HL Deb 08 June 1964 vol 258 cc672-3

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will cause an inquiry to be made into the reasons why the penalties imposed by magistrates' courts after convictions for offences against the Road Traffic Acts differ so widely from those laid down in those Acts, which clearly define the intention of Parliament.]


My Lords, the penalties prescribed for offences under the Road Traffic Acts, as for offences under nearly all other Acts, are maximum penalties, and subject to these maxima Parliament leaves the question of penalties to be imposed in individual cases to the discretion of the courts. I cannot, therefore, accept the premise on which the noble Lord bases his Question.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord must have misunderstood my Question. I am merely seeking information. Is the noble Lord aware that for the first three months of this year we shall have to face an increase in road deaths of 42 per cent. over the number for the first three months of last year? Is he further aware that the official figures of the Home Office show that the penalties imposed by magistrates' courts have proved no deterrent—a view which, according to the Press, is shared by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack? Moreover, is he aware of the shocking state of affairs, shown by the official figures of the Home Office, that the monetary penalty for being drunk while driving a motor vehicle has gone down over the last five years? Would the noble Lord not agree with me that it is impossible for Parliament to take any remedial action against this state of affairs unless it has knowledge of the facts for which I have asked?


My Lords, I am aware of the first supplementary question; I do not entirely agree with the second supplementary question. As regards the financial penalties, may I remind the noble Lord that Section 31 of the Magistrates Courts Act, 1952, requires the court in fixing the amount of the fine to take into consideration the means of the person on whom the fine is imposed?


My Lords, I am well aware of that. Is the noble Lord equally well aware with me that the monetary value of fines has gone down while the incomes of the individuals have gone up during this last five years, yet you pay a lesser penalty for being drunk when driving a motor car to-day than you did five years ago? Does the noble Lord call that a deterrent?


My Lords, it could well be that those fined more recently had lower incomes than those fined in the period before. But the Executive cannot possibly interfere with the sentences given by the courts, and the maximum sentences have been laid down by Parliament. There is really nothing much more for me to add.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I am not asking for interference. Why do the magistrates ignore the expressed will of Parliament? That is all I am asking. The penalties have been increased—they have been doubled in some cases—by Parliament; yet in actual practice they have gone down. All I ask is that Parliament should be acquainted with the reasons why.


My Lords, the noble Lord seems to be asking for the reasons which have actuated certain magistrates in settling what fines and penalties to impose. There is no ministerial responsibility for that, and I do not think that criticism should be made of magistrates as to the discharge of their judicial duties without a substantive Motion.