HL Deb 14 November 1961 vol 235 cc595-646

Debate resumed.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, the I House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, for the clear way in which he submitted this Bill to your Lordships. He did so with his accustomed lucidity and, may I say, with his accustomed sporadic robustness. It was a thankless task to introduce a Bill which has the same purpose as the one which he introduced last Session and which was allowed to die by the wanton neglect of Her Majesty's Government. His difficulty was accentuated and made obvious by the fact that he had to devote a long part of his speech to dealing with matters which really are not within the provisions of the Bill—to wit, road works, and other things which he claimed were incontestable evidence of the energy and bustle of the Ministry of Transport. The noble Lord invited people to read a booklet indicating what the Ministry are doing or have been doing, or both, a booklet which, I submit, gets very close to being propaganda. I can imagine what a sanctimonious outcry there would have been if a Labour Minister had issued a similar booklet about the work of his Department.

A few days ago my noble Leader said, and I agree, that this Bill should have been introduced in another place. I submit that its introduction in this House is almost tantamount to an affront to your Lordships' House. It certainly shows scant respect and still less recognition of the work and effort of your Lordships on the previous Bill. Let it be said, without any consideration of Party, that we were all moved to the high purpose of reducing the continuing slaughter on our roads. This afternoon, the noble Viscount who leads the House has suggested the procedure which should be followed in connection with this Bill, but I submit that he give no explanation of why this Bill is introduced into this House and not first into the House of Commons.


My Lords, I was asked a specific question by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on how I suggested that we should deal with the Bill. Naturally enough, now that the noble Lord has raised the question, I should wish to give any explanation he desires in answering his speech, but I know that the noble Lord will acquit me of any desire to be discourteous in not having spoken about this aspect of the matter in dealing with the point of order raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I thought that it would be inappropriate to do so.


My Lords, I willingly accept that, and I should not infer any discourtesy on the part of the noble and learned Viscount. But it is important that we should know why this procedure—this "gimmick" of procedure, almost—is being followed, and also that we should have some assurance that it will not be repeated. Otherwise, it seems to me that there is no encouragement or incentive (to use a word which is very frequently used in the realm of economics) for your Lordships to give the attention, time and effort to considering legislation, as you do, if it is to be, as it were, wasted as it appears to me (and subject to what the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House may say), as a resut of the failure of the Government to manage their own legislative programme.

Now we have a new Bill with I submit all the defects which were pointed out in the old Bill. It may be said that this Bill is better than nothing; and that may be so. But it is not saying much for it or for the Government when one knows what a continuing massacre is daily taking place on our roads. This Bill, I submit, is unsatisfactory and fails to measure up to the grave problems of road user. Its predecessor was equally unsatisfactory when introduced; and it was so when it left this House. This Bill is still a Road Traffic Bill and not a Road Safety Bill which is what the country needs. Like the former Bill, it is inadequate to prevent the causes which lead to death and mutilation on our roads. This Bill, like the former one, as I pointed out on Second Reading of the former Bill, is more concerned with penalties than with preventive measures. The Bill carries within its provisions all the defects and faults which were pointed out as they existed in the old Bill and is a miserable exercise in the continuity of error.

A fair, open-minded and objective reconsideration of the Amendments which were rejected, and of the speeches made in good faith and purpose in support of those Amendments, could have resulted in a real, genuine, adequate new Bill free of the manifold defects reproduced in this Bill, which amended Bill would have offered some reasonable hope of reducing the horrifying toll of road accidents of these present days. It is not so. It is in fact the same old Bill, with one providential new feature, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, quite properly referred—namely, the provision in Clause 16 as to regulating the use of hovercraft on our roads. But what a chance missed, and what an opportunity rejected! Some two or three years ago the Prime Minister included among his rather mixed bag of slogans an evocation of what he termed "the opportunity State". Here was an opportunity to do something to make our roads safe. But this Bill is a fine example of an opportunity not only missed but rejected.

We on these Benches do not propose, for reasons which will be apparent, to resubmit our previous Amendments. We shall propose certain selected Amendments. We shall not necessarily, of course, remain silent in any debates that there may be on the successive stages of the passage of this Bill. With these somewhat chilly comments, which are so deserved, let me say, in conclusion, that we do not propose to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to begin by drawing attention to the omission from this Bill of that Amendment to Clause 2 of Road Traffic Bill No. 1 which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, succeeded in incorporating into it on the Committee stage. That was an Amendment dealing with tests for alcoholic content of the body, and the gist of the Amendment was that the Secretary of State might make regulations prescribing the methods of collection of specimens of breath, blood and urine and the apparatus and methods of analysis to be used. I should have thought that that was a wholly admirable Amendment, and the House evidently thought so on that occasion. I will forbear to go further into it at this stage, because the Government have this afternoon, through the Parliamentary Secretary, indicated that their minds are not closed on the matter and it will be dealt with again upon the Committee stage of this Bill. I will say no more about it at the moment, except that if the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, should see fit to take up the cudgels once more in this respect, I feel that I should be the first to support him.

I leap from Clause 2 to a small point in Clause 13, which I admit is a Committee point and I mention it now only because I cannot think how to draft an Amendment for the Committee stage which will achieve the purpose that I desire. Clause 13 enables the Minister to make regulations concerning headlamps. I am thinking of those vehicles which so endear themselves not only to their owners but to the general public as well—the old crocks and veterans. Most of them, no doubt, have headlamps powered by acetylene gas, and I do not suppose "Genevieve" would deign to wear any headlamps which a Minister might prescribe in 1961. And I do not see why she should, because I do not suppose the old lady ever ventures out at night in 1961. All I am seeking to secure is that the Minister will so frame his regulations that "Genevieve" will not be driven from the streets with her acetylene headlamps during the hours of daylight. As I have said, I cannot think of a way to incorporate this into an Amendment for the Committee stage, but I hope that the Government will consider this matter and that the Minister will enable the old crocks to remain on the roads in the hours of daylight.

I pass to Clause 31 in order to welcome the provision which extends the province of the offence of taking and driving away a vehicle without the consent of the owner to those people who may not themselves originally take the vehicle without the owner's consent but subsequently use it, either as drivers or as passengers, knowing perfectly well that they do so without the consent of the owner. I feel quite sure that this provision will be a most welcome and necessary one.

I come now to a matter which I regard as an unfortunate omission from the Bill, and where I consider that a useful opportunity has been missed. Surely the time has come, with large vehicles upon our roads being made larger all the time, to provide that these heavy vehicles having high ground clearance should have side and rear bumpers fitted to them. The object of side bumpers would be to prevent people falling from other vehicles under the wheels of a large vehicle travelling alongside. The main purpose of rear bumpers would be to obviate this dreadful situation which can arise whereby a small car, colliding with the back of a heavy vehicle with a high ground clearance, may easily go clean under the tailboard of the vehicle in front, and the main impact of the collision will be taken by the windscreen of the small car coming into contact with the tailboard of the vehicle in front.

I raised this matter by way of a Starred Question last July, and the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, made two very fair points in reply, if he will allow me to say so. The first was that many of these heavy vehicles have to travel on uneven ground, on building sites and so on, and it is therefore impracticable for side and rear bumpers to reach down to anywhere near ground level. The second point was that in those circumstances a broken bumper could arise which might cause as much damage and danger as it was designed to prevent. I quite see the force of that argument, if one pre-supposes that a person thrown from another vehicle is going to slide in a completely prone or prostrate position under the vehicle travelling alongside, but I do not believe that in practice that happens very often. I believe the chances are that, for instance, a cyclist or motor cyclist falling towards the path of a vehicle alongside will probably to some extent still be attached to or entangled with his own machine; or, if he is not, he will probably be somersaulting or in a partially upright position, or have a leg or hand extended upwards, and will not be in a completely prone position.

It seems to me that even though side bumpers cannot reach right down to ground level, they would be effective in preventing a great many accidents which could easily happen, whereby a person is thrown against the side of such a vehicle and, with his centre of gravity being anywhere below the floor at the back of the vehicle, he tends to get thrown under the vehicle and the rear wheels go over him. With regard to rear bumpers, I quite accept that it is not practicable so to arrange them on heavy vehicles that a small car running into the vehicle from behind would collide bumper to bumper with it. But I would much rather see a collision radiator to bumper than I would windscreen to tailboard, which is what is liable to happen as matters are with these heavy vehicles having no rear bumpers fitted.

As your Lordships will have noticed, I have had little to say in criticism of the Bill as it stands. I have suggested one major sin of omission which I hope the Government themselves may see fit to remedy by means of an Amendment at the next stage of the Bill. If they do not, I will do my best to draft an Amendment which will remedy the situation which I have sought to explain.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to preface the few remarks I have to make with a word of congratulation to the Minister who in- troduced this Bill. I think he did it concisely and clearly. Quite understandably, he did not repeat all the arguments he raised during the long stage of this Bill in your Lordships' House last April and May. If the noble Lord, Lord Latham, will forgive me—I do not see him in his place now—I totally disagree with him. I think the Government have paid this House a great compliment in introducing this Bill again into this House for the first time. After all, your Lordships have always treated road traffic matters in a far more objective manner than another place. I recollect that your Lordships have defeated the Government no fewer than three times on road traffic matters, which shows an independent spirit which I hope your Lordships will continue to show during the passage of this Bill.

I quite agree with the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. I do not see anything in them about which to be derogatory. I think the Minister of Transport has done an outstandingly good job of work in his prosecution of his road programme which, in the last analysis, has an effect upon road safety. I think I am right in saying—I hope I shall not say anything I should not say—that he is about the only Minister who has got away with a programme without a cut, which I think is very commendable.

We have an opportunity this afternoon—and I do not think this will cut across anything the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said—to reflect upon what experience we have gained in this great social problem of relieving the slaughter on the roads of this country. We have had time to reflect since the passage of this Bill. I have a great sympathy with the Minister of Transport. The Minister can advise and persuade Parliament to pass laws, but I am still of the firm opinion that the principal thing we have to try to do is to see that the enforcement of the law is carried out with greater efficiency. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, and myself both served a stretch in the Ministry of Transport, as chairmen of the National Road Safety Ministerial Committee, trying to solve this problem. We could spend all our energies on debating whether or not the laws that we persuade Parliament to pass are effective. I think it is to that aspect that we should turn our attention. We could go on piling Statute upon Statute until the Statute Book with regard to road traffic was so congested that the law was nonsense.

