HL Deb 20 March 1969 vol 300 cc1029-69

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Provisions supplementary to s. l.]:

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 21, at end insert— ("() No order made under this section shall operate so as to enable the transfer to the Minister for more than five years from the transfer date of any premises held by the authority for the performance of any relevant functions which form part of premises held for the performance of any other of their functions.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1 which stands in my name on the Order Paper. This Amendment arises out of the anxiety which is felt by some local authorities in connection with this Part of the Bill. The pur- pose of the Amendment is to limit the period for which the Minister of Transport can take over local authority premises for the purposes of vehicle licensing functions. The Bill provides a transition period of five years during which the Minister will be establishing and equipping the new national headquarter office and computer at Swansea. At the end of the transition period all licences will be issued from Swansea, based on the computer operation. Local authorities have agreed to make available their existing vehicle licensing buildings and staffs to act as agencies for the Minister during the transition period. They recognise that the use of their premises during the transition is of course essential to the Minister.

This Amendment seeks only to ensure that at the end of the transition period the Minister will then release these premises so that local authorities may recover their use for general administrative purposes. In many cases the buildings concerned are adjacent to, or even part of, the main administrative building of the county authorities or county borough authorities, and they are therefore of some importance to the local authorities concerned. I feel sure that it will be the general intention of the Minister to do just this, but my Amendment is put down in the ho3e that the Government will accept it so that it will be in the Bill and the Minister therefore will give up these premises at the end of the transition period. I beg to move.


I very much hope that the Government will see their way to accepting this Amendment or something very like it. This is a matter, as my noble friend said, upon which the local authorities feel a certain sense of uncertainty. Local authorities have devoted a good deal of space in their premises in all parts of the country to this work of licensing which calls for a good deal of accommodation, and accommodation in a central and public place. It is quite common for a local authority to devote part of the town hall to the work of licensing. Here, in London, the Greater London Council have devoted, I think, the whole or greater part of the basement and semi-basement at County Hall to the work of licensing. They are quite ready to do this so long as the accommodation is required, and provided that at some reasonable time they can be sure of getting the accommodation back again.

As my noble friend has said, the Bill will enable the local authorities to continue to occupy the premises now being used for licensing for a period, and after that there is power for the Minister to continue the occupation. So far as the continued occupation is concerned, the local authorities are apprehensive. They would be seriously handicapped if important accommodation and central buildings were taken from them for an indefinite period; and I hone that the Minister will give some assurance that the Amendment, or something like the Amendment, will be included in the Bill.

I believe that the Minister has been willing to give an assurance about this matter, but really this is a case where something ought to go in the Bill and we ought not to rest solely upon an assurance. Of course the Minister will carry out his assurance if somebody remembers at the appropriate time that an assurance was given. But Acts of Parliament are being hung round with assurances given by Ministers to avoid putting an Amendment into a Bill when an Amendment really ought to be put in the Bill. I would submit very strongly that this is a case where an Amendment ought to go into the Bill. There ought to be no uncertainty about it. It ought to be quite clear that at the end of the period of five years the local authority should have their accommodation back.


I foresaw when this Amendment was put down that in fact it had been prompted both by the G.L.C. and by local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, with his experience of local authority needs and wishes has expressed their disquiet I think very clearly and cogently. But this problem has already been faced by the Government. I want to stress—and it has been stressed to both the G.L.C. and the local authorities who have approached the Minister—that Clause 2(1) is a reserve power for use in the last resort to cater for the remote possibility of the Minister's being unable, at the last minute, to obtain accommodation to exercise his functions. In the public interest he will have no option, if the licensing service is to be maintained, but to take over the local authority premises for these purposes. But, of course, he would do this for only so long as it took the Ministry to get its own accommodation, if that were the wish of the local authority concerned. For instance, a local authority might not wish, for some reason, to enter into agreement with the Minister to act fully as his agent. It is hoped, nevertheless, that the local authority would agree to make their premises available. But if they refused to do so an order would, if necessary, have to be made under Clause 2(1) transferring the premises to the Minister.

I think your Lordships will agree that in a tremendously complex operation such as this is the obstructionism of one or two local authorities should hardly be permitted to wreck the scheme. I can only repeat to your Lordship, an assurance given by my right honourable friend in another place, that the Ministry will always endeavour to obtain its own accommodation, and that if it should, unexpectedly, be necessary to use local authority premises the duration will be kept to a minimum if that is the wish of the local authority concerned. That is a firm undertaking given by my right honourable friend. But if this assurance were to be expressed in legal terms—this is the important point which I should like to put to your Lordships—the five-year period from the transfer date proposed in the Amendment would not be long enough to cater for all the possibilities.

As already described, one of the remote circumstances in which the Clause 2(1) powers might be needed could be shortly before the stage at which the agency agreements with local authorities are planned to be terminated. The date of termination is expected to be at the beginning of 1975 so, to be on the safe side, the period would have to be at least seven years, and probably 10. The time mentioned in the Amendment is insufficient. But including in the Bill a specific period during which the powers of Clause 2(1) may be used could give a misleading impression that it is expected that the powers will be used, when in fact it is most unlikely that they will be. However, the interest in this matter expressed in another place and in your Lordships' House will, I am certain, ensure that the Minister of Transport of the day will not abuse the powers given to him under this particular clause.


I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for his reply, but I have to confess to being not entirely satisfied with it. The first answer that he gave us—the first ground for refusing this Amendment—was the ground given in the other place. It seems to me that the right point was not being taken, because the local authorities are agreeable to the five-year transition period—or a period of six years, if the noble Lord likes—but what they want is to make sure that at the end of the transition period the premises go back to the local authorities. I should have thought that this is a very reasonable request, and indeed the noble Lord concedes that this is the Minister's intention. All we are asking for is certainty. If five years is too short a period, I am quite happy to settle for seven. But the local authorities do want certainty here. I should have thought that the noble Lord and his right honourable friend had an obligation, with the local authorities playing such a very important part in this connection, to give them the certainty that they are asking for.

I do not think that this is something that I should press to a Division to-day. I feel that this is something we should have further talk about, perhaps before the Report stage, because I hope that the noble Lord might be willing to meet us in finding a formula on this point. Certainly we must ensure that the Minister has full powers in the transition period—of course he must have these premises where he can cover his needs during the transition period—and I hope that in 100 per cent. of cases local authorities will act as his agents; but at the end of the period I think it is equally reasonable to expect that the Minister will let the local authorities have their premises back again; and five years may be too short a time. We can make it seven years, but may I ask the noble Lord if he will be willing to have conversations with us in the interval between now and the next stage of the Bill to see whether we can devise a formula which will relieve the reasonable anxieties of local authorities and still preserve the position which the Minister wishes to keep?


Since noble Lords opposite have felt it neces- sary for me to repeat the assurances given by my right honourable friend in another place this is obviously a matter of concern. I have noted what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has said about being unwilling to press his Amendment to-day but reserving his rights for Report stage. I believe I can say that if the term of seven years would satisfy the noble Lord, this is a proposal that might receive sympathetic consideration. So perhaps I may convey his views to my right honourable friend to see whether we can produce something which will satisfy both sides.


I thank the noble Lord for being so accommodating. I have not put this to the local authority organisations—the C.C.A. and the A.M.C.—but I would certainly advise them to accept it. The practical necessities of the position are well understood, and in those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.52 p.m.

