HL Deb 20 June 1967 vol 283 cc1358-66

7.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Popplewell.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD AIREDALE in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Exemption from disqualification and endorsement for offences against construction and use regulations]:

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved, to leave out Clause 7 and insert the following new clause:

Discretion of court not to endorse driving licence in certain circumstances

".The requirement under subsection (1) of section 7 of the 1962 Act that the court shall order the particulars of the conviction of any offence specified in Part I or Part II of Schedule 1 to the 1962 Act, and of any disqualification ordered on such conviction to he endorsed on the driving licence of the convicted person, shall not apply to any offence specified in paragraph 19 of Part 11 of Schedule 1 to the 1962 Act. The Court may order that particulars of the conviction of such an offence shall be endorsed on the driving licence of the convicted person if it thinks fit so to do."

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the new clause which stands in my name on the Marshalled List. I called attention to this point on the Second Reading of the Bill. I recognise that Clause 7 makes some improvement on the law as it stands now under the 1962 Act—let credit be given where credit is due. My Amendment will go a little further in what I think is the right direction.

As the law now stands, the owner of a commercial fleet of vehicles is held vicariously responsible for the roadworthiness of every vehicle in his fleet, and his own personal driving licence is in peril of suspension by the endorsement procedure in the event of a prosecution. This new clause gives the owner a statutory defence. He shall not be liable to be disqualified under Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act if he proves that he did not know, and had no reasonable cause to suspect, that the facts of the case were such that an offence would be committed. This difficulty is awkward to overcome. It means that the fleet owner has to prove a negative, and that is always difficult. It will put him to considerable trouble and expense to do so. I think that normally it would oblige him to attend court. It may be that it is allowable to submit written evidence, but obviously that would weaken his case, and where his personal licence is in danger it would normally be obligatory upon him to attend court in order to make sure that his case was as strongly put as possible.

I would put this question to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom. Is it really in the public interest to twist an employer's arm to this extent and take up his time—it usually takes a full day, travelling to court, and with all the waiting about that is inevitably involved—in order to deal with this kind of danger that besets him? My Amendment would remove the threat of endorsement one stage further away from the fleet owner. The court would still have power within its discretion to order an endorsement following a conviction, but the onus of proving that it was justified would be thrown on the prosecution. Of course, this does not in any way affect the punishment by fine which would follow conviction in the normal way, but it would ensure that a fleet owner is not needlessly put at risk of losing his personal licence and therefore obliged to spend valuable time attending court defending himself. If in special circumstances the court were satisfied that it was a proper penalty, an endorsement could still be ordered.

There is one further point which I think is worth mentioning briefly. On Second Reading I expressed the view that the penalty of endorsing the fleet owner's personal driving licence seemed to me an illogical, if not an improper, penalty. Endorsement, leading by the totting up process to disqualification from holding a driving licence, is normally the punishment for driving offences which cause danger on the road and indicate a lack of personal care in driving which in the public interest should be corrected by a stiff punishment. In most cases of offences of this kind involving fleets of vehicles there would be no such element present with regard to the fleet owner—none at all. Indeed, it would really be as logical to endorse the driving licence of the Minister of Works on account of a breach of regulations by a motor car in the Government car pool as it would be to do this. All cars in the fleet come under the Minister of Works, and a logical application of this Bill would make him responsible, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, with his special responsibility in that Ministry might find his own licence endorsed, too. This is something I should not wish to happen in any circumstances, but I am making my case that this is unfair and illogical to the point of being ridiculous.

The logical case is not to act against the person, the fleet owner, but to act against the vehicle by suspending the vehicle licence for a short period. There is a respectable precedent for this in the 1962 Act, in that a carrier's licence for a goods vehicle can be suspended for breach of the Construction and Use Regulations. Therefore, I would suggest to the noble Lord that if the Government want an additional penalty on top of the fine as in the 1962 Act, this would seem to be the logical course to follow.

