HL Deb 31 July 1962 vol 243 cc112-24

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, as your Lordships know, Sections 65 and 66 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, make provision for testing motor vehicles in respect of certain requirements which affect their safe use on the road. Subsection (3) of Section 66 empowers my right honourable friend to make an Order bringing down the original ten-year age limit to a lower one, and this Order is subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure. One of these Orders was made in October, 1961, when the age limit was changed from ten to seven years. When your Lordships considered that Order I mentioned that it was intended to reduce still further the age limit of vehicles subject to this test. The Order mow before your Lordships represents another stage in that process of substituting six years for seven.

Its effect is to require vehicles which have been registered for between six and seven years to be provided with a test certificate by November 1, and in other cases by the sixth anniversary of the date of first registration. In case your Lordships think that we should perhaps be reducing the age limit still further I would point out that as the limit comes down one finds an increasing number of vehicles in each age group, and we have to think about the capacity of the testing stations in relation to a reasonable opportunity for people to get their vehicles tested. I am satisfied my Lords that this is quite all right in this case, but we should not include a greater number in this Order at this time. I can say, though, that we shall seek further reductions in due course.

Your Lordships may like to know how the whole test scheme is running and how it appears to be justified. Well, my Lords, I can tell you that the records show that on the original ten-year-old test about 40 per cent. of the vehicles submitted failed and had to be either repaired or taken off the road. We also know that a good many were scrapped without facing the test at all, because they were too bad to be economically repaired. In the period when the seven to ten-year-old vehicles came in, and many of the over ten-year-olds were coming up for their second test, the number of failures became 33 per cent. Perhaps that does not sound very much, but when it is remembered that it represents comfortably over a million vehicles, and that the most common faults were with brakes, then with steering and then with lights, in that order, I do not think I need say much more about the value of the tests.

As your Lordships know, we have been carrying out spot-checks as well, and the results reveal that of the vehicles tested between five and seven years old, 30 per cent. were in a condition in which they would not have passed the test, and were defective to a degree that made them a potential source of accidents at any time. I think, therefore, that what I have said will assure your Lordships that the testing scheme is achieving its purpose, and that this further extension of it is justified. I beg to move that this Order be approved.

Moved, That the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order, 1962, be approved.—(Lord Chesham.)


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether there will be any variation or reduction in the charges to be made in the scheme?

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House view this Order with mixed feelings. First of all, we welcome the fact that the Government have found it possible to reduce the age limit of these vehicles to six, but our welcome is slightly diminished when we take into account the figures that the noble Lord has given us, in the sense that we wonder whether we are moving fast enough. The noble Lord has said that of the vehicles inspected in the course of twelve months a million were found to be defective, and that there was really little difference in the number of vehicles that were defective in the age group five to seven compared with the older cars. Therefore it makes one wonder what number of vehicles are on the roads at the present moment, even of a year old, which if inspected to-day would be found defective in one way or another. We feel that the Government must press on to reduce this age limit. The noble Lord said that it was the Government's intention to do so but that the capacity for inspection at the present moment would be strained. Can the noble Lord say when we can anticipate a further Order? Will it be possible to bring the age group down to five or four within the next twelve months?

I would make one other point to the noble Lord. I am sure the House was surprised at the figures he gave us. I think very few people, even in your Lordships' House—certainly very few among the general public, and even among the motoring public—are aware of the number of vehicles that are being found defective upon what is really a limited inspection. One sees very little in the way of publicity. I should now like the Government to carry out a proper campaign, to bring these facts before every single motorist in the country, more or less pointing the question at each motorist: "Is your car one of perhaps three million on the roads today, which may be defective?" My Lords, I think this matter must be rammed home to the motorist, that it is he who is responsible for the vehicle on the road, and it is his responsibility to see that it is kept fit.

Many of us who have fairly "young" cars take them regularly to the garage and have them serviced. I should like to see the Government encourage persons who do that, and others who may not take their cars quite so often, to have them voluntarily checked, irrespective of their age. I would suggest to the Minister that we have a seal, something similar to a tax licence, that could be issued by the examining garage, to show that they have checked the car and passed it. That seal could then be put above the tax licence, and would clearly indicate to everyone that that driver had voluntarily taken his car and had it examined.

Then, my Lords, I would suggest that, if the Government are unable to reduce this age limit rapidly down to four or three years, they increase the number of persons who are doing the roadside checks. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who fought for this matter—that there should be considerable roadside checks. There are some that are going on, but if we could increase them, so much the better. Certainly, if you had a seal or a sign as I suggested, that you had voluntarily had your vehicle checked, you would not be likely to be stopped by these inspectors in the street. Therefore, apart from some prestige and satisfaction at having had your vehicle tested, you would have a sign and might not be stopped on the road by these inspectors.