THE EARL OF ONSLOW moved Amendment No. 2: Page 3, line 32, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2. I raised this point on Second Reading and I have put down this Amendment, first, because the subject has not been properly discussed in either place during the passage of this Bill; and, secondly and more importantly, because in some cases the residents of the Isles of Scilly have never paid any road fund licence. Some of the growers in a very small way of business and who own a van would be put to great hardship and disadvantage by having to pay the sum of £25 when they are working on an extremely small margin. A couple of bad flower seasons might mean that a man would have to give up his livelihood, and I feel that this position should receive more sympathetic consideration than it has done so far. In another place this subsection was not in the existing Bill. It was "popped in" at the Committee stage, and the honourable Member who represents these Islands had no chance to plead their cause.

I raised this matter on Second Reading in your Lordships' House, and I am sorry to say that the Minister in charge of the Bill treated it in a most cavalier and almost rude way. In his speech he at first ignored the point that I had raised—although in fact very few points were raised in the debate—and when I pressed him for an answer at the end of his speech he brushed it off by saying, "We cannot make exceptions for a group of islands". That is nonsense, because from the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands in the South, up to the Shetlands and the Orkneys, and including places like Lundy Island, special arrangements are always made to suit their special conditions. Indeed, on a larger scale this applies to the United Kingdom as a whole, because Scotland, Wales and Ireland have special arrangements made for them. So in fact it is rather stupid and unfair to treat the Islanders in this way. They are intelligent, hard-working and a gallant people. Their record in life saving cannot be beaten by any other place. In fairness to these Islanders I ask the Government to look at this again in order to see whether something can be done for them.

I understand that a vehicle is not liable for a licence fee if it runs for less than six miles on a public road. In fact it is questionable how many of these roads are public, but that being so the figure of £4,000 that the Treasury will receive will be reduced, and indeed reduced still further by the expenses of collecting the road fund licence. I ask the Minister to look at this again in all fairness to these hardworking Islanders. I beg to move.


I should like to have the pleasure of supporting the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, in his moving plea. I, too, have been a guest of these most delectable Islands and I know that they are in an altogether exceptional position. I believe they have only nine miles of roads in total, and therefore the Islanders are paying a high rate for a comparatively small place. I feel that this is a case where something should be done to help these Islanders who are handicapped in so many ways, and not least by the continual difficulty they experience in times of storm.


In the first place I wish to apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, if he felt that I did not treat the point he made in the Second Reading debate with the thoroughness that he felt it deserved. I regret to say that it slipped my mind completely. Un- fortunately, my mistake does not cause the Government to change their minds on the subject. We must realise that for the first time we are proposing a new national system to deal with vehicle licensing, and because of the peculiar historical accident that until now has freed the Scilly Islands from vehicle excise duty, there is no reason why this should be allowed to perpetuate itself. It is true that we can argue, as the noble Earl has done, that costs are higher in these off-shore Islands, and that they have the high cost of reaching the metropolitan market. But although one has great sympathy with the wishes of the Islanders, I am afraid it is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to meet them.

The argument put forward by the noble Earl about the status of public roads in the Islands is an interesting one. As he pointed out, vehicle excise duty is chargeable only if vehicles are kept or used on public roads. I think he will not dispute the fact that there are some public roads in the islands, in Hugh Town. The status of the roads owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, which forms a large proportion of the island roads, is at present under discussion.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, that is the point I was making. A vast number of these vehicles that will be liable for licence will not come into Hugh Town. In Hugh Town there are a few odd cars belonging to shopkeepers and other people. Two or three people will be subject to licence and the vast majority of the islanders will get away with it. It seems that we are getting into one muddle after another over this very knotty problem.


We are trying to create a national system, and if we make one exemption there is no doubt that other people will come along and ask for exemption on exactly the same grounds—the Outer Hebrides and so on. So we believe, as my right honourable friend said in another place, that we have to have a national central licensing organisation, and if this Amendment (or a similar one) were accepted we would have to say that there is something so unique about the Isles of Scilly that they and they alone would have to be excluded. I see no way of doing this unless we begin to consider the other off-shore islands and not only being able to exclude them but being forced to choose between them. It is for this reason that we are unwilling to give the Isles of Scilly special exemption in this Bill.


May I ask the noble Lord about the other islands round our shores, the really small ones, Sark, Benbecula, Lundy, Coll, and so on. They presumably do have a mile or so of road. Is the vehicle licence levied in all these islands?


I should imagine if that mile of road is a public road they would be levied for licence. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord and confirm that.


I think we ought to have the answer before we consider this Amendment. I have no doubt that the noble Lord could get the answer in a minute or two. It is a matter of some importance. If there are other islands which do not pay this tax, I have no doubt that we shall be quite justified in voting for the noble Earl's Amendment. On the other hand, if the Scilly Isles are completely unique, I must say I would find it difficult to support him, much as I sympathise with the unfortunate islanders who seem liable to be mulcted in excess of anything that has ever been levied before. They have one or two other misfortunes which come upon them each year, and I would not wish to add this one.


May I ask for further information arising out of what the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh said? I take it that there are nine miles of metal road in the Islands—there is more than one island. Is there any one island on which there are vehicles on which there is no metal road; and if there are any motor vehicles on that island would they have to pay this tax?


As the noble Lord suggested, advice is not far away, but I cannot see that it produces clarity. It is rather like the theory of relativity because the element of time is introduced into the equation. The position is that farmers using public roads to get from one part of a farm to another are exempt if they do not travel more than six miles a week on public roads. So if they went up and down one mile of road six times in a week they would be liable to tax. Otherwise everyone must pay duty however small a length of public road he uses. I do not know whether that helps noble Lords, but that is the situation.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Issue etc. of temporary licences by motor dealers.]:

On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?


May I take this opportunity of thanking the noble Lord for the answer he has sent to me in reply to a point raised during Second Reading? However, additionally, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom is in a position to answer a further point in connection with Clause 6(3)(c)(ii), which deals with the regulations that may be made to ensure that certain requirements as to test certificates and insurance are complied with by the motor dealer before he issues a temporary licence.

It occurs to me that the temporary licence is issued purely as a temporary measure, pending satisfaction of the licensing authority as to the correctness of the application. As the subsection is written, it would appear that the motor dealer will have this responsibility placed upon him. Therefore, I should like to know, first, whether the motor dealer will be required to accept this responsibility, and, secondly, whether, in the event of his failing to discharge the responsibility correctly, he will have caused an offence. Further, the facility is being provided for what one might call cut-of-hours business; that is to say, that where a motor vehicle, new or used, is sold late in the evening or on Saturday or on Sunday, where that is permissible, the motor car can immediately he upon the road with a road fund licence. In many instances the motor dealer's principals—for example, the secretary of the company or a director, or an authorised signatory—may not be upon the premises at the time of sale so that this kind of responsibility may devolve upon somebody in a rather junior capacity. I think perhaps it may be helpful to know exactly how this subsection will be interpreted.


The situation under subsection (3)(c)(ii) is that the dealer will be required to check, if the vehicle is subject to the testing regulations, the current test certificate which is required to support a licence application. He will also be required to check that the licence applicant has the necessary minimum third-party liability insurance. The test certificate, where appropriate, and the insurance certificate will have to be forwarded to the local office with the other documents; that is to say, the dealer forwards the documentation to the local office to confirm and finalise the licence for the vehicle he has sold. I understand that we shall require the dealer to send the certificate to the central office for checking before the full licence is issued. If the dealer does not check properly he will be committing an offence. I presume that this applies also to his agent. If the proprietor is absent and a junior member of his staff is on duty, I presume that the owner is responsible in law for his agent's actions. But since this is a matter of law, I should be grateful if the noble Lord would permit me to write to him to give a precise definition in this matter.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Surrender of licences]:

4.10 p.m.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 3: Page 9, line 7, leave out ("of duty") and insert ("by reference to which duty was").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this Amendment. Before I launch away to inform your Lordships about it and other Amendments standing in my name, I wish to assure the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, that I shall keep my remarks as brief as possible. My Amendments are not of the same weight and substance as those of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent; they are mainly Amendments to drafting. So, if the Committee will for- give me, and if those who record our discussions will also forgive me, I shall go swiftly through them, dwelling only on those which have some matter in them.


