometimes even on the outskirts of London. Perhaps it is one of the problems we have to deal with in regard to road safety that there are people who aspire to own a car and who undertake the obligation of running a car when they really cannot afford it. Particularly does the question of expense arise when a husband wants his wife to be instructed in driving. He is sensible enough to know that it is always unwise for a husband to start instructing his wife in regard to driving. Sometimes it is the easy road to the divorce court. Certainly it leads to a good many domestic disputes.
§ LORD LINDGREN
As my noble friend has said, perhaps to hospital. The owner is wise enough to realise that. But because of the difficulties of the family budget these people tend to go to the cheapest instructor they can obtain.
In order to obtain custom many small "mushroom", single-man concerns under-cut the larger-scale organisations with competent instructors, good premises and a well-run organisation. Therefore there is a tendency for people to go to spare-time instructors. Some of them may be good, but many are really doing it in order to meet hire-purchase commitments on a car which they ought not to have. I feel that the Government have a duty to protect ordinary individuals, most of whom are not members of excellent organisations like the R.A.C.and the A.A. Most of these people do not join these organisations until they come up against some trouble on the road. On these occasions, quite properly the representative of the R.A.C. or A.A. comes along to help and he says, "You are getting our service, but you are not a member. What about joining?" And they generally sign a form on the spot and become members. But these people are trying to do motoring "on the cheap".
I am certain both noble Lords whose names appear to this Amendment will agree with me that one of the protec- 1438 tions against accidents in future is the competence of instructors in driving. I am all in favour of making the tests as difficult as possible; but passing a driving test is very much like passing examinations. I will not say one can cram for the test to the same extent as some people can learn formulae and so on in order to pass an examination; but safety on the road largely arises from skill and anticipation, which are largely matters of instruction. I remember only two injunctions from my own period of driving instruction: first, never let your fuel tank go below half way, and second, drive always so as to be able to stop within your own vision—two very good instructions. But I believe the standard of instruction has a great effect upon the possibility of being able to deal with an emergency.
§ LORD MOLSON
I entirely agree with nearly everything the noble Lord has said, but this clause does not cut out the instructor who has no qualifications at all. It will still be legal for him to advertise and to make charges for giving instruction, even though he is not really qualified to do so.
I would agree with the noble Lord, but it is an added protection, because one can advertise—and I hope the Ministry will do so—that it is unwise for a person to receive instruction from an instructor who is not approved. After all, if, as we motor through the country, we see a hotel which is marked as approved by the A.A. or R.A.C., we know we shall get reasonably good food and a clean bed.
§ A NOBLE LORD: We hope!
§ LORD LINDGREN
Well, if we do not we report the fact to those organisations, and I believe they will see that such a place is taken off their list. We cannot take measures to put everybody in cotton wool, but I believe the Government have the right to protect the individual as far as they can. After all, as I have said earlier, the Factories Acts do not mean that no employer will violate those Acts, but at least the worker is given the right to use the Ministry in order to protect himself if such violation takes place, Here a person employing someone to give him instruction for a driving test would be given the right reasonably to anticipate 1439 that that person had the required skill to give such instruction. In general terms, I support the Government in this clause and I hope they will not give way.
§ LORD CONESFORD
May I put one point to the noble Lord? Like my noble friend, I agree with much that he has said, but he gave the example of an R.A.C. or A.A. recommendation of an hotel. Of course, that recommendation is just as public to the person who is not a member of either of those organisations as to a person who is; and if the R.A.C. maintain a register of competent driving instructors, there would be nothing to stop such an instructor from advertising the fact that he was approved by the R.A.C.
§ LORD WALSTON
I should like to support what my noble friend Lord Lindgren has said. I will not go over his arguments, but I wish to take up one or two points made earlier by noble Lords who have spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, spoke of "sensible people" and said they will obviously go to approved driving schools. He is probably right in that, but the trouble is that so many people are not sensible. If everyone were sensible there probably would be no need at all for the Bill we are discussing to-day. Surely we have to legislate for those who are not so sensible. My criticism of the Government's proposals in this case is that they do not go far enough; I am supporting them only because I hope they are a first step in the right direction. It seems fantastic to me that we should allow someone who has passed a test perhaps a day, a year or 25 years ago, but has no other qualifications for driving, to instruct other people. I myself never took a test at all, for I took out my licence before there was any need to do so. But in spite of that I, or others in the same position, can go out with somebody else in a car with L-plates and be considered suitable to teach others to drive. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, says that does not matter because the examination will put all that right. But surely examinations do not do that. After all, we do not allow people to practise at the Bar—which is a less dangerous weapon than a motor car—simply by passing an examination.
§ A NOBLE LORD: Yes, we do.
§ LORD WALSTON
They have to be trained by those who are properly qualified at the Bar. We do not allow people to practise as doctors until they have qualified; and we do not allow doctors to qualify unless they have been trained for many years by those who have already qualified. But in fact scalpels, morphia and anæthetics are no more dangerous than motor cars.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
I do not think there is any law which says that one must learn law or medicine only from lawyers or doctors.
§ LORD WALSTON
I do not know if there is a law on that point, but I do not think many people present themselves for examinations in either of those professions who have not been trained by people who have themselves qualified. And surely, the important thing is the practice rather than the actual letter of the law. At one short period of my career I had the job of training doctors in pathology and bacteriology. I am pretty certain that it would not have been too difficult to take people who were not extremely skilled, and who would not have made very good doctors, and yet in a short time cram into them sufficient to pass that examination. But that does not mean to say they would be good at their job, or safe to be entrusted with various responsibilities which they, as doctors, would have to exercise. I believe that the same applies to driving a motor car.
