§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Chesham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]
§ Clause 5 [Endorsement of Licence]:
VISCOUNT BRENTFORD moved after subsection (3) to insert:
() An order that the particulars of a conviction or of a disqualification to which a convicted person has become subject are to be endorsed on a licence held by him shall, for the purposes of an appeal, be regarded as part of the sentence.
§ The noble Viscount said: The purport of this Amendment is simply and solely to ensure that in cases in which a court has made an order that a conviction shall be endorsed upon the licence of a driver of a motor vehicle, the owner of that licence shall, if he thinks fit, have the right of appeal against the order endorsing his licence. The reason for this is that there is a certain amount of doubt whether the driver of a vehicle has or has not that right of appeal at the present time. The necessity for it is because, in the view of some of us, there is great need for a definition owing to the seriousness of an endorsement which may affect the career and livelihood as well as the convenience of a driver.
§ Your Lordships will recollect that, under the provisions of Clause 3 of this Bill, if a person has three endorsements on his licence within a period of three years, on the occasion of the order making the third endorsement his licence is automatically suspended. In the Committee two days ago we heard a certain amount of discussion about the seriousness of certain offences contained in Part 2 of the First Schedule, and my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House put some exceedingly powerful arguments before your Lordships on the necessity for discipline on the part of the motorist. He said that even the 1220 offence of exceeding a speed limit, notwithstanding that it may not involve any element of danger on the road, was still worthy of condemnation because it was a breach of road discipline.
§ Your Lordships will recall that my noble and learned friend illustrated his argument by the happy example of teaching a boy how to carry a gun. I am with my noble and learned friend in that illustration. If a boy points an empty, unloaded gun at anybody, it is reasonable and right that he should be reprimanded. My noble and learned friend illustrated the type of reprimand which was proper on that occasion—namely, that the gun should be taken away from the boy and he should be told to walk home. In the case of a motorist who, at midnight or thereafter, is caught driving at 50 m.ph. on an entirely empty road, without even a cat in sight, while within a 40 m.p.h. speed limit, there are penalties in the Bill to which he can be subjected. Upon conviction, he is fined and if, in the opinion of the magistrates, it is a serious offence, they can disqualify him. But if they adopt the view of my noble and learned friend about the appropriate penalty, they should not endorse his licence, for the reasons which I have indicated, because endorsement is a really serious thing.
§ We all know that benches vary greatly in their practice about endorsement. There are benches which say that if a conviction has been recorded, the licence shall be endorsed, irrespective of any other act. It is for that reason that we wish to ensure a certain protection for drivers, such as having the certainty of the right of appeal to a superior court, and the right of appeal against the order endorsing the licence quite separate and apart from any right of appeal which the offender may have against the conviction itself. He may well appreciate that the evidence was against him on the question of speeding and accept the conviction, but in his view, or in that of his advisers, it may not have been reasonable for the bench to order endorsement of his licence. The purport of this Amendment is to make certain that he has such a right of appeal.
§ It is possible that this right is inherent under legislation that we already have. It is not contained in this Bill, but there 1221 is a great deal in the Bill which affects the motorist by reference to other legislation and it is possible that this is so in this case. There is, I am advised, an exceedingly voluminous Statute called the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952, Section 83 of which lays down certain rights of appeal. If my noble and learned friend can assure me that in the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown an offender under the Bill which we are discussing will have right of appeal, or under the Magistrates' Courts Act or under any other Statute, for the purpose of my Amendment, I shall be happy to seek leave of the Committee to withdraw my Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 37, at end insert the said subsection.—(Viscount Brentford.)
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think I can help my noble friend in exactly the way he indicated in his last sentences, although there may have been some phrases that he used in relation to the desirable practices of magistrates that I would not wholly endorse. There is a right of appeal in this case without my noble friend's Amendment.
If the endorsement was ordered by a magistrates' court there is a right of appeal to quarter sessions by virtue of Section 83 of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952. That section provides that a person convicted by a magistrates' court may appeal to a court of quarter sessions against his sentence. For this purpose "sentence" is defined to include any order made on conviction by a magistrates' court except certain specified orders, and there is nothing in these exceptions to exclude a right of appeal from an order of endorsement made by a court in circumstances where it had a discretion to find special reasons for not doing so. It is true that the exceptions in the Magistrates' Courts Act includean order made in pursuance of any enactment under which the court has no discretion as to the making of the order or its terms",but this applies only where the obligation upon the court to make an order is absolute; it does not affect the right of appeal where a court has a limited discretion to find special reasons for not making an order.
1222 If the endorsement was ordered by a court of Assize or quarter sessions there is a right of appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal by virtue of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907. That Act provides that a person convicted on indictment may, with the leave of the Court of Criminal Appeal, appeal to that court against the sentence passed on his conviction (unless the sentence is one fixed by law), and "sentence" is defined to include any order of the court made on conviction with reference to the person convicted. I think that completely covers my noble friend's point and, in the circumstances, in view of what he said, I hope he will find it possible to withdraw the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I should like to express my appreciation to my noble and learned friend for the full and, to my mind, satisfactory answer which he has given, which I am sure will be of immense help to drivers throughout the country. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clauses 6 to 8 agreed to.
§ Clause 9:
§ Speed limits on roads other than restricted roads
§ (3) No order under subsection (1) of this section shall be made by a local authority except with the consent of the appropriate Minister, and the appropriate Minister may, after giving the local authority notice of his intention to do so, by order vary or revoke any order made by them under that subsection.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ LORD BURDEN moved in subsection (3) after "so" to insert "and, if the local authority so require, after causing a public inquiry to be held". The noble Lord said: This Amendment, together with two subsequent Amendments, has been put down at the instance of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and they of course know well the views of local authorities. As Clause 9 (3) stands, the Minister of Trans- port can vary or revoke an order made with his consent by a local authority imposing other than a 30 m.p.h. speed limit. I want to emphasise the point that the Minister is taking unto himself in 1223 this clause power to revoke an order which he has previously approved. I need hardly mention that the next clause deals with restricted roads where a 30 m.p.h. speed limit operates.
§ Before imposing such a limit a local authority are, under subsection (4), bound to consult the police, and they will in any case have to consider the matter and take public opinion into account. This being so, it seems to be quite inappropriate that the Minister should be empowered, as he is under subsection (3), to vary or revoke a speed limit to which he has already given his consent without sounding public opinion locally. That he should have this power to vary at all seems to me to be justified only on the ground that he has a responsibility for ensuring that speed limits throughout the country are based on common criteria. The purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that the local authoriy, who have primary responsibility to the public in their area for road safety, in proper cases will be able to require the holding of a public inquiry before the Minister revokes the Order, so that public opinion in the local authority's area can be made manifest. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 36, after ("so") insert the said words.—(Lord Burden.)
§ LORD MOLSON
In a debate two days ago the Government gave an undertaking that in cases where speed limits on classified roads were not realistic and reasonable they would take measures to alter those limits and to ensure that they were made reasonable. An example of the need for making changes in this respect is illustrated by the original rule with regard to the 30 m.p.h. speed limit that was introduced—I forget whether it was in the 1932 Act for which the late Lord Hore-Belisha was responsible. It was then provided that in all cases where there was lighting on roads with lampposts within 200 yards of each other there should be deemed to be a built-up area That was a rough-and-ready way of dealing with the problem of defining what is a built-up area. But it never was scientific, and it has become to be more and more unsatisfactory as time has gone on.
When the Act of 1960 was under consideration we proposed that in future 1224 where lighting was introduced upon roads it should not automatically result in a 30 m.p.h. speed limit. There were a number of cases where we believed that local authorities had lighted stretches of road not because they desired automatically to have a 30 m.p.h. speed limit established; and in the Act of 1960 it is provided that where stretches of roads are now lighted that shall not ipso facto result in a 30 m.p.h. speed limit. I give this as an example of the anomalies that exist in the country, of cases where, because the lighting was introduced before the coming into operation of the Act of 1960, a 30 m.p.h. speed limit has been automatically introduced, even though no one looking at the road at the present time would say that a 30 m.p.h. speed limit was reasonable or realistic.
As I have said, two days ago the Government gave an undertaking that there would be a complete review of speed limits throughout the country, including those upon classified roads, and that they would try to make certain that there would in future no longer be cases of speed limits which were unrealistic and unreasonable and where it has proved to be impossible to ensure that motorists will observe a speed limit which they regard as unreasonable.
Some of my noble friends said that in point of fact the Government have so far not been able to make the Amendments which are necessary. That is quite true, and I speak with some experience in this matter. Normally, local authorities are always trying to insist that there shall be as much restriction upon the speed of motor cars as possible. That is natural enough, because they are accountable to the local residents. The Minister of Transport is anxious to ensure road safety, and he is also anxious to ensure that traffic should be kept moving. I would say that he is in a far better position to take an independent and fair view of what speed limits should be.
The effect of this clause will be to enable the Minister to take effective action without the obligation to hold a public inquiry. I feel that it is a perfectly reasonable and desirable provision in this Bill. I consider that the undertaking which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House gave on Tuesday obliges the Government to oppose this Amendment which has been 1225 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, and that, both because of that undertaking and also on the merits of the case, the Committee would be well advised to reject this Amendment.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has taken that view. I heard the debate the other day, and I should not myself think that the undertakings the Government gave would in any way be vitiated if this Amendment were accepted. The undertaking was that they would have a comprehensive review of all areas of the country where there is a restriction on speed. But the instance which my noble friend who moved this Amendment is visualising is where there is a dispute between the local authority and the Minister as to the need for the retention of a particular speed limit in a particular place.
As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has said, the local authority is in a very strong position for knowing the requirements of the area and the wishes of the inhabitants, and I think their views should command the greatest possible respect. If the Minister comes along and disagrees with the local authority, is it to be assumed that he is of necessity always right and that there should be no opportunity of questioning the discretion of the Minister? This is, after all, a purely discretionary matter, and if there is a bona fide dispute between two bodies who have a public responsibility, it seems to me that the right thing is that there should be some kind of inquiry to decide on the merits of the case as to who is right and who is wrong.
I have an Unstarred Question down on the Order Paper which will be discussed in a few days' time on this very question of discretion. I am very much against the exercise of discretion by anybody in authority without the right of the public to question that discretion. I think it is utterly wrong. What will happen in practice is that some individual at the Ministry of Transport will have the responsibility of advising the Minister on these matters. He will exercise his discretion, and if it happens to be against the view of the local authority then his discretion will be accepted and there will be no opportunity of questioning it. As a matter of public administration, I think that is wrong. The more we are able to bring into light and question discretions of this kind, the better. 1226 I very much hope that in some form or another—my noble friend has not laid down the form of the inquiry—there will be an opportunity, somehow, of questioning the discretion of the Minister.