I thank the noble Lord. My great anxiety is that I have booked a sleeper at 10.50 to-night from Euston.


The purpose of this Amendment is to put beyond doubt the intention that rebates of duty paid on surrendered vehicle licences should be calculated on the basis of the annual rate of duty appropriate to the vehicle at the time the licence was taken out, and not, in the case of four-monthly licences, the four-monthly rate. This is the current practice under Section 9(2)(b) of the Vehicles (Excise) Act 1962. I hope your Lordships will agree to this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

4.12 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 8, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


May I raise a small point on subsection (3) which appears at page 9, line 16? In connection with the value of the surrender of licences fractions of a penny are to be disregarded. It is a small point, but which way is the fraction to be disregarded? And are we talking about the current penny or the new penny? Obviously, this can make a considerable amount of difference to a used-car dealer with a high turnover in motor vehicles, where the practice is to surrender the licence pending reconditioning, and so on, of a motor vehicle. The amount of money in such terms is not large, but in aggregate it could be quite considerable.


Again, this is a complex legal point. I should imagine that the word "penny" means the value of a penny at the time when the sale takes place. But, again, I will write to the noble Lord and give him the true meaning of the interpretation, whether "penny" means a current penny or a new penny later. I find I am correct; it is in the terms of current pennies. Fractions are ignored and are rounded down.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 4: After Clause 8 insert the following new clause:

Duty on vehicles placed on roads .For the purposes of sections 4 and 7 of the Act of 1962 and of any other provision of that Act and any subsequent enactment relating to the keeping of mechanically propelled vehicles on public roads (including such an enactment contained in this Act and in particular section 10(3) of this Act), a person keeps such a vehicle on a public road if he causes it to be on such a road for any period, however short, when it is not in use there.

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this new clause is to define the phrase "keeping a vehicle on a public road" in the Vehicles (Excise) Act 1962 and subsequent enactments with the result that duty is chargeable on a vehicle when it is kept on a public road for any period, however short. Under Section 1 of the 1962 Act, duty is chargeable on a mechanically propelled vehicle used on a public road, and under Section 4 it is also chargeable on a vehicle kept on a public road. Section 7 makes either unlicensed use or unlicensed keeping of a mechanically propelled vehicle on a public road an offence.

The difficulty with the word "keeping" is that it implies keeping for an unspecified period of lime, and this was made explicit by a ruling in the course of a Divisional Court hearing in 1962 of an appeal against conviction for the unlicensed keeping of a vehicle. It is becoming difficult to bring prosecutions and will increasingly become so if the Amendment is not agreed to. Since the Divisional Court hearing it will become necessary for an enforcement officer to keep a parked vehicle under surveillance for a continuous period, of unspecified length, in order to establish the duration element implied in unlicensed "keeping". The Amendment, by operating on the word "keeping", makes it clear that the mere presence of an unlicensed vehicle on a public road is sufficient to enable an offence of "unlicensed keeping" to be pursued. That is to say, the mere presence of an unlicensed vehicle on any road is "keeping". This situation has arisen entirely because of the interpretation of "keeping" in this context. The use of "keeping" in this Bill to denote overall responsibility for the vehicle (for example, continuous liability bites on the person who "keeps" the vehicle—Clause 10(1) to which we shall come later) is a further complication. Although the interpretation of "keeping" in the duration context has been amended, the interpretation in the "responsibility" sense of course remains unchanged. I hope I have made this clear. The Amendment has been requested by the Greater London Council and by local authorities.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clauses 9 and 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Provisions supplementary to Section 10]:

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7:

Page 12, line 34, leave out ("earlier") and insert ("first-mentioned")

Page 12, line 39, leave out ("earlier") and insert ("first-mentioned")

Page 12, line 41, leave out ("earlier") and insert ("first-mentioned")

The noble Lord said: With the permission of the Committee, I should like to move Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7, together. These are all drafting Amendments to subsection (2) of Clause 11, which all achieve the same end. They ensure that the intended reference to the subsection is to a notice of non-mechanical propulsion, and net to a subsequent revocation of that notice. Clause 1112) requires a notice to be given revoking a notification of non-mechanical propulsion when a vehicle becomes mechanically propelled, and both notices of non-mechanical propulsion and notices revoking these notifications are mentioned there. Three references are made in the subsection to "the earlier notice", meaning the original notification of non-mechanical propulsion. But such a phrase is not appropriate if a later revocation has not been given, as there cannot then be an "earlier" one. The phrasing is therefore altered by the Amendments so that the "first-mentioned notice" correctly and unambiguously refers to the original notice of non-mechanical propulsion.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 8: Page 13, line 16, after ("period") insert ("or at any time")

The noble Lord said: This Amendment rectifies a minor omission. Under Clause 11(3) the Minister may make regulations including provision, under paragraph (e), for a "deeming" notice to have been given under the provisions of Clause 11(2)(b) revoking a notice of "non-mechanical propulsion". Paragraph (e) of Clause 11(3) provides that such a notice is deemed to have been given "in respect of any period". But this is inappropriate as such a notice can only have effect at a point in time. The Amendment accordingly provides that notice is to be deemed to have been given "at any time". I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

4.20 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 13, line 28, at end insert— ("()A person who is aggrieved by any decision of the Minister that he is liable by virtue of subsection (1) of this section to pay duty under the Act of 1962 in respect of a vehicle may, after giving to the Minister notice of his intention to do so, appeal to a magistrates' court acting for the petty sessions area in which he resides or, if he resides in Scotland, to the sheriff within whose jurisdiction he resides; and on any such appeal the court or sheriff may make such order as it or he thinks fit and the order shall be binding on the Minister.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 9 in my name on the Order Paper. This is an Amendment of some importance which, for technical reasons, was not moved in another place. The background to it is that these two clauses, Nos. 10 and 11, as the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, knows, are the two most important clauses in the Bill, in that they introduce the new principle of continuous liability for the licensing of vehicles. This means that in future the owner of a vehicle will be continuously responsible for payment of the excise duty on the vehicle, unless he has notified the Minister that the vehicle has been laid up. This is a big change from the present position, where a vehicle owner now becomes liable to pay excise duty on the vehicle only when he puts the vehicle on a public road. There is no obligation to inform the licensing authority if he intends to lay it up. I do not myself join in the opposition to this change, and I accept it in the interests of checking the present widespread evasion.

My Amendment is designed only to provide what I think is a reasonable safeguard for over 10 million vehicle owners who will have to adjust themselves to this very big change. The obvious points of difficulty with this new arrangement will be, first of all, the non-receipt by the vehicle owner of the notice of renewal from the Ministry of Transport when he is due to renew his licence, and, secondly, the non-receipt by the Ministry of Transport of notice of intention to lay up the vehicle from the vehicle owner when the vehicle owner has in fact sent a notice and it has not been received.