To-day there is an appalling mortality rate on the roads. We know that some of that is due to sheer carelessness, a certain amount to drunkenness and some to bad luck. But if we ask ourselves sincerely about this, we know also that a great deal of it is due to sheer incompetence, and to drivers not knowing how to control the vehicle at the steering wheel of which they are sitting. I believe that that can be put right, in the long run, only by making certain that the examination, which is the most important part, is not the only part, but that leading up to the examination there is a reasonable and sensible method of training and teaching. I am at the stage of having several children who have taken their driving test, or are hoping to do so. When this process began in my family I was horrified to 1441 find that some of them were going out, with an L-plate on the car, with friends of mine who, while they were jolly nice people, were people with whom I was rather nervous when I was driving. It came as quite a shock to find that they were legally entitled to teach my children to drive, and I stopped that as far as I was able.
I suggest to your Lordships that we must aim here at a state of affairs in which, sooner or later, the teaching of driving must be entrusted only to those people, not necessarily professional people, who have satisfied the proper examiners that they are capable of doing the job properly and that they themselves know how to drive. Therefore a support the Government in this respect; I believe their proposals in this Bill are a very short step to that, and I hope that they will be encouraged to take a much longer step before very long.
§ VISCOUNT CROSS
I should like to speak in favour of Clause 15, because I think it goes some way to ensure that driving instructors will at least be competent. But may I also take this opportunity of saying something about driving instruction itself? I am absolutely convinced that driving instruction—at any rate in the initial stages—should not take place on the public roads of this country. It should take place off the public road, on a disused aerodrome or any open space where other vehicles are not allowed. It should be on private ground. If the learner-driver can become competent in such conditions—and l think he very soon would do so and become expert—then, and only then, should he go on the public roads, among all the other traffic and the many hazards which exist. When he is expert he will then be able to cope with the problems of road sense and traffic and all the other factors which are involved. But I should like to support the Government on Clause 15. I think it is good, so far as it goes.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
If I may say so with the greatest respect to my noble friends who moved and supported this Amendment. I think that they overstated the case a little. I am saying this, in answer to their invitation, because I think it and not because it is 1442 written in the brief or anything like that. I really do believe what I am saying. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who used the words "laissez faire" in connection with this; and, if I may again say so with respect, I do not think that is justified, because this is not just a desperate throw when we can think of nothing else to do.
During the last few years we have tried on several occasions to get the industry to put its own house in order, and to set up its own uniform standards and some kind of control system which would operate right across the whole field of the industry. Unfortunately, we were not able to persuade it to take action of that kind. Therefore, it is clear that something has to be done. My noble and learned friend Lord Conesford used the words "expensive; bureaucratic". I should have thought the scheme we have put forward is the least expensive and bureaucratic scheme that could be devised in the circumstances. A wider and stronger scheme would be more expensive and more bureaucratic and I thought it was probably right that one should endeavour to bring in any scheme of this kind in the simplest, cheapest and least bureaucratic manner.
It is true that there is nothing compulsory in what is proposed, and that an instructor, even if he is unqualified, or has not reached the required standard, is quite free to pursue his business—if he can get any business. But we believe that the public will welcome this move and that learner-drivers will seek out the instructors who have qualified and can draw the learner's attention to the fact. I think it is a perfectly normal commercial fact, rather on the lines indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren; that if you have the choice of two articles, one of an unknown quality, and the other backed by a guarantee by a good firm, and sold at the same price, you will chose that with the guarantee. I do not think I am taking his remark much out of context. My noble friend Lord Molson used these words on Second Reading [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 230 No. 64), col. 402]:People must learn to find the right kind of people from whom to obtain their instruction.I think that is perfectly right.
1443 The purpose of our scheme is not in any way—or not primarily, at any rate, although it may have that effect—to protect the consumer or in any way to infringe the principle of caveat emptor, which my noble friend talked about. It is to secure better instruction in the interests of road safety. In that case, the public have not sufficient means of judging who are the right kind of people from whom to obtain their instruction, particularly if we are going to regard the "right kind of people" as being those instructors who will ensure that a candidate is thoroughly and properly taught what he needs to know. Incompetent firms and incompetent instructors who can afford to advertise can do so, and people may think that that is the way to find the right kind of people. In short, we think this scheme will work. The noble Lord has his doubts, and I would say to him, finally, that if experience shows that it does not work we will be prepared to think again whether it is necessary to go further. But I would ask now, if he decides not to press his Amendment, that we shall be given the chance to try to make it work.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
There is one aspect of this clause on which I should like to speak which I think has not yet been mentioned. I appreciate very much the protection of the public in general, which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has spoken of. But there is also the protection of the innocent qualified drivers, like myself, who are often bombarded by requests from learner-drivers that we should instruct them. It is sometimes very difficult for us to refuse these requests, and we, not being approved instructors within the meaning of this clause, will now have very good grounds for refusing. And that, I think, will be tremendous protection to a very small section of the public who might otherwise be put in a very embarrassing position. For that, we are most grateful.
§ EARL HOWE
There is nothing I know of to prevent an individual from passing his test for driving in the morning and setting up an establishment as a driving instructor in the afternoon. I cannot believe that the Government would really welcome that. I cannot believe that some of the noble Lords opposite who have 1444 spoken about it would agree with that. I wonder whether either of the noble Lords (I expect one has, because I know his car, but I refer particularly to the other noble Lord, Lord Lindgren) has tried driving along M.1. on a Sunday. If not, may I recommend as an experience that, if he has the time, he should drive along the M.1. on a Sunday and watch the standard of driving. People driving little cars, probably bought by hire purchase, are wandering about from one lane to another without looking to see what is coming from behind. What sort of instruction can they really have had? They would not do that if they had had really proper instruction. I was glad to hear what the noble Lord said just now in replying for the Government: that if the thing does not work on the present lines he will think again. But there may be a few casualties by then which might be saved if you would think out a really good scheme now.
§ LORD STONHAM
I think it extraordinary that the noble Earl should just have said that people who behave or drive badly on M.1. are people who have probably bought their cars on hire purchase. I do not know whether he thinks they are being worried about the instalments and are therefore driving from right to left because of that reason. But I think it was really an irrelevancy. I feel that the Government are wholly right in adhering to this clause. I think it is extremely necessary, and I hope we can very speedily come to a conclusion on this particular Amendment.
