HL Deb 13 July 1967 vol 284 cc1273-8

3.57 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, to return to the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction) Bill, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, for the explanation which he gave us of the intentions and the methods by which this Bill will operate? The underlying intention of the Bill, to ensure an adequate standard of competence in professional driving instructors, is, I suggest, one which everyone should welcome, and certainly I do. But the method by which the Bill achieves that end is one for which, I am bound to say, I feel no enthusiasm; that is, by means of a compulsory Ministry of Transport register which all must join.

Reluctantly, I suppose at this stage of the proceedings I should advise my noble friends on these Benches to accept it, but I do so with the feeling that Her Majesty's Government have missed an opportunity to put before us a much more attractive scheme. As I am going to refer to the Royal Automobile Club Driving Instructor Scheme, I must now declare my interest in the Royal Automobile Club, as a member of its executive committee. The scheme which I should have liked to see would have provided for the accreditation of the R.A.C. and the Motor Schools' Association, if they could meet the necessary standards, as the Minister's agents for providing training and certification of driving instructors.

The R.A.C. are the pioneer of training and testing of drivers. They started doing this in 1902. The scheme which the R.A.C. operate to-day was started by them over thirty years ago, and there are over 5,000 registered R.A.C. instructors. Their test is a good one. It is stiff, and about 45 per cent. of applicants fail to qualify. The fact is that, in the world of driving instruction, the R.A.C. certification is regarded as the highest you can get. The Motor Schools' Association is, of course, of more recent origin, and, I imagine, a good deal smaller in size, but I do not doubt that the Ministry of Transport has full details of its operation and standards. The R.A.C. certainly, and the Motor Schools' Association, subject to satisfying the Ministry of Transport of their capacity to meet the necessary standard, could continue to carry out training and testing of driving instructors as appointed agents of the Minister. The minimum of supervision by the Ministry would have been necessary, not much addition to Ministry staff would have been needed, and no significant increase in the demand on public funds would have been incurred. All driving instructors would have had to take one of these tests and the subsequent follow-up tests as required.

There is a sound precedent for a scheme of the kind I have described, in that the Royal Automobile Club has been made an agent of the Government for the conduct, registration and supervision of motor rallies on public roads. This has been operating now for the past three or four years, and doing so with every satisfaction to everybody. I had a hand in its origin and I have been delighted to see how efficiently and indeed how cheaply it works in the public interest. The R.A.C. has carried out this difficult function with complete satisfaction to the Ministry of Transport. There, again, is a field in which the R.A.C. has been a pioneer.

Under this Bill the Minister is going to require that all driving instructors must register with the Ministry of Transport, at a fee of £10, compared with the £5 fee now charged by the R.A.C. for their scheme. The Minister will, of course, have to engage additional staff to do this. I understand there will be an extra 25 civil servants to start with, but goodness knows how many there will be in due course! It will cost £100,000 to start with, and no doubt will grow in cost, like other Government Departments, as the years go by. I must say, in comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, and in fairness to the Ministry of Transport, that the voluntary test that now exists is a good one, and as the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, has said, there are about 5,000 on the register. It would be a good one, my Lords, because it was very sensibly copied from the R.A.C.'s scheme, and therefore it works very well.

In principle, my objection is against the Government stepping in to perform a function which is being performed satisfactorily by a private body and could have continued to be so performed in the future by one or more private bodies, though on a compulsory basis. I am one of those who do not subscribe to a common belief to-day that if there is something to be done the right solution is to ask the Government to do it and then everything will be all right. In fact things are by no means improved as a rule, and invariably they become more expensive. Although the Government are making a move in the right direction—and here I must acknowledge that efforts have been made to get agreement on this matter—I regret that the Government have not persevered and made these private bodies their agents for this necessary job. However, with the principle of the Bill I must agree, and therefore I support its Second Reading.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, may I congratulate my noble friend, Lord Lindgren, on his able and informative speech commending this Bill to your Lordships? As your Lordships will already know, Her Majesty's Government welcome it. No Minister of Transport would wish to lose an opportunity to introduce an effective measure aimed at more safety on the roads, provided that the priorities are right and that the demands it makes on resources, whether financial or otherwise, can be met. I have noted the objections made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, to the proposals in this Bill. I hope he will forgive me if I do not join issue with him on the subject now but leave it to the later stage. For better or worse we have some other subjects to discuss to-day, and I will simply deal with some aspects of the Bill.