It is only necessary to consider for one moment the infinite variety of circumstances in which 10 million vehicle owners may behave to recognise that inevitably there will be a number of cases of dispute. For example, when the notice from the Ministry arrives advising that payment is due, the vehicle owner may be away on holiday; he may be abroad on business for several weeks; he may have changed his address and not told anybody. Alternatively, a vehicle owner may have sent back a notice of intention to lay up the vehicle, and it may have been lost in the post, as occasionally they are, or mislaid on arrival—strange mistakes do happen in Government Departments. I had an instance of one the other day. A collector of taxes wrote to my old friend Sir Ernest Gowers, and the letter arrived six months after he had died in August, 1967. The letter was addressed to Sir Ernest Gowers, G.C.B., G.B.E., deceased, and reads as follows: There appears to have been no response to the previous demand for payment. You are now requested to make immediate payment of any sum which is due. And so the letter ran on. I am sure my old friend Sir Ernest Gowers would not have complained about the words "not been paid", but he might have said they were on the wrong target.

The fact is that mistakes will be made with this enormous volume of requests. One has to think not only of the annual renewal of licences but the immense number of licences which are taken out just for the summer period, for one quarter, and the cars are then laid up for the winter. So one can see that there will inevitably be a number of cases of dispute. The Bill has tried to meet this situation. In Clause 11(3)(e), it has given the Minister some powers of discretion to deal with hard cases, and I do not doubt that the regulations which the Minister will make under that clause will set out the circumstances in which he will use his discretion. So far so good, but inevitably there will be cases where there is a conflict of evidence between the vehicle owner on the one hand, who maintains that he has sent a notice in, or that he has some special circumstances, and the Minister on the other, who maintains that he has not. My Amendment will provide that there will be an appeal to the magistrates' court so that there is an independent tribunal which will judge the merits of the case, as magistrates' courts continually do where there is a conflict of evidence.

I would only add that if the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, says that he fears there might be such a large number of appeals that it would swamp the courts, I do not think so myself. I think there would not be very many appeals; in most cases the Minister, with his discretion, would be able to sort it out; and I am certain that where his discretion has not satisfied the vehicle owner in a case of dispute it undoubtedly will be referred to the local Member of Parliament. It will then presumably find its way to the Ombudsman, who will be asked to make an administrative inquiry to try to sort it out. But I should think that the magistrates' court would be the better solution. If it is decided there it will be done in the open. Justice will not only be clone, but will be seen to be done. I believe this Amendment would be an improvement to the Bill, and I beg to move.


The case for continuous liability, to which my noble friend Lord Nugent has given, I think qualified acceptance as a principle, is strengthened, we all know, by the rising volume of convictions for evasion of duty. When a continuous liability begins, the computer is presumably going automatically to inform the police. Whether they will be able to cope with it is another matter which doubtless the Government and the police have fully discussed. The point of this Amendment is that genuine grounds for appeal to a magistrates' court may arise from time to time. My noble friend Lord Nugent referred earlier on in his remarks to cases where things may go wrong in the post, either in the post from the applicant to the computer or perhaps more particularly the other way round. I have a feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, may point out that so far as applicants' receiving reminders is concerned, there will be, I think, about five different reminders which will come along to somebody who ought to have a licence.

But suppose, for instance, a man has already departed abroad on business for two months before any of those five communications arrive. A fortnight after he goes his vehicle licence expires and then the reminders come. On return, that man will certainly be liable; but if he can prove, without question, that during his absence the car was not on a public road, here is surely a clear example where mitigating circumstances might well alleviate the matter for him the magistrates' court. I should like to make a very brief reference to a matter to which my noble friend Lord Nugent did not directly refer; that is, to cases involving vehicles not mechanically propelled. In the event of a car crash, with the driver killed, who is liable under the Bill for the continuous liability? Are the executors? How can they inform the computer that the car is no longer mechanically propelled under Clause 10, subsection (2)(c), when all the documents are destroyed?

To take the point one step further, suppose that there is in a farm barn a rusty old car which has properly been notified to the computer as being no longer mechanically propelled. If the owner dies, or the farm is sold, the executors or the new farm owner will, under the Bill, Clause 11(2)(b), immediately become liable for duty for what will now become a once more mechanically propelled vehicle. One can imagine many cases, for instance, when an extremely large farm is bought and when, quite unwittingly, the new purchaser may be running himself in for continuous liability without having any idea what he is doing. Those who, through ignorance or carelessness, fail to deal with a tax assessement can, I think, appeal to the General Commissioners. This Bill, under Clause 14, will give right of appeal to a magistrates' court against refusal or revocation of a driving licence. It would not, I think, undermine the principle of continuous liability if similar appeals were to be allowed for road fund licensing by accepting this Amendment.


Her Majesty's Government are as well aware of human foibles as are Her Majesty's Opposition. We are all human beings, and we in the Government know that from time to time we leave undone things that we ought to have done. Awareness of the increased demands of the new system will grow as people get used to it. I give your Lordships an assurance that the Minister's powers under Clause 11(3)(e) will be liberally used, in particular during the transition period, to let people off where there is a special and genuine reason for not being able to give a notification of non-use. He will be particularly liberal in the early days after the introduction of continuous liability. His powers to deem that the correct procedure had been followed will be used in cases of forgetfulness, and will also, I am sure, be used in cases of executors, new owners of farm property, and people who unwittingly find themselves in the possession of an immobilised motor car on their property, or a vehicle which has come into their responsibility as a result of an accident. Therefore, I feel that the examples which were given by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, would be completely covered by the powers of the Minister to "deem", and thus free the individual from liability.

May I comment upon the bid by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, for a right of appeal to the magistrates' court? We believe that the noble Lord's Amendment is unnecessary, since the right of appeal which it would provide is already, in effect, in the Bill. If a person, in the Minister's opinion, owes duty and has not used or kept an unlicensed vehicle on the public road, the Minister may seek to recover the duty owned in one of two ways. First, the Minister will be able to sue for the recovery of duty as a civil debt, and the person concerned will have an opportunity in those civil proceedings to argue before the county court registrar (or, in Scotland, the sheriff) that all or some of the duty claimed is not owed. Secondly, the Minister may deduct duty owing from the sum submitted with a subsequent application for a vehicle licence and direct that a licence be issued of a shorter duration than that applied for, though for not less than 30 days. In these circumstances, Clause 23 of the Bill already provides a right of appeal to a county court or, in Scotland, the sheriff for any person who considers that he has been wrongfully issued with a licence of shortened duration on the grounds that the Minister was not authorised to give a direction to issue that licence. The Bill envisages that a county court (or, in Scotland, the sheriff) will determine whether a duty is owed. This is a preferable tribunal to a magistrates' court because we believe that the issue is a civil one and not a criminal matter. For this reason we hope that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, will accept that, both during the period of transition, when we are rather confused by the new provisions, and in the long term, there are in the Bill as it stands sufficient safeguards of the individual's rights. I hope that he will agree to withdraw Amendment No. 9.


I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, for his reply. I am not altogether happy that the right of appeal in Clause 23 meets my point. I am concerned with whether the vehicle owner has a reasonable case in regard to failure to renew his licence. He may contend that he sent in a notice to the Minister and that for some reason it did not arrive. It appears to me that Clause 23 gives a right of appeal only where the vehicle owner wishes to appeal against the Minister's decision to assess the vehicle owner for a certain period of licence. However, since this is a new point to my noble friends and myself, and since we feel that we ought to try to improve the Bill, we shall look at the matter again before Report stage and see whether the Minister's suggestion holds water. If we are not satisfied, we shall be able to come back to this matter at the next stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.36 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 13, line 28, at end insert— ("() The period in respect of which the keeper of a vehicle may be held liable to pay duty following the end of a period in respect of which duty has been paid shall not exceed 4 months.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 10. This is a simple point. The effect of the Amendment would be to limit the total amount which the Minister of Transport can claim where the vehicle owner has defaulted in that he has failed to give proper notice of non-use, so that the vehicle owner will be protected against possible administrative delays in the Ministry of Transport before action is taken against the defaulter. There might be a delay of some months during which time liability would build up, at the end of which the vehicle owner would face a considerable bill. The Amendment would have the effect of limiting the period to four months, which would seem to be sufficient time in which the Ministry to act and would be a sufficient penalty for the vehicle owner to have to meet. I beg to move.