When a new law is passed it is a novelty and it is effective. I will cite just one case—pedestrian crossings. When pedestrian crossings were first introduced the law was observed. But for how long?—about six months. You have an illustration right outside the Palace of Westminster. Outside St. Stephen's and other entrances there is a pedestrian crossing. As soon as the traffic policeman at the cross-roads at the end of Whitehall releases the traffic it comes down at a ridiculous speed, and it is only because of the agility of those who cross on that crossing that there are not more accidents. And yet, Standing outside St. Margaret's, Westminster, for most of the time is a police constable. What he is there for I do not know. St. Margaret's Church does not need an ornament. He stands there, and if he were really to enforce the law as he is supposed to, he could have about twenty prosecutions per hour for traffic which entirely ignores the pedestrian crossing regulations.

The question of the nuisance of diesel fumes has been raised in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Bossom, has raised it. Yet there is a Construction and Use Regulation which, if it were enforced vigorously and rigorously for about a month, would stop the nuisance for all time. It is an offence for any motor vehicle to emit smoke. It is as plain as a pikestaff but never enforced.

Then, my Lords, at the risk of riding my hobby horse, I would say that the official figures produced by the Home Office for 1960 are just as discouraging as those for 1959 and 1958. I have some figures here and that is why I took the liberty of questioning what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said: because the figures I have, official Ministry figures, do not agree with what he said. I would add that he has, I think, taken a different month. But I have here official figures for January to August, 1960 and 1961. I believe that those for August are the last published figures. These were supplied to me through the courtesy of his Department.

The number of accidents involving personal injury were: January to August, 1960, 173,450; 1961, 175,701; casualties: killed, January to August, 1960, 4,222; 1961, 4,337; seriously injured: January to August, 1960, 53,596; 1961, 54,828; slightly injured: January to August, 1960, 164,830; 1961, 167,673. The grand totals for those 8 months were: 1960, 222,648; 1961, 226,838.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for just one moment? Could he say how those figures relate to the increased number of cars on the road?


No, I do not have that information, and to me that is a red herring. Whether we have double the number of motor cars on the road or not, still to have 4,337 people killed is a scourge and a blot upon the social life of this country. You can juggle with figures, but, surely, if you are going to take the growth of traffic you must take into consideration that there should not be the same number of accidents because of the improved mechanical efficiency of the vehicle. If you are going into that kind of argument then you can go on for ever. The sad fact is that in the first eight months of this year we have had more people killed on the roads in this country than we had in the first eight months of last year; and there .is no sort of sop to our conscience in that.

Then, my Lords, in spite of the exhortations of the noble and learned Viscount upon the Woolsack—he has almost worn himself out trying to persuade the magisterial branch of the Judiciary of this country to wake up to their responsibilities—and of the Minister and all those of us who have tried to point out that it is not part of the function of the magistrates' benches in this country to flout the will of Parliament, we still find this in the Home Office returns for 1960. In spite of the fact that Parliament has doubled the maximum monetary fines for the three most dangerous offences, dangerous driving, careless driving, and driving under the influence of drink or drugs, we made the splendid progress that from 1959 to 1960 the amount of the average fine for dangerous driving went up from £15 4s. to £16 5s.; for careless driving, from £6 10s. to £6 18s.; and for driving under the influence of drink or drugs, from £23 10s. to £23 16s.! That is in spite of the fact that maximum fines have been doubled.

Then we come to what we have always said and reiterated in this House. Again to quote the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, if I may, he said to the magistrates of this country: "We believe disqualification is the greatest penalty you can enforce". What happened? In 1959 the percentage of those convicted who were disqualified in addition to paying a fine was 50; it was 56 per cent. in 1960. For careless driving the figure was 5 per cent. in 1959; 7 per cent. in 1960. Half of those who are convicted of dangerous driving on the roads of this country cease to have their licences suspended and to be disqualified.

Have you not a lot of sympathy for the Minister of Transport, who is trying to grapple with this problem? He said publicly, not three months ago—and I absolutely agree with him—that what we must do in this country is to get the dangerous driver off the roads. Who is going to disagree with him? And where I quarrel with this Bill is in the fact that it is not really stiff enough. I will come to that in a minute. I quote these figures. I give your Lordships illustrations of the ineffectiveness of the police in enforcing the law, a thing that we have been tolerant of up to now when the answer was always, "Well, of course, the police force are below strength". That is not such a good argument to-day as it was two or three years ago. Then the Home Office say they cannot dictate to the police as to how they must enforce the law. But, my Lords, until a law is so rigorously enforced that it demands and commands the respect of the individual you will never cure this problem. When you allow a law to be brought into disrepute you might just as well tear it up and scrap it. And that you could quite truthfully say might as well be done with a lot of the road traffic laws.


My Lords, may I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but he has not mentioned any figures with regard to the stupidity of the pedestrian. I, who have to ride because I cannot walk too far, ride in taxis, and there is not a day when I travel between my flat and your Lordships' House that I do not find people being absolutely suicidal in walking on the roads.


Yes; I can give the noble Lord a quick answer. Official figures show that 36 per cent. of the casualties to pedestrians are due to the pedestrians' own fault— perhaps to stepping off kerbs without looking. But, then, pedestrians can turn round and say, "Why do you allow parked vehicles all along the streets of this country so that my vision is obscured when I step off the kerb, and the vision of the driver is absolutely obscured?" It comes back to that. And as soon as the Minister of Transport wants to have clearways, as soon as the Minister of Transport wants to stop loading and unloading indiscriminately all day and every day, those with vested interests on local councils say "Oh, you can't do that".


My Lords, I apologise for intervening, but since when did the Queen's highway cease to be the property of the people of this country? Why should it be monopolised by one particular section who happen to own lethal weapons in the shape of motor cars?


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, that question has whiskers on it. Do not talk about motor cars as lethal weapons.


They are.


The noble Lord should know better. A lethal weapon is a weapon that is manufactured to kill. The motor car was never manufactured to kill. A motor car is not a lethal weapon. A motor car is a dangerous weapon in the hands of a fool.


That is what I mean.


A pair of boots on a pedestrian's feet are a lethal weapon if on the feet of a fool. May I proceed? I do not like Clause 3 of this Bill. I do not like this disqualification procedure. I argued against it when the Bill was before your Lordships' House the last time, and I may argue it again on the Committee stage. I would suggest to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill that dangerous driving is such a serious offence—and to get a conviction of dangerous driving it has to be really dangerous to-day—that disqualification on the first offence should be automatic. The only way in which you can bring it home to these people that they must drive with consideration for others and that if they do not they will not be allowed on the road is to tighten up the disqualification procedure.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, with whose argument I have great sympathy, may I point out that it is at present the case that dangerous driving is in Part I of the First Schedule.


I know it is, but a conviction for dangerous driving is not automatically disqualifiable unless it is attended by death. I do not like Clause 2 either. I think the Government have not treated the House very fairly, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, hinted. Until the Government can make up their mind what they are going to do with the drunken driver, this will go on. It is no good toying and flirting with it as the Government are doing today. Why did they turn out of this Bill Lord Taylor's very sensible Amendment last time?

Until the Government have made up their mind that a man with a certain content of alcohol in his blood is not fit to drive a motor car, automatically, without any argument, I should leave it in doubt entirely and let the present procedure, which I think works better than the procedure in this Bill is going to work, continue; because under the procedure in this Bill you are only inviting the law and the Bar to put forward a whole host of other defences. It is arguable what content of alcohol a driver must have in his blood before he is incapable of having proper control of a motor car. The lawyers today are slick—they always have been, but they are slicker than ever today on this question of defences to dangerous driving. They will argue, and very likely successfully argue, that one man can stand I twice and three times the amount of drink that another man can.

This brings me to one of the main points, which is not in this Bill but to which I ask the noble Lord to give attention. During this last twelve months, since the Bill was before your Lordships' House last time, I have listened in quarter sessions and also in the Assizes to many cases of prosecution for dangerous driving. I am amazed at the arguments, lengthy arguments, by lawyers on the medical evidence. I am afraid that in Clause 2 you are only aggravating it. I am also surprised at the growing defence that is put forward in cases of dangerous driving, even killing by dangerous driving, of the unfitness of the person to drive. Section 100 of the 1960 Act gives powers to the licensing authority to withhold a licence or to withdraw a licence if the licensing authority are satisfied that the person is medically unfit to drive, and I think that only last year the Minister brought in regulations to define precisely what those conditions were: epilepsy was one, nervous disorder was another. But there is nothing in the Statute to make it obligatory for a court, when evidence is produced before it of the inability of a person to drive, to acquaint the licensing authority with that fact. The licensing authorities have to rely upon the goodness of the police or the clerk to acquaint them.

I think I can best illustrate this difficulty by a case that happened only the other day, and it was reported in The Times of October 19. Briefly, it was this. At Middleton Stoney—this was the evidence given before the Assize judge—a man driving a motor car ploughed into a string of racehorses, four in number, which were being led on the offside of the road—quite the right side—by four grooms. The car ploughed into them, killing two of the grooms and so injuring two of the racehorses that they had to be slaughtered. The man was charged with killing by dangerous driving. The defence was, "I didn't know anything at all about this; I had a complete blackout". The man's own doctor went into the witness box and said, "This man is an epileptic. I have known it, but I have never told him". The judge said, "This worries me very much", because further medical evidence said that this man might have had an epileptic blackout.

That might have been given casually in cross-examination, but there is nothing in the Statute to-day which gives authority to a court, or makes it an obligatory responsibility of a court to acquaint the licensing authority so that they can move under the very far-reaching provisions and powers that they are given under Section 100 of the Road Traffic Act. I think we should remedy that, and with a view to trying to do so I intend to put down an Amendment on the Committee stage. Perhaps the noble Viscount the Leader of the House or the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack would give this point some consideration. It is a simple matter and I think it will help the licensing authority. I am not going to suggest that everybody who drives a motor car should have to go through some kind of physical, medical or nerve examination, because if that were so 50 per cent. of us would not be allowed to drive a motor car again.