There is only one other point which I would make. I am concerned about the sale of second-hand cars. It has become quite a habit in this country for people with a new or second-hand car to drive it hard or, to use an expression of many, to "flog" it, and then to sell it at the end of twelve or eighteen months. Some of these cars can be "poshed up" quite considerably. Certainly, if you buy a second-hand car through a reputable dealer you are fairly secure, but there are many of these roadside car marts which do not appear to have any engineering facilities by which to examine cars. I think that every single car that is sold should be sold with a certificate. The noble Lord may say that it is an offence to sell a secondhand car that is defective, but those who go in to buy a second-hand car may not have much experience. They may only have the word of a salesman, a salesman who could disappear very quickly on to another job.

I think there should be a constructive approach to this matter, and when a second-hand car is sold a certificate should be issued. One gets a warranty with a new car, and I think such a warranty should be issued by the seller of a second-hand car. I hope the Government will seriously consider this matter, because there are reports from time to time of the sale of second-hand cars which do not meet up to the road requirements. If a firm has to issue a certificate to the effect that a car has been examined and found roadworthy—in other words, they must state that that is the case—there will be a greater stress on this matter, and the public when buying cars will look for that certificate, and will not buy a car unless the certificate is available. My Lords, we welcome this Order, we hope that the Government will move faster in the next twelve months, and will consider favourably this incentive to ordinary motorists to take their cars voluntarily for these examinations.

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, the interesting part of the Minister's statement in putting this Order before your Lordships' House, if I understood him correctly, was that, in the spot-checks organised by the Ministry, 37 per cent. of the cars spot-checked proved to be in such a condition that they would not have passed the test. I understand from the noble Lord that the spot-check is made irrespective of age. It is obviously impossible for a Ministry of Transport examiner to distinguish easily a motor car of a certain age. My Lords, to me, that is a most significant and alarming figure—37 per cent., irrespective of age. One, two or three-year olds, they are all in together.

That brings me to the real point of my intervention. It has been authoritatively stated that the Minister of Transport contemplates increasing the speed limit of commercial vehicles of certain types to 40 miles an hour. I will not discuss the rights or the wrongs of that—the time for that will be when the Minister produces the Order; but I am going to state quite emphatically to your Lordships that all too large a number of commercial vehicles on the roads to-day are so overloaded as to make them uncontrollable because of their damaged steering and inefficient brakes. I do say this to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham: that if you are going to increase the speed limit for these vehicles to 40 miles an hour, that will automatically increase their natural, overall speed; and the Minister must take into consideration that there will have to be a rather more rigid check upon the mechanical conditions of these vehicles.

Now I know his difficulties. As the number of motor cars that have to come in for compulsory examination increases, so the tax upon the examining facilities becomes greater. I also know (to follow the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd) that to increase the number of examiners on the roads would put a strain upon manpower, and this would be the greater if one included a rather more rigid check on commercial vehicles. Such a check, moreover, can be property carded out only on the road with the load it carries, and not in a service station unladen; because many vehicles that would pass a test unladen in a service garage would not pass a test with a 7-ton load on them on the roads. I think the British public will be very apprehensive of an order to increase the speed limit for many of these vehicles unless the Minister can at the same time give an assurance that there will be a very careful check of the mechanical conditions of those commercial vehicles so as not to endanger public safety. I hope the House will forgive me for bringing in this matter, but it is of the utmost importance, and I hope I may have at least a sympathetic answer from the Minister on this point.

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, nobody enjoys driving "old crocks" about, but the fact of the matter is that a great many people in this country are driving motor cars when they cannot afford to do so, because the proper calculations have never been taken into account by them in advance. In other words, the depreciation factor is ignored, and they have to go on wearing out these old bits of machinery, being totally unable to find more capital to buy a new one. I quote from my own experience. I have some slight responsibility for a certain number of clergy who are doing a job which one might call an inspecting job. On making inquiries the other day, I found that in all cases they had no capital sum available with which to replace the motor cars which they were using on their job. They are doing 20,000 miles a year, and many private owners are doing far less. If, therefore any campaign is to be initiated, I think the most important thing is to bring home to the people that they are not paying for their motoring unless they are putting aside, into the Posit Office Savings Bank, or something of the kind, an amount to cover the replacement of this vehicle When it is thrown off the road as being unfit.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, there is a lot to be said for what the noble Lord opposite has just said. Not only do people hold a car longer than they ought because they cannot afford a new one, but they will buy a very old car in the first instance because it is Cheaper. But the trouble is that to remedy this would require an income test or a means test for the purchase of a car, which might then be applied to buying television sets, washing machines and so on. I think that the Government possibly might not feel inclined to do that.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of chilworth, raised the point of the loading of commercial vehicles, and I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether, in the administration of a test, account will be taken in the case of commercial vehicles of the loading of those vehicles. It seems to me, on the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that, there is a prima facie case for perhaps being more careful and severe in those cases where they have to carry heavy loads, with consequent extra stress upon the brakes, than otherwise. I think it is a point that needs consideration.