I see the noble Lord's point, and there is no doubt that the risk exists. We have seen in the Press reports of gas accounts presented by computer running over a period of twelve months and causing severe hardship to the individual who has to meet an unexpectedly high bill. Such a situation could arise. The individual has the responsibility of informing the central office of any change of address, and he commits an offence if he does not do so. A situation could arise where an individual goes away with his motor car and does not inform the central office of his change of address or change of intention. Although the noble Lord's proposals are good in intention, we believe that they would curtail the intended effect of continuous liability. We lay great weight on this principle.

After the expiry of the four months' period, as proposed in the Amendment, the Minister would have no means of knowing whether or not the vehicle was in use on the roads if a notice of non-use non-mechanical propulsion had not been given. It is important for the keeper of the vehicle to have an incentive to regularise the position of his vehicle at all times—and not just within the first four months after the expiry of the last licence. It is a form of discipline—it may be tedious, but that is its intention. I repeat the assurance that I gave earlier. In order to go as far as possible to meet cases of genuine hardship, the Minister will use his powers in Clause 11(3)(e) to deem that the individual has not committed an offence, but has suffered one of the hazards of life and has thus omitted to give proper notice.

The powers which this Bill gives to the Minister will not be stupidly or rigorously used, but we believe that the system which we are introducing will be efficient. Provided that the individual lets the central office know of any change of address, he will get many more warnings than at present. He will be told that his vehicle licence is becoming due, that it is now due for payment, and that it is overdue. So the chance of his overlooking this involuntarily is rather remote. The principle of continuous liability is so important for the efficient running of the scheme, that we should be very loth to permit a loophole such as the noble Lord has suggested.


I thank the noble Lord and I recognise the force of his argument, but there is no doubt that there will be hard cases under this system. I accept that this system will give no less than five separate warnings and that it is very well conceived, but if the owner of a vehicle has changed his address and has forgotten to let anybody know he will not receive any of those warnings So his liability to pay tax when eventually the situation catches up with him may be very big indeed, although the vehicle may have been laid up all the time.

The last thing I wish to do is to weaken the value of the Bill to cope with the evasion which is now so serious But I urge upon the noble Lord that the Minister's discretion is going to be very heavily stretched to meet all the hard cases that will arise, and I should have thought that some limitation might have been put in here without tying the Minister's hands too much. I do not want to press this point, neither do I want to weaken the general principle, but with all the vagaries of human nature there will be many hard cases and I hoped there might be a little more flexibility. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 [Alteration of provisions as to physical fitness of drivers]:


With the agreement of the Committee, may I move Amendments Nos. 11 and 12, together. Amendment No. 11 is a clarifying Amendment. The importance of a "relevant test" is that if a person who has a disability has passed a relevant test the licensing authority is not entitled to refuse the grant of a driving licence on the grounds of his disability, unless the disability has got worse or the disability was not declared at the time of the test. The purpose of the change is to bring out more clearly that a "relevant test" in relation to the application for a driving licence may be a current prescribed driving test or a "sufficient" test as defined in Section 99(5) of the Road Traffic Act. The actual test of competence which the applicant for the driving licence took may not be the correct prescribed test by reason of subsequent changes in the regulations, but if it was the current prescribed test at the time it was taken this will make it a "sufficient" test. Amendment No. 12 is a drafting Amendment. Its purpose is to make clear that the test referred to may be a test of competence or a sufficient test. I beg to move.

Amendments moved—

Page 15, line 30, leave out from ("means") to second ("of") in line 31 and insert ("any such test of competence as is mentioned in section 99(1)(a)")

Page 15,line 34, after ("test") insert ("authorising the grant of a licence").—(Lord W interbottom.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 13 [Alteration of provisions as to grant and duration etc. of licences]:

4.45 p.m.


With the permission of the House, I should like to move Amendments Nos. 13 and 14, which are drafting Amendments, together. For the sake of consistency the references should be to the "authority" rather than to the "Minister". Before the transfer date "the authority" will refer to local authorities who exercise driving licence functions on behalf of the Minister. After that date the expression will refer to the Minister. This becomes clear from Schedule 1, paragraph 1. In fact, however, the power envisaged by the new Section 101(1)(b) will not be used until after the transfer date. I beg to move.

Amendments moved—

Page 16, line 10, leave out ("Minister") and insert ("authority")

Page 16, line 12, leave out ("Minister") insert and ("authority").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 15: Page 16, line 14, leave out ("issued") and insert ("granted").

The noble Lord said: With this Amendment I should like to discuss Amendments Nos. 19, 21, 22, 23 and 24. These are simply drafting Amendments to secure uniformity in the use of the word "granted", which is the expression used in Part II of the Road Traffic Act 1960. I beg to move Amendment No. 15.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 16.

Amendment moved—

Page 17, line 42, leave out from beginning to ("a") in line 43.—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


With the permission of the Committee I should like to move Amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 20 together. All are drafting Amendments, but the key Amendment is No. 20. The words it is proposed to delete from the new Section 102(4) by the last of these three Amendments, No. 20, deal with three points in connection with exchange licences: the surrender of an existing licence, payment of the prescribed fee and the duration of the licence. The first two points are already covered in the new Section 101(1) and it is logical that the provision relating to duration should be grouped with the other provisions about periods for which licences shall be granted, which appear in the new Section 102(1) (Clause 13). Amendment No. 18 accordingly makes such provision. The first Amendment, No. 17, paves the way for this Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendments moved—

Page 17, line 46, leave out ("the case of a provisional licence") and insert ("a case falling within paragraph (b) or (c) of this subsection,")

Page 18, line 6, leave out (" and ") and insert— ("(b) in the case of a licence granted in exchange for a subsisting licence and in pursuance of an application requesting a licence for the period authorised by this paragraph, for a period equal to the remainder of that for which tote subsisting licence was granted;")

Page 18, line 44, leave out from ("granted") to end of line 4 on page 19.—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 19.

Amendment moved—

Page 18, line 33, leave out ("issued") and insert ("granted")—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Other amendments of enactments relating to drivers etc.]:


I beg to move Amendments Nos. 21 to 24, inclusive.

