HL Deb 04 December 1973 vol 347 cc535-88

7.16 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill. In moving this Motion, I should like to express the gratitude of all those interested in the Road Traffic Bill to those of your Lordships who may have been inconvenienced by the postponement of the other two Bills.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD JESSEL in the Chair.]

Clause 16 [Certain small vehicles not to he public service vehicles]:

LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 48: Leave out Clause 16 and insert the following new clause: (" —(1) In section 117 of the 1960 Act (meaning of "public service vehicle")—

  1. (a) in subsection (1), for the words "used for" there shall be substituted the words "which is";
  2. (b) in subsection (1), after the word "reward" there shall be inserted the word "and"; and
  3. (c) in subsection (1), for the words "eight or more passengers" there shall be substituted the words "nine or more passengers in addition to the driver".

(2) In section 118(1) of and paragraph 14 of the Twelfth Schedule to the 1960 Act and in section 44(2) of the 1972 Act (relating certain public service vehicle requirements to seating capacity) for the words " eight or more passengers" in each place where they occur there shall be substituted the words " nine or more passengers in addition to the driver".

(3) In section 129(1) of the 1960 Act (certificates of fitness required for public service vehicles adapted to carry eight or more passengers) for the word "eight" there shall be substituted the word "twelve".

(4) In section 144(1) of the 1960 Act (licensing of drivers and conductors of public service vehicles) at the end there shall be inserted the words "Provided that such a licence shall not be required in the case of a public service vehicle which is adapted to seat fewer than nine passengers apart from the driver.".")

The noble Lord said: I begin by echoing the words of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in thanking the usual channels and everybody associated with the other two Bills for enabling us to go straight into the Road Traffic Bill. I very much regret that I shall have to move this Amendment at some considerable length. Normally I try to keep my speeches short in Committee, but these clauses seem to me to embody the most important changes to be brought about by this Bill. If they are not the most important, certainly they are the most difficult to understand and follow if one is not well versed in the whole system of licensing of vehicles used for carrying passengers for hire or reward.


Hear, hear!


I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, says, "Hear, hear! " to that. He clearly has had some difficulty in going through these clauses and understanding them, but I hope that by the end of my speech he will be well aware of what is embodied certainly in the Amendment.

Clauses 16 and 17—and they are to some extent complementary—will in effect establish three classes of vehicle which, although carrying passengers at separate fares, will be wholly or partially exempt from licensing under the 1960 Act. These classes are: (1) vehicles adapted to carry fewer than nine passengers, which will be wholly exempt from licensing; (2) vehicles adapted to carry not more than twelve, or maybe fifteen, passengers, which will not require a public service vehicle licence and so will be wholly exempt from licensing, but will be subject only to the restrictions in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2) of this clause; and (3) vehicles adapted to carry not more than twelve, or maybe fifteen, passengers licensed as public service vehicles but, although carrying passengers at separate fares, treated as contract carriages.

The question which springs immediately to the mind is: will it be possible to regulate activities of vehicles in these classes in such a way that they will not compete with regular licensed services, to the serious detriment of those services? I shall return to that point later in my speech. Subsection (2) of Clause 16 gives a new name in law, as I understand it, to a vehicle adapted to carry not more than twelve passengers or such greater number of passengers not exceeding fifteen as the Secretary of State may by order specify. Such a vehicle will be called a "minibus"; and although such a vehicle is used for carrying passengers for hire or reward, it shall not be treated as being a public service vehicle if …it is not customarily operated in the course of a business which consists of or includes the carriage of passengers for hire or reward and does not ply for hire in the course of the journey on which passengers are carried. This definition seems to me to take out of the category of "public service vehicle" any vehicle not adapted to carry more than twelve, if it is not part of a passenger-carrying undertaking and does not ply for hire in the course of its journey. To "ply for hire" in the course of its journey would appear to mean that a small privately-owned vehicle carrying passengers from point A to point D may, by previous arrangement, pick up passengers at points B and C but must not stop at points B or C on the off-chance that someone in the queue or at the stop may be prepared to pay for a lift to D. Perhaps I should add here that "plying for hire" is nowhere defined in Statute law, and case law on those words leaves a great deal of uncertainty.

Clause 16 lets in a private car or a minibus as a passenger-carrying vehicle for hire or reward but excludes them from obeying the restrictions and safeguards common to public service vehicles. All that appears, I must admit, eminently reasonable and desirable until one looks a little deeper. After a superficial glance at our existing transport facilities, most of us would opt for freedom. What we mean by that is that we should like to be able to find a bus or some convenient form of transport at the corner of our street whenever we happen to want one—and that regardless of the economics of providing a regular service and not paying much regard to the efficiency-of-load factor or, until an accident occurs, to vehicle safety or passenger insurance. It was very largely the need to meet these last-mentioned requirements that led to the appointment of traffic commissioners and the system of licensing road passenger carrying vehicles, prescribing the conditions that govern them and restricting them in the main to prescribed routes.

In respect of insurance, this Bill violates the British legal tradition of responsibility falling on those who provide a service against payment. Since the interwar years, if a vehicle-owner takes money in the course of a business, he accepts responsibility for the risks to which his passengers are exposed. He must be covered by insurance—and that is a very different insurance from that taken out by most private car users, for the vehicle owner who takes a hiring charge has, rightly, to pay a special premium to the insurance company. One wonders how many motorists are aware of this, and how many to-day who break the law regularly are conscious of the risk which they and their passengers are running. Another factor I have mentioned previously is that of vehicle safety. Public service vehicles are designed and constructed to special standards directed at making them suitable for the job they have to do. They are tested annually as to their fitness, and their maintenance facilities are also supervised. Over and above that, the public service vehicle driver has to pass special tests to ensure that he is capable and fit to drive on passenger carrying services.

The next question to be considered is that of the provision of regular services. This is undoubtedly what most country people want, and not merely the odd lift into town without the certainty of getting home again by transport leaving at a given time. Under Clause 16, private motor cars adapted to carry fewer than nine passengers and minibuses adapted to carry not more than 12 or 15 passengers will be free to take up and set down passengers anywhere at separate fares, subject only, as to minibuses, to the restrictions in paragraphs (a) and (b) in subsection (2). Those restrictions are likely to give little protection to the regular services, and in any case will not apply to vehicles adapted to carry less than 9 passengers. There will be nothing to prevent the driver of a vehicle adapted to carry fewer than nine passengers from taking up and setting down passengers at even, say, bus stops on his way to work. If he lives on an estate and regularly drives into town to work he could regularly fill his vehicle with fare-paying passengers, notwithstanding the fact that there was a regular service of stage carriages serving the estate. What also worries me, to some extent, about the Bill's proposals is that most rural bus services are operating on a very tight margin. If the provisions of the Bill result in only a 5 per cent. loss of passengers to such undertakings, that could very well mean the withdrawal of the service altogether or a rural bus grant at the cost of the ratepayers. Another factor to be taken into account is that only a small part of the country is covered by the existing hackney-carriage law, the vast majority of local councils not having made by-laws under the appropriate Act.

Having expressed my doubts at some length as to the proposals in the Bill, it is now up to me to explain what the Amendment I am proposing seeks to achieve. Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause seeks to remove the confusion arising from the present definition of a public service vehicle. I am advised that an example of the conflict of law under the present definition is that because there is no provisional public service vehicle driver's licence, nobody can, without breaking the law, take a test to qualify as a public service vehicle driver. If it is clear, as it is for small vehicles under the proposed definition, that a vehicle is only a public service vehicle when actually operating for hire or reward, the difficulties are overcome. Subsection (2) of the Amendment carries the new numerical dividing line consequentially into other parts of the 1960 Act. Subsection (3) of the Amendment is more liberal than Clause 16, in that it would allow a public service vehicle minibus to be given a p.s.v. licence without a certificate of fitness. Clause 16 of the Bill only exempts the "private" minibus. This is intended to make it as easy as possible for permits for minibuses to be obtained under Section 30 of the Transport Act of 1968, whilst retaining at least a degree of safety control over all small vehicles operating for hire or reward. This control would be exercised through the public service vehicle licence itself, because the operator of an unsafe vehicle could not be held to be a fit person to hold a public service vehicle licence. Section 127(7) of the 1960 Act, as amended by Section 35 of the Transport Act 1968, would govern that aspect.

What the proposals in subsections (1), (2) and (3) of the Amendment envisage are that a vehicle with fewer than 10 seats, including the driver's, could be allowed, by Statutory Instrument, to obtain a p.s.v. licence on production of only a test certificate, under Section 44 of the 1972 Act, in the case of a vehicle more than one year after first registration and, in all cases, a certificate of insurance appropriate to the service for hire or reward which is being operated. The p.s.v. licence could be issued in such cases with a minimum of formality for a nominal fee. The idea is not to make it difficult to obtain a licence, but to bring home to the car-owner that he is undertaking special responsibilities and to show the passenger that he is properly protected. There would be further control of fare-paying services through the Section 30 permit, which would remain as an alternative to the road service licence. This relaxed system of permits is to be required to be operated "in the interests of the public" under Clause 18 of the Bill and so ensure the best possible balance between conventional and informal services. A controlled system of car services would be supplemented by the conventional services.

The proposals in the Amendment should cause county authorities and voluntary bodies to organise supplementary transport schemes where these are called for, thus giving ample room for initiative, with a high degree of flexibility and without damaging those services which already serve the public interest. The final point of the proposed relaxation is in subsection (4) of the Amendment which does no more than accept the Bill's proposal to free the drivers of small vehicles from the need to hold a p.s.v. driver's licence. But that would leave an element of control through the "fit person" provisions of the p.s.v. licence, and that might avoid dilution problems for the trade unions—a point that has some merit.

I freely admit the complexity of all this and apologise to the Committee for the length of time I have taken to move the Amendment. But an Amendment of this sort deserves the fullest explanation and a serious attempt at justification. I believe the Amendment to be a reasonable one. The last thing I want to do is to be the enemy of people living in rural areas who badly need transport facilities but who also need safeguarding if there is to be a modification of the existing law governing the safety of passengers and their insurance. I believe that these are very important points indeed. In addition, I want to safeguard existing services, most of which, as I have said, are operating on a shoestring budget. I hope that I have made myself clear, at least to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who must have spent some time worrying over these particular clauses, which, as I say, I regard as the most important in the Bill. I beg to move.

7.34 p.m.