§ LORD DERWENT
May I say one word on this matter? Your Lordships will remember only too well, as it was very late in the evening, that on the offence of speeding I argued that one of the things that would make "losing a life" (as I think we termed it on a speeding offence) unfair was the fact that it would be impossible for the Minister to make speed limits realistic all over the country. I made a mistake in my argument. I said it may well be that on classified roads there would have to be a public inquiry. My noble friend Lord Molson quite rightly pointed out to me that under this Bill the public inquiry had gone.
§ LORD DERWENT
Suppose we had it again. We should again have the situation where this additional penalty for speeding became grossly unfair. In case your Lordships think for one moment of accepting this Amendment, I must warn you of the terrible thing that would happen. The series of Amendments that we have had on these Bills dealing with speed would have to be put down again and re-argued by me. I hope your Lordships will not allow that to happen.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I wonder if the adoption of this Amendment would have the effect desired by the noble Lord who moved it. As the clause stands, the order which it is proposed to revoke can be made only with the consent of the Minister. If this Amendment were carried, might not the Minister be much less likely, in many cases, to give his consent to the making of the order? It seems to me that the carrying of this Amendment, limiting the discretion of the Minister to vary or revoke the order, will diminish the number of cases in which he will be willing to make it. I quite agree that where he has consented to it and wishes to revoke it, notice to the local authority should be given. That means that the local authority, if there is a case against the revocation, is not 1227 entirely without the means of drawing public attention to what the Minister is proposing, and the matter can be raised by questioning the Government in either House of Parliament. But as I read the subsection as it will be affected by this proposed Amendment, I do not believe it will produce the result desired by the noble Lord who has moved it. For those reasons, I think the Government would be wise to leave the clause as it now stands.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble Lord has a great gift for befogging any issue which confronts this House. The issue is not, as he knows quite well, and as we have had to say over and over again, whether the exact wording of this Amendment is right or not. I thought I hinted as much myself when I supported it. Obviously, the issue here is whether there is to be an appeal if the local authority want it. They are not obliged to ask for an inquiry. The issue is whether, if the local authority want to object to the exercise of discretion by the Minister, they should have the right to exercise that discretion. If the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, who I imagine is going to reply, is prepared to give my noble friend an assurance that he accepts that in principle, I am sure we could devise a form of Amendment which would satisfy even the noble Lord, Lord Conesford.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am extremely sorry if I was so obscure as not to convey my meaning to somebody so sharp-witted as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. What I was pointing out about the Amendment was that it applied only to the case where the Minister wished to revoke the order to which he had previously consented. There is no suggestion of a local inquiry before the Minister decides whether or not to give his original consent.
§ LORD CHORLEY
I should have thought that the sort of things which the noble and learned Lord who has just resumed his seat was thinking about were not likely to happen very often. One would expect that this type of cancellation order by the Minister would be made when representations are made to him by, perhaps, one of the motoring organisations or some body of that kind. 1228 It might, on the face of it, be a very strong case and lead to the revocation of the earlier order by the Minister. But it might well be there was a very good answer to that, and it is that sort of thing that comes out at an inquiry. Now we have the great advantage that the recommendations of the inspector who holds the inquiry are published, so that the matter is brought into the light of day. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin said about that. I think this Amendment is indeed most valuable, and I hope the Government will see their way to accept it.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I have listened with considerable interest to what has so far been said, and there certainly seems a divergence of opinion among your Lordships. I think it necessary to go back to the beginning again and start off from what is the position under the present law, under the Road Traffic Act, 1960. A difference is distinctly drawn between the position of restricted roads an the position with regard to unrestricted roads. In the case of unrestricted roads the Minister can be compelled, the local authority can insist, that a public inquiry is held.
§ LORD BURDEN
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. He is going a step forward. Does not the next clause deal with that very point and relieve the Minister from holding an inquiry?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Left on my own I should have said something very similar. What in fact I was going to say, and I will still say, is that the next section, Section 27, goes on to provide that this does not apply to the Minister on unrestricted roads: in the case of unrestricted roads it is discretionary on the part of the Minister whether he holds a public inquiry or not. The clauses to which these two Amendments which the noble Lord has put down apply concern unrestricted roads—that is, Clauses 9 and 10-and because of that they have been deliberately drafted to follow Section 27 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, and do not seek to impose on the Minister any obligation to hold a public inquiry. The reason for that is, quite briefly, that if he should be compelled to hold a public inquiry, there would be in many cases considerable delay without any obvious compensating advantages.
1229 It was the noble Lord, Lord Burden, who pointed out that the Minister is responsible for ensuring that there is some kind of common criteria applied throughout the country; and there are indeed, so I get the impression, many speed limits in the country which are not justified one way or another and may need varying or removing. Local speed limits are often considered as a kind of panacea for all road accidents. It is perfectly obvious, and I do not think reprehensible in any way, that locally they are regarded as a local concern and the national picture or the national anxiety is not quite so much taken into consideration. It may be the fear is in the minds of local authorities that if a public inquiry is not to be held the Minister may come bulldozing his way in; he may intervene too often in removing an unwarranted speed limit, or raise it to 40 m.p.h. Indeed, the noble Lord himself said local authorities would claim they had superior knowledge about local conditions and there should be any variation by a Minister only with very considerable safeguards.
But it is the Minister's interest in road safety and the road safety of everybody which makes it needful for him to come in many cases to rescue speed limits from the disrepute into which they have fallen because of being unrealisticcally applied. I do not think that anyone who was in your Lordships' House the day before yesterday can be in any doubt whatsoever, and certainly in my mind I am not in doubt, that speed limits should be properly and realistically applied. In view of the provisions of the Bill it is the more important that they should be so; and that is without any doubt the strong feeling of your Lordships' House. I think that to require the Minister to hold an inquiry in every case where the local authority wish would undoubtedly impede the process of adjusting the speed limits to modern conditions and I think it would hold up making them realistic.
Therefore I am going to suggest that your Lordships should not accept this Amendment and should reject it, but in saying that I would add something more. If these two Amendments are rejected, that still does not mean that there cannot be a public inquiry. The Minister will be perfectly well able to hold 1230 one and no doubt he will do so whenever there is any real doubt about the rightness of his proposed action. Ministers do not go bulldozing their way about at the behest of one of the motoring associations and dictatorially cancelling speed limits and that kind of thing; it does not happen that way because the Minister, I am sure, would not consider revoking a speed limit or varying it without first informing himself of the nature of the road, the traffic using it and the circumstances affecting the general issue. So I believe that this Amendment would be a handicap, and I hope, therefore, the noble Lord will not wish to press it.
§ LORD BURDEN
If I may say so, with the greatest respect, I think the contribution which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, made is a striking illustration of "Evil communications corrupt good manners". I always thought and always regarded the noble Lord, Lord Molson, as a democrat; but now, having had his experience in the Ministry of Transport, he falls down and worships at the shrine of the "man in Whitehall knows best". There is to be a cornprehensive—
§ LORD MOLSON
I can assure the noble Lord that I do not accept that view at all. It was a doctrine put forward by one of his colleagues in his own Party.
§ LORD BURDEN
It does not matter who put it forward, but apparently it brings a number of adherents. There is to be a comprehensive review—comprehensive mark you! The only people to be left out of that comprehensive review except at the goodwill—shall I say the whim?—of the Minister of Transport are the people within a local authority area. I cannot withdraw the Amendment. Why should I? Why should I consent to the flouting of public opinion in an area in the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, suggests?
With regard to the precise meaning of my Amendment, as my noble Leader and Lord Silkin and others have indicated, 1231 the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, is to me quite immaterial. All that I am concerned with is to bring before your Lordships the case of local authorities who have worked according to an Order which has been approved by the Minister himself, and now find, without a word, without any intimation, that that Order is revoked at the whim of the Minister.
§ LORD DERWENT
May I interrupt? Does the noble Lord mean that once the Minister is right he is right for ever?
§ LORD BURDEN
I would not claim papal infallibility for anybody, least of all for a Minister. I would not be sitting on these Benches if I agreed to any
§ infallibility on the part of a Minister. No. My Amendment does not say that the Minister shall not have the last word; it leaves the last word with the Minister. All that it does ask is that local authorities should be treated with decency, with respect, and with the consideration with which local representatives in a responsible authority should be treated by Whitehall. Therefore, I am not in a position, with the utmost respect to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, to withdraw the Amendment unless I can get some further assurance which would help me.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 23; Not-Contents, 81.1231
|Addison, V.||Henderson, L.||Shepherd, L. [Teller.]|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Kenswood, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Burden, L.||Latham, L.||Simon, V.|
|Chorley, L.||Listowel, E.||Taylor, L.|
|De Ramsey, L.||Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Walston, L.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Williams, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Morrison of Lambeth, L.||Wise, L.|
|Hall, V.||Peddie, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Mills, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gage, V.||Molson, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Gainsborough, E.||Monson, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Goddard, L.||Morley, E.|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Goschen, V.||Newall, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Gosford, E.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Bethell, L.||Grantchester, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Bossom, L.||Grenfell, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Hampton, L.||Rea, L.|
|Buchan, E.||Hastings, L.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Hawke, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Hereford, V.||Salisbury, M.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Horsbrugh, B.||Salter, L.|
|Colyton, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Slim, V.|
|Conesford, L.||Howe, E.||Somers, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Soulbury, V.|
|Croft, L.||Lambert, V.||Strang, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Long, V.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Lothian, M.||Swinton, E.|
|Dudley, L.||Lyle of Westbourne, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||MacAndrew, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Effingham, E.||Mancroft, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Massereene of Ferrard, V.||Willingdon, M.|
|Foley, L.||Merrivale, L.||Winterton, E.|
|Forster of Harraby, L.||Mersey, V.||Wolverton, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Meston, L.||Woolton, E.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10:
§ Amendments as to restricted road and traffic signs indicating speed limits
(2)For subsection (5) of the said section twenty-one there shall be substituted the following subsection—
(5) The appropriate Minister may give notice to the local authority, as respeces any road falling within paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section, that he has under consideration the question whether—
(a) a direction should be given that it shall become a restricted road for the purposes of section nineteen of this Act, or
and where such a notice has been given he may, if he thinks fit, hold a local inquery, and may in any case by order made by statutory instrument give, or revoke or vary, the direction, as the case may be.
§ LORD BURDEN moved in subsection (2) after "given" where that word occurs the third time, to insert "then if within the time limited by the notice the local authority so require the appropriate Minister shall, and in any case". The noble Lord said: This Amendment is on very similar lines and on very similar grounds to the one which has just been negatived, but that Clause 10 deals with restricted roads. I should like your Lordships to know that this Bill alters Section 21 (5) of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, which required the Minister to hold a public inquiry before he removed a 30 m.p.h. speed limit. But it seems to me to be the opinion of the Minister that local opinion does not count—nobody counts at all, except some official or other sitting in White-hall. The machinery of inquiry, the inspectorate and so on, all go by the board simply by repealing that section of the 1960 Act.