§ LORD MOLSON
My noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary has shown his dialectical skill in calling in aid against my noble friend and myself the speeches made from the opposite side of the House and also from here, which have urged that a compulsory standard should be generally applied. I could well understand the logic of that; but, of course, there is nothing in this clause that prevents completely incompetent people from continuing to give instruction, advertising themselves, and taking fees for doing so. But I am not going to make heavy weather of this matter. I have expressed my grave doubts about this clause, and my noble friend has said that if it does not work very satisfactorily the Government will consider what further steps to take. Having expressed my grave doubts about it, and believing that it 1445 really falls between two stools and is not likely to be effective for any purpose, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 15 agreed to.
§ Clause 16:
§ Minimum age for driving certain motor vehicles
16. At the end of section ninety-seven of the principal Act (which relates to the minimum age for driving motor vehicles on roads) there shall be added the following subsection—
(b) that the age under which a person may not drive on a road a tractor used primarily for work on land in connection with agriculture shall, if the tractor is of a description specified in the regulations and is driven in circumstances so specified, be sixteen instead of seventeen;
but a person shall not be prohibited by virtue of regulations under paragraph (a) of this subsection from driving a motor car of any description if at any time before the coming into force of the regulations he has held a licence, other than a provisional licence, authorising him to drive that description of motor car.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ LORD WISE moved, in the proposed new subsection (3), to omit paragraph (b). The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name and in that of my noble friends. Paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (3) of Clause 16 amend the principal Act as regards the ages mentioned in the two paragraphs. One goes up from 17 to 21, and the other goes down from 17 to 16. 11 am concerned with paragraph (b), which relates to tractors. The Bill seeks to reduce the age of drivers of tractors from 17 to 16. I am informed that since the Road Traffic Act, 1930, the minimum age of drivers of tractors driven in the course of internal farm operations has been stabilised at 17—and I may say that I take "internal farm operations" to cover crossing a road from field to field on a particular farm.
§ In the present clause there seems to be no restriction on where the farm tractors should be used, so long as they are used primarily for work on land in connection with agriculture. This leaves it quite open, so that they can be used, as is customary in agriculture, with or without trailers, to fetch and cart produce on the farm or to and from the villages or the towns. In fact, it leaves them free 1446 to be used for any agricultural job; and there are many agricultural jobs for which the farm tractor is used. In my view, it is a retrograde step to allow a youth of 16 to drive a heavy farm tractor on main or second-class roads.
§ It may be argued that there is not much difference between a youth of 16 and a youth of 17, but there is. At 16 he has only recently left school—or that should be the case; he has had little experience and no responsibility generally, he does not recognise danger: he is venturesome; he may take undue risks; he may lack stability and be liable to panic in a difficult and unlooked-for situation. The year between 16 and 17 may also provide the additional physique to enable him to operate a mechanical vehicle properly and safely.
§ In these days of fast-moving and increasing traffic, a farm tractor, with its present-day increased speed and rubber tyres, may be, in the hands of an untrained and inexperienced driver, a menace to other road users. The range of accidents which, even with great care, can happen to tractor drivers, is extensive. Without the exercise of due care they can cause accidents to other vehicles and their occupants. It is so easy to misjudge distances on the roads; to skid on slippery roads; to suffer from mechanical faults; to touch passing vehicles; to slide into ditches around road bends; to confuse gears, throttles and brakes, and to lose control down steep hills. Experience alone is a safeguard against these possible damages. I want to feel that the boys who drive tractors on roads have been trained, have become experienced; that they recognise their responsibilities to other road users and are accustomed to exercise care and good judgment.
§ Recent legislation has provided greater protection in many ways for those who work on the land and operate farm machinery. Several Acts and Regulations have been approved by this House in order that improvements may be made in safety facilities, and thus reduce accidents. I appeal to all noble Lords who are connected with agriculture to support my Amendment, which would leave the age at 17. It would be a tragic circumstances if a lad of 16, in one of our own villages should be involved in any fatal accident caused by the lowering 1447 of the age at which he may drive a farm tractor on a road. It would cause considerable remorse and no small disturbance of our consciences, as to whether we might be termed accessories, because we could have avoided it. This Amendment has received the wholehearted support of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, who are responsible for the safety of their members. They look to the Government to continue the age of 17, and I hope that I shall have due support in regard to this Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 12, line 18, leave out paragraph (b).—(Lord Wise.)
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
I rise to support this Amendment, and I hope that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will not underestimate the strength of the opposition to this retrograde step, both inside and outside the House, even though the Benches are not overflowing at the moment. We are in a very curious situation. Here is a Bill ostensibly designed to reduce accidents, to protect life and limb and to provide appropriate punishment for offenders on the roads; and I am bound to confess that, over the two days during which this Bill has been in Committee, I have been greatly impressed at the unanimity there has been in all parts of the House over the original objects of this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said this afternoon that he regarded this Bill as a road safety Bill. That is very curious, because in this very same Bill the Government apparently seem to have gone clean out of their way to reduce the protection for young persons driving tractors either on the farm or on the road. It is a fantastic contradiction in terms, that practically the whole of the measure should be devoted to safety purposes, and yet it is proposed to reduce the age of a boy who can drive a tractor, either on a farm or on a road, from 17 to 16 years, which is obviously going to place the younger person in great danger.
For a very long time protection of the individual, particularly on farms, was more or less disregarded in this country. But very recently Parliament. in its wisdom, has taken a more humane and 1448 realistic view, and in a variety of ways over the past few years statutory provisions have been introduced to safeguard life and limb on farms, as well as in factories. I am therefore astonished to learn that the National Farmers' Union, who raised this question in 1953 and again in 1955. are still pursuing this subject; and I am still more astonished to find that the Government have fallen for the N.F.U.'s ill-conceived and, as I think, very selfish proposal.
What does the Government Amendment in Clause 16 (b) really mean? Section 97 of the original Act states thatA person shall not drive on a road a motor vehicle of a class or description specified in the first column of the following Table if he is under the age specified in relation thereto in the second column of that Table.Paragraph 3 of the table reads:Tractor used primarily for work on land in connection with agriculture",and the age limit is 17 years. Clause 16, paragraph (b), as my noble friend has said, enables regulations to be made to reduce the age limit from 17 to 16 years. Surely that is not going to increase protection; neither is it going to reduce accidents. It would have been much more sensible and humane to increase the age limit rather than reduce it. Certainly it would have been infinitely more consistent with the declared objects of the Bill.
