HL Deb 15 November 1973 vol 346 cc818-84

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Before introducing it I should like to apologise to your Lordships who are taking an interest in this Bill for the fact that we have started somewhat late. This has been inevitable owing to the emergency and the introduction of the Emergency Regulations. It has also been an emergency for the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who has now to speak a second time this afternoon.

My Lords, it has become something of a tradition, and one which I am sure we should welcome, that legislation on the vital subject of road traffic is introduced in this House. The earlier Bills on this subject are now part of the fabric of history, and it is fascinating to observe in the debates of the Edwardian period a mixture of things which now belong to the past, such as impossibly low speed limits, 12 miles per hour from 1895 to 1903, and problems that are still with us, such as the growing density of traffic and the noise and pollution which it causes. The control of motor vehicles and of their social and environmental effects is now a major sphere of central and local government activity. We have come an incredible distance from the days, not 70 years ago, when an official could note on a file about complaints of noise from motor buses: On the whole, I doubt if they are as much nuisance as barrel organs. The Bill which I now commend to your Lordships fully reflects the multifarious aspects of road traffic and the sophistication of the legislation to which it gives rise. It has no single unifying theme. It consists of a number of more or less radical amendments of existing legislation, and by this means it packs into a relatively small compass some very important reforms. A major part of the Bill makes provision for better means of enforcing certain parts of the road traffic law. Clauses 1 to 5 and Schedule I deal with owner liability, and Clauses 7 and 22 deal respectively with certain extensions of the fixed penalty system and an owner's duty to give information, and with the payment of the charges for vehicles removed from the roads.

First, the Bill provides for the registered owner of a vehicle to be liable, in addition to the driver, for certain minor stationary road traffic offences for which fixed penalty notices have been issued, and also for the offence of failing to pay an excess charge incurred at a parking meter. The fixed penalty system has been in existence since 1960 and it is now generally adopted by police forces throughout the country. It enables drivers who commit minor traffic offences to discharge their liability to conviction by paying a fixed penalty within 21 clays as an alternative to being prosecuted. In the past 13 years it has been widely accepted by the public. It has not only saved the police and the courts a vast amount of work, but it has meant that a level of enforcement could be maintained which would not otherwise have been possible.

In recent years, however, its effectiveness has progressively declined because increasing numbers of people do not pay and persistently evade police inquiries. Most fixed penalty notices are issued when vehicles are unattended. If payment is not made, the police have to make inquiries through registered owners in order to trace the drivers. This has involved a considerable and growing burden of work for the police and traffic wardens. Many cases now go by default because drivers cannot be identified in time for proceedings to be taken. Many of these drivers are, in fact, themselves the owners.

The numbers involved are now considerable. About 2½ million fixed penalty notices were issued in England and Wales in 1972, but payment was made in only 64 per cent. of these cases, and then only after police inquiries, often prolonged, had been necessary in half of them. In the Metropolitan Police District alone, about 340,000 cases could not be prosecuted within the six months the law allows. Similar difficulties arise when excess charges are not paid. The introduction of owner liability to deal with this problem has been widely canvassed and carefully studied. Although in the last analysis an owner will be held liable, the provisions are structured in such a way as to minimise that possibility. The Bill preserves the basic liability of a driver. Where an owner is not a driver, it is only in special circumstances that he becomes liable. These are where he cannot persuade a driver to pay, or to sign a statement accepting liability.

Clause 1 and Schedule 1 together prescribe the arrangements for certain fixed penalty offences. The provisions are limited to offences alleged in respect of stationary vehicles. These are parking and waiting offences, lighting offences at night, and the offence of failing to display a valid vehicle excise licence. The Bill applies only to these offences where, first, a fixed penalty notice has been issued and, second, the driver has not paid within the period allowed. It does not take away a driver's liability but, where a fixed penalty notice has been issued for one of the prescribed offences and where it has not been paid, it enables the police to serve a notice on the owner telling him he will be liable. This notice requires the owner to do one of three things within a prescribed period. He must either pay the fixed penalty, or secure its payment by someone else, or furnish the police with a statutory statement. If he, or anyone else, pays the fixed penalty, no further action will be taken against the driver or the owner. If payment is not made, he must comply with the notice by furnishing the statutory statement of facts under Schedule 1. If he fails to do either of these things, he can expect to be prosecuted for failing to comply with the notice. Clause 2 provides for the same procedure to apply in the case of excess charges.

Clause 3 deals with the position of hired vehicles and provides that the hirer shall be deemed the owner, for the purposes of these particular provisions, so long as the requirements in the clause are met. This provision recognises the different position in which the registered owner of a hired car stands. While it is reasonable to expect registered owners generally to exercise some degree of responsibility over the use of their cars, whether by family, friends, or employees, the owner of a vehicle hired out for a short period (defined in the Bill as less than six months) cannot be expected to exercise this sort of control over a hirer, despite the elaborate checking procedures which responsible vehicle-hire firms carry out.

The transfer of liability from owner to hirer is not, however, automatic. On the one hand, the hirer must sign a statement, called in the Bill a statement of liability, acknowledging that he will be treated as the owner for the purposes of the Bill. On the other hand, the firm must certify that the vehicle was on hire and furnish these two statements, plus a copy of the hiring agreement. If this is properly done, the police or local authority will serve a notice on the hirer who will from then on be treated as the owner for these purposes. This scheme has been discussed with and accepted by representatives of the vehicle hire trade. The Government believe that the scheme I have outlined will be an effective and a fair means of reversing the deterioration of a highly advantageous system for dealing with the volume of minor road traffic offences. It will encourage compliance with the law, and so the law-abiding driver stands to gain a good deal from its successful implementation.

Clause 7 extends the fixed penalty system and owner liability to the new offence, under Clause 6 of the Bill, of stopping a vehicle at an urban junction. I shall have more to say about that in a few minutes. The clause also enables the fixed penalty system to be used in enforcing bus lane orders against drivers of offending vehicles. The effectiveness of bus lanes as a means of improving public transport services partly depends on effective enforcement, and the clause also extends the duty of an owner to give information about a driver's identity to breaches of experimental traffic orders, which are the means by which bus lanes are usually introduced.

Clause 22 provides a new power for the police and local authorities to retain in their custody vehicles which they have removed from the roads, until the statutory charges which are payable for the removal and storage of a vehicle have been paid. The police are empowered to make these charges for the removal of vehicles which are parked in contravention of the law. The charges are made to cover the cost of the operation, and are quite separate from any fixed penalty or fine which may be payable in addition because an offence has been committed. Many drivers, however, do not pay willingly, either when collecting their vehicles or later after further requests for payment have been made. The police have then to take legal proceedings to enforce payment, and this is a procedure which absorbs a great deal of time and money, both for the enforcement authorities and for the courts. The problem is greatest in London; the Metropolitan Police remove about 80,000 vehicles a year, but, despite all their efforts, there are about 11,000 cases in which the charges due are never collected. We estimate that having this power will save up to £50,000 a year in police administrative costs alone; it will considerably reduce the difficulties of collection; and, by taking away the opportunity for drivers to evade payment, it will restore a good deal of the value of removal as a deterrent to unlawful parking.

Clause 6 is the first of the road safety provisions in the Bill. There is a very serious problem with accidents at junctions in urban areas, in which parked vehicles interfere with drivers' view of the road. In 1972 there were 6,000 casualties in urban areas to which vehicles parked at junctions were reported as contributory. These accidents were widely dispersed and not confined to any one class of road. We have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to introduce a general prohibition on stopping and waiting at urban junctions. The ban will be implemented following wide consultations to settle the actual details. I can, however, outline some of the main exceptions that will apply. The clause itself excludes from the ban the situations where a vehicle stops as a result of traffic, or to obey a traffic direction, or in an emergency. It makes provision for various exemptions, such as to provide places for loading and unloading in streets which have very closely spaced intersections, and for the police to give dispensations on particular occasions.

Clause 8 is more significant for the future than may appear at first sight. Its formal purport is to replace the power which local authorities now have to engage in, and spend money on, various road safety functions, with a statutory duty to attend to road safety. This proposal is made in the context of the reorganisation of local government which takes effect on April 1, 1974, when a number of functions will be taken over by the new counties. The new duty of local authorities includes not only the traditional educational and publicity activities of road safety officers but also the investigation of accidents, and the minor highway improvements which this investigation may show to be necessary. This clause thus points the way to a more important place for road safety in the operations of local government, and to its closer integration with the planning and improvement of highways. The Government believe that in the long run this will pay large dividends in safer roads.

Clause 9 will rectify deficiencies in powers to make regulations on vehicle lighting, and at the same time removes the anomaly that detailed provisions on lighting equipment, alone of vehicle equipment, are in main legislation. Clause 10 and Schedule 2 enable the Secretary of State for the Environment to bring in a compulsory scheme of type approval for all vehicles. A type approval system is an important step forward in the application of standards relating to safety and pollution. Before a manufacturer brings a new model on to the market, he has to provide a sample for approval, and he must then supply, with each one that is sold, a certificate that it conforms in the relevant respects with the approved prototype. The testing will be supervised by the Department of the Environment, which proposes to charge fees to cover the cost of the scheme. Type approval will apply equally to imported vehicles. There are similar schemes in operation in other countries, and, where there is a bilateral agreement, type approval in one country is valid in another. A voluntary scheme is already in operation here, to provide our exporters with type approval to E.E.C. standards. The clause also contains powers to introduce type approval of component parts of vehicles.

Clause 11 removes defects in the present law on sale of second-hand vehicles. Clause 12 and Schedule 3 affect all holders of driving licences, both present and future. The present position as regards medical conditions which may affect fitness to drive is that they have to be declared on the application form when obtaining a driving licence for the first time, and on renewing it every three years. This system has two defects. First, there is no obligation on a licence-holder to tell the licensing authority if he develops a disability during the period of a licence. This means that he might have the misfortune to lose an arm or a leg one month after renewing his licence, but would be under no obligation to declare this for another two years and eleven months. Second, the Secretary of State, as licensing authority, does not have sufficient powers to inquire into the nature of any disability which may affect fitness to drive. The medical provisions of Schedule 3 close these gaps. We feel justified in seeking these powers in the interests of road safety. While the great majority of drivers modify their driving habits to take account of any disability, it is right to strengthen the powers of the Secretary of State to consider such cases.

The other proposal on driver licensing is to issue new and renewal licences which would normally remain current until the holder is 70, instead of for three years only, as the present law requires. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Monck for asking me to make clear what happens when one reaches the age of 70 and afterwards. I am delighted to tell him that thereafter renewal will be at three yearly intervals, as at present, and will be free. This proposal has been the subject of extensive consultations with many bodies interested in road safety, and the majority have supported this change.

There will be substantial savings, not only in form-filling for the public, but in paperwork within the central licensing system. We now have approaching 20 million licence-holders, which means nearly 7 million renewals each year, quite apart from the issue of provisional licences and new full licences. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Swansea, which takes over renewal of licences this month, will probably be the largest computer organisation in Europe, and its planning offered a unique opportunity to re-examine the procedures. It emerged that if Parliament would dispense with the need for three-yearly renewals in the vast majority of cases, up to 350 staff and £1 million a year in staff costs and postage could be saved. There are of course provisions for some licence-holders to be treated differently. In particular, a licence could be limited to three years or less on medical advice, so that the driver's medical condition could be reviewed at appropriate intervals.