The next thing that I should like to ask the noble Lord is this. I do not know whether consideration will be given to this entirely in this Bill, but in reading the reports of the licensing authorities—they are illuminating reading if any of your Lordships wants to read them—I am worried at their outspoken comments about the prevalence of the overloading of commercial vehicles. I am fully aware of the chaotic and intricate state of the law as regards the maximum loads permitted to commercial vehicles. There seems to be a lot of confusion between local authorities, the police and the weights and measures people as to who is responsible, because so many Acts govern this matter. The Excise Act covers the unladen weight of goods-carrying vehicles because they are taxed on unladen weight. The Weights and Measures Act is responsible for regulating the cubic capacity of goods-carrying vehicles—vehicles carrying such commodities as coke, coal, sand and ballast. Then the ordinary goods-carrying vehicle has a maximum weight beyond which it cannot go.

But, if I may illustrate it in a simple manner, the farce of it is that a four-wheeled ordinary commercial vehicle of one ton unladen weight is allowed to carry thirteen tons of load, because its maximum weight is fourteen tons. The police are absolutely unable to prosecute because their powers are so involved. They cannot direct a man on to a weighbridge if it is over one mile away from the point where they stop him. If they do so and his lorry is found not to be overloaded, they have to pay compensation. They cannot instruct the man to take his load off to see that his unladen weight is correct. Perhaps I might give the noble Lord, the Minister, this newspaper cutting. It illustrates the kind of thing that is causing a great amount of apprehension—overloaded vehicles getting away down hill in thoroughfares carrying heavy traffic.

To continue on the subject of overloading, what about passenger motor cars? A passenger motor car is one constructed or adapted to carry not more than eight passengers including the driver. So any Mini Minor can take eight pasengers without causing a breach of the law. In this Bill it is a disqualifying offence for a motor cyclist to carry more than one passenger on the pillion. It is not a disqualifying offence for a motor car to carry up to eight passengers. When it comes to the interests of road safety, common sense dictates that if you have six or seven people in a small motor car, control of that motor car is absolutely impossible. I put this point to the noble Lord. I know it is intricate and he may not be able to do much in this Bill. At the same time, I think that he and the Ministry should try, by regulations, to secure better control over the loading of goods vehicles and the overloading of passenger vehicles.

My Lords, that is all I have to say. I hope that I have made some contribution. I do not like this Bill in a number of respects. I quite agree with the spirit in which it is brought forward, but I think a lot of it amounts to hedging over the real problem, which is to take the dangerous driver off the road, and also to produce laws and for Parliament to pass laws which will be enforced.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am not one of those Who believe that you attain road safety by laws, or, indeed, by any gadgets or stunts such as we had some time ago, when we had green eyes staring at us from the lamp posts. The narrowest escape of my life occurred when I was being driven by a Member of another place within fifty yards of the hall where I had just opened one such "green-eye" week. The way to achieve road safety is by a change in public opinion, and I believe that is taking place at this moment. My noble friend gave some figures which were queried by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I prefer my noble friend's figures. Certainly in relation to the increased vehicle mileage that must be taking place in this country to-day, the position is getting better. In my opinion, people are driving better, and other people have said that to me. This refers particularly to people who are driving their families. The dangerous man is still the business executive or commercial traveller, or the single man in a hurry. I believe that the drink problem is beginning to be better recognised. I have certainly seen signs of it in some circles.

Nevertheless, of course, casualties are still too great. But I do not think we can ever pretend that the casualty figures can be nil. If we compare them with the other dangers and vicissitudes of life, we find that the others have their casualties too. The toll of accidents in the home is terrific. Fortunately, the mines are less dangerous than they were, but I think one would find the risk of going down a mine is still much greater than going on the roads. The other day I noticed from the Financial Times supplement relating to the building industry that that industry, too, has its fatal casualties, and they appeared to me to be on a larger scale per million of the population involved than casualties on the roads. There will always be human errors: nothing can stop them; we can only minimise them.

I have never been an enthusiast for this Bill or any other Bill dealing with road safety. But if Her Majesty's Government want the Bill we must see that it contains the minimum of anomalies. I was much struck by the point which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, made about the epileptics. That is certainly important, but how he is going to reconcile that with the oath of medical secrecy, I do not quite know. He certainly has a case on the overloading of lorries, particularly the lorries belonging to the small men. Her Majesty's Government themselves can sometimes be indirectly to blame. Some of my narrowest escapes have resulted from the Minister's having signed a contract for the construction of Gatwick Airport, which in some way depended on the speed with which sand and gravel could be produced there. Until we wrote to the Chief Constable, the driving of those sand and gravel lorries was something awful.

The No. 1 Bill had many anomalies. Some of these have been removed in No. 2, but some still remain. I do not think that a proper solution has yet been found by trying to compel the magistrates to be more strict in regard to offences whose gravity must depend far more on the facts of the individual cases than on their classification into a list or lists. Part II of the First Schedule has been pruned to meet some of the objections raised to these types of offences, which carry compulsory disqualification after several convictions. These were the offences which, from the angle of road safety, could be quite trivial or could be really grave, entirely depending on the circumstances under which the offences were committed.

There still remains in Part II a category of offence which can vary to a very wide degree, from the trivial to the grave, entirely depending on the circumstances; and I would remind your Lordships that conviction would carry the implication of endorsement, and three endorsements involve disqualification. I refer to paragraph 9 of the First Schedule on the question of speeding. If this offence were confined to the question of speeding in private motor cars there might be some justice in it, because these vehicles have no vehicle speed limit, and therefore the charge of speeding means that the driver is probably driving to the danger of the public. But the paragraph covers all vehicles, and all commercial vehicles carry a speed limit. Almost without exception these speed limits are quite unrealistic, as Her Majesty's Government well know. Nearly every commercial driver spends most of his time on the open road travelling at speeds higher, sometimes considerably higher, than his legal speed limit, and if he did not do this the trade of the country would be severely held up.

I do not think it is right or honest to include in the Bill a provision designed to secure the disqualification of commercial drivers for doing what they always have done, what they have to do if they are to do their jobs properly, and that which I do not think Her Majesty's Government want them to cease to do. Or do Her Majesty's Government want them to cease to do it? If my noble friend says, "Pass the Bill and then trust us to revise the vehicle speed limits", my reply will be that, when they revised the passenger vehicles' speed limit, they put it up from 30 to 40 miles an hour, from one anomalous figure to one that is only slightly less anomalous; and Her Majesty's Government know perfectly well that that is a fact.

Also, whatever they might wish to do in regard to light commercial vehicles, I am sure that the Treasury would never allow them to abolish the limit of 30 miles an hour, which is regarded by the Treasury as the only impediment to a much wider use of these purchase-tax-free vehicles as private motor cars.


My Lords, might I interrupt my noble friend for one moment, to say that I would also suggest to the Government that they confine speed limits to places where they are necessary, and then motorists will observe them?


My Lords, I thank my noble friend, but I am dealing with vehicle speed limits, not road speed limits. Again in connection with these light commercial vehicles, very often a great many of them are built with precisely the same chassis as is used for private motor cars, and possibly carrying less weight, so is it honest to use road safety as a cover to protect the revenue? My Lords, I hope we shall deal with these points on the Committee stage, and perhaps see that the courts should have full discretion on whether to endorse or not to endorse for offences, I thus making them rank for disqualification. At the present moment the implication is that they are to endorse in every case. Otherwise, I beg to support the Bill.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, is reasonably satisfied with the comparative absence—although the noble Lord, Lord Latham, presented a striking exception— of a stringent criticism on the amount of trouble which this returned Bill has already caused your Lordships. It seems to me that we are, on the whole, emulating the generous attitude of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. After all, like the prodigal son in the parable, our poor little prodigal of a Bill did make its journey into a far country, despite all the loving care which had been lavished on its upbringing by its progenitors in its original home, and, like the character in the parable, all too soon it found that there arose a great famine in the country. Why, my Lords, was there a famine, why were the inhabitants of that far country reduced to eating husks? I am afraid that the answer is the Party system.

Here, after all, was a measure which, however belatedly and however imperfectly, was setting out to mitigate the gravest social evil of our day. I do not think the figure has been quoted so far in the debate, but there were over 347,000 persons killed and injured on the roads last year; and yet, largely because no Party as such is interested in road accidents, largely because road accidents figure in no Party programme, and because no Party advantage is to be gained by furthering or, for that matter, by obstructing, a Bill designed to further road safety, the Party system, which found time for countless measures of incomparably less social importance, could find no time for a measure which by now would have saved many families from bereavement, and many healthy young men from becoming lifelong cripples. I do not know whether he was intending to contribute to the debate, but the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, remarked, "Nonsense!" I do not know whether that is a criticism of the ineffectiveness of the Bill, or whether he has in mind his comparisons, which I should have liked to take up if we were having a lengthy debate on the comparative dangers of the mines and the roads, where I think he went sadly astray.

But, my Lords, we can hardly expect the Bill to have improved, as it returns to us from its sojourn among the husks, and it is in effect, as has been pointed out, for all practical purposes the same Bill. I certainly do not intend to repeat the remarks which I made on its predecessor. For more than 25 years now I seem to have been making speeches in your Lordships' House on road accidents, and you richly deserve to be spared another one. All I intend to do this evening, with your Lordships' permission, and quite briefly, is to seize this opportunity of seeking to clear up a puzzle which has been mystifying me since our debates on the Committee stage of the last Bill.

I should explain that although I recognise that this Bill contains many clauses of great importance, to me, as to many others, its chief importance is that it contains the first legal recognition of the scientific test for alcohol content of the blood. It is a belated recognition, for it is too often forgotten that in many more enlightened countries tests of this kind have long been established—in Sweden, in Norway, in Germany, in Switzerland and in 36 States in the United States of America. It is not only belated: it is, of course, incomplete; for, despite the efforts of some of us during the Committee stage of the last Bill, Clause 2 is still permissive.

