§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Report stage resumed.
§ LORD MIDDLETON moved Amendment No. 11:
After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:
.After subsection (1) of section 25 of the 1972 Act (duty to stop, and furnish particulars, in case of accident) there shall be inserted the following subsection:—
(1A) If in any case, owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road, an accident occurs whereby damage is caused to any building, wall, hedge or fence on or adjacent to the road or to any item of street furniture as mentioned in section 81 of the Public Health Act 1961, then the driver of the motor vehicle shall stop and, if so required by any person having
reasonable grounds for so requiring, give his name and address, and also the name and address of the owner and the identification marks of the vehicle.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, when an Amendment similar to the one that I now move was proposed two weeks ago by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, it was encouraging to note the great measure of support that it received, and also the willingness of my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton to consider the matter and consult with his right honourable friend. This Amendment differs from that proposed in Committee in that it is drawn so as to amend the Road Traffic Act 1972 by adding to Section 25(1) a new subsection (1A). Subsection (1) is the familiar one making it a duty for the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident causing damage to another person or a vehicle or an animal to stop and furnish particulars. This new subsection would follow it so that the existing subsections (2) and (4) will apply both to subsection (1) as now and to this subsection (1A).
§ Subsection (2) imposes a duty on the driver of the vehicle causing damage to report to the police within 24 hours if particulars have not already been furnished. Subsection (4) makes failure to comply with Section 25 an offence. It has on previous occasions been argued that it would be better to widen an Amendment which dealt only with roadside hedges, fences and walls, to include a duty to report damage to buildings as well, and this Amendment seeks to do that.
§ The clause also extends to such things as sign posts, lamp posts, bollards and so on that come under the heading of street furniture, as mentioned in Section 81 of the Public Health Act 1961. If this Amendment is accepted, the only things apart from chickens and wild creatures that a driver will be able to hit without owning up will be trees and cats. Trees usually get the better of an argument with a motor vehicle and the driver is not often able to remain anonymous. Cats will remain second-class animals and their deaths must continue unrecorded. I do not know why cats were accorded this rather low status but it may have something to do with the possibility of having to make nine successive reports on the same animals.82
§ My Lords, in all seriousness, it is high time, as several noble Lords pointed out in Committee, that a driver's moral duty to own up to damage to property should now be a legal duty. It is absurd that the driver of a vehicle must report damage to a person, to a vehicle or to a domestic animal and need not report any other kind of damage however serious or however expensive for the injured party. There was very little dispute about the need to review Section 25 during the passage of the Animals Bill in 1970. The last time such an Amendment was sought, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor agreed that the law in this respect should be improved but he produced strong arguments from the Home Secretary which at that time were decisive in preventing the Government from agreeing to a change. If the case was a strong one then, it is a stronger one now. Public opinion has changed, amenity is becoming more precious, a greater and greater burden is imposed on the community and no small part of that burden is the growing expense that has to be met by the owners of property, both rural and urban, damaged by road traffic—an expense that has to be met also by the ratepayers.
§ In regard to the rural areas, I have referred to the Animals Bill. This lays a heavy responsibility on the owners of livestock. If animals get out and cause an accident, it can be very expensive for their owner. The escape of animals on to roads is probably the most serious consequence a broken fences. Prima facie the owner of the animals is responsible, but he has a remedy against the diver of the car which broke the fence, hence the need to identify him. If it is right in principle, can such a change in the law be enforced in practice? The Home Secretary's argument put forward in 1970 about the price of the extra burden of enforcement in reporting this to the police has been dealt with in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. The arguments about the practical difficulties of enforcement produced by my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton in Committee were dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Foot. There will always be hit-and-run drivers. Some will avoid reporting damage to property just as they avoided reporting damage under Section 25. As the noble Lord, Lord Foot, pointed out in Committee, the argument cannot be 83 used about the difficulty of catching the man who causes damage and disappears where there are no witnesses and at the same time justify retention of Section 25 as it is now. So far as I know, no one has complained about the practical difficulties of the enforcement of Section 25. Why should it be reasonable to make it an offence when a dog is hit and the driver fails to report, and not practical when a lorry goes through your shop window or when a car goes through your hedge into your garden? This anomaly really cannot be allowed to continue, and I very much hope that my noble friend can see fit to accept this Amendment.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I quite agree with the spirit behind this Amendment. The only question that occurs to me is how on earth one is going to enforce it. If the car goes through the hedge into one's garden it will no doubt stop anyway. I should have thought that hardly needed pointing out. But if a car causes damage and then drives on, assuming nobody is there to see it doing so, how on earth is one ever to find out to whom the car belongs and how it did the damage? Any responsible driver will of course stop the moment there is any accident whatsoever, but one cannot shut one's eyes to the fact that there are a great many highly irresponsible drivers on the road and I do not see how one could ever enforce this provision.
§ LORD FOOT
My Lords, may I deal with that point first. If it is to be argued that because the law sometimes cannot be enforced therefore you should not have any law at all, then that should be made applicable to bank robbers, should it not? They are most irresponsible members of the community. If we never passed a law that could not be enforced 100 per cent., we could not pass any laws at all. The matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Somers, referred was dealt with when we debated this matter in Committee. I pointed out that the arguments which were being used by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, in opposition to the Amendment then moved—which was in the same sort of terms as the one we have now—applied to the law which at present makes it necessary for anybody who does injury to an animal to stop and report the accident. I hope that the Government may be prepared to 84 accept the principle which lies behind this Amendment.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, when he says that the appropriate way of trying to put this right and introducing this new element into the law is by an amendment of Section 25 of the Road Traffic Act 1972, and not, as we tried to do in Committee, introducing an entirely new section into the law. If I may respectfully say so, I would go even further than the noble Lord, Lord Middleton. I sought to put down an Amendment of my own, in principle the same as that of the noble Lord but rather more widely drawn, and the only reason why it has not reached the Order Paper is because of the delays we are experiencing in the post. I believe it has gone in as a Manuscript Amendment. I hope for an Amendment to Section 25 of the 1972 Act as the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, proposed, but rather than try to confine it to walls, fences and so on, I am proposing that it should be made a requirement of the law as it is at the moment; that is to say, if you are involved in an accident in which some other vehicle is damaged, of if you are involved in an accident in which some person or some animal is injured then you are under an obligation to stop and give your name to anybody who can reasonably require it. If you do not give your name, then you are under an obligation to report it to the police within 24 hours. Rather than go into the detail of things like walls and fences and so on, I propose that you should add to those categories damage to any property other than the vehicle or trailer which is actually being used or anything in that trailer or in that vehicle.
The noble Lord has said that as the law stands at the moment, because we have not this comprehensive requirement to report damage to all property, there is no obligation to report damage to a tree or damage to a cat; and, so far as I understood the noble Lord, he thought that that was all right. I do not think it is all right at all. It is all very well to say that the tree usually comes off best, but if you are dealing with a lot of young saplings, or something like that, and somebody drives on to the verge and knocks down a lot of saplings, why should he not be under an obligation to report that to 85 the police, just as he is under an obligation to report injury to an animal or damage to another vehicle? Equally, what about the poor cat? Why should not the cat have the same sort of protection as is given to every other kind of domestic animal? I do not see why people should be allowed to run over a cat and then be under no obligation to report it to anybody.
I am suggesting that there is nothing unreasonable—indeed, it makes the law very much more sensible—in extending this requirement to report an accident whether the damage is done to a person, to another vehicle, to an animal or to any other kind of property. That would be the sensible and, it seems to me, the simple way to deal with this matter. The Government have been very good this afternoon: they have accepted quite a number of Amendments, and when they have not been accepting something they have been defeated. This is a very satisfactory state of affairs, and I hope that it is going to continue. I therefore hope that we are going to hear from the noble Lord in a minute that the principle of this thing, at any rate, upon which the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, and I are agreed, is accepted.
§ LORD HYLTON
My Lords, from personal experience I should like to support the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Middleton. On at least one occasion a motorist has demolished my roadside fence in the middle of the night, with the result that my cattle have got out, walked half a mile or so down a dangerous main road and devastated my neighbour's garden, causing considerable ill will and bad feeling. I hope that this Amendment will do something to prevent these happenings.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, I, too, should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, particularly when it comes to dry stone walls up in Northumberland and the Border country, which in fact do a great service in that they prevent a very bad accident because they stop the car. But it is becoming incredibly expensive now to repair these walls, and I feel there should be an obligation on the motorist to report an accident when the farmer has to repair the damage and may also lose cattle or sheep through their escaping on to roads carrying traffic which, 86 until recently, has been going at quite a high speed.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, when we discussed this point in Committee on the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I marshalled the Government's list of objections which, broadly speaking, boiled down to whether or not it was a law that could be reasonably enforced, because we do not wish—and this is generally agreed—to give the police unenforcible laws or to clutter up the Statute Book unnecessarily. Having said that, I fully accepted the various points which were put forward. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, then put forward an argument which I found had great force. My Lords, I undertook that we would initiate discussions to consider whether his points, his comparisons and similarities with legislation on animals, had force. Discussions are still taking place. There have been discussions between the transport section of the Department of the Environment and their colleagues in the Home Office. The Home Office have not yet had a chance to discuss the matter with the police, but they have arranged to do so in January.
What I should like to say to-day is that if, after discussion with the police representatives, the Government consider that there is substance in this point they will table an Amendment in another place at the next stage. I know that this is not very satisfactory for the noble Lords who have taken this trouble, but their arguments will not have been in vain; they will lend substance to the discussions which are still to take place with the police, the Home Office and the Department of the Environment—the parties concerned. I should like to leave it there, if noble Lords will be content.
§ LORD MIDDLETON
My Lords I am grateful to my noble friend. I must say that I find it disappointing that he cannot accept this Amendment here and now. I should have thought that there had been time for consultation by now. However, I accept that he must refer it to his right honourable friend, and I have no doubt that he will wish to take the advice of the police.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, it is not my right honourable friend: it is the police themselves.
§ LORD MIDDLETON
I beg my noble friend's pardon. I have no doubt that account has to be taken of what the police may have to say, as they would have to enforce it. Of course we do not want to throw any unnecessary burden on to the police, especially in the difficult times that we are going through. I appreciate that in many places the police are overworked and under strength, but surely we must face up to the facts of modern economic life. We have acknowledged the huge growth of motor traffic by spending millions of pounds yearly on new roads we must also see that our police force is up to strength and is organised so as to cope with the increase in the volume of traffic, with the greater size of vehicles and with the problems that arise when, for instance, motorists blunder off the highway. My Lords, because there remain further opportunities during the passage of this Bill for this matter to be put right, and because it might well be better for there to be a wider Amendment such as has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment in the hope that this time the opportunity to carry out this long-overdue reform will not be missed by the Government.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 8 [Duty of local authorities to promote road safety]:
LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 13, line 14, leave out ("investigations") and insert ("studies").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this Amendment on behalf of my noble friend. I think we should take Nos. 12 and 13 together, if that is your Lordships' wish. This is a very simple matter. During the Committee stage concern was expressed that the Bill as drafted required local authorities to investigate individual accidents as and when they occurred, thereby duplicating the work of the police. I explained that this was not the intention and I undertook to examine the point. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that local authorities study accidents in numbers in particular areas, such as housing estates. Such studies start with an analysis of the historic data provided. I do not think I need explain the point further, because I think it is self-evident. I beg to move.88
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, this is the point that I raised both on Second Reading and again in Committee, and I am grateful to the Government for meeting me in this way. I rather think that the substitution of "studies" for "investigations" will in fact meet the point I then made and that there will not be duplication in future by the police and a local authority investigating the same complaint.
Page 13, line 17, leave out ("investigations") and insert ("studies ").—(Lord Mowbray and Stourton.)
§ 6.0 p.m.
VISCOUNT MONCK moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 13, line 28, after ("roads") insert ("including the provision and maintenance of sufficient and correct traffic signs and signals.")
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, as many of your Lordships know, I am of a very diffident nature, but I make no apology whatsoever for introducing this Amendment which is very much on the same lines as the Amendment so ably moved during the Committee stage by my noble friend Lord Selkirk who, unfortunately, cannot be present today. I was much encouraged by reading what my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton said at that time. He agreed that the Amendment proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, was important, if it was necessary, and I shall endeavour to show that this Amendment is necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said that the powers of the local authorities for controlling, protecting and assisting the movement of traffic on roads embraced the use of traffic signs and signals. I agree with that, but is it right that the main way of protecting and warning road users should be included in an all-embracing sentence of 10 words, especially, as I hope to show, since the present efficiency of road signs and signals is open to question?
§ During the Second Reading debate I referred to two matters on which I looked with great suspicion. One was 89 the presence of broken white lines on one's own side of the road when there was a continuous white line on the other side. The other was warning signs which had been left in position when there was no longer any need to warn, so causing the signs to be treated with contempt. Four days later I took a 24-mile drive. In at least three instances there were broken white lines on my side of the road and a continuous white line on the other, at places where it would never have been safe for me to overtake traffic. I am not quite sure which of the guardsmen on the Government Front Bench will reply, I think it will be the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton. But during the Second Reading debate I extended to my noble friend Lord Aberdare and to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross an invitation. I said that if they deigned (I am afraid that Hansard got it wrong; they put "dared") to visit my humble home I could, after providing suitable nourishment, take them for a short drive and show them places where broken white lines had been placed in positions where it would never be safe to overtake traffic.
§ Curiously enough, on this 24-mile drive I saw three instances of broken white lines being placed wrongly and on the way home there were all the signals—"Slow down now" and the sign showing the gentleman shovelling coal and then "Traffic lights ahead." And what was there? Nothing. All I am saying is that when even the most careful driver has passed two or three of these signs and signals and finds nothing, who can blame him if he pays no attention to the next one? It may interest your Lordships to know that without telling them that we were to have a debate here today, I spoke to two rather different types of people yesterday, a university student and a gardener. Both of them said they thought that traffic signs and signals were (what shall I say?) in want of careful study that they were wrong. If I may quote the gardener, he said, "Even where the signs say 'Give way' they are too close to that part of the road over which you have to give way."
§ I am glad to see that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is in the Chamber, because I want to pay him a little compliment. I am not talking only of my own County of Hampshire when I say that broken write lines are placed 90 wrongly and that warning signals are left up because someone is too idle to turn them round or remove them before he goes home. Twice this year I have had occasion to motor down to Devonshire. That involves passing through Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset and most of Devonshire. Before the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition gets a little "jumpy", may I say that I did not notice anything wrong in Dorset. That may be explained by the fact that I went through only two miles of that county. Unfortunately, my noble friends Lord Long and Lord Gridley are not here to-day, but in Wiltshire and in Devonshire, where that great fighting man the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, is responsible for most of the county, I found just the same thing. There were broken white lines where it would never be safe to overtake, and signals that had been left up when they were no longer operative.
§ My noble friend Lord Howe is here and I have obtained his permission to steal his thunder. During the Committee stage he talked about signs which were obscured, and it may interest your Lordships to know that about three days after the Committee stage discussions I was going to my usual station. There is a nasty 30 m.p.h. limit at the end of a long hill where you have to put on your brakes quickly, and about 100 yards round the corner the constabulary are apt on occasions to have a radar trap. Knowing where this 30 m.p.h. limit was (in fact a cousin of mine was caught there about a year ago) I was very surprised to see that there were no signs. I investigated and found that on my offside the sign was flat on the ground and the sign on my nearside was covered by a bush which had either blown over or had been cut down. My heart bled for the poor policeman who, having arrived 100 yards round the corner and set up a radar trap, would then find that everyone had a perfectly good excuse for travelling at about 60 m.p.h. So I told my local "copper", and he got the matter put right in 24 hours. In one instance my noble friend was right, in saying that more attention should be paid to signs which are obscured or are not visible.
I think that it was during the Committee stage that my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton suggested that a special circular about this question of road signs should be sent to local
authorities. But it would be much more effective to have this incorporated in the Bill. Local authorities have too much to read already. It would necessitate inserting only 13 words. With respect, my Lords, I can think of a paragraph which appears at page 13 of the Bill in which there are already eight words too many. If those of your Lordships who have taken the trouble to pay for a copy of the Bill will look at lines 21, 22 and 23 on that page you will see the words
… the giving of practical training to road users or any class or description of road users …
My Lords, if you talk about road users, why need you go on to say, "or any class or description of road users"? I was warned that it might be because these words had appeared in a previous Act. But have we always to bring forward things which have been in previous Acts? My Lords, 150 years ago there was probably an Act saying that if you stole a sheep you would be hanged forthwith. We do not have that penalty nowadays, so why continue with it? If you eliminate from the Bill eight words and put in 13, you would be only plus five, and even NATSOPA would not charge much for putting those in.