Noble Lords will observe that there is no limitation on the load which may be hauled by a tractor driven by a boy of 16 years of age. A boy of 16 may drive a tractor and pull the load. Your Lordships are well aware of the wide variety of very heavy trailers which are used on our farms to-day. I know there has 'peen some talk about limiting loads, but it is all "airy-fairy" and utterly unconvincing, both to those who are responsible for caring for the welfare of agricultural workers and to those who have any desire to protect young persons from danger. In any case, there is nothing in the Bill about limiting the loads, requiring a driving test, or anything else; it merely reduces the age from 17 to 16. No wonder, then, that both the trade unions catering for the needs of agricultural workers have registered their strongest objections to any reduction in the age limit and I believe that the General Council of the Trades Union Congress have also generally opposed it 1449 for wider reasons, perhaps, than the mere reduction of the age limit. I think the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will know what those wider reasons really are.
I can imagine the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who I am sorry to see is not in his place (although I can probably understand why), had he been sitting on these Benches in opposition, would not only have torn the Minister in charge to shreds and pieces for these alleged safety precautions and the insertion of Clause 16, paragraph (b); he would certainly have supported this Amendment in far less moderate language than mine. I am certain he would have supported this Amendment on those lines. On Tuesday the noble Viscount: said, on several occasions during the debate, that a motor car was a lethal weapon; and he was, of course, right. But so is a tractor, especially in the hands of a young person. As defending counsel, I have no means of telling what the noble Lord who is going to reply will say to-night, but I shall be very interested to hear his case.
Why do the Government treat this matter so lightly, as they appear to have done? Surely not because they are lacking in humanity—I would not accept that for one moment. Is there some great, impelling reason for this reduction in the age limit, something transcending our interest in the safety and welfare of young persons? If so, we should like to know what it is. When asked for any evidence the Minister has received from the National Farmers' Union of the numbers of farmers likely to be affected, the Government admitted they had no specific evidence of that nature. Are we, therefore, to take this backward step—for it is a backward step—merely because boys of 16 receive one or two shillings per week less than boys of 17? If that is the only excuse—for it could not be regarded as a reason—then surely it is not a good excuse to take this step.
I am sure that none of your Lordships would charge me with being ungenerous to farmers, but I readily confess to being very uncharitable towards this proposal. I should have thought that the overriding factor in these considerations, especially where young persons are concerned, would have been plain common sense and safety, not the saving of one or two shillings in wages per week. I can see 1450 no other reason for it. Instead of decreasing protection and increasing danger—as I am certain paragraph (b) of Clause 16 would do—we should be giving infinitely more thought to the skill and experience required, and the hazards to be faced, when driving tractors both on and off the farm.
Moreover, noble Lords will appreciate that any tendency to reduce the age limit for young tractor drivers is utterly contrary to legislation on agricultural safety over this past few years, where the emphasis has been put in protecting young persons from exposure, or from exposing them to the hazards of their own immaturity and inexperience. Many examples could be quoted from the Agriculture (Safety) Act, but I assume that noble Lords are well aware of them. There are many Factories Act provisions protecting the 18-year-old in factories against numerous industrial risks. Eighteen is now regarded as the minimum age for National Service. But under Clause 16 we are invited to retreat and to accept the principle that a young person of 16 is mature enough to resume the responsibility of an adult where tractors are concerned. It just cannot be so, and I think the noble Lord in charge of the Bill must feel that way himself.
I sincerely believe that this is a monstrous and dangerous suggestion that ought not to be permitted, and I hope noble Lords in all parts of the House will feel about this retrograde step as I do. In 1960 there were 53 fatal accidents involving tractors on farms in Great Britain. They were not all with young persons, but if tractors are such difficult machines to handle and manœuvre when in the hands of an adult, how much more difficult will they be for a boy of 16? We are not legislating here for the quick-witted boy, for the early-maturing 16-year-old. We are legislating for all at 16—the vigorous, the adventurous, and sometimes, perhaps, the thoughtless. And it is no answer to say that a youth of 16 can drive a motor-cycle on the highway. In 1959, when Britain experienced the worst record of road accidents—11.2 per cent. higher than in 1958—statistics showed that it was in the age group up to 20 years that fatal and serious accidents on the roads were highest. Those figures emphasise how much youthful inexperience and immaturity 1451 play a part in accidents on the road. Therefore I submit that, instead of turning backwards, as Clause 16 will have us do, and increasing the danger to young persons, we should devote more time to the proper training and supervision of prospective tractor drivers. I know that the Ministry of Agriculture are doing something with their leaflets and their films, but it is not nearly enough.
I hope that noble Lords are fully aware of the possible repercussions from other trade unions, if the law is amended in the fashion described here and a young person is allowed to handle high-powered machines. I do not know what the reactions of the Transport and General Workers' Union, who are responsible for hundreds of thousands of drivers of all kinds of vehicles in all parts of the country, are going to be, but they are likely to be very real. I hope that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will take that into account when uttering his final sentences on this Amendment.
Finally, perhaps the noble Lord will tell us what was the attitude of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to this new proposal. We shall all be interested to hear. I hope that this is by no means regarded as a Party question. It is a very human question. It is a question where young boys of 16, who have scarcely started to live, are placed in danger by statutory means. I feel that we ought not to permit it, and I hope that this Amendment will be carried by a fair majority.