Apart from the wider point that the noble Lord raised (we cannot develop that point far under this Order, though I presume we shall have a chance under the Order about the speed limit), there is the point of these heavy vehicles cluttering up the roads with consequences which were outlined in an article on the leader page of the Sunday Express last Sunday, which I thought was a very sensible contribution to the matter. In passing, and only in passing, I am bound to say that I think this idea of raising the speed limit of these vast vehicles to 40 miles an hour (of course, in practice, the answer is that they are doing 40 miles an hour now, and even more) is not a very satisfactory one, for if you officially raise it to 40 miles an hour you will have them travelling at 50 or 60. I think that this Minister of Transport is really road mad. He just wants to injure the railways; that is his primary purpose in life. But I reserve any further comment until the Order is before us; and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary can assure us that the Order about the speed limit on these heavy, vast engines which the Minister is encouraging upon the highways will come before us.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, this Order has led us into devious but interesting by-ways, some of which are not even on our particular map at all. To begin by answering my noble friend Lord Howe, I should tell him that it is not contemplated that there will be any reduction in charges under the test scheme, which are based on the cost of the tests. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, hotly pursued by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, shot straight out of the ground altogether. Of course, their remarks about speed limits for commercial vehicles have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the Order which we are discussing to-day except in so far as it applies to vehicles of up to 30 cwt. unladen weight, because the vehicles to which they are referring are not subject to the tests to which this Order refers.




I am sorry the noble Lord opposite says "Oh", as if that were a surprise to him. But, my Lords, they never have been, right from the start.


Why not?


May I just explain the reason to him? They are not subject to those tests because there is already in existence a system of testing them by the Ministry's own vehicle inspectors and it is clearly not necessary that they should also be subject to tests which were brought in for vehicles which were not otherwise subject to test. Therefore, we really are not talking about these heavy vehicles in relation to their loads, their speed or anything else. I will, of course, bear in mind what the noble Lords have said; because I agree with them that it is important. I only say—and I am sure your Lordships will forgive me—that this is not the moment to discuss it.


Would the Minister forgive me if I say something in self defence? First of all, I knew that I was going a trifle outside the Order, and I asked the indulgence of the House to allow me to do so but the noble Lord himself brought up the question of spot checks by Ministry of Transport inspectors. I am perfectly well aware that the only test for a commercial vehicle is the Ministry of Transport spot check. This deals with vehicle checks; not only motor cars, but commercial vehicles. I said I did not think that it would be quite proper to bring these commercial vehicles into the service stations, but I suggested to him that he might consider an extension of the spot checking, because it is thrown into sharp relief by the authoritative statement that these vehicles will have a higher speed limit than heretofore. So I was not shot right off the mark; I perhaps deviated a little over a very thin white line.


Will the noble Lord be a little careful in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, whom I have hitherto supported, on that point? I am a little alarmed that the Minister should be urged to employ full-time inspectors over the whole field. We are a little in danger of becoming a nation where we are all getting a living by inspecting each other, and we had better be careful about it.


My Lords, I quite agree with the noble Lord; we must be careful, because it might be quite alarming what we find. Whether the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, skidded off the course or whether he went what, in the case of a pipe-line, would be only just outside his limit of lateral deviation, I do not think matters very much, because I do not think that we should devote much time to-day to the very interesting and important things he has brought up. Later on will be the time to do that. I am coming on to the question of spot checks again in a moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, raised, I thought, some interesting points, with none of which, as a matter of broad principle, I would disagree. He queried whether we were going fast enough, and perhaps it could be said: No. But I did give a reason for the present speed. This Order brings in (in round terms) a further 650,000 vehicles that will be subject to inspection, and experience has proved that people leave it almost entirely to the last few days before the due date, which imposes a very great strain on the testing stations. We have tried quite a number of measures—publicity and so on—to try to stop them doing this, but unsuccessfully. It is difficult to contemplate bringing in a greater number at this moment. I cannot specifically say to the noble Lord when the next stage will be, but I anticipate that I, or somebody else, will be back before your Lordships with further suggestions before very long.