§ I have finished now, my Lords. I know that my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek is anxious to come forth into battle. I would merely say this to whichever of the famous guardsmen on the Front Bench is going to answer—I think that it is going to be a Grenadier. All good Grenadiers behind a stern exterior hide a kind and considerate heart, and I hope that in this case the kind and considerate heart will be uppermost and that this Amendment will be accepted by the Government. I beg to move.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I am sure we have listened with interest to the military metaphors of the noble Viscount. They were effective, and I only hope that he has brought the right amount of firing power to the right place at the right time, and, consequently, that these few words will be inserted in the Bill, because I am sure it will be improved thereby. I will try to be brief, as I usually do. The main point here is maintenance, and that means that we 92 expect the local authorities, the Government or the people responsible for trunk roads to keep the signs clean, keep them legible, keep them visible, and, last but not least, place them conveniently. This is of paramount importance when one is driving at a fair speed; and I do not mean exceeding the limit, but at a fair speed. I have seen, because I have driven over the road for weeks, a vital notice that has been knocked down, left down and not replaced.
I mentioned at Committee stage a problem that I have met in many lovely country places, in towns and cities. When we have the spring and summer, with our glorious British foliage, sometimes some vital traffic signs are hidden by the foliage because the authorities have neglected to clip the hedges or the overhanging branches. This, I know, could easily be put right, because it is a job that the road-men, or those cleaning up, if they took a pair of clippers or shears along with them could do in a matter of a couple of minutes. But what is important is that this may mean the difference of a life. I should like to know whether there is any regulation as to the number of red lamps to be placed 10 feet or 10 yards from a trench. If one is travelling even on a lonely road at night, particularly during fog, and there are too few lamps or red lights to define the edge of a trench, it can have fatal consequences to a driver. This is another vital argument for the insertion of the phrases that we have appended to this Marshalled List of Amendments. I think the point of those few remarks is self-evident. I have said nothing new, but it is common sense. This is mostly true of common sense; it is not new, but often we fail to apply it. I hope that the few words I have said will enhance the remarks made by the noble Viscount, and that the Government will treat this Amendment with the seriousness that I think it truly deserves.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, little else remains to be said and I have only one thing to say. I entirely agree with both noble Lords who have spoken about the importance of keeping the road signs visible. I am not absolutely satisfied that we have sufficiently covered that point in the Amendment. I am not sure that we should not add to it at the next stage the words, "and keeping it free from visual obstruction".
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Monck will not be disturbed to find the Grenadier part of the Front Bench getting up rather than the Welsh Guards. I do not think the Coldstream Guards, with which I believe he is connected, were more friendly to one of our regiments than to the other. We all got on well together. I hope he will take me with as good a smile as he can muster. The purpose behind my noble friend's Amendment is to secure specific references to traffic signs and signals. It does not add to the powers of local authorities, which of course include all the counties and London authorities, as well. The main object of Clause 8 is to ensure that road safety and highways powers are directed to reducing accidents. The powers to which the clause already directs attention include powers for controlling, protecting or assisting the movement of traffic on the roads. As explained in the debate in Committee that embraces traffic signs powers.
This Amendment is really unnecessary—I am sorry to have to say this—because local authorities have the powers to direct traffic signs of all sorts, including road markings, and these powers stem from Sections 54 and 55 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967. All such signs and markings must be to a design either prescribed by Regulations under the Act or individually authorised by the Secretary of State. Local authorities' discretion about the number of signs and markings to display in particular circumstances varies. There is a distinction between signs which warn of a rise and those which control the movement of traffic. Warning and advisory signs are things like direction signs and white lines on the road showing the edge of the road or the division between carriageways.
My noble friend Lord Monck raised the point about white lines in the last debate in Committee, when my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Elton also spoke. We have already explained that these warning lines are put down at the discretion of the highway authority, within the framework of advice from the Department of the Environment, to meet local conditions. The experience is that most drivers observe these lines well. Indeed, the police have expressed the view that they are the most self-enforcing traffic signs in use. Any local authority 94 not keeping the white lines painted is at fault and not doing its duty, and I am sure that as soon as it is warned by a member of the public it will be the first to want to put things right.
Noble Lords mentioned safety. I can think of many parts of the country where there are roads of three-car widths. In these cases, what often happens is that there is an overtaking line on one side for a mile or two miles, limiting the traffic going in one direction to one lane, and then for the next one or two miles you have a converse situation. This stops hold-ups and ensures safety. This is done on many local authority roads and on many of the trunk roads controlled by the Government. We are currently reviewing our advice on this matter, and this will take into account any points which have been made in this debate. There are also proposals in the new directions on traffic signs now being prepared, to require that in all cases lengths of continuous lines shall be succeeded by at least two warning areas. This would meet the point noble Lords have mentioned about advance warnings.
Local authorities do not only have to make statutory requirements for what is needed in any one case regarding the judgment of road traffic conditions. They work within a framework of guidance which is laid down by the Secretary of State and backed by day-to-day contact between the local authorities and the regional control of the Department of the Environment. The position is different in regard to signs controlling movement of traffic—the speed signs and those controlling access and flows of traffic in one-way streets; but I do not think we have had objections on that ground. Whatever the requirements on local authorities, they must have a measure of discretion to place signs in relation to precise local circumstances. Powers to erect signs are adequate and authorities have a statutory duty, under Section 55 of the Road Traffic Act 1967, to do so, where appropriate. In all these activities they work closely with the Department. The performance of local authorities obviously varies from place to place, but the administrative action and the continuing local interest will, in the last resort, do most.
The noble Viscount, Lord Monck, asked about the class or description of road user. This derives from Section 95 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1972, which the new clause amends. I hope that those words of explanation will show noble Lords that they need not worry about the powers or duties of local authorities and that they may consider this extra Amendment to be unnecessary.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, I am rather in favour of the Amendment, because it adds words that mean something. I am also in favour of leaving out words that do not mean very much. Following what the noble Viscount said, may I suggest to the Government that they should take out "class or description of road users", which is really superfluous even if it comes from another Act, and instead insert the word "all" so that this relates to "all road users". Then, if that is not entirely clear, perhaps this should be put in the Amendment, because, reading this paragraph again very carefully, it seems to be the only thing that is left out—that is, anything to do with road signs. Since all these Acts are really consolidating Acts why not take out superfluous words and put in those that mean something?
My Lords, with great sadness, I have to say that I am not at all satisfied with the reply of my noble friend on the Front Bench. I made one or two notes in my normally illegible handwriting as he was speaking. He said that this Amendment did not add to the powers of the local authorities, which is perfectly true, and that the local authorities have the necessary powers, which is also perfectly true. But the whole point is that they do not use them, and that is why I am worried. Unless one accentuates this very important point, which would help to safeguard life, I do not think that local authorities will do any better than they have done already—and they have not done very well. My noble friend also said that this Amendment was not necessary and that most drivers observe the broken lines well. I am sure they do. I was not speaking about the drivers but about the places where the broken white lines occur. For example, you may see a broken white line on a stretch of road and think that it is safe to overtake, but if you are not acquainted with that particular road you may not know that per- 96 haps 50 yards away there is a dip in the road so that you cannot see an oncoming car. One has also heard about broken white lines for one or two miles. One of my objections is that on particular stretches of road there are broken white lines which are no longer than the length of this Chamber. I am sorry to have to say this, but I should like to have the feeling of your Lordships' House before I withdraw my Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ 6.23 p.m.
LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU moved Amendment No. 15:
After Clause 8 insert the following new clause—
§ Seat Belts
§ " .—(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring, subject to such exceptions as may be specified in the regulations, persons driving or riding in motor-vehicles of any class specified in the regulations to wear seat belts of such descriptions as may be so specified.
§ (2) Regulations under this section may make different provision in relation to different circumstances.
§ (3) Any person who drives or rides in a motor-vehicle in contravention of regulations under this section shall be guilty of an offence.
§ (4) This section shall be construed as one with the 1972 Act."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the object of this new clause is to introduce enabling legislation for the compulsory wearing of seat belts, when the Government see fit to do so. This matter was raised on Second Reading and several noble Lords felt that it represented a grave omission in the Bill. Noble Lords will recall that over the past seventy years a great many people have been killed or maimed on the roads—not that the motor car invented the road accident, because it may be of interest to recall that exactly seventy years ago 350 were killed by horse-drawn traffic in London alone. Many ideas for preventing accidents have been tried: speed limits, breathalysers, driving tests, traffic lights and so on. There have also been great improvements in motor cars themselves, and in such things as brakes and tyres. All these things have prevented the number of accidents from increasing proportionately to the number of cars on the road: in fact, the number of accidents has fallen, proportionately.
§ However, there is no doubt that one of the most effective recent life saving 97 methods has been the introduction of the safety belt. This has been recognised by Governments all over the world, including the British Government, who since 1967 have made the fitting of seat belts compulsory in all new cars. Unfortunately, a large majority of people do not use them. Many lives have been saved by their use, but until recently it has not been possible to ascertain statistics and facts, so that for many years it has been a question of argument or opinion. It is only recently, since Australia introduced the compulsory wearing of seat belts, that facts have become available; and they are most impressive. I personally have become convinced that the compulsory wearing of seat belts is necessary to save lives. In Australia, in the very first year of this legislation, deaths have been reduced by nearly 20 per cent. and about the same proportion of all vehicle occupants' injuries. These are very impressive statistics. France has made it compulsory to wear seat belts outside urban areas, and New Zealand, Malawi and Yugoslavia have also made the wearing of seat belts compulsory. We have now a unique opportunity for any Government to reduce fatalities and injuries at a stroke. In the United Kingdom it is recognised that perhaps 1,000 lives and 14,000 casualties may be saved. I believe that unless the Government give a lead it is possible that more and more insurance companies may refuse to pay out claims in cases where seat belts were not worn. This is something on which the Government should give a lead: it should not be left to the insurance companies.
§ Therefore, I am sure your Lordships would agree that people should "belt up". There are three main methods of ensuring this, one of which is the voluntary method of mounting campaigns on radio and television and in the Press, led by the redoubtable Jimmy Savile. This has led to about 30 per cent. of people "belting up"; but this is not enough. Mechanical methods may also be used—in other words, make it impossible for the car to be driven away unless the seat belt is fastened. In America a buzzer has been introduced which makes life impossible until the seat belt is fastened. Unfortunately, these mechanisms can be interfered with, and there is a danger of mechanical faults. 98 Also, they can considerably increase the cost of the motor car.
§ Therefore one is left only with compulsion. I believe that the public of this country would accept compulsion willingly. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Automobile Association and many other bodies have come down in favour of compulsory use of seat belts. A recent survey carried out by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders gave the figures of 84 per cent. of the population as accepting that compulsion was necessary and that 70 per cent. of motorists were not opposed to legislation.
§ There are of course problems. There is the problem of enforcement, but this has not proved any trouble in Australia. On-the-spot fines are essential in enforcing this offence because one does not want the courts cluttered up by such cases. There is also the question of belt design. I am sure we all agree that belt design is not perfect, but great improvements have been made in recent years and I believe that more improvements will be coming. It is a pity to wait any longer as the seat belt is now a greatly improved piece of mechanism and much more comfortable to wear than it used to be. However, it will in future have to be better adjusted, and it is most important that the belt fits a person properly, otherwise it can on occasion cause damage which otherwise would not occur. Perhaps there will also have to be exemptions for taxi drivers, delivery men, pregnant women and also, I hope, drivers of veteran and vintage cars.
§ There is no doubt that this is going to be a necessary step in times to come. May I explain that my Amendment is purely an enabling clause which would allow this Government, or any future Government, to bring in this legislation when they think fit. They may feel that the time is not absolutely right at the moment, but I believe that this should be on the Statute Book. This Bill is an ideal medium which would enable these regulations to be made in the future, at some time chosen by the Government, without wasting further Parliamentary time. I hope the House will support me and that the Government will agree that this is a principle which is well worth accepting.99
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for intervening briefly at this early stage on this debate. It would probably be useful if I were to explain at once the Government's position on this Amendment. May I apologise particularly to the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Davies of Leek, for rising before they had a chance to speak? My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport Industries announced on May 1 that he would consult various interested bodies on this subject and would report to Parliament before any final decision was taken by the Government. He reported the outcome of these consultations in reply to a Written Question in another place last Thursday. On the same date I replied to another Question in similar terms put down by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, in order that your Lordships should be fully informed of our position before we reached to-day's debate.
I do not wish to weary you by repeating what was in that Statement: it is available in Hansard of December 13, at columns 1355 to 1357. In brief, it is clear, as my noble friend has just said, that most people now accept the value of wearing seat belts. Opinions are divided on the merits of compulsion. On the one side it is argued that a considerable number of deaths and serious injuries can be avoided only by compulsion; on the other side it is said that compulsion gives rise to issues of personal liberty and considerable problems of enforcement. We now have a clearer picture of public opinion, and we are most anxious to hear the opinion of Parliament before coming to a final decision. As my noble friend said, this Amendment gives this House an admirable opportunity to make its views known, and we shall listen with great interest to your Lordships' opinions. My noble friend Lord Mowbray, who is a much greater expert than I am in these matters, will be able to answer any technical points which your Lordships wish to raise, and we are interested in your Lordships' opinions on the compulsory wearing of seat belts.
We are ready to accept this Amendment, if your Lordships agree to it, as it only provides enabling powers and 100 would not prejudice a final decision one way or the other. Moreover, it leaves the way open to modifying any eventual decision in favour of compulsion to provide for limitations and exceptions where these seem desirable. This is another aspect of the matter on which we should like to hear your Lordships' opinions. The Amendment has a few minor defects and one fairly important one: it creates an offence without specifying a penalty. But these are matters which can be put right in another place and we are prepared to accept the Amendment if that is your Lordships' wish. I stress once again that we are most anxious to achieve a full expression of your Lordships' views on the merits or demerits of compulsion in the wearing of seat belts.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I am delighted to hear that the Government have accepted the Amendment in principle and will be tidying up the wording so as to deal with the point that the noble Lord has made. We shall then be ready, provided that the Government are satisfied that public opinion is in favour of it, to make this step forward in motoring safety effective by compulsion. The noble Lord has said that this is an admirable opportunity for the House to make its views known. Unfortunately it will not be a large sample of your Lordships who express an opinion, and I should prefer to be guided by the survey referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, which covered over a thousand people and showed that 84 per cent. of those who expressed an opinion believed that some kind of legislation, including compulsion, was necessary and would be effective. When one has this kind of view expressed by people in the country at large, I think it would be wrong for us not to take action.
It reminds me of the developments which led up to the breathalyser legislation some years ago when I had some correspondence with Mr. Marples, the then Minister of Transport. He said to me: "We cannot move too far ahead of public opinion on these matters. In order to make out a case for legislation on the level of alcohol in blood it must be demonstrated that public opinion is widely in favour of it." I carried out a survey which showed that people were ready to accept that limitation on their individual freedom. Admittedly my 101 survey was not a large one and was not as scientifically conducted as the one to which reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. But Governments should show a lead in these matters and not wait until 100 per cent. of the people are behind them on a particular road safety matter when it is clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has said, that a large number of lives can be saved.
I believe the figures that he quoted were those of the Department of the Environment. These figures of 1,000 fatalities and 14,000 serious accidents came from Departmental experts and therefore one should take them very seriously. If this is the extent of the human damage and suffering that is being caused by our failure to legislate on the compulsory wearing of seat belts, why have we waited so long? The important point which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare mentioned, the question of how this can be reconciled with individual liberty, I take very seriously. For two years I was Secretary of the Parliamentary Civil Liberties Group, and for another six years I was Chairman of that body. I should not like to see anything done by this House, or by Parliament as a whole, which infringed the important civil liberties which we enjoy. However, I do not think that this Amendment does so. There are precedents for it. I have already mentioned the case of the breathalyser. More recently we have had the compulsory wearing of crash helmets by motor-cyclists. An even closer parallel is the compulsory wearing of seat belts in aircraft. Nobody says it is an infringement of personal liberty when he gets into an aeroplane and is asked to fasten his seat belt on take-off. I do not see why people should object when they are asked to do the same thing in cars.