I think your Lordships will welcome Clause 13. Overloading of goods vehicles is not only dangerous; it causes considerable damage to roads. A great deal of work has been done to develop methods of checking the weight of lorries so as to enforce the limits imposed by the regulations. As this proceeded, it became evident that the Secretary of State would need power to specify the methods of weighing and the tolerances appropriate for this purpose—which may be quite different from those relating to the traditional use of weigh-bridges for verifying quantities of goods. This clause will permit the introduction of transportable weighing devices, which record the weight of each axle as the vehicle is driven over them. It will thus strengthen enforcement of legal weight limits and make it easier to prosecute offenders.

Clauses 14 and 15 contain provisions which would allow the Secretary of State to introduce schemes for licensing people under 21 to drive heavy vehicles, within the framework of a professional training scheme. The scheme which is immediately in prospect is to train young drivers of heavy goods vehicles, and the power to reduce the minimum age for their vocational licences is in Clause 14. Clause 15 would enable the Secretary of State to make similar provision for a reduction in the minimum age for driving buses. If such a scheme were introduced, it might be on somewhat different lines—for instance it might have to have regard to E.E.C. requirements—but it would equally contain safeguards against the risks of licensing inexperienced drivers to use large and heavy vehicles.

Quite apart from fears of a growing shortage of heavy goods drivers, a properly drawn up and controlled training scheme is increasingly necessary for a healthy road transport industry, and will lead to a general improvement in standards. The scheme would provide for a course under qualified instructors, with trainees graduating from smaller to larger lorries—subject to passing the very exacting heavy goods vehicle driving test. This scheme has been discussed at length with both sides of the industry, and both are in favour of it. It is in line with the relevant E.E.C. regulation, and there is every reason to think that the details can be agreed with the Commission.

Clauses 16 to 19 of the Bill propose to amend the existing law in a way which will create a more flexible system of bus licensing adapted to present-day circumstances—and designed, in particular, to help rural communities with their transport problems. The Bill makes it possible for lifts to be given in cars, against payment, without any risk of falling foul of bus licensing requirements. Minibuses, with up to 12 seats, which are privately used, will also be freed from these requirements. Minisbuses operating commercially will still be subject to public service vehicle licensing—concerned with the fitness of both vehicle and operator to provide a service carrying passengers for hire or reward. But they will be exempt from the need to have a road service licence where they neither carry passengers on journeys in an urban area, nor run on an existing bus route in competition with a conventional service. This change will open the way for more informal services, by minibuses in country areas which are without conventional bus services or are inadequately served by them. The Bill also widens the scope for granting permits for other kinds of journey by minibus. And the criteria for granting road service licences themselves are also made more flexible, greater emphasis being placed on the interests of the public than under present legislation.

Clause 20 and Schedule 4 to the Bill contain powers on licensing of goods vehicle operators. The first few years' operation of Part V of the Transport Act 1968 has shown up some minor weaknesses in the system and in the powers conferred on licensing authorities. It is these weaknesses which the Government are proposing to remedy in this clause and Schedule, by relatively minor amendments to current law which will be welcomed by all responsible elements in the industry itself.

Clause 21, which refers to recording equipment, is in fact concerned with the tachograph, which provides an automatic record of journeys by heavy goods vehicles in place of manual record-keeping. Tachographs are not yet widely used here, but they become compulsory under E.E.C. regulations, in 1976 for new vehicles and in 1978 for existing ones. What the Government propose is to introduce a voluntary scheme in 1974. This has two advantages: those who fit the current models of tachograph before 1976 will gain useful experience in their use; and they will be able to defer until 1980 the fitting of a more complicated and expensive type specified by the E.E.C. This clause permits the substitution of these automatic records for the records which drivers have to fill up and provides for inspection and testing of the equipment. The type approval of tachographs is covered by the provisions of Clause 10 on component parts of vehicles.

Clause 23 requires that motor insurers who write compulsory third-party policies in the United Kingdom should be members of the Motor Insurers' Bureau. The functions of the Bureau are, first, meeting claims in respect of compulsorily insurable liabilities against uninsured drivers, and making payments to victims of untraced or unidentified drivers; and, second, operating the international green card system. Most insurers already belong, and it seems wrong that these important functions should rely on voluntary membership.

In Clause 24 and Schedule 5 we are taking the opportunity to revise and rationalise the maximum penalties for a wide range of road traffic offences. This revision, which chiefly affects the penalties that may be imposed in the magistrates' courts, has two main aspects. First, the Bill increases the maximum fines which may be imposed on summary conviction for a large number of offences. Second, it removes from the magistrates' courts the power to send offenders to prison for road traffic offences, with the single exception of driving while disqualified. This clause and Schedule are very important, but I have spoken at some length and I think that I shall do better to leave this subject to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, when he comes to wind up the debate at the end: he can deal with it in greater detail than I can as he knows far more about it. Clause 25 is consequential upon the changes in fines, and maintains the present position as regards the jurisdiction of courts in Scotland. Clauses 26 and 27 contain provisions on interpretation, commencement, and other technical matters.

This short Bill contains a formidable amount of important legislation. That is not to say that it covers everything that noble Lords might have hoped to see: rather it contains those matters to which the Government, after clue consideration, attached the highest priority. My colleagues and I will listen with attention to the views that are expressed this afternoon, both on the contents of the Bill and on other related matters which it does not touch. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Aberdare.)

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for the way in which he has introduced this Bill. He has covered a number of points. I must admit that he did it at such a rate that it made it difficult for me, with my limited intellect, to follow him completely. Nevertheless, he has gone through it all; it is on the Record, and I shall be able to read it.

He referred to the fact that this is my second appearance at this Box to-day. To listen to me once is more than enough; to have to listen to me twice is imposing a heavy punishment on the House. However, I shall try to be reasonably brief. This is very much a hotch-potch of a Bill which seems to have in it so many things that were inadvertently left out of previous Bills. It also has some things in it which have been brought to light by the inability of the authorities to enforce some of the previous legislation—though it is none the worse for that. There are some things that are new and that, although perhaps not revolutionary, will nevertheless require careful examination.

Clauses 1 to 5 appear to me to be unexceptionable in so far as they give effect to something we pressed for in our debate on London traffic control on February 17 last. That debate followed the publication of the second Report of the Expenditure Committee of another place on Urban Transport Planning, the Hall Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, told the House the figures of the failures to secure payment of the fixed penalty payment. I will not repeat them, but those figures are indeed startling, and it is time something was done about the matter. The case for keeper liability—the technical term—was certainly made out before the Hall Committee. I accept completely the necessity for the purpose behind these clauses, but I wonder whether there is any real need for owners to be relieved of any liability if they are able to furnish the chief officer of the police with the statutory statement of facts as mentioned in the clause, or whether we ought not to expect the owner of the vehicle himself to collect from the driver the amount of the fixed penalty and pay the penalty himself. After all, in the vast majority of cases the driver must have been using the car with the owner's permission. The procedure embodied in these clauses will undoubtedly result in a considerable increase in the amount of paper work falling on the police. That is to be deplored, but I suppose that all this is a part of our tenderness towards offenders against the law and of our falling over backwards to be scrupulously fair, and more than fair.

Clause 6 seems to me to be a reasonable power to vest in the Secretary of State, but of course we shall have to consider the regulations that flow from the clause. Clause 7 seems to me to be to some extent machinery. The noble Lord has told us that the fixed penalty procedure will be applied to bus lane orders. This is, I suppose, a step in the right direction, but Mr. Hunt, in his evidence to the Expenditure Committee, stressed the difficulty of the enforcement of the law on bus lanes, and suggested that powers should be given to the police to employ traffic wardens on bus lane enforcement. The question I have to ask is: has anything been done about that suggestion; and, if not, might this Bill he a suitable vehicle for bringing it into effect?

My Lords, the first part of Clause 8 adds a little to Section 38 of the Act of 1972, making it mandatory on local authorities to prepare and carry out measures designed to promote road safety. But under the remainder of what is to be added to the 1972 Act there is to be a considerable extension of the duties of local authorities, and one wonders what is intended here. Is it the case that in future we shall see two bodies, the police and the local authorities, carrying out an identical investigation into the same accident? This would seem to me to be implied by what is contained in this clause.

There is just one other point in this connection that I feel I ought to mention. It was brought to my attention by a local authority association. County councils are now the authority for road safety. District councils used to be, and there was considerable justification for the fact that these powers rested with districts. I am not asking that we should do anything to upset the Local Government Act 1972, but I would urge upon the Government that if a district asks for agency powers under the Local Government Act and such a request comes to the Government as an appeal by the district council against the decision of the county council, then they will give some sympathetic consideration to that application. I ask no more than that, but it is a point that has been brought to me by a local authority association.

For the sake of safety on the road and of road users, Clause 10 provides a suitable extension of the system of official approval of vehicles and their component parts; and it applies to all vehicles and is not, as hitherto, confined to goods vehicles. This is a considerable step in the right direction, and the mark of approval which I take it will be applied to these vehicles, and to the component parts mentioned, will I think ensure that we shall have higher standards of safety in our vehicles. Clause 11 seems to me to be a well worth while extension of the prohibition on dealing in unroadworthy vehicles, and it appears to me to be the blocking up of a discovered loophole. I can well imagine that plenty of this has in fact occurred, and that it was a loophole.

I am fairly sure that Clause 12 will receive a fairly wide welcome, but I am far from clear as to how the new law will apply to applicants over 70–or at least I was until the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, made his speech and told us of his exchange with the noble Viscount, Lord Monck. As I understand it, the noble Lord has covered the point of my difficulty. He has given me the additional information that my future driving licences will be issued for three years because I have passed life's allotted span; and he has also given me some information that I had not seen anywhere else—and I hope he meant it; that is, that in future I shall not only get my driving licences for three years but get them free. This I understood the noble Lord to say, and for that I am truly grateful.

Clause 13, the clause which deals with the weighing of vehicles, may be an important one from the point of view of the owner and the driver. Clearly, what will be important in this connection will be what is in the regulations. I know that the Transport and General Workers' Union have expressed concern over the number of commercial vehicle drivers who have been prosecuted under the existing regulations dealing with gross axle weights. It appears to me that it is possible for a driver to distribute his load over the entire vehicle in order to be within his gross maximum weight but that the situation may arise where one axle may still be over the prescribed limit and the driver has no means of checking it. The solution proposed by the union is that vehicle owners should be compelled to fix axle weight mechanisms which would enable the driver to check and, if necessary, adjust the load in order to conform to the regulations. My Lords, I feel that we may have to return to this matter when we go into Committee on the Bill, but perhaps the noble Viscount may be able to tell us a little more about it when he comes to reply to this debate to-night.