§ I do not expect the Minister to repeat all the arguments which he made on the other Amendment—I do not suppose for one moment that they are one little bit different from what has already been advanced. But the local authorities in this country, with their responsibilities and the fact that they are elected and are thus responsible to their electorate, are in a more close and intimate connection of responsibility to their people than the Minister of Transport could possibly be. Despite what the noble 1234 Lord, Lord Chesham, said in regard to the Minister's regard for road safety and so on, with the 30 m.p.h. or any other restriction removed and a new one imposed, with more casualties and to fatalities arising, I feel bound to say that it will not be the Minister of Transport who will be blamed—not at all. People will say, "What are the local authorities doing about this?" We want it down on record here that the persons who say and decide that in this matter the local authorities are not to count and that local opinion is not to count will be the Minister of Transport and those acting on his behalf. I beg to move.
Page 8, line 1, after ("given") insert the said new words.—(Lord Burden.)
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
In one respect, at any rate, I can agree with the noble Lord and say that he is perfectly right. He is right in that I am not going to repeat all the same arguments over again; and he is also right in saying that they apply equally well to the Amendment which he has just moved. What I am going to say is that I do not for one moment accept his interesting, amusing but completely exaggerated description of a hypothetical Minister subscribing happily to the doctrine of the man in Whitehall always being right and not caring a fig about local conditions and the opinion of local people. It makes a nice argument but it just is not like that at all. I think the noble Lord was wrong also when he said that when things go wrong, when the accident rate rises, local authorities collect the blame but the Minister does not.
He will allow, I am sure, that I am beginning to acquire a little experience in these matters. That experience leads me to think that, no matter what happens the Minister always gets the blame. That seems to me to be what happens. But the noble Lord really must not exaggerate and represent the Minister as a kind of departmental bulldozer, sending his little bulldozers about the country to impose ridiculous and unwanted speed limits on, or to remove speed limits from, the local people. Of course they are interested in road safety. But he must not decry the Minister's interest, and the fact that he is responsible for it. It does not really 1235 happen in the way that he says, because, as he well knows, there is consultation with local authorities; the Minister listens to what they say, and these decisions do not just drop on them like a thunderbolt out of the blue. Of course, if the noble Lord wishes to take this matter into the Division Lobbies, that is a matter for his decision; but I am afraid there is nothing that he Jas said which causes me to alter the views I have already stated.
§ LORD BURDEN
I do not, with the good will of my colleagues, intend to pursue this Amendment into the Division Lobby; it can be negatived. All I want to say is that, despite the defence which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has put up on behalf of his Department and his Minister, the bald fact remains that, under this Bill, there is no obligation at all on the Minister or the Department to take into consideration the views of local authorities. Would a responsible body like the Association of Municipal Corporations, representative of the best brains in local authorities, ask your Lordships to consider this, if they did not feel that there was a substantial case for your Lordships to consider? But your Lordships have given a verdict on the previous Amendment, and the Minister is adamant about claiming these additional powers. As I said before, a comprehensive review has to include everybody, such as by having a public inquiry to ascertain the views of the people locally. However, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11:
§ Temporary or experimental speed limits
11.—(l) Where it appears to the appropriate Minister desirable to do so in the interests of safety or for the purpose of facilitating the movement of traffic, he may, after giving public notice of his intention to do so, by order prohibit, for a period not exceeding four months, the driving of motor vehicles—
(b) on any road specified in the order, at a speed less than that so specified, subject to such exceptions as may be so specified;
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON moved to leave out subsection 1 (b). The noble Viscount said: I beg to move the first of the Amendments standing in my name. The 1236 Committee will observe that the two Amendments in fact hang together. In all the discussion that has taken place on this Bill, and on the previous Bill that was passed through your Lordships' House in the last Session, I do not think this particular new proposal has in fact been discussed at all. Many of us admire the energy and the originality with which the Minister of Transport applies himself to his task, but we do not always agree with his judgment, and this is an innovation which I think is quite unsound and, which we should be very much better not to pursue.
§ First of all, what does it mean? We are all familiar with the ordinary maximum speed limit, and every man, whether he observes the speed limit or not, knows that if he exceeds the speed limit over any section of road where it applies he is committing an offence. One might assume, by analogy, that the same thing would apply in the case of the minimum speed limit; that if over any section of road he allowed his speed to fall below the minimum speed limit, he would be committing an offence. But common sense clearly tells us that that cannot be what it means, because there are obviously cases where it would be quite unsafe to proceed at the designated speed. There are weather conditions. We read only the other day of a disastrous accident on the M.1 through driving too fast in heavy rain. There is snow and ice, there is fog, and all those considerations must affect the decision of a driver as to how fast he can drive. I can hardly believe that the Minister is going to have a corps of assistants going out with those pieces of sacking to cover up the notices when the weather is bad.
Then, in addition, there is the question of the general behaviour and pattern of the rest of the traffic on the road, and I cannot believe that any such minimum speed limit can be enforced unless, in fact, it is very heavily qualified; and that no doubt is what is meant by the words:
… subject to such exceptions as may be so specified;
I hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply will enlighten us as to what exceptions the Minister has in mind, because I really do not think that Parliament should be asked to create a new offence, or at least to give the Minister
authority to create a new offence by order, unless it knows what that offence is. It seems to me that the only adequate exception would be to say that no offence was committed if, in the judgment of the driver, it was unsafe to proceed at the designated speed. But if that exception is made, I cannot see how this part of the law is ever going to be successfully administered.
§ I ask your Lordships to consider for a moment what we do when we are driving a car. I expect that most of your Lordships, like myself, are motorists, and we receive a number of impressions: the state of the road, which way it is going, hills, the road getting narrower, a bridge coming along, and we get impressions of what the other traffic on the road is doing in front, or behind us through the driving mirror. With all those impressions coming in, we make an instantaneous judgment on what we are to do, and that is a continuous process. Every split second we are making a continuous judgment as to what we are to do, and that is a judgment which may be right or it may be wrong.
§ But suppose I am "had up" in court for going below the prescribed limit, and I say: "In my judgment it was not safe to continue at that speed." Then, on the premise that I have suggested, that the only safe qualification is at the discretion of the driver, it does not matter whether I was right or wrong; the court would be bound to say: "If that was your judgment, that is the end of the matter." It is not, I think a matter—and here I believe noble and learned Lords will agree with me—on which anybody can be cross-examined, because these judgments are made instantaneously in the light of the impressions we are obtaining from the conditions and the circumstances of the road. So it seems to me that if that qualification is introduced—and I think it is the only safe one—the law will really mean nothing at all. If, on the other hand, the Minister attempts to introduce an objective qualification, then I believe we shall get ourselves into very great trouble indeed.
§ I have tried to describe what I think is the way in which our minds work when we are driving. Now suppose that you had to superimpose upon that a 1238 knowledge that you must not fall below a certain speed, unless certain conditions were obtaining. That seems to me to put an entirely impossible task upon the driver. He has not got time to weigh up considerations of that kind. He is not, as some people suggest, driving by instinct; he is driving by the remarkably rapid logical processes of his mind, and he has not got time to weigh up those considerations. Nevertheless, he cannot avoid being influenced—because I believe, in spite of what was said here last Tuesday, that most motorists want to obey the law—by the fact that he knows that this is an area where he is supposed to maintain a certain speed, and that he is supposed to drop below that speed only in certain circumstances. I cannot help feeling that that will produce both a confusion in his mind and an impairment of his judgment.
§ So I find myself in this dilemma, and I hope that the noble Lord is going to be able to help me out of it. Either the qualification is a general one, that I can reduce speed if I think it wise to do so, in which case I really think the subsection does not mean anything at all; or it is a specific one, in which case I feel that it is very likely to impair my judgment and it certainly might even lead to an accident. One point on which I should like the noble Lord to enlighten us is this: on what sort of road has the Minister in mind that this minimum speed limit should be applied? I cannot think that anybody would consider it necessary on motorways, because on motorways, as far as I know, everybody is going as fast as he wants to. The next category of roads, you might say, is clearways; but surely you could not apply it on a clearway which has crossroads, which has pedestrian crossings, and which has roundabouts. I should be most interested to know in what way the Minister is thinking of applying this experiment.
§ I had one wicked thought in my mind which I have cast out, but I may as well get it off my chest. That was that this was an ingenious way in which the Minister was going to keep heavy commercial traffic off certain roads by imposing a minimum speed limit which was higher than the maximum speed limit of the heavy commercial vehicles. But if that were in mind, I feel sure that the 1239 Minister would wish to approach the matter in a direct way.
§ I now come to the end of my argument. It seems to me that this is either a dangerous proposal or a useless one. But I should further like to ask the noble Lord: what is the object of it? What is the idea behind it? I know we may be told that this has been done in America, but that is not a reason for applying it here. Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to tell us what experience the Americans have had in their country. I have had some information in an informal way from friends which would not encourage me at all to introduce it here. I should also like to know whether the Road Research Laboratory, whose very interesting researches into the effect of speed on accidents were referred to on Tuesday by the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, have expressed any view about this.
§ It does not seem to me that there is any compensating advantage for the risk that is being run. I rather fear that this may have come out of the same stable as that old, hoary friend who was also mentioned to the Committee on Tuesday—the old gentleman who teeters along and holds up the traffic, and who, it is suggested, is as responsible for accidents as anybody else. I believe that that is a complete fallacy. We have all, I am sure, been driving along roads behind people going a good deal slower than we think they might, perhaps when we have an appointment to keep at the other end. But if, in such circumstances, my irritation goads me into passing that man when I do not have a clear view, then it is I who am guilty of dangerous driving, not the man I am following; and it is I who am guilty of that kind of dangerous driving which, in my view, richly merits disqualification, because I am showing quite clearly that I have not the temperament to drive safely on the road with other traffic.
§ So I come to the end of my plea to the Committee and to the noble Lord. Here is a proposition which I believe is either ineffective or dangerous, and which I cannot see produces any compensating advantage. If I may put one last question, it is this. We pass a tremendous amount of legislation through Parliament every session, and a good 1240 deal of it creates new offences. Before we create any other new offence, I should like to ask the noble Lord this question: is it necessary? I beg to move.
Page 8, line 27, leave out paragraph (b).— (Viscount Simon.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
Needless to say, I have listened with care, attention and interest to the noble Viscount's speech in introducing his Amendment. He has obviously thought about this a good deal; and I know he will not mind if I say to him that I should consider his arguments very much more valid if the proposition were to introduce minimum speed limits widely into the life of this country. But such is not the case—such is not the case at all. If I may refer your Lordships to the clause, the first words which operate on this are "Temporary or experimental". If we look a little bit further we shall see that subsection (1), paragraph (a), gives the Minister power to impose a maximum speed limit on all roads, on all roads in a specified area or on only single roads or parts of roads specified in the order. In paragraph (b) the power is to impose a minimum speed limit only on specified roads. That is the first distinction that I would ask your Lordships to draw, because it is a very important one. Obviously, minimum speed limits are not suitable for imposition over a wide area or on long lengths of road.