§ LORD AIREDALE
I feel quite sure that neither the Government nor anyone else wishes to empower 16-year-olds to drive cumbersome tractors all over the country. What I feel it is sought to do by paragraph (b) is to enable a 16-yearold to drive a farm tractor along a road in the course of going from one part of a farm to another part of the same farm, which he may not be able to do without going across a road or along a road, probably a country lane. Paragraph (b) does not say precisely that, but I should not have thought it beyond the power of the draftsmen to redraft this paragraph so that it would say precisely that or very nearly that.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
I hope the Government will stand firm 1452 on this Amendment and resist it. Noble Lords opposite must go with the times. After all, to-day a boy of 16 probably knows more about tractors than his father did at the age of 30 and much more than his grandfather does now, if he is still alive. A farm boy does not simply start to drive a tractor at the age of 16; in many cases he has been brought up with it from the age of 10. It is no question of suddenly starting to drive at 16. What is the difference from the old days of horses and carts? Noble Lords Would not have said then that a 16-year-old boy should not drive a farm cart on his father's farm.
There is a very serious labour shortage on the land; and at harvest, when labour is extremely short, an enormous amount of inconvenience is caused by the fact that a 16-year-old, maybe the farmer's son, cannot be allowed to take in the harvest, because he cannot cross the road with a tractor. Noble Lords opposite talk about its being retrograde to accept this, but I feel that it is retrograde not to accept this Government measure. I think that this would also help to bring more labour on the land. One thing that attracts young farm labourers is the fact that they are able to have something to do with mechanical things. I strongly support the Government on this matter and I hope that they do not give way.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I greatly enjoyed the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh. I thought he made a very able debating speech, but perhaps the points he made with regard to the Amendment were more debating points than points of substance. He recalled that I said that this was a Bill to promote road safety and asked: why should it do the opposite? I will be perfectly honest about the matter and say that I cannot perhaps justifiably claim that this provision is a measure which greatly promotes road safety, but, as this Bill is a suitable place to put it, it does no harm to road safety and is therefore acceptable.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I should not have thought so, for reasons I shall come to in a moment. We are not going to be 1453 faced to-morrow morning or next month with an avalanche of untrained 16-yearolds with tractors on the roads. This paragraph enables the Minister to take powers, and that is all. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, said that he would call upon all Members of the House having to do with agriculture to support him, but I cannot.
Regulations made by the Ministry of Agriculture allow tractors to be driven on the farm, but not off it, by boys of 13, By the time prospective drivers reach the age of 16, they often have had a good deal of actual driving on the farm, and a tractor is not necessarily as difficult to drive technically as the noble Lord implied. As a large number of young men leave school at 15, by the time they are 16 they will have had a year's experience, which I think is a lot for driving a tractor. On my own farm I have a young man who came to work when he was 15, and although he is a thoroughly competent tractor driver, and has been for quite some time, he has to be escorted across roads and taken from field to field by older workers because he is riot allowed to cross a road. It is not the case that many completely inexperienced boys are going to be given charge of powerful machines. To delete this paragraph would be a definite inconvenience to farming, and I am sure that noble Lords opposite appreciate that, And I think it would be much to the detriment of the workers themselves—I may be wrong, and noble Lords may correct me if they wish. If a young man were able to take his full part as a tractor driver, he would be able to earn a little more.
I come to the conditions, which are an essential part of this provision. It is not just a question of reducing the age. My right honourable friend is definitely not going to do this arbitrarily, without due consideration and without imposing proper conditions under which these young boys may drive. I give the Committee a full assurance on that. The kind of conditions he has in mind would cover restrictions on both the type and dimensions of the tractor, and also on the type and dimensions of any trailer or load that it would tow. Therefore, the Fears of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, that they would be able to drive monstrous machines 1454 beyond their capacity to control, would turn out to be groundless.
Then there would be another even more important overriding safeguard—namely, that no 16-year-old would be allowed to drive a tractor on the road until he had passed the Ministry's learner-driver test, with the exception only that he could drive while he was on the way to the test, or actually taking it.
§ LORD STONHAM
Can the noble Lord say whether that means that a 16-year old cannot drive the tractor on the road, with "L" plates, before he passes his test?
§ LORD CHESHAM
As a "snap" answer, I think it is only afterwards. He would have to take it first, because the consideration, in our view, is that the complications of driving a car in open traffic do not apply to a tractor; and if he has good control of his tractor, which he can learn on the farm, and a good knowledge of the Highway Code, it is not unreasonable to expect that he will not be a menace to road safety. If he passes his test, he can then go on driving; but, if he does not, as I understand it, he cannot. I think that the concession, if it is made (and I hope it will be) will encourage the chaps to become good tractor drivers and so benefit themselves and the industry in which they work.
A certain amount was said about the natural and proper interest of the unions concerned in this matter. Unfortunately, I was not directly engaged in the negotiations with the unions concerned, but I understand the position to be that both the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Union of Agricultural Workers, as the noble Lord said, raised objections on road safety grounds. However, I think I am representing the position accurately when I say that they noted that there would be conditions to be attached to the proposal, and they reserved their position until they had seen what those conditions were to be. These conditions have not yet been worked out in detail, but an undertaking has been given to the unions concerned—and I am pleased to repeat it to your Lordships—that they will be consulted again before the regulations are made laying down the conditions and so on.
1455 The noble Lord asked what was the view of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. He described the position as "airy-fairy", but on learning what were the proposed conditions, I am glad to say the Director of that organisation approved.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
Before any other noble Lord intervenes, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that in certain parts of the country, in fact almost all over the country, there are areas where, from the home farm itself to outlying fields which are associated with the home farm, the tractor would have to travel not a few hundred yards, or across the road, but literally miles? If I could have had with me a map of potential amalgamation schemes showing the home farms all round the perimeter, and an arrow pointing to fields one mile, one and a half miles or two miles away, he would realise from that map (we had it in the other place for quite a long time) that one could not see a field for arrows, which went from one side of the area, covering miles, to the other. The only other thing I would say to the noble Lord is this. It is true that these young persons may have had some training, but they are only 16; and those older men who unfortunately were killed last year (53 of them) must obviously have had a lot of training before they became tractor drivers on the farms. But they were killed, even though they were mature men, and possibly skilled agricultural workers. We are talking now about boys of 16, no matter how clever they may be.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I was not quite clear when the noble Lord spoke about this. Were the 53 unfortunate casualties on the roads or on farms?