The proposals in Clauses 14 and 15 to lower the age for the grant of a driving licence for heavy vehicles to 18 is one which, understandably, has caused some disquiet. I am bound to say that I am not too sure what is intended here, despite the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. Does it amount to this: that a young person aged, say, 19 who has attended a course under the Road Transport Industry Board and who passes the necessary test will be able, even though he has not attained the age of 21, to secure a licence to drive a heavy goods vehicle or a public service vehicle? Will this in fact work in this way or is it merely intended under the regulations to be made under these clauses that a young person will be able to drive on the road only as a part of his instruction under the supervision of a suitable instructor, this in readiness for driving heavy vehicles on attaining the age of 21?


My Lords, may I just reassure the noble Lord? It is a graduated process between 18 and 21, with a full training programme. If a person passes the requisite tests he will be able to drive lorries of gradually heavier sorts until he is 21, when he can drive the really large lorries.


So it will be a graduation throughout the whole of the period, and he will go upwards from class to class?


That is right.


And he will not be able to drive the heaviest of vehicles until he attains the age of 21. Is that it?


On his own, yes.


That clears up the doubts that I had about this matter. I ought to say here that the Transport and General Workers' Union, having looked at the first clause and the second one relating to bus drivers, say, We accept this clause, in that this facilitates the operation of the agreed driver-apprentice scheme". So obviously there have been consultations which have brought about this agreement.

My Lords, the final clauses to which I wish to refer, at a little length, are Nos. 16 to 20, and to these we shall have to devote a lot of time in Committee. I am of the opinion that the public service vehicle licensing system has served the country and the industry fairly well, and that we ought to approach changes to that system very cautiously indeed. There are a number of things upon which the Opposition will have to be satisfied before we shall be prepared to part with this clause. These can be summarised briefly as: arrangements for passenger safety and protection, and adequacy of insurance cover for passengers in private cars; that the effect of any changes will not be such as seriously to injure existing operators who are providing regular services; that the employment standards are not worsened by these clauses and what will flow from them; and that the competition of mini-buses will not be permitted in areas where they are not needed, such as in competing with established services in densely-populated areas. I might also mention that the appropriate trade union is disturbed about Clause 21. It fears that the recording equipment will give a very inadequate indication of the driver's work. To that aspect we shall return. I will not mention the remaining clauses of the Bill. Clearly, we shall have to devote some time to them in Committee. I have been saying that we are not opposed to this Bill; indeed we welcome it, but we shall try very hard to improve it when we get into Committee.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord who opened this debate made clear to us and as is apparent from a glance at the Bill, it will be seen that it has no general theme. It is a collection of measures, matters no less important on that account; but there is a danger in a Second Reading debate that one may be accused of making points which are substantially Committee points. I shall not attempt to review the whole of this Bill this evening. What I should like to do, and I hope it will be helpful to do so, is to draw attention to three aspects of the Bill to which my attention has been drawn. These may be matters which we shall want to take up in Committee and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, may think it useful if I mention them, if I put up a marker against them, so that he will have an indication of what, at any rate, I may wish to bring up on Committee.

May I say a few words about Clauses 1 to 5? Those are the clauses which introduce this new system by which fixed penalty offences can be made the responsibility of the owner as opposed to the driver. I am sorry that these provisions—and I have no doubt that it was difficult to work them out—do not appear to catch either the person who to-day has diplomatic immunity (and we know of the large number of offences committed by people in that position) or the owner or the driver who is a visitor from abroad. I think that it is a pity that the Government—it may have been impossible to manage it—have not been able to devise some scheme to catch those two categories of people.

May I ask a question on Clause 1(2)? That is the provision whereby, in certain cases, a chief officer of police can serve a notice on a person whom he has reason to believe is the owner of a vehicle requiring him to do certain things. The question is this. Is there any time limit during which the police have to serve that notice? They cannot serve it until the 21 days on the original notice have expired, but there appears to be nothing in the Bill to indicate any time limit on the serving of a notice on a presumed owner. Secondly, from what time does the time limit for prosecution begin to run? I take it that the time limit will be the ordinary time limit of six months. Can the noble Viscount tell us from what date it is intended that the time limit of prosecution shall begin to run? Is it from the date of the original alleged offence or from the date of the issuing of a notice to a presumed owner or from the date when the presumed owner fails to comply (if he does so fail) with the notice? There appears to be nothing about this in the Bill at present. It would appear possible to issue that notice at any time; indeed, it might be years after the event.

Continuing with Clause 1, I have some doubts about the remainder of this clause. As I understand it, in the case of certain fixed-penalty offences, where a notice which has been given to the person or attached to the vehicle has not been complied with (and nobody has paid the penalty) the police can serve the notice on the person they think is the owner. Under that notice he has a choice either of paying a fixed penalty or of furnishing this statutory statement as to whether or not he is the owner. If he is not the owner he is required to state who is the owner. What happens if he fails to comply with that requirement? As I understand it—and the noble Viscount will I hope correct me if I am wrong—if he does nothing at all about it he can be prosecuted for having failed to comply with the notice and is liable to a penalty of £100. Alternatively, as I understand it, if he does nothing about it and makes no return then, if proceedings are successfully brought against him for the alleged offence, it is then to be conclusively presumed in those proceedings that he is the driver.

Under one of the clauses of the Bill it is made clear that the notice can be served on the presumed owner either by leaving it at his proper address or by sending it by post to him; and he is then required to comply with that notice within the specified period of 21 days. Let us suppose that he is on holiday or is away from home or does not receive the notice. Then under subsection (4) if he is prosecuted simply for failing to comply with the notice, he is entitled to be acquitted if he can offer a reasonable excuse for not having complied. If, on the other hand, the police decide to prosecute him for the original offence, as if lie were the driver, he is not entitled (as I understand it) to say, "Oh, no. I was not the driver." He is not entitled to plead that he was away at the time and did not receive the notice; because it has to be conclusively presumed, because lie has not complied with the notice, that he is the driver. Therefore he cannot come to court and say, "I did not receive the notice." He is not entitled to do that if the police decide to prosecute him for the original offence (whatever it may have been) rather than to prosecute him for failing to comply with the notice.

The other point on Clause 1 is this. It appears to me as I read subsection (8)(b), that if a presumed owner is served with one of these notices and writes in to the police saying, "I am the owner of this vehicle but I was not the driver on this occasion; it was driven by Mr. 'A'", he is therefore complying with the notice and, as I understand it, what follows depends upon whether or not the police decide to prosecute the driver or the person whom the owner says was the driver. If they decide for any reason not to prosecute the driver, or if they prosecute him and do so unsuccessfully, the police can turn back to the original owner and say, "We are going to prosecute you as if you were the driver." That is my reading of the effect of subsection (8)(b). If I am wrong about that perhaps the noble Lord can put me right. But it seems to me very unsatisfactory if in fact that is the way it works out.

I should like to say a word about Clause 24. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said that he would leave it to his colleague to deal with this matter, which is very important. It is the proposed variation of penalties for road traffic offences. As I understand it, and reading the clause with Schedule 5, it steps up the financial penalties for almost every kind of road traffic offence. The second thing is that with one exception, driving while disqualified, it would in future prevent magistrates dealing with a summary case from sending anyone to prison for one of these road traffic offences. I am the last person not to welcome a provision which might result in sending fewer people to prison. I entirely support the theme that for road traffic offences prison is almost invariably a wholly inappropriate penalty. Nevertheless, I suggest that there is a curious illogicality about what is proposed because many of these so-called traffic offences are not road traffic offences at all. Under the law as it stands, if a person makes a false statement to get a licence or insurance he can be sent to prison by the magistrates. Now that is to be abolished. Even in the case of the forgery of a document for the purpose of obtaining a licence or an insurance policy the magistrates will have no power to send an offender to prison.

These offences cannot be regarded as road traffic offences; they are peripherally road traffic offences only because they happen to be tied up with road traffic. Surely the offence of forgery or making a false statement could be very injurious to the public. A person who is a danger to the public when driving a vehicle may make a false statement and be able to get a licence. If that kind of thing happens is it right that we should treat the case differently from the ordinary kind of dishonesty, or fraud or forgery, and have different penalties for it? I imagine the reason why the Government have taken this line is that they are anxious to reduce the number of cases reaching the Crown Courts. It is only when the magistrates have the power to impose a term of imprisonment of more than three months that the accused person has the right to elect to be tried by a jury. If you take from the magistrates the power to send people to prison at all, an accused person will not have the right of election. He will have to be tried by the magistrates. I imagine that is what the Government have in mind. But it has been put to me, and I think there is some force in the argument, that it may work in the opposite way and result in more cases going to the Crown Courts.

I say that for this reason. I am sorry if I have to talk "legal lingo", but the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, will understand me when I talk about a hybrid offence. That is the type of offence which may be dealt with on indictment or summarily. What happens is that if it is dealt with summarily before the magistrates there has to be a representation by the prosecutor at the beginning of the case that he thinks it a suitable case to be dealt with summarily. Then the magistrates have to decide whether they think it is a suitable case. Even though the prosecutor may think it a suitable case the magistrates may say that they think it is too serious for them to deal with and that it ought to be sent to a Crown Court. What may happen in the future is that if the magistrates are presented with a case which they regard as serious, and which might warrant imprisonment, and they know in advance that they have not the power to imprison, they may be more inclined to say, "We are going to send this case to the higher court. We do not think that the powers left to us for punishment are sufficient to meet the case". Therefore that may result in more cases being sent to the Crown Courts than are being sent at present.

My Lords, I am sorry to have spoken for so long. My last point, which I will make very briefly, relates to Clause 12 and to Schedule 3. It relates to the changes being made in the information to be given about one's physical condition when applying for a licence. The law at present is that when you apply for a driving licence you have to answer a question whether you are suffering or have suffered from any kind of disability which might render you unable properly to manage a motor vehicle. What is now proposed is that something should be added to that. To find this you have to look at Schedule 3. What is now proposed is that a person applying for a licence should be asked an additional question, whether he suffers from any disability which is not of such a kind that it is a relevant disability—that is, a disability which we talk about now—but one which, by virtue of the intermittent or progressive nature of the disability or otherwise, may become a relevant disability in course of time (such disability being hereafter in this section referred to as a prospective disability'). I ask, my Lords, whether it is possible for any responsible person or indeed any irresponsible person, to answer that question. He would have to consult the Delphic Oracle, or possibly an astrologer, in order to discover whether he was suffering from something which might in the course of time render him incapable or disable him, but which does not disable him now. I suggest that to throw that obligation on an individual is too much; and something almost not to be contemplated is that a person should be prosecuted for making a false reply to a hypothetical question of that sort. Those are the three matters to which I wish to draw the attention of the Minister, and to which, as I say, we may return on Committee.

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, before I say a few words, I wonder whether may apologise to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, as I am afraid that I have an important engagement and cannot be present at the end of the debate. The Bill before us is one which, though not vitally important important to the users of road traffic in this country, has nevertheless within its pages some recommendations which will, I suspect, generally commend themselves to your Lordships' House. There are others which are likely to cause criticism if not argument. One point has just been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Foot. I think this is really a Committee question, but perhaps it might be thought about before the Committee stage is reached. What will happen to an offender, or a receiver of a parking ticket, if the vehicle concerned has been hired? I think we have been told that the owner might be responsible, but if the car is hired it might be a difficult problem.