The noble Lord specifically asked me for the main purpose of this provision. There is only one object in having a minimum speed limit, and that is to maintain the flow of traffic on a busy main road. This might be done in two ways. We can impose a minimum speed limit either on a whole road or on part of the length of that road, which might or might not be a clearway, or we can possibly impose it on one lane—on the fast lane, perhaps—of a carriageway, so that we keep that lane free of slow-moving traffic.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
May I intervene for one moment? I had thought of that, but it is not in the Bill, which states, "on any road specified". There is no reference to parts of roads; and I should not have thought it possible, under the Bill, to apply it to a part of a road.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I shall certainly look into that point. I thought it was, but I shall certainly look into it. These proposals are not to enable the Minister to go about the country imposing minimum speed limits here, there and everywhere, as the noble Viscount rather implied. I think that if it were to be brought in as a general practice his remarks would have much more force than in fact they have in the circumstances. The proposals are aimed merely at arming the Minister with the means of establishing how far the flow of traffic and the objectives of road safety on particular roads can be improved by imposing minimum speed limits; or, equally well—I will be perfectly frank—whether such objectives cannot be obtained. They are to arm him with the power to do experiments with minimum speed limits in order to find out.
I have not at my fingertips any lengthy details of experience in America. I have been given to understand that, generally, it has worked well; and certainly it works well, as I understand it, in the Mersey Tunnel. There has been a speed limit there for quite some time, and I do not think there has been any great detriment or trouble caused by that.
Only by experiment can we find out whether it is something worthwhile and whether it can increase the smooth flow of traffic and so increase safety by the reduction of overtaking, which is usually one of the more difficult moments. If there is any question of successful experiments and of their becoming permanent, then, of course, subsection (2) of Clause 11 will come into play. It does so on any extension of the experimental period of four months, to which an experiment is limited. If there is any question at all of extending that, it will be done by order subject to Negative Resolution, and it will therefore come before Parliament. The noble Viscount asked me about exceptions.
§ LORD CONESFORD
May I interrupt my noble friend on one point? He mentioned the Mersey Tunnel. Is he able to tell the Committee under what powers that minimum speed limit is imposed?
§ LORD CHESHAM
I was about to mention exceptions, about which the noble Viscount asked me. The kind of exception which is visualised is the necessity to cover slowing down because of traffic congestion in which it is completely impossible to continue—and it is possible for that to happen—or, naturally, in the case of an accident, or slowing down for traffic lights, stopping at the direction of the police and that kind of matter. I do think that this is a power which the Minister should have on an experimental basis in order to find out whether there is in this idea, as we have reason to believe, something that will be a benefit to road safety. I hope, therefore, that the noble Viscount will not wish to press his Amendment.
§ LORD BURDEN
This, again, is another instance where the Minister, with the utmost good will in the world —I would not dispute that for a moment—has taken unto himself arbitrary powers. The clause as it stands says this:… after giving public notice of his intention"—he may—by order prohibit"—et cetera. In what form and in what manner is that public notice to be given? Is it to be given by notices on hoardings? Is it to be given by notices in the newspapers? What provision is there to be made for people who, while not questioning the good will or good intentions of the Minister, think that the proposed order is ill-advised? I agree that in a subsequent clause the order to be made is subject to a Resolution in both Houses. But will the public notice say that it anybody objects to this proposed order the machinery provided for dealing with it is by way of debate in one or other of the Houses? This seems to me a clause which is not properly thought out and does not seem to contain adequate provisions in the public interest.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
May I start by saying that I fully agree with Her Majesty's Government in taking appropriate powers to try this experiment, which I think has been of use elsewhere? Nevertheless, I should like to agree with 1243 my noble friend Lord Simon on some of the points to which he has directed our attention. We are, after all, I think, here creating in a public Statute a somewhat novel criminal offence. I do not say that it is wrong to do that, but ought we not to be a little clearer on what precisely will be lawful and what will not? What the Minister said about the wordssubject to such exceptions as may be so specified,made it quite clear that considerable thought had very naturally been given to this matter in his Department and by his advisers.
My suggestion to the Minister is this. I do not know what my noble friend Lord Simon intends to do at the present stage about his Amendment, but what I should like to suggest to Her Majesty's Government for consideration is that they should elaborate in the Bill itself, either in this clause or in some Schedule, what are the exceptions that they propose to specify. They might not adopt them all in every case, but something should be included to give us an idea of what precisely is intended. An alternative method, of course, would be that the approval of Parliament should be required for the original order, as it is, under this clause, to be required for any extension; but I take it that Her Majesty's Government would not welcome that provision because it would make experiments, perhaps, a little too difficult on account of the preliminaries. But I can see, and I think every lawyer present can see, that a minimum speed limit does give rise to some legal questions which are not entirely simple, and I think that when we are creating a new criminal offence by Act of Parliament, it is desirable that the Act of Parliament should give us as many particulars as possible.
§ LORD CHESHAM
May I just quickly have another word? I can, of course, see the force of what my noble friend has said. I do not want to spend too much time. I am grateful to him for recognising the fact that, if there are to be powers to do experiments, the experiments must be fairly easily put into effect. That is where I would fall out again, if he will forgive my saying so, with the noble Lord, Lord Burden. Because if there are to be endless consultations, public inquiries, and so on, 1244 in relation to an experiment with a maximum duration of four months—
§ LORD CHESHAM
If there are lengthy processes of consultation all round, in which unanimous agreement is probably unlikely, we shall never get anywhere further forward with an experiment of any kind. If I say that I will take into careful consideration what has been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and my noble friend Lord Conesford, I hope that will be sufficient for the noble Lord's purpose.
§ LORD LATHAM
Would the noble Lord enlighten us by telling us what would be the position of a learner driver? Is he going to be guilty of an offence if he travels at a speed lower than the speed so specified?
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I am, of course, obliged to the noble Lord for his reply, although I am not quite sure that he applied himself entirely to the argument I tried to put forward. I agree, of course, that my argument would have had much more force if the proposal were to apply this provision generally and widely; I quite appreciate that. But if I am right in thinking that this proposal involves a certain risk without, as I think, any compensating advantage, then while it would be disastrous to apply it generally, I do not think it makes it entirely harmless because you are going to apply it in only a few places. The noble Lord said that he had not got much information of the experience of this provision in America. I thought possibly the Minister, who I know discussed this matter with authorities in America, might have brought back some information.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I do not wait to interrupt my noble friend, but I said that I had not the details with me.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I apologise; I am sorry. My own friends who have spoken to me about it tell me that one effect is that if a car slows up, and the car 1245 behind it proceeds to run into then if you are in the third car, the great thing is to run into the car in front of you. Because if you stop, and then the car behind you runs into you, then you are responsible, not the car in front. Therefore, the great thing is to have as big a "pile-up" as possible, so that only the front man is guilty.
Apart from that, I should like to make one comment about the exceptions. The noble Lord was good enough to outline the sort of exceptions he has in mind, but I should still like to know whether, in applying those exceptions, the judge in the matter is the driver of the car. The noble Lord said that the driver should slow up as necessary to deal with situations in traffic, and so on. May I assume that it is the driver of the car who is the sole judge of when it is necessary to slow up, and that no one can challenge what he has done? Could the noble Lord give me a line on that?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Within the framework of the exceptions, so to speak, obviously the driver must be the judge. If the exceptions state that, in certain circumstances, he may slow up, then he has to be the judge of that. He has to decide whether a policeman is signalling him to stop, or whether the lights have gone red, and in that case the onus falls on him.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I am much obliged to the noble Lord. There is only one other matter I would mention on the noble Lord's reply. He said that this experiment, which, although I do not want to exaggerate it, I think is still fraught with some danger and brings, I believe, no advantage, was one which the Minister wished to pursue in the interests of road safety. I simply cannot understand where the interests of road safety come into this at all.
§ LORD GODDARD
I think that the point that my noble friend Lord Conesford put forward deserves a great deal of attention by the Minister. We are here creating an absolute offence. The clause says that if a person drives a motor car on a road in defiance of an order, then he shall be liable to summary conviction. There it is. We are not told what this order is going to be. It is said that there are going to be certain exceptions in the order, but no- 1246 body knows what they are going to be. It is going to be left, I suppose, to policemen and to magistrates, some of whom are intelligent and some of whom are not, to decide. The people who will welcome this clause more than anybody, I should think, will be the junior members of the Bar, who will get a large number of cases to defend out of it and special cases to argue in the High Court. It seems to me that the clause as it stands is not very satisfactory, and I hope that the Minister will take thought to have this clause thoroughly "vetted" and amended.
§ LORD BURDEN
May I say that I did not suggest to the Minister endless consultations. What I asked, in my humble way, was, first, how the notice will be given and, secondly, how people who feel that the order is not in the best interest can make their objections heard. After the noble and learned Lord's most weighty intervention, I think that the Minister would be well advised to take this clause back again and bring it forward to us in a form which would be acceptable to all concerned.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I am very glad to have this support, at any rate on that part of the argument I have tried to present to your Lordships, not nearly so thoroughly as some other noble Lords have done. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that he and the Minister would consider carefully what has been said. Is there any possibility of the noble Lord's going a little further and saying that in place of what is now in the Bill he will bring back the clause revised on Report stage?
§ LORD CHESHAM
It is difficult for me to go that far. While I am impressed by the points of view that we have heard, I can do no more than ask the noble Viscount to accept the undertaking that we shall pay great attention to what has been said. Clearly, it is not possible for me to undertake to come back with something different as a result, but I assure the noble Viscount that we shall pay great attention to the points of view put forward.
Would my noble friend at least agree to have consultations with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, with a view to the noble Viscount's putting down an Amendment on Report stage? 1247 I support the Amendment but, having heard what has been said this afternoon, I think that it should be looked at again by the Government, and the noble Viscount should have a chance of putting a further Amendment down on Report stage, even if my noble friend cannot give a firm undertaking.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Naturally I cannot give a firm undertaking, because that means a complete commitment to find something out of what has been said. I think it is unreasonable that I should be asked to commit myself to do so; but, as I have already said twice, we shall pay great attention and give great consideration to what has been said, and I shall certainly be very pleased to consult with the noble Viscount in the process.
§ LORD GODDARD
Surely, if the clause is objectionable, the Committee ought to reject it. That is what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asks. We should reject it because, on the face of it, it is an objectionable clause. I venture to think that it is a very objectionable clause. I hope that the Committee will not consent to any withdrawal of the Amendment and that we shall divide on it, if necessary.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I so much welcome the support of my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard that it is with the utmost hesitation that I would urge a possible alternative to what he has just suggested—namely, the rejection of this subsection here and now. With some experience of the working of this House, I am perfectly certain that the weighty objection brought to our attention by my noble and learned friend will be considered by Her Majesty's Government. I think that we can appreciate the difficulty of the Minister suddenly called upon, on a point not completely foreseen, to give an undertaking.