I do not pretend to have the knowledge of a Parliamentary draftsman and I am not at all sure such knowledge is not necessary to compete with the complexities of this Amendment. But, having said that, I can only say that the Association of Rural District Councils, of which I am a vice-president, do not agree with what the noble Lord has said, that his Amendment will help sufficiently in rural areas. May I put the matter in their own words? They say: These Amendments would have the effect of inhibiting the development of voluntary car schemes supported by district councils in rural areas. As you may know, this Association has been very active in unison with the W.R.V.S., in encouraging arrangements being made in country districts for those prepared to give lifts to be put in touch with those who need them. This is a service supplementary to any bus and train services that happen to survive and in no way intended to be in competition with them. We would like to see these develop because in the twelve places where they have been instigated they have proved of considerable value. The Road Traffic Bill makes provision for such lifts to be paid for by the passengers which is not at present legally possible. This has had an inhibiting effect as there are some people who will not accept lifts without paying and some councils who feel that payment should be made. If the Amendments referred to go through, this stage in encouraging the social car schemes will be lost". They therefore ask that I should support the Government. I am afraid that the complexities are very great and I must leave it to more qualified people to work them out.


I rise to say that I am very pleased to add my name to that of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. Perhaps I may say a word on Lord Gage's comments in a moment. I shall be extremely brief because the noble Lord, Lord Champion, covered this Amendment very adequately. I was enraptured and I think he covered this extremely complex problem very swiftly. I am with him that this clause goes far too far and I should like to reiterate a few points. Bus operators operate on a tight margin. They do not enjoy a huge profit such as might be held in property or anything else; they just exist. If this clause goes through unamended, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, mentioned, there will be services disappearing or claiming extra rural bus grants. Local authorities are getting rather fed up at having to give these. Every year services apply for these grants. As a result of this clause, many services will disappear. Services covering fairly large communities not near a railway station, and with populations of between 500 and 1,000 people, which at present may enjoy an hourly service to a larger town, will probably be reduced, and in some cases, while the service will operate every day of the week it will operate only in peak hours, with perhaps extra journeys on Saturdays.

I should also like to refer to the car driver, insurance, tax and safety. I do not think those matters have been considered so far in the Bill—though I may have to eat my words when my noble friend replies. I should like also to mention that in America some authorities allowed the car freedom to compete with the bus—for example, Clinton, Massachusetts; Acron, Ohio, and Alton, St. Louis. These schemes did not work. Bus services did in fact collapse; cars could not cope, and very large sums of money had to be laid Out to re-establish a lower level of public transport. The damage once done could not be wholly redeemed. There is no reason to suppose that in Britain we should fare any better. I think the point raised by my noble friend Lord Gage is taken care of under Section 203 of the Local Government Act 1972, which provides for car services and is completely divorced from this Bill. My noble friend will probably be able to give some information on that point.

7.40 p.m.


I should like to thank all your Lordships who have taken part in this short debate on this very important clause. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and should like to congratulate him on his extremely professional knowledge of this complicated subject and the most learned exposition that he gave of public service vehicles and bus drivers' licensing laws. The effect of his Amendment, taken with Amendment No. 50 which stands in the names of the same noble Lords, is in general to replace the proposals in this Bill relating to small vehicles and to propose a modified version of the existing licensing system. This goes against the Government policy, which in Clause 16 is to relieve the owners of private cars and private minibuses only from the need to comply with public service vehicle licensing requirements before they accept any contribution to the cost of a lift in their vehicle.

Let us look for a moment at the present situation. To comply with the requirements of the public service vehicle licensing system a person who owns a private vehicle is debarred from accepting any contribution towards the cost of a lift in his car or his minibus. What happens is this: private individuals ignore the law, which is quite unenforceable in their case, and the sort of thing that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, was speaking about, and the cases that he cited, where private individuals join together to give lifts to each other to specific points and to join in on the cost, occur to-day. It is not correct, because in fact the car becomes a public service vehicle carrying passengers at separate fares; but the law is quite unenforceable and so this practice goes on.

The second thing that occurs today is that those voluntary bodies, for example the W.R.V.S., which could in many cases perform a most useful social role in giving lifts in return for a modest contribution to their expenses, are precluded from doing so by the present state of the law. I agree very warmly with my noble friend Lord Gage that in present circumstances, with the decline in public transport in rural areas and, may I say from my own experience, with the growing need for help with transport in a great many social fields which could well be met by voluntary bodies if they could receive some small contribution to their cost, it seems to me right to allow all such private owners of cars and minibuses to be exempted from the formal requirements of the public service licensing system, which I do not think in any case should apply to them. I am sure that your Lordships who know the problems of rural areas will agree with this, as will those who understand the immense contribution made to our health and social services by voluntary organisations.

The main question we have to decide is that on which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, put his finger; namely, can this be said in any way to damage the interests of established bus operators? I really do not think so, and I am afraid I do not in the least agree with my noble friend Lord Teviot, who suggested that there would be a wholesale reduction of normal bus services as a result of this very modest freedom for private individuals. By definition these are privately owned cars or minibuses. They are not customarily operated in the course of a business which consists of, or includes, the carriage of passengers for hire or reward, and they do not ply for hire.

The noble Lord was quite right when he said that plying for hire is not defined, but it is an expression which is used in various Acts, for example, the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act of 1869, under which London taxis are licensed by the police, and it is an expression the ambit of which is understood by the courts and the cab and bus trade. Surely no one could threaten the business of established bus operators under these conditions. These are in fact simply marginal activities which are primarily of importance when additional services have already diminished beyond the point of foreseeable return. These are not in any sense the regular services which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said were so important. So I urge your Lordships not to accept the main ground of this Amendment, for the excellent reason that we are trying to help in a marginal way with the provision of lifts by private individuals.

The noble Lord mentioned the new definition in subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) of the Amendment, to re-define a public service vehicle, which he linked with the granting of a provisional licence. I am sorry that I did not quite appreciate the full import of his point, and I should like to look at it between now and Report stage and to get fully into my mind what the noble Lord had in view. It seems right to us to define a public service vehicle consistently at all times, whereas his definition seems to re-define a public service vehicle so as to exclude any vehicle other than one currently carrying passengers for hire or reward. We are satisfied that a public service vehicle is plainly defined by the law as it stands, and that a bus remains a bus whether or not there are passengers in it. It is important, for example, in certain circumstances, that the bus driver should have a bus driver's licence even when the bus is empty, but I should like to look at some of the points made by the noble Lord on that subsection.

With regard to the safety of passengers, which was another matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and by my noble friend Lord Teviot, nothing in this clause detracts from the operation of public service vehicle licensing in cases where it will still apply; but public service vehicle licensing has never applied to private vehicles which are subject to the ordinary requirements of road safety, and in particular to the annual vehicle test where appropriate. Clause 16 only provides that passengers travelling in such private vehicles may lawfully contribute to the cost, and this reasonable relaxation has no obvious connection with the safety of the passengers.

As for the insurance position, which both noble Lords also mentioned, under Part VI of the Road Traffic Act 1972 any motor vehicle must, with certain exceptions specified in the Act, be insured or secured against liability in respect of death or injury to any person, including passengers, arising out of the use of the vehicle on a road. Claims arising under this provision will, in the last resort, be met by the Motor Insurers' Bureau. I can therefore assure the noble Lord that there are no circumstances in which a passenger in any motor vehicle covered by this provision will not receive the compensation that is legally due to him. Nevertheless, it is customary for insurers to exclude from private motor policies the use of a vehicle for carrying passengers for hire or reward, and anyone who uses a vehicle in breach of this exclusion is in a most serious position. In the light of decided cases there is no reason to think that a contribution towards the cost of an occasional lift would be within the scope of such an exclusion, but motor insurers have been fully acquainted with the objects of Clause 16 of this Bill and have been invited to review their policies. Likewise, before the clause takes effect, we shall be giving the necessary publicity to the possible implications for private policy holders. I hope I have convinced your Lordships that none of the difficulties really exists, and that this is a worth while but very marginal relaxation in the licensing system which would be of great value, especially in rural areas.

7.52 p.m.


The reply of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, does not satisfy me at all. I understand very well the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage; indeed, I mentioned towards the end of my speech recognition, on my part anyway, of the desire of people living in rural areas to secure some form of transport. However, if one is going to secure a form of transport, one has to secure a form of transport that is regular and which will not only take a man or his wife and children into town but will bring them back again at a given and stated time on a regular service. I believe this cannot be ensured by the haphazard method visualised in Clause 16 of the Bill that we are seeking to amend. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, in my opinion rightly, put his finger on it when he pointed to the tight margin under which most rural bus operators are working, the difficulty of keeping going, and the difficulty of ensuring that a regular service is always available to the people. He mentioned the American experience. I believe that that experience will be repeated here when this Bill operates as an Act of Parliament and we have those conditions in the countryside which are envisaged by the Government. In this connection we are thinking chiefly of the countryside as, of course, the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, told us.

The purpose of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, was to relieve private cars and private minibuses from the stringent provisions of existing law because it is unenforceable. That is a very poor excuse to bring to the House. To enforce the law is the job of the police; to ensure that it is enforced is the job of the Government. But I recognise that there are difficulties in this connection. The noble Lord does not agree that the proposals in the Bill will unduly interfere with existing services. He made a considerable point of this, and understandably so. I am bound to tell the noble Lord that that view is not held by the passenger vehicle operators. They have studied the Bill very carefully, particularly Clauses 16 to 19 and they do not agree that their services will not be interfered with if, in fact, private minibuses and private car owners will be able in future to act as public service vehicle operators.

The noble Lord said he would look at some of the points I raised in my speech, and I hope he will do so before the Report stage. Certainly I hope he will look again at the points made about the safety of vehicles. As I understood it, the noble Lord's reply to me was that private cars and, indeed, private minibuses have to take the ordinary M.O.T. test. That is a trifling test by comparison with that imposed on public service vehicles and their operators. It is a much more stringent examination of everything connected with safety.

The last point on which I am bound to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is that of insurance. I cannot think that it ought to be the job of the Bureau to cover private vehicle owners beyond the point of the insurance that they have in fact entered into with their normal insurers. The Motor Insurers' Bureau was never established for, and ought not to be used for, this purpose. If owners of private cars or minibuses are going to operate virtually as public service vehicles, I believe they ought to enter into a form of insurance with their normal insurance companies which would cover them, because they become owners of vehicles which are in fact carrying passengers for hire or reward. These are extremely important points. I do not know whether the noble Lord wishes to answer the points I have made in answer to him. If he does, I shall be happy to hear what he has to say before I make up my mind whether we go into the Division Lobby or not.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and I should like to say a word or two. I thought he really put his finger on the spot when he made again, in reply to me, the point he made in his initial speech: we shall have a great deal more to talk about on the Report stage.