Here I come to the puzzle on which I am seeking to obtain further light this evening. In the course of the Committee stage, I moved an Amendment to Clause 2 to make it compulsory, and, in replying for the Government, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said, in effect, that the result of my Amendment, if it were carried, would be the precise opposite of what I intended. He said that if the Amendment were carried, a man could be convicted only if he were proved guilty by a test. He said that he had to s be subjected to a test and that, if he were not subjected to that test, then, however overwhelming the clinical evidence against him, however disastrous and scandalous his conduct on the road might have been, he could not be convicted. He added that that would frequently be the case, for—and here I quote the noble Viscount's words from column 982 of Hansard of April 27 … there is no prospect of having these tests universally applied when suspects are taken in. There simply is not the apparatus available … Now, that is the statement on which I very much hope that we may obtain more light.

After all, my Lords, there are these other countries where these tests have long been established—Norway, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and the rest. Take only one of them, Norway, for example. That is a country over the roads of which I have motored at fairly frequent intervals for the last 40 years, and anyone who knows Norway, as many of your Lordships do, must know that there you may well find yourself 20, 30 or 40 miles from the nearest police station and separated from it by mostly precipitous and winding roads. Yet in Norway they have established compulsory blood tests. May I quote a sentence from some information which was kindly given me by the Chief Secretary of the Royal Norwegian Embassy? He assured me that they have encountered no difficulties because the police have made special arrangements with the doctors in the countryside. He says that therefore, despite the great distances, the enforcement of these compulsory tests has met with no serious difficulties. My Lords, it is difficult to see why, if that is possible in that comparatively poor and mountainous country, with its sparsely inhabited countryside, it should not be possible in this rich and densely populated island.

One explanation which suggests itself is that in Norway the test can be applied to a person before he has committed an offence. One might suppose that the explanation of this ability of the Norwegians to make compulsory tests effective in spite of the obvious difficulties of their countryside was that what they were doing, in effect, was to pick up a potential offender while he was still in some country town and near a police station and test him, so trying to prevent him from committing a subsequent offence; but I am assured that that is not so.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He said "a subsequent offence". If they pick him up before he is driving, I cannot understand how he has committed an offence, I and how he could then commit a subsequent offence. Could the noble Lord make that clear?


Yes, my Lords. By "a subsequent offence" I do not mean a second offence but an offence subsequent to the test. The point is that in Norway they have done what we have no desire to do here: that is, they have made it legal to subject a driver to a test even if he has not committed an offence. I was suggesting that the reason why they can report that this compulsory test is working effectively, despite the large distances and the sparse population of the Norwegian countryside, is because, in fact, they are carrying out these tests only in the large towns in the provinces and not out on the mountainsides and on the country roads—in other words, that they might be imposing them simply on the people who were still in the towns and had not yet committed their offence but who looked as if they might. That is what happens in Norway.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me again, will he assure me that he really thinks that this will happen in this country—that you will be able to take someone to a police station and test them to see whether or not they are fit to drive a motor car?


Of course not. I was trying to make it clear that that is the difference between what is in this Bill, which is what I imagine the vast majority of your Lordships would desire, and what does, in fact, happen in certain other countries. The point of my argument is that this much more drastic measure—a measure which is not proposed, which I am not demanding and which is irrelevant otherwise to the discussion—in the much more drastic form in which it is operative in at least two of the Scandinavian countries, is reported to be working effectively there.

My Lords, what I should like to be further informed about is this statement by the noble Viscount that the necessary apparatus "simply is not available". I suppose that to some extent it depends on how enthusiastically we believe that this Bill could be made into a life-saving measure; for if we really believe that this could save life, then surely we should not be content with the plea that there simply is not the apparatus available. Imagination boggles at what our war-time Prime Minister would have had to say to a Ministry which had pleaded as a reason for not making a life-saving measure effective that there simply was not the apparatus available then—that was last April—and, presumably, that there simply is not the apparatus available now, six months later, in November.

I should like to take this matter a little further, because a few weeks ago I had the honour of presiding at a lecture given in Manchester by a distinguished scientist, Professor Drew, who has involuntarily given his name to the Committee of the Medical Research Council to which we owe most of our knowledge of the hard facts of the relationship between alcohol and road accidents. Before he began his lecture, I put to him this puzzle: "How is it that what is apparently done all over the United States and in other European countries is impossible here, simply because we cannot provide the apparatus?". I was pleased to find that he gave what appeared to me to be the answer in the course of his lecture.

The first point I would draw your Lordships' attention to is that Professor Drew said that these three potential methods—the breathometer, the blood test, and the urine test—were equally good. Secondly, he said that the breathometer is simple and effective. It is manufactured in the United States. In the United States it takes one week to train a man to use the breathometer, and all you have to do, he said, is to be able to push a knob into one of three places and count up to a minute. So it seems odd that it should even take a week to train a man to do that. But it is simple, effective, and extremely easy to operate. The blood test, of course, is a much more complicated affair requiring the presence of a nurse and a doctor, and then the resulting specimen is sent to a forensic laboratory. The urine test is simpler, and similarly the result is sent to a forensic laboratory.

The question upon which I hope the noble Viscount may be able to throw more light, because no doubt there is a satisfactory answer, is this. Perhaps I should add that Professor Drew said at the end of his lecture that his general view was that, although he could suppose that in the neighbourhood of John o' Groats it might conceivably be possible to find some station which was not adequately equipped, he would regard the argument that it was impossible to supply the apparatus in general as a confusion of the issue. If he is right, or anything like right, in taking that view—and, after all, Professor Drew is our leading authority on the subject—why should we lag behind the countries which have already made a success of these tests? Why should we be presented with a Bill which includes a clause which, we are told, will save life, and then be told that we cannot provide the apparatus to ensure that it shall save life? My Lords, there are, of course, a good many other matters which may be said for and against compulsion as such, but we are not having a full-scale debate at this time. I am merely trying to get a little further with a puzzle which, for me at any rate, has survived since the Committee stage of the last Bill. Apart from that, all I have to say about the present Bill is that I hope it will have a speedy passage, and that when it leaves us it will have left us for good.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, could I ask him whether he could give the names of other experts in this country? I do not think Professor Drew is the only person. I hesitate to interrupt like this, but the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned that he had been in your Lordships' House for 25 years. Like him, I am an old Member of your Lordships' House, coming here in 1926, so I think I am entitled to ask that question.


My Lords, the point which the noble Lord seeks to make is that Professor Drew is only one expert, and why quote him? The short answer is that Professor Drew is the leading figure on the Committee of the Medical Research Council, to which we owe most of our statistical knowledge on this question. His name has been bandied about, as the noble Lord must know if he has attended the debates, time and again in debates in your Lordships' House, and that is why I referred to Professor Drew.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, the passage through Parliament of Road Traffic Bills seems to be precarious and slow. I have been actively concerned with two of them. The first was what is now known as the Road Traffic Act, 1956. The Minister and I got the Second Reading of that Bill in the spring of 1955, and hardly had we got the passage of the Bill when there was a General Election, and as a result of that within a few weeks we had to have the Second Reading debate again on what was virtually the same Bill. Now, in the case of this Road Traffic Bill, much the same has happened. In this case, of course, it is one degree worse, because it passed through all its stages in this House and it went to another place, and it is very disappointing that, after all the labours of your Lordships upon it, it should now come back here. I feel that the Government, although not entirely to blame for the fact that it was not passed last Session in another place, have not acted very courteously to this House in bringing the Bill back here. I feel they should have been satisfied with our labours and have presented the Bill in the form in which it left us to go to another place. It may well be that we shall be asked to go over the same work again and to reiterate our views upon it, and then it may come up against criticism in another place.

I was therefore in agreement with one part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Latham, because that was one of the arguments that he advanced. But I did not quite see how the first half and the second half of his speech hung together. He went on to say that this was a most disappointing Bill, that the Government had missed a great opportunity, and that what they should have done was to have altered the Bill radically. If what the noble Lord was anxious should be done was that the same Bill should be reintroduced into this House, it was really not possible for the Government to have second thoughts and to introduce an entirely new and more radical measure in another place or in this place.

My Lords, I hope that we shall not go over the same battles again and reiterate the same arguments. So far as I am concerned, although I had some disappointments—I was not wholly satisfied with the Amendments which were made to Clause 4, where I had pressed for something more drastic to be done—I am certainly prepared to acquiesce to its present form and not to raise that issue again. I think the most statesmanlike and dignified course for this House to take would be to deal with such fresh matters as have been introduced, but to give this Bill a Second Reading in virtually the same form in which it left us at the end of the last Session.

We have heard two very interesting and impressive speeches, one from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and one from my noble friend Lord Hawke. I find myself in some measure of agreement with both of them. I think there is no doubt, as Lord Lucas of Chilworth has said, that one of the greatest difficulties which arises is the unwillingness of the courts to inflict upon convicted persons the penalties which Parliament, in its wisdom, has provided for those offences. The figures that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, gave of the very small penalties imposed upon the persons convicted, whether of careless driving or of dangerous driving, or of driving under the influence of drink, all tend to show that Parliament will have to adopt measures to ensure as far as possible that more suitable penalties are imposed. It is for that reason that I feel that Clause 3 of this Bill is a step in the right direction.

I was impressed by the arguments of my noble friend Lord Hawke, and I agree that it is possible, in certain circumstances, that a driver might be convicted of three comparatively trivial offences within the space of two years and be automatically disqualified. But, confronted with the experience we have had for so long of the indulgence that has been shown, not only by magistrates but also by juries, to those who have been guilty of these offences, I feel that the proposals that the Government are putting forward in Clause 3 are necessary and, indeed, if we are to make any progress in this matter, inevitable.

Let me remind your Lordships of the argument that has been put forward, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, that disqualification ought not to be regarded as a penalty but ought to be regarded as a withdrawal of a privilege. If we look at it in this way and if a person has been guilty three times in two years of breaches of the law, even if those breaches may not have been particularly serious, it shows that that person is prone to accidents; and it is not, I think, unfair or unjust if, as a result of those three convictions, there is an automatic disqualification.