Amendments moved—

Page 20, line 9, leave out ("issued") and insert ("granted")

Page 20, line 17, leave out ("issued") and insert ("granted")

Page 20, line 22, leave out ("issued") and insert ("granted")

Page 20, line 23, leave out ("issued") and insert ("granted").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 20, line 45, at end insert— ("(4) In section 7(7) of the Road Traffic Act 1962 (which provides for the issue of driving licences free from endorsements) for the words from 'either' 'to time' there shall be substituted the words 'on applying for the grant of a licence in pursuance of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of section 101 of the principal Act and satisfying the other requirements of that subsection '")

The noble Lord said: With the permission of your Lordships' Committee, I should like in moving this Amendment to speak also to Nos. 29 and 30, in Clause 22. The Amendment to Clause 15—that is, No. 25—is a drafting Amendment. It eliminates the references to the surrender and fee payable for the grant of a licence from Section 7(7) of the Road Traffic Act 1962, and relates that subsection to the new Section 101(1), included in Clause 13, which already provides for these matters. It does not disturb the right, included in Section 7(7) of the Road Traffic Act 1962, of a driver to be issued with a licence free of time-expired endorsements. Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 are consequential. The words to be omitted are redundant if your Lordships accept Amendment No. 25. The fee for the grant of a licence free of time-expired endorsements will be that prescribed under Section 101(1) for a full period licence or for an exchange licence, whichever is applied for. I beg to move No. 25.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 21, line 7, at end insert— ("(5) In section 85(2)(a) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 (under which the owner of a vehicle may be required to identity the driver of it who is alleged to have committed an offence to which that section applies) for the words owner of ' there shall be substituted the words person keeping '")

The noble Lord said: With the permission of your Lordships, I should like in moving this Amendment to speak to Amendment No. 37 as well. These Amendments make two minor improvements in wording. They have the effect of altering references to the "owner" of a vehicle, in Section 85(2)(a) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 and Section 232(2)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1960, to the "person keeping" a vehicle. Section 85(2)(a) of the 1967 Act provides that where a driver of a vehicle is alleged to be guilty of certain offences under the Act, the "owner" of the vehicle shall give, when required to do so by the police, information about the identity of the driver of the vehicle. Section 232(2)(a) of the 1960 Act makes a similar provision for certain other offences. The present wording is intended to mean, and is interpreted in practice as meaning, the registered "keeper", and the Amendments provide accordingly. Clause 27(4)(b) already provides for such an amendment to Section 18 of the Vehicles (Excise) Act 1962, and paragraph 8 of Schedule 2 to the Bill provides for two similar amendments to Section 241 of the 1960 Act.

The present register of vehicles in practice identifies the "keepers" of the vehicle rather than the "owners", although the two terms often identify the same person. If the police wish to trace the driver of a vehicle whom they have not been able to apprehend, the only course open to them, generally speaking, is to identify the registered keeper of the vehicle from the vehicle registers and require him to state who was driving the vehicle when the offence occurred. I hope that I have made clear the intentions of these Amendments. I beg to move Amendment No. 26.


May I make just one brief comment? I should have thought that, for the sake of the layman—one does not consider him very much in drafting a Bill—it might have been better to say, "owner or keeper". At least the word "owner" has a specific meaning to the general public, but to speak of the "keeper" of a vehicle would, I should have thought, have very little meaning.


I was going to ask whether "keeping" in this clause is at all inconsistent with "keeping" in Clause 8, which distinguishes "keeper" from the person responsible for the vehicle when it is moving: the keeper of a vehicle is the keeper only when the vehicle is stationary.


These are nice points. We have in fact found many shortcomings in the Bill as drafted in its transfer from one place to another. I will consult with my right honourable friend the Minister to see whether your Lordships' suggestions are of substance. After all, we are amending so many minor points of drafting to-day that I do not see why we should not have one or two more at Report stage.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 [Regulations with respect to the transfer and identification of vehicles]:

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 27: Page 22, line 15, leave out ("prescribed") and insert ("determined by or under the regulations")

The noble Lord said: The effect of this Amendment is to enable the Minister to "determine" the persons to whom he may provide information from the vehicle records "by or under" regulations. Where persons are to be "prescribed" in regulations, as the Bill now provides, the normal implication is that the persons will be precisely described in the regulations. Since the Minister's intention is to describe in the regulations only some categories of recipient precisely (for example, the police) and to leave other categories less precise (for example, people who have "reasonable cause" for inquiring), it would be better to use the words "determined by or under" the regulations, since these are the words normally used in Statutes to provide for this kind of wording.

Regulations of this flexible kind will allow the Minister to make information available to people who have reasonable cause to require it, whilst leaving him discretion to decide who these are in particular cases. This is in fact the form of the regulation governing the release of information by local authorities under the present system. No complaints have been received that it is working badly, so it seems right to continue it and to reword the regulation-making power accordingly. That is the purpose of this Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 17 to 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Information as to date of birth and sex]:

4.59 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 26, line 29, at end insert— ("() No information provided to any court or to any constable as to the date of birth or sex of an accused person shall be published unless there are special circumstances to justify doing so.")

The noble Lord said: We have been told that under this Bill all applicants for licences will be required to give particulars of their date of birth and sex, and that this must be given as the first information required for the working of the central computer. It may be in the memory of the Committee that during the Second Reading debate we had some discussion about this point, and, if I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, showed himself admirably sympathetic to the apprehensions of many people about giving such personal information. Here I would interpose that we in public life, who are accustomed to such personal information (and, indeed, a great deal more) being generally known, may easily underestimate the fears of private persons. They are real. Most people are very apprehensive about giving any personal information. I recognise that this basic information must be given in order to make the system work. My Amendment is simply concerned to prevent its being disclosed publicly in court unless it is essential to do so. I beg to move.


I must support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and ask the Minister to give this Amendment sympathetic consideration. The provisions of this Bill appear to be geared to mechanisation and computers. There has been little in it that dealt with human beings: forms, applications, notices and so on nowadays feed and give succour to machines which spew out the relevant information, regardless of the flesh, blood and bones of the people. By this Amendment some limitation can be imposed. It is right that people should feel that something about them is sacred to themselves. If this information is to be stored in some awful piece of machinery, I feel that it should be given out only for the most important reasons.


This was an interesting passage in our Second Reading debate. Her Majesty's Government are sensible of the concern people feel about the publication in the local Press of details of this kind. It may seem peculiar that we should mention sex. I should like to put that on one side for a moment. The date of birth of the individual is important because it is an integral part of his reference number in the computer. One has to have it in order to trace him in the machine. That is one of the facts of computer life. One would think that the matter of sex is self-evident; but I found when I was taking advice on this clause that, in fact, it is not, and that within the experience of the person advising me there is at least one case within the Civil Service of a change of sex brought about by an operation. This is something that an individual might well wish to be kept to himself. So we are in agreement that these are factors which must not be bandied about unless absolutely necessary.

It is the Government's intention that information should be used only for the intentions of the Bill and for no other purpose. It was to prevent publication of the date of birth by others, for instance, by the Press, that the Minister agreed to an Opposition request during the Committee stage in another place to provide that the date of birth given to the courts should be made in writing. The Minister is therefore very much alive to the need for the protection of the individual's privacy in these eases. But we are not empowered to lay down the actions of the courts in this matter. The courts may have to know and to record the individual's age before deciding what type of sentence they should give. But, by and large, it is the intention that the information required for the purposes of this Bill should be placed before the court in writing that is not exposed in public, and that it should be made public only if the courts believe it to be necessary. That is the reason why we are resisting this actual Amendment, although we are in sympathy wish its intention.


I do not understand this. It seemed to me as though the Minister's argument was leading to the conclusion that he was going to accept this Amendment, because, although it does not seem absolutely perfect in drafting, it provides at least in principle exactly what I thought the Minister had said to be desirable. So I do not understand why the Amendment is not acceptable.


May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for his answer? I wonder whether I may pursue the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. The Minister has agreed with us in principle and has told us that his right honourable friend in another place has asked that the date of birth given in evidence should be given in writing. I accept that my Amendment is not perfectly drafted and that it may not fit appropriately; but I wonder whether the noble Lord at the Report stage of the Bill would accept an Amendment in terms which require that evidence of this kind should be given in writing. That, I think, would be an adequate safeguard. In special circumstances the courts may find it necessary to refer to it orally, but if the Bill were to provide that it be given in writing, that would give the confidence that is really necessary in this matter. Would the noble Lord consider that?