I will not weary your Lordships with examples, but there are hundreds and hundreds of restrictions on what people can do in industry—rules which are designed to promote and safeguard the health and safety of employees in companies. People naturally accept these restrictions, such as wearing hard hats in the building industry, because they realise that they are for their own protection. I believe that legislation would be effective. Not only can we see this from the experience of other countries as 102 the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has mentioned. There is also the common-sense argument: that once people know a thing is the law then they will do it whereas so long as it is only voluntary, no matter how much or great the persuasion, even by eloquent advocates such as Jimmy Savile (and I pay a very sincere tribute to him for the work he has done) people will still not do it so long as they are not legally obliged to. When it is required by an Act of Parliament, I am quite certain they will. I saw this when I went over to France just after the legislation had been introduced there. I was with some English friends who, so far as I am aware, very seldom wear their seat belts in Great Britain. As soon as they got into their car in France, they automatically put them on. I am quite certain that that would happen here.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, we are all grateful to the Minister who made that announcement from the Front Bench opposite, and thereby enabled us, I should think, to shorten the debate, because we understand that there is a possibility of getting some kind of enabling Amendment. I have great pleasure in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I know the work that both noble Lords have done in this direction. It must be pleasing to them to know that there is a possibility of some of these things coming to fruition. Without repeating the arguments which have already been made, I also want to pay a tribute to the Department of the Environment for the "clunk-click" advertising campaign. The campaign cost £1½ million, but it has had its effect.
In answer to those who suddenly jump to a conclusion, and say, often arrogantly without knowing the facts: "Ah, I only put the belt on when I am driving long distances", we forget that some 35,000 accidents occur in areas only ten miles from one's home. One argument put by some people is that if it is made compulsory to wear a belt, we are interfering with the individual's liberty. I hope that people realise, when they talk of their liberty being interfered with that it costs the taxpayer about £115 million a year to attend to the injuries that the caused by people not wearing a belt. So, there are two sides to this 103 question. If one asks for rights, suddenly one has responsibilities. A great deal of work has been done. Many noble Lords may have had the leaflet issued by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Much work has been done by them, and by the Institute of Advanced Motorists pointing this out.
I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Montagu (I do not know whether some noble Lords who have just come in heard what he said) pointed out a tendency now in our modern courts. The need is urgent to look into this, especially in the light of recent High Court decisions which have reduced claims for injury and damage by as much as 20 per cent. when the claimants have failed to wear their seat belts. Those who are asking for the liberty to do what they like must remember that we have a precedent in the High Courts in so far as a judge, in coming to a decision, has reduced the claimant's claim by some 20 per cent. because he was not wearing a seat belt. Together with the arguments already made, I would consider that a constructive and cogent argument for the Minister to consider.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred to the question of looking into the models and the difficulties of constructing seat belts to protect those who want to belt up or buckle up. Seat belts in modern cars are designed to meet new laws. I believe that no car manufacturers should issue manuals with a new car without a conclusive explanation of how to fasten the seat belts. I do not want to take the advantage of privilege to cite, as I could, the names of a number of car makers in this country whose information on seat belts is bad and gives little information to people. If people buy a new car and find it a little difficult to belt up at the beginning, they are likely to begin their motoring career wrongly. So, there is a need, as was hinted, for more research into this question of the design of belts. I could go on, but I think most of the constructive points have been made, and this noble House has a great deal of work to do and it is getting late. I am grateful to the Minister for the statement he made to the House.
§ LORD ROBERTHALL
My Lords, I do not want to detain the House, but I 104 must accept the very generous invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that he wanted to hear our views. My excuse for speaking is that I was quite recently in Australia where, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has pointed out, seat belts have recently been made compulsory. I saw how the system worked. What I saw would have very much reinforced the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just put forward. Almost everybody wore the belts: nobody seemed to think it was a personal infringement of his liberty. Most people took the view that it was very useful to have this law because it gave them a jolt at the beginning and they remembered to put on the seat belts whereas nowadays, if you talk to the people in England you find that, while nearly everyone is in favour of them, they say, "I didn't remember", or "I couldn't be bothered". I know that enforcement is a difficulty, but the view taken in Australia was that it was an easy law to enforce because it was so obvious whether or not a driver was breaking it. There was no element of judgment such as there is about the speed limit or parking. It therefore seemed to me that the Australian experiment cast a good deal of light on the acceptability of this law. I am personally very much in favour of it. I do not think in general the Australians are more law-abiding than the people of this country—on the whole, I think their reputation is the other way.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, I rise only because of Lord Aberdare's invitation to noble Lords to express their views. I have been driving a motor car a long time and it makes me feel very old indeed. I had my first licence in 1914 and I have never been without one since. For a very long time I had very grave doubts indeed as to the wisdom of seat belts; but as the days have gone by, as traffic conditions have altered considerably, I have come to the conclusion, wholeheartedly, that it would be very wise to accept Lord Montagu's Amendment and therefore enable the Government to take steps, as they so desire, when they think best, to make the seat belt wearing compulsory.
I know, my Lords, that a number of people have pointed out that they have been thrown out of cars because they 105 were not wearing seat belts and that this probably saved their lives. But after all the evidence that we have, I am quite sure that the real risk is the other way round, and that there are many more risks involved by not wearing seat belts. I am quite sure that all the surveys have proved conclusively that lives are saved by the wearing of seat belts. I have only one reservation about the Amendment, and that concerns the back-seat passenger. I am not quite sure whether it is as necessary for him as for those seated in the front of the car. I have certainly come to the conclusion that it is right for those in the front of the car to wear seat belts, but I have a feeling that, from the point of view of compulsion, there is not the same necessity for the back-seat passengers. But this is a matter for consideration. The principle is what is involved. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, would consider my view: that, as one of your Lordships who are very interested in this subject, I am in favour of the Amendment.
§ BARONESS HYLTON-FOSTER
My Lords, I am not against the wearing of seat belts but I ask the Government to consider the safety of the buckles before making seat belts compulsory. I speak from experience. I was a victim of an air crash when wearing my seat belt and for a long time it was impossible to get me out of the aircraft after the crash because the buckle buckled. It was not until my husband got hold of a sharp instrument and cut the belt that I was able to be released. Had the plane burnt I should not be here today, and this kind of situation could easily happen in the motor-car. Safety belts are good things, but, as noble Lords know, the buckles vary greatly. I am sure that if more thought were given to the type and safety of the buckle, it would be an encouragement to some of us who are a little frightened of wearing seat belts.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, a point which worries me as well as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu (the Minister has kindly asked for comments), concerns the exceptions or exemptions. It seems to me that we accept the principle of this Amendment. I have come round to acceptance. I am one who has been thrown out of a car and I think would have been killed had I been wearing a belt, but the weight of evidence is so 106 much the other way that one must make some sort of sacrifice. Nevertheless, it seems to me that if it is to be made compulsory then one must have either a range of belts or belts which can be used by everybody. How dangerous is the situation for a pregnant woman? If this Amendment is accepted, as I understand it will be, this is one of the factors which will help to give impetus to more research into making the whole situation safer. I do not accept the comparison with a breathalyser or with getting into a plane. They are not on the same level. One of the troubles concerns those who make small journeys and do not use their belts because of stopping and starting and getting in and out. One hardly gets in and out of a plane at frequent intervals, and only the pilot drives it. I agree that the Government's attitude on this question is extraordinarily good and I think it means that when seat belts are compulsory they will be much more effective and will be able to be worn by everybody without the exemptions named.
§ LORD MONSON
My Lords, I hope sincerely that your Lordships will resist this Amendment. For all its good intentions—and of course I accept that they are excellent intentions—I believe it introduces an additional undesirable element of paternalism, or perhaps one should say "maternalism", into the law. The essence of conservative philosophy whether with a large or small "0", and indeed of liberal philosophy, whether with a large or small "1", as I understand them, is that an individual should be free to make his or her own mistakes, if indeed mistakes they be, so long as nobody else is harmed in the process. Rugby football, pot-holing, mountaineering, steeplechasing and boxing are all dangerous sports, but with the exception of boxing nobody has proposed that they be made illegal.
I think we should examine some of the arguments advanced publicly in favour of legislation of this kind. Of all unlikely bodies, one of the motoring magazines supported similiar legislation on the grounds that nobody had the right to risk his own life in view of the fact that the State, the taxpayer, had spent good money on welfare benefits, child allowances, education and so on and so forth, and this would be dissipated if anybody 107 was killed prematurely. These are in essence exactly the arguments used by the East Germans to justify the building of the Berlin Wall. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, about the cost of the Health Service. If he were to introduce an Amendment which provided that anybody injured as a direct result of not having worn a seat belt would be liable to pay his own hospital charges, then I would support him; but not this Amendment in front of us today.
Those of us who oppose this Amendment do so not only on philosophical or ethical grounds but on practical ones as well—perhaps foremost on practical grounds. The fact is that very many seat belts, I think perhaps the majority, are either badly designed in themselves or badly fixed or located within the car. With respect, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, has understated the imperfections in this respect. The sort of seat belts that need a two-handed operation almost invariably get tangled up and caught under the seat runners of the front seats and are thereby weakened; it certainly can take several minutes to find them under the seat and then buckle them and drive off. The single-handed operating seat belts are frequently difficult to release in the event of an accident or fire. Two noble Baronesses have drawn attention to the dangerous location of the buckles, to which the A.A. magazine Drive has drawn attention. They are all too often in front of the vital organs instead of at the hip and could cause serious internal injury in the event of accident. The mounting points are frequently too high on the door pillar so that people who are shorter than of average height can be caught across the neck in the event of an accident, again with the possibility of serious injury. Certain cars, the B.M.W. 1600 and 2000 coupes, for instance, have mounting points so located that the seat belt invariably slips off the shoulder within 15 seconds maximum from driving off. I know this because I had one of these cars for three years and the seat belt was absolutely useless. My Lords, to sum up, my chief objection to this Amendment is essentially one of principle, in which I cannot expect all noble Lords to join me; but given the unsatisfactory design of seat belts at present, 108 I urge your Lordships to consider the very real practical objections to this Amendment.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I am sure that the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, for having put these points. Up to now we have been very one-sided in this debate and he certainly put points that need to be considered by the Government if the House accepts the principle behind this Amendment. When the Government come to make their regulations they will need to consider all these points. If, in the event of there being the likelihood of a Division, it had fallen to my lot to rise to give the point of view of this Front Bench, I should have been saying that it is for my Party to vote as they think fit on this issue because there is no Party line on it.
So far as I am concerned, I favour compulsion. I exercise it in my own car. If people ride with me I tell them they put on their seat belt or they walk; and almost invariably they put on their seat belt, I notice. This procedure is quite sound and perhaps the way to do it. There is of course no absolute compulsion on them because they can get out and walk, but otherwise I think this is the right principle to adopt. I certainly think there ought not to be any question of distance involved in this matter. A close friend of mine had a most serious accident in travelling 300 yards to the local post office. Normally one might think it not worth putting on a belt for that short distance, but if she had had a belt on she would have been saved very serious injury. The injury occurred in the course of covering that very short distance. I am sure it is right that we should have had this discussion to-day. I hope it will be continued, as I expect it will, in the other House and that eventually the Government will come to the right decision on it. I repeat, I personally support compulsion.
§ THE EARL OF LINDSEY AND ABINGDON
My Lords, I should like to support this Amendment in principle and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for allowing us to express our views. I have recently had experience of driving in two countries, one where legislation is in force and the other where 109 mechanical devices are used. The first country was Australia, and I am afraid I have to dispute what the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, said about the discipline of Australian drivers. I did not find that legislation made people wear seat-belts; they were rather apt to wear them loosely across their shoulder if they thought there was a police trap or that they might be caught, and then when they go on to the open road they unfasten them.
I know, of course, that there is also the added expense to be considered, but the other country where I had recent experience in driving a motor car was in California, where they go in for mechanical devices to compel people to fasten their seat belts. I personally found this much more effective, because the device they used made a noise inside the car that was so intolerable that one was forced to fasten one's seat belt. I am really making these few remarks so that the noble Lord may give consideration to them.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, I, too, should like to take up the invitation of the noble Lord to express my opinion. I also have driven in countries where seat belts have mechanical devices. In America I did not have the same experience as the noble Earl, Lord Lindsey and Abingdon. I found that what in fact drivers did was to pull out the seat belt and then sit on it, which stops the buzzer sounding. That is rather pointless. I am strongly in favour of compulsion in this matter. I have been involved in an accident and I know that I should have been quite badly hurt had I not been wearing a seat belt at the time. The people in the other car were hurt. Motorcyclists, of course, are obliged to wear crash helmets. In their case the campaign slogan was, "You know it makes sense"—as it does, of course, and the same applies to the use of seat belts in cars. I hope the Government will see their way eventually to making the wearing of seat belts compulsory.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
My Lords, I should like to make one point that I do not think has been made so far. One's failure to wear a seat belt has an effect upon others. Quite apart from the fact that if there is an acident the ambulance people have to pick you up and you may 110 have to pay the hospital bills, there is also the reaction of people to the number of fatal accidents and injuries which occur on the roads, constantly leading to restrictive methods, speed limits, and so on. I, who personally dislike speed limits—at least of 70 miles an hour—am constantly affected by this. Undoubtedly if accidents continue to increase more draconian measures will have to be taken. So I do not think one can argue that it is purely an individual choice; it has an effect upon all of us.
§ BARONESS MACLEOD OF BORVE
My Lords, I must take sides with those who do not want seat belts to be made compulsory. I feel that we have so many rules and regulations and laws that I am afraid I cannot agree with yet another one. However, I should like to agree with what my noble friend Lady Hylton-Foster and the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches said about the fear of being trapped in a car. Two people whom I knew very well were burned to death because they were trapped in a car by their seat belts.
If in the future the Government make compulsory the wearing of seat belts I would ask that the form of seat belt is looked into in far greater depth than hitherto. I would certainly advocate that the "clunk, click" part of the contraption should go on the door side and not down by the hip, because when there is an accident the "clunk, click" part can then be undone by people trying to rescue somebody who is perhaps on fire or very badly injured. At the moment the seat belt cannot easily be undone because the "clunk, click" part of it is too far across the middle of the car. I hope the Government will see to it that this aspect is improved.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I am not opposed to the actual wearing of seat belts, but I am opposed to compulsion. I should like to say that when I first came to your Lordships' House this afternoon I felt that my opposition would be to the timing of this Amendment. I thought that as the Government were busily concerned in consultation with various motoring organisations we should wait until they came to a decision before deciding what we should do about it, but from what I have heard this evening I am still more 111 convinced that compulsion is wrong. If we can achieve it by persuasion and publicity—even if it takes 20 years—I would rather it were done that way. As has just been said by my noble friend, I feel that the motorist has far too many rules and regulations to observe all the time, both on the road and on the signs, and if we could do something about this voluntarily instead of by compulsion the motorist would be much happier.
Speaking for myself, I would never wear a seat belt unless I were compelled. I have seen far too many accidents, both on the racing track and in other spheres, in which the drivers have been trapped by their seat belts, the car has turned over and the driver has been unable to get out in time. Many of your Lordships will remember an occasion when this happened earlier in the year, to a gentleman by the name of Mr. Williamson.
There are other points which I consider to be of great importance. One, which has been mentioned, concerns the type of seat belt which one might have as the standard. At the moment I believe there is a belt—it is only just being publicised—which has no buckle. Many of the injuries caused by seat belts result from the buckle being pressed into the body, and if a type of belt without that buckle can be devised it would be of advantage.
There are many other things to be considered by the Government. The question of insurance and other matters will have to be decided very carefully before we are absolutely certain that we are doing the right thing. However, if it is the law of the land that we should wear seat belts, obviously we have to do so. But there again, there is the difficulty of enforcing that law. It is no use just laughing that off—it is a difficulty. Again, there is the difficulty of enforcing the law by ensuring that the seat belt is not left loosely round the body. I had occasion recently to speak to a doctor who said that a young girl came into his hospital at Windsor after having had her head nearly taken off by the seat belt having slipped up round her neck. If that happens once it can happen again.
I think all these points are important. I was most interested to hear the noble Baroness refer to the accident she had when wearing a seat belt in an aeroplane that crashed. Bearing all these points in 112 mind, if anything that we say in your Lordships' House has some interest to Her Majesty's Government, obviously it will be of great advantage to all who drive motor cars, and all of us in different spheres have some experience of motoring.
§ THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench two questions. I do so because I am intrinsically opposed to the Executive taking powers in the future unless it knows very well what it is going to do with those powers. My first question concerns the design of these belts. In my particular car, which is of foreign make, when I am wearing my seat belt I cannot apply the handbrake, use the cigar lighter or get at the drawer where I keep the sweets. So in the case of my present car I would regard this compulsion with considerably less than favour. Will the regulation be based on some sort of design of seat belt which will be useful and comfortable with all types of car?