I have complained about the reintroduction of this Bill into your Lordships' House. I hope that we shall have an explanation from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I make no complaint against him or against my noble friend Lord Chesham; indeed, I sympathise with them in the predicament in which they are placed. I believe that the best course of action for us now would be to deal with this Bill as expeditiously as we can. I believe that it is broadly conceived upon sound lines, and therefore I hope that it will have an easy passage.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I trust that I shall not incur the wrath of my noble friend the Leader of the House and of your Lordships if I refer again to Clauses 1 and 2 and to the question of special reasons. I do so because these matters are still giving concern to the motoring organisations, to the road haulage associations and to the road passenger associations. I still feel that at times this Bill can be injurious to the professional driver. It is mainly on these questions that I should like to make the few remarks which I propose to make.

As I see it, the operative words in Clause 1 deal with the temporary im-pairment of a driver's ability to drive properly. I presume that the degree of impairment will be assessed by analysis or measurement of a specimen of blood, urine or breath. This is to be done if requested by a police constable. I am sorry that there is no reference in the Bill to the place where these tests should be made. I do not know whether it is possible at a later stage to include such words as "a suitably equipped or staffed police station" or even "approved laboratory". I am not an expert in these matters, but I feel that if there is no mention of place, when this request is made by a constable, the circumstances in which the request could be made could be unsatisfactory.

There is still a fair amount of controversy—I think that was brought out in the course of the debate on the previous Bill—on the exact value of the evidence of the proportion of alcohol or drug in a specimen, owing to effects varying according to the individual. Therefore, I am wondering whether it would be practicable, as an alternative, for a constable to request a driver, when he has reasonable cause to believe that the driver is affected by alcohol or drugs, to submit to an on-the-spot driving test. I do not mean that this should be carried out by the police constable, but possibly by a mobile "cop", whether it be a cycle or a patrol car. I should think that in minor cases it would be practicable for the driver who has committed such an offence to submit to a driving test, purely from the point of view of his ability to drive properly, and I should think that that is something which a mobile police constable could very efficiently and quickly assess. I know that the motoring organisations feel that the courts should be satisfied that the ability to drive is so impaired that the driver should be demonstrably unfit to drive properly. I feel that this added test might help in this respect.

I am a little perturbed because the provisions of the Bill could at times injuriously affect the professional driver—that is, the driver who earns his living by his driving. For example, he could be debarred from driving for at least six months after three offences within three years, even for an offence which could come under Section 14 of the principal Act of 1960, which refers to noncompliance with traffic directions. This third offence would be most detrimental to his earning capacity, yet it would not necessarily have been a dangerous one. I appreciate that on the question of endorsement, discretion lies with the courts, but there is still the question of special reasons. I should like to ask my noble friend the Leader of the House whether the question of endorsement could be left to the courts without special reasons being invoked, or, failing this, whether the scope of special reasons could be enlarged or extended to include circumstances relating to the offender. I understand that now they relate only to the offence. Especially with regard to the professional driver, he may be placed in a difficult position if one does not take into account his previous record and the hardship which he could incur. For such cases as non-compliance with a traffic direction, or possibly slightly exceeding an unrealistic speed limit, I think special reasons would not be invoked, and therefore, automatically, the driver's licence would be endorsed.

Finally, I should like to mention one point which might surprise your Lordships. It is one I have mentioned before, but not in this context, and I know it is one of interest to the Association of Municipal Corporations, particularly with regard to this Bill. I would remind your Lordships of the words of my noble friend Lord Chesham on July 5 last, when he said that the extension of trolley bus routes was rather a rigmarole for doing a small and simple thing". Subsequently my noble friend wrote to me, and later on to the interested local authorities, drawing attention to a simplified procedure which can be used for authorisation of a trolley bus route. Unfortunately—this is where it is of interest to this Bill—this simplified procedure can be used only where some other Act applies it. I am referring to the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945.

In order to simplify matters for local authorities who may not be proposing for some time to promote a new local Bill, I am wondering whether consideration could be given to the inclusion in this Bill of a provision which would apply the 1945 Act. I do not think it would be detrimental to anyone's interests, nor would it overload this measure in any way. The Long Title of the Bill describes it as a road safety Bill, and it mentions road traffic. I feel it would be of assistance to local authorities who are proposing to make orders to extend trolley bus routes. In conclusion, much as I welcome this Bill, as it will give a fillip to road safety, I sincerely hope also that what I am suggesting (I propose to put down an Amendment at a later stage) will be agreed, as I am sure it will give a fillip to a mode of road traffic which still has many advantages.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to follow what my noble friend Lord Merrivale has just said. This Bill, of course, as in its Title a road safety Bill, but I think many of us are still sad that it is such a very negative Bill. It seeks to impose road safety by the limitation of the activities of road users; that is its primary conception of road safety. I much preferred the opening words of the speech of my noble friend Lord Chesham when he was moving the Second Reading this afternoon, in which he really deployed a scheme leading to road safety which had nothing to do with this Bill, but was imaginative, practical and most helpful. I was very impressed by the words that my noble friend used about traffic engineering, the concept which he displayed of traffic engineering, and the way in which it could help us. I only wish that we in this country could do something on those lines, which have already been adopted in the United States, Australia and in other countries where traffic engineering has become an accepted part of the life of the country and is proving (and my noble friend established this in regard to London experiments) a far more effective concomitant towards road safety than anything we are likely to achieve under this Bill.

Your Lordships have only to recall the tragic and disastrous accident which occurred to a relative of one of the Members of your Lordships' House so recently on the Kingston By-Pass, which could not possibly have occurred if that road had been conceived in the light of traffic engineering as it is understood to-day. Until we can introduce traffic engineering into the concept, the creation and the use of our road systems in this country we shall not be able to approach this all-important subject except in the purely negative way that is contained in this Bill.

Having said that, I should like to make two or three comments on the content of the Bill, although I do not propose to do otherwise than observe the reflections of our noble Leader in regard to the way in which we might well approach the Bill. Your Lordships, I think, will already be aware from what I have said before that I doubt if there is anyone, even my noble friend Lord Elton, who is more strongly opposed to the drunken driver than I am. I appreciate the Government's determination to resist the temptation which he was seeking to tender to them to overcome this difficulty in the way in which it has been overcome in some other countries: by making it a rule that an offence is committed if a person is driving a motor car or any vehicle while his bloodstream contains a specified percentage of alcohol. I am certain that in this country, not only would that fail, but it would be resisted to the uttermost by the people, whether they are drivers of motor cars or not. It would be impossible for the Government to enforce, or to benefit from, a measure which would be so intensely unpopular. Therefore, I congratulate the Government on resisting that temptation.

To turn to Clause 1, I am still genuinely worried about the interpretation of this phraseology. It is of great importance, because Clause 1 carries with it automatic disqualification. This clause, as your Lordships will be aware, provides that a person commits the offence under Section 6 of the principal Act—that is what we have generally hitherto called "driving while drunk"—if his ability to drive properly is for the time being impaired. I am advised (and I can only offer this to your Lordships) that there is genuine doubt as to the interpretation of those words, and even as to how they should be interpreted. There is a strong school of thought which maintains that in fact the words mean, "if his ability is for the time being impaired", and that the words, "to drive properly" in that context have no relevance at all. I am not suggesting to your Lordships that that is a correct interpretation; I am only saying that I am advised that it is an interpretation which is widely held. It seems to me unnecessary to import into a Bill words which are of doubtful meaning, when it is perfectly simple and easy to adjust the words so as to eliminate the doubt. But if, indeed, it should mean that a person has committed an offence if his ability is for the time being impaired, it is too vague, because it may well be that his ability to read, to write, to walk or something or the other, might be impaired, whereas his ability to drive a motor car is not in the least impaired.

Another point concerning this clause is this. If we assume (as I think we have most of us accepted) that his ability to drive properly is for the time being impaired means that he is impaired to the extent that he is unable to drive properly, it seems to me that we are simply shifting the existing onus of doubt from "When is a person drunk?" to the point "When can he drive properly?" According to the views of many mem- bers of the police force and many members of magistrates' benches, there is a great number of people driving vehicles on the roads at the present time who are incapable of driving properly, whether they are drunk or sober. It really seems to me to be creating only another question of doubt if you substitute for the question whether a person is drunk in charge of a vehicle the question Whether his ability to drive properly is impaired as a result of drink.

I seriously suggest to your Lordships—although I know this matter has been debated and discussed before—that these words are not sufficient by way of definition to import to the courts exactly what is in the minds of your Lordships and what it is we are anxious shall be construed into the commission of an offence. I would suggest that when it comes down to the point there is little difference between this and the old definition. But if the Government are wedded to the word "impairment", surely it would, to some extent at any rate, meet the views of your Lordships' House if that could be linked to what we are really anxious to prevent. I think what we are anxious to ensure is that an offence shall be committed in these circumstances only if the person's ability to drive is impaired so that he is likely to cause danger to other road users. I would seriously suggest that to your Lordships as a basis from which some more technical, legal and accurate definition might be obtained.


My Lords, surely the danger to himself goes into it as well. No other road user might be in sight at all, but he might be driving drunkenly and dangerously to himself. So danger to other road users ought not to be the exclusive test here.


I said it was a basis. That seems to me a perfectly logical suggestion to elaborate the basis, though I do not think it is necessary to have a hypothetical road user who would certainly be in danger as well.


My Lords, would the noble Viscount's words cover not only the case of a drunken driver causing an accident, but one who, because he is drunk, is unable to avoid an accident?


I should undoubtedly have said that in either of those cases his ability to drive was so impaired that he would be likely to cause danger to other road users. I think either of those cases would have been covered.

May I now turn to Clause 2, because I am anxious not to detain your Lordships longer than I need. Clause 2 deals with this question about the courts having to have regard to the evidence of the quantity of alcohol. Frankly, I do not quite know what that imports, or what it means. Surely the courts already have regard to anything which is relevant, and I find it difficult to imagine that any court would decline to receive evidence which was relevant. Assuming that the evidence of the quantity of alcohol is relevant, what does the court have to do other than accept the evidence in the normal way, when it has to have regard to that particular evidence? I feel that here there is imported something which the courts themselves will find difficult to construe. I feel sure that the question is intended simply to determine the defendant's ability to drive properly; and is not that sufficiently provided for in Clause 1 already?