I am informed that Clause 21(1) of the Bill already provides the words "in writing". The last part of that subsection says: If … the court orders his driving licence to be endorsed or orders him to be temporarily disqualified and does not know his date of birth, the court shall order him to state that date in writing. Then in the following subsection it says: … if on convicting the accused it orders his driving licence to be endorsed … and does not know his date of birth … order him to furnish that information in writing to the court. The "in writing" element is included in Clause 21 (1) and (2).


I think the Committee are anxious to secure words in the Bill to the effect that this information in writing shall not be disclosed publicly in court. I picked up these words, "prevent its being disclosed publicly in court" from the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, when he moved his Amendment. Those words seem better than the word "published" which is used in the Amendment. To me it seems rather pointless to go to the length of saying that information is to be given to the court in writing and not going on to say that the information is not to be disclosed publicly in court, if that is the whole point of having the information in writing.


I have grasped the noble Lord's point; but I should like to take up the offer made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, to see whether the intentions of his Amendment, as expressed by him, are covered by Clause 21(1) and (2). I would remind the Committee of the point that I made in my original reply. We cannot lay down to the courts how they shall use this information. They may find it necessary to make public in court the age of the individual accused. But I will take advice on this point. If the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, are not covered by these subsections we can see about it at Report stage.


I am sorry, but I missed the first moments of the discussion on this Amendment because it came on earlier than I had expected. I am not quite clear why the date of birth comes into the matter at all. A constable is to be authorised to ask somebody for his or her date of birth. Exactly why? Is it because, as the noble Lord said, that in order to get something out of a machine the authorities must know the date of birth of the person? Suppose someone has given a date of birth which is not correct. Many ladies give dates of birth which are not correct. Will the machine be any "forrader" in that event? Presumably, on being cross-examined by a constable—a formidable person—a lady will state her correct age; but if that correct age happens to be different from what is in the machine, how will the information get any further?


I am afraid I cannot answer that question. I imagine that if one says one is 29 when one is 39, that incorrect age continues for as long as one is alive—that is the age you have given the computer and the computer never forgets. This is a hypothetical point, but I will write to the noble Lord and let him know what the official answer is to this hypothetical situation.


I do not want an answer to my hypothetical point. What I really want an answer to is, why must they know the person's age anyway?


Because, with the millions of people with whom we are dealing we have somehow to find an identity number which is peculiar to each one of us. That is our birthday and certain elements of our Christian names and surnames. Just being "John Smith" is not enough. There are very many John Smiths. We want to know the date on which a particular John Smith was born and possibly his second name. So the identification code number of a person is his birthday and a number of elements of his first forename and surname. I am sorry if this sounds a little technical, but that is why we have to have his birth date.


Having got all this information, what is the purpose of gathering it? The gentleman is in court, you have his bodily presence there. You cannot get anything more out of the machine. What is the purpose in eliciting the further information? That is what I want to know. The fellow is before you in the dock, so why do you want information out of the machine as well?


The point is that the computer understands computer language and the magistrates do not. Therefore we have to translate "computerese" into English in order to help the magistrates who are trying the case.


If you have two John Smiths both born on the same date, how does the computer differentiate between them?


I presume that that is a problem for the programmers. But it will not be a question of two people; I should think that there might be thirty or forty people born on any one day. Let us hope that they are not all just "John Smith": but that there will be "John A. Smith", "John B. Smith", "John D. Smith" and so on. According to the birth dates and other information we shall be able to distinguish one person from another.


If the Minister's explanation for the need for this information is that it is to enable the authorities to have an adequate filing system, there does not seem the slightest reason for this information to be divulged to anyone. It has nothing whatever to do with an offence, or the whole of the case. It is to enable a system of records to be made for the future. On that ground, surely, there is not the slightest objection to it being maintained as totally confidential in all circumstances.


The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is an eminent lawyer and he knows more about proceedings in courts than I do. But I am advised that information about a person's age may be required by a court before they decide the type of sentence which would be suitable, and that the court will ask for the information in appropriate cases. They may not publish it but they will ask for it and be given it in writing. They may then subsequently comment upon it. As I understand the position, normally this information will be in writing and will not be published for the Press and for the public to note. Nevertheless we cannot rule that a court shall not mention it if they see fit.


I hesitate to prolong this debate, but it would be extraordinary if, in a Bill relating to motoring offences, requirements were found in respect of sentencing which are not found in any Bill relating to other offences. It seems to me a very odd place indeed in which to find such special requirements.


I am not an eminent lawyer like the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. I am merely the chairman of a bench of magistrates, and I find that in many motoring cases it is necessary for us to know the ages, because some of the people concerned may qualify to be tried in a juvenile court. Age is, therefore, an essential factor in the situation. My noble friend Lord Winterbottom seems to have dealt with the question of age pretty thoroughly, but he said that he was sweeping sex aside for the moment. Now, my Lords, sex is something that you cannot sweep aside. I should like to hear what he intends to do about this provision which requires the sex of a person to be identified publicly to the court. I feel that it is eminently desirable that the sex should be stated, because many of the young fellows who come before me have long hair down to their shoulders and as they stand in the dock it is absolutely impossible to tell which sex they are. And it is hardly in keeping with the dignity of the chairman of the bench to pursue his own investigations into the matter.


I am perfectly certain that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, have, as usual, put their fingers on a perfectly valid point, and I heartily agree with them. Before you sentence a person for some motoring offence it is obviously necessary to know that person's sex and age. But I cannot see where the computer comes in. Why is it necessary to have this information in order to get some other information out of some computer? What is the other information going to be?


I am sorry that my powers of exposition are so poor. The sort of information you would get out of the computer would be the chassis and engine numbers of the vehicle in question; its registration number and a whole series of other relevant pieces of information which are required by a court when considering a motoring offence. I am advised that there is an important element where the date of birth has to be known and must be known. The court may want to endorse a driver's licence, and to make sure that they endorse the licence of the right "John Smith" they must in fact get his birth date, so that the right John Smith gets his licence endorsed by the computer. They do not have to publish the date of his birth; it will be given to the court in writing. Nevertheless, they will have to know it. That is why the knowledge of the birth date is required for this special system.


There must be different licences involved. There is the vehicle licence and the driving licence. Presumably, this will be filed under driving licence—"John James Smith, born on"—such and such a date. How are you going to distinguish and make certain that there is no other John Smith born on that particular date?


Having once entered the computer we shall go through our lives as, for example, "John G. Smith, born April 1, 1940". As we go through life, we shall change motor cars, renew our licences and so on. We remain constant; the trappings of licences and registration books will change. Therefore, the computer has one constant starting point which is the individual when he once gets recorded by the computer. The writers of computer language have deemed it desirable that one of the best ways to record the existence of an individual, so far as the computer is concerned, is to record his birthday and certain elements of his Christian and surnames. That is why it is so. I should shudder to compete in argument with the designers of computer language. I can only try to expound the reasons to the noble Lord as well as I can.


Of all noble Lords in this Chamber, I am, I imagine, the most loath to have this debate extended. But I have discussed this matter of age and dates with certain people and it is possible that I might be able to help the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, by saying that the day may come when driving licences will not be granted to people over a certain age. The date of birth must be known now so that in the years to come it will be possible for the computer to tick off the people who are over 75, or whatever the age is.


