HL Deb 28 February 1963 vol 247 cc190-6

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think there is any need for me again to explain the Orders which my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport may make for the periodic testing of motor vehicles or the powers under which he can make them. Your Lordships will by now be familiar with them from the two we have already had reducing the period from the original 10 years to 7 and then to 6 last July. At that time the view was expressed that the scheme should be extended faster and that from 7 years to 6 was too short a step. I pointed out the practical difficulties which prevented our going faster at that time, but said I anticipated I should be back to your Lordships with further suggestions before long. My Lords, here I am, with this Order which brings in a further stage in the extension by substituting 5 years for 6. The effect of it is to require vehicles not yet subject to test, but which have been registered for 5 years, to be provided with a test certificate by April 30, and otherwise by the fifth anniversary of the date they were first registered. We estimate that some 820,000 vehicles will be affected to begin with.

Your Lordships may like me to mention the latest available figures relating to the operation and value of the testing scheme to date. The records of the testing stations show that of just over 5 million vehicles over 6 years old initially tested—that is, excluding re-tests after repair following refusal of a certificate—1½ to 1¾ million failed to qualify. I think your Lordships would wish to know that of those that failed, 61 per cent. failed owing to inefficient brakes, 50 per cent. to faulty steering and 37 per cent. to faulty lights. I am glad to say that there is evidence of a slow but nevertheless steady improvement, because the average proportion of vehicles which fail to pass the test without repair has fallen month by month fairly consistently from over 40 per cent. when the scheme started to a little under 30 per cent. at the present moment. The figures average 28 per cent. for the two months during which most of the tests related to the six-year to seven-year old group submitted when the last Order came into effect. The results of the spot checks carried out so far indicate that the same proportion of five-year old vehicles are defective to a degree which makes them dangerous in use. My Lords, I do not think there is anything else I need explain. I beg to move that this Order be approved.

Moved, That the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order 1963 be approved.—(Lord Chesham.)


My Lords, the noble Viscount who leads this House was complaining bitterly some time ago about the way his colleagues in the Govern- ment were being pushed around by the Opposition. It is therefore something of a change to-day, because we can congratulate the Government on their speed in dealing with the serious position concerning the motor cars of this country. We welcome the fact that we are now bringing into the inspection orbit vehicles of five-year vintage. Can the noble Lord tell the House whether in regard to those vehicles that were inspected in the first instance—that is, the ten-year-old vehicles where it was found 40 per cent. were defective—the percentage of defects is being reduced? Those vehicles are now being tested, I believe, for the third time? In other words, is this inspection not only taking off the road for repair defective vehicles, but improving in any way the standard of the remaining vehicles? I hope that the Government will shortly be able to bring down the age of vehicles for inspection to three or four years.

Could the Minister also say whether there is any serious congestion in any of the main areas, such as London, in relation to the number of vehicles inspected? It would seem to me that as the number of vehicles increases—and there does not appear to be a marked increase in the number of inspection stations—we may find garages being more and more pressed to inspect vehicles, with the result perhaps that the standard of inspection may deteriorate. I hope that the Government and the Minister will give very serious consideration to this aspect.

Further, has the Minister any more recent figures as to the extent to which defects in vehicles have contributed to accidents? I believe that in 1956 the figure given was 20 per cent. I hope that as we improve the standard of vehicles, the percentage will decrease, and if the Minister has information on this point it would be most useful. The public who own cars are being called upon to submit their vehicles for these regular inspections, and if they could see that this onus upon them is helping to reduce the accident rate I think they would be extremely pleased about it.

I should like to mention briefly the question of commercial vehicles, because I thought the Minister, in another place early this week, spoke in rather complacent terms. It is a fact—and I think the noble Lord will agree with me—that there are only 332 inspectors in this country to inspect some 1,400,000 vehicles. In fact, we are now inspecting only about 8 per cent. of commercial vehicles, as opposed to 45 per cent. of private cars. I hope that the Minister will shortly be able to give us some further news as to how they propose to deal with commercial vehicles.

With these few words I welcome this Order, and hope that we shall have further news from the Government, not only as to the progress in regard to private cars, but also in the commercial field.


My Lords, I rise only to put a question to the noble Lord. I think it is a very good thing that vehicles should be regularly inspected after they are five years old. But could the noble Lord tell us the position of a car owner who has his vehicle regularly serviced by a reputable firm of motor agents, or by the makers themselves, and who can produce a certificate to this effect? Would such a vehicle still have to undergo this test? Or could provision be made for an authentic certificate of that servicing to exempt it from inspection?


My Lords, I, too, feel sure that this Order is to be welcomed, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I have a question to put to the Minister. As the House knows, the test applies to only three basic essentials: lighting, brakes and steering. Supposing some other dangerous defect were revealed by the inspection, such as a very badly worn bearing, which would render the vehicle unsafe to go on the road. What happens then? Is the owner merely warned that there is another dangerous defect to which he ought to attend? If that is so, is that enough? I understand that in the rather different arrangements which apply to the testing of heavy commercial vehicles there is the procedure of the prohibition order. This can be applied to a vehicle in order to prevent its being used on the road until it has been properly repaired and made safe. I am wondering whether something of that kind ought not to be applied in the case of tests of private cars and light vehicles.