§ LORD CHESHAM
It is not a very telling figure, is it? Because boys of 16 —and even less; from 13 upwards—can drive tractors on the farms now, and, therefore, presumably, are already running almost as much risk of getting killed as the older men.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
But there were 53 fatal accidents last 1456 year involving tractors. My only point is that if a tractor is such a difficult machine to handle and manœuvre, and if 53 adults were killed when dealing with tractors, what will happen to boys of 16, no matter how clever they may seem to be?
§ LORD CHESHAM
The point is that if that happened on the farm and not on the road, those boys could be driving tractors on the farm now. So that this provision we are discussing does not seem to me to make any difference to the risk to the chaps driving tractors on the farm and off the road.
§ LORD WILLIAMS OF BARNBURGH
But the noble Lord will be aware that for the first time it is opening up the way for a boy of 16 to drive on the roads; and, as I have just been stating, many farms have fields one mile, one and a half miles or two miles away from the home farm. So, apart from the danger on the farm itself, with its gradients, there will be another danger—that of a boy driving a tractor on the roads where all kinds of vehicles are coming and going.
§ LORD AIREDALE
Does the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, not agree that this paragraph, as it stands, would empower some 16-year-olds to drive a farm tractor along the Watford by-pass, straight through the middle of London and right down the Portsmouth Road? Is that what the Government intend? Surely, what this paragraph fails to include, which would seem vital, is emphasis upon the fact that the tractor being driven on the road by the boy must be in the course of being used for agricultural purposes on a farm. Speaking for myself, I should be quite happy about it if that were what it said, but I could not possibly vote in favour of this paragraph as it stands.
§ LORD CHESHAM
No one intends that it should cover such a case as the noble Lord has mentioned, and I do not suppose it was considered very likely to happen. But obviously there is something in the point about some farms being separated and the considerable road mileages, and also in what the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has said. I think the best thing I can do is to convey the views of noble Lords to my right honourable friend for consideration when laying down the conditions under which this paragraph might operate.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ VICOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I must say that I am disappointed with the result of this discussion. I have not been listening to all the debate, but obviously I know the case very well. I am afraid that I cannot accept it on the Committee stage like that and leave it at "sometimes", "somehow", to "some set of regulations" to try to meet this important condition. If you look at the ordinary work of a farm such as I have to work, surrounded by miles of roads—not very wide roads; B roads and C roads—you are often driving tractors which draw the discs or corn combine drills and things of that kind, which are much wider than the ordinary width of a motor vehicle commonly used on the road. It is very difficult to do. We have an increasing number of motor vehicles driving at pace on these roads now, and we think that to have a young lad in charge of a tractor of that kind is quite unreasonable. We are strongly supported by the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and if the Minister can make no further advance upon what he has said, there is only one thing to do, even at this late hour, and that is to divide.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
Is not the noble Viscount opposite aware that what is far more dangerous—or, at least, I am far more frightened—is to find on a tractor in front of one a grey-haired driver rather than a young man?
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I used to drive a tractor a great deal when I had grey hair, and I would not submit to that for one moment.
§ LORD MOLSON
Surely the wording of this is perfectly clear. Paragraph (a) says:that the age under which a person may not drive on a road a tractor used primarily for work on land in connection with agriculture shall, if the tractor is of a description specified in the regulations and is driven in circumstances so specified, be 16 instead of 17.Surely noble Lords opposite are making very heavy weather indeed of this. The ordinary case which the Government have in mind seems to me to be quite 1458 plainly that, where a tractor driver who is entitled to drive at the present time at the age of 16, is able to drive from one field to another, a technicality of the law has prevented this from applying in the past. Under the regulations which the Minister can make, and which the Parliamentary Secretary has undertaken shall be discussed with the trade unions, surely that is going as far as can reasonably be expected.
With regard to the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh, of course the great majority of accidents with tractors take place when the tractor turns over. With his long experience of agriculture, the noble Lord will, I am sure, agree with me that the gradients on farms are generally worse than the gradients on roads.
§ THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
There is nothing in the paragraph which mentions a farmer having received a contract, not for his farm, but for a farm down the road. That ought to be included. I have no more experience of farming the countryside than anybody else in this House, but I am not favourably impressed by this reduction of the age of 17 to 16. It all depends on the kind of regulations which will be made whether I shall be happy about it. There is one thing which noble Lords have not mentioned, and that is the vast variety of trailers. Even if you are driving your own car, with a weight in the back it is surprising what difficulty you may have on a greasy road. If a young chap who may not have driven the particular kind of trailer tacked on behind him has the bad luck to be driving on a bad day, he may have the fear of God put into him because the thing behind him is not behaving at all as he imagines it should.
As we know, so many of these accidents occur on vehicles turning to the right. On a greasy road, when you want to turn into a field on your right, the beastly thing behind you is making an awful noise and you do not realise there is following traffic. Then some of the vehicles have all sorts of fins which might obscure the boy's view. I do not feel at all sure that accidents would not happen because of those two things—turning right, and the weight of the tractor. I do not want to vote against this paragraph, but I shall not be happy 1459 unless these regulations are very carefully gone into.
§ Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 16 agreed to.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU moved, after Clause 16, to insert the following new clause—
§ Commencement of section 102 (4) of the principal Act
§ " . Subsection (4) of section one hundred and two of the principal Act shall come into operation on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and sixty-two."