I am grateful for the additional reply that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has made. I very much agree with him that the Motor Insurers' Bureau ought not to be used as anything other than a long stop. Because I said from the outset that we did not want to stop rural areas from getting an addition to their transport facilities, I was not wholly opposed to this clause in the Bill, but I want to look again very carefully at what the noble Lord has said. I think I cannot do better at this stage than seek leave to withdraw the Amendment, with a promise to the noble Lord that we shall probably return to it on the Report that all that people really want are regular services. I think this is true. This is why this matter is very marginal and it is the reason I cannot understand why these haphazard, but on occasion very useful, services could possibly be said to affect the interests of the regular bus operators. That is the first point I should like to make. The second point is on the question of safety. I can only reiterate that public service vehicle licensing has never applied to private vehicles, and I do not see why it should. In so far as the insurance position is concerned, I should like to make it quite clear that we agree entirely with the noble Lord that people should be properly covered by insurance for all the risks to which they may be subject. That is why we have acquainted motor insurers with the objects of the Bill, and we shall be giving publicity to the implications for private policy-holders. I mentioned the Bureau only as a long stop to make quite clear that no one in the long run would be uncompensated if he should be injured in circumstances in which the driver was not properly insured.


Like the noble Lord, Lord Champion, I was also unsatisfied with the reply of my noble friend, and with his second intervention. Although I enjoyed listening to his exposition. I still have great foreboding about this clause. If the noble Lord, Lord Champion, wishes to go into the Lobby I shall be delighted to join him, but I bow to his experience in regard to doing so. There is a great deal of work to do, and if we do not make a decision tonight stage, perhaps in some amended form, or to some other slightly modified Amendment to the Bill. I consider this action is justifiable, having regard to the dangers implicit in what the noble Lord and the Government are proposing in this Bill. We should be careful, so far as possible, that when the Bill leaves Parliament and becomes an Act it will not produce conditions which in future we shall regret. In all the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Use of minibuses as public service vehicles.]:

8.0 p.m.

LORD ABERDARE moved Amendment No. 49:

Page 24, line 43, at end add— ("(7) In any case where a service for the carriage of passengers by road would, apart from subsection (1) above, be a service of stage carriages for which, accordingly, a road service licence would be required, it shall be treated as such a service for the purposes of—

  1. (a) section 92 of the Finance Act 1965 (grants towards duty charged on bus fuel used in operating a service of stage carriages), and
  2. (b) section 34 of the Transport Act 1968 (assistance for rural bus services for which road service licence are required),
and the person by whom the service is provided shall be treated as "the operator", in relation to it, for the purposes of the said section 92. (8) Notwithstanding anything in subsection (1) above, a minibus provided for use in such circumstances that, apart from that subsection, it would be used wholly or mainly as a stage carriage shall be treated as so used for the purposes of section 32 of the Transport Act 1968 (new bus grants for vehicles to be used as stage carriages).")

The noble Lord said: The next Amendment, No. 50, seeks to replace the whole of Clause 17, but on the assumption that I may be able to persuade your Lordships not to take such a drastic step I should like to move Amendment No. 49, the effect of which is to assure to minibuses that are exempt from road service licensing by virtue of subsection (1) of Clause 17 the benefit of fuel tax rebate, rural bus grant and new bus grant in relation to which such a licence would otherwise be a material consideration. I beg to move.


In the unhappy event of Clause 17 standing part of the Bill, it certainly ought to include the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, and I certainly do not object.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 50:

Leave out Clause 17 and insert the following new clause: (".—(1) In section 117 of the 1960 Act— (a) for subsection (2) there shall be substituted the following— (2) For the purposes of this Act a stage carriage is a public service vehicle carrying passengers at separate fares which is required to operate in accordance with a timetable approved by the competent authority. (b) for subsection (3) there shall be substituted the following— (3) For the purposes of this Act an excursion carriage is a public service vehicle carrying passengers at separate fares, not being a stage carriage. (2) In section 120 of the 1960 Act after subsection (4) there shall be added the following subsection— (5) For the purposes of section 117(2) of this Act the competent authority shall be the traffic commissioners, except that in the case of a London bus service (which words have the meaning assigned to them in the Transport (London) Act 1969) it shall be the London Transport Executive.".")

The noble Lord said: Although this Amendment is, of course, to some extent tied up with the whole picture of what ought to be operating in this general sort of field, if I may call it that, there are some points in Clause 17 on which I should like very much to hear the Government's reply, and for that purpose I propose to move this Amendment. Clause 17 would allow minibuses operated on a full-time professional basis to carry passengers at separate fares, without a road service licence, subject to two restrictions: that they must not both take up and set down passengers in an urban area or on a bus route. "Both" seems to me to be the important word in this context. On the face of it that sounds reasonable and a good way to augment rural bus services without damaging them. Unfortunately, in practice the results would not be so straightforward.

There are two elements in the Bill's protection of stage bus services; prohibition of both picking up and setting down at two or more different points in an urban area or on a scheduled bus route. In respect of an urban area, the position would be most uncertain when the criterion might be the possibility—not even the fact—of travelling on routes with certain speed restrictions or lighting systems. There would be no notification of the service to the traffic commissioners or to other operators, and enforcement would be difficult, if not for all practical purposes impossible. Even in metropolitan areas the absence of notification would be a weak point. This is made obvious by the fact that numbers of illegal works services by non-P.S.V. minibuses already manage to escape enforcement of the law.

If the protection in the Bill of urban services is weak, that for rural services is doubly so. The very inadequacy of the definition in Clause 17 sounds the death knell of many existing bus services covering both rural routes and small towns, or feeding large towns. This I repeat again, despite the assurances that the noble Viscount gave us on the Amendment that I moved to Clause 16. Minor deviations from established routes could enable a minibus operator to pick up passengers of service operators; attractive terminal points refused to a public service operator could be available to an unlicensed service. Weekly stage services could be endangered by minibuses making the journey on other days of the week, and limited stop services operated under an express licence would be completely unprotected.

Perhaps I should point out that the distinction between scheduled stage and express services is no longer relevant. There are stage bus routes, for example, from London to Birmingham, Manchester to Glasgow, Edinburgh to Liverpool, and even over routes up to 250 miles. London's Green Line express services are licensed as stage, not express, services. But there are services covering less than 10 miles which must have an express licence. The Bill as it stands now would protect the route between Manchester and Glasgow but not those between Manchester and London—this is one of the anomalies of the Bill as it is now before us—the latter having no stage service, only express services.

The present division of licensed services is between stage and express. What ought now to be operative is for the division to cut the other way, the two categories covering scheduled and optional services; and that is proposed in the Amendment. The proposal in subsection (1) of the Amendment combines all scheduled services, stage and express, under the existing stage carriage title, introduces a new category of "excursion carriage" for all optional services and retains unchanged the contract carriage. I am conscious of the fact that the Amendment and the alteration proposed by subsection 9(1) of the substitute clause would have the advantage of bringing sequential amendments to existing statutes. I have not been able to prepare and table before Committee stage the complicated required Amendments, but if the Government will accept the Amendment as it now stands I will take the necessary steps to produce all the consequential Amendments before Report. Subsection (2) defines the competent authority for the purposes of the proposed Section 117(2) of the 1960 Act.

These relatively simple proposals are intended to achieve a major updating of the licensing system. Their acceptance would have the advantage of bringing our licensing system much closer to the E.E.C. regulations. E.E.C. regulation No. 117/66 provides for and defines "regular", "shuttle" and "occasional" services. The most important category, from most points of view is the regular service, which is scheduled and involves an obligation to run. The amended definition of stage carriage service closely conforms to this, and would be of practical advantage if this could become operative in British law. The realities of the situation in Britain are, of course, enough in themselves to justify a change. Indeed, since the Transport Act 1968, the concept of a bus service as a scheduled stage or express service already exists for some purposes. I realise that this Amendment, if adopted, would also require amendment on the lines of that previously moved into the Bill this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, relating to the financial aspects of bus fuel grants and assistance for rural bus services. I beg to move.


There is extremely little for me to add to the very detailed statement of the noble Lord, Lord Champion. All I would say is that there is extreme difficulty in outlining exactly what are "urban areas" and "stage services". He mentioned Manchester to London and various others. I am told that some people talk about a stage service between Thurso and London. I do not think one could possibly find a longer service anywhere. I suppose that a service from John o'Groats to Penzance would be longer but, so far as I know, there is no service covering that route. With stage services operators do have additional "perks", such as new bus grants and exemption from fuel tax.

Noble Lords may have thought that I have slept on this point, but this deals with rural transport, which was not dealt with in the Amendment on Clause 16, and when people realise that the whole thing is relaxed with private cars and, to a lesser extent, mini-buses, it is bound to add to our traffic problems. This is one point that I missed, and I do not know whether the noble Lord missed it. It is very nice for people to have extra transport, and I am quite sure that the Government want much better rural transport; but one does not want to have the streets littered with more motor cars, which I think might be the result of these two clauses.


I wonder whether the noble Lord could inform me as to what actually is the legal definition of a London bus service. One would think at first that it is one wholly within the G.L.C. area, but of course there are many London Transport routes which are not so; and there are also buses that are not London Transport buses which come to London from such places as Reading, and other places outside London. I suppose that they would not be London bus services, but I should like to know exactly what is a London bus service.

8.12 p.m.


The effect of this Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, taken with his previous Amendment, Amendment No. 48, is to delete the proposals in the Bill regarding minibuses operated as public service vehicles, and to substitute a new definition of stage carriages to include all services other than those that are to be defined in future as excursion services. The point about this clause, as drafted, is that it carries a stage further the relaxation of licensing requirements for minibuses in order to facilitate their use in rural areas and wherever normal bus services are inadequate. Clause 16 removed any public service licensing requirements from privately owned minibuses not operated for profit. This clause goes a stage further and exempts minibuses that are operated commercially from requiring a road service licence. Two very important provisions are that they do not run in an urban area or on a specified bus route. They will still require a public service vehicle licence, and indeed they are still public service vehicles, but the whole object of the clause is to encourage their use in areas where there is no regular bus service, and they will not require a road service licence.

Once again I am sure that this provision will commend itself to all noble Lords who know the problems of rural areas, and it is to help in rural areas that this Bill is so important. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Teviot that the effect of this provision will be to put a mass of extra vehicles on the roads in urban areas. This deals entirely with rural areas; any service within an urban area is specifically excluded.