I am surprised that Her Majesty's Government have not been more receptive to this since I made the suggestion on Second Reading. Here I should thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in his absence, for the lengthy reply which he gave to the points which I raised, but it indicated no sort of welcome to the improved ideas I was putting forward. However, I am content for now to accept the basis of the existing law, illogical though it is, and to move the new clause on the Marshalled List, which will at least remove the immediate threat to the fleet owner's driving licence, and I hope that the Government will accept it. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Leave out Clause 7 and insert the said new clause.—(Lord Nugent of Guildford.)


I should like to support my noble friend's Amendment. I am not against endorsement as a principle, but the whole point of it seems to be to provide a record for the magistrate of the driving faults of the person before him. It is of no importance to the magistrate to know that on such-and-such a date the person standing before him exceeded the 30 m.p.h. limit by 2 m.p.h., or that he parked in a wrong place, or something of that sort. What he wants to know is whether the man is a dangerous driver, or a careless driver, and what his general standard of driving is. I do not feel that purely minor offences like this deserve a licence endorsement. I have heard of a case of a young man who was driving through a town somewhere in the West of Wales at about 3 o'clock in the morning, when there was nothing else on the road, and he attained a speed of 35 m.p.h. He was fined £5 and his licence was endorsed. While I am not in favour of breaking the law, I feel that this sort of practice makes motoring law, as it stands at present, somewhat absurd.

7.22 p.m.

THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF PUBLIC BUILDING AND WORKS (LORD WINTERBOTTOM) I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, feels that we have moved in some direction to meet an objection to existing legislation which I think both sides of the Committee agree should be altered. The only thing that separates us is the measure by which existing legislation is to be altered, either by our Amendment or by that of the noble Lord. He has said that this is a wider freeing of the rights of the individual in this matter. As a fleet owner, I think it is certainly an uncomfortable feeling to know that at the moment one can receive a series of endorsements to one's licence which can lead to the loss of the right to drive, even though the offences have not been committed by oneself. It is not only because of my present position, to which the noble Lord referred, that I share this view, but also as a farmer with vehicles on the road—and I understand that in that feeling I am not alone in this House.

It is generally agreed that something must be done to amend present legislation, but again, in the philosophy lying behind so much recent legislation on road traffic (one remembers the Road Traffic Bill with which we dealt not long ago) there has been a tendency towards stricter control of suitable penalties, because we are all concerned at the recent death toll that road traffic is taking. It is for this reason that the Government do not feel that they can go as far as the noble Lord would like them to go in his Amendment. The reason is that the type of offence covered by the Amendment is only one of a number specified in the Schedule—and from the point of view of road safety by no means the least serious of them—for which conviction carries with it the additional penalty of licence endorsement and, in consequence, the risk of disqualification. The purpose of the provisions relating to mandatory endorsement and the totting-up procedure is to create a compelling reason for better observation by motorists of their statutory obligations, and to ensure that persistent and serious offenders do not escape adequate punishment because of leniency by the courts.

This question of leniency has been drawn to the attention of your Lordships on numerous occasions. Knowingly to use, or to cause or allow the use of, a vehicle in a condition in which it is a potential danger to all road users, and which might be the cause of a fatal accident, is, in the view of the Government, too serious an offence to admit of any justification for mitigating the present penalties. To do so in the way proposed by the noble Lord would be unwarranted in itself, would create a precedent for other exemptions from the totting-up provisions, and could not fail to weaken the whole structure of the penalty provisions.

We do not feel that we can be too lenient in this matter of the safety of all road users. We must make the owner of ha group of vehicles remember at all times his vicarious responsibility, and use his best endeavours to make certain that the vehicles which he owns, and for which he as an individual is responsible, should be kept in the best possible working condition. It is for this reason that I must, with regret, reject the noble Lord's Amendment, although I am, as I am sure we all are, in sympathy with its aims.