Also in Clause 2 we have what to me is a singularly offensive provision about the refusal of the defendant to provide specimens. I know your Lordships heard a great deal about that in the previous debates, when this almost same Bill was before your Lordships' House. I feel it is inherently wrong and exceedingly bad law to provide in a Statute that a defendant should be assumed to have implied one thing or another by a negative attitude. This is rather linked up with the point which my noble friend Lord Merrivale was making concerning the request for the test to be made, by whom and where. I feel that that is exceedingly relevant, because if ever your Lordships have been at the scene of an accident you will realise the atmosphere which generally exists at that time and place. You have the wrecked cars, you have people rather apt to be stumbling about, some of them probably cut, some of them probably shocked, and at least upset. Their natural attitude at that time and place is either one of indignation or else they are on the defensive.

If a young policeman arrives on the scene in those circumstances (and it is surprising how few policemen in the course of their career have ever had tVe opportunity of taking particulars of more than one or two accidents at the scene of the accident and at the time) he himself will be wondering what he ought to do, what he ought to ask and to whom he ought to speak. It is quite likely that one of the first things he will say to one of these people who are injured, indignant or on the defensive is, "Are you prepared to submit to a test?" The obvious answer which most of us would give to that would be contained in an exceedingly short sentence, because our view would be that the policeman might well have asked some more important question at that time, or at least to have moved into some more important line of action which would assist in the clearance of the accident. Nevertheless, our reply would go down in the policeman's notebook, and when some three months later, perhaps after the complete investigations had taken place, someone was brought before the court as a defendant upon some offence and evidence was given that he had refused to submit to a test of alcoholism, the effect upon the court would be exceedingly different from what in fact was intended, or should have been effected, if the court had been able to appreciate the circumstances in which the question was asked. Therefore I submit to your Lordships that there should be an Amendment to this clause, and this request for a test should be made only at a police station by the officer in charge or at a hospital by a medical officer. I believe that this is a sensible suggestion, which I commend to your Lordships because the other one as it is in the Bill is really not practicable, and I put it forward as much in the interests of the police as in the interests of the driver of the car.

On Clause 2 (2) again I very much regret to see that the Amendment which we put into the Bill upon the last occasion, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has been deleted. I had the privilege of supporting the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, which desired and required that the Government should prescribe the methods and utensils which should be used for the taking of these tests; and I was delighted this afternoon to hear that a representative of the Liberal Party also supported our view. So I hope that, with the combined feeling from the Labour Party, the Liberal Party and at any rate a weighty branch of the Conservative Party, the Government will think again in regard to the reintroduction, perhaps in a slightly improved form, of the Amendment which they have dropped out of this Bill.

The only other thing I want to say concerns this question of the automatic disqualification. There are two points in regard to it. I congratulate the Government on the improvement which has resulted from their Amendments to the Schedule, and what appeared to us in the earlier stages to be comparatively trivial offences have been deleted from those which had ranked for disqualification. But one or two things such as speeding are still Included. Speeding, I quite agree, can be a very dangerous thing indeed, but in the majority of cases when a person is prosecuted for speeding that is the only offence which he has been committing; he has not been driving dangerously, without due care and attention or anything of that sort. I should very seriously like to see the offence of speeding deleted from that part of the Schedule, because if serious offences which ought to rank for disqualification have been committed while a person has been speeding he can always be prosecuted for the other offences; and it is unnecessary that the comparatively minor offence of speeding should rank for disqualification.

There is another point with regard to it which is rather practical. At the present time the majority of offences which are prosecuted under the heading of speeding are dealt with under the Magistrates' Courts Act and, consequently, they are dealt with very speedily and without the necessary appearance of the defendant in court and the consequent cluttering up of the court with cases. If speeding is made one of the offences for which disqualification may follow, then a case must be defended by the person concerned in his own interests and he will try to get off; and that, I submit to your Lordships, is quite unnecessary. The result is likely to be a very great congestion in the courts, which I submit is not what any of us desires.

One final point upon a rather technical matter. As I understand it, the bench or court which deals with the third case and convicts the person for the third time within the period of three years in respect of a disqualifiable offence has no knowledge whatsoever of the circumstances in which the two previous endorsements were made. It is therefore a matter of grave difficulty for that third court to know whether or not it ought to exercise its discretion, because it can take into account only the circumstances of the third case, whereas it might well be that the first two cases had been comparatively trivial and the third case a borderline case, and yet owing to their ignorance as to what the first two cases were the court might feel it was right and proper for it to conclude that the action deserved disqualification. My Lords, that is all I have to say except to congratulate my noble friends for introducing into this Bill the provision about hovercraft. There is one suggestion I should like to offer them, which is that they might add to their ingenuity and imagination in the introduction of this clause by making provision to the effect that the driver of a hovercraft is not a motorist.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House thought it desirable, at my instance, I agree, to make a statement to the House as to how he thought the Business should be conducted under this Bill. I am not surprised he thought it necessary, because the difficulty arises from the fact that the Bill was introduced into this House at all in the first place. The speeches which we have heard in the course of the debate add to the difficulties which have arisen, because most of the speeches—and the last one that we listened to in particular—were merely a repetition of the discussions we had throughout the proceedings on the previous Bill. The noble Viscount argued Amendments that were defeated in the course of the discussion on the former Bill, and I gather that he will even introduce them again.

The fact is that we have had no real explanation as to why this Bill was introduced here at all in the first instance. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, tried to give us an explanation. He said that this House is more independent than the other House and that it has three times defeated the Government. I would agree with both those statements, but to me they do not add up to a reason for introducing this particular Bill again at this stage rather than introducing any other Bill into this House in the first instance. This House has always been, and I hope it always will be, independent; but I hope the noble and learned Viscount will tell us why the Bill has been so introduced. It has, at any rate, led to some scrappy debate, because some noble Lords have accepted the advice given by the noble and learned Viscount; others have gone right through the Bill and discussed all the clauses to which they objected.

I do not propose to say very much in these circumstances, but I think there are one or two points of principle that I should like to touch on. The first is the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who speaks with great authority on these questions. He said that he thought the Bill was not stiff enough. I entirely disagree with him; I think the penalties in the Bill are quite stiff enough. My doubt is whether they will be imposed in all circumstances. I am inclined to think there are many benches in the country that are rather soft with motorists and do not impose the full penalties that they are entitled to impose and ought to impose. I realise that it is not within the power of any Minister to give directions to the bench as to what kind of penalties they are to impose, but I think that somehow it ought to be brought to their notice that this is a road safety Bill, the intention is that the penalties in the Bill should act as a deterrent, and they can act as a deterrent to bad driving only if they are fully and adequately imposed in proper cases. The penalty of possible loss of licence is quite severe, and the Bill has been considerably strengthened in that respect.

Some discussion has taken place on the questions of speed and of drink and the breathalyser. I do not propose to say anything much about that. Speed is a difficult problem. At one time I advocated the possibility of having an overall speed limit throughout the country. I must say that on further consideration I have come to the conclusion that there are stretches of this country—not many but there are some—where there is no need to have a speed limit at all. I have also come to the conclusion that even the lowest possible speed limit may be too speedy in certain circumstances, say on wet roads or going round corners. It is only by the grace of God that I am here this afternoon to speak on this Bill, because there was a gentleman turning a corner on my way here, not at a high speed but he certainly could not see my car coming; he was travelling at about 30 miles an hour, but it was quite speedy enough to cause a serious accident which only by great good fortune was avoided. But I imagine that such a person could be caught by the provisions on dangerous driving and not on the question of speed.

The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, made what seems to me an extraordinary statement: that he did not think that you could increase safety on the road by Act of Parliament. If that is true we are certainly wasting our time here this afternoon. But I am sure it is not true. Surely the deterrents against dangerous and bad driving in the Bill are sufficiently severe—we hope so—to ensure that people will drive more carefully. Certainly the deterrent against driving under the influence of drink is quite severe, and I should hope that this Bill would have some effect.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, once more criticised Clause 1 of the Bill. He thought it was vague and would lead to difficulties. I listened to his alternative. I must say that I thought his alternative would lead to more difficulties than the words in the clause itself. I do not want to argue it now; I will certainly argue it with him if he puts down an Amendment. But certainly so far as language can make clear what we are after I should have thought the words in the Bill were sufficiently clear for any intelligent court to make up its mind as to whether an offence has been committed.

Again, I do not want to argue the question of the test. I thought that this House had accepted it; I thought the House had accepted the Bill in the form in which it left us. But if there is once more an attempt to amend the Bill by deleting the provisions of the test, then I certainly feel that the noble Viscount will hear more about it from me and other noble Lords in the House. Perhaps the best service I can render the House is to let it get on with the job and pass the Second Reading at this stage, but I should be grateful if the noble and learned Viscount could explain to us why it is that the Bill, having gone through this House, had to come back to us in virtually the same form and leave us in this difficulty of not really being able to make up our minds what is the right course to adopt with it. There will possibly be another, the Weights and Measures Bill, and I wonder whether the same thing will happen with that. We spent an enormous amount of time, we passed the Bill in the way in which we thought, on the whole, it was most satisfactory, and it is putting the House in some difficulty if we get it back again and have to re-discuss it and, in some cases, put down exactly the same Amendments which have been defeated.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, the criticisms which have been levelled and the arguments which have been presented in the course of this debate really divide themselves into two classes: those which deal with the reintroduction of the Bill into this House and those which deal with the contents of the Bill, whether by way of criticism of its omissions or of its positive content. I must begin by saying quite frankly to the House that we regard this Bill as essential if we are to grapple with the situation on the roads in an honest way, and nothing much less than this Bill will do, and nothing much more than this Bill will, I think, be right in the present circumstances. We regard this Bill as essential if we are to grapple honestly with what has been described, rightly or wrongly—and it is not for me to use coloured language—as the massacre on the roads. I start with that proposition for dealing with both sets of argument, and I shall try to show why the logical conclusion to which I shall ask the House to come is that this Bill should be passed substantially in the form in which it has been passed before.