Would not my noble friend agree that for people coming from rural areas the focal points are urban areas, and it is those areas that are going to be affected?

8.13 p.m.


I still think that it is more important to allow people from the rural areas to have some sort of service to bring them into the urban areas. At the same time, I do not think that it can be truthfully said that there will be a vast increase in the traffic in urban areas as a result of this fairly modest provision. I do not believe that it will damage the interests of established bus operators, particularly for the reasons that it applies only to minibuses in rural areas, and where there is no specified bus route, or on days when no established bus service is being operated. So far as the urban area is concerned, this is clearly defined in subsections (2), (3) and (4) of the clause, and I believe that, because of the requirements of those subsections, it would be quite easy (the noble Lord, Lord Champion, suggested that it would be difficult) to establish what was an urban area. There would also be a 30 or 40 m.p.h. speed limit; or there are requirements on the spacing of lamp posts. So I do not think that it would be very difficult to find out what is an urban area.

So far as the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, is concerned, a London bus service is defined in the Transport (London) Act 1969 as a service operated in or through Greater London. But for the purposes of this clause the specified bus routes are clearly defined in subsections (5) and (6) of the clause. If he will look at subsections (5) and (6) he will see what is a "specified bus route", and if he looks at subsection (2) he will see that an urban area is defined in various ways but paragraph (a) reads: at different places within Greater London or within a passenger transport area, … I think that he will find it is all there in the subsection.

We have given full consideration to the views of the bus industry on this matter; in fact, my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton received a deputation from them. We looked into their objections very carefully, but we are convinced that the proposals we have made will not damage their interests, and indeed will help the transport situation in rural areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, also mentioned the new definition of "stage carriages" and "excursion carriages". I recognise that these terms are nearer to the classification of vehicles in the regulations of the E.E.C. However, we feel that we need a great deal more experience before we alter the well-established terms that we use at present. To make a change in this Bill would have some drastic effects. He mentioned the repercussions on the provisions of several previous Acts, and it would also upset the principles on which certain forms of Exchequer assistance are given to the bus industry—for example, fuel tax rebate and new bus grants. We believe that the present system works perfectly satisfactorily and we do not see any good reason to change it at present. The Bill as it stands would produce advantages in rural areas, in helping them to cope with their transport problems, and we do not believe that it will affect the interests of established bus operators. I therefore suggest to the noble Lord that he might consider withdrawing his Amendment. But if he does not, I should not like to advise your Lordships to accept it.


I do not know whether the noble Lord has enough "troops" in the House to establish his point of view, but I do not propose to test that. I merely looked around and saw what the position was both in here and in the Library. I am grateful to the noble Lord for so carefully explaining the Government's point of view on Clause 17. I am bound to say, on further consideration, that I regard the definition in subsection (2) of Clause 17 as the sort of definition that is bound to cause very great difficulty.

The noble Lord said that in many respects the law as it now exists is unenforceable. I believe that if we pass Clause 17 into law we shall add to our legislation one more provision which is unenforceable. The point about both taking up and setting down is of course extremely important in this connection, but because I have not the slightest desire to go beyond 10 o'clock tonight, and because I want to consider very carefully some subsequent Amendments (and I hope the Committee will consider them); and, further, because I want to consider what the noble Lord has said on this, which I regard as part of the whole system that we are trying to institute, I shall not press this matter. I shall consider very carefully before Report stage what he has said and, as I threatened on the previous Amendment, perhaps come back then with further Amendments on this clause. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 18 and 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Amendments relating to operators' licences]:

On Question, Whether Clause 20 shall stand part of the Bill?

8.22 p.m.


I wonder whether, as we are considering this clause, I might remind my noble friends of the point I made during Second Reading, at column 867. It was largely to do with what I considered to be an omission from this Bill which could well have been rectified within this clause, which considers Part V of the 1968 Act. I referred to Section 62 of that Act, which deals with the powers of the licensing authority, and in particular I was concerned that the licensing authority did not have sufficient powers to examine all the facilities that an applicant for an operator's licence should have. I drew attention particularly to their inability to look at the repair and maintenance facilities where an applicant contracted out of the repair and maintenance of his fleet. I should be obliged if my noble friends could give me any help in this matter.


I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding us of what he said on Second Reading. I thought that perhaps he might have put down an Amendment on this point at this Committee stage; but indeed his words did not fall upon deaf ears, and we looked very carefully into the points he raised. We are meeting on another point connected with this Bill, and I should certainly be willing to discuss these points with him then. He has brought up once again, in particular, the question of commercial garages which contract for the maintenance of bus operators' vehicles or service vehicle operators' lorries. We have looked at this point on other occasions. On the surface it appears attractive, but the point really is that it raises enormously wide questions of extending the powers of entry upon and inspection of private premises. The garage owner who undertook this work under contract would be subject to inspection, not by virtue of any requirement of his normal business but only as a by-product of undertaking maintenance for an "O" licence applicant. This matter raises wide questions of policy. It might discourage garage proprietors from undertaking this sort of work if they knew that it would render their garages subject to inspection. But I can answer these points in much greater detail if my noble friend would allow me to talk to him afterwards or on a later occasion.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Amendments of Transport Act 1968 relating to operators' licences]:

8.26 p.m.

LORD ABERDARE moved Amendment No. 52: Page 42, line 24, after ("conviction") insert ("required to be").

The noble Lord said: This is a minor Amendment to improve the drafting of the new provision in paragraph 2(a) of Schedule 4 to amend Section 64(2) of the 1968 Act. The provision as now drafted brings into the consideration of grant of a licence any convictions notified by the applicant between the making of an application and the decision on it, in accordance with the new subsection (4A) of Section 62 introduced by paragraph 1 of Schedule 4. It is possible, however, that any such conviction might be notified from other sources than the applicant himself; for example, the police. Under the present drafting, it could not be taken into account unless it was notified by the applicant. The Amendment to make it read "any conviction required to be notified" will allow the licensing authority to take such convictions into account whether notified by the applicant himself or by some other source. I beg to move.


Could my noble friend tell me whether or not it is obligatory upon one police authority to advise another of a conviction in connection with the licence of an applicant? It would seem to me that one traffic area authority could be in ignorance of a conviction that occurred in another area, yet there does not seem to be any process of liaison.


I should like to look into that point. I was not aware of that difficulty, but I shall certainly look into it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Schedule 4, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


May I draw my noble friend's attention to the remarks I made on this Schedule on Second Reading and again in regard to the 1968 Act, so far as prohibition notices are concerned? Perhaps my noble friend will recall that at that time I suggested that the revocation of an operator's licence was conditional upon certain criteria set down in the 1968 Act, to which this Schedule makes some alteration. In particular, I was concerned that prohibition orders which failed to be substantiated by the testing station stood against the record of an operator. An offence might be committed and the traffic authority, turning up the record and seeing on the flyleaf two convictions, five prohibition orders and the new offence, may come to the conclusion that the applicant should have an alteration to his licence, perhaps that it should be partly revoked, whereas in fact the prohibition orders were not subsequently substantiated at the testing station—and against such prohibition notices, of course, there is no appeal.

I explained that there is an appeal procedure against the refusal to grant a clearance to the prohibition, but that there is no appeal procedure against the prohibition. It would seem to me grossly unfair that a man's operating licence should be in jeopardy because of this particular provision. My noble friend may again suggest that had I felt strongly about it I should have put down an Amendment. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross suggested that he would deal with this matter later because it was somewhat complex.


All I said was that we would deal with it. I do not think I promised to deal with it personally.


Then perhaps "we" could deal with this matter now.


Certainly. Again my noble friend's words did not go unheeded. We do not see this difficulty as being so likely to happen as my noble friend suggests. He is instancing a possibility that a prohibition imposed by one examiner might be lifted by another, perhaps after appeal, without any work being done on the vehicle, and that the original prohibition would remain on the operator's record. We think this is a most unlikely chain of events. A prohibition form G.V.9. lists mechanical defects noted, which must be serious for the vehicle to be prohibited. The standard of professional training of vehicle examiners should ensure that if prohibitions are considered to be serious by one examiner they could not be disregarded by another. No such case has been reported to the Department. Even if it happened, a licensing authority, which seldom considers disciplinary action unless a number of prohibitions have been recorded against an operator, would be bound to take the circumstances into account. We think that a retrospective appeal would be very complicated to frame and probably its purpose would be best achieved by amending the Statute to ensure that a licensing authority was forbidden to take a prohibition into account if it was proved to be unjustified. Such a complex Amendment seems of doubtful value in view, as I say, of the unlikelihood, under present arrangements, that any injustice would be done.


I thank my noble friend for his reply. I am sure that he will permit me to give further consideration to what he has said. It may well be that I shall wish to refer to this matter again at a later stage.

On Question, Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

8.33 p.m.

Clause 21 [Exemption from requirements as to written records for vehicles fitted with recording equipment]:

On Question, Whether Clause 21 shall stand part of the Bill?


On Second Reading I referred to the fact that the Transport and General Workers' Union is very disturbed about Clause 21, which makes provision for replacing the manual recording of the use of a heavy goods vehicle by the tachograph, which, I understand, is a device to record automatically the journeys of a heavy goods vehicle to which it is fitted. Having re-read Section 97 of the Transport Act 1968, which makes provision for the installation and operation of recording equipment, and Section 98, under which regulations may be made requiring drivers to keep written records, I wonder what is the need for this clause. It is the case that under the clause written records supplementing the record of the tachograph may be dispensed with by regulation. I see, however, that under Section 98 of the 1968 Act the traffic commissioners or the licensing authority may dispense with the requirement for keeping written records. Is this clause just to replace the traffic commissioners or licensing authority by some other body?

Did not Section 97 of the 1968 Act make adequate provision for the installation of the tachograph sort of equipment, and has there been any considerable opposition to the type of recording equipment visualised in that section of the 1968 Act? I should like also to ask to what extent negotiations have been conducted with the Transport and General Workers' Union about the tachograph equipment, with a view to its acceptance. It is always best, if possible, to secure that sort of acceptance, and certainly Governments should do so. I ask these questions in order to invite the Minister to say a little more about this matter than was said on Second Reading and to give the background generally. I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to do so.


I am grateful for the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has introduced this subject. I should like to emphasise to your Lordships that this clause is designed for the introduction of a voluntary scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, pointed out that under Section 97 of the 1968 Act there are already compulsory powers for its introduction. I should like to draw attention to the fact that the full compulsory powers under Sections 97 and 98 have not yet been introduced. Obviously, any Government would be unhappy at having to force people to do something which they were reluctant to do, until it had been shown to be reasonable.