My Lords, may I clear up that point. Clause 3 of the Bill deals in great detail and with agreement among the car hire people, with exactly that point. I recommend my noble friend to look at that clause. I think it cures the problem.


My Lords, I am sorry; I must apologise to my noble friend. I must have missed that particular clause. The provision, however, which in my view is likely to be of most help to the general public, and which I am sure will be widely welcomed, is that which will allow, in future, local buses to be provided for local people by local people. Driving, as I frequently do, to Worcestershire and passing through some of the glorious Cotswold villages, I am occasionally tempted to think of retiring in my old age to one of the delightful cottages in that part of the country. On inquiring from friends in the neighbourhood about amenities and living conditions, the immediate reply is that it is hopeless without a car. I am lucky. I like driving, and hope to be able to drive for many more years. But I wonder about and inquire about, those who live in the depths of the country and have no car. I am informed that "the buses do not run now; they do not pay." One can appreciate that that is likely to be the case. But what of the people, young, middle-aged and elderly alike who have no transport? I am told that "the shop comes around"—very helpful, but, there is no freedom of choice for the customer—a library occasionally, probably once a month: and even getting to church is a real problem.

In these lonely country areas this provision in the Bill will be more widely welcomed than perhaps some of us realise. It will also provide the opportunity for a much needed service to the community. May I add that I hope women will be able to drive these conveyances. As one who drove Green Line buses during the war in London, I can assure you that women are just as capable as men.

My Lords, there is only one part of the Bill on which I, as a two-day-a-week magistrate, feel that I must criticise the Government. This is the proposal for deleting the powers of the magistrates' courts to imprison an offender for any road traffic offence except that of driving while disqualified. I realise that every-one—and that includes the magistrates— wants to reduce the prison population. But in my view certain offenders, in exceptionally bad cases, warrant imprisonment. I firmly believe that the threat of imprisonment has a deterring effect. In the cases of driving with excess alcohol or dangerous driving, where disqualification is mandatory, the possibility of imprisonment should, in my view, also be a possible punishment. I rarely agreed with a suspended sentence—too many people got away with it if they were careful—but I believe that a prison sentence for three months, suspended for two or three years would be a better deterrent and warning to others than any enlarged financial penalty.

The number of offenders found guilty of dangerous or reckless driving last year was 6,241, of whom only 36 were sentenced to immediate imprisonment.

The number of those found guilty of driving while unfit through drink or drugs was 43,836, but only 307 were sentenced to immediate imprisonment. These figures, I think, prove that magistrates, in their courts, are very loath to imprison an offender; but also I hope they prove that these are exceptional circumstances where the bench feel that they have no alternative. It may be of interest, my Lords, to know that on my information, in Holland 30 days is mandatory for drunken driving; and in America drivers are also imprisoned for one month. Most of your Lordships' will know that imprisonment for driving while drunk was also mandatory in this country until a few years ago. To take away these powers from the courts at this time would, in my view, be seen by this country to be a weak decision.

There are only two small items that I should like to touch on, and that is finally to ask the Minister to try to see that the new method of issuing driving licences is speeded up. One defendant in my court has had his case remanded three times, on each occasion hoping that his licence will have been sent to him when he appears. The second point is that if licences are to be granted from the age of 17 to 70, I hope that they will come in the form of hardbacks, not paperbacks. My hardback licence lasted from 1935 to 1971, when it was replaced by a cardboard covered one. I am glad to say that both are otherwise still clean.

7.47 p.m.


My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in welcoming the new improvements in law set out in this Bill. But I have two regrets: First, I regret the complexity of the provisions of this Bill; and, secondly, I regret that this is yet another Bill to be brought into force by Statutory Instrument. If I may pause over those two regrets, I turn first to the complexity of the provisions. It may be that the Minister will take the point that the motorcar is a complicated machine. If lie should do so, having myself had mysterious mechanical trouble while on holiday with my family in Wales, I would be inclined to agree. But jesting apart, the complexity of the motor car is not an answer here. Indeed, I believe this Bill exposes a wider problem. I believe complex legislation in minutia is the prevalent defect of current statutory law. I believe both Houses pass detailed provisions without sufficient thought of their implementation by the courts, high or low, the police, or officials, be they Government or county. In the end I believe that Parliament defeats its own purpose if it passes statutory law which by its complexity prevents those who have to implement it doing so with expedition and exactitude.

My Lords, at this stage I was intending to proceed to some examples in this Bill of complexity, but I find myself in basic difficulty: that despite the erudite opening by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and careful analysis in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, I find much of this Bill incomprehensible in its drafting. That is not to criticise the Parliamentary draughtsmen, but to criticise the instructions they received.

I turn now to my second regret. This again is a Bill which is to be brought into force by Statutory Instrument. I have debated this point once before with the Minister during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill. Perhaps it suffices to say that I note that this Bill still has that disease—I think it is the "epidemic disease" of recent statute law—of having no date of enactment, but having the enactments or provisions brought in by Statutory Instruments and with all the difficulties that this entails. This fact I set out in an earlier speech during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill.

My Lords, the greatest regret that I have about this Bill concerns an absentee. The absentee is this. The Government have failed to include in this Bill fresh provisions to replace the breathalyser law which was originally set out in the Road Safety Act 1967 and now forms part of the consolidated enactment, the Road Traffic Act 1972, Sections 6 to 13. Your Lordships will be familiar with the breathalyser law: indeed, many of your Lordships will have been in the House when the original Bill went through. I recognise that there is a question of priorities. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in his opening speech said that the Government had given due consideration to priorities, and they felt that the provisions set out in this Bill covered those matters of greatest priority.

I also recognise that this Bill deals with other aspects of road traffic. None the less, in my submission, this Bill remains a convenient vehicle. Moreover, the breathalyser law is a matter of priority. Why do I say this? Although the Road Safety Bill was clothed in good intentions, it has, I believe, proved (to all of those who are concerned with efficiency and expedition of the process of law) to be the worst piece of legislation for a decade. Instead of clearing up old ambiguities and difficulties under the old law concerning being unfit to drive, with nystagmus having to be proved, and the difficulty, too, of obtaining proper convictions before juries, this Bill will create more complex difficulties.

I emphasise that I speak as a practising lawyer, and I am not riding any political horse. My criticism is exclusively a professional criticism, but I hope it will be one that has some sting. Contrary to some popular belief, lawyers, certainly in my experience, do not enjoy presenting unmeritorious cases. Sir Robert Mark was kind enough to recognise this in his brilliant Dimbleby Lecture of a few days ago. Yet time and time again under these breathalyser provisions we are being required to put forward unmeritorious defences. I think I can do no better than to quote from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in a recent case that came before the Judicial Committee of this House, when he said this in a breathalyser case: Like many appeals under the Road Safety Act 1967, this appeal is wholly without merits and, like many other appeals wholly without merits, it has been conducted almost entirely at the public expense, since the appellant is legally aided". That is a view that was repeated by Lord Justice Roskill in another case that came more recently before the High Court.

My Lords, the statistics speak for themselves. Since 1967, in the All England Reports concerning the breathalyser law, altogether 17 cases are reported to have come to the Queen's Bench Division, 21 to the Court of Appeal and five to your Lordships' Judicial Committee. These, I emphasise, are the reported cases. Beyond the reported cases there are many others that have also come before those courts. The Road Traffic Reports, another set of law reports, records altogether a total of some 50 breathalyser cases that have come before the courts.

What about the courts of first instance? What about the magistrates' courts and the Crown Courts? Here the statistics were more difficult to acquire. I made various inquiries to-day from the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Office, but there were no separate statistics concerning the breathalyser law, as opposed to the old unfit to drive law, which is still part of the law and is set out in Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 1972. However, I made inquiries at the Bedford Crown Court on Monday of this week, and there I was told that this year there have been 31 breathalyser cases out of 300 cases which that court has dealt with. This is not approaching the point with exactitude, but I was told by the Lord Chancellor's Office that altogether in 1972 there have been 37,324 cases of trials before the Crown Courts. If one were to transpose that 10 per cent., 31 of 300, to 1972, one reaches the startling figure of 3,700 cases. That may well be on the high side; the Bedford Crown Court is a court on a lower tier and it may be that that court has a higher number of breathalyser cases. However, it indicates the number of cases that are heard in the courts of first instance, and accords with the impression of lawyers who practise both in the magistrates' court and in the Crown Court.

My Lords, what is the conclusion to be drawn from this? I suggest it is this. The provisions which should have been cut and dried, and which should have led to the minimum of appeals, have taken an excessive time of the courts and brought upon the Treasury excessive costs. Some of your Lordships may be asking: why such an abundance of judicial authority? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice put the matter in rather vivid terms in a recent case in 1972, when referring to the abundance of cases coming out of the "apparently inexhaustible well of the Road Safety Act".

I believe that there is both a general reason and a particular reason. The general reason covers my earlier complaint, that Parliament has legislated in particularity, setting out detailed provisions which must be followed to the letter and, if not, there is a break in the chain of procedures, and proceedings are brought to a nullity. Two breath tests with particular equipment, special and limited forms of arrest, further specific requirements in the police station including how the sample should be handed out—it is small wonder that in earlier days, when the provisions of the Road Safety Act first became law, all the earlier appeals arose out of baffled police officers failing to master the complexities of procedure.

Then there is the particular reason. Parliament attempted to prevent random tests by restricting the circumstances in which tests could be administered, and in doing so made the provisions more complex and less enforceable. Concerning accidents, the provisions here were moderately sensible and caused no serious difficulty. The other circumstances in which a motorist can be stopped and breathalysed are limited to cases where the officer has seen a motorist driving or attempting to drive, and during the course of that driving or attempting to drive, he has either formed grounds to suspect that there was too much alcohol in the motorist's blood or has noted that the driver has committed a traffic offence. Parliament did not give a very good start to the courts, because by literally reading those provisions one finds the awkward situation where the police officer in uniform has to administer the breathalyser test at the same time as the driver is driving or attempting to drive.

What does it all come to? The car need not be in motion. It can be stopped at traffic lights, or the driver can be adjusting the windscreen wipers. If stopped for reasons unconnected with driving, the motorist escapes the provisions of the breathalyser law. For instance, if a motorists stops to make a telephone call or to have a discussion about politics outside a railway station, then he will escape the provisions of the breathalyser law.

There have been surprising consequences. I will mention two cases very briefly, because I recognise that I am referring your Lordships to an absentee from the Bill rather than to what is actually contained in it. I would refer to the case of Edkins v. Knowles, which was the case in which two plain clothes police officers in a police car saw a motorist driving a car very fast and erratically. They followed him for three miles to a holiday camp where he lived and, while doing so, sent out a radio call requesting the attendance of a traffic patrol car. They did not attempt to overtake the motorist as they thought it would be dangerous to do so. When the defendant had finally stopped at the holiday camp, they drew up beside him, identified themselves and asked him to wait until the patrol car arrived. He did so, remaining in the driving seat of the car. A few minutes later a traffic patrol car arrived, with uniformed police officers. Because the first officers were in plain clothes and not in uniform, and because they had stopped that motorist from effectively driving or attempting to drive, then when the uniformed police officers came to carry out the breath test, they were no longer dealing with a motorist who was driving or attempting to drive: hence, all the proceedings were a nullity.