The course that I think would be most satisfactory, if it commended itself to the Government, is this. In the light of what my noble and learned friend has said, it seems to me clear that this clause as it stands will not do. I completely agree with him. What I should like to suggest is that at the next stage the Government should bring back by their own Amendment what they consider to be the right clause in the light of the criticism that has been made. If that is not satisfactory, 1248 my noble friend Lord Simon, my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard, myself and other critics can then put down an Amendment to the new clause of the Government.
I think that it is not unreasonable to say that the Government should have a little time to consider the criticism and bring forward a new version of the clause. That seems to me to have the additional advantage in that a Division here and now would certainly put in some difficulty many of us who would not know how to vote, because I say quite frankly that I am in favour of an appropriate provision for such an experiment. If this were the Government's last word, I should not have the slightest hesitation in supporting the rejection, but I do not believe that we should be giving up a chance to do what is required at a later stage if my noble friend Lord Simon saw fit to withdraw his Amendment on this occasion.
§ BARONESS HORSBRUGH
Could it not be possible for the Minister and the Government at this time to accept the Amendment, because here we are leaving something out, and then, when we come to the next stage, to put in what they think ought to be in? Then, at any rate, we shall have got rid of something we think objectionable and have left it entirely to the Government to suggest what they think suitable.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I find myself a little surprised at the last suggestion that has been made, because I do not think that that is a procedure which we frequently adopt in your Lordships' House. I would be prepared, if the noble Viscount finds my assurance sufficient and sees his way to withdrawing his Amendment, to adopt the suggestion which my noble friend Lord Conesford put forward. We will have another very good look at this matter. Again I say that I should be delighted to consult with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in the process. But I must stick to what I said: that I cannot commit myself necessarily to return with something different. I should be glad to look into this matter, particularly into the point which my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard emphasised. I am sure that your Lordships will realise that, if this provision for orders is going to be included, there must be some kind of 1249 penalty for an offence against them. I hope that your Lordships will feel satisfied if I undertake to look at this clause again.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
§ Clause 12 agreed to.
§ Clause 13 [Head Lamps]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD AIREDALE
I should like to take this opportunity briefly to repeat the plea I made on Second Reading. Clause 13 provides for new head-lamp regulations. I hope that these regulations can be made in such a way that they will not drive from the roads during the hours of daylight the old veteran cars with their acetylene head lamps. I do not suppose it is practicable to fit modern electric head lamps to such vehicles, and they would look quite ridiculous with them, even if it were possible. It may not be altogether easy so to frame the regulations that these old vehicles can, nevertheless, with their old-fashioned lighting equipment, still use the roads by day, but I hope that the matter will be borne in mind and that a way round the difficulty can be found.
§ LORD CHESHAM
As the noble Lord probably appreciates, it is in the Minister's mind to bring in certain regulations for the use of head lamps on cars, and the law at the moment does not require cars to have head lamps. That is what this is all about. I am aware of the difficulties in regard to veteran cars. The matter is extremely complex and technical, and I am sure neither the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, nor your Lordships would wish me to go into all the details at the moment. I would say, however, that, so far as the lighting of these veteran cars the noble Lord has in mind is concerned, I will certainly see that in some way special provision is made to cover his point.
Could the noble Lord say whether in the case of vehicles intended in a perfectly bona fide way not to be used at night they will not be committing an offence if they are not carrying lights?
§ LORD CHESHAM
That is rather a tricky point, because I do not know how they are going to go through their vehicle test without head lamps after it becomes necessary to have them. I should like to consider that question.
§ Clause 13 agreed to.
§ Clauses 14 to 19 agreed to.
§ Clause 20:
§ Test fees
§ (2) A fee paid in pursuance of regulations made under the said subsection (2)on application for an appointment for a test may be repaid in the following cases and not otherwise, that is to say:—
- (b) if the person for whom the appointment is made gives such notice cancelling the appointment as may be prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph by regulations made as aforesaid;
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE moved at the end of subsection 2 (b) to insert "or is prevented from attending by circumstances beyond his control". The noble Lord said: This clause deals with test fees, and subsection (2) deals with the circumstances in which the fee paid may be repaid. There are four instances mentioned under paragraphs (a) (b) (c) and (d), and in these cases, and not otherwise, as the subsection specifically states, the fee may be repaid. Paragraph (b) states that the fee may be repaid if the person for whom the appointment is made gives the prescribed notice cancelling the appointment; and then paragraph (c) provides that, if he keeps the appointment but the test does not take place for reasons attributable neither to him nor his vehicle the fee may be repaid. But there is a hiatus period after the expiry of the prescribed notice, and as I read this clause no reason will suffice for repayment if one fails to 1251 attend for the test after the prescribed period of notice has expired.
§ There must, I think, be some good reasons for last minute failure to attend at the place of examination. For instance, the person may be overtaken by influenza overnight and may be in no fit condition to arrive at the place of appointment. If he takes the sensible course and stays in bed he will under this clause, as I understand it, lose his fee. However sympathetic the Minister or his officials may be, they will have no power to refund the fee. If the person takes the injudicious but human attitude and says to himself that he is not going to pay the fee if he does not get a test and, while suffering from influenza, turns up at the place of appointment at the proper time—there is no question of a test taking place, of course—he will be sent straight home, and he will go home with his fee in his pocket. He may have given influenza to Ministry of Transport officials, and when he gets home he will probably spend longer in bed than he would have done if he had not set out in the first place. That is one instance where, I submit, the Amendment I propose would be necessary and desirable.
Then, supposing fog and frost develop on the road overnight. Again the period of notice will have expired. If the driver, with the qualified driver who has to sit beside him, sallies forth through the fog and ice and succeeds in arriving at the place of appointment for the test—again there is no question of a test taking place—the fee becomes repayable. But if the driver takes the sensible course and stays at home, and does not endanger himself and others by driving unnecessarily on the road in thick fog and ice, there is no power to refund the fee. This seems to me to be a ridiculous situation, and it is provided for by the Amendment that I am now moving, which at the end of paragraph (b) inserts the words:
or is prevented from attending by circumstances beyond his control".
§ I have sought to think of what possible objections there may be to this Amendment. It may be that the Minister is concerned about loss of revenue. But I find that hard to believe. I should have thought that the amount of revenue that would be lost over this would be infini 1252 tesimal. It may be that the Minister is concerned about lame excuses being put forward. But this is a problem that schoolmasters have to deal with every day of their lives. Of course, if you accept lame excuses, more will be forthcoming. But if from the outset you make it quite clear that you are exercising a permissive and not a compulsory right to refund fees, and exercising it only in really deserving cases, it will soon get round that lame excuses will not do and they will cease to be put forward. For these reasons I submit that this Amendment is deserving of insertion in the Bill. In my submission, justice demands that wherever a fee has been paid for a driving test it should be repaid whenever the test does not take place through no fault of the person who is to be tested, or his vehicle. I beg to move.
Page 14, line 17, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Airedale.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
Had it been the case that the noble Lord put his finger on the reason for these provisions being contained in the Bill, perhaps his words would have been more effective. I do not know whether the noble Lord has forgotten—perhaps he was not here at the time—that we had some discussion on this during the summer. What came out of that discussion was not that the Government are short of revenue, but that this was not to be treated as a revenue-raising matter or anything of the kind. We learnt that a significant number of people who took driving tests failed to attend for those tests. The figures I gave showed that the national average of failure to turn up for tests is something of the order of 8 per cent. In the Metropolitan Area it is, on the average, 10 per cent., and in certain black spots it is as much as 14 per cent. A complicated sum reveals that that represents a waste of 100 driving examiners. There is increasing pressure every year for more and more driving tests. Each year there are more applications. The figure is now up to about the 1½million mark and is larger than the figure was last year.
It is quite essential that we should secure the most efficient use of the driving examiner force in the interests of the public. At the moment, if a candidate fails to attend for any reason whatsoever, he gets back his £1. This encourages, among other things, the booking of 1253 appointments whether or not a candidate is seriously intending to turn up for his test, and makes another contribution towards the waste of the examiner's time.
The objects of the clause are to reduce the waste of time and increase the efficiency of a service which is being demanded by increasing numbers of the public. It is intended to discourage people from booking appointments which they do not keep, except in a limited number of circumstances to which the noble Lord referred, which are, as he said, chiefly some failure on the part of the Ministry or circumstances such as fog. Another point is that the percentage of failures would appear to indicate that quite a number of people present themselves for the test before they are fit to do so, and I think they might be induced to take a little more trouble if they had to pay further fees if they were not ready.
The effect of the noble Lord's Amendment would be to recognise "reasons beyond his control" as being a justification, and would in fact defeat the whole object of the exercise I have been describing. If your Lordships think of the wide variety of circumstances which can exist or affect any individual's life you will realise that acceptance of anything of this kind would mean that we should have to set up some kind of organisation to examine the whole wide range of circumstances which might be put forward as a justification and to work out whether the chap was entitled to his fee back or not. It would be necessary to set up some kind of administrative machine so that the same treatment would be accorded to people in all areas who claimed their fee back. That would simply offset the benefit which would be gained in saving the driving examiner's time, because no doubt they would have to take part in this administrative machine in order to say what the chap had told them, or written to them, or whatever it might be.
Of course, the noble Lord is perfectly right and justified in saying that this point in some cases could lead to some degree of had luck or unfairness, or conceivably even hardship. But if you book yourself a railway sleeper and do not turn up to occupy it you do not get your money back. I think that if you buy yourself a theatre ticket and do not turn up, generally you probably do not get your money back. I do not think that 1254 this provision is entirely unreasonable; the more so because it is unquestionably in the interests of the general public that the efficiency of the driving test organisation should be improved. At the moment, the majority of people are having to wait longer than is necessary to take their test because of the misdoings of the minority who cause delay by not turning up and thus wasting time. It is more in the interests of the majority that the minority should carry the penalty for wasting time, even if it means some hard cases, rather than that the majority should still continue to carry the penalty themselves through having to wait much longer for their tests. Accordingly, I hope the noble Lord will not press his Amendment.
§ LORD AIREDALE
I should like to ask the noble Lord whether his 8 per cent. wastage figure includes those cases where there is fog all day long. If so, I suggest that that 8 per cent. is largely explained. During a bad winter in this country there must be a great many days when no driving tests at all can take place all day long. Viewed in that light, I should have thought that a wastage figure of 8 per cent. over the whole year was largely explained. I cannot accept entirely the difficulties the Parliamentary Secretary has put forward. I believe he is making too much of the difficulties upon his side. I cannot accept the need for a tremendous administrative machinery for making inquiries. If somebody is on an operating table in a hospital, having an emergency operation, at the time that he has made an appointment to have a driving test, that can be established without tremendous inquiries.
