HL Deb 09 May 1961 vol 231 cc150-4

5.30 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Chesham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


LORD LATHAM moved, after Cause 17 to insert the following new clause:

Probationary Licences

".—(1) A licensing authority receiving an application from a person who has not held any driving licence since he passed his test shall, subject to the provisions of the next following subsection, issue to that person a probationary licence.

(2) Probationary licences shall remain in force for one year, but shall otherwise be issued on the terms and conditions laid down in section one hundred and one of the principal Act.

(3) A person holding a probationary licence shall not drive any vehicle without exhibiting fore and aft the prescribed sign in the prescribed manner. The Minister may by statutory instrument prescribe the sign referred to in this subsection and the manner in which it is to be exhibited; any statutory instrument made under this subsection shall be annullable in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) If the holder of a probationary licence is convicted of any of the offences described in paragraphs 1 to 11 of the First Schedule to this Act, the court convicting him shall order that his licence be revoked, and such revocation shall have the effect of cancelling his driving test, and thereafter he shall not hold any form of driving licence, other than a provisional licence, until he has again passed a driving test."

The noble Lord said: This new clause seeks to give effect to a proposal which I adumbrated with some particularity when speaking on the Second Reading of this Bill. I then expressed the hope that the Minister would give serious consideration to this proposal which, in my submission, could and would make a valuable contribution to the promotion of road safety. I know of, and appreciate, the sympathetic consideration which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has given to the proposal, but he feels that there are difficulties on grounds of administration and enforcement. That may be. In these days of complexity of life and living, most changes or extensions of the procedures of behaviour in society involve difficulties. It is the obligation of Governments and of Ministries to surmount them, and I know the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, will agree with that.

When the issue of licences to drivers was first made subject to a prescribed test, there were difficulties of administration and of enforcement. There were, of course, those who said the procedure would not work. They were wrong; it has worked. The provisional licence procedure, and the test associated with the grant of a full licence, have proved, on the whole, satisfactory. Bad as they are to-day, one hesitates to think what death traps our roads would be if, with the volume of motor traffic they now carry, one could still get a licence without a test and for the simple payment of 5s. I submit that the procedure of licensing should be extended. In my view, the full licence is granted too early, and it is granted unconditionally. It is issued before the licensee has had an opportunity, in point of time, for reasonable and adequate experience of driving on his own responsibility, even though he has passed the prescribed test. The procedure devised years ago, when road conditions were vastly different, needs to be extended, in my view, to meet these changed conditions. Licensing procedures cannot remain static when all else in road user and control is changing.

The new clause would introduce an intermediate stage or, shall I say, a probationary stage between the grant of a provisional licence and the grant of a full licence. This could be done by the issue of a probationary licence operative for a period of, say, twelve months from the passing of the test by the holder of a provisional licence, on the terms and conditions set out in the clause in the Marshalled List, or as may otherwise be determined. One of these would be that any vehicle driven by him during those twelve months would carry the letter "P" as a sign, in place of the letter "L". There would be no requirement that the probationer should be accompanied by a licensed driver. It may well be that the clause as drafted is defective in one or more respects—so be it; these defects can be remedied. What is important is the acceptance of the proposal in principle; the precise drafting of the clause can then follow.

What are the merits of this proposal, and what is the case for it? I sought to give these when speaking in the Second Reading debate on the Bill, and I would not wish to repeat them to-day, except that I spoke at the end of a long two-day debate to a somewhat sparse House, and it may well be that some of your Lordships are not fully seized of the case for this proposal. May I, then, briefly recapitulate? At present, the holder of a provisional licence must have an "L" fore and aft on the vehicle he is driving, and he must be accompanied by a licensed driver. The "L" sign is a notice to others using the highway that the person in the vehicle is a learner, which is a valuable safeguard both to the learner and to other drivers who are put, as it were, on their guard to be ready for the unexpected and/or wrong action on the part of the learner. Moreover, fully experienced drivers, and this is no less valuable, are generally considerate and patient towards the learner, as much in their own interests as in his. In this respect, it is of course the case that some of the drivers under a full licence may the day before have been themselves driving under the protection of the "L" sign, which circumstance, in my submission, is an added point in favour of this proposal.

In addition, the learner with a provisional licence must be, and is, accompanied by a licensed driver to guide and advise him, and to keep him from doing the wrong thing; and, indeed, keep him from doing the right thing at the wrong time. In many cases it will be an instructor, the majority of whom are competent and efficient, although there are, of course, some black sheep in the flock. Finally, there is the tester himself.

The learner duly passes his test, it may be after only a few hours of actual driving and experience of road conditions, and, having passed, he is thereupon entitled to go on to the highway with a vehicle, large or small, high-powered or low-powered, without the company of a licensed driver and without the "L" sign to give notice to other drivers that he is an initiate driver with only limited experience, often very limited—indeed, derisory experience. He thus loses the consideration he formerly enjoyed from other drivers, the comfort and confidence which comes from having a licensed driver with him, and the knowledge that if he was going to do the wrong thing he would be corrected or stopped by the licensed driver. But now, after he has passed the test, he is alone, maybe in a vehicle much more powerful than the one he learned to drive on, or the one on which he passed out.

When a learner takes his test, he is normally keyed up, and the tester will tell him to do this or that, but only—and this is very important—when it is proper and safe to do it. The situation is quite different when the erstwhile learner is on his own. He has no one to advise him or restrain him from doing the wrong thing, and none of that forbearance from other drivers which the "L" sign attracts. As I have said, he is alone as a driver, with very limited experience, in charge of a potentially dangerous vehicle, amid a multitude of other vehicles, all dangerous in certain conditions and certain circumstances, including some being driven by learners and some being driven by persons who, like himself, were learners the day before yesterday. The safeguard of the "L" sign is no longer available to him or to the other drivers on the road.

The proposal does not cast any reflection on the person who passes the test, or upon the quality of the test. Nor am I questioning the sense of common responsibility to other road users of the learner himself, or his sense of responsibility to his passengers and to himself. I submit that this proposal is as much for his benefit—namely, the learner or the one who has passed the test—as for other road users, not excluding pedestrians. The fact that for a year his vehicle must carry the letter "P" which would signify that he has passed the test and is a probationer, ought not, in my submission, to wound his self respect or his dignity. It is better for him to be alive as a probationer than dead from being too proud to acknowledge it.

Subsection (4) of the new clause provides that if, during his probationary licence period, the holder is found guilty of any of the offences described in paragraphs 1 to 11 of the First Schedule of the Bill, the court convicting shall order that his licence be revoked, and that he shall not again hold any form of driving licence, other than a provisional one, until he has again passed a driving test. In short, he would revert to the position of a learner required to pass another test which, if he passes, will entitle him to have, subject to the decision of the court, a probationary licence and later, if no further offence be committed, the full licence at the end of twelve months of his passing the second test. As to what offences should involve this disciplinary penalty is a matter for consideration, since it may be regarded by the court as a part of the penalty otherwise appropriate to the offence or in addition thereto.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but as we have a Royal Commission at six o'clock I must now move that the House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

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

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.