My second question arises out of subsection (3) of the proposed Amendment. Are the licences of those who are found guilty of an offence, and presumably it will be under some sort of regulation like the Construction and Use Regulations, to be endorsed? One can envisage a situation where the driver may not fasten his seat belt, and if he has a licence I suppose it is equitable that it should be endorsed; but if the passenger, his girlfriend, has no licence, it seems a little unfair that the driver should be so penalised, but not the passenger. If this is an endorsable offence, the next question is, will it count towards the three for the purposes of totting-up? I ask that question because I think the Government will have to think this matter out; they will also have to think out the consequences before they bring in the regulations.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I am rather against the package as presented this evening. I do not think one can refute the figures and arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, has brought forward, but I would refute some of the figures brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I think it is rather irrelevant to say that an accident on the road costs 113 the taxpayer £x and therefore the road user should be restricted in some way when, in fact, accidents in the home cost the taxpayer a good deal more. But we do not say, "You must not have a faulty kettle"—and there is nothing we could do about it even if we were to say so.
My Lords, it seems to me that if the Government take to themselves enabling powers, it would suggest that at some time these powers will be used. Therefore, seat belt manufacturers will say: "Research and development can now cease; they can put up with what we produce". So we shall get no movement forward. I think so many seat belts are designed down to a price and are utterly unsuitable for certain applications and in certain motor cars. This is largely the point the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, was making, and I agree with him. Certainly on the car I use I can only use what I call an old-fashioned seat belt, incredibly uncomfortable and very dangerous on the occasion of involvement in an accident. Therefore, it would seem to me that while in general terms we think it is quite a good idea (we do not want our liberties infringed any further), we might start at the beginning and say, "If you are to become a new car user, there are certain restrictions which must apply to you. First, you must pass a test and then you may buy a car that is approved"—and we have this type of approval in the Bill. Within the Construction and Use Regulations there should be provided a passive restraint system so that one starts one's motoring life with a whole series of restrictions, in which case the whole motoring package will be more acceptable and one will not feel quite so infringed when yet another new regulation is put on top of 20, 30, 40 or 50 years' motoring. It would seem to me that the Amendment is ill-timed; not ill-conceived, but ill-timed. In view of the fact that we have a Road Traffic Bill at fairly regular intervals, it would be better if we allowed matters to proceed, debate to proceed, inventive genius to proceed, and to come again another day and have another look at giving the Executive enabling powers.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, some of your Lordships at any rate will recall 114 that it has been my privilege to address your Lordships over a number of years on these matters. I have waited till now because this matter is one that I feel cannot go by without my saying something. I have always thought it more constructive to talk to your Lordships about what I regard as positive road safety measures; that is to say, those that tend to stop people having accidents, than to talk about what I call negative safety measures, which are those which endeavour to reduce the impact of an accident. But if we are going to talk about negative safety measures, there is nothing I would prefer more to talk about than the use of the safety belt.
My Lords, I came here to-day determined to support the Amendment in the name of my noble friend and his friends. Due to a piece of extraordinarily sensible action by Her Majesty's Government I, too, address myself to the opinion that they should use the powers which they are enabled to have. I shall try to keep my speech relatively short, but your Lordships will also know that apart from many years of almost dedicated experience as a practical motorist and driver, I have had some years in what was then called the Ministry of Transport, and subsequently further experience with the Royal Automobile Club. But that is past experience and obviously I speak for neither. I speak for my own opinion resulting from experience and from all the contacts I had, not only with motor manufacturers and drivers' clubs, but with the Road Research Laboratory, ROSPA and so on. The sum total of this experience convinces me that the compulsory wearing of safety belts is something we ought to have. I will add to that, if I may, two small personal touches. I have actually been through the windscreen, head first, without a safety belt. I did not like it. I have actually been thrown out of an overturning car—I did not like that either. It was some divine dispensation that I was not injured in either case. I would not therefore say that I wish to repeat either experience without a safety belt. Incidentally, I have also crashed my aeroplane and written it off round the base of an oak tree and stepped out with only a bruised knee because of my safety harness. If any further argument is needed—and I will not enlarge on this to spare your 115 Lordships' time and the embarrassment of some of my friends—I could give your Lordships a list of 19 people, some of whom I know others of your Lordships know, who so far as I know are alive to-day because they used their safety belts. One of them is a senior Member of your Lordships' House. There are two Peeresses, one is the wife of one of your Lordships and the other is my wife, who are alive to-day because they wore a seat belt.
My Lords, a certain amount has been said about Australia. What has been said was most interesting. I am told that the Australians did not take quite so kindly to such measures, particularly when there seemed to be no particular point in them. Experience has already been related, and the wearing of seat belts is known to have met with fairly widespread acceptance in Australia. The figure I have in mind for seat belt wearing is, I think, 80 per cent. in Australia as against 30 per cent. in this country. Many years of propaganda and persuasion, such as my noble friend Lord Howe wanted to continue, has resulted only in 30 per cent. success. The figure that was not mentioned—and this is the latest figure I have—is that in the State of Victoria, since the adoption of legislation, the figure for deaths has gone down by 18.5 per cent. We are accustomed to hearing the figures for serious injuries being reduced, but in the State of Victoria the percentage reduction of all injuries in accidents has been 17.3.
I think that I can be said to have made a case. However, there are two small points I would mention. Much has been made of the fact that one cannot escape from a safety belt. I should like a little more analysis there, because I should like to know how many who could not escape were able to escape. If your Lordships cast your minds back to people you knew who flew aeroplanes in war-time, you will recall that there were very few people who were unable to get out of their harness if they were capable of getting out of the harness and out of the aircraft at all. Most of the reasons why people are trapped in crashed and perhaps burning vehicles is because they are not capable of getting out.
There are exceptions, I know, that will prove every rule. There are allegedly bad 116 safety belts. I do not think quite enough credit has been given in some remarks to the work of the British Standards Institution. But there will inevitably be the odd buckle which is twisted or damaged, perhaps with poor design, although I should think that that is improving daily, where there is a genuine case of somebody not being able to release himself or to be released. It will always happen. But I would say that if you are capable of releasing yourself from your safety belt and getting out, 999 times out of a 1,000 you will do so. If you are not capable, if you are knocked out, heavily damaged or something like that, you will not get out of the car anyway. I think it should be borne in mind that if you have not got a belt on you are much more likely to be seriously injured and maybe knocked out, and even less able to get out of the vehicle in a very tricky situation.
The noble Baroness spoke of enforcement. Normally I would absolutely agree with this. I have been saying for years that we have too many motoring regulations and very little attempt and very little possibility of enforcing them. I suppose, in principle, the same objection may apply here. But at least we have the consolation that this is something which is a self-evident offence and almost self-enforcing; you either have got a belt on or you have not; it cannot be a matter of opinion. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, made the excellent point, which must be somehow written into the first-line propaganda, about the necessity to adjust the belt. How you might get enforcement of that is a little more difficult. But whether or not you are wearing a belt is self proving. Any policeman with a pair of eyes, or even one eye, would be able to see that beyond dispute, when it comes to the crunch. I said I would try to be as brief as I could. All in all, I think it is time that your Lordships agreed that the Government should use these powers and they should shortly have them.
§ LORD HACKING
My Lords, I was going to make a speech in support of the noble Lord who moved this Amendment. I have decided that discussion has gone on quite long enough, and I merely stand on my feet to record my support.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, I should like to thank all noble 117 Lords who have spoken. My noble friend Lord Aberdare said that he would like to hear opinions, and I am sure I speak for him when I say we are grateful. The three noble Lords who introduced this Amendment can be very pleased at having drawn public attention to what is a matter of great public interest. Perhaps I may deal with one or two points which were raised. The Road Research Laboratory are working with manufacturers on the question of buckles, not just part of the time but the whole time. On this point the Road Research Laboratory point out that the habitual user of safety belts often can undo his or her belt in an instant, whereas those of your Lordships who do not use them regularly probably find it hard to do.
I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, for his kind words about the Department of the Environment's advertising. Since July, 1972, we have spent £1,700,000 on advertising the safety of seat belts. It has got people to use them only up to a little over 30 per cent. We have learned through the people who test public opinion that of road users some 90 per cent. agree that the value of seat belts is self-evident, but there are at the same time indications that by voluntary means alone you would never get the use up to more than 50 per cent. That is a fact that your Lordships must bear in mind. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, for mentioning the Australian experience, which I think is very relevant; injuries and deaths down between 15 and 20 per cent. There are other statistics. Sweden and Australia have shown that there is twice the risk of injury if you are not wearing a belt. That is also a statistic that is rather frightening. I know one meets people who say that if so-and-so had been wearing a seat belt he might or might not have died. It is very hard to ask people who have died whether they would have been able to get out of the car; this is a point which one never knows. On the other hand, one can prove the enormous number of cases where they have helped. I take the point that the country does not like to be nannied too much, but there are points where you ought to nanny people for their own good.
The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, asked whether it would be an endorsable 118 offence. So far as I am aware, that would not be the case. He asked what would be the likely fines. As it would not be an endorsable offence, it would not rank for totting up. The comparison, I imagine, would be with the wearing of a crash helmet by a motor-cyclist. The fine there is £50. I should expect this to be a somewhat similar type of offence. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that the Government should give a lead. That is what we should like to do, given an indication by the Houses of Parliament as to what their wishes are. We have the facts. All we have to do is to convince public opinion that it is practical, and the details regarding seat belts are useful to this end. I am grateful for your Lordships' interest to-night.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I think I made it clear at the beginning that we wanted to hear the views expressed in Parliament. We have had a very useful debate here, and I am sure there will be a useful debate in the other place.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, may I briefly close this discussion by thanking the Government for accepting the Amendment. It is a very rare thing for Back-Bench Amendments to be accepted, and it is even rarer for an Amendment of such historic importance which will affect so many people's lives in the future. The Government can certainly take great credit for this, and perhaps it reflects their wisdom in introducing a Bill like this into your Lordships' House in the first place.
§ Clause 10 [Extension of type approval Scheme to all vehicles and to vehicle parts.]:
§ 7.30 p.m.
VISCOUNT HANWORTH moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 17, line 9, at end insert ("and the Secretary of State shall make arrangements for continuing surveillance to ensure that as far as possible vehicle and vehicle parts which are sold or supplied to the public comply with type approval requirements and requirements of section 40 of this Act and for those purposes")
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I speak to Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 together. They are in the main probing Amendments. What I should like is a clear statement on the degree of surveillance of this type testing. I would ask, first, whether it will be only at the point of sale or supply, or will there be independent surveillance at the manufacturer's factory? I feel that it is not sufficient to leave it to the manufacturer to lay down his method of quality control, with nobody going to see whether it is working satisfactorily and meets reasonable standards. That, after all, is how the British Standards Institution proceeds on its kite mark. It is most definitely necessary to have periodical inspections of manufacturers quality control. The B.S.I. do it twice a year, and initially lays down what that quality control shall be. The second point is what sort of level of surveillance will there be? How many examiners will there be, and what authority will be responsible for these authorised examiners?
§ Finally, one has to consider what sanctions there will be when a vehicle does not comply with type approval. Under the Act it seems that the certification is deemed to be a trade description. Will it therefore be a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act if there is a vehicle on sale which does not comply with the requirements of its type test? If the Minister can clearly answer these questions, so far as he has the information, then I shall ask leave to withdraw this Amendment and will not move Amendment No. 17. Since we are on Report stage, if I have to come back and ask any further question I will formally move Amendment No. 17 to give me the opportunity of speaking again.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, to answer the noble Viscount's last point, it is an offence under Section 63(2) of the Trade Descriptions Act. On his main point, in our opinion special arrangements for surveillance of the retail trade in vehicles or vehicle parts are not justified.
The use of approval marks to enforce type approval requirements is already established and has proved effective. Approval marks may be prescribed under 120 Sections 47 and 63(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1972. The unauthorised use of approval marks or the use of false approval marks is an offence under Section 63(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1972 and Sections 1 and 3 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. A condition of issue of any type approval certificate is that the Secretary of State shall be satisfied that adequate arrangements have been made to secure that production vehicles and parts shall conform with the relevant type approval requirements. Without the type approval requirement the operator will not get a road licence. These arrangements include surveillance of production methods and procedures by officers of the Department of the Environment. Any requirements of Section 40 of the Act for which special enforcement measures are required are to be prescribed as type approval requirements under the powers to be granted in this clause.
In short, my Lords, not only do we feel that this Amendment would be undesirable but we feel that it is unnecessary. I have to confess that we should need a great deal more manpower to deal with this problem, and it would mean substantial expenditure without leading to any greater efficiency.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which makes the position clear. I am not certain whether I am really satisfied, but I will read what he has said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 12 [Amendments relating to licensing of drivers and vehicles]:
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 18, line 15, leave out ("and") and insert—
("(cc) extending by one year the period which must elapse before the holder of a licence which has been endorsed with any particulars is entitled to have issued to him a new licence free from those particulars, and")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Aberdare I should like to move this Amendment and also speak to Amendment No. 36, for which No. 18 is merely a paving Amendment. The purpose of this extension is to ensure that the defendant charged with 121 an endorsable offence cannot escape the application of the totting-up procedure by obtaining a clean licence between the date of the offence and the date of the hearing. Amendment No. 36 meets an undertaking that we gave to the Opposition at Committee stage. It deals with the anomaly raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. I think that at this late hour those few words will probably be enough.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, even at this late hour it would be ungracious of me not to thank the Government for not only having looked at the Amendment that I originally proposed but also accepting it. I may tell the noble Lord that I received a letter from a solicitor about this particular Amendment expressing interest, and he wrote:Without any condescension, I would say that your Lordships show much more common sense when dealing with Bills of this nature than the other place.I thought that I should pass on that comment.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ LORD HACKING moved Amendment No. 19:
After Clause 13 insert the following new clause—
.—(1) In section 6(1) of the 1972 Act (driving, or being in charge, with blood-alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit) the words from "as ascertained" to "Act" shall be omitted and the words "at the time he provides the specimen" shall be omitted.
(2) After section 6(2) of the 1972 Act there shall be inserted the following subsection:—
(2A) Unless the contrary is shown, an offence under subsection (1) or (2) above shall be deemed to have been committed when the proportion of alcohol in the blood, as ascertained from a laboratory test for which a specimen is subsequently provided under section 9 of this Act, exceeds the prescribed limit.
§ (3) In consequence of the amendment effected by subsection (2) above, subsection (3) shall become subsection (4) and subsection (4) shall become subsection (5) and in subsection (5) for the words "subsection (3)" there shall be substituted the words "subsection (4)".
§ (4) In section 8(1) of the 1972 Act (Breath Tests) after the words "any person" there shall be inserted the words "who was or is", and in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) for the words "in his body" there shall be substituted the words "in his blood in a proportion exceeding the prescribed limit at the time he was last driving or attempting to drive" and for the words from "but" to "offence" there shall 122 be substituted the words "provided the requirement is made as soon as reasonably practicable after that person has ceased driving or attempting to drive."
§ (5) In section 8(7) of the 1972 Act after the words "section 5(5)" there shall be inserted the words "or otherwise lawfully arrested".
§ (6) In section 9(1) of the 1972 Act (Laboratory Tests) after the words "of this Act" there shall be inserted the words "or otherwise lawfully arrested"."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I move the Amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List, I should tell your Lordships that I am in a bit of a quandary and I seek your Lordships' assistance out of it. I made arrangements to put down eight Amendments in the Marshalled List. Unfortunately, by the time I came to see the Marshalled List, which was to-day, I found that there were six Amendments all together because there had been some neat concertina-ing by the printer. Worse still, I find that there is only one Amendment marked down to my name. I should like to speak a few opening words on all of my Amendments, but I should like to move them in three parts. If I may have your Lordships' leave to do that, I should like to move my Amendments concerning Section 6—and I look towards the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, about this, because he may be able to follow it more closely than other noble Lords—which are the Amendments contained on page 4 of the Marshalled List. Then I should like to move my Amendments concerning Section 8(1), which form the first, much concertina-ed, paragraph at the top of page 5. Finally, I should like to move the two Amendments concerning Section 8(7) and Section 9(1), which appear in the last two paragraphs of the Marshalled List.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I was not entirely prepared for the sub-division of this Amendment. The noble Lord might bear in mind that even if he did not move them separately he could speak to the various points one after the other and keep them separate. If he were to decide that such answer as I may be able to give is unsatisfactory and he wishes to test the opinion of the House, he could do it on the whole Amendment without any great difficulty, because in fact I am going to say in due course that there are drafting difficulties. I am not going to 123 elaborate them now. If he wishes to test the matter of principle on any part of this Amendment I think that he could do it on one occasion, but he could speak in three sections.