This repayment is only permissive. In those cases when the Minister is satisfied that it is a really deserving case, under my Amendment the fee should be refunded. I do not think the analogy of the theatre ticket is a happy one. You do not have to go to the theatre if you do not want to, but you have to take a driving test. Many of us have to take a driving test in order to be useful citizens. I am sorry, but I do not feel inclined to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD CHESHAM
If I may be permitted another word, I wish to speak about this figure of 8 per cent. The wastage figures are compiled all over the country all the year round, and I do 1255 not believe that this 8 per cent. can be accounted for purely by fog. I simply cannot believe it, when we know that these examiners, time after time go to where they are supposed to be and the person to be tested simply does not turn up. That is completely wasted time, because there is no possibility of testing somebody else. I think a good deal more time would be wasted in checking excuses and finding out whether certain things did or did not happen. Service to the public is going to suffer if we accept the noble Lord's Amendment. If he does not wish to withdraw it, I certainly hope your Lordships will not accept it.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 20 agreed to.
§ Clauses 21 and 22 agreed to.
§ Clause 23:
§ Bollards and other obstructions
§ (5) Section fifty-seven of the principal Act (which confers default powers in relation to traffic signs) shall apply in relation to any requirement imposed under this section as it applies in relation to directions given under subsection (2) of section fifty-two of that Act.
§ LORD CHESHAM
This very small Amendment in my name is, except for about one-half of 1 per cent., no more than editorial. All it does is to make sure that the cross reference which there is to Section 57 of the 1960 Act relates to local as well as highway authorities, both being involved, and it is really a matter of legal construction and no more. I beg to move.
Page 15, line 36, after ("given") insert ("to a highway authority").—(Lord Chesham.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 24 to 34 agreed to.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT moved, after Clause 34 to insert the following new Clause:
Amendment of s. 186 of principal Act
. In section one hundred and eighty-six of the principal Act (which imposes a duty on a holder of a carriers licence to keep records as to hours of work. journeys, loads, etc.)
the following paragraph shall be added at the end of subsection three of that section:—
() may contain exemptions, applying in such cases and subject to such limitations and/or conditions as to the keeping of some other form of record as may be specified in the regulations, for vehicles, not exceeding a specified maximum weight, used in connection with collection or delivery work or the provision of services within a specified radius from loading base in those cases where in the opinion of the Minister the keeping of the comprehensive current records as otherwise required by this section is not necessary in order to secure compliance with the provisions of section seventy-three of this Act (limitation of hours of duty of certain drivers)."
§ The noble Lord said: This is an enabling clause which would enable the Minister to have a simplified form of driver's record in the case of a limited class of vehicles and in the case of a limited type of job. In my submission, the simpler form of driver's record is required for local delivery vans, such as those of grocers, bakers, and so on, who are working more or less the same round every day, doing the same job every day, and are working within a limited area; and I suggest that the present regulations, which are largely drawn up to protect the long-distance driver, are really too complicated. They cause far too much work to the driver and they use a quite unnecessary amount of paper.
§ May I refer your Lordships to Section 186 of the 1960 Act? A commercial vehicle driver has to keep a rather complicated, lengthy driver's record, and what he has to do is laid down in the first part of that section of the Act. The record has to show, first of all—I will put this quite briefly—the time that the man works, the time he starts work, the time he finishes work, and his rest period; and any shortened form of driver's record would undoubtedly have to include items of that sort. The second thing the record has to do is to contain particulars of every journey of a vehicle on which goods are carried under the licence, showing the greatest weight of goods carried by the vehicle on any one journey during the period to which the record relates, and give a description of and the destination of the goods carried.
§ In fact, on local delivery vans that is not carried out and cannot be. I say "not carried out"; at any rate it is rarely carried out, and where it is carried out one could, if one wanted to, fill it in for a month at a time; but of course 1257 it has to be filled in every day. The proposal in this Amendment has been under discussion for years, and I say, without any fear of serious contradiction, that the people who run the delivery vans and the drivers of delivery vans are, by and large, all in favour of it. Of course, where a local delivery van is sometimes in an area and sometimes out of an area in the course of its round—I will go into the details of what this actual Amendment does in a minute—it will not be able to use the shortened form. The regulations which the Minister would probably make would be of two kinds: he would limit it to a class of vehicle as regards weight of the vehicle; and he would, I think, limit it to size of vehicle. Those are only two limitations which are necessary.
§ In the course of discussions over many years the trade unions, in protection of their drivers, have really had two reservations about any alterations of these drivers' records, and they were held largely, I think, by the Transport and General Workers' Union, because they are the union which deals with long-distance heavy vehicles in particular and where protection and very strict records are necessary in the interests of their men. Most of the drivers of smaller vehicles on local delivery rounds do not belong to that particular union; I will not say none of them does. The objections put forward by the union were basically of two kinds. They want no relaxation of records in the case of rather heavy vehicles, because if there is an accident due to tiredness or any other reason the accident is likely to be more serious. I have tried to deal with that in my Amendment by giving the Minister powers, in this enabling clause, that he can lay down regulations for vehicles not exceeding a specified maximum weight, so that one presumes—as he would need to have discussions with the unions—that what you and I think of as delivery vans (nowadays they are rather more like a private car) would probably be the only kind of vehicle allowed to use this simpler form of record.
§ The other matter the unions were quite naturally worried about, or had reservations about, was whether any relaxation of this record would 1258 affect Section 73 of the principal Act—that is, the section of the Act which deals with working hours: hours of starting work, finishing work, rest periods, and so on—and therefore I have put into my Amendment words laying down that the Minister cannot make regulations which in any way affect Section 73 of the principal Act. That is virtually what it comes to. In many cases it is interesting that the drivers cannot even work the maximum hours laid down, because they work only while shops are open; and shops are not open for as long as the maximum hours they are allowed to work. That is not invariable, but that does happen.
§ Clearly regulations would have to come before the House. I am not asking for any particular thing on these regulations. All I am asking is that the Minister shall have power to make regulations if he comes to agreement presumably with the interests concerned. If he does not have this power and he does not come to agreement with the interests concerned, there is nothing he can do about it. We shall go on wasting paper and wasting drivers' time and in many cases find the records artificially made up. A simplified record would obviously be better for this class of vehicle. I beg to move.
After Clause 34, insert the said new clause. —(Lord Derwent.)
§ LORD LATHAM
This Amendment is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has suggested, a harmless enabling Amendment. In fact, it strikes at the very basis of the regulation and the restricting of hours of the drivers of lighter vehicles. In my submission, it reduces the safety of the roads and increases the danger on the roads. There can be as serious a danger arising from excessive hours of driving as from imbibing drink or taking drugs. The information which is required by Section 186 of the principal Act is the basis upon which Section 73, to which the noble Lord has referred, operates, and without that information it is difficult to see how to avoid non-compliance with the provisions of Section 73.
§ LORD LATHAM
Without all the information as at present prescribed. The noble Lord mentioned the conversations which have taken place and I gather are taking place with the interested parties, which include the Transport and General Workers' Union. I have it in writing from them that they are opposed to this Amendment on the ground that, in absolving the drivers of light vehicles within specified areas from the obligation to provide the specified information appearing in the principal Act, it will result in the drivers working longer hours. They are particularly concerned about salesman of ice cream and of soft drinks in the summer time, and off-licence drivers, brewery drivers, and retail delivery drivers during the winter, and as regards some of them for the whole of the year. They also inform me that at present there is a good deal of non-compliance with these provisions, and that is not limited to the lighter vehicles with which the noble Lord's Amendment is concerned. We all know that there is a growing volume of non-compliance with the general provisions applying to all road vehicles of this kind as prescribed in the principal Act of 1960. I therefore sincerely hope, as I have indicated, that the House will reject this Amendment.
§ LORD CHESHAM
As the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said, this a matter which is not exactly a new one; it has been discussed for some years, and that leaves me in a position where I can say two things. The first is that on the one side there is some merit in the argument that it is frustrating and useless to make up a lot of complicated records which waste the driver's time, and that if life is made simpler for him that is entirely desirable. And there is certainly merit in the necessity of guarding drivers against working over-long hours, which has been the subject in the past of delicate negotiations. Certainly I am bound to say that this experience shows it as a form of road safety safeguard which should be preserved, but in the most satisfactory possible circumstances.
As my noble friend knows, this matter has been put forward by one interest or another from time to time, and indeed there is such a proposal before my right honourable friend's Department at the moment. This is something that we have been considering very carefully. Indeed 1260 we have some ideas about which we should very much like to have some rapid consultations with both sides of the industry. That is what I should like to do, and therefore I would suggest to my noble friend that he does not press his Amendment at this stage, on the understanding that we will pursue the discussions we should like to have with both sides of the industry and see whether there is any equitable and acceptable solution to this problem. Perhaps we may give your Lordships further news about it in due course, as soon as it becomes reasonably possible.
§ LORD DERWENT
May I just make two comments in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Latham? I do not accept that it is not possible to have a simpler form of record and still protect the hours of work and the conditions of work of this particular type of drivers. If the noble Lord was talking about long-range haulage drivers I should agree with him the whole way. I do not accept his contention. With regard to his view that there is growing non-compliance (he went further than I did) with the terms of these regulations, that makes one think that perhaps in some cases they need altering. When a law is frequently broken it probably wants amending. I was glad to hear my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary say that he wants rapid discussions with the interested parties, because the past history is a very long one, going back almost into mediæval times, in so far as the motor car is concerned, There was one moment when Her Majesty's Government—not the present one—undertook to put something into a Bill then before Parliament.
§ LORD DERWENT
The Middle Ages of the car, a rather later period. It almost happened, and Amendments were withdrawn because the Government were going to do it. Then there was a General Election. I am rather afraid that if we do not get something in this Bill we may not have another Road Traffic Bill for years. I know one says that every Session, and there is another one every Session. I hope these consultations will be rapid. I think something could be worked out to save a lot of time and trouble and paper for the drivers. In view of what my noble friend has said, 1261 I am not going to press this Amendment now, but I hope we shall hear something more about this matter before we are very much older. With your Lordships' permission, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE moved, after Clause 34 to insert the following new clause:
§ Trolley Vehicles
§ ".—(1) (a) If at any time a local authority desire to equip maintain and use trolley vehicles upon any road dedicated to the public use whether within or outside their area not forming part of any trolley vehicle route for the time being authorised, they may make application to the Minister of Transport, and the Minister of Transport is hereby empowered to make an order authorising the use by the local authority of trolley vehicles, subject to such conditions and restrictions (if any) as he may think fit upon any road or roads to which such application relates, and containing such incidental provisions as the Minister of Transport may deem expedient.
§ (b) No order authorising the use of trolley vehicles on any road outside the area of the local authority shall be made except with the consent of the local authority and (where the local authority are not the highway authority) of the highway authority of the district in which such road is situate, but such consent or consents shall in no case be unreasonably withheld, and any question arising as to whether such consent is unreasonably withheld shall be determined by the Minister of Transport.
