HL Deb 13 July 1967 vol 284 cc1263-8

3.30 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I am certain that every Member of your Lordships' House has a deep interest in road safety. It is not only a vast subject, but one which, because of the tragic toll of road accidents day by day and year by year, rightly concerns us all. We all have our own theories of what ought to be done to stop, or at least to reduce, these tragedies—more and better roads, more and better training and propaganda, more traffic police, and so on. This Bill, which was introduced as a Private Member's Bill in another place and which I have the honour and pleasure to commend to your Lordships, deals with the subject of driving instruction. This is a measure which I feel is much overdue and will help in a real and positive way in keeping death off the roads. I have used the word "positive" deliberately, because I hope that your Lordships will not regard this as a restrictive measure. It is not meant to be and I do not think that it is restrictive. It seems to me that in the training of our new drivers and in teaching them the fundamentals of good and proper use of our roads lie one of the major hopes for the future.

The introduction of driving tests in 1935 under the Road Traffic Act 1934 was one of the far-reaching road safety measures introduced in the 1930s, together with pedestrian crossings and Belisha beacons. It is the measure which, at some time or other, has the most direct impact on the individual member of the public. It is something from which few of us escape, either personally or when a member of our family seeks to get the freedom of the road. I believe that something like 20 million tests have been conducted by the Ministry of Transport examiners since 1935—and may I say, a very good job they have done, too.

But it is not about tests that I want to talk, but about the preliminaries to them—the instruction of the learner driver. The introduction of the tests naturally brought with it a demand for formal instruction, and this was met by the formation of driving schools. The post-war boom in motoring has brought an increasing demand for tuition. I am told that something like 1… million new drivers take their tests every year. But by no means all of them pass the first time. In fact, the overall pass rate of 47 per cent. is deplorably low. The Ministry of Transport attribute this to two main reasons: first, the poor quality of much of the tuition given and, secondly, the reluctance of the public to have and pay for enough tuition.

Of course, the driving test weeds out the unsafe drivers, and no doubt those who fail benefit by their experience before eventually passing the test. But what a waste of time this all is! Moreover, I am convinced that many people in the driving tuition business are in that business for what they can get out of it, rather than for what they can put into it. Some of these people are taking money from the public and not giving value for it. That is bad enough; but it means also that their pupils are not being properly trained in the skills and behaviour necessary for safe driving today. The public, not unnaturally, tend to go to the instructor who offers the cheapest service and, as in other fields, this is not necessarily the best.

In 1962, the then Minister of Transport took power in the Road Traffic Act of that year to set up a Ministry register of approved driving instructors, on a voluntary basis, of course. This was created in October, 1964, and it then contained the names of just over 2,000 instructors who had passed the quite stiff examination set by the Ministry. Since then it has grown steadily, and I am told that the number of instructors on the register is now over 5,000. This is good progress and I congratulate the Ministry on it. But although the register provides the public with an indication of the best instructors, in my view it does not do enough.

For one thing, the demand for tuition is so great that the 5,000 or so Ministry-registered instructors could not possibly cope with it on their own. For another, the very instructors whom the Ministry have rejected as not being good enough are still going on teaching, and the public are apparently persuaded, despite the Ministry's publicity on the advantage of going to a registered instructor, still to go to them. The Ministry registry has set a good standard, but I believe that the time has now come when every driving instructor who gives tuition for a profit should have to satisfy the Ministry of his competence as an instructor and be included on the register. I know that there are other registers—for example, one run by the R.A.C. and another by the Motor Schools' Association. I do not know why the profession itself could not have set up agreed standards for its own observance, but they have not done so and I believe that the time has come for the Ministry to do this.

I do not think that we should go so far as to prohibit all tuition except by professional instructors. This would seem to me an unjustified intrusion into the right of the individual to train privately, if he wishes, bearing in mind the hurdle of the test at the end of the process. But I do believe that the learner driver who pays money for his tuition should get value for money and should get the sort of training which, if he absorbs it, will keep him out of trouble as a driver.

Now for some details of the Bill itself. Clause 1, subsection (1), contains the substantive provision of the whole Bill: that no driving instruction may be given for money unless the instructor is properly registered or licensed by the Ministry of Transport. I will refer to the licence later. Subsection (2) is equally important. This is drawn to prevent the requirement of the Ministry's registration being avoided by, say, a car dealer offering driving instruction as part of the inducement to buy his cars.