§ The noble Lord said: I took the opportunity on Second Reading to mention my concern about the fact that somebody can hold a provisional licence year after year without making any attempt to pass the test. I pointed out then that I was particularly concerned with young motor cyclists who, without anybody being with them, can go on from year to year without a test and can possibly be a great danger on the roads. Since Second Reading I have discovered that in the principal Act there is in fact a section, Section 102, which was passed last year to make it possible for the licensing authorities to refuse a licence after a certain time, if no test has been taken. Under a later section, however, that section has not yet come into effect, so the object of my Amendment is to try to extract from the Government the date by which that section will come into operation.1460
§ House that it is retrograde step, and we cannot accept what the Minister has said.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents 11; Not-Contents, 23.1459
|Airedale, L.||Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Williams of Barnburgh, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Sinha, L.||Wise, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Stonham, L. [Teller.]||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Latham, L.||Walston, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Chesham, L.||Hailsham, V. (L. President.)||Raglan, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hastings, L.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Conesford, L.||Howe, E.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Swaythling, L.|
|Cross, V.||Merthyr, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Molson, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
§ I feel that this is an important point. So far as I understand the Act, the section as it stands now allows two years before somebody has to take a test. I do not see why after two years riding on the "L" licence one should not be able to take the test. No doubt what was in the Government's mind at the time was the fact that there was a great queue of people waiting for tests. It is an important point and one on which I hope the Government will make up their minds. I give a date, next January, purely arbitrarily, but I should be happy if the Government would consider perhaps even a later date. I beg to move.
After Clause 16, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.)
§ LORD MOLSON
I should like in two words to support very strongly the plea made by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. The provisions of Clause 102 were specially included in the Road Transport Act, 1956, after careful thought, because of the great abuse by people who went on taking out provisional driving licences without ever having a driving test. This was not a serious problem in the case of motor cars, because it involved having somebody with the driver as long as he had the learner plate on his car, but in the case of motor bicycles it really enabled young men who wished to do so to defeat the whole purpose of the law. I 1461 confess that until this Bill came before your Lordships' House I had supposed that the provisions of Clause 102 were in operation. I am bound to say they went less far than I should have wished at that time. They are very moderate. There is absolutely no case where anyone genuinely wishing to take a test on a motor bicycle should not be able to do so within the provisions of Clause 102 of the Road Transport Act, 1960, which re-incorporates the section of the Act of 1956. I am sorry to know it has not yet been put into operation, and I very much hope the Government will take a step in that direction.
§ LORD STONHAM
I would support quite strongly the two speeches that have been made. I hope the Government will accept this Amendment. It is really most necessary, and I can see no possible objection to it.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
The reason why the subsection has not been brought into force yet is solely that the driving test organisation has never had sufficient capacity to cope with the additional tests which would be required if it were brought into force now. The Ministry of Transport has not got any close estimate of the number of additional tests which would arise if it were now put into force, but it is estimated that if it were applied to all classes of driver, and everybody covered by the section who wished to drive applied for the test, there might be an increase of about 100 per cent. in the number of tests required—that is to say, an additional 1,700,000 a year—and it would be quite impossible to meet this demand. There would be entirely unacceptable delays in obtaining tests by other candidates. My right honourable friend the Minister stated in the House of Commons:Section 102 (4) of the Act will be brought into force as soon as we are satisfied that the increase which it may well cause in the number of applications for a driving test will not lead to applicants for a test having to wait unreasonably long for an appointment.And that is still my right honourable friend's policy. Although an extra 300 examiners have been trained in the last two or three years, the number of applicants has increased so fast that the examiners have hardly been able to keep up with them.
1462 My right honourable friend wants to bring in the section and apply it to everybody as soon as possible. What he is contemplating at present is to make an arrangement with the licensing authorities to do it gradually. Section 102 is, of course, permissive. Even if it is brought into operation, licensing authorities do not have to apply it universally. What my right honourable friend is contemplating at present is to agree with the licensing authorities on a gradual application of the section—that is to say, to start off with those who have had a large number of previous provisional licences. Responsibility for exercising this degree of discretion rests with the local authorities, not with the Ministry of Transport, but it would be possible for the Minister to circularise licensing authorities explaining (1) that it was proposed to bring the section into force; (2) that if licensing authorities used it in relation to all applications to which it could be applied, the resulting queue for the driving test would be quite impossible and would completely upset the machinery of the driving test organisation; (3) that it would be possible to apply this subsection progressively.
He could issue to licensing authorities advice as to how they should apply the subsection, and as soon as the driving test situation allows he would then invite licensing authorities progressively to implement the subsection more fully. I think that is the most the Minister can do in present circumstances, and I hope that your Lordships will not press for an early, definite date which would result in a completely impossible situation owing to the shortage of examiners in relation to the number of applicants at the present time.
§ LORD MOLSON
The reply from my noble friend Lord Dundee shows for the first time how extremely serious this problem is. Clause 102 was carefully drafted in order to deal only with those people who have habitually driven motor cycles for a long period of time without submitting themselves to a test. It had never occurred to me that there were 1,700,000 motor cyclists on the roads at present who had been motor cycling for a substantial period of time without even submitting themselves to a test. I think this is one of the most serious figures that has been disclosed 1463 It has a close bearing upon the number of accidents that occur on the roads at the present time.
I fully appreciate the difficulties with which the Minister of Transport is faced, and I have every sympathy with his difficulties, but, quite clearly, it is of the utmost importance that young men riding motor cycles should be obliged to take a test at a reasonably early time and not continue driving indefinitely without submitting themselves to a test. It is extremely desirable that some priority should be given to those cases over ordinary motor drivers. That priority, I need hardly say, is not extended in the interests of the motor cyclists, but because they are obviously responsible for a large proportion of the road accidents that take place at the present time.
I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his Amendment, because all we are concerned to do is to facilitate the task of the Minister of Transport, who is anxious to put these things right. But I think that public opinion will be startled to learn that 1,700,000 motor cyclists—I say "motor cyclists" because it does not apply generally in the case of drivers of motor cars, because of the burden of their having to be accompanied by a certificated driver at the time—should have brought themselves within the terms of Section 102 (4). I think that is a most serious matter, and I hope that the Government will deal with it.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
In case the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, should be tempted to accept the advice of his noble friend to withdraw the Amendment, I should like to say, first of all, to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that the logical outcome of what he is suggesting is that Section 102 of the principal Act will never be implemented, for the simple reason that the number of motor-cyclists is increasing far more rapidly proportionately than the number of driving inspectors. Therefore, this thing will go on for ever. I could quite have understood it if, in his reply, he had said, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu envisaged, that this date that he has suggested, 1962, is not hard and fast. But surely more hope can be held out than this.
1464 That is the first thing that if we are to accept what the noble Earl says, then this clause will never be implemented.