I would refer to another case concerning a private citizen, who noticed that another motorist had had too much to drink and that his driving was affected by it. With some courage, the first man held the driver at some traffic lights and waited for uniformed police officers to arive. When some uniformed officers did arrive fifteen minutes later, it was all a nullity because by that stage the driver was no longer driving or attempting to drive. The irony of it all is that the random tests which Parliament was attempting to prevent being carried out, can be carried out—and this is so because of an extension of the meaning of "driving or attempting to drive". So that if a motorist has been stopped and thereafter a police officer observes the smell of alcohol on the man's breath, it is perfectly permissible for the officer, from that point onwards, to administer a breath test. That, I would submit to your Lordships, is a form of random test.

The other difficulties are legion. I have spoken for fifteen minutes, and perhaps your Lordships would accept from me that, for example, the drinking of alcohol between the ceasing of the driving and the taking of the breath test will reduce the proceedings to a nullity. I hope that your Lordships will also accept from me—I have authorities, though I will not put them before you at this stage—that if you punch a police officer on the nose and, not surprisingly, he arrests you for doing so, any subsequent tests which are carried out are a nullity. I could quote from a case within my own experience which would support that statement.

There is a great deal more that I could say to your Lordships. I received good advice from the Minister before coming into the Chamber—advice which I am afraid I have not wholly followed. I would merely express the hope to your Lordships that I have sufficiently illustrated the need for this piece of legislation to receive immediate attention from the Government in this Bill. I realise that it could be made the subject of a Private Member's Bill and that I could move Amendments during Committee stage. I have not been for a very long time in your Lordships' House, but I have been here sufficiently long to recognise that unless the Government take the lead in this type of legislation, these reforms cannot be achieved. It is this lead I ask of the Government.

8.5 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble kinsman. I was interested to hear of the cases he referred to in regard to breathalyser tests, and I shall be most interested to sec what will happen if he moves Amendments at Committee stage or otherwise tries to alter the law in order to make the existing breathalyser test more strictly enforceable. I would go all the way with him about the random tests to which he refers. However, we can wait for these things, perhaps, until another day.

I welcome this Bill, as will anybody who is interested in road safety matters—and I am sure that includes all Members of your Lordships' House. Many measures relating to road safety over the last few years have originated in this House. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Aberdare and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, on the way they dealt with the opening stages of this debate. They cleared up a number of difficult points which had occurred to me earlier, and for this reason I can now shorten my speech somewhat. Like the noble Lord, Lord Champion, I look forward to the Committee stage. It is quite obvious from this debate that much water will have to flow under the bridge before this Bill really takes shape—and, in passing, I see that I made a note to the effect that Clause 3 was likely to present some difficulty. Therefore I was very pleased to hear what my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross said—followed in this respect by my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve—that the rather complex terms of this clause have been discussed with the interested parties and accepted by them. This is a very satisfactory outcome.

Turning to Clause 6, covering the stopping of vehicles at road junctions, I would say that this is very welcome. I read it coupled with Clause 8, which refers to the obligations of local authorities. I will not mention the obligations to which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, quite properly referred, appertaining to local authorities under the new Local Government Act. However, one point occurred to me at the beginning of this week on my way here, and that is that local authorities should be placed under an obligation to see that if their own vehicles, particularly machines such as compressors and the like, must he stationed at a road junction, then one member of the crew, or perhaps a detached traffic warden, should be asked to help traffic, particularly at peak times, in situations where a corner is concealed by the machinery.

As to the duties of local authorities, I should like to repeat an appeal which has been made in your Lordships' House may times over the years, within my recollection. It is that street names should be easily legible and fixed where they can be seen by drivers. Many street names are fixed at a height more suitable for the days when a driver was probably driving a hansom cab. It is safe to say that many motorists in strange towns and cities to-day have the greatest difficulty in finding where they are. I world go further and say that we should include in the obligations of local authorities some provision regarding the numbering of premises. Many premises nowadays are not even numbered at all. It is very difficult for a driver or a tradesman to find exactly the building he is looking for if the number is not visible from the driving seat of a vehicle.

I should now like to go to Clause 8, which deals with the duty of local authorities to promote road safety and I should like to refer to two particular points. I welcome the added road safety duties given to the local authorities under this clause. Hitherto, the term "road safety" in local authority terms has meant the giving of information and safety education. No one will dispute the necessity for this work; but it is also essential that the authorities should have a continuing duty to look at accident spots from a traffic engineering point of view, and take steps to eliminate dangers which become obvious. The better authorities already do this; but with many it is simply no-one's job in the highway departments to deal with accident spots and difficulties as such.

Some authorities—I believe last week the London borough of Wandsworth did this—have taken steps to appoint a traffic engineer with responsibility for accident investigations. I hope that the Minister will make clear that to carry out their function properly under this clause each authority should, so far as they are able, appoint a specialist officer. The next point under this clause to which I should like to refer is pavement parking. This is one important omission from the Bill and might be considered by my noble friend before another stage is reached. This is regarding a reference to a prohibition on pavement parking. I am a vice-president of the Pedestrians Association and am advised by that organisation that the Association receives more complaints about this nuisance than any other subject. The car parked on the pavement is not only inconvenient to pedestrians, but can be positively dangerous for mothers with prams who are sometimes forced on to the carriage-way in order to get round the car. It is a nuisance which should be made the subject of a clear statutory prohibition.

The present law is still contained in the Highway Act of 1835 which makes it an offence (and I quote): To wilfully lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine or cattle, or carriage of any description, on to a footway". It is possible that these words include a motor vehicle, but there is a difficulty in that the law does not assume a car parked on the pavement as being led or driven there. In any case, it is absurd that an Act of 1835 should be the governing Statute on what happens on our crowded pavements to-day. The House of Lords was led to expect that some legislation would be forthcoming on this subject as recently as last March. In reply to a Question from the right reverened Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton replied, saying: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government will consider legislation making it an offence to park on the pavement as soon as a suitable opportunity arises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3/3/73; col. 1279.] With respect, I suggest that this Bill is an excellent opportunity for a provision on pavement parking and I am sorry that the Government have not so far taken it. Perhaps I may move an Amendment on that subject when the Committee stage is reached.

Clause 9 refers to vehicle lights. This will require careful consideration, and I also realise that it involves some measure of agreement with the E.E.C. I have a bee in my bonnet about stationary vehicles. Accidents with stationary vehicles are such killers and so often arise through insufficient or obscured rear lights. Are we going to be fully satisfied that the regulations under the Act will insist on a sufficiency of red lights on the rear of big vehicles? I forget what the required height is, but I know that the minimum height is specified in the existing regulations. I personally believe it is too high for the drivers of smaller cars to see the rear of a big vehicle. On the other hand, the lower the lights the more likely they are to be obscured by mud and snow. I should be interested to know to what extent the regulations will provide a series of lights, low and high, at the rear of heavy vehicles.

Talking about lights, I should like to mention the "Hazard Warning" switch system which, as your Lordships know, is now becoming more common. I refer of course to the switch which can be put on in an emergency which turns on all four trafficators. Perhaps the noble Viscount knows that this is a matter which is already under consultation between ourselves and the Continent. I also "got it up the backstairs" that the Department of the Environment are in favour of pressing on with the "Hazard Warning" system on cars. I should like to see it become an obligatory fitting on new cars, rather as the seat belt is now obligatory.

That brings me to the matter of seat belts about which I have prepared no notes. I imagined that everybody would mention them and seat belts have not yet been mentioned at all. I know the difficulties. I have a daughter in Victoria, Australia, where seat belts have been compulsory for some time now. Manifest advantages have been displayed by the resultant reduction in the serious accident and fatality figures. Perhaps when the noble Viscount replies he will be able to say what the Government's approach to this is. I believe the real difficulty in making the wearing of seat belts compulsory in this country would be enforcement, and the police feel strongly about this. At the same time, there is no doubt that the latest designed seat belts, the one-hand operated seat belts, are an enormous improvement. I must tell your Lordships the story of my son when he was younger. He was getting into my car and I said, "Buckle up your seat belt". He replied, "Oh, dammit Daddy, I shall die of old age before I can find the thing". The fact is that that was one of the old designs. I believe that the future designs will have to be the one-hand operated type if they are going to be used at all.

Clause 12 has been referred to and the matters raised were cleared up when my noble friend mentioned Lord Monck's inquiry, and also that of the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I have a three-year licence which was issued in my 72nd year. I wondered exactly where I stood. Of course as a Scotsman I am delighted to hear that I can get a licence free in the future; but at the same time, joking apart, when my noble friend said the word "free" I thought he said "Screen". I say that deliberately, because I believe that at our age there should be an obligatory medical examination. On the other hand, if it is a three-year licence it will require the declaration to be filled in as it is to-day.

That brings me to the question of a licence lasting for three years, or to the age of 70, whichever is the longer. I was delighted to hear the remark of the noble Baroness about the physical condition of a licence after floating about from car pocket to car pocket, from jacket to jacket and from pocketbook to pocketbook for something like 52 years, which would be the case of a licence issued at the age of 18. When we come to the Committee stage—as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said—this is something we must consider carefully. Perhaps a five-year licence might be helpful to the police having regard to the present complexity of issuing licences every three years. Of course, if we are suddenly going to reduce this burden, what is going to happen to the computer? I imagine some other jobs will be found for it. On that subject, too, not only is there the question of the physical con dition of a licence lasting some 50 years but it has been made clear to me by one party that they feel that the existing system of one's having every so many years to fill up a form is a reminder of the obligation on the holder of the licence to be sure that he is fit. It has been mentioned by one noble Lord already to-day that one could lose a leg and have two years of the licence still to ran without having to declare one's disability. That, of course, is an extreme case. The fact is that if there is to be no reminder of any sort for a period of 50 years, it is conceivable that people might become casual about the obligation to notify the authority if they find themselves to be failing in any way.

My Lords, we have had a brief and satisfactory debate about Clauses 14 and 15 so I will not go on with that, except to say that my noble friend's indication that the licensing of a heavy vehicle driver was going to be a progressive system takes a great weight off my mind. Of course that subject will be debated when we come to it in Committee. To conclude, my Lords, there is one fact abort which I am not quite clear—I cannot find it in either the 1972 Act or the Bill we are discussing. Are we satisfied that the penalties for overloading and for improperly secured loads are adequate? That is something that needs to be watched because of the danger of the awful accidents that occur. My Lords, I would only ask the foregiveness of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross if I am not here when he winds up, but I have to catch a sleeper train to Scotland.

8.23 p.m.


My Lords, I will start by thanking my noble friend Lord Aberdare very warmly indeed for his gracious reference to me in his opening speech in connection with the fact that I drew his attention to the situation regarding driving licences of those who attain the age of seventy. At the same time, I should like to congratulate him heartily because this is the first time, in my experience, or, I think, in anybody else's, that a Minister has given a reply to a question more than two years before an answer was required. All I can say, having heard there is going to be a freeze, is "Roll on 7/11/1975". In my humble opinion, my Lords, drivers are divided into two classes: those who drive, or try to drive, with due care and attention, and those who drive without either care or consideration for others or without regard to warning notices. In this brief speech I am going to refer only to the first class, because only penalties can deal with the ones who drive without care or consideration.