I am not suggesting a more comprehensive test. No doubt it is more important that a basic test should be applied to a great many vehicles rather than that a more comprehensive test should be applied to necessarily fewer vehicles. I am only concerned with the question of some serious and dangerous defect which is not part of the matters under test being revealed. Is there any means by which to compel the car owner to have it attended to before the car returns to the road? If not, ought not something to be done to take care of that sort of situation?


My Lords, as usual our little essay on vehicle testing has produced interesting points. I will go through them one by one. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked in regard to the ten-year-olds whether the percentage of failures has been reduced. I have not any separate figure which would indicate that, but I think I should not be making myself ridiculous if I said it would be reasonable to suppose that the percentage was inclined to reduce: first, because of the very bad ones which have been taken off the road altogether, or which perhaps have been found to be too expensive to repair; secondly, because of the consciousness that something was wrong and therefore had to be put right before being submitted to test at all. I would have thought the conclusion might reasonably be that the percentage was improving. In regard to bringing down the age, as the noble Lord well knows, one has to pay regard to the overloading of the capacity of testing stations. In principle I do not think there is very much between us about the desirability of getting on with the job, and I think I should not be sticking my neck out too far if I once more said that I should not be surprised to be before your Lordships again before we are all very much older.

As to the congestion in certain places, I have not heard any reports that this has amounted to a serious problem. Obviously it must be so, but I think it is true to say that where there is a large concentration of cars and vehicles for testing, in the normal course of events suitable garages and service stations tend to follow them for the normal commercial purposes, and thus relieve any congestion that might develop.

My Lords, on the question of whether the figures give positive support to the belief that the tests have brought about a reduction of accidents, I must tell the noble Lord, unsatisfactory as it may be, that I do not think it will ever be possible to adduce straight statistical evidence that will satisfy any doubts that may exist on this matter. I say that, my Lords, for the simple reason that there are almost always a number of factors which contribute to an accident. But I should have thought that it was perfectly reasonable—in fact, self-evident—that a driver who gets himself, or is put by somebody else's misdoings, into an accident situation, from whatever cause, has very much less chance, or perhaps none, of getting out of that accident situation if he is driving a defective vehicle. As I have just told your Lordships, the most common defect found is in the brakes, followed by the steering, which must point to the fact that there is a value in these tests. I do not think that anyone could sensibly argue that a car which fails to pass this test, which has been criticised in the past as not sufficiently stringent, is in a fit condition to be on the road.

So far as commercial vehicles are concerned, those over 30 cwt. which now do not come into the tests, I do not think I can add anything to what I said when we debated the matter recently. As the noble Lord knows, there is nothing at all between us, which was the reason I accepted his Motion that some form of testing should be devised on a much wider basis. And I can say no more at this stage than that the matter is being considered. But I warned him then, and I must repeat it, that it is bound to take some time to do. Therefore, while I should like to be able to say that something more would be available shortly—if "shortly" means what one normally takes it to mean—I fear that that may not be the case. But that does not indicate any departure from the agreement in principle that we have, that wider testing of these vehicles would be a good thing.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, suggested a certificate of regular servicing. I suppose he could argue a logical case for that. But, my Lords, it would make for difficulties under the regulations and so on, as exemptions always do—and as I think the noble Lord would agree—because the regulations state that every vehicle of a certain type, of a certain age, shall have a certificate, and cannot be licensed unless it has one. Again, the certificate is an official one, and the garage concerned can get into trouble if they falsify it or do not carry out the inspection properly. I do not see how that would apply to cases such as the noble Lord mentioned, unless his proposed other certificate were given statutory force, with a provision that it must not be falsified. And in that case we should be merely coming back to the position we started from—or so it seems to me.

The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, raised, I thought, an important point as to other defects revealed. I am glad to be able to reassure him on his point, and perhaps I might just explain what the position is. The regulations require a tester to refuse a certificate if there is a defect in any part of the vehicle which directly affects the use or the efficiency of its brakes, steering or lights. So far so good. The noble Lord will now say: "What about major defects which could not be said to affect them directly?"—which I gather is what he really had in mind. The tester is also empowered to refuse to road-test a vehicle if he considers that some other part of it is in a dangerous condition, so that road-testing it is not a reasonable risk. If he refuses a certificate, which he can do on those grounds, there is a special form for him to use. Therefore having done it once, he presumably will do it again, and that vehicle will be very unlikely to pass its test in the future unless the defect has been put right. Therefore I think that very largely, at any rate, the situation which the noble Lord feared is in fact all right.

On Question, Motion agreed to.