Then, as a small piece of comfort the noble Earl said that he hopes his right honourable friend will be able to do this by stages, progressively, by advising local authorities, in due course, to draw out first of all those who have had a large number of provisional licences. A "large number of provisional licences" must surely cover several years. A person has had a lethal weapon in his or her possession for a number of years and has never passed a test, and is apparently not likely to do so. That is an extremely unsatisfactory position. I have been driving a motor vehicle for 41 years and therefore have had some experience. But I confess that I have not yet accustomed myself to the sight and sound of people on heavy motorcycles coming right by my ear, whether my car is stationary or moving, and then seeing them come within inches of my right hand and ear, swerve and, as they swerve, to see an L-plate at their back. Now I learn from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that such persons may have had an L-plate at their back for two, three, or more years.
Just now we were discussing whether boys of 16 should be allowed to drive farm tractors on the road, and some strong feeling was expressed about it. But those risks pale into insignificance beside the risks of continuing this sort of situation. It would be presumptuous on my part to add anything to the advice that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has given to his noble friend, but if this Amendment is not withdrawn then I, for one, will go into the Division. Lobby in support of it.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
We have had quite an interesting debate. It is getting late and there are a number of other Amendments. However, I must say that I am extremely disappointed at the reply of Her Majesty's Government. What is the message that has gone out to-night but that any boy can go and get a motor-cycle, and then say "Well, to hell with this! I do not have to take a test for years and years and years"? I also think that it is a terrible blow, and most discouraging to those running the R.A.C.-A.C.U. Training Scheme, which the Government are 1465 backing financially, who have taken so much trouble and have done good work in training young motor-cyclists. What are their messages going to be now? I hope that before Report stage the Government will give some more thought and feeling to the point. I give warning that I will try other methods to raise this matter at six-monthly intervals until this point is decided. In the circumstances, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 17:
§ Test fees
§ 17.—(1) Regulations made for the purposes of paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of section ninety-nine of the principal Act (which relates to the payment of fees in respect of tests of competence to drive) may require the fee to be paid upon application for an appointment for a test; and so much of that paragraph as limits the amount of the fee shall cease to have effect.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES
I must apologise for the fact that there are two Amendments numbered 65. With the permission of the Committee, I propose to call them Amendments Nos. 65 (1) and 65 (2) respectively.
§ 9.50 p.m.
LORD AIREDALE moved, to add to subsection (1):
provided that the total amount of all such fees shall not exceed the estimated total cost of conducting tests of competence to drive
§ The noble Lord said: I put down this Amendment because I was rather concerned over the subsection which seeks to remove altogether the limit on the amount of the driving test fee. The present limit for that fee is £1 while the actual fee itself is £1. In particular, I hope that we shall not see happen in the case of the driving test fee, or anything like it, what happened recently in the case of driving licences. As your Lordships know, the validity of driving licences was recently increased from one year to three years. One would suppose that as licences have now to be renewed only once every three years, the cost of issuing a driving licence would, if anything, be less than the cost of issuing it once every year, and that one might have looked for a reduction, if anything, in the 5s. fee which used to obtain when driving licences were valid for one year only. However, far from being reduced from 5s.. the driving licence fee has been 1466 trebled. If that kind of thing were to happen with driving test fees, it would involve not shillings, which in my submission would be bad enough, but pounds.
§ I hope it will not be said that those people who seek to become drivers, because they can afford to own motor cars, can therefore afford to pay a few pounds to undergo a driving test. Surely, in many cases aspiring drivers are not potential car owners at all. They are people seeking to make themselves more useful in society, perhaps in order to take elderly relatives for drives on summer evenings. They may not be rich people at all. But they have to incur considerable expense in the course of learning to drive and obtaining a driving licence.
§ First, they have to pay a driving instructor to teach them how to drive. Noble Lords have already stressed this evening the desirability of that, and I will not go further into it. Having paid their driving test fee, these people then have to take the test—and probably will have to take it more than once. No-one, I think, can blame anyone who fails the driving test for the first time. That is quite common and it may be that the fee will have to be paid and the test taken two or three times before the test is passed. Then the 15s. driving licence has to be taken out. All this involves considerable expense. I suppose one cannot expect the Government to arrange for driving tests at less than the cost price. On the other hand, presumably they should not be made a profit-making matter; and the cost of conducting the driving tests should not be exceeded by the total amount of driving test fees which accrue.
§ Finally, I think it would be a shortsighted policy if we were to seek in any way to discourage people from undertaking the driving test, because for the rest of their lives drivers become, in one way and another, very substantial contributors to public funds; and it is never a good thing to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. For those reasons I beg to move this Amendment.
Page 12, line 35, at and insert the said words. —(Lord Airedale.)
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
It is the intention of the Government that the amount collected in fees shall not exceed the total cost of conducting tests. I 1467 understand that the noble Lord's Amendment, if it were accepted, would make it necessary for fees to be calculated over short periods to ensure that they do not exceed the cost of driving test. Our intention is that the cost of the test and the fees received shall balance over a period of time, though there may be six months or so during which they are a bit less, and another six months during which they are a bit more. It is not the Government's intention to make any profit from the fee or to use it as a means of collecting revenue. We intend to do exactly what the noble Lord wishes to achieve by his Amendment, and possibly would not be averse to the method of fixing some definite figure at a price considerably higher than £1 if that should be considered a preferable way of doing it. But I believe it would be better to leave things as they are in the Bill, on the assurance that the Government do not intend to collect more than is necessary to cover the cost of these tests. I believe that that is a sensible course to pursue and I do not think anybody would wish to follow any other principle.
§ LORD LATHAM
Surely the Government can fix a unit cost independently of whether it is the first half of the year, or the second. They can arrive at a unit cost if they spread the costs.
§ LORD AIREDALE
In view of the assurance given by the noble Earl, which I find very satisfactory, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 17 agreed to.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
Perhaps this might be a convenient moment at which to adjourn this part of the Committee stage, and we might continue it on Tuesday evening after the Business already on the Order Paper.