Reference has already been made by my noble friend Lord Ferrier and by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, to Clause 8, which places a statutory duty on local authorities to carry out road safety functions, and I want to mention two which I suggest should be brought to their attention. The first is the double white lines—and I am talking about those where one white line is broken and the other is continuous—and the second is warning notices. As to double white lines, item 53 on page 11 of the Highway Code reads: Where there are double white lines in the middle of the road and the line nearer to you is broken, you may cross it to overtake if you can do so safely and before reaching an unbroken white line on your side. A broken line does not mean that it is safe to overtake. That is fair enough, but having observed certain broken and continuous white lines beside each other round about the country I was a little worried, because I have seen certain places where there were broken white lines on my side of the road but where it would never be safe to overtake.

I tried to get a little information, and an unofficial reply given to me was, "Ah, you should see our computer; we always work these things out properly". The indication that where a broken white line was made and it was done by computer should mean that it accorded absolutely with the Code. I then received a rather more official reply, which said that these lines conformed to a "speed visibility criteria". That was a bit too much for me—I only went to Eton—so I wrote to my noble friend Lord Sandford, who, as usual, was extremely helpful. He confirmed that the speed visibility criteria was the factor that decided the placing of these lines, but he also sent me extracts from Chapter 5 of the Traffic Signs Manual, I must say that Appendices 1 and 2–though I could not understand a word of them—seemed to provide a very comprehensive system for deciding where the broken and continuous white lines should be placed. But my query still is whether the system under Appendices 1 and 2 of this chapter are always employed.

The fact is that I have seen many cases where it would never be safe to cross over a broken white line on your side, either because the visibility was insufficient or because the distance between the places where you changed from your broken to your continuous white line was too short. If my noble friend Lord Aberdare or my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross would ever dare to honour my humble roof, I will undertake within an hour's drive—and I also undertake to be breathalysed before we start out—to show them quite a number of cases where I think they would agree that a broken white line should never have been placed.

Secondly, my Lords, there are these warning notices. We have all seen them. You come across, first of all, a notice which indicates "Road works", showing a gentleman who looks as though he is shovelling coal into a boiler. Then you come to another one, "Reduce speed now", and the third, "Traffic signals ahead". There are others, as well. These are all excellent when the reason for observing them is valid, but they are too often left up when they are not needed. After passing two or three of these series of notices and finding nothing whatever to prevent him from going straight ahead without peril, even the most careful driver becomes cynical. He then disregards the next lot of notices, which are probably operative, and therefore there is trouble. I would suggest to my noble friends that it be urged on local authorities that they should very carefully re-check the broken and continuous white lines which they have in their various counties or districts, and, secondly, that warning signs should be removed, laid aside, turned round or whatever should be done when they are not intended to be operative. I feel that if these two things were done it would help the honest-to-God motorist—the fellow who does try to drive carefully—in a very difficult job.

8.30 p.m.


My Lords, I appreciate that it is a very late hour at which to start a speech. I suppose the inducement is to finish it as quickly as possible. My reason for rising at all at this late hour is that I consider that something which has already been referred to, both by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, should be brought a little more forcibly to the attention of the noble Viscount who is about to reply.


Not yet, my Lords.


Well, my Lords, I shall do my best to make my speech as short as possible. I feel, as another noble Lord felt when speaking a few minutes ago, that it would be better if, instead of Amendments coming forward from some person outside the Government, the Government themselves considered the question I am raising between now and when we discuss this Bill in Committee. This is what I hope will happen after I have spoken, if I can manage to bring forward my points as they should be made. If they were brought forward in that way, they would, I am sure, compel the Government to think twice about the position in regard to what I suggest.

I want to refer to the question of the magistrates' courts. I believe from what has been said already that the Government would be prepared, if convinced in the debate here, to consider that the Bill should be amended. First of all, I think we ought to look at this matter in true perspective. Who are the people concerned, the magistrates? The magistrates themselves deal with 98 per cent. of criminal cases in the court of first instance—adult and juvenile courts. I think I have some experience in this connection in two respects. First, I have lived with my wife who has been a magistrate for nearly 38 years and who to-day is an officer of the Magistrates' Association, and I know quite a number of other magistrates as well. I too practised in the courts in my early days as a solicitor and had the opportunity of seeing the whole situation from a different angle.

Magistrates are competent people, and have been accepted as competent people, to decide very important issues. In fact, recently they have been given duties in the Crown Courts which are very similar to the duties that the judges themselves have. Indeed, the two magistrates who sit with the judge can in certain cases overrule the judge himself if they feel differently and make a decision which is different from his opinion. So in fact it has been recognised that magistrates have this competence, either because of their long experience in the courts, or, if newly elected, because of the compulsion for them to undergo training to fit them for the job. I hope that the noble Viscount will forgive me for introducing the matter in this way, but I think this is important, because if magistrates express a view it is obviously one which might easily be expressed by judges who sit in the Crown Courts; indeed, perhaps magistrates have more experience and understanding of cases (and I say this with all due respect) than some of the judges. Two magistrates must sit with a judge in the Crown Courts, with equal powers of decision on all appeals, sentencing and borstal recommendations. They are tremendously important duties and indicate that they are capable of giving opinions which are sound.

Hidden in a quiet corner of this Bill are some big changes in principle in regard to penalties in the magistrates' courts and the resultant effects. From page 64, Schedule 5, paragraph 4, it might be surmised that the raising of a fine to £400 had little significance. In fact, these alterations take from the magistrates' courts the power to imprison defendants for all road traffic offences, except driving while disqualified. I should like noble Lords to realise that there is no intention on the part of the magistrates themselves to desire these powers for power's sake. They have formed their conclusions after very careful consideration by their Road Traffic Committee and by the Council of the Magistrates' Association.

May I suggest that the Government by their proposals would be attempting to pre-empt decisions of the James Committee, who are at present sitting to consider the distribution of criminal work in the Crown Court and the magistrates' courts. If I may use an expression which I think is Parliamentary but not very elegant, I think they are "jumping the gun".

The Magistrates' Association and the Justices Clerks Society have made joint representations to the Home Office. It is unusual for them to think identically upon any particular project or matter. In this particular case they are both opposed to the principle of withdrawing the power of imprisonment for serious motoring offences from the magistrates' court. As we have heard already from the noble Baroness, the power is not used very much, and she has given figures which fully illustrate the position in so far as convictions are concerned. This morning there was a meeting of the Council of the Magistrates' Association. They considered the whole case put forward by the Government and that is the reason why I prefaced my remarks by referring to the position of magistrates and why we should take notice of what they say.

This is the resolution: That in view of the severe restrictions on passing sentences of imprisonment, which already exist and which were reinforced by the Criminal Justice Act 1972, the power of magistrates' courts to imprison offenders for the more serious motoring offences or associated serious offences of dishonesty"— and I think that has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Foot— should not be abolished; decisions of principle in regard to penalties of imprisonment in summary cases will inevitably pre-empt the recommendations of the James Committee. It is obvious that the purpose of the Government in withdrawing the power of imprisonment is to take away from the offender the right to opt for trial by jury in the Crown Court. Presumably the idea is to clear the backlog in those courts, but according to my information, in the Provinces the Crown Courts are rapidly catching up with this backlog and it is only in London that there is to-day a big problem.

Some of the side effects of these changes are that neither the adult magistrates' court nor the juvenile court will be able to send defendants to detention centres or attendance centres or make a community service order. Additionally, they will not be able to issue warrants for the arrest of people who have not paid the fines. I should like to refer to that for a moment or two. The removal of a power to impose imprisonment will remove the powers of committal for borstal training (and I have already referred to detention centres and attendance centres), hostel and guardianship orders under the Mental Health Act 1959, orders of remand for medical reports under Section 25 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952 and, possibly, community service orders, with which the Government were so pleased with their recent legislation. That being the case, once a defendant is convicted, it is not possible for a magistrates' court to ensure his presence by the issue of a warrant unless the court wishes to consider imprisonment or disqualification. The removal of the power to imprison and the substitution of an increased fine means that for all the offences of dishonesty and fraud set out in the Schedule, the court has no power to secure the defendant's presence, no matter how substantial the fine which is imposed.

These are practical people. I have my information from the practical people themselves and I am prepared to accept it; and I hope that the Government will do the same on reconsidering the matter. I do not think this is going to help the final view that it will reduce the number of cases in the Crown Courts. I do not think that if a court considers a case is sufficiently serious and it has the power to send it to the Crown Court, and if the prosecutor thinks the same and has the power to ask for it to be sent to the Crown Court, there will be any lesser number of such cases for the Crown Court if we retain this provision for the magistrates' court itself. Obviously the sentence which the magistrates' courts can impose is a comparatively light sentence for some of the offences, and those offences which require only a term of imprisonment to be imposed, or a shorter sentence could easily be dealt with by the magistrates' courts.

After all, what does a fine mean to some people? Just look at the position. A wealthy person commits a very serious offence; he comes before the magistrates' court and that court imposes a maximum fine of £400. It may mean nothing to him at all. It may not he a deterrent of any kind. Whereas if a term of imprisonment were imposed, even if the term were suspended, that would mean very much to that individual and he would still have the right to appeal if he thought that the term of imprisonment had been wrongly imposed upon him.

Another point I should like to make, and which I hope the Government will take note of, is that a person wants to have the right to go to a higher court and have the case tried by jury. Some people feel that even if a small tine is likely to be imposed they want the right to have a trial by a higher court. My experience is that when one speaks to a person who is subjected to only a small fine he sometimes feels just as strongly as a person who has had a sentence of imprisonment imposed upon him. It comes to him as just as much of a shock. It may sound unreasonable to us when we think about a small fine, but the fact is that that is how some people think who do not want any kind of fine imposed upon them at all.

I could of course elaborate on the provisions in the Bill, but I hope that the Government will take into consideration the point of view that has been expressed, and very much more forcibly and in better terms than I could, by the Magistrates' Association. I do not think for one moment that they would abuse the position as it stands. I do not think they have abused the position. They feel as I feel, and as many others feel, that to remove what they consider to be a deterrent effect in respect of serious traffic crimes is not reasonable and it should not be the only way left to them to send a case to the Crown Court if they think it is not so terribly serious as to incur long sentences, because that will merely load up the Crown Court with cases where perhaps they might think that a month's or two months' imprisonment would be sufficient. It should also not be left purely to the prosecutor. I do not want to go into lengthy reasons in connection with that. Some interesting comments have been made in the Press and elsewhere in recent days about some of the results of considering prosecutions and defences, and I hope and believe that the Government will take into consideration what has been said by the Association, and I hope to some extent what has been said by myself, and that at the Committee stage they will come forward and say. "This is wrong: we have changed our minds on this and we ourselves will introduce an Amendment".

8.50 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill is yet another effort made by various Governments over the last 70 years or so to meet the ever increasing problems that continue to arise as a result of the transport revolution created by the introduction of the internal combustion engine some 80 years ago. Next January 1 is the 70th anniversary of the inception of compulsory number plates and when the speed limit was increased from 12 m.p.h. to the terrible speed of 20 m.p.h. This legislation was introduced by my own father in another place. Then, as now in this Bill, there was no great principle but just more rules and regulations, many of which are necessary and, indeed, welcome.