In his speech, my noble friend has properly called attention to the importance of really good driving tuition for the coming generation of drivers. This is one element of the education of road users; and education is, in turn, one of the "three E's" which successive Ministers of Transport have rightly described as being the key to greater safety on the roads—Education, Engineering and Enforcement. Driving tuition in this country varies widely both in its organisation and in its standards. There are large schools employing a number of instructors at branches throughout the country. There are, at the other extreme, "one man bands". But they all have one thing in common—that under the present system, uniformity in tuition standards is very difficult to attain. The Ministry's examiners, in conducting their driving tests, see the results of the training given to learner drivers every day. There is no doubt that some of it is extremely poor. Why the public should patronise these instructors, I do not know. I can only surmise that they are attracted by specious advertising, offers of cut price tuition or some other gimmick.

My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, have referred to the present Register of Approved Driving Instructors maintained, on a voluntary basis, by my right honourable friend, the Minister of Transport. To build this Register up so that it now contains over 5,000 names in a little over two years represents a good rate of progress and growth. But the fact remains that a large number of instructors have not bothered to put themselves to the test, and of those that have, no less than 45 per cent. have failed to come up to the standards which the Ministry have set as being those which would justify an instructor calling himself a "professional".

I accept the argument that in a matter as important as this—in which not only the technical skills of driving but the inculcation of a proper attitude to driving are vital to future safe driving standards—there ought to be a code of standards and practices applied to and by all professional driving instructors, from the large full-time concern to the individual giving instruction perhaps on a part-time basis. The Bill now before the House takes as its starting point the present Ministry of Transport's Register, and envisages its continuance on a compulsory basis, including the periodic subsequent checks to ensure that tuition standards are maintained. I am sure this is right. The Ministry's Register has, I believe, found favour with the majority of the responsible instructors in this country, and I am told that their organisations also accept the principle that registration should be made compulsory.

I think your Lordships will also agree that it is equally right that private tuition—for example by memers of the family—should be allowed to continue. Some of us may not think it a good idea, domestically or otherwise, for a man to teach his wife to drive; but if he wants to risk it, I do not think we should seek to stop him. Certainly, any prohibition would be very difficult to police and enforce. And we do not want to put obstacles in the way of people who are getting professional tuition going out with other qualified drivers for practice. The combination of good tuition and plenty of practice is the best recipe for success in the process of learning to drive.

On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I welcome the Bill to this House and shall be glad to do what I can to assist its passage. We do not think that the fact that it treats with the instructor but not with the school detracts from it in any way. If we get the standards right for instructors, I am sure that the schools will look after themselves. If they do not, and (as it might be argued) school principals seek to bring undesirable pressures on their employed instructors, then I am sure that the instructors' associations will be able to exert their influence to put matters right. The proposals in the Bill would, of course, call for some expansion in the Ministry's staff to handle the increased size of the Register. I cannot give a firm forecast at this stage, but I should not expect the increase to exceed 20 to 25 or so. The extra staff will need to be trained, and there will need to be a reasonable "take-on" period, but, as noble Lords will discover, the Bill contains suitable transitional provisions. I therefore commend this Bill to your Lordships and join my noble friend Lord Lindgren in hoping that your Lordships will accord this worthwhile measure a speedy passage into law.


My Lords, the House has a very heavy agenda of business to-day, and I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will not take it amiss if I do not to-day deal in detail with the points he raised. The Committee stage of this Bill is to be to-morrow week, and I give an undertaking that if any points are raised either by Amendment or on the Question, That the clause stand part, I shall be happy to deal with them. There are, of course, answers. As a matter of accuracy—here I must declare an interest; I am chairman of the Motor Rallies Advisory Committee—I must tell the noble Lord that the motor rallies scheme, as far as the R.A.C. is concerned, is very heavily in deficit. That deficit is having to be met by the Government, and we are now in process of revising the cost of the scheme.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.