To put the background straight, I would say that by January 1, 1980, all vehicles will have to be fitted with E.E.C. type tachographs. That is six years away. New vehicles coming on to the road by January 1, 1976, will, under our agreement with our partners on the Continent, have to have new E.E.C. tachographs. After January 1, 1978, all existing vehicles will also have to have E.E.C. tachographs fitted. The approved version of the E.E.C. tachograph is not yet on the market. There are two types on the market which are already in use in Great Britain. If any operator fits a tachograph now, or before 1976, he may get a dispensation from fitting the approved version, which is more expensive, until 1980. This will give operators who install the tachograph now available early experience of the working of the instrument and will save them buying the more expensive type until 1980.

I have given the background picture and emphasised that this clause is to introduce a voluntary scheme and does nothing which could not be done by compulsion under Sections 97 and 98 of the 1978 Act. There are one or two problems which need to be emphasised. First, if an instrument is fitted now it will help to overcome the rush to get tachographs fitted during the period from 1976 to 1978, the year in which new vehicles and second-hand vehicles must have tachographs fitted. It will spread the load. And there is the concession until 1980. Second, in the individual control book a driver has, by law, to keep a fairly complicated daily sheet. It is not just a voluntary scheme; it is compulsory. If this voluntary tachograph scheme is entered into, the driver is exempted. He has a concession that items 4 to 7 in the control book will not have to be filled in. That operation does take time and it is quite a convenience to have this concession.

There will eventually be 300 stations for the installation, calibration and two-year testing of tachographs. We all have knowledge of the black box in aircraft; this is, if you like, a form of black box, but it is a form of black box which is helpful to both driver and operator. I do not think anyone is going to suggest that the drivers, or the unions, wish to protect a man who is pretending to be driving but who in fact is going to a cinema. If you want to argue that, then the tachograph will expose the fact that the lorry was not being driven—though if the man had a partner to drive it, I suppose that is another matter.

There are various benefits which amazed me when I went into this problem. The tachograph enables people to sec how well a driver is driving in certain conditions; it can prove that a driver continually accelerates and brakes. It may be surprising, but an expert, possibly not your Lordships or myself, accustomed to reading these instruments will be able to tell. If such a driver does exist, it is in his interests to be told by a friend in management, "Why don't you go out and take a drive with Bloggins whose tachograph and whose area is exactly the same as yours, for his tachograph shows that he is not having the same driving troubles as you? "A man can be helped in this way. There is nothing penal in this. It is purely helpful because surely if we are doing something badly we want to be told so that we can correct our mistakes.

The operators of lorries are also able to see from a tachograph which routes various lorries use and whether or not a certain route, over a period, is shown to be a had route to use because it causes more braking and acceleration. These are small items but they add up to quite a large item. So long planning comes into this. That leads also obviously to reduced costs and greater efficiency. Where there is greater efficiency, productivity comes into it. So there is the possibility that drivers will eventually get a financial gain out of this.

There is also the point that the tachograph has already been used to corroborate a driver's statement in evidence in the case of an accident. Again, experts can tell from the tachograph whether or not there has been some form of bad driving. I have to emphasise again that this is a completely voluntary scheme, before the compulsory schemes come in 1976. I should like to say that the Department with which I have the honour to be associated has had, and is having, constructive talks with the unions and the operators. I think the original feeling that Big Brother is watching to try to hit you is now being allayed. If that feeling has ever existed, it should be knocked on the head and killed at once, for this has not been, and is not, the intention of the tachograph. I cannot state that too strongly. I am hopeful that the operators and the unions, together with the Department of the Environment, will be able to convince all the drivers and all the operators concerned that it is not a waste of money but a helpful and useful instrument which will in time come to be regarded as a perfectly normal piece of equipment, just as one now regards the handkerchief in one's pocket.


May I ask the Minister in which countries of the E.E.C. this form of equipment is now mandatory?


I cannot do more than say what I know is going to be mandatory on ourselves. I do not know whether it is mandatory at present in any of the Nine, but by 1976, as I have said, all new vehicles in the E.E.C., if the provision is not already mandatory like ours, will have to have the complicated variety of tachographs fitted. By January, 1978, all existing goods vehicles will have to have them fitted. Then by 1980 existing tachographs will have to be replaced by the new. A little angel has just come to my rescue and informed me, in answer to the noble Baroness's question, that Germany—I assume West Germany—and France already have mandatory tachographs. Otherwise, what I have said will apply.


I do not want to follow my noble friend too far down the tachograph road. I certainly agree with him that this Clause 21 ties up quite tidily Sections 97 and 98 of the 1968 Act. I should like to draw his attention to two points. One is the leaflet prepared by the Department of the Environment and printed in October, 1973. I do not have a number, but it is called, The Tachograph. This has been widely distributed, but it is a three-fold little pamphlet which states, in a most extraordinary paragraph in the middle spread: It can help to establish the real cause of accidents and prove to be a very real assistance to a driver". There is no sub-heading to that middle spread. There is no further explanation. The pamphlet appears to me, and to a great number of my friends and colleagues in the haulage industry, to be a most misleading document. Of course this so often happens when explanatory pamphlets are prepared and sent out. We do not read them properly, and some of the language used is not, perhaps, everyday language that is readily understandable by some drivers, and perhaps by some operators. Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Lord that the Department, in drafting explanatory leaflets of this kind in the future, might have consultations with the various organisations to which the leaflets are going in order that they, and their members also, may understand them better.

I want to move, if I may, to another point my noble friend mentioned. It concerns the international control book. Until 1978, the international control book will still be required whether or not the operator has installed, under the voluntary scheme, a tachograph. When the Government framed this particular clause I think they might have looked at the current regulations a little more carefully, because surely there are fairly considerable difficulties over the international control book, even now. The E.E.C. regulations require the book and adherence to the driving hours regulations, which of course are more stringent than our own. If, for example, the driver of an articulated vehicle leaves Birmingham with a trailer unit destined for a foreign country, he has embarked upon an international journey and the international control book therefore has to be completed. However, the driver takes his vehicle and load to Southampton or Dover or some international cross-Channel ferry port where he deposits the load. The trailer is taken aboard by a tugmaster, off-loaded the other side and transported by perhaps a French or Belgian vehicle, perhaps with a French or Belgian driver—certainly not with the original track unit or the original driver, who then returns unladen to his base.

Our regulations state that he may not start a second hook until the first book is finished, so here we have a driver with an entry in an international control book but no more international journeys to be undertaken. But he cannot start a second book to go from Birmingham to Edinburgh because that is against our regulations. What is he to do? Common sense says that if a man takes a unit from Birmingham to Southampton with a load destined for the Continent, it is not really an international journey, but the E.E.C. regulations say it is. Is the man therefore destined to drive up and down from Birmingham to Southampton with international consignments until the book is filled up, or what is he supposed to do? There is, of course, the allowance of one week in which he can do another journey, but one can foresee very great difficulties. If one is now going to impose a voluntary system of having a tachograph, which still requires both the international control book and our own regulation book recording entries, drivers and operators are going to be in some difficulties. I suggest to my noble friend that before we pass too swiftly through Clause 21 we might have another look at the whole set-up of the E.E.C. regulations, particularly with regard to the tachograph section and the written records.


I would just point out to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth that we have not had this criticism of this little book which my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross is looking at at the moment. In fact we have had much praise from the industry and also, I would point out, from the unions concerned. They think it has been helpful. But that said, I would point out that my noble friend has been talking a little wide of what we are trying to do in Clause 21, which is merely to introduce a voluntary scheme for the tachograph. My noble friend has concentrated on the international control book, which we in this country are giving a limited exercise in saving the driver from some effort, because the tachograph will cover that.

The international control book is governed by various regulations made in pursuance of E.E.C. rules and they have really nothing to do with what we are considering at the moment. If there is any point in the regulations which my noble friend would like to bring to my notice, I can promise that I will bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend and he will consider it. It is not 100 per cent. relative to the actual tachograph. The tachograph exempts the driver from one or two everyday chores, but whether or not the everyday chores will be exempted if he goes abroad—this applies to the minority of our drivers—I do not know. But I will look at the point, and if there is anything in it I will undertake that we will do what we can to meet the noble Lord's point.


I am glad that I asked the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray of Stourton, for a further explanation of the clause before us, because we have had the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Clearly he is knowledgeable on this subject and touched on many points which certainly had not been drawn to my attention. I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, who has gone into this matter with his usual care and efficiency. I am glad that "a little angel" came to his rescue at one point, but I must say that the way the matter was conveyed to the noble Lord did not seem to be by "a little angel" but by a big kindly gentleman, whom we know very well in this House, and we are grateful to him.

I just wonder whether the whole matter will be completely voluntary, so far as operators are concerned, and whether it will remain so until we get the E.E.C. regulations. I gather it will. I had not seen the explanatory pamphlet mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, so I hope some kind firm will send me one between now and Report, so that I may study it. I gather one is being passed across to me, though I cannot very well examine it now. This is not a question of conveyance by angel—it came to me by some other method. I gather that the opposition of the Transport and General Workers' Union is to some extent what the noble Lord said—"afraid of Big Brother"—but in this instance it would not be a case of Big Brother looking over one's shoulder but peeping out of a little black box (at least that is how I understand it). But I do not think I should go on with this subject any longer. I shall certainly consider what has been said by both the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, and I may find it necessary to come back with some Amendment on Report. But that is for the future and not now.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 [Power of police or local authority to retain custody of removed vehicles until charges are paid.]


I wonder whether I may ask my noble friend a question? Clause 22 has the words— a police force or a local authority … shall be entitled to retain custody of"— a vehicle— until the sum has been paid. The word "entitled" seems to me to imply that they would have a discretion to do what they liked with the car they had taken in—either to let it out or to keep it. Could my noble friend tell me what rules the police are going to carry out in this particular difficulty? It is a difficulty, if it happened late at night. One does not know whether one can release a car, whether a cheque is good enough, whether a cheque is going to "bounce", whether somebody has a fixed address, and there are all sorts of other complications. I am just wondering whether it is envisaged that the police will be guided by fairly hard and fast rules. Can the Minister help me?