This brings me to the first class of arguments that have been presented. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, in remarks which he described as chilly but I should have described as biased and unfair, first of all complained that the Bill had not gone through in the last Session of Parliament, which he said was due to the wanton neglect by the Government of their legislative programme. It is not, of course, strictly relevant for me to go into the history of the Bill in the last Session, but perhaps the noble Lord and the House will allow me to say that I do not accept that criticism, and because it has some bearing upon what I am about to say I hope the House will bear with me while I express in a sentence or two why I do not accept it. I want to do so in quite objective language, realising that what I am going to say relates to a question which is hotly disputed between the political Parties in this country.

However, it will be within the recollection of your Lordships, and I can refer to it more easily because it happened in the last Session, that we entered upon a legislative programme at the beginning of last Session which was obviously an ambitious one in point of quantity of legislation to get through. I have no doubt myself—and I am talking very frankly; as the noble Lord asked me to be frank I will try to be frank—that that legislation would have got through—if not with ease, at any rate it would have been accomplished—before the end of last Session. Of course, it is true—and I am trying to be objective about this question—that the reason why it did not was that in another place, although not in your Lordships' House, there was a very definite change of temperature in the feeling between the Parties on the two sides of the House. In every other connection but this I would frankly agree that noble Lords opposite were fully entitled to say that the change in the temperature was due to a change in policy or new policies announced by Her Majesty's Government, and if they introduce new and controversial policies Her Majesty's Government must expect to find increased pressure from the Opposition.

I fully accept the force of that in other contexts but the present, but I would venture to say to noble Lords opposite, without passion, that this is just the opposite of mismanagement. Noble Lords opposite are entitled to say that our policy as it developed through the Session became controversial, and that therefore a different temperature between the Parties was the inevitable consequence of what we did, and the effect of it was that we either mismanaged our programme or that we put too much into it initially. Our answer would be—it is one that we cannot debate on this evening's Bill—that this change or development in policy was necessitated by the facts of the situation.

Of course, this is a matter which, on other occasions, we should have to enter into. But we must try to get through business which is not fundamentally controversial, in the Party sense, in a businesslike way, and I think we must accept, for the purposes of this evening's debate, that, for reasons which may have been the fault of one side or the other, or which may have been the fault of both sides or neither, the business last Session, owing to the change of feeling between the Parties, a matter the responsibility for which is hotly debated, was not concluded. I start with that proposition. I reject on behalf of the Government the charge of mismanagement, but I recognise that this is the consequence (for which we must both seek to mitigate the public disadvantage) of tension in another place between the two political Parties of which the noble Lord and I are respectively members. That is what happened.

The next thing is that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, says—he is to some extent supported by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—that we should not have introduced this Bill back here again; and they demand, as indeed they are entitled to demand, an explanation from me as to why this particular course was pursued. I will comply with that demand and examine the validity of this criticism, if I may, on its merits. But I think I am entitled to point out at the outset that my noble friend Lord Molson was perfectly correct when he said that, whether or not this criticism is a just one, it simply will not live with the other part of Lord Latham's speech, because as that speech emerged or developed it became clear that, for one reason or another—again I shall examine the validity of it on its merits in due course —he was demanding quite a different Bill from the Government. He said this was an opportunity not only missed but deliberately rejected. This was his theme. What he wanted was a Bill which, he was suggesting, would really deal with (to use his words) the massacre on the roads, whereas this Bill would not. Of course, that again may be a valid criticism. But the two criticisms will not live together. What undoubtedly would have been an affront to this House would have been if, after all the labour we expended on the Bill up to June of this year, and after successfully asking the House to pass it in—substantially— the form in which it has now been reintroduced, the Government had, instead of making use of the labours of this House, introduced a totally different Bill, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, would have wanted.

I will examine in a moment which, if either, of these two criticisms can stand on its own merits, but what is obvious is that they cannot live together. I will deal, if I may, with the criticisms seriatim, and I will return to the question as to why this Bill was reintroduced here. Even my noble friend Lord Molson said that he thought this was discourteous. This was not the view universally held, because the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, speaking impressively from the Cross Benches, said he thought it was a compliment to this House. I am not sure that I can go far by way of abstract argument, but I will put to your Lordships exactly why the Bill comes before your Lordships again. I am not at all sure that I agree that it is, in abstract, necessarily a compliment or an affront to the House that it is asked again to pass this Bill in advance of the other House. I think, that, logically speaking, it makes no difference at all.

I will tell your Lordships frankly how it does come back in this order. I think we were all sorry that the last Bill did not get through, and I must say that I should greatly have preferred, as the Minister in charge of the Bill, that the Bill had gone first to another place this Session, because then, instead of having a second Second Reading, and a second Committee and Report stage and a second Third Reading, we should, I hope, have been able to deal solely with the Bill, and have got rid of it, as it was handled by the Commons. In many ways this would have been an advantage.

My first inclination when I was presented with the possibility that this Bill might come before your Lordships again, was to say infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem which means I hope my kindly colleagues will Not send me back this beastly Bill. But it was then represented to me—and I think noble Lords will probably feel that I acted as the House would wish me to act—that this Bill was a real necessity for road safety, and that again the legislative machine is very heavily burdened at the present time. A lot of really urgent legislation is pressing in another place. Of course its merits will be hotly disputed between the Parties, and we must recognise that the two Parties will not take the same view of either the value or the selection of measures which are before Parliament at the present time. But, for the purposes of considering the orderly disposition of our business and for seeing that, if we can, we ensure that Bills not of a controversial kind in the Party sense will not fall again, I am perfectly sure that I was acting, and would have acted, in the way your Lordships on both sides would wish me to act; and that if there were any question of this Bill suffering the same fate or disappearing altogether from the legislative programme, of course this House would be willing to lend itself to the extra labour involved to see that it came properly on to the Statute Book in that order. I feel absolutely convinced that this was the right course to take.

I myself should have preferred—again I will be perfectly frank with your Lordships—Co see the Bill reintroduced in exactly the same form as it left your Lordships' House, without a comma altered, and for further Amendments to have been inserted in another place, and to be sent back to us after we had learned what the other place's view was. To that, to my mind, the insuperable objection was presented that it was not really honourable for the Government to ask this House to pass a Bill of any kind which was not in the form in which the Government could confidently recommend it to become law. I myself think that that was a totally cogent argument, although I still think that it would have been permissible to have taken the other course as it originally presented itself to me.

I am bound to say that I feel even less guilty about this matter than otherwise I should have done by the course which the debate has taken to-day. I had, indeed, expected that, if noble Lords were going to say that it should not have come here to-day, they would have said, "Well, we passed this Bill in this form less than six months ago. We will not reiterate the arguments that we made last time, especially when they were only Committee points at the best of times." But I have found, to my surprise, and at any rate perhaps to my comfort from the point of view of the class of argument to which I am addressing myself now, that, so far from that being the case, almost every one of the debates which we had pursued to some kind of conclusion, sometimes on a Division, in the last Session's proceedings, have with enthusiasm been embarked upon to-day by at any rate two or three of my noble friends. If that is really so, I can only assume that it is because the House really wants to discuss it all again. If that be so, far from being an affront it is indeed a compliment to noble Lords that they have been given the opportunity, that they evidently so much desire, to do so.

But I would make this other argument, which I think is a cogent one, to the noble Lords opposite or to noble Lords who may not take quite the same view. Of course, if it had been introduced into another place first and come to your Lordships again this Session with such Amendments as another place thought fit to add, my noble friend, Lord Brentford, my noble friend, Lord Elton, and, indeed, all the other noble Lords who have spoken, including the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, would have made exactly the same speeches when it did come to this House as they made this afternoon. We should, in fact, have been neither better nor worse off if the Commons had happened to discuss the Bill in advance. I am bound to say that I come back to the conclusion that although I myself would have preferred, and I can see that other noble Lords would have preferred, simply as a matter of personal preference, that the Bill had been introduced to another place first, my experience of this afternoon convinces me that not the slightest advantage would have been obtained by anybody had that course been pursued.

I make no complaint that this procedural criticism has been made—it is a feeling I have myself—and I hope that if I have not satisfied noble Lords opposite I have at any rate satisfied them of the circumstances in which I felt bound to make myself responsible for the re-introduction of this Bill here. I believe that had they been placed similarly to me they would have acted in the public interest exactly as I have acted, and certainly the last thing I should like to leave in any noble Lord's mind is the thought that there was on my part the smallest desire to cause affront to any Member of this House or to the House itself. I am sure that we are, in fact, performing a public duty by taking the Bill in this way, and I can only say that I am grateful to noble Lords for giving it their careful consideration.


My Lords, can the noble Viscount give an assurance that this will not become a practice?


I always try to have my own way, and I have already told noble Lords that, so far as I am concerned, it is not a practice that I relish. But, on the other hand, I am sure the House would not desire me to give an assurance that, if I again thought it was in the public interest that this House should inconvenience itself, I would not ask the House to accept it. After all, in all our debates it is the public interest which comes first, and I am sure the House would wish me to apply that criterion to any future case where I may have to be faced with the same choice.


Without any consultation through the usual channels?


My Lords, I shall always be glad to consult through the usual channels when it is at all practicable for me to do so. I will, of course, consult through the usual channels in any case where it is at all practicable, and I think the noble Lord will recognise that, on the whole, I am fairly good about that. I certainly do not want to leave the Opposition without recourse to the Government in this very beneficial way and, indeed, I have to thank noble Lords opposite for having in some ways expedited my course even in this afternoon's business.

Now I want to turn from this aspect of the matter to the contents of the Bill. Here I am bound to say that I thought that some of the speeches to which we listened were a little less than realistic. Everybody is agreed that we want to reduce the slaughter on the roads. Broadly speaking, from listening to the many debates on road safety that we have had, even in the short time that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, I find there are three broad possible views about the improvement of road safety. My own view, for what it is worth, is that all three are right and they are not inconsistent, but they are usually put forward as alternatives.