§ LORD HACKING
My Lords, I am much obliged, and I beg leave to move the Amendment standing in my name. May I at the outset address a few opening words to your Lordships upon all of my Amendments. I move my Amendments in a spirit of friendliness and helpfulness to the Government, and indeed to anybody who is concerned with the efficacy of our laws. In doing so, I should apologise for the lateness that these Amendments have been put down, but I hope that the Government will recognise this, too, as part of the spirit of friendliness towards them.
It arises in this way. After the Second Reading, when I made a speech to your Lordships concerning breathalysers, I wrote to the noble Viscount (who was kind enough to reply to me by return of post) and who passed my letter on to the Department of the Environment. I do not criticise the Department of the Environment, because there were difficult matters to consider, but it took some time for that reply to reach me. The Bill passed through the Committee stage, and hence I am addressing your Lordships at the Report stage. The reply which came over the hand of the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, was most helpful and I therefore tried to accommodate my Amendments to that reply. Indeed, I hope that some good will have come from the delay and that my Amendments will meet in principle with the approval of the Government. I recognise that there are drafting difficulties and I have had warnings not only from the noble Viscount but also from the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, that there are going to be critics of the drafting of my Amendments.
Laying aside the criticism of the drafting of the Amendments, it is my submission to your Lordships that they are moderate changes to the official Statute; secondly, that they only seek to improve the efficacy of the law; and thirdly, that they do not touch upon the complicated procedure which follows the taking of the first breath-test procedure. That is one of the points made by the noble Lord, 124 Lord Mowbray and Stourton, in his letter: that it has taken some time for the police and others to master those complicated procedures, and to change them would be putting the clock back some two or three years. Therefore, I have concentrated in my Amendments on the three areas that cause the greatest difficulty to the courts. The first area concerns the taking of a drink of alcohol, either deliberately or innocently, between the stopping by a police office and the taking of a specimen for analysis. The second area, which is even more vexed, concerns the difficulties that have arisen on the definition of "driving" and "attempting to drive" as being the point in time when the police officer can start the ball rolling and require the first breath test. Finally, I deal with another difficulty—that is, that the breathlyser procedure can only be invoked if the motorist—I use a loose terminology here—has been arrested under certain precise sections of the Act. There are occasions when the police make arrests for other reasons and in those circumstances are unable to put the breathalyser procedure into force.
I do not think I need enlarge to your Lordships on the need for the changes, because I covered that as adequately as I could in the Second Reading debate. Your Lordships will remember that I told the House of the difficulties regarding the number of cases with which the courts have been inflicted, and I also drew your Lordships' attention to the cost these involve. Your Lordships may remember that in my sample—because no figures I could find gave the precise number of trials concerning the breathalyser law—I reached a figure of 3,700 trials. I was interested to hear the noble Viscount during the Committee stage take a different sample based on 5.5 per cent. I have calculated that to give a figure of some 1,850 trials. By any view, my Lords, it is a substantial number. Your Lordships will remember the argument on the other side. The noble Viscount said, "The law is biting; there are over 40,000 convictions, and taking all things into account we are satisfied that it is working well enough." So I suppose I am trying to be helpful more to the Lord Chancellor's Department than to the Department of the Environment or the Home Office, but as the noble Viscount, 125 Lord Colville of Culross, will agree, there is nothing shameful about being helpful to the Lord Chancellor's office.
Again I do not want to elaborate on the need for these changes, but perhaps I may just pass an observation about the present problems facing the judges. Judges, and lawyers too, if I may include them, really want the assistance of Parliament on the breathalyser law to clear up a confusion which—I must put plainly to your Lordships' House—is not of their making. Defence lawyers have the unedifying task, time and time again, of presenting wholly unmeritorious defences to the court; and, of course, all lawyers have to witness the uncomfortable spectacle of judges, in the many cases that come before them, feeling compelled to stretch the Statute law beyond its natural meaning in order to give some efficacy to the breathalyser provisions. My Lords, I feel this very keenly, and that is why it is something that I emphasise and draw to your Lordships' attention. I feel that it is the rôle of Parliament to make laws, and not the rôle of the courts.
As I have already indicated, my Amendments are not perfect—and I make a complete confession here. No sooner had I drafted one of my Amendments concerning Section 8(7) than I discovered that I had made a startling error, because in the way that I had drafted the Amendment I was putting a compusion on police officers for all persons arrested, for whatever cause they were in a police station, to be put through the breathalyser procedure. It would be much to the surprise of a number of my clients and those of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who on being taken into the police station would have the breathalyser procedure placed over their heads. Let me confess that I made a complete error here and that my drafting clearly needs correction. That is why I am seeking the principle here; that is why I am hoping that the Government will accept my Amendments at this stage, If I am not being impertinent, may I say that there is plenty of time for my Amendments to be examined further and to be improved when this Bill is making its passage through another place and comes back again to your Lordships' House if that other place makes any Amendments to the Amendments that your Lordships make. That concludes my opening words on my Amendment.
126 May I turn now to Section 6? I have tried again to assist by supplying some noble Lords with an amended pleading, so that noble Lords who have seen it will be able to follow a little more easily than from the Marshalled List the Amendments which I am seeking to move. The defect in Section 6, in my submission, is that it confuses the offence of driving a motor vehicle with excess alcohol in the body with the proof of that offence. The starting point is that it is an offence to drive or attempt to drive a motor car when you are "over the limit"—if I may from now on use that simple expression rather than the longer expression in the Statute. Clearly it is impossible to prove that you are over the limit at the time of the driving, because the blood cannot be taken from the driver when he is actually in the course of driving or attempting to drive the vehicle. The blood sample is not taken until some time, usually about an hour, later by a medical practitioner in the police station. In order to gel round that difficulty the Statute goes on to say that the reading will be at the time the specimen is provided. It further says—and this is where the confusion lies—therefore this is the reading for the time the motorist was driving or attempting to drive.
It follows from that, as the Judicial Committee of your Lordships found in the case of Rowlands v. Hamilton, that if a drink is taken in the interim period the laboratory test provides a wrong reading, because it does not provide the reading of the alcohol content in the blood at the time the person was driving. Therefore, my Lords, my Amendment attempts to do two things. Indeed, I am not going to put it so bashfully as to say that it "attempts": my Amendment does two things: it distinguishes the offence from the proof of the offence. Indeed, stripping down, as I have, Section 6(1) of the original Act, I actually set out what is truly the offence; namely:If a person drives or attempts to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the proportion thereof in his blood exceeds the prescribed limit, he shall be guilty of an offence".By stripping down Section 6(1) in that way, your Lordships have the offence in clear and lucid language. I can say that because it is the original draft merely stripped down.
127 I then go on, in the second part of my Amendment—that is going on to the new subsection (3) of Section 6—to deal with the proof of the offence, and I have put it in this way: that an offence is deemed to have been committed when the reading which is taken later from the driver is found to be over the limit unless that driver or the defence proves, on a balance of probabilities, otherwise. Again I may be in drafting difficulties. It may be said against me that my expression, "Unless the contrary is shown" is being too economic in language, and it may be said that really there should be another paragraph here in the terms of, "It shall be a defence for a motorist to show that the reading obtained at a later time did not represent the reading of alcohol in the blood at the time the motorist was last driving or attempting to drive."
If your Lordships are a little concerned—and perhaps I should pass a short observation on this—about an offence being deemed to have been committed, if your Lordships are concerned that the onus of proof is then being shifted from the prosecution to the defence, may I just say this to your Lordships? It happens from time to time that it is necessary, once a certain set of facts has been proved, to shift the burden on to the defence. Indeed, when that happens, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, will know, the burden of proof is no longer that of proof beyond reasonable doubt: it is the different test of balance of probabilities. If your Lordships want an example of this being done (although it is more disguised than is the drafting of my Amendment, which is less bashful about it) you have only to look at the "in charge" offence to see that that is precisely what happens. Once the prosecution have proved that a driver is in charge of a vehicle—they have to prove that beyond reasonable doubt—and, secondly, that that driver (there is a problem which arises here in a moment, and I shall deal with it later) was over the limit, then it is for the driver to show that in all the circumstances there was no likelihood of him driving so long as he had in his blood an excess of alcohol. This is Section 6(4).
§ LORD HACKING
My Lords, I am much obliged. My Amendment says Section 6(4); it is 6(3) on the original Act. My Lords, there are other examples of this, but I need not tax your Lordships with them. If your Lordships raise any point about that, then I can deal with it at another time. So the result of my Amendment is this: he who cares to take a drink between being stopped and giving the specimen, has to show on a balance of probabilities, if it be the case, that he had been taken over the limit not by the drink he had consumed before the driving but by the later drink; and I would submit to your Lordships that there is nothing unfair or wrong in that.
If I may, because your Lordships will have had enough of me, I think, at this stage I will pause and hear what reply the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, gives, unless it is the wish of the House for me to—
§ LORD HACKING
The noble Viscount indicates that he would prefer me to go on. I have one final passing observation on this section, and it is this. Because the reading of alcohol in the blood does not reach a maximum until some 15 or 30 minutes after the last drink has been taken, it would be possible for a driver—not a driver who would perhaps commend himself to your Lordships—to drink a large quantity of alcohol and to start and complete his driving before that alcohol had gone sufficiently into his body to take him over the limit. If your Lordships are concerned about that driver, let me answer that concern in two ways. First of all, under the present law, if he is breathalised, he would go plummetting down; and, secondly, your Lordships may have no sympathy with him if he does so.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, may I say one word to the noble Lord? I only suggested that he should go on because unless this Amendment is divided into rather an elaborate series of manuscript sub-Amendments I shall have only one opportunity to speak and the noble Lord will have only one opportunity to reply. Therefore, unless he wishes to sub-divide it—and I think this is going to be very complicated—it 129 might be better if he were to complete his whole argument on the three points, and I will do my very best to reply in sub-divisions.
§ LORD HACKING
I am much obliged, my Lords. I was only concerned that your Lordships would become somewhat weary with my voice, particularly when I now have to travel over other difficult areas.
I now move on to my Amendments concerning Section 8, and, if I may, I should like to address your Lordships on the Amendment to the substantive subsection, Section 8(1)—the inclusion of the words "who was or is", because that is the key to the Amendment in Section 8—and then, at the same time, to take your Lordships straight down to the new proviso that I seek to amend as the end of Section 8(1). I am addressing your Lordships upon those two at the outset because they cover a different problem from that covered by the Amendment to paragraph (a), which in the Marshalled List comes between those two. Those first two—the first Amendment and the last Amendment to subsection (1)—concern the problem of the driving or attempting to drive, and the testing procedure. The second one, to paragraph (a), concerns the problem of random tests. That is why I should like, if I may, to address your Lordships in that order.
As I said at the outset, the test of when a motorist is driving or attempting to drive has caused the most acute difficulty. It has caused the most acute difficulty because the original section, if you read it by its natural meaning, asks the police constable to do the impossible. It asks the police constable to form the suspicion that there is alcohol in the body or there is a moving traffic offence and to administer the breath test while that person is still driving or attempting to drive. I would ask your Lordships to ask yourselves: what is the ordinary meaning of "driving" or "attempting to drive"? I suppose driving is when a person is sitting in a car when the car is in motion: attempting to drive is when that driver is having difficulty and the car has stalled. Just apply that concept to the police officer having to administer the test. It presents, does it not, some difficulties for a police officer 130 who is running alongside a moving motor car and getting out the alcohol test apparatus and trying to place the equipment in the mouth of the driver, since it is quite plain from that that the police officer is being asked to do the impossible. And so the court said, "It cannot mean that; it must mean something more." And the question then is, "How much more does that section mean?".
The court said, "Where a vehicle has been stopped at the traffic lights, that clearly is a case where the driver was still driving or attempting to drive." Then this further question arose: "What about when he is cleaning the windscreen?" Again that was held to be driving or attempting to drive. Imagine yourself in a motor car when your driver is cleaning the windscreen. Will your Lordships say that he is still driving or attempting to drive? Certainly if the car was moving that would be a somewhat dangerous manœuvre. If the car was stationary I suggest that your Lordships would take the view that it was a ridiculous suggestion. As a result of this the courts have had to go a great deal further and to conclude—there is authority to support this—that a person who gets out of a car for a purpose connected with the driving is still—even if he is outside the car and talking to a police officer—in the act of driving or attempting to drive. But even these many extensions of the natural meaning of "driving or attempting to drive" did not answer the serious problem.
Even after the latest case before your Lordship's Judicial Committee, the case of Sakhuja v. Ahlen, there have appeared before the courts cases to which I referred on Second Reading; the case, for example, of Edkins v. Knowles. In that case the driver was driving a car fast, erratically and dangerously and was being pursued by a police vehicle driven by a detective officer. The detectives in the police car thought the driver was driving so dangerously that it was not safe to overtake him. Eventually they stopped him at a holiday camp. He sat in the car and he was told to await the arrival of a uniformed officer. The officer arrived as quickly as he could, some 15 minutes later. The driver had a breathalyser test but, despite the extension of the meaning of the original Statute, the court was 131 forced to the conclusion that that man was no longer driving or attempting to drive. Yet that man, as your Lordships will not be surprised to hear, had taken a very large quantity of alcohol over the limit.
Another recent case presented the same type of problem. There a motorist stopped another motorist because he was driving in such a manner that he did not think he could safely be left to drive. The first motorist detained the second motorist for some 15 minutes, until a police officer arrived. It was held that the man who had been stopped was no longer driving or attempting to drive. I am sorry, my Lords, for the length at which I have elaborated on this point, but it is a complicated subject and it has been necessary to present it in some detail to your Lordships. My Amendment recognises that the breath test can be administered only when the driving has ceased, and that it should be done as soon as possible after the driving has ceased.
Concerning random tests, I am not saying whether they should be permitted or not; I am avoiding any political issue. All I can do is to tell your Lordships that despite the original intention of the Act random breath tests do occur. I will not go into details, but the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has had these cases brought to his attention. There was the case of Mr. Philip Reid and of Mr. Newsome. I could not draw the attention of the noble Viscount to them on Second Reading for the very good reason that neither of these two cases had been published. They are even later examples of the difficulties. Mr. Reid was stopped by a police officer who was checking on the car documents, and the same occurred in the case of Mr. Newsome. It was only after the car had been stopped that the police officer noticed a smell of alcohol on the breath of these two men. The breathalyser procedure was invoked. Clearly, that was a form of random test. All I say about it is that my Amendment faces up to the situation as it now exists. If your Lordships do not want random tests you have to impose on the police a greater requirement than simply smelling the breath of a man who has had a glass of sherry or half a pint of lager. Following through from that, if your Lordships accept this Amendment there are certain consequential Amendments which would 132 need to be made. I am not moving them now; they relate to Clauses 8(5) and 9(2)(b).
Another observation that I should perhaps make is that this Amendment also stops up an amazing omission from the Act. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills which considered the 1972 Road Traffic Act, and doubtless he has noticed this fact. The noble Viscount does not miss much in Statutes that pass through his hands. There is this amazing omission from the Road Traffic Act; namely, that although it is an offence to be in charge of a motor vehicle with an excessive amount of alcohol in your blood there is no procedure at all to prove that offence. There is no power in the police except by the "back-door" method of "unfit to drive" under Section 5 to invoke the breathalyser procedure. My Amendment would stop that gap because it deals with the driver who has chosen to drive his motorcar, having had too much to drink, and then stops to sleep it off. If that case is proved, doubtless the court would recognise the responsibility of the motorist and that there were "special reasons" for not imposing a full disqualification. The Amendment does not stop up the omission in the Act concerning a motorist who is in charge of a car and has gone from the place of his celebration but, recognising that he was not fit to drive, and having nowhere else to shelter—if it happened to be a rainy or a cold night—has got into the back of his car to sleep it off. It does not cover that case, but perhaps your Lordships would think it is a responsible citizen who climbs into the back of the car, and a man who should have the sympathy of the Legislature. That there is nothing which could be done about him is no worry. One wonders why that is an offence at all.
I move finally to the last batch of Amendments, those relating to Clauses 8(7) and 9(1). I can put this point simply. Because there is a tight procedure laid down in the original breathalyser law there is a strict requirement that only persons who have been arrested under the specific sections of the Act can have the full breathalyser procedure administered to them, including the taking of a sample. In my experience this has impeded the police in two ways. The first 133 is when a person is escaping from a crime of violence, or any other crime, and the police arrest him. Then, having arrested him, they discover that he is driving with an excess of alcohol in his blood, in that he is smelling of alcohol or his eyes are bloodshot. They cannot do anything about it at all. He has not been arrested under the provisions of the Act, and therefore the police can use none of those procedures.