No, I cannot help my noble friend. I do not know whether they are going to be allowed to take cheques, with or without a Barclaycard. I can tell her what the charees are. I can tell her that "shall be entitled to" means rather better than "may"; but what exactly the terms and conditions of payments are is something that I am afraid I do not know and I shall have to find out for her. If she would like me to do this I will gladly do so, either in correspondence or as a result of an Amendment which she may care to put down at the next stage.

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clauses 23 and 24 agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Variation of penalties for certain offences]:

BARONESS PHILLIPS moved Amendment No. 54: Page 46, line 13, column 4, after ("£200") insert ("or 4 months imprisonment or both")

The noble Baroness said: With the permission of your Lordships, I should like, in moving Amendment No. 4, to speak to Amendments Nos. 54 to 59, because, as your Lordships appreciate, they all hang together. We shall now see the angelic qualities of the noble Viscount who will be speaking for the Government. I would say at the outset, in speaking to all these Amendments, on which I hope I shall have the support of several of my noble friends who are also magistrates, that no magistrate would refuse a proposal for removing a sentence of imprisonment for minor statutory offences, and in so far as this is the case, we support the Bill. But it was pointed out on Second Reading by several noble Lords that the Bill goes much further. It seeks to remove from magistrates' courts any power of passing custodial sentences in respect of road traffic offences, with, I think, the possible exception of driving while disqualified. The Bill takes away the possibility of custodial sentences for a number of offences, such as making false statements, withholding information, making false statements to obtain exemptions in relation to parking offences, failing to stop after an accident or to give particulars of or report an accident, and tampering with motor vehicles.

The effect of the abolition of imprisonment will be a serious one, and it will suggest that the seriousness of these offences equates with far minor traffic offences, such as failing to produce a public service vehicle licence. We all know that the powers of imprisonment are not often used, because magistrates do not restrict an offender's liberty unless it is absolutely essential. But sometimes, in the case of young offenders, where there is a suggestion of mental instability or where serious delinquency is shown, it has been the case that imprisonment has been used. The number of cases is small. The figures show that in 1972 of 6.241 male offenders guilty of dangerous or reckless driving 36 were sentenced to imprisonment, and that of 43,836 guilty of driving while unfit through drink or drugs only 307 were sentenced to imprisonment. But the power of the deterrent is there, and I would say, as a lay magistrate who has been sitting at a particular court recently, that the power of deterrent in relation to another offence has been found to be very effective. Not only is the power of imprisonment removed by the Bill—and this is the point which I think concerns us particularly—but also the power of magistrates to order several other things. For instance, community service orders, committal for borstal training, detention centre training or employment centre training, remands for medical reports, treatment under hospital or guardianship orders—these will all go if we remove the rights of the magistrates' courts to impose custodial sentences.

Again, once the defendant is convicted it is not possible for the magistrates' court to ensure his presence by the issue of a warrant unless the court wishes to consider imprisonment or disqualification; and the substitution of a fine only means that no matter how heavy the intended fine, there is no power to secure his presence. The removal of the power to impose custodial sentences for traffic offences will be considered, no matter what is said by the Government, as a lack of confidence in the way justices exercise their powers—although I notice that on Second Reading the Minister said that this was not intended to be a weakening of the law.

As we again mentioned on Second Reading, an important committee is sitting at the moment under the distinguished chairmanship of Lord Justice James, and this will be considering many matters, one of which, as we understand it, is the distribution of business between Crown courts and magistrates' courts. This Bill therefore seems rather to pre-empt some of the considerations of the Committee, and indeed some of their possible findings. The object of these Amendments is really to preserve the present powers possessed by magistrates' courts in respect of more serious traffic offences. I ask the Government seriously to listen to the words of those who have found in practice how the law can be. I beg to move.


The noble Baroness has spoken to all these Amendments, but there is an intervening one. Are we talking about the whole block of Amendments, including drinks and dangerous driving?—because the noble Baroness quoted some figures on Sections 5 and 6. I wonder whether the whole argument hangs together.



9.7 p.m.


I hoped when the noble Viscount intervened that he was about to say that we need not bother debating these Amendments as he had come to the conclusion that they could be accepted without further debate. Apparently he does not intend to rise now to respond to the invitation that I extend to him. Your Lordships will appreciate that this is a serious matter so far as the administration of the law is concerned. I hope the Committee will realise from what my noble friend has said, and perhaps from what I am about to say, that we are dealing with the whole of the Amendments in a sense by pointing out the necessity for them. I am dealing with the Amendments generally and will not repeat any of this later on, unless I am provoked. I think it is perhaps useful that we should first deal with the position in general, and deal with the particular matters later.

The more serious offences are those which involve danger to the public, such as the offence of using a motor vehicle without insurance, the serious offences of dishonesty, forgery, fraud or deceit, which happen to be statutory alternatives in the road traffic legislation to the similar offences which remain imprisonable by magistrates' courts under the Forgery Act, the Theft Act or in Common Law. These more serious offences which involve grave risk of danger to the public include reckless and dangerous driving, driving or attempting to drive whilst unfit through drink or drugs, driving with excess alcohol in the blood, and so on. In these cases the Amendments would retain the present maximum period of four months' imprisonment by magistrates' courts, but they would abolish the present higher maximum period of imprisonment for six months in respect of second offences of reckless and dangerous driving, driving or attempting to drive whilst unfit through drink or drugs or with excess alcohol in the blood. The proposals in the Bill for higher fines remain untouched; and also untouched are the proposals in the Bill to abolish the existing powers of imprisonment by magistrates' courts for less serious offences, including careless and inconsiderate driving, failure to give name, and so on, in cases of dangerous and careless driving and cycling, or of an owner failing to give insurance information and defrauding a parking meter.

The effect of the Amendments is not only to retain, as my noble friend has pointed out, magistrates' powers to impose imprisonment for the more serious offences, but also to retain the defendant's right to elect for trial by jury in such cases. May I point out, following the remarks made by my noble friend concerning the Committee of Inquiry which has been set up under Lord Justice James, that the question of trial by jury is very material? This Bill is attempting to deprive an individual of the opportunity of electing for trial by jury. If the proposals in the Bill are not amended in this way they will necessarily prejudge the very issues for which Her Majesty's Government have set up the Committee under Lord Justice James which is to consider the division of criminal business between the magistrates' court and the Crown Court.

What I feel about these proposals is that they represent a slur, in a sense, on the power of discrimination of magistrates as to whether a sentence of imprisonment should be imposed. If a sentence of imprisonment is imposed, there is the possibility of appeal against a sentence in any case, so that if anyone felt he had been unjustly treated by the decision of the court he could appeal against sentence and ask for it to be reduced. Sometimes, of course, it might be increased, but that is something for the magistrates to decide. These are some of the points on which the whole of these Amendments are based.

The magistrates themselves and the justices' clerks both feel that the Amendments are necessary in order to enable magistrates' courts to carry out their duties properly. Various points were raised by my noble friend, which I do not want to repeat, in relation to restrictions to be placed on them in regard to detention sentences, and so on. That is a material point. Also, as the noble Baroness said, there is the necessity of bringing persons to the court so that inquiry may be made into their means. This is a very important matter, because without the presence of the individual in the court it is impossible for magistrates to decide what kind of fine should be imposed for the offence committed. In my view, these are basic reasons why the noble Viscount should regard these Amendments as being reasonable. I think at one stage he or his officers said they thought there was reason in some of the proposals which had been made, and that they would be considered. The inference was that they themselves would introduce Amendments which would meet the various cases put to them. I hope that that is in the mind of the noble Viscount and that he will find himself able to accept at least some of the Amendments at this stage.

9.14 p.m.


I cannot agree with the noble Baroness or with the noble Lord, Lord Janner. I, too, have asked a great many of my magistrate colleagues what they feel about the Amendments that have been put down. I would have wished that the noble Baroness had moved Amendments Nos. 54 to 70 inclusive because they seem to me to be rather different from Amendments Nos. 71, 72 and 73 which relate to the 1972 Act, while the others refer to an earlier Act.


I thought I said Amendments Nos. 54 to 59; I have two other Amendments which deal with totally different matters.


I thought that, in answer to my noble friend the Minister, the noble Baroness said she had moved all Amendments en bloc. But I understand that is not correct and we are now discussing only Amendments Nos. 54 to 58.


I suggested that the noble Baroness might be speaking to all of them. If the Committee wish to reserve three Amendments until the end, naturally I would not in any way suggest they should not do so. The noble Baroness referred to alcohol in the blood, and that kind of thing, which comes in the second block of Amendments. I thought we might take those at the same time. There is nothing whatever to prevent the noble Baroness, my noble friend or anybody else, going back to Amendments Nos. 71, 72 and 73, later.


I think I am correct in saying we are discussing Amendments Nos. 54 to 70, excluding No. 69. I have discussed these Amendments. I thought we might take colleagues, including a very senior member of the Magistrates' Association. They are not trivial offences, and I do not mean to imply that they are, but they are not offences which, on the whole, are connected with the driving of vehicles upon the road. One would have thought the Road Traffic Bill would have been more connected with actual driving on the road. I honestly feel that sending anybody to prison for instructing somebody unregistered is really going beyond anything that any magistrate would want to do. I do not feel it is necessary to give magistrates that power. There are other offences, such as tampering with a vehicle and not stopping after accidents. That is a prevalent offence, certainly in the court in which I sit, but I should never dream of sending anybody to prison, nor would I want ever to suspend anybody from driving for such offences.

One important purpose in Amendments Nos. 71, 72 and 73 is that one should be able to retain the possibility of sending somebody to prison and thereby suspend them from driving. If the Government allowed us to send people to prison for any of these offences I do not think any of these laws would be implemented. If they were not to be implemented, I do not see why they should be in the Bill.


Since the noble Baroness has brought up the question of suspension from driving I should like to inform the Committee that it is the opinion of the Institute of Advanced Motorists that suspension of driving is a poor penalty indeed since a driver, after having been suspended for a given period, will come back on to the roads an even worse driver than he was before. It would be far better to make him take the test again, or perhaps even pass an advanced test.


I meant a suspended prison sentence, not suspending the person from driving.


I am sorry; I misunderstood the noble Baroness.


It is incumbent upon anybody who intervenes at this late hour not to try to repeat what has been said before and to confine oneself, if possible, to one single point. I want so to confine myself, but it is a point of considerable substance about which we have in recent months been hearing from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.