Before dealing briefly with one important omission from the Bill I should like briefly to make one or two points about three clauses. First of all, with reference to Clauses 1 to 5 and Clause 22, there is the question of whether when a car is stolen the obligation still rests with the owner. I make this point because the other day there was a report that a car had been stolen, the fact was reported to the police and the owner had to pay a great deal of money to get it out of the compound.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, I can clear this up now. There is an express exemption in the Bill for that circumstance.


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount. Secondly, I should like to welcome Clause 6, the banning of parking on urban crossroads. If one looks at the Bill, this will apply to many country districts as well. I hope it will. I hope the Ministry will look at the method by which the banning of parking is marked on the street, because there is nothing more hideous than enormous double yellow lines in country districts, in beautiful villages and small towns. Perhaps some attention could be given to this. Necessary though it is to make a visible sign, I do not think double yellow lines are the best way of doing it.

I particularly welcome in Clause 8 the need for local authorities to investigate accidents. One of the most ridiculous signs in this country is the "black spot" accident sign. If anything, this sign is a terrible reflection on the attitude of the road authorities. Accidents are caused by bad road design, and not by drivers looking for accidents. I hope that, as a result of this Bill, we shall see that rather ridiculous sign removed from British roads.

I now come to my main point. I think the Bill misses a great opportunity to legislate for the compulsory use of safety belts. There is a good place for belting up by law, and I am not referring to changing the rules in your Lordships' House! In 1971, 2,750 people died and 35,000 people were injured as a result of road accidents in cars and light vans. The financial cost to the nation was estimated to be about £111 million, but the costs in human suffering obviously cannot be measured. World-wide research indicates that if all vehicle occupants wore seat belts at all times, fatalities would be reduced by 50 per cent. and serious injuries by about one-third. This would mean in the United Kingdom alone the saving of 1,000 lives and 14,000 injuries. Research also indicates that there is no other practical way of achieving such reductions. Here is a challenge to all those who are constantly asking for ways of reducing accidents. It might be done by making the widest, compulsory use of safety belts.

I think Her Majesty's Government are interested in the reaction of people to this. They will be comforted to know, no doubt (as they may already know) that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and the Automobile Association have said that they believe the wearing of belts by drivers and front seat passengers of cars could make a significant and substantial contribution to the reduction of death and injury on our roads. There has been excellent recent publicity by the Department of the Environment in the "clunk-click" campaign, led by the worthy Jimmy Savile. This campaign has been helpful and worth while, but it seems unlikely that it will be enough to make the reduction in injuries which could be made. Of course, it is appreciated that there are drivers and passengers who, for valid physical reasons, may not be able to wear seat belts. Therefore, legislation would have to provide for exemption in such cases, possibly evidenced by a doctor's certificate.

It is true also that since 1965 the front seats of cars and vans are already required to be equipped with seat belts Therefore, I do not think we can accuse the motor industry or the seat belt manufacturers of having any commercial interest in supporting legislation to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory. They believe it will save unnecessary misery and suffering. It would not be possible at this stage to introduce compulsory rear seat belts, but this will have to come. It would be a good thing if it did. A second alternative to compulsory seat belts would be the fitting to all new vehicles of a complex passive occupant restraint system where one cannot drive one's car away unless the belt is fitted. This kind of system is in operation in America at present, but many people find ways of cheating. There is, too, a vulnerability to failure of the mechanical system in the case of an accident.

My Lords, people might say that the compulsory wearing of seat belts could be an infringement of personal liberty. I do not believe this. I hope that your Lordships' House will agree that the cost to the community of road accidents is not just limited to the person involved, his family or his employers. There are the costs of the public services such as the police, ambulance, medical and legal services and on the whole community. There is an obligation on each of us to reduce unnecessary calls on the limited resources of these services. None of us can go on an aeroplane without wearing safety belts, and I do not see why we should not get into the same habit when we ride in cars. To-day there is a report in the Press that there is an insurance benefit, because damages in an accident case were reduced because someone was not wearing a seat belt. There are several precedents, the most important possibly being in Australia. There is also a belting-up law in Malawi, New Zealand, Yugoslavia, and France, though in France only in rural districts. I think this is a mistake because I believe statistics show that most accidents occur in built-up areas, and often only 10 miles from home. The fact is that in Australia, in the State of Victoria there was a decline in deaths after sea belt wearing became compulsory of 18.5 per cent., and 17.3 per cent. of all vehicle accidents, which also includes accidents with motor cycles and bicycles where seat belts are not worn. I gather that the Home Office is concerned about police enforcement. I do not see why the police to-day cannot cope just as well. I am therefore asking to-night for the Government to consider putting down an Amendment on Committee stage, an enabling clause, to make it possible for them to implement by Statutory Instrument and thus avoid future legislation on this subject. I believe it is right for public opinion to be tested, and I am sure the opinion of both Houses, too. I must give notice that if the Government do not put down such an Amendment, I shall do so, as I feel it is important for the House to discuss this most vital question so that lives and injuries may be saved.

8.59 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be delighted to know that my speech will take only a couple of minutes. I wish to speak briefly and draw attention to one road safety aspect which I regret has been omitted from the Bill. It is the question of the safety of school-children when they are either boarding or alighting from school buses. I wonder whether the Minister, perhaps at some time, not necessarily this evening, could let me have the figures for accidents which have occurred in this way over the past three or four years. Indeed, I think they will probably be of interest to many noble Lords, and I fear we should probably be appalled and horrified at the size of the figures.

Only three weeks or so ago in a village near my home an accident occurred. Two youngsters who were getting off the school bus saw their mother, who had come to meet them, ran across the road hand-in-hand, and, unfortunately, bang, that was that; one was killed pretty well instantly and the other seriously injured. Obviously I cannot comment on this accident at the present time, but inevitably accidents such as those must be happening all too frequently. It is a problem which will probably be aggravated by the trend towards the centralisation of schools; obviously more and more youngsters will be transported by bus. Children will always be children, no matter how we try to teach them their kerbside drill; they are bound, from the sheer joy of living, momentarily to forget from time to time. In fact, only a year or so ago the young daughter of a friend of mine got off the bus, saw her pony in a field on the other side, and, unfortunately, the same thing happened; she was killed almost in stantly. She momentarily forgot what she had been taught and the worst happened.

I feel that we should somehow try at least to lessen the danger—we cannot eliminate it altogether. Could not all school buses have large, adequately illuminated signs, both front and back, telling everyone exactly for what purpose they are being used? I should like to see some definite colour used for school buses, but that probably is not possible; it would be uneconomical, as the buses obviously have to be used for other purposes as well. Could they not have flashing lights—a red light, if you like—to be switched on when children are either boarding or alighting? I should like to see it made mandatory that all traffic, both approaching traffic and traffic from the rear, be compelled to stop when these lights are flashing. I believe this is the law in the United States and Canada, and possibly in many other countries; I am not sure about that. I feel it would be most advantageous if we could adopt a similar system. We should minimise the dangers in that respect. I appreciate that many problems are involved, possibly with a number of buses all getting to a certain school at the same time; but I think the main danger lies when youngsters are joyfully scrambling off the bus when they arrive home. I ask the Government to give this matter urgent and careful consideration, and if possible at a later stage to incorporate it into this Bill.

9.3 p.m.


My Lords, in the interests of brevity I am sure my noble friends on the Front Bench will forgive me if I dispense with the usual pleasantries. I should like to comment on a number of clauses. I start with Clause 6, "Prohibiting on stopping of vehicles at urban junctions." I, too, am a little disappointed that the full effect of this clause is to be found in the regulations, and there appear to be a number of exemptions which will have to apply. In the main, nearly every junction in a city will come under this clause. One can foresee delivery vehicles being pushed further down the side roads, which inevitably will mean a longer waiting time and consequently additional cause of disruption. I think it would be helpful if in regard to the regulations we could have more information as to which way the Government's intentions are likely to move. Clauses 9 and 10, dealing with the extension of the Construction and Use Regulation and with type approval, need little comment, unless it be to say that they must be warmly welcomed.

Clause 11 deals with unroadworthy vehicles and the sale thereof. This is a difficult situation. It affects the motor industry considerably, and it would be quite wrong to pretend that breaches of the intention of the existing law are not evidenced in nearly every local newspaper nearly every week. It seems to me that it would be even more helpful to the ultimate purchasers of a vehicle if incorported within this clause was a requirement that a vehicle which was being offered for sale should have a current Ministry test certificate. Your Lordships will probably remember that I have spoken on this subject before. Notwithstanding the imperfections of the existing M.O.T. test scheme, which I think is fairly widely admitted—we hope to see it revised in the not too distant future—I should have thought that this clause, with that addition, would prove to be more demanding than it is now drafted. On Clause 12, I should like particularly to refer to subsection (1)(c). Here there are provisions for altering the cases where a licence to drive a motor vehicle of one class operates as a provisional licence to drive others. It is my understanding that currently a motor car licence is acceptable as one for a lower class of vehicle, and is at the same time acceptable as a provisional licence for a higher class of vehicle. I should be grateful if my noble friend could put me straight on this point.

I wish to move straight to Clauses 14 and 15. These, as your Lordships will recall, deal with the minimum age for training of heavy goods vehicle drivers. They will also allow a certain graduated scale of age groups to drive certain classes of vehicles. While this is all very well, we should be looking not only at the age of the potential driver but also at the class of instruction that he is receiving. At the present moment it is not necessary for a heavy goods vehicle driving instructor to be registered or qualified in any other way than that of having himself a heavy goods vehicle driving licence of the appropriate class.

I believe that my noble friend Lord Aberdare said that all heavy goods vehicle drivers were trained by the Road Transport Industry Training Board. I think it is true to say that the majority are trained by the Board, whose pass rate is exceptionally high, but many others are trained in commercial schools whose training programme conforms to the I.T.B. requirements. There is no requirement on the instructor having any particular qualification. Indeed, it is in my own knowledge that there are driving schools employing as teachers men of the appropriate age, with the appropriate heavy goods vehicle driving licence, but who have never taught anything at all in their lives, and who have no experience other than their own training for driving heavy goods vehicles on the roads. So one can see that a man with a licence who has been to a training school for two weeks, has paid £150 or £180 for his course of instruction and has taken a fairly stiff test, can then set up for reward in teaching young people to drive heavy goods vehicles.

I fail to understand why for such drivers we cannot have similar controls as we have for private motor cars. Your Lordships will recall that all motor car driving instructors are required to be registered with the Department of the Environment. Originally this was some consumer protection as to the monies they were paying for driving instruction and it also had some safety element in it as well. But surely it may be argued that it is vitally important that heavy goods vehicle drivers should have the correct form of instruction from people who have undertaken a teachers' training programme as well as a driver's instructional programme. My noble friend on the Front Bench indicates that I need not labour this point any further; I will only ask him whether he will consider setting down an Amendment.


My Lords, it is not necessary.


My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will explain why it is not necessary. I have read carefully and cannot find why it is not necessary, but no doubt he will explain.