The first view is that you cannot do anything with legislation; you cannot make the roads safe by Act of Parliament; let us have bright new roads with good traffic engineering and the accident rate will be reduced. My Lords, as a matter of fact that view is correct. You will get a great deal more road safety by good traffic engineering, and the accident rate will be reduced. This can be established in any debate upon road safety that one cares to have—though I think this is not, perhaps, the appropriate evening to do it. If noble Lords would be interested to visit the I Road Research Laboratory, for which I am responsible, they would find that it is possible to calculate roughly how many lives or what percentage of money will be saved by certain types of improvements in the roads of our country. Therefore, I would wish to say that I accept that point of view in its positive sense, but not in its negative sense. Because traffic engineering will reduce the accident rate, it does not mean that I penal law is not necessary from day to day over the roads of the country. We all know the contrary to be the case.

The second point of view is that you do not really want to improve the existing law; the penalties are all there, and if only people would enforce the law there would be fewer accidents. I do not in any way mean to misrepresent what he said, but this view very largely corresponds to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I, myself, agree with that, too. Far more important than improvements in the existing law, far more important than the increase of penalties, is enforcement by the police of regulations which exist at the moment and the proper application by magistrates of the penalties which lie ready to hand. If that were done, I think we should get a considerable reduction in the accident rate. I am not in the least criticising that point of view. But, for the reasons which I am about to give and which I gave to the House in the previous Session, I am quite satisfied that that, too, is not enough. Both traffic engineering and enforcement are necessary; indeed, I think they are far more beneficial than what we are going to do to-day, and in subsequent Sittings, can be said to be. But I do not think they are alternatives to what we are doing now. I think what we are doing now has to be done as well, and it is to that that I should like to direct my attention.

Within the range of legislative changes, which is what we are now talking about—and these things are very fresh in the memory of the House—there have been considerable differences of opinion, and when the noble Lord, Lord Latham, comes to me and says, "This might have been a very much better Bill", what I suspect he really means is, "If all the Amendments that I proposed were passed, it would be a very much better Bill". But, my Lords, this is fresh in your Lordships' memories, and you know the two extremes between which the Government have had to steer in the principal matters of controversy. I believe that the House will have to face the fact that we have chosen the correct balance between two extreme points of view.

Take the question of drink and tests. There was one point of view, which was represented again this afternoon by my noble friend, Lord Elton, that tests should be compulsory; they should be universal, and I think he really believes, although he told us that he was not going to argue it again this afternoon, that they should be based upon a percentage of alcohol in the blood. Now, my noble friend, Lord Brentford, would not like that, nor would some other noble Lords behind me; they would fight it bitterly, and we should never get our Bill through Parliament if we did that. I, myself, do not agree with this, for reasons which I gave to my noble friend, Lord Elton, last time, and which I will not repeat.

But I would just say this to him. He asked me a question about something I said last time, and I am bound to tell him that the exact context in which I said it has slipped a little from my mind, but it occurred to me—and I am speaking now without refreshing my memory, because there has not been time to do so—that he was possibly attaching a wrong meaning to the word "apparatus", I am quite satisfied in my own mind that it would be impossible to provide that every police station should have facilities for the taking of a blood test or, indeed, facilities for the taking of a breath test, although I may say something about the breath test which will make that point irrelevant. I am not seeking to say that, if there were some piece of mechanical apparatus, in the strictly scientific sense, that could not be manufactured and put physically into the police stations of the country. But, of course, if you are going to rely on blood tests, it does not depend on just having a test-tube and a lancet; it depends on having a doctor there. This is what I am sure could not be done in every police station in the country at every hour of the day or night.

In relation to the breath tests I must remind my noble friends that, whether or not they are easy to use, the view which the Medical Research Council ask the Government to accept, and which they do accept, is that they are also insufficiently accurate at the moment to form the basis of reliable judgment. In point of fact, though I never can remember which countries are involved, some (and I think most) of the countries which in fact employ the breathalyser and the drunkometer, as I regret they are both called respectively, treat them not as conclusive tests but as tests to show whether a further test should be taken by an expert. They are used, indeed, by the police, but not as a means of providing evidence for conviction: they are used to provide a test for the police as to whether they should call in an expert to carry out an accurate test. I do not think it would really be seriously contended that that would be a very great step forward in this country. We hope, as I told the House on a previous occasion, that we shall perfect one of these instruments, which will be of very great benefit to us all. That is one extreme view on drink, my Lords, which we should be bound to reject.

The other extreme view, which I know was represented quite strongly in this House, is that all these tests on drink are far too inaccurate to use at all. The idiosyncrasy of the individual, of his reaction to alcohol, the human element in the taking of the tests, the inaccuracy of the actual instruments involved—all these things, it is said, yield no certain result and should be excluded. We have quite deliberately rejected that. What we have done is to pursue a rational, objective and scientific policy in relation to these tests: that they have proven value, properly applied; that they are not necessarily conclusive, but that what they do tend to do, if nothing else, is to provide some objective test of the minimum quantity which the subject may have consumed. When one says, "I have had only two White Ladies", you are sometimes able to tell by a urine or a blood test that he has consumed at least the equivalent of ten whiskies and soda—which, of course, has a certain effect upon a jury once it can be established.

A similar situation arises in relation to the other principle contained in this part of the Bill, and that is the question of disqualification. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, quite rightly said, and noble Lords who are interested in the question of enforcement quite rightly say, that local magistrates are very reluctant to disqualify, and that if you really wish to reduce road accidents by the application of penalties you must ensure, to some extent, that disqualification will follow the more serious driving offences. I happen to agree with that. On the other side, there is the long series of complaints which are made the moment you try to do this in practice by noble Lords and by my noble friends in particular who, not unnaturally, represent the perfectly legitimate interests of the motorists.

Now the view we took was this: that you never would get a situation in which quite serious offences were the subject of actual disqualification so long as you left a complete discretion to the magistrates. I believe that to be true. On the other hand, we also thought that to impose an automatic disqualification in the case of most offences would be far too harsh on i the motorists. Therefore, we have the i system which appears in the Schedule to the Bill, and I think Clause 3, under which a limited discretion is left to the magistrates for "special reasons" not to endorse, and under which the disqualification is not imposed on a whole range of offences, all of a more serious kind than they are sometimes represented to be, until after the third offence within a limited period of time. Now I think again that this is a rational viewpoint. I recognise, of course, that in some cases it will do hardship. But I ventured in the previous debates to put before your Lordships, as an example, something which I know most of us have been through earlier in our lives—namely, training in the use of a shot-gun, the dangers attached to which are rather less, if anything, than the dangers which are attached to motor cars and to motor bicycles. We none of us would hesitate to take a gun away from a child or a boy who was being taught to shoot who pointed the gun at somebody in play, even though the gun was not loaded.

What we have been bound to say—and, my Lords, I beg your Lordships to believe that I am not just speaking to a brief about this; twenty-five years at the Common Law Bar have taught me some thing about accidents, and how they are prevented—is that over the whole range of safety, factory accidents and road accidents, the same kind of reasoning has to be applied. The law of negligence is not enough to protect the workmen in the factory. The truth is that when you are dealing with dangerous machinery—and, whether or not the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is correct in denying that a motor car is a lethal weapon, it certainly is dangerous machinery—


Hear, Hear!


—regulations are essential. Of course, it is quite obviously true that, whether you apply a regulation as to speed or as to certain other objective things, like traffic lights, the regulation can be flouted or disobeyed without any actual danger on many occasions. If I point an unloaded gun at somebody, I am guilty of nothing which causes actual danger; but the fact is that if you want to stop accidents you must impose regulations of that kind. If you impose them, you must police them; and, in the end, after repeated offences, the only sanction which is going to do the least bit of good is the sanction of disqualification. For that reason, as I say, it has to be applied at some stage automatically.

This is, I repeat, the philosophy of the Bill. We have had to steer a course between opinions deeply felt of a more extreme kind, but we have tried throughout to follow a practical course, and one which can be justified on principle. I must ask the House seriously, not merely on this stage, which I hope is now concluding, but on the Committee stage, to adhere to its previous decisions. Should another place differ from us, then we can reconsider them. I know I have not persuaded, on all points, those who differed from me during the Committee and Report stages of a previous Session, but, none the less, I would ask my noble friends and noble Lords opposite, even where they differ from me, to try, on the whole, not to waste the time which we have taken in a previous Session, but to seek to take the opinion of another place before we seriously diverge from decisions we have taken.


My Lords, that would have been a perfectly understandable thing to ask the House, and I would have supported the noble and learned Viscount 100 per cent., if he had not altered the Bill. There are things that he has taken out of the Bill and there are things that he has added to the Bill. It may be that if Amendments were limited to those matters there would be some sense in what he is asking, but I cannot see the logic of asking us to accept a different Bill from the one which we passed.


My Lords, I was in fact about to turn to that point, and to one particular example of it; but, in substance, this is the same Bill. Of the amendments which have been made, I could, I think, justify all except three or four as drafting and no more, and all except two, I think, as being un-controversial. The only one of sub- stance at all is that to which the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and the noble Lord, Lord Latham, referred—namely, Lord Taylor's Amendment. We are asking the House to accept the Bill in a form in which that Amendment does not appear. I fully accept that that requires justification. Of course, we shall have to debate it on Committee, and perfectly properly debate it on Committee—I would not quarrel with that at all—but I would say at this stage that when my noble friend Lord Chesham had to accept defeat before, he told the House quite distinctly that the Government would consider moving it out again when the Bill passed through another place. Now that warning having clearly been given, it would have come back here, in any event, had the Bill passed through the last Session, assuming that another place had taken the Government's advice, and we should have had to debate it then. We have put no additional burden on the House.

As I explained to the House earlier in my speech, we did consider seriously whether we could leave the Bill with it in and then try to move it out in another place, as we suggested we would do in the previous Session. We thought we could not honourably do that, because we could not ask this House to pass the Bill except in the form in which we wanted it to come into law. We must, of course, debate this. I would never ask this House to reverse its previous decision without giving full reasons, and I hope we shall be very powerfully represented in debate and will satisfy the House of the reasons which have led us to take this course. But I can assure the House at this stage that the course was taken deliberately, without any intention to affront the House, and it will be carefully argued when the time comes to deal with it in detail. With those observations I hope the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before seven o'clock.