In raising this matter perhaps I may say that I am very pleased to see the noble and learned Lord sitting on the Government Front Bench. One of the questions raised by the provisions of Schedule 5 is that of circumstances in which a person should have the right to elect for trial, to which the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has already referred. That arises in this way: under the present law if an accused person is liable on summary trial to imprisonment for a period exceeding three months then, with one or two limited exceptions, he has an absolute right to elect to be tried by jury. One of the results of removing the powers of imprisonment from magistrates in these so-called road traffic offences is that where previously the magistrates had a power to send somebody to prison for a period exceeding three months, and where that is now being withdrawn, the person accused of that offence will no longer have the right to elect to be tried by jury.

Going on from there, some of the offences which we are now here considering—and I am assuming that we are considering the whole range of these ultimate penalties—are offences of dishonesty of one kind or another. I think it would be true to say that if we were to take the law generally and to take a wide view of it, we should find that in the past and over a very long period of time it has been the view of the Legislature, that where a person is accused of an offence of dishonesty he should have the right of trial by jury. I say that that is a general principle which you can read into the law because you will find it provided that in those cases where a person can be summarily tried for an offence of dishonesty, generally it will be found that the magistrates have a power of punishment in excess of three months.

The first Amendment with which we are dealing here concerns an offence of that kind because this is an offence of dishonesty—making a false statement. Until now the magistrates have had the power to fine or to impose a sentence of imprisonment for four months, or both. If it is true that up to now most offences of dishonesty have been considered to be of such importance that the accused ought to have the right of trial by jury, and if that is a general principle which we have worked upon in the past, then I suggest, first, that if that general principle is now going to be breached—and that is what I suggest is being done here—we are taking a number of offences of dishonesty and we are saying that if this Bill, and in particular this Schedule, goes through, for the future they shall not have the right of trial by jury. If we are going to breach that principle I suggest that it ought to be done openly, that it ought to be made clear what we are doing, and it ought not to be tacked on to the end of a comparatively trifling Road Traffic Bill.

I suggest that this is an important principle. It is one about which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has been speaking recently. I am wondering whether, in the case of some people who in the past have had the right to trial by jury, we ought to deprive them of that right and allow the matter to be dealt with by the magistrates. But if this is going to be done, surely it is wrong that it should be done by being tacked on to the end of a Bill of this kind.

It seems to me there is great force in the argument that in so far as that principle is being breached in this Schedule, that is pre-empting the considerations and deliberations of the James Committee. I say that for this reason. I have the Consultative Note which the James Committee issued, from which it seems clear that the Committee think that what is involved here, and what is being done here, is a matter which comes within their deliberations and considerations. The terms of reference of the James Committee were the distribution of business in the criminal courts between the Crown Court and magistrates' courts. The Note which they have issued attempts to set out the main issues involved. It explains the present position; it explains that there were certain offences which could only be dealt with on indictment in the Crown Court, and that at the other end there were offences which could only be dealt with summarily; in between, there are a number of what they call "intermediate" offences which may be dealt with in one court or the other.

Having revealed the present situation, the Committee pose the question that, given that it is inevitable that intermediate offences should be retained in some form, who should determine the mode of trial of such offences? That is the first question the Committee asked themselves. What is happening here with regard to these offences of dishonesty, where the penalty of imprisonment is being taken away from the magistrates, is that the Bill is seeking to answer the question which the James Committee say is one of the first matters they had to consider.

I listened the other day with attention and great interest to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he was replying in Committee to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, on the Land Registry Bill. I remember how he told us that he rather reproved and reproached the noble and learned Lord for not being consistent with his own principles. He said that what the noble and learned Lord was asking him to do under a certain Amendment was to tack on to an uncontentious Bill something which really had nothing whatever to do with that particular Bill and was highly controversial. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor thought that was not the right way to go about the matter and he said, moreover, that this is a matter which is now before the Law Commission and it would be inadvisable for us to pre-empt or prejudge what advice we are going to get from the Law Commission. He went on to say, finally, that this was a matter also where we wished to have consultations with the two legal bodies mainly concerned, the Bar Council and the Law Society.

Have we not got exactly the same situation here? We have this matter referred to the James Committee in place of the Law Commission. We have both the associations which are mainly concerned in this matter wholly opposed to what the Government are proposing to do, that is to say the Magistrates' Association and the Magistrates' Clerks Society. Both have declared their opposition to what the Government are proposing to do. Is it right that this essential principle should be breached in this Bill as a sort of tail end to a Bill which is primarily concerned with something quite different, that is, road traffic offences and road safety? I hope that between now and the next stage the Government will seriously consider whether it is right or appropriate to introduce into a Bill of this kind this major change in the principles of the law.

9.30 p.m.


There are, I suppose, those who are still here in Committee at half past nine who might say that this is a matter that has been tacked on the end of a long Bill. But the fact is that there has been no secret about the inclusion of these provisions in the Road Traffic Bill, and I can only commiserate with all those who, like myself, have to deal with Clause 24 and Schedule 5, instead of having it dealt with as Clause 6 and Schedule 1, for example. The noble Lord really cannot get away with the allegation that this has been tacked on to something to which it is not appropriate. I will not have it. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that there has been considerable discussion about this matter in a number of quarters, and this is no afterthought. This is an important matter, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Janner, himself said, and I agree with him. So let us not try to deal with it in that way but rather look at the merits of the various points made by those who have spoken.

I seem to remember since I have been making speeches here representing the Home Office point of view that there are quite a number of Members of this House who are not in favour of sending people to prison unless it is absolutely necessary to do so in order to protect society from them and from their activities. That is certainly the attitude towards imprisonment which is most earnestly held by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I was extremely glad to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, endorsing that view at the very beginning of her speech. I am bound to say, although it may not be immensely complimentary to the Prison Service, that I am not sure what good a three or four month sentence for a driving offence does to anyone. We may do our best for them, but I cannot believe that it is something which is very rehabilitative or really anything that must be imposed; indeed, this does seem to be the view of the magistrates on the whole, because they do not usually use it. So let us start off with the assumption that if we can get rid of imprisonment for offences for which it is not necessary, we should take every opportunity to do so.

This brings me straight up against the argument about the James Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, makes a huge issue of principle about this. What does he wish us to do? Does he wish us to stick to our principles and try to get rid of imprisonment in cases where we think it proper to do so, or would he wish us to wait for ever and a day until the James Committee have reported, and some huge Criminal Justice Bill is introduced? We had one last year so that we might have to wait years and years before we had the opportunity. Would not the noble Lord, upon reflection, and others who have considered this matter at length and at large, agree that it is worth while bringing before Parliament, when we have a suitable opportunity, the proposition that we should take away the power of imprisonment if it is not necessary, and if we can satisfy other criticisms which have been raised—and I shall attempt to do this—about the consequences of changing the law in that way? I really must put the onus on noble Lords who would suggest that prison is still the right penalty to retain, at any rate for the majority of these offences. If we have to be selective, I pray that it will not be to-night but on a subsequent occasion. Let us go through the whole list, and I should like to know why noble Lords wish to retain prison for a whole lot of these offences.

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, produced an argument about the dishonesty offence, and it follows from the Amendment he put down earlier. It is, if I may say so, the most classic example of the circular argument I have ever heard. The noble Lord says that there is a general principle that for dishonesty offences you provide for the election to go for trial by jury. He derives that principle from the fact that, for the most part, the maximum penalty that magistrates may impose is over three months; in other words, four months. That automatically allows you to elect to go for trial by jury, and I think the reason why you are given the opportunity to go for trial by jury is because you are liable to go to prison for four months, or indeed liable to go to prison at all. Once the suggestion that a man may go to prison is removed, the complete edifice of Lord Foot's argument falls apart. There is no principle; there is no necessity to go for trial by jury; there is no prison, and the complete argument collapses around the noble Lord's ears. This matter must be seriously considered by those who have already picked up the point that the removal of the power of the magistrates to send people to prison for these offences indeed removes the possibility that a person may elect to go for trial by jury. Why does he want to go for trial by jury if he is not in danger of going to prison? What is the tremendous attraction of the jury trial if the maximum that he can be sentenced to is a fine and, it is true, disqualification?


The attraction of the matter is that if a person is convicted of an offence of dishonesty, as opposed to a traffic offence like dangerous or careless driving, it can damage his whole career. That is the difference between the conviction for an offence of dishonesty and a conviction for an ordinary traffic offence. It can be absolutely injurious to a person's reputation. He may be denied the opportunity of following his employment if he has been convicted of an offence of dishonesty. That is the difference, and that is why we want to retain the right of a person to go for trial by a jury in all cases where a man's reputation, and therefore his livelihood, may be at stake.


Would the noble Viscount forgive me if I also intervene for a moment? He has overlooked one point that I did my best to bring forward at Second Reading. It is not only a question of imprisonment; it is a question of a man who wants to have his case tried by a jury. It is a question of a person who values his reputation, even though only a small fine were imposed. Many people go to courts feeling very disturbed at the fact that they are brought to the court at all, even though it may be a very small matter so far as fines or anything else is concerned; and if they want to go before a jury, surely they should have the right to a jury trial. That is what it amounts to.


As to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that appears to be the view of the Liberals. So be it; it is on record that the Liberal Benches think that you ought to retain imprisonment in the magistrates' court for these offences, which it is perfectly true could be said to be alternatives to dishonesty offences under the general law of dishonesty but which in fact are offences under the Road Traffic Act. The noble Lord takes that view. I respect his view, and I respect the Liberal Party in thinking that that is the right way to deal with it, but I do not agree with them.

As for the noble Lord, Lord Janner, I say again, more in sorrow than in anger, that I cannot reconcile what the noble Lord has said with what used to go on around my ears when I attended quarter sessions in Devon. I know why people went for trial by jury. I have heard it discussed in the robing room, in the corridors, and all over the building. I know why they went for trial by jury, and it was not the reason that the noble Lord gave. I think that any magistrate or practitioner in the courts, if he searched his heart, and has carried through even a modicum of the cases that I did, knows perfectly well why people want to be tried by a jury.

I wonder whether my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve will forgive me. Although she did not want to talk about the final group of Amendments, it might be convenient—I know that I could come back to this—if I developed my argument on the matter as I went along.

As an example of what I suppose must be the most serious cases, and certainly the ones where people most frequently elect to go for trial by jury, let us see what has been happening. Let us take, first, that famous business about driving when you have too much alcohol or drugs in your blood, or under the old offence—and this is something which I know will fascinate the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, because he is very interested in this. We did a survey—a sample survey, it is true—and we found that of all the cases which went on election to the Crown Court for trial, 96 per cent. were at the option of the defendant. So it was in less than 4 per cent of the cases that the prosecution thought the case was worthy of presentation on indictment before the Crown Court. I wonder why that is. I know, of course, why that is. It is because it is a very strange and, I am afraid, a known fact, that one can persuade juries of things about which, on occasion, one cannot persuade magistrates. Why is it that, of the reckless or dangerous driving cases that went to the Crown Court in which there was a choice whether to be tried by the magistrates' court or in the Crown Court, no less than 100 per cent. in my sample was at the election of the defendant? I suggest it is for the very same reason.