I do not propose to describe all the other 21 clauses of the Bill in detail at this stage, but your Lordships may like to note what I consider to be the more important features which stem from the main provisions of Clause 1. An unregistered instructor who gives tuition for payment will be liable on conviction to a maximum fine of £100 or four months' imprisonment, or both. The same penalty will apply to anyone who employs an unregistered instructor to give tuition.

Clause 3 of the Bill provides for the continuation of the existing voluntary Register of Approved Instructors and its maintenance as a compulsory register. I envisage that the system, and qualifications, will be very similar to those used for the present voluntary register under Section 23 of the 1962 Act. But if, as I hope, that register is made compulsory, it will be more appropriate for the procedure and qualifications to be laid down more formally. That is why Clause 3, among other things, lays down the possession of a substantive driving licence for four years as one of the prerequisites of registration. This will stop the growth of these mushroom schools started by people who pass their driving test one day and open a motoring school the next.

I envisage that the written and practical examinations set by the Ministry will continue on much the same basis, and will be of the same standard as at present, but it would be appropriate for the requirements on which the examiners have to be satisfied to be laid down in Regulations, as are the requirements for the driving test itself. This is provided in subsection (1)(a) of Clause 3. Similarly, subsection (2) envisages the continuance of the important follow-up checks which Ministry examiners carry out regularly on instructors who are on the register.

Subsection (6) of Clause 3 provides for registration to last for four yearly periods. There will be no further examination process, unless there is a gap of more than one year between the expiry of one period of registration and the application for re-registration. That is dealt with in subsection (7). Clause 4 deals with renewals of registration, which will depend, among other things, on the Ministry being satisfied as to the instructor's continued competence, as displayed in the course of the check visits which their examiners will carry out.

There will be occasions when, perhaps for some offence or because an instructor's standards of tuition drop, the Ministry will want to remove his name from the register. Clause 5 deals with this, and Clause 7 and Schedule 1 make provision for an appeals machinery to determine appeals made to the Minister. These provisions have been drawn up following consultation with the Council on Tribunals, and I hope they will commend themselves as forming a necessary and sensible safeguard for an instructor who is dissatisfied with a decision to refuse to register him or which removes his name from the register.

There will be a need for new entrants to the driving tuition profession to gain experience before they can expect to meet the standards for registration. This Bill does not deal with the training of new inspectors—that is something which I should expect to see covered under the Industrial Training Act, 1964—but provision is made in Clause 6 for a system of licensing for trainee instructors so that they can get practical experience at the job. But obviously it would be wrong for instructors to be able to go on teaching on the strength of that licence for a considerable period of time. The clause therefore contains power to limit each instructor to two consecutive licences. The duration of each licence is left to be settled in regulations. I would expect the period, initially at least, to be not longer than six months. I think it right that the Minister should have the flexibility which the Bill provides. This will enable her to fix the period after consultation with the interested organisations concerned (I am sure that she would wish to consult these organisations on the Regulations) and to alter the period should experience show this to be necessary.

The other clauses in the Bill deal with appropriate powers for the Minister to make Regulations about matters of detail—I have already mentioned the examination requirements, and other matters are the level of fees for registration, and the information to be given in support of an application—or ancillary matters, such as the issue of badges and certificates, their recovery if registration is withdrawn, penalties for forging a certificate, and the transitional provisions necessary to convert the Ministry's present voluntary register into a compulsory one.

I hope that this Bill will commend itself to your Lordships, and that it will find its way on to the Statute Book. I believe that if we can raise the general standard of driving, tuition in this country we shall make a significant contribution to the cause of road safety. I believe that this Bill will do that by driving out of business the inefficient and inadequate instructors, and I, for one, would have no compunction about that.

Before I sit down, I should like to make one other point. The Bill does not deal with driving schools as such. This is because the unit that we need to control is primarily the instructor. Moreover, in a very large part of the field the instructor and the school are synonymous. I do not believe that, once we have all instructors properly qualified, there would be anything to gain by trying to control driving schools as well.

I hope that I have said sufficient to indicate to your Lordships the scope of the Bill and its aims. I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House will welcome it as a constructive measure for road safety, and I hope that it will receive the speedy passage on to the Statute Book which it deserves. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Lindgren.)