I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for struggling so ably to answer the many points which have been raised. It is some relief to know that it will be only the date of birth and the sex of the person which is recorded, and that the chassis and engine numbers will refer to the vehicles and not to us. These words may not be the correct ones but there is a general sense that we should have some words of this kind in the Bill, that the courts should be as discreet as possible about the purpose of it. It is true that the Bill says "in writing", but I think that we would still like the court to have an indication that it is the will of Parliament that they should be discreet about this. Perhaps we could look at this point between now and Report stage to see whether we can find words which would suit the noble Lord and this purpose. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 [Powers to prescribe fees]:


I beg to move Amendment No. 29:

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 1, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 2.—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 30:

Amendment moved— Page 27, line 24, leave out from ("Treasury") to end of line 29.—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Institution and conduct of proceedings in England and Wales]:

5.22 p.m.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 31: Page 28, line 1, after second ("or") insert ("section 11(2) of this Act or").

The noble Lord said: With the permission of the Committee, I will speak to Amendments Nos. 31 to 34 together. These are all drafting Amendments. Quite simply, the references to Section 11(2) in Clauses 24(2) and 25(4) have been included, I regret to say, in the wrong place in each subsection. Clauses 24(2) and 25(4), as drafted, refer to summary proceedings for an offence being instituted under regulations made in pursuance of Clause 11(2) of the Bill. But there are no regulation-making powers in Clause 11(2), and the intention is, and always has been, that the proceedings may be instituted within the time limit stipulated by the clauses for an offence under Clause 11(2) itself. Accordingly, Amendments Nos. 31 and 33 provide that summary proceedings may be instituted within the relevant time limit for an offence under Clause 11(2) in England and Wales (that is in Clause 24) and Scotland (Clause 25). Amendments Nos. 32 and 34 delete the references to summary proceedings in England and Wales (Clause 24) and Scotland (Clause 25) for an offence in regulations made under Clause 11(2).

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 32.

Amendment moved— Page 28, line 2, leave out ("11(2)").—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 25 [Institution and conduct of proceedings in Scotland]:


I beg to move Amendment No. 33.

Amendment moved— Page 29, line 11, at end insert ("or section 11(2) of this Act")—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 34.

Amendment moved— Page 29, line 13, leave out ("11(2)")—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Amendments of provisions of Act of 1960 relating to drivers etc.]:

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 36:

Page 40, line 24, at end insert— ("2. For subsection (5) of section 99 (which provides that certain tests of competence are sufficient to authorise the granting of a driving licence) there shall be substituted the following subsection:— (5) For the purposes of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section a test of competence shall be sufficient for the panting of a licence authorising the driving of—

  1. (a) vehicles of any class or description, if at the time the test was passed (whether before or after the passing of this Act) it authorised the granting of a licence to drive vehicles of that class or description;
  2. (b) vehicles of any classes or descriptions which are designated by regulations as a group for the purposes of the said paragraph (a), if at the said time tile test authorised the granting of a licence to drive vehicles of any class or description included in the group;
and if vehicles of any classes or descriptions are designated by regulations as a group for the purposes of paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of this section, a licence authorising the driving of vehicles of a class or description included in the group shall be deemed for the purposes of the said paragraph (b) to authorise the driving of vehicles of all classes or descriptions included in the group. The last foregoing reference to a licence and the first reference to a licence in tae said paragraph (b) do not include a licence which has been revoked in pursuance of section 102(2) of this Act.")

The noble Lord said: The purpose, strange as it may seem, of this long Amendment is to simplify and clarify the provisions of Section 99(5) of the 1960 Act. The existing provisions are extremely complex and difficult to operate, although we believe that their aims were not different from those of the simpler provisions now proposed. We have discarded paragraph (a) of the existing Section 99(5), which concerns only tests taken before March 1, 1957, which is now time-expired, because under the 10-year rule in Section 99(1) (a) such tests no longer qualify persons for licences if they have not held licences in the meanwhile.

The proposed new Section 99(5)(a) provides that for purposes of Section 99(1)(a) (which provides for driving licences to be granted to a person who has passed a test of competence or a "sufficient test" within the last ten years), a "sufficient" test is a test which was the prescribed test for a class or description of vehicles at the time it was taken. This means that if the requirements of the test are changed, the person who passed a test when the new requirement did not apply does not forfeit his entitlement. We think it right that in such circumstances a person should keep the entitlement he has earned. The proposed new Section 99(5)(b) provides that regulations may be made designating a group of vehicles, for which a licence may be granted to a person who has passed a test for a class or description of vehicles included in that group. This power will be used when a group is enlarged, if it is thought right that a driver should not be required to take a further test before being allowed the additional entitlement.

The proposed new Section 99(5) further provides that if regulations are made designating a group of vehicles for the purposes of Section 99(1)(b), a licence may be granted to a person who holds or has held a driving licence for a class or description of vehicles included in that group. Thus entitlement to a driving licence for an enlarged group may rest on a test of competence for a group of vehicles comprised in the group or the holding of a licence for such a group of vehicles where appropriate regulations are made. Such an entitlement cannot, however, rely on the holding of a driving licence which has been revoked under Section 102(2). Under this provision a driving licence may be revoked where it has been issued in error or contains an error in the particulars. It is also provided that the entitlement under section 99(1)(b) cannot be based on a licence revoked under Section 102(2). I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 37.

Amendment moved—

Page 41, line 14, at end insert— ("7. In section 232(2) (a) (under which the owner of a vehicle may be required to identify the driver of it who is alleged to have committed an offence to which that section applies) for the words 'owner of' there shall be substituted the words 'person keeping'.")—(Lord Winterbottom.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 41. line 46, at end insert— ("11. At the end of paragraph 1 of Schedule 15 (which contains transitional provisions for the grant of drivers' licences for heavy goods vehicles to persons in the habit of driving such vehicles) there shall be inserted the following: The reference in the foregoing provisions of this paragraph to the driving of a heavy goods vehicle does not include a reference to the driving of such a vehicle of a prescribed class or of such a vehicle while it is being used in prescribed circumstances.")

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this Amendment is to modify the transitional provisions for the introduction of the scheme for licensing and testing drivers of heavy goods vehicles. The scheme for licensing and testing drivers of heavy goods vehicles will be introduced compulsorily on February 2, 1970 (after a six months' period of voluntary operation). Paragraph 1 of the Fifteenth Schedule to the Road Traffic Act 1960 protects the position of existing drivers. It provides that a driver who is able to satisfy the heavy goods vehicle drivers' licensing authority that he has the relevant experience of driving heavy goods vehicles shall not be required to pass the special heavy goods vehicle driving test laid down in Section 19(2) of the Road Safety Act 1967.

But under Section 20(6) of the Road Safety Act 1967 the Minister of Transport may by regulation exempt drivers of certain classes of heavy goods vehicle from the requirement to hold the special licence. He intends to use this power to exempt certain vehicles which, although they strictly fall within the definition of "heavy goods vehicle" contained in Section 199 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, are either vehicles of a specialist nature—for example, engineering plant—or which are used to a minimum extent on public roads—for example, dump trucks.

It would not be in the interests of road safety for a driver of a heavy goods vehicle for which a heavy goods vehicle drivers' licence will not be required, to be able to obtain, by virtue of his experience of driving such a vehicle, a licence to drive on the public roads other classes of heavy goods vehicle, without passing a test. We do not want a dump truck driver to go out and drive a semi-articulated lorry on the main roads without passing a test. The Amendment accordingly enables the Minister of Transport to provide by regulation that the entitlement under the transitional provisions to a heavy goods vehicle licence does not apply to exempted vehicles. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.