§ (2) An order made under this section shall be subject to special parliamentary procedure and the First Schedule to the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945 (which prescribes the notices to be given and other requirements to be complied with before an order is made) shall in its application to any such order have effect as if paragraph 1 of the said Schedule included a provision requiring the local authority to comply with any direction which may be given by the Minister of Transport as to posting and maintaining notices giving the purport of the application in relation to any road or roads to which it relates in that road or in those roads.
§ (3) The expression "Act of Parliament" in section seven of the Telegraph Act, 1878 (which makes provision as to work done in pursuance of Acts of Parliament involving any telegraphic lines) shall be construed as including any order made under this section authorising the execution of works."
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name on the Marshalled List. The purpose of this Amendment is to enable local authorities who are proposing to extend trolley bus routes to take advantage of a 1262 simplified procedure—I refer to the procedure under the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945. But, as I mentioned on Second Reading, this procedure can be used only when some other Act applies it. The new clause, which follows closely the lines of the provisions of Section 59 of the Bournemouth Corporation Act, 1960, would allow a local authority to apply the 1945 Act to orders extending trolley bus routes: thus, the preliminary procedure which is referred to in Section 2 and in the First Schedule of the 1945 Act, would be simplified before the order can reach Parliament. Under this Act, once the Minister has made an order, there is no fixed timetable for the various 'Parliamentary stages. If the order is unopposed there is no need to promote a confirming Bill, or for the order to be considered on the Floor or in Committee of either House. Should the order be opposed, however, the procedure is still expedited, although under the 1945 Act, there are adequate safeguards for the objectors.
§ If this Act cannot be applied by a local authority, then the local authority has to adopt the lengthy and more costly procedure of a Provisional Order which has to be confirmed by Parliament in a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill, and as strict rules apply, it can happen that from the moment that the transport manager's proposals are approved by the local authority to the day there is received a copy of the printed Act, a delay of 14 months may occur. Therefore, I sincerely hope that my noble friend does not think, as he did on July 5 last, that this is taking a rather large hammer to crack a small nut.
§ As I feel that, at times, my noble friend believes that electric traction on the roads is on the way out, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that Bournemouth Corporation, for instance, has recently renewed most of its trolley bus fleet; and it is interesting to note that Reading Corporation recently ordered 12 new trolley buses. I mention this because 6 of the trolley buses are equipped with traction motors which had previously run for 22 years and had covered approximately 800,000 miles. Therefore, who can say that this is a dying form of traction? I would ask your Lordships to approve this Amendment, which I 1263 feel will be of considerable value to local authorities who are operating trolley buses and who may not be considering promoting a new Bill which could incorporate such a provision.
In conclusion, I should like to support my plea by quoting a few words spoken recently by the general manager of a Corporation transport department. He said:
There is no doubt that the Council's wisdom in adopting trolley buses has been well proven, and, whatever others may do, its confidence in trolley buses for the future is more than justified.
§ I beg to move.
After Clause 34 insert the said new clause. —(Lord Merrivale.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
As my noble friend said, I rather insinuated last July that this was something of a minor matter, and I think he will not mind my saying that it is slightly more of a traffic expedient of an administrative nature than a positive contribution to road safety. At that time I did talk about large hammers and small nuts, and I thought I spoke about powder and shot. But, whichever metaphor we may be using, now that my noble friend has been good enough either to present a convenient hammer with the handle foremost, or to leave the hammer with which to crack the nut and all I have to do is push it, I think there is merit in what he says. Therefore I would certainly not oppose the principle of his Amendment so far as it applies to existing authorities who operate the buses.
I am sorry that I have to say that do not think the drafting of the Amendment is quite what it should be—my noble friend will not mind my saying that. But if he accepts from me that we can accept the principle of the Amendment, so far as it applies to these authorities, and withdraws the Amendment, then I shall be prepared to move a revised version at a later stage. I hope that that will appeal to my noble friend. I would further say that I do not like to be presented in the light of being unkind to trolley buses, or allergic to this form of traction, and my remarks to him about a declining industry were based on the fact that, in the last ten years, the number of undertakings who 1264 operate trolley bus services has declined from 37 to 23, and of those 23 I have reason to believe that a further 8 are thinking of converting to some other form of traction. Therefore, so long as I can clear myself of an unfair personal opinion, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to accept what I have suggested.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
I am most grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. If I understand him aright, his proposal is that the Government should put down a more suitable Amendment on the Report stage. I can only thank him most sincerely for accepting what I have tried to achieve, and I hope that when the Government Amendment has been moved and, I trust, agreed to, it will give the necessary impetus to this industry. With those few words, and again thanking my noble friend, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 35 and 36 agreed to.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS moved, after Clause 36 to insert the following new clause:
§ Road Signs
§ "—(1) The Minister shall have complete authority over the placing and design of all road traffic signs and markings on all roads, in order to ensure conformity throughout the entire country.
§ (2) All signs and markings not at present conforming to the national standard shall do so by the last day of December, 1963."
§ The noble Lord said: I understand from my noble friend Lord Chesham that this Amendment is not likely to be acceptable to the Government, but my noble friend Lord Foley and I both feel that it is worth giving a hearing, and we should be grateful to the noble Lord if he could give us, perhaps, some reasons why the Government are not going to accept it.
§ I imagine that this is the kind of Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Burden, would again describe as giving the Minister totalitarian power, but I am afraid that I do not share the noble Lord's opinion that local authorities are the best authorities so far as road matters are concerned. They are, without doubt, the best authorities so far as local matters such as housing, drainage, and other things are concerned, but road matters are no longer a local affair; they affect the entire nation. When one drives 1265 nowadays one does not drive merely in one's local area; one drives perhaps for a hundred miles or more. Therefore I feel that there should be more uniformity in the information which is given to the driver, as to what he may do and what he may not do and what hazards he is approaching.
§ There is a book of road signs which is issued by the Ministry and which standardises the designs of these signs, but by no means all the old signs have yet been replaced. There are still a great many of the old ones. And, of course, what this book does not do is to say anything about their actual placing. I think my noble friend Lord Foley is going to speak more about that, as I consider, very important point, when he speaks after me. But I feel that uniformity throughout the country is absolutely essential.
§ This is not giving one man totalitarian power. In the debate on Tuesday, apropos of speed limits, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked me who was to be the arbiter as to what was dangerous and what was not. Was I going to be the arbiter? Well, of course, the answer to that is, No. I do not think any one man should be the arbiter as to what is dangerous and what is not. But there is such a thing, after all, as informed and experienced opinion. There are such people as county traffic engineers, and there is the Road Research Laboratory. I think the Minister should be given authority to appoint a Committee, consisting of experts, who will advise him, so that he can then enforce absolute conformity to a single standard of sign design and placing throughout the country.
§ Personally, so far as design is concerned. I think it would be a great advantage if we were to go over much more to the Continental system and adopt pictorial signs, which are far easier to see. For instance, in parking one seldom has a chance to stop and read a long rigmarole which tells you just when you may and when you may not park at a certain place. But that is by the way and is scarcely part of the Amendment, because the Minister, with his advised opinion, will decide on that himself. But I think that control in this matter should be centralised, and 1266 therefore I beg to move the Amendment.
After Clause 36 insert the said new clause.—(Lord Somers.)
§ LORD FOLEY
It is not my desire to detain your Lordships at this rather late hour for more than a few moments, but I feel that I ought to say a few words on this Amendment which stands in my name coupled with that of my noble friend who has just spoken. I am sure that we in this House are all equally concerned with road safety, and I feel that any thoughts that we have which may lead to an improvement in road safety and a saving in lives should be expressed. It seems to me that in this country we have three failings with road signs as they exist at the moment. One, as the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has already told you, is the fact that they are badly placed. They are not as easy to read as signs existing in France, for example, where all signs are carefully placed and are obviously thought out in such a way that any driver, even one of a not very high "I.Q.", is able to understand quite clearly what they mean.
It is not easy for drivers in this country to drive safely. They have very difficult road conditions, and the very fact that the Government is spending a lot of time and money on improving road conditions brings problems of its own. Roads are not the same as they were a few weeks ago because a new road scheme is starting, and there are things of that nature. Often these changes in roads, due to work in progress, are badly marked or not marked at all.
I should like to quote one or two examples of the sort of thing I mean. If you drive out of London on the Watford by-pass towards the M.1 you find three roundabouts. Two of those roundabouts are marked with roundabout signs and one has no roundabout marking. Of the two that are marked, one of the markings is satisfactory, in that it is quite a reasonable distance before the roundabout, but the other roundabout sign is very unsatisfactory. You come up a hill and at the top of the hill you see the roundabout before you, but you have actually passed the brow of the hill before you see the roundabout sign. I maintain that in that particular case the 1267 sign is placed too close to the roundabout. One comes upon it too late. Under conditions of poor visibility, fog or with night-time driving, someone who does not know that road too well and does not know that that roundabout is there will come over the top of the hill and, to his horror, will see the roundabout before him, with a sign giving notice of this fact, and may not be able to stop in time. It would be much more sensible if this sign were rather further away from the roundabout, before the actual brow of the hill was reached.
That is typical of the sort of thing I mean. There should be conformity in the placing of signs. Cars are travelling faster to-day. The average small motor car has a higher cruising speed than it had ten years ago, and with improved roads and higher cruising speeds the road signs have to be placed early. I believe that too much marking too soon is better than no marking at all. Motorists can be misled.
Another example of the sort of thing I have in mind is where you continue along the A.1 and the road is being made into a double track. You come to a large roundabout shortly before the turn-off to the M.1. Now the roundabout here is clearly marked, but there is no indication that the double track ceases; so that, again, under bad conditions a driver might be misled into believing that the whole of the road was free for him to proceed, when in fact he could suddenly come upon cars moving in the opposite direction.
I think it is most desirable that the Government should give us some sort of assurance that the whole question of road signs will be re-examined. If possible, the ideal thing would be conformity with road signs that exist in countries like France and Germany, where I think most people who have driven there will agree that they are more satisfactory that those in this country. We are soon going to have a big influx of foreign cars, more than we have to-day, especially if we have a Channel Tunnel or a Channel Bridge. A certain difficulty will inevitably arise with foreign visitors, owing to our procedure of driving on the left, which is a different problem that I do not propose to talk about now. Nevertheless, I think that visitors 1268 from abroad will be struck by the lack of uniformity in our signs and by their inadequacy from the points of view of design, placing and conformity. If the Government can give us some assurance that this matter is going to be carefully examined and, through some means or another, the situation will be greatly improved—although I appreciate the difficulties the Minister has in regard to local authorities—both my noble friend and myself will be only too happy to withdraw our Amendment.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Of course, it has always been admitted by all concerned in your Lordships' House that a uniformity of traffic signs in their placing and design is desirable, and I certainly would not dissent from that. I do not want to make a very long speech about signs, but I should like to reply to my noble friend Lord Somers, who asked the reasons why I told him beforehand, when he was unwise enough to ask whether or not his Amendment would be accepted, that it would not. Briefly, they are these. We know that the local authorities put up the signs, and so on. They are responsible authorities, and the initiative is deliberately left with them to do it in conjunction with the Ministry. The first reason why I would not wish to accept this Amendment is that the Minister has perfectly adequate powers for the purpose as it is. Section 52 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, enables him to require a highway authority either to put up a sign or to take it down or to change its position. That gives him, I think it could be said, quite clear and positive powers regarding siting. Under Section 51 of that Act he has the power to regulate the design of the sign; and, therefore, he has an equally positive power with regard to the design.