Then there is another point. Sometimes a motorist is rather obstreperous when stopped by the police in connection with breathalyser law. In a case in my experience the motorist punched the police officer on the nose and, not surprisingly, the police officer arrested the motorist: but having arrested him for that and not under the breathalyser law, the courts found their hands tied and they could not use the appropriate procedure. If your Lordships consider the reality of life, and consider, for example, a man who earns his living by driving a lorry, the temptation to punch the police officer on the nose might well be too much for the lorry driver, when this action might get him 14 days inside or perhaps a suspension, but he will still have his livelihood left, not being disqualified. My Lords, with apologies for the length of my speech, I beg to move.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for the Amendments he has put down, if only because they will give the Government time to reflect on the present state of play in the breathalyser laws. I think I mentioned this when I moved the Address in reply to the gracious Speech. What I did not say was that the state of the law is ludicrous as indeed it is; and something ought to be done about it. If I am not introducing a controversial note into the harmonious proceedings this evening, may I say that it is perhaps refreshing to those of us who believe in the hereditary principle that the debate tonight will be conducted by those who belong to that faction. Be that as it may, I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Colville will be inclined to accept the whole of this Amendment, as it stands, or carts of it.
134 I have prepared a few remarks, but I will confine myself to three observations, and each will appertain to one part of the Amendment or Amendments. So far as the left hand part of the page is concerned (and I think that is the best way to describe it), the difficulty there is that at the moment it is not enough for the prosecution to show that the accused was driving, or attempting to drive, having consumed alcohol, and that the result of the test on the specimen later provided showed that the alcoholic content exceeded the prescribed limit. The prosection have to go further and show that the alcohol consumed while the accused was still driving, or before he ceased to drive, was of such a quantity that the proportion of alcohol in the blood exceeded the limit then.
That is an important matter, because, as I understand it, the effect of the noble Lord's Amendment would be to shift what is at the moment a heavy burden on the prosecution, to produce the evidence and show the facts, and, as it were, throw on the defence a not very well defined task of showing that, whatever may be the result of the test at the time the accused gives the specimen, his blood alcohol ratio was beneath the limit when he was driving. That, it seems to me, is not going to improve the law very much, and what it will do is to make it rather less certain. I should like to see this defence of a drink taken after the cessation of driving completely removed. Certain steps were taken in that direction by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne; but, unfortunately, they were unsuccessful at the time they tried to take them. That is not to say that the Government cannot take such steps when this Bill comes to be considered in another place.
I very much hope that an Amendment will be inserted into this Bill which will entirely remove this defence. One way in which it could be done would be for some sort of Amendment of, or addition to, Section 6 of the Act (as it now is) to the effect that:The proportion of alcohol in the blood, as ascertained from a laboratory test, for which a specimen is subsequently provided under Section 9 of the Act, shall be deemed to be the same as existed when that Person 135 last drove or attempted to drive under the terms of subsection (1) hereof.No doubt that sounds absolute nonsense to those who have listened to it, but it may not when it comes to be read in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Something like that would remove the present unsatisfactory state of the law.
My Lords, I now come to Lord Hacking's second group of Amendments, and here I take serious issue with him, because in my submission the effect of the Amendments would be far more onerous than at first appears, and probably far more onerous than he intends. He says, in effect, thatAny person who was, or is, driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle …";and he goes on:If the constable has reasonable cause to suspect him of having alcohol in his blood in proportion exceeding the prescribed limit …There would be two effects if that were accepted. First, the driver would be on risk, if I may use that phrase, for a very considerable time after he had finished driving. One may perhaps quote a home example. Nowadays there are many sensible couples who, if they go out to a dinner party, decide that one will drive and the other one will drink. But they will not mix the two. It may be that the husband, because they are late for the dinner party, is driving fast rather than well, and an enraged motorist follows them to the place where the party is due to take place. The couple go in; the motorist goes to report it to the police, and eventually a uniformed officer comes—let us say twenty minutes later. By that time the husband who drove to the party, and who certainly does not intend to drive back afterwards, may well have had two large whiskies and sodas. According to what the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, proposes, he would still be on risk if a constable in uniform had reasonable cause to suspect him, and so on. That is just one illustration.
But my chief complaint about this particular Amendment is this. How on earth is an ordinary uniformed officer to tell whether he has reasonable cause to suspect a person of having 80 milligrammesworth in the suspect body? The possibilities of cross-examining the police officer are so limitless that it almost encourages me to desert your Lordships' 136 House and my other little activities and go back to the Bar. It would be a lawyer's paradise, and a defence lawyer's paradise, in particular. I am sure the noble Lord will realise that.
So far as random breath tests are concerned, although I am a great believer in the liberty of the subject, and especially of the individual, I cannot see very much wrong with random breath tests on drivers. If people are going to drink and drive, then they must accept the consequences. It is entirely up to them. If somebody has had only half a glass of sherry, or whatever it is, and he is breathalysed, he has nothing to fear beyond the inconvenience of being stopped. I suggest that the time has come—and we have been talking about a number of constraints on personal freedom in this Bill—for the Government to get the bit between their teeth and improve the state of the law to that extent. I take issue, without wishing to give offence, with the noble Lord, Lord Hacking.
My Lords, as I said, I regard this as being an excellent opportunity for a mini-debate on this vital part of our criminal law. I hope that my noble friend, when he comes to reply, will say at least that the Government have an open mind as to whether something could be done, using this Bill as a vehicle. It is ludicrous to say that everything in this particular legal garden is lovely, because it is not. It is a part of the law which causes considerable distress and dismay to many thousands, not least because of its uncertainty and unfairness. What is far more important, it tends to bring the law itself, and whose who practise it, into disrepute. I very much hope that my noble friend will say that the Government are at any rate prepared to keep an open mind.
§ 8.21 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, it really is no fault whatever of the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, that this series of what ought to be eight Amendments appeared on the Marshalled List to-day and that the very laborious and well-thought-out note that he was good enough to send to me to explain them arrived at something in the region of 4 o'clock this afternoon. Let me say at once that I entirely absolve the noble Lord of any possible failure. He has 137 done everything that could be done to try to get these things properly discussed, and I am only extremely sorry that, because of one reason or another, we are perhaps not in a position to do entire justice to him.
I think his own speech and that of my noble friend Lord Mansfield both indicate that this is by no means a straightforward branch of the law. It may have been discussed by three hereditary barrister Peers, but that does not improve it; it must stand on its own inherent merits. We have to understand the reason why it is controversial. It is really very simple. For years there was a provision in the Road Traffic Acts whereby a person could be prosecuted and brought before the courts for driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. It was a lawyer's field-day. The case would go to trial in front of a jury, and you never knew what the jury were going to do, except that you suspected that there was a jolly good chance that they were going to let you off, because the machinery, the tests and so on, involved in these trials in the end turned out to be a bit empirical and, in the event, rather haphazard. The Government immediately preceding this one amended the law so as to make it rather more analytical—indeed chemical—in content. As I said, I think, on Committee stage and the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, almost agreed with me, what we are really concerned with is whether or not there are 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood; and that is all.
The reason why an immense body of case law comes up to this House, sitting in its judicial capacity, is simple—because once you establish that chemical fact you automatically become disqualified from driving, and people who drive motor cars will do almost anything that is legally within their power to avoid being disqualified from driving. In turn, this particular measure has been analysed to death by the lawyers and it has been appealed against beyond all credible comprehension on every tiny syllable and comma of the Statute in order to try to stop people from being disqualified. That is why we have had all these cases and that is why the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, has put forward an Amendment under three main sub-headings, all of which reflect a series of judicial decisions 138 —and two of them, at any rate, I think have been made by this House.
What are we to do about this? I do not want to discourage the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, from looking at this matter with very great care, but what I would suggest to the House, certainly at this stage of the Bill and with the notice that we have had, unfortunately, of these Amendments, is that we should be unwise to tinker precipitately with the present wording of the 1972 Act. What has happened is that appeal after appeal has been made to the higher courts. In fact, there were 42,000 convictions under this provision last year. I suspect that the number of appeals which succeeded on some of these technical points was extremely small. I do not know, but perhaps they could be counted on the fingers of two hands. Nevertheless, we have a residue of good solid case law on the minutiæ of this subject. Do we, my Lords, try to amend the Road Traffic Act 1972, with its consolidated provisions, by putting on glosses of this sort that the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, has suggested? Do we, on the other hand, do what we have done heretofore and leave the courts to work out what Parliament may be presumed to have intended, in a comparatively straightforward statement (albeit one that has turned out to be very complicated in practice) the law to mean?
The courts have, on the whole, dealt fairly well with these issues as they have come up. There is no doubt there are gaps. There are cases, for example, where a flask is taken out and drink is consumed and it is no longer possible to charge a person under Section 6—and it has to be done as a matter of instructing the police—in which case there is no disqualification. That is a great disadvantage. There are other cases, some of which have been very recently talked about, as the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, said. He referred to the Queen v. Reid, and there was another recent case which occurred after the Second Reading of this Bill, under the last two subsections of this Amendment. I think the message emerges that all the police have to do is to get the words right, and if they were to look at the heading notes of the Queen v. Weir in the Liverpool Crown Court and use that form of words when charging people, they would find they were within the ambit of the Road Traffic 139 Act and would be able to arrest somebody on the correct and relevant charge. That is yet a further development produced by the courts. It is true that this was only in the Liverpool Crown Court, but it seems to have worked in that case.
§ LORD HACKING
My Lords, I assume the noble Viscount is thinking of the case of Edkins v. Knowles. I do not think my Amendment can cover that. In that case the police officer used the wrong section for the arrest.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I am not thinking of that case but of the Queen v. Weir in the Liverpool Crown Court, where they used the wrong words and were told by the judge what would have been the right words to use. It is quite simple: it is quite a short headnote, and I will show it to the noble Lord in the Law Reports if he would like.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I am sure that the police forces of the British Isles will have taken note of that. I do not want to be unsympathetic about this matter. I believe it is exceedingly valuable that we should have discussed some of the difficulties that have arisen in this law. I am purposely not going into drafting difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Hacking, with all his skill, has not solved this drafting any more than has anybody else. It is not my purpose to try to discredit his series of Amendments on purely drafting grounds; I prefer to be rather more constructive about it. I would simply say to him—and I hope the House will appreciate the point as well—that for all the good will in the world, for all the Amendments and the attempted improvements to this law, we are going to have lawyers picking at this matter as long as we carry into the law a compulsory disqualification. They will go on doing it whether the noble Lord's Amendment is put down, whether my Amendment is put down, or whether anybody else's Amendment is put down. They are going to go on trying to pick holes in it. We have a situation where the law has been stated since 1967 in a certain statutory form. 140 It has been subjected to many critical tests; some of them have come to this House, some only reached the Court of Appeal, some the Crown Court and some were dealt with by magistrates. At all levels there have been criticisms. A body of case law has been built up on this matter.
What the House has carefully to consider is this: do we allow the courts to continue upon the platform of the Statute as it stands, and to continue to try to decide what are genuine loopholes, what are legitimate exclusions from this disqualification—and that is what counts—where, for instance, there is no immediate connection between the amount of drink in a person's blood and the fact he was driving because he had for some arguably legitimate reason drunk some drink in between, or should we now come in the middle and amend the Statute in small ways and therefore destroy the platform of the law upon which all these decisions have been based? If we do that we open the door to more glorious lawyers' arguments. It may be that that is right, but I suggest, with the best will in the world, that this series of Amendments this evening cannot be discussed properly on the notice that we have had. I have looked at them as carefully as I can. I have looked at the case law. I have looked at the Rowlands case. I have looked at Edkins v. Knowles; I have looked at Bates and Reid and a number of other cases with which the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, kindly provided me. I cannot say that the Government could accept either these or any other Amendments to this because it is so complicated and difficult to decide in principle whether one ought to make amendments or proceed upon the basis of the law as we know and allow the courts to interpret it.
I cannot advise the House to accept these Amendments this evening. I cannot hold out, within the time we have available for this House, any hope for any progress that the noble Lord might make. He has drawn attention to the current areas of crisis on the breathalyser law. He has given us three areas where there is conflict and dispute, and for all I know there may be loopholes. Another place will be grateful to him. But for this House, I think that at this stage of the Bill it is too ambitious to hope that we shall be able to clear this up. Perhaps he 141 will be content in knowing that he has made a very profound and useful analysis of the recent decisions on this matter, one which is of great value to the Government (and a great education to me, incidentally) and very useful for my advisers. If he is disappointed at what I have been saying, perhaps he may consider that it will form a basis for other people to discuss the matter in another place. I hope the noble Lord will not press these Amendments. It is in no spirit of ill-will that I suggest this; but this is so complicated and difficult that to rush it would be a great mistake. I hope the noble Lord may think it has been worth while to do it in this way, to make his speech, to produce his erudite comments and allow us more time to consider the matter when the Bill goes to another place in due course.
§ LORD HACKING
My Lords, as the noble Viscount realises I have a sense of disappointment at this stage. I should have liked this to be a beginning to end this morass that lawyers are having to battle through. Perhaps the noble Lord has left the Bar for too long; I cannot accept that all our life at the Bar or as a solicitor at the Supreme Court, is directed to finding little loopholes in the Statues in order to get our clients off or acquitted. I hope that lawyers can be thought by the world at large, as they like to think of themselves, as responsible people who frankly say to a client, "You have an unmeritorious case". Frankly, that is not usually the language I use: it is usually rather stronger language which I would not dare use in your Lordships' House. Lawyers do not persist and encourage a client to take a bad case through the courts.
I am disappointed but, in my disappointment, I am not going to behave badly; I am not going to divide the House and be carping in my attitude. I, alas!, did not even find myself in accord with (may I say?) my learned friend Lord Mansfield. He made some criticisms of my Amendment, with some of which I agree, and with some points I did not agree with him. He said three things, and I ask your Lordships to have those ringing in your ears as I withdraw the Amendment. First of all he said that the present law is ludicrous; secondly, he said it is to be criticised for its uncertainty and unfairness; thirdly he said that it brought us 142 into disrepute. That is the present situation. The Government find it impossible to deal with it at this stage, and there have been difficulties facing the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and difficulties facing me which, in other ways, have faced other noble Lords during these present times of crisis—delivery of papers, and so forth. Taking all those things into account. I recognise that this House cannot deal with these Amendments now. I recognise that I have not set the scene sufficiently to persuade the Government to say: "Let us make a start; put these Amendments down and they can be considered in greater detail in another place."
In all these circumstances—I hope with maturity—I feel compelled to withdraw these Amendments, but I express the hope that the Government will not treat this as just a few loopholes but as an area of real worry for the legal profession of both sides, and, indeed for the judges. I am glad to see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is now present, because this law is using up the most excessive time in the noble and learned Lord's courts. With your Lordships' permission, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 14 [Reduction for trainee drivers of minimum age for driving heavy goods vehicles]:
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 22, line 5, at end insert—
(" () In section 126 of the 1972 Act (instruction for payment to be given only by registered or licenced persons) in subsection (1) after the word ("car") there shall be added the words ("and commercial vehicles ")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Aberdare for implementing a promise he made at the Committee stage of this Bill when he offered to have discussions with me over a number of points. One of the points which we discussed, at Second Reading, at Committee and with the noble Lord, was the important matter of the instruction of heavy goods vehicle drivers. Your Lordships will recall that in an earlier Amendment I said that instructors should be registered. There was some doubt (a doubt which I propose to dispel immediately) whether there were qualified 143 and approved heavy goods vehicle driving instructors in the country. In fact there are no such "animals". There are no approved or qualified heavy goods vehicle driving instructors. I do not use the words lightly; neither do I wish to bandy words.
§ It is perfectly true that the vast majority of men instructing heavy goods vehicle drivers have attended an industrial training board instructors' course, but that is all they have done. There is no statutory obligation upon the industrial training boards to pass or fail such attenders. In practice, men are sent by what are called "in scope" bodies, those within the orbit of the industrial training boards, or, if there is room, by ordinary commercial houses, for a course of instruction at the end of which these men and, more particularly, their employers, receive a certificate of attendance at the bottom of which is an assessment. So there are no approved or qualified driving instructors. Coupled with this is the fact that there is a growing number of men who hold a heavy goods vehicle licence, Class III, II or I, practising commercially in instruction. This leaves a gap, which is wide open, in the whole business of heavy goods vehicle driving.