My Lords, one of our difficulties is that through a legal defect in the manner in which these Orders can be made, it is not possible to stagger them. I shall be dealing with that matter later on, when we come to consider Amendments to the Road Traffic Bill, because it has now been put right.


What does the noble Lord mean by "staggered"? Does he mean the periods?


What I mean by that, is that at the moment we can attach only one date to one age group, so to speak; and I think it will be possible to move a Little bit faster when we are able to divide that one age group into, perhaps, four sections and give them four different dates under one Order. One could call them phases. That unfortunately cannot be done legally at the moment. I hope that, if your Lordships agree to the Amendment which is to be put later on, that will help us to get on a little more quickly. But I will deal with that when I come to it.


When the noble Lord raised the question of phasing of timing, he appealed to people to spread their tests, which is very sensible. For instance, how long can the test be valid? Could I have one test on December 31 this year, and another one on January 1 the following day, the first one to apply for the 1963 licence and the next one to apply for 1964?


My Lords, the test certificate is valid for twelve months from the date of test; so the noble Lord, by having two checks, will have paid in some useful money to get an extension of two days on his test period.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked for publicity to be given to these difficulties, and I will certainly consider that point and see what can be done. Of course, there is nothing now to stop anybody who wishes from taking his car for a test. That is by no means debarred. In the original stages, when it was a novelty, quite a number of people in fact did, and some of them, I think, got a sharp shock, which rather goes to prove what we have been so far agreeing on.

So far as spot checks are concerned, of course these are most useful if for no other reason than that they go further than the tests. But even with a greatly increased number of people available to do the spot checks, with the number of vehicles we have on the roads at the moment it could still only scratch at the surface or the problem. I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that the heavy commercial vehicles have in fact been subject to spot checks for a good many years as well as to the inspections which are normally carried out by the Ministry inspectors, probably at their garages. But I would agree on the broad principle that this is something that needs, if possible, to be increased and certainly kept under way.

So far as secondhand cars are concerned, I should certainly like to consider at greater leisure the suggestion the noble Lord has put forward. I am bound to say, even though he slightly discounted it in advance, that it is, of course, an offence to sell a car in an un-roadworthy condition. As a first reaction, I would say that I do not quite know how a requirement that any particular firm should give a warranty of roadworthiness with each car could be embodied in legislation. I quite see what the noble Lord means by saying that innocent people need to be protected. There are various ways that they can protect themselves; but I should like to consider what he has said in this respect.


My Lords, could the noble Lord inquire how it has been done in South Africa? It has been a legal requirement there for years that one must not buy or sell a secondhand vehicle that has not a roadworthiness certificate. That system works very well there, and I do not see why the same should not be done here.


I will tell the noble Lord exactly why it cannot be done here. They have had rigorous inspections of all cars that are on the road, sometimes to an almost absurd degree, for many years. They have a vastly smaller number of motor cars to deal with than we have, and I can remember that as long ago as 1947 all the vehicles on the road were subject to a roadworthiness test, down to a minute degree but then the problem was not so complicated or as great as it is here. Nevertheless, I should like to look into the noble Lord's suggestion to see whether something can be got out of it. My Lords, I think I have dealt briefly with the points, and I hope that your Lordships will now approve this Order.


My Lords, I know that this is a little off the lines but, as a matter of information and courtesy, would the noble Lord be good enough to tell us if the 40 m.p.h. commercial vehicle Order referred to will be a statutory instrument and subject to Parliamentary challenge.


Yes, my Lords; an Order of that kind is subject to Affirmative Resolution.


My Lords, I thought the noble Lord was a little lukewarm about the idea that the Government should have a campaign to encourage motor owners to volunteer their vehicles for testing and to have an emblem denoting that their vehicles had been tested within the year. Would the noble Lord give this matter careful consideration? Because I am sure that we could persuade people to do this voluntarily; and, taking into account the dangers on the roads of these vehicles, I am sure that some good could be done in this way.


My Lords, I am sorry if I appeared to be lukewarm about this. Perhaps I did not do the suggestion justice, because of the other material which was presented to me. I should not like to commit myself without looking at a possible scheme, but I should think that it is likely that something useful could be done in this way.

On Question, Motion agreed to.