His powers are exercised by the issue of traffic sign regulations and directions and, where necessary, by special authorisations. It may be that our directions are not quite as specific as they might be: there may be faults there. It may be that the process of local highway authorities being responsible for signs leads to certain unavoidable discrepancies between one area and another, and that things are therefore not as uniform as we might wish.
I therefore come on to the last suggestion that was made by my noble 1269 friend Lord Foley. I do not know whether he knew about it or not, but last August my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport announced that he was proposing to set up an independent committee to review traffic signs on all roads other than motorways, including roads in urban areas, and to recommend what changes should be made. It has taken some time to settle the membership of this very important committee, but my right honourable friend hopes to be in a position to announce the names of the chairman and the other members within the next few weeks. I think that if my noble friends could see their way clear to withdraw this Amendment it would be wise, and it would be better to wait and see what this committee recommend before we change our present arrangements.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
Before my noble friends withdraw their Amendment, may I ask my noble friend one question? I am glad to hear about this announcement of the pending appointment of an independent committee, but could my noble friend tell me—or perhaps he could let me know later—whether any of the members of this committee will be, or are, members of the Motor Transport Committee (I think it is called) of the Economic Commission for Europe? If not, will his right honourable friend see whether one or more members of this committee could go on the Economic Commission for Europe, so that they will be au fait with the signs on Continental roads? I understand that on Continental roads there is almost complete uniformity, and I therefore think that we should come in, particularly as we are going into the Common Market, for the benefit of all road users.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My noble friend will have to wait to find out who are to be the members of this committee, but I am sure that my right honourable friend would like to have those views conveyed to him.
§ LORD SOMERS
While I am very grateful indeed to my noble friend for his explanation, I must confess that I do not altogether agree with him when he says that local authorities are responsible authorities. In many cases they are, and in a good many cases, in the depths of the country, they are not. I 1270 can quote one example which will show the sort of thing I mean. I remember a village near where I used to live where there is a steep hill. If you go down it from the top you will see a notice: "Steep hill. 1 in 10. Keep in low gear". That is very normal. If you go the other way, approaching the hill from the bottom, you will see the same sign. I think that anybody who is a motorist will appreciate that that is not what one would expect from a responsible authority—though it is uniformity. However, in view of what my noble friend has said, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 37 to 39 agreed to.
§ First Schedule agreed to.
§ Second Schedule [Minor and consequential Amendments]:
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM moved, in Part I, to add after the Amendment relating to Notice of prosecution
§ "Evidence by certificate
|Section two hundred and forty-two.||In sub-section (1), after the word "driven", in both places where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words "or used"; and for the words "belonged on a particular occasion to", in both places where they occur, there shall be substituted the words "on a particular occasion was used by or belonged to" "|
§ The noble Lord said: This, again, is a small Amendment on a very small matter. It is designed to save the valuable time of the police. Under Section 242 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, in the case of an offence in respect of which there is a duty under another section to give information as to the identity of the driver or as to the ownership of the vehicle, it is possible, where it is merely a matter of formal proof, for that to be done by certificate instead of by oral evidence. This Amendment provides that, where an offence takes place under various provisions of the Road Traffic Act, and where it is necessary formally to prove in court the use of the vehicle, that may also be done by certificate.
§ There are many cases these days where vehicles are the property of a firm which is at the other end of the country, and 1271 where the use (which the courts have held to mean use by a driver with the authority of the owner) is probably by an employee. If an offence takes place somewhere else, which may be a great distance away, it is necessary for the local policeman to travel the length of the country to prove nothing more than that the vehicle was being used on the business of the owner. At the moment, he can prove the ownership of a vehicle by certificate but not its use. This Amendment would simply allow the evidence of use to be given by certificate, as well as the evidence of ownership and the identity of the driver, where these are admitted by the appropriate person.
§ This has nothing to do with the proof of the offence—dangerous driving, defective brakes, or whatever it is—which has to be proved by oral evidence in the normal way. Of course, if the defence do not wish to accept the certificate, they need not, and can insist on the presence of the police officer concerned; but in the normal way these facts of ownership and use of the vehicle are not disputed, and it would save an amount of valuable police time if this Amendment could be accepted. I beg to move.
Page 35, line 46, at end insert the said words.— (Lord Chesham.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Second Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
§ Third Schedule [Enactments Repealed]:
§ 6.11 p.m.
LORD BURDEN moved to insert in the provisions to be repealed from the Road Traffic Act, 1960:
In section forty-nine, subsections (3) and (5), and in subsection (7), the words `and the confirmation thereof '.
§ The noble Lord said: This, again, is a small Amendment which is designed to save time in so far as concerns the staff of local authorities and of the Ministry of Transport. Under Section 49 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, local authorities are empowered to prohibit traffic on roads to be used as playgrounds. This power is exercised by the making of a street playground order; 1272 and by subsection (3) of Section 49 no such order is of effect unless and until confirmed by the Minister. I submit that it could surely be left to local authorities, who are responsible bodies, to make an order of the kind already indicated. To have to submit a minor matter of this kind to the Ministry for approval is a wasteful administrative effort.
§ Again, the Minister's power in subsection (5) to vary, revoke or amend an order is surely interfering improperly and arbitrarily with the decision of a local authority. I cannot understand why it is that there is this obvious reluctance, time after time, to trust men and women who have to give an account of their stewardship to the electors to carry out administrative work of this kind without the supervision of Whitehall. In many cases street playgrounds are in culs-de-sac.
§ So far as through traffic roads are involved, it is true that traffic regulation orders made by local authorities prohibiting the use of roads by through traffic are subject to confirmation by the Minister. That I do not object to, because obviously there is more involved than the particular movement of traffic through the area of a local authority. But roads which local authorities would wish to designate as street playgrounds obviously are not likely to be main traffic routes, and therefore need not come within the Ministry's concern. I cannot conceive for one moment that a local authority would attempt to designate as a playground what would be a through traffic route. Now, local authorities are competent to impose many forms of traffic regulations without ministerial supervision. They may, for example, make one-way street orders, and it hardly seems necessary that the confirmation of street playground orders is a practice which needs to be continued.
§ Again, tucked away conveniently, but I call attention to it, is the provision that the Minister will in any event continue to exercise sufficient general control by making procedure regulations binding upon the local authority, and subsection (7) gives him that authority. We would not object in procedure regulations to the Minister's prescribing, for example, that the local authority should, if they think fit, hold a public inquiry to consider objections which may have been received 1273 to the proposed order making a street a children's playground. There are other provisions. The Third Schedule contains a number of repeals of portions of the Road Traffic Act. I think I have said enough to indicate that responsible local authorities take the view that the confirmation of street playground orders could, without any serious loss or serious difficulty, be left to them to decide in their collective wisdom. I beg to move.
Page 37, line 52, third column, at end insert ("In section forty-nine, subsections (3) and (5), and in subsection (7), the words" and the confirmation thereof".")—(Lord Burden.)
§ LORD CHESHAM
I cannot help thinking that to a certain extent our debate may follow a slightly similar course to that which it followed earlier on. The noble Lord, I was glad to hear, admitted that the orders dealt with in the proposed Amendment are comparable to other orders that may be made under Section 26 of the Road Traffic Act, and did not seem to think that there was any harm in that. This is not a major point, but I do not see that all orders relate to routes over which traffic passes. Under existing policy, it has always been the case that in regard to roads on which traffic can be prohibited or restricted orders are subject to confirmation, and there is little point in making this one one on its own and putting it in a class by itself. It surely creates rather an anomalous situation, where a local authority could prohibit traffic on a road without reference to the Minister only if they did so under the guise of providing a street playground, and were not able to do so in any other circumstances. It does not seem very convenient and tidy.
It has never been a criterion of ministerial confirmation that the order in question should be concerned with the through traffic route as such, as I thought, if I understood him correctly, the noble Lord implied. Nowadays, particularly under the pressure of traffic in many towns and cities, a lot of the residential streets become used by occasional through traffic, even if only of a local variety. This process which has the horrible technical name of "seepage", is often very helpful in relieving local traffic conditions.
If, on the one hand, we were to repeal subsection (3), it would be much more 1274 important to retain subsection (5). The Amendment would deprive the Minister of the power to reject, vary or amend a street playground order. I think that this power would be even more necessary if the local authorities were enabled to make orders without confirmation by the Minister. Under Section 27 of the Road Traffic Act, the Minister has the power to revoke, vary or amend a local authority's traffic regulation order, whether it is one that requires confirmation or not, and it would be completely at variance with that provision not to retain the power in regard to orders of this sort.
Since the street playground provision came into force in 1938, over 120 orders have been confirmed by the Minister and half of these have been in the last four years. The total number of play streets in the country is now well over 1,000. There has been a marked increase in the last four years, probably due to the increasing number of cars which menace children. There have been very few orders which we have been unable to confirm—the figure, I think, is about ten -but in the case of 25 per cent. of street playground orders, we have introduced modifications into the local authority's plans in the interests of safety. The sort of modifications that have been made is where an order proposes to use several streets as play streets and the Minister has cut one out because the rate at which vehicles call at premises in it make it unsafe to be used as a play street; or where there is a factory at the end of a street and the traffic to it is too heavy for the street to be safely regarded as a play street. I hope that the noble Lord may think that the retention of these powers, which means the rejection of his Amendment, is acceptable to him.
§ LORD BURDEN
I am afraid that I do not accept it in toto. I should be content if it could be agreed that the local authorities should notify any decision in regard to the designation of a play street to the Minister. As the noble Lord has pointed out, under Section 37 of the Road Traffic Act, the Minister has ample powers to deal with any order made by a local authority. Therefore, it seems to me that, while putting it to the local authorities that they can be trusted in these matters, at the same time the Ministry, with their wider experience, should examine proposed 1275 orders and in a friendly way point out any difficulties, and if they are not solved, then the Minister could use the power which he has under Section 27. But to lay down that orders must be subject to the confirmation of the Minister is, I think, both a waste of time at the Ministry and for the local authorities. If the noble Lord cannot accept even the modification which I suggest, then the Amendment must be negatived.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Third Schedule agreed to.
§ House resumed.