Let us see what the effect was on the Crown Court business. I will take the second case of reckless or dangerous driving. These cases were 1 per cent. of the total and took up 1.4 per cent. of the whole length of time taken in the Crown Courts for that period of time. Now let us look at the drink and driving cases. These made up 5.5 per cent. of the cases and took up 6.1 per cent. of the time. The noble Lord, Lord Hacking, was making the point on Second Reading that to deal with this matter under the old offence—after all, you could always argue that you could walk along the white line perfectly well—if you go under what used to be the 1967 Act, is a purely technical matter: either you had that percentage of alcohol in your blood or you did not. You can make up every defence under the sun—people have, and cases have on occasion been brought up to your Lordships' House on several extremely ingenious propositions—but the fact of the matter is that the essence of this case is: have you or have you not got 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood? That is all there is to it.


Not quite.


Very nearly. It ought to be all there is to it. Why did 96 per cent. of the people who had the election go to the Crown Court for trial by jury on that sort of thing? I think it stands to reason—and this is what we really want to be arguing about. I would suggest that we have here a very much better package. Let me now go through some of the positive sides, because I fully recognise that we must be careful about taking away powers which are really useful, and we must certainly be very careful indeed about any imputation that the magistrates are not doing their job or that they are being hampered in the proper exercise of their judicial functions. There cannot be any question that this group of Amendments underestimates the seriousness of these offences. That is why we have so remarkably increased the penalties in the Bill. We have put up the fines tremendously, and this is a mark of the seriousness that we consider attaches to these offences. I should have thought that the type of case which the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, mentioned, where the traffic offence was merely, as it were, a symptom of a very disturbed young man—and I recognise these cases because I see them not infrequently myself—would be an obvious one for the prosecution to take on indictment to the senior court, where in any event we should want to have opinions from doctors and the other material that is necessary. I should have thought that was a natural case; and noble Lords will recognise that all these cases can still be taken on indictment to the Crown Court if they are serious enough.

As to its being a deterrent, I do not know about that. Deterrents are always terribly difficult to argue about, but if the noble Baroness thinks this really is a deterrent I must genuinely accept her view about it. But it is something that will remain a deterrent, in that when somebody drives like Jehu down the middle of the road he is not going to know whether he will be taken up on indictment to the Crown Court, from where he may still be imprisoned, or whether he will be fortunate enough to appear before the noble Baroness who can only fine him. I should have thought that there was some element of deterrent left in so far as one still has the indictment proceedings.

I recognise some technical difficulties. I am aware that if these powers are taken away there will be no further power to use community service orders, detention centres and attendance centres; and indeed, if the case is dealt with on indictment there may be difficulties about hospital orders and that sort of thing. There is also the technical problem about bringing a person before a court for a means inquiry on a fine. It can be done in the end under the fine enforcement procedure, but I appreciate that there are difficulties. Those are matters, not custodial methods of treatment, which I think we should be perfectly prepared to reconsider, if the magistrates would like to have those instead of the power to send someone to prison. There are difficulties, but I am not certain that they are insuperable. I should like to look at this matter again and that is why I am glad of this specific discussion. If the noble Baroness mentions this, as she did, I am delighted, and I should like seriously to consider it.

Certainly that kind of approach, and particularly after what I have said, cannot be taken as showing any lack of confidence in the way magistrates use their powers. It is really nothing of the kind. We are giving them these extra powers and reflecting on the fact that they, like us, will find that imprisonment is seldom necessary in these cases. Finally, to clinch this, and to cope with the point made by my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borne about suspended sentences (and I appreciate that a court cannot impose a suspended sentence unless it can impose real imprisonment straight off) let us look at the figures. Let us take first dangerous driving. This is the latest set of figures for 1972, of magistrates' court appearances on these charges. There were 8,439 findings of guilt for dangerous and reckless driving. Immediate imprisonment occurred in 113 cases and suspended sentences in 131. Let us take the drink and drugs, the old, now rather superannuated, offence which has been largely replaced by what was in the Road Safety Act. We had 1,520 findings of guilt; 40 immediate imprisonments and 31 suspended sentences. In the more common offences of driving with excess blood alcohol, there were 42,074 findings of guilt; 311 immediate imprisonments; 388 suspended sentences. And in cases of failure to provide a specimen (which is really an alternative if it is not possible to get the man or woman technically on the blood alcohol count), there were 1,933 findings of guilt; 48 straight imprisonments; 49 suspended sentences.

Bear in mind those percentages. They are very small. None of them is more than 5 per cent., and in some cases the figure is smaller than 5 per cent. What would happen if the vast preponderance of those cases went on indictment to the Crown Court? I do not believe that this would amount to anything like the burden on the Crown Court now imposed by those who elect to go for trial. On the other hand, we should still have the worst cases being dealt with by a court which could impose not only direct but also suspended sentences. I suggest that figures like that for the last year indicate that the magistrates, although they have been using imprisonment to some extent, have been doing so very sparingly, probably for the reason that they did not think this was an apposite penalty for this sort of offence. Therefore they will find that they are remarkably little hampered in that element by having the power taken away. I take the point about the other things and I will study those again. But the actual power of imprisonment seems to me something that is not being used very frequently. That is the general argument. I know that the Amendments are in themselves selective and do not cover all the matters we have dealt with, and I am grateful for that. But if we want to go back and look at it offence by offence by statistics, perhaps we could do it on another day. Perhaps it has been an advantage to hear the arguments that the noble Lords and noble Baronesses have put forward about their general approach to this matter. I should like to think about those arguments. Perhaps they would also do me the courtesy of thinking about the arguments that I have put forward, and the figures—because I believe that we are not so very far apart. What may have seemed initially a very difficult matter of principle is one that we shall be able to resolve in the end. I am grateful for the way the noble Baroness has handled this subject: it has been very expeditious. Certainly the discussion has been useful to me.

9.51 p.m.


I should like to thank the Minister for his very thoughtful reply. I am of course in some dilemma, in that it is not only my name on these Amendments. So I shall obviously have to consult with my noble friends. The noble Viscount is quite correct, of course, in his comments on the attitude of the average magistrate toward imprisonment. If I were to engage him in a debate on the whole philosophy of imprisonment, I would say that I have certainly been very puzzled why with certain people, such as a prostitute, imprisonment was almost inevitable, whereas when a man does something quite disastrous with a car one has a much longer and much more protracted discussion about this. In other words, what I am really saying is that the whole philosophy of crime and punishment is one that I would like to debate with the noble Viscount on another occasion; but not to-night.

I know that it sounds easy and straightforward to say, "Put up the fine". But I think perhaps in the later stage of the Bill it will be interesting to know the extent of the unpaid fines. To me it is useless to impose heavy fines if we do not enforce what should happen to people when they do not pay their fines. But my main concern—and the noble Viscount has indulged me in answering this—is that I do not see imprisonment as a deterrent. I am a great believer in deterrents (I know that this is not a fashionable view nowadays), but I think it has value. I believe that one of the most effective ways of dealing with road accidents was the kind of frightening poster of the black widow. Frighten, fear or deter are words which nowadays we do not like to use. Possibly my Catholic upbringing makes me believe that there is a great virtue in these things. I think the fear of imprisonment has shown that it can be brought into play. I quoted earlier the case of the shoplifter, where people went on for months trying to avoid fines which were not paid—in some cases by foreigners who were leaving the next day. In fact, they were nearly always leaving the next day, so far as I can see. They were merely collecting a few gifts they could take back. But the moment the deterrent was brought into play—not by lay magistrates—it had an effect. So I think there is a virtue in deterrents. Particularly my own interest is in the non-custodial powers. All magistrates know that so often there are things they want to do which they cannot do unless they are dealing with a certain sort of case and have certain powers.

I would only say to the noble Lady, Lady Macleod of Borve, that I am amazed that she did not think that failure to stop and report an accident was a serious offence. I was recently, outside my own front door, practically run down by a car which disappeared into the night. I was extraordinarily lucky that I escaped not only real injury but death. The police said that either the driver was drunk or he had stolen the car. In my experience, the person who does report an accident is the reasonable person who has nothing to fear. Surely it is the type of hit-and-run driver whom we are thinking about. I am sorry she does not think that serious.


I am sorry. I was not aware that I actually said that. I felt that that, out of all the cases, was the most serious. That was my view.


But the noble Lady did not think that it merited imprisonment as a possible punishment. However at this point I do not wish to prolong the debate. I cannot speak for all the other noble Lords who have spoken to the Amendment; they have dealt with other points. I would say particularly that I am interested and very heartened that the noble Viscount is going to look at the question of non-custodial powers. I am very happy to leave it there. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Janner would like to speak.


The noble Viscount has already indicated that he is prepared to consider the question with some of the points on detention centres and so on.


I said attendance centres or day training centres.


Perhaps at the same time the noble Viscount would consider the others as well, because they are of importance so far as magisterial work is concerned. Perhaps he would also consider, before we come together again, that the very argument he is using, that imprisonment was so very rarely used by the magistrates, is something which should encourage him to allow the magistrates to continue in the manner that they have been in the past. They do not exercise these rights in any way other than in the best interests of justice, and they have practised what the noble Viscount has referred to; that is, they have not sent people to prison except in exceptional cases. I think that speaks very favourably for the magistrates themselves, and perhaps covers the other points that they are complaining about in the event of the present provisions of the Bill being carried into effect. Perhaps he would consider the matter in that light and come to the conclusion that because they exercise that particular discrimination, and so very rarely send a person to prison, there is no need to worry about this. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clauses 25, 26 and 27 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Enactments Repealed]:

9.59 p.m.

LORD ABERDARE moved Amendment No. 79:

Page 65, line 21, column 3, at end insert: ("In Schedule 4, the amendment of section 130 of the Road Traffic Act 1960.")

The noble Lord said: This further repeal, overlooked during the drafting of the Bill, is consequential upon paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 which provides that Section 130 of the Road Traffic Act 1960 shall cease to have effect. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 80. This rectifies a misprint.

Amendment moved— Page 65, line 57, column 3, leave out ("(5)") and insert ("(6)").—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendments.

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