§ The previous Amendment and this later Amendment seek to regularise the position. The Amendment says that nobody may practise for reward in instructing heavy commercial vehicle drivers. How one regularises this position, how one licenses or registers the drivers, frankly, I will not concern your Lordships with to-night. What I wish to establish, by virtue of this Amendment, is that Her Majesty's Government accept that there is a loophole in the area of heavy goods vehicles and the driving and instruction of the drivers, and that they will put this right at an appropriate time. I believe the appropriate time is within the ambit of this Bill's going through this House and during is stages in the other place. I beg to move.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for saying that he appreciated the meeting that we had. I would reciprocate that. I thought it was an interesting meeting. He put to 144 us many of the points he put to your Lordships this evening. Certainly we intend to go into them carefully. In fact, we have not been letting the water flow under our feet, or whatever the expression is. Officials of the Department have already met with the Road Transport Industry Training Board and had some discussions on the points my noble friend has touched upon.
I must say to him that there was still very little evidence of instruction being given to heavy vehicle drivers by unqualified instructors. I am further advised that the controlling influence of the Road Transport Industry Training Board is perhaps a good deal more effective than my noble friend may realise. I am sure he will agree that we do not want to set up another system of official control in an area in which the road goods transport industry is capable of looking after its own best interest. We continue to look into this matter, my Lords. We have not by any means completed investigating the points made by my noble friend. The Secretary of State is looking further into the matter. I hope my noble friend will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment on that understanding.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I think the Minister in his reply, perhaps inadvertently, used the word "qualified". Normally the word qualification implies that some test or examination has taken place; whereas he will appreciate that in the case of I.T.B. heavy goods vehicle driving instructors, who have attended the course, no such examination, and therefore no such qualification, exists. I accept what he said with regard to setting up another organisation. I would only suggest to him that there is already one in existence which deals with the matter from very similar angles for those people who earn their living instructing potential car drivers. However, I am reassured by what he has said with regard to the further studies which are being made in this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.45 p.m.
LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 23, leave out lines 10 to 16.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Committee stage I moved a number of 145 Amendments to Clauses 16 to 19 of the Bill designed to modify the effects of the Bill on established public bus services, while at the same time permitting some modifications of the existing law relating to the carrying of passengers for hire or reward. I think it will generally be agreed that the control of bus services by traffic commissioners under Act of Parliament was intended to bring a measure of control to the industry and to safeguard public service vehicles and operators from the effects of the piratical creaming off of possible passengers, something of which we experienced a great deal in the inter-war years. Those of your Lordships who are old enough to remember it will know that road safety was very seriously interfered with as the result of the attempts to "collar" the passengers who were waiting for other people's vehicles.
§ The Amendments I moved in Committee were, it seemed, too sweeping for the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. The Amendments to Clauses 16 to 19 standing in my name to-day are more modest in character, and I hope that they will prove to be more acceptable to the Government. Clause 16(1) of the Bill would remove from Section 117 of the 1960 Act all reference to carrying passengers for hire or reward at separate fares and would substitute "9" for "8", thus permitting cars and taxis with up to eight seats to carry passengers along established bus routes, even immediately in front of a bus operating a regular service. It was precisely that sort of operation that led to the Act establishing the traffic commissioners in the interwar years. The control exercised by the commissioners ensured that the control of the public service vehicles led to a vast improvement in bus services generally, ended the creaming off of possible bus passengers by pirate operators, and also led to regular services operating at a reasonable profit to the operators.
§ Now, under the clause as it now stands, owners of cars and taxis with up to eight seats could advertise in the Press, and by other means, a service which could cripple established operators. This is not only my opinion, it is the opinion of responsible associations which cater for the public road transport of this country, people with vast experience in this whole field. I say that it would affect a number of operators, and not only in the towns. It would also 146 seriously affect, in particular perhaps, small operators in country districts, with the result that their services may become uneconomic, so causing local am authorities in the area to increase their subsidies in order to keep a regular service on the road, otherwise the regular service may have to cease altogether.
§ My Lords, if I owned a small vehicle and were permitted to operate under the terms of the Bill, I should use my vehicle at peak loading times, thus ensuring a full load at a slightly lower fare than the fares charged by the regular service, but taking care never to run my vehicle at periods when I could not ensure filling the vehicle to capacity. In that way I should get peak profit from the use of my vehicle. So I should not run my vehicle at periods when, in order to maintain a regular service, all public service vehicles ran at a loss. Every service that I know anything at all about has to do just that in order to ensure a regular service and properly to serve the public, as is their job.
§ The prospect of this Bill, the way it will work out, is a frightening one for the operators of public service vehicles working within the rules laid down up to now by Parliament. For there would be no regulation of routes or stopping places; no timetables to be adhered to; no control on the maintenance of vehicles or of the hours of work of the drivers of the vehicles with which they would hive to compete. The operators of these unregulated vehicles could penetrate into certain town centres from which even the established bus services are prohibited. They could stop anywhere, with no regard to safety and could stop at regular bus stops to collect passengers waiting for the established service. The only maintenance requirement would be the same as that for private cars: that is to say, no inspection annually for the first three years, as against inspection annually by the competent officers of the Department of the Environment. The driver could work any hours he pleased and would require only an ordinary driver's licence and not the harder-to-acquire public service vehicle driver's licence.
§ I am of course aware of the fact that the operation of such vehicles would be prohibited where there are hackney carriage regulations in force. But, as I mentioned in Committee, there are very 147 considerable areas of the country where by-laws governing hackney carriages are not operative or it is the case that in only a few cities are hire-cars controlled at all. But even in those places where hackney or hire-car regulations are in force they would not prevent the operation of such vehicles—the vehicles I am speaking about now—coming into towns from outside, provided that they operated on the basis of return fare.
§ The Amendment to leave out lines 10 to 16, while leaving unchanged subsection (2) of this clause, would have the effect of putting in one group all vehicles, with up to 12 seats, used commercially for carrying passengers at separate fares. Perhaps I ought to add here that the Amendments I am proposing to Clauses 16 to 19 of the Bill, viewed as a whole, are intended to achieve the stated objects of the Department of the Environment. These I understand to be to legalise genuine lift-giving for vehicles with up to 12 seats in areas outside Greater London, the passenger transport areas or areas where hackney carriage regulations are in force. In addition, my Amendments would free vehicles with up to 12 seats, when operating commercially, from all the regulations which apply to public service vehicles, provided that they are operating outside urban areas or on a specified bus route as defined in the Amendments. At the same time, the Amendments would ensure a continuation of the safeguards devised by Parliament in the past to regularise the carrying of passengers for hire or reward or on given bus routes under the control of the traffic commissioners.
§ I do not want—and I am sure that anyone supporting these Amendments would not want—to do anything that would make life more difficult for those who might in reasonable circumstances benefit from lift-giving, particularly in country areas. But I think it would be a grave error if, in order to facilitate lift-giving, irreparable damage were done to regular services which have rightly been granted by the traffic commissioners. These Amendments are put down in what we think—what I certainly think—are the best interests of the country. They will hold to what has been established in the past as an excellently 148 devised scheme to cover public service vehicles, and at the same time will permit some lift-giving which may help a little in some of the country areas, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, as well as the rest of us, has in mind in this connection. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I rise strongly to support the noble Lord, Lord Champion. He has put his Amendment in strong and lucid terms and extremely succinctly. I am only disappointed that the House is extremely empty at this moment. I should like to see it very much fuller because the House could well have listened to and understood the noble Lord's points. The noble Lord's opening words referred to "the creaming off" of private transport and other things in the inter-war years. I think that is very important. It was certainly before I was born, which was not until towards the end of 1934. But one has read and known of the great problems that public transport suffered in the time from 1918 onwards, particularly in the early 'twenties. The only point I should like to state about that is that vehicles are now very much better than they were, which is a point I believe the noble Lord, Lord Champion, did not mention. There are fewer breakdowns. But there was this awful "creaming-off" and we certainly do not want to go back to that. It is something America has suffered much more recently, as I mentioned at the Committee stage.
This Amendment seeks to qualify subsection (2) of Clause 16, and while I support the intentions underlying the Amendment I must nevertheless say that I think the same effect could be achieved more positively. Indeed, it is unfortunate that the phrase, "ply for hire" should have been introduced into the Bill because it has become almost a music hall joke. This phrase relates particularly to hackney carriage law, and that also is associated with music hall jokes. I have indicated in earlier debates that the hackney carriage law is totally outdated and comes from an Act of 1847, and that in all logic it requires to be rewritten as a necessary preliminary to any legislation altering the law on public service vehicles as affecting cars and minibuses. I would emphasise that even 149 though we are told that everyone understands what is meant by "plying for hire", the fact is that over the past 100 years or more our courts have been unable to find an adequate definition. They have distinguished between the facts in different cases so as to cause very considerable confusion as to the precise interpretation of this undesirable phrase.
It is unfortunate that, rather than speaking of "plying for hire", the Bill does not more specifically indicate, as does the Amendment, those activities which would not be allowed by drivers of vehicles adapted to carry not more than 12 passengers. In passing, I would mention that the provision allowing the Secretary of State to increase this capacity is of considerable danger. The vehicle with its passenger seats mentioned in this clause is related to international classifications. I understand that already there are suggestions in working parties of the Economic Commission for Europe that the figure of 15 (the noble Lord, Lord Champion, mentioned 12, but they are now talking about 15) might be increased to 17. This is the thin end of the wedge. Where will it stop? Whatever justification there may be for small vehicles to have relaxed operating conditions, this must not apply to vehicles of an unquestionably commercial size. I seek assurances from the Government that they have no intentions whatsoever of further eroding, through widening the exemptions provided for in this clause, the ability of the public road transport industry to serve the community—and I insist that that is what they are in fact doing.
Finally, while we are discussing Clause 16 I ask your Lordships' indulgence if I deviate slightly from the terms of the Amendment before us. My point is of relevance to the Amendment in that it seeks to clarify the provisos to subsection (2), and I have given prior notice of it to my noble friend Lord Aberdare who will be replying to the debate.
In considering whether a vehicle adapted to carry not more than four passengers shall be treated as being, or not being, a public service vehicle, it must be considered whether it is customarily operated in the course of a business. Would my noble friend confirm that these words relate precisely to the judgment given in your Lordships' House in the case of Albert v. The Motor 150 Insurers' Bureau in 1971. In that case the late Lord Donovan, while admitting that it might sound a little grandiose to describe a motorist's passenger-carrying activities as a business, took the view that when passengers were carried regularly to and from work for a reward which he, the motorist, expected to receive, there was no difference from the work of a taxi driver, except the informality of the arrangement. Anyone who has read that or who has discussed that case will find it extremely relevant. It was a business, if a part-time one. It is interesting that in this judgment the word "customarily", which is used in the Bill, does not appear but in speaking of the carriage of passengers in this context, the words "systematic", "normally", "habitually", "as a matter of practice", frequently" and "regularly" are used to describe the activity. Will the Government assure the House that paragraph (a) of subsection (2) clearly legislates that the operators of small vehicles carrying passengers to or from work—or for other purposes in any way analogous to that considered in Albert v. Motor Insurers' Bureau—will not be able to rely on the exemption contained in this subsection?
I have very little to say on any of the other Amendments to Clauses 16 and 17 but in this small House if the noble Lord, Lord Champion, wishes to press this Amendment I am ready to go with him.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the purpose of the Amendment, not so much for the competitive commercial actions which may follow the Bill's being passed, because I am afraid I believe that people must look after themselves in this direction, so long as the conditions are equal. I can recall, when I was engaged more deeply in the motor trade, being an agent responsible for the examination of certain glasses of vehicles. Various different pressures are applied commercially in regard to the fitness of such vehicles, and I fear that if anybody is allowed to engage in the transportation of people without having any control as to the fitness of the vehicle we may well find ourselves in a great deal of difficulty. I 151 imagine that there must be other regulations which could be brought to bear on an operator. Nevertheless I think it would be quite wrong if anybody could take a vehicle, without any mechanical examination as to its fitness, to work for reward.
The other point on which I have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Champion, is in connection with the question of hours. I can foresee many of these vehicles being used on social occasions. I think when we discussed this before we mentioned the women's institutes. I do not wish to joke on this matter, but there are also dance clubs, football clubs, and so on. I can see this happening and I can see the hours being extended long past the end of the occasion, well into the small hours of the morning, all of which time the driver has to be ready to return with his passengers; and there will be no control here. I can well see men—and women, for that matter—working a reasonable day of seven, eight or nine hours and then embarking upon perhaps an eleven or twelve hour job, free of regulation, on a journey bringing back passengers in a vehicle which may or may not mechanically satisfy a reasonable inspectorate. So far as these points are concerned I have some sympathy with the Amendment.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Champion, sought to steal a bit of a march on noble Lords on this side of the House by referring to matters that he remembers between the wars, about which some of us are less well informed than he is. However, I am reliably told that before 1930 the competition to which he referred was between buses and there is no reason to think that cars played any significant part, or indeed that they would do so now. But I readily grant, with him, that the system of traffic commissioners under which we work at the moment is a great improvement on the system that we had between the wars.
We have gone a little wide of Amendment No. 21 but it is still a pretty sweeping Amendment, although the noble Lord seemed to suggest that he was only really titivating the Bill and being less sweeping than he was last time. This is a fairly 152 sweeping Amendment, designed to retain the present definition in the Road Traffic Act 1960 of a public service vehicle, and it would completely negate our objective of freeing from bus licensing vehicles that carry less than nine passengers. I went into this issue in some detail at the Committee stage and I cannot help thinking again that noble Lords are really raising ghosts when they are so frightened about what Clause 16 does. We are only talking about people using private cars and giving casual lifts, and to say that this will interfere with all the operations of the bus companies seems to me to be nonsense, if I may say so. These cars are not allowed to be operated in the course of a business—and may I immediately say to my noble friend Lord Teviot, who was kind enough to give me notice of this very detailed legal question, that I can agree with him that Clause 16(2)(a) relates to a public service vehicle being not customarily operated in the course of a business. The idea underlying this phrase is embraced in a House of Lords decision in the case of Albert v. The Motor Insurers' Bureau in 1971.
We agree with that, and are quite prepared to accept that definition. I hope that will help your Lordships, because again that was a case—and I am not a lawyer—of people doing something for reward regularly, and not in the least casually. I do not wish to repeat myself because I said in Committee that people go on giving these lifts now; they go together in a private car, they make an arrangement between themselves and they contribute towards the petrol. One could well say that they know what they are doing. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, said that it is a bad argument, but I say it is a practical one. It is what happens. All we are seeking to do is to make it a little easier for those voluntary bodies who can really provide a social service in a great many cases, but who are unable to do so now by reason of passenger service vehicle licensing.
My Lords, we are convinced that the threat from these marginal activities is unreal, and although we are quite prepared to look at any specific suggestion where we have not got it right, where we have gone too far, I cannot accept this Amendment, which goes too far. The only thing that has happened since we 153 last discussed the matter is that the Secretary of State for the Environment has today given a general authority which, while we are in our present difficulties over the supply of oil, will have the same effect in relation to small vehicles as the provisions of this clause. This will give us an opportunity to assess the reality of the alleged threat before the Bill completes its various stages in another place. In other words, because of the emergency we shall be seeing what effect the clause would have, and we can rejudge the situation if necessary. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Teviot that plying for hire does not mean anything. We shall be coming to that in another Amendment. As for the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, about the fitness of vehicles, these are private vehicles and will be looked at in the same way as other private vehicles. I cannot accept this Amendment. It goes against the ideas of what we are trying to do to make things a little easier.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I am grateful for the support I had from the noble Lords, Lord Teviot and Lord Lucas of Chilworth. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, rightly said, my age is greater than his. But his personal experience is greater than mine in this particular sphere. I think he was absolutely right. When one is setting up competition in this sort of sphere, or in any other, the conditions ought to be equal if, in fact, one is going to establish competition which will have an element of fairness about it. What I fear is that because of the fact that on one side there are vehicles which have to be strictly maintained in accordance with all the regulations, and on the other side vehicles that will be maintained after three years only sufficiently to pass the M.o.T. test, it would seem to me not to provide a fair element of competition. The same thing applies to drivers' hours, and the competence of the driver to drive.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, suggested that I am raising ghosts. I cannot imagine for one moment that the associations which have been in touch with me are frightened by spectres. These are experienced people, most of whom have spent a large part of their lives in the industry. They really do know what they are talking about. They have had to 154 defend their experience before the Traffic Commissioners in the past. They have the experience of running buses in competition. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said about the decision of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the possibility of testing this during the emergency period. All I can say is that I hope the emergency will be too short for any conclusion to emerge from this decision.