I must thank the noble Lord at any rate for the manner of his rejection even if the matter was so unsatisfactory; and I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Somers for his support. The brief to which the Minister was speaking repeats, of course, the point made in the letter which I received from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd: that any concession of my point that the action should be against the vehicle rather than against the person would in the view of the Ministry create a dangerous precedent. This is, of course, a typical Ministry of Transport reaction. In a large number of cases I should accept that their collective wisdom would justify their sticking their toes in, but here I believe that they have an illogical procedure. I am sure that this point will not stand the test of time. The 1962 Act was wrong in this respect. I do not think it would necessarily be conceding a greater leniency to change the law in this respect. To suspend the licence of a vehicle is quite a serious punishment, and could, indeed, be more serious financially than suspending the driving licence of the fleet owner.

But it is the logic of the matter with which I am concerned. I find something objectionable in proceeding against the personal driving licence of the fleet owner when, as will be the case, he has no control of the condition of the vehicle. I am not criticising the philosophy underlying the endorsement and disqualification procedure, which in my view is a sound procedure for personal driving cases. However, I have made my point. I hope I have made some mark with the Ministry of Transport and that they may think about this in the future. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved, after Clause 7, to insert the following new clause:

Extent of powers under Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act 1952

". It is hereby declared for the avoidance of doubt that—

  1. (a) the power conferred on Her Majesty by section 1 of the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act 1952 (Orders in Council for implementing international agreements about international road traffic) to make provision by Order in Council for modifying any enactment relating to vehicles or the drivers of vehicles includes power to make provision corresponding to any such enactment; and
  2. (b) the reference in subsection (1)(b) of that section to any enactment is a reference to any enactment passed before or after that Act.".

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Shepherd I beg to move Amendment No. 2, and, with the permission of the Committee, I should like at the same time, to speak to Amendment No. 3 because it is consequential on this Amendment. This is quite an interesting point. Its purpose is to remove a doubt about the correct legal interpretation of Section 1 of the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act 1952. Even when this Act was passed some doubt was expressed as to whether it covered any enactment relating to vehicles in existence in 1952, or would cover enactments passed in the years subsequent to 1952.

Apparently this point has not caused any great difficulties so far, but we now have before this House the Criminal Justice Bill, and this may affect the issue. Under the Criminal Justice Bill power is given to a magistrates' court, when committing a person to a higher court for sentence in respect of a disqualifiable road traffic offence, to order the person concerned to be disqualified until his case is heard by the higher court. A certain procedure is laid down about the production of the licence, its endorsement and notification of the particulars of the ordering of the interim disqualification. It will be necessary to adapt this procedure for persons who drive in Great Britain on permits used under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Order 1957, because these permits will not be covered by the procedure laid down by the Criminal Justice Bill when it becomes law.

I suppose the situation foreseen is that a foreign visitor to this country comes in with an international driving licence, gets into some traffic trouble which justifies disqualification, and that it is conceivable that the circumstances covered by the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill will apply. One can foresee the situation in which a foreign visitor might have to leave his vehicle here, and with the result that sundry complications would arise. It is with this difficulty in view that this Amendment has been tabled, so that the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill, when it becomes law, can be applied in these cases. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

After Clause 7, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 3.

Amendment moved— In the Title, line 6, at end insert ("and to remove doubts about the extent of the power to make Orders under the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act 1952").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.


In expressing my thanks to your Lordships for dealing with this Bill, may I say that I sincerely hope that everyone will realise the importance attached to the particular principles involved in the Bill. I think it is a good step forward in accordance with the rules of safety which we are trying to instil, and in our efforts to create a better atmosphere on the roads and reduce the accident record so far as the nation is concerned. All of us are very concerned indeed with the very high toll of the death rate which we experience with the motor car, and we should take every possible step to prevent it. I am sure that this is a very useful Bill, and I am very grateful to your Lordships who have taken part in the Committee stage. Now that my noble friend has returned, I will simply give the Bill my blessing.

House resumed: Bill reported, with Amendments.

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