My Lords, I feel strongly about this matter, but not so strongly that I am going to attempt to get the serried ranks behind me to accompany me into the Division Lobby. I rather think that the fact that this whole business will have to be gone into again in another place means that it is best to leave it to the other place to attempt to do what I and others have tried to do in this House. In the circumstances, I ask leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave withdrawn.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 23, line 34, at end insert:
("(4) For the purposes of subsection (2) above the expression "ply for hire" shall include any case—
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an Amendment which is, to some extent, different from the last one, and does not necessarily arise out of it. The Amendment I am proposing here is designed to define the phrase "ply for hire". Subsection (2) of Clause 16 gives as one of the conditions exempting a minibus from being treated as a public service vehicle that "it does not ply for hire in the course of the journey on which the passengers are carried". The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in Committee, when replying to a statement of mine that the phrase "ply for hire" is nowhere defined in Statute law, and that case law on these words leaves a great deal of uncertainty, said:
The noble Lord was quite right whet 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4/12/73, col. 544.]
§ The Association which caters for most of the large bus undertakings of the country is not able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and, after all, it is the most experienced in this matter. It is strongly of the opinion that the expression "ply for hire" is so lacking in definition as to render the enforcement of the law a matter of doubt. The purpose of the Amendment is to show that a vehicle should be treated as plying for hire, apart from any other meaning of the expression, if it is advertised as being available, and also in any case where arrangements have not been made in advance to pick up passengers. The Amendment I am proposing is, I think, faulty in one detail, namely, in the words "at least one hour". I am informed that that part would be quite unenforceable, but if the noble Lord will accept the Amendment in principle we shall ensure that we leave out those words on Third Reading. What is chiefly intended by paragraph (b) of the proposed new subsection (4) is to avoid the situation in which a vehicle sets out on a bona fide journey within the spirit of subsection (2) of the existing clause but in fact invites or encourages casual passengers to join it en route. I beg to move.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, this Amendment seeks to gloss the meaning of "plying for hire" and would further curtail the activities permissible under Clause 16(2) of the Bill. I agree once again with the noble Lord that "plying for hire" is not specifically defined in any enactment. But in our view it is well understood by the courts to include making an explicit or implied offer of immediate transport in a public place. The effect of the first part of the noble Lord's Amendment, paragraph (a), is so to extend this meaning of "plying for hire" that it would preclude the availability of informal lifts being brought to public attention in any way whatsoever on or off the vehicle, and this, for example, would effectively preclude any communication in a village hall, to a 156 local magazine and so on, and thus would destroy the idea that we are keen to encourage local initiative. The noble Lord has already said that the second part, paragraph (b), of the Amendment is unenforceable and I agree with him.
The restriction on plying for hire already contained in the Bill is, in our view, sufficient to preclude hailing down, in exactly the same way as the Hackney Carriage Regulations preclude the operation of unlicensed taxi services; and a further Amendment of this kind would only serve to prevent many acts of spontaneous kindness without adding significantly to the protection already afforded to licensed bus services. I cannot accept this Amendment. I can say to the noble Lord that any further safeguards that he can legitimately put forward which are consistent with our underlying policy we will certain look at, but we feel this one really goes a little bit far because it would not allow the sort of communication and local initiative which we value.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I certainly accept the invitation of the noble Lord to look at this point again. I might have a chance to do so between now and Third Reading, though I am not certain when Third Reading will come. Certainly I will take the opportunity to try to do that. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 17 [Use of minibuses as public service vehicles]:
§ 9.20 p.m.
LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 24, line 2, after ("road") insert ("or urban roads").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Amendment that I here propose is a simple one. Under the terms of Clause 17 a minibus carrying passengers at separate fares shall be treated as a contract carriage unless, among other restrictions, it both takes up and sets down passengers at different places on an urban road, and those places are so situated that the minibus could travel between them without traversing any highway which is not an urban road. It seems to me that the term in the singular ought not to be used. As there may be more than one urban 157 road between the two separate points at which passengers are both picked up and set down, the reference should be changed to include "urban roads". I beg to move.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I think that I can reassure the noble Lord that in the light of the Interpretation Act the singular includes the plural and explicit provision is not necessary.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 24:
Page 24, line 4, leave out ("traversing") and insert ("travelling along").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is designed to clear up a doubt. It is felt that there is some ambiguity about the word "traversing". As I understand it, "traversing" means to cross. Is that what is meant in the context of paragraph (b), or does it really mean travelling along? If the latter, then the words "travelling along" ought to be used and not the word "traversing". I beg to move.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I am glad to be able to tell the noble Lord that evidently "traversing" in its legal sense means both the crossing of, and travelling along, a road. Therefore, the clause as drafted is wide, and to have just "travelling along" would not have the full effect that the noble Lord would want. He will see that "traversing", in the sense of both going along the road or crossing it, is the best wording we can use.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, except that he has not been very forthcoming up to now, the noble Lord has come nearer to accepting an Amendment of mine than I thought possible. In the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 24, line 29, leave out ("passengers are") and insert ("the same passenger is").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a purely drafting Amendment designed to make it clear that if any passenger is 158 taken up and set down within a specified bus route the journey will be treated as on a bus route. I should point out that the reference should be to line 28 and not line 29. I believe that this is a printing error. I beg to move.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I do not think that it is the noble Lord's error. It is in the Bill. At page 24 there are six lines between line 25 and line 30. I found this confusing when I saw it this morning. We do not think that this Amendment has any effect. The existing form of words is already established, for example, in Section 19 of the Transport Act, 1968, and Section 23 of the Transport (London) Act, 1969, and it has always appeared satisfactory and apt for its purpose. I do not think that the noble Lord's Amendment really has any effect.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that explanation, and ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.24 p.m.
LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 24, line 30, leave out ("which forms part of a specified bus route") and insert ("or highways which form part of a specified bus route, or at places which are within 400 metres of any point at which a road service operated by stage carriages on a specified bus route is authorised to take up or set down passengers").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with permission, I should like to move Amendment No. 26 and with it to discuss Amendment No. 27. These Amendments to lines 30 and 34 are intended to alter the reference to a highway to allow for more than one. In this case, too, I wish to substitute the plural for the singular. As subsection (5) is drafted, it would be possible for a minibus operating a service under the provisions of Clause 17, and therefore not requiring a road service licence, to travel along a specified bus route, but by making a deviation of only 20 yards into a side street it could pick up or set down passengers and then revert to the route of the scheduled stage carriage service. This would clearly abstract traffic front the scheduled service. This we would regard as being undesirable. I beg to move.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, on the point of the highways, I can again inform 159 the noble Lord that the Interpretation Act ensures that the singular includes the plural, so I hope he will accept that that meets his points. The substantive element of his Amendment would enhance substantially the protection afforded to licensed services and would diminish in the same proportion the advantages given to mini-bus operation. In our opinion, the implication of the Amendment once again is greatly to exaggerate the threat from the mini-bus to the traditional bus services which have advantages that the mini-bus can seldom match other than in highly rural areas. We do not think it would be wise to write into the Bill what is in effect a cordon sanitaire of 400 metres round the point at which a road service operated by stage carriages on a specified bus route is authorised to take up or set down passengers. I hope that again with the relaxations that we are issuing under the emergency provisions the noble Lord may find that this does not really affect the issue.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, persists in error, but in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.27 p.m.
LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 28:
Page 24, line 36, leave out ("the conditions attached to").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this line in Clause 17 refers to:
a route which is specified in the conditions attached to a road service licence…
As I understand it, it is the case that in some traffic areas the route itself is specified in the substance of the licence and is not a condition attached to it. I would imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has been informed that this is so and I am hoping that he will accept my Amendment. I beg to move.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I am afraid that my advice is different from that of the noble Lord. I am informed that the licence itself is not couched in terms to specify any particular route and that routes can be specified only by way of conditions attached to a road service licence, but if after this debate 160 is over the noble Lord would care to give me an example, if I am wrong I will most certainly have a look at it.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I will certainly endeavour to do that, and if I do not get it to the noble Lord before Third Reading I hope it may be of some advantage to him in advising his right honourable friends at the other end. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 18 [Modifications of provisions relating to permits for certain bus services]:
LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 25, leave out lines 40 to 45.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 18(4) would widen very considerably the discretion of Traffic Commissioners to grant a permit for a bus service in lieu of a road service licence by adding,
public interest as a consideration to take into account".
This is objectionable on two main counts to those who are experienced in appearing before the Traffic Commissioner: first, it is too vague and could be damaging to established services; and, secondly, this condition takes the place of the traffic commissioner being satisfied that there are no other available facilities to meet the needs of the travelling public on the route proposed. It is strongly contended that the change proposed in the Bill may well lead to the inference that existing services are not to be taken into account. This is the point of this Amendment, that these existing services certainly ought to be retained as one of the factors to be considered by the traffic commissioners when applications are before them. I beg to move.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, this Amendment would retain the present wording of Section 30(2) of the Transport Act 1968, which states that the traffic commissioners, when granting permits in lieu of road service licences, are to satisfy themselves, as the noble Lord has quoted, that:there are no other transport facilities available to meet the reasonable needs of the proposed route".161 It is in the light of our experience of the 1968 Act that we are convinced that this wording is unduly restrictive, and indeed can often be prejudicial to proposals for which, on their merits, a strong case could otherwise be made. It seems to me that to make the public interest the deciding factor, the underlying requirement for the traffic commissioners, really makes good sense and could hardly be criticised for being unfair.
To give one small example of the sort of thing that can happen at the moment, the effect under the wording "no other transport facilities available" could be that one bus a week running down a route would completely freeze that route and no other vehicle could be given a licence. That seems wrong to us, and we propose that the commissioners should be required to consider whether a proposed service is in the interests of the public. The distinction is not, or ought not to be, a great one. Nevertheless, it is clear to us that a change of emphasis along these lines is now desirable if the permit is to be more widely used, as we hope it will be. But I hope that the noble Lord will agree with me that the interests of the public should really come above all other interests.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 30:
Page 25, line 45, at end insert—
("(5) In subsection (1) of section 69 (revocation, suspension and curtailment of operators' licences) after the words "curtailed on any" there shall be inserted the words "one or more"").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am most reluctant to keep two Front Benches and my noble friend here any longer than necessary, but I think for the sake of the record it is right that I should remind your Lordships that this Amendment seeks to regularise the position whereby commercial vehicle operators' licences can be revoked, rescinded or removed under Section 69 of the 1968 Act. This was one of the points which my noble friend Lord Aberdare was kind enough to discuss with me following the Committee stage, at which there was no 162 Amendment down. In those discussions I sought to explain to him how situations might arise whereby prohibition notices were issued, and clearance notices subsequently issued, where no work had taken place. The examples are particularly in the case of a vehicle smoking in particularly adverse conditions. I mentioned another example of a coupling freezing up while the vehicle waited five hours for a road traffic examiner to come and look at the vehicle, which had been involved in an accident.
§ As a result, I sought to persuade my noble friend that under that section the traffic commissioners were able to consider only all of the various criteria that are set down in the consideration of a revocation of a licence, rather than considering only those which were pertinent to such a rescinding or revocation, leaving the numerical superiority of minor and unqualified infringements at rest. This Amendment seeks to provide the traffic authority with that specific power; that is, to look at any one or more of the criteria which are required to be looked at in the consideration of a revocation. I beg to move.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for putting down this Amendment; it gives me a chance to confirm what he said about our discussions. In fact, it is misplaced. It is tabled as an Amendment to Clause 18 dealing with permits for bus services. The Amendment deals with disciplinary powers of licensing authorities in respect of heavy goods vehicle operators' licences. But it gives me a chance to say to my noble friend that we listened with interest to what he had to say when he came to see us the other day. It was a valuable meeting. I explained to my noble friend that the Department have arranged with the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association an administrative procedure to avoid the possibility of an injustice being done. If the circumstances of the prohibition are explained in writing to the licensing authority's senior area mechanical engineer and it is accepted that the prohibition was unjustified, the record of prohibition is deleted from the operator's maintenance record and it will not then appear in any submission to the licensing authority for disciplinary action under Section 69 of the Act.
163 As a result of the undertaking which I gave to my noble friend at that meeting, the Department wrote again to the Association on December 11 reminding them of this administrative procedure, and on the same day a further circular was sent to all senior area mechanical engineers for the same purpose. I hope that my noble friend will agree that we have tried to overcome the difficulty by these administrative methods.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for his reply, and I am delighted to hear that, following our discussion, action was taken which I feel sure will set at rest those fears which have been expressed to me over this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 19 [Modifications of criteria for grant of and attachment of conditions to road service licences]:
§ 9.37 p.m.
LORD CHAMPION moved Amendment No. 31:
Page 26, line 9, leave out ("(b) to (d)") and insert ("(c) and (d)").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, with permission I should like to discuss with this Amendment, Nos. 32 and 33. If this clause is left in its present form the requirements of Section 135(2)(b) of the 1960 Act, that the traffic commissioners, in exercising their discretion as to the group service licence shall have regard to,
the extent, if any, to which the needs of the proposed routes … are already adequately served
will disappear. This has always been an important consideration by the traffic commissioners when considering applications made to them, or on appeals from existing operators. It is conceded that the principle of the public interest must be a primary consideration. But the effect of the application of the clause as it is now drafted may well be seriously to damage established services. If that happens the losses they suffer may well have to be made up from public funds, or the services may have to be withdrawn altogether. Such an outcome would certainly not be in the public interest, even if in the short term that might appear to be the case.
§ To allow the clause to operate as it stands would put an existing bus operator, who felt he had good grounds for objecting to a new service over his established route, in the position of having no effective around of appeal. I am strongly of the opinion that Section 135 of the 1960 Act has served the public well. It is understood, and has been operated over many years by the traffic commissioners in a reasonable manner. It has provided bus operators with a soundly based around for appeal when their interests have been challenged.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I should like to add a few words in support of the Amendment. Bus routes which have been established over a great number of years have come from a history of state carriage routes not only considered in the 1960 Act, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and not only since the advent of stage carriage motor buses. They date back to the time of the mail carriages used in the middle half of the 18th century. It would be a great tragedy if, by legislation, this whole thing was swept away. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the Amendments and perhaps in another place they will look carefully before they sweep away what has been good for so many years.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, Section 135(2) prescribes the matters to which traffic commissioners are to have regard when considering the grant or variation of road services licences, and one of these, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, pointed out, is in paragraph (b), the extent, if any, to which the needs of the proposed routes, or any of them, are adequately served. It is true to say, as both the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and my noble friend Lord Teviot have said, that over the years a good deal of case law has grown up round the workings of this section, and, in particular, traditional interpretations of the criterion set out in paragraph (b) have made it difficult for new bus services to be authorised when such proposals originate from operators not currently established in the neighbourhood concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, says that this is not a good thing, and presumably he would rather not see new operators coming into the areas concerned: nor would 165 my noble friend. But we believe that there is a lack of flexibility here, and that this is undesirable.
We believe that the commissioners should have greater scope for deciding upon applications in terms of their individual merits, and, in particular, the extent to which they meet the interests of the travelling public. I come back again to what I was saying on the previous clause, that what we have in mind here is to make the criterion the interests of the public. This certainly is not to say that in recasting Section 135 services provided by existing operators will not continue to be taken into account. Indeed, they must be, and it would be a strange interpretation of the public interest if they were not. But we think it important that the commissioners should be fortified in taking a fresh view of their duties uninhibited by the present formulae. This is what the simplified wording of Clause 19(1) seeks to do. We differ on this. We feel the need for leaving the traffic commissioners with greater freedom in the interests of the travelling public, and this is what we are out to achieve. I cannot advise your Lordships to accept these Amendments.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I can only say that I hope it will work out as the noble Lord thinks it will. I have grave doubts about this, otherwise I should not have moved the Amendment. But having regard to the reply, I can only seek leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I think at this moment we have probably taken this, Report stage as far as we can this evening, and I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That consideration on Report be now adjourned.—(Lord Aberdare.)
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I wonder if I may ask the Government what their intentions are in this matter. Are they honourable? Is it intended that we should further consider the Report stage on Thursday and then take Third Reading some time after the Recess, or is it the intention that we should drive the whole thing through on Thursday? If that is done, it will certainly shorten 166 the possibility of putting down Amendments on Third Reading. I wonder what the Government have in mind.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I understand that there have been conversations, through the usual channels, on this matter and that the intention is that we should complete the Report stage on Thursday, and then take the Third Reading afterwards.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, may I assume that the noble Lord will give an explanation to the House on Thursday as to what the Government's intentions are? We are a very thin House, and I shall probably have something to say about the conduct of business when we take the last item of business to-night. But it is very much in the hands of the House as to whether we should take the Third Reading and remaining stages on Thursday.
On Question, Motion agreed to and Report stage adjourned accordingly.