May I touch now on Clause 20, together with the Schedule. There are two particular points that I should like to have seen included in Clause 20 and the Schedule; they refer particularly to Sections 62 and 82 of the 1968 Act—that is, to the powers of the licensing authority. It is my view that the powers of the licensing authority when considering the application for an operating licence are too restricted. There is, for example, no power for the authority to demand any documents; nor do they have the power to examine the maintenance and repair facilities other than the applicant's own facilities. In the first case, they have no power to establish whether the applicant, whether he be an individual or a company, has financial resources to enable him to undertake the obligations of a licensed operator. They have no power to examine documents relating, perhaps, to a previous bankruptcy, or even to previous convictions. It would be much fairer if the authority could have such powers, which would ensure that the integrity of a potential operating licence holder is more correctly ascertained.

So far as repair and maintenance facilities are concerned, if the applicant states, "I have no facilities. I am getting Mr. So-and-So to attend to my repairs and maintenance", the licensing authority have no power to inspect such facilities. It is certainly within my knowledge that there are a number of operators who are using outside facilities which fall far short of any reasonable standard for the maintenance of any lorries.

The last point within this clause that I should like to mention is that set down in Section 69 of the 1968 Act, which deals with prohibition orders. That section says quite clearly that a licensing authority may revoke or suspend a licence, and it then sets down the various conditions that must be considered in the revocation or suspension of a licence. One of those conditions is the prohibition orders that may have been issued against an operator. The prohibition order is very often issued on the opinion of an examiner, and there is no appeal whatsoever against this order. If the operator, without doing any work at all to his lorry, takes it to a Ministry of Transport testing station, the examiner there may issue a G.V.10 clearance certificate because in his opinion no fault is to be found. This, again, is a matter of opinion. The failure to issue a clearance certificate has an appeal content. Even if the G.V.10 is issued without appeal or on appeal, and is substantiated, the original prohibition order still remains on the record, and it can be a significant factor if the licensing authority should have any cause to consider the revocation or supension of an operator's licence.

In other respects, my Lords, I am very happy with nearly all the provisions of this Bill. However, I shall look forward to the Committee stage, when a number of detailed points can be further examined.

9.17 p.m.


My Lords. I shall follow my noble friend by not making too many pleasantries, but I must say that he did at least end up his speech by being pleasant. In welcoming this Bill I should like to make a few brief observations. At this late hour I shall make some general comments only on Clauses 15, 16 and 17. dealing with public service vehicles. On Clause 15, may I congratulate the Government in going some way towards finding means of investigating the possibility of reducing the minimum age for P.S.V. drivers, while paying due attention to public safety aspects. I was very interested to listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, had to say on that on this clause and also, particularly, on the clauses which follow.

On Clause 16. however, I am not too sure whether the Government have not gone too far by freeing the private motor car and the private mini-bus. It is now illegal for private car owners to carry passengers who pay the driver for doing so. Of this, I am sure, few people are aware, and I personally must confess that I was aware of this fact only recently. One could argue that this has been an anomaly and that, therefore, as such, it should be corrected. The trouble is that the provisions of this Bill create similar difficulties, and the new law would be equally unenforceable. The number of seats permitted in a private car is now being increased from eight to nine, in line with the E.E.C. requirements. This will entirely free these larger vehicles from adequate control in competing with public road transport. By doing so, the private motor car could have a serious effect on the economic running of P.S.V. services, leading in some cases to their total disappearance, unless that would be contrary to the public interest. Companies ask local authorities for increased grants which they may he reluctant to pay as they do not appreciate the value of a service until they have lost it. The private mini-bus, by being able to carry larger numbers, could have a still worse effect. In time, one could envisage people running a nice sideline. Your Lordships may say, "Jolly good luck to them", but I fear that because of this many others could be deprived of public transport, and therefore the whole object of this clause could be defeated.

My noble friend Lady Macleod was very right to pay attention in her speech to the problems of people living in rural areas, but we must be careful that we do not (for the want of a better phrase) throw the baby out with the bath water and leave them in an even worse state than they were in before. My noble friend could say in his winding-up speech—and I should think he might do—that this is all protected by the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act, which concerns hackney carriages.


My Lords, that is not a point I am going to take.


It is a point which my noble friend could have taken, but I would remind him—I do not need to remind him now—that this Act was passed nearly half a century before the internal combustion engine was invented, and times have now changed. That being so, would it not be better to reform that Act before proceeding with this clause? Furthermore, there are considerable areas in the country where there is no hackney carriage legislation in force. That happens in most rural areas and in some boroughs—even those with a 30,000 population.

As I understand it, under Clause 17 the mini-bus now holding a maximum 12 seats which might be increased to 15, will be allowed to charge separate fares while remaining a contract carriage under a road service licence; whereas Clausel9 states that such licences will be granted only in the public interest. It appears that the public interest does not matter in the case of mini-buses. Admittedly, Clause 17 gives the proviso that they shall not operate in an urban area on a specified bus route. This is where the trouble lies. As my noble friend knows, it has been impossible in the past adequately to define an urban area. Furthermore, what is a "bus route" or "stage carriage"? The definition given is, as I have said, quite inadequate. I will also mention that there are some surprising stage carriage routes these days and I think that the definition of those will need to be tidied up. Another unclear term which also will have to be dealt with is the good old "plying for hire". I hope that I have explained adequately my general points. It only remains for me to say that I shall be back again on Committee stage with some Amendments developing these ideas which I trust your Lordships will listen to sympathetically.

9.21 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this late hour. I will do so briefly. I have a couple of points to make, first on Clause 6, the parking of vehicles at junctions. I think this is extremely good so far as it goes. I think that apart from the safety aspect it would help the traffic to flow more freely. Anyone coming from Charing Cross towards your Lordships' House will notice that invariably there are delivery vehicles parked all the way along by the bus stops, so preventing the buses from coming to a halt by the stops and interfering with the traffic flow. That is only one example of many such junctions in central London.

There is one point that I want to mention about Clause 8 which I think is of some importance. The local authorities are to be required to carry out investigations on roads other than trunk roads within their area and to take such steps as appear to be necessary for improving safety and preventing accidents. It occurred to me that in the case of Greater London most of the serious accidents were on the metropolitan roads. To take Orpington as an example, a series of accidents take place at the crossroads at Court Road, many of them fatal. This situation has existed for a number of years. The difficulty is that the local authority is unable to take any action because these being metropolitan roads they come under the Greater London Council. As I understand it, this clause means that the Outer London boroughs could carry out investigations on the metropolitan roads because they are not trunk roads; they are specifically defined as not being so under Section 17(1)(c) of the London Government Act. They would then be powerless to do anything about the accidents they were investigating. They would have no authority to make underpasses for pedestrians, or footbridges for pedestrians over particularly dangerous junctions such as the one I have mentioned in my former constituency.

The third point is that if the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, decided to put down an Amendment providing for compulsory seat belts I should be delighted to support him. I think this reform is overdue. I put down a Question in March 1972 asking whether the Government would consider making the wearing of seat belts compulsory. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, replied very courteously, as he always does, saying that he felt it a matter better done by persuasion than by compulsion. Since then we have spent £1½ million on the excellent advertisements by Jimmy Savile and I believe that they have had some effect; because the figure that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, gave me at that time was that only one in 7 drivers used a seat belt, and I understand from the figures provided by the Automobile Association that now the numbers have gone up to 30 per cent.

But that is not good enough. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, showed what a tremendous carnage is still occurring as a result of our not following legislation which is now in force in many other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, and most recently in France. It was interesting to me when I was on a visit there last month and staying with some English friends to see how naturally they used seat belts when perhaps they would not have done so had they been in Britain. I do not believe that there is any public resistance to this. Polls taken, the last one in November. 1972, showed that the majority of people would be in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. Once the Government showed a lead I think that the majority of drivers would use them.

My Lords, we are at the stage now that we were immediately prior to the introduction of the breathalyser legislation some years ago, when the then Minister of Transport, Mr. Marples, was saying that Governments should not get too far ahead of public opinion and that he was not yet convinced that if such legislation was introduced it would be respected. We have seen the result of introducing it: casualties were reduced considerably, although I am sorry to say that now there is a rather more casual observance of breathalyser legislation than when it was first introduced. I believe that if we took the opportunity provided by this Bill to introduce legislation, the public would come round to accepting it, and we should save many lives, and the tremendous amount of damage done to human beings as a result of road accidents would be greatly reduced.


My Lords, may I apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lady Phillips who was unable to remain until this very late hour. She, and I, thought that this debate would have ended earlier. She regrets her absence, as I do, but I should have regretted it more if the hour were earlier. No doubt we shall hear from her during the Committee stage when we reach it.

9.28 p.m.


My Lords, I think that this is an occasion when noble Lords, and indeed noble Baronesses, may be forgiven for having found that the debate has gone on rather longer than they expected. Although many of them have personally apologised for their inability to stay until the end of the debate, the House will forgive all of them if for once the courtesies have to be forgone. This is an important Bill and it is unfortunate that it had to take second place to the Emergency debate, but I hope we shall have further opportunities to hear from those who would have liked to stay until the end of the debate. I will see what I can do to deal at any rate with some of the points which have been raised.

I think that the Bill has been generally welcomed, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said at the beginning. I did not get a feeling from the speeches of other speakers that there was any hostility to what is in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, put his finger on the trouble, which is that here we are dealing with things that inexplicably, have been left out of previous legislation, or points that have been wrong in previous Bills. Also, we have been given many examples of matters which noble Lords think have, inexplicably, been left out of this Bill. So we have a miscellany of points which have been made. May I first make one general remark on matters which have been discussed and are already in the Bill, also upon what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, called the "markers" for the Committee stage and upon points which other noble Lords have mentioned relating to subjects which are not in the Bill. We are grateful for the warning and the information in advance, and we shall study what has been said.

It might be tidy if I attempted to deal first with some of the points raised about matters which are not in the Bill, and then come on to some others. I take these in a slightly haphazard order. My noble friend Lord Hacking gave us a very interesting speech on the question of breathalysers. I know very well that this is a matter that has puzzled the lawyers and the courts, and my noble friend was quite right to raise this question because it has come to this House, as he told us, sitting in its judicial capacity, on a number of occasions. I do not think I can go into the extremely complex details of this matter any more than the noble Lord himself did; but I assure him that the Government keep a very close eye on this matter. To some extent I think that not only the Government but everybody else can take some comfort in the way the courts themselves have sorted out many of the difficulties. I know people will go on finding—or thinking they can find—loopholes, because they hate to be disqualified; they will try almost anything. But it is astonishing how your Lordships' House, sitting in its judicial capacity, has managed to close up loophole after loophole, although I appreciate there may still be some, because the opportunity is almost unbounded. I am glad that the noble Lord has added to our knowledge from his professional capacity. I am not certain that a complete review of the whole of this subject is something one could embark upon in this Bill, because it is a large and complicated area. I think we have to try to keep within the bounds of what is already a fairly general Bill, covering a large number of subjects.

I think noble Lords can be fairly satisfied that if the Government found that there was a major flaw in the legislation, they would not be slow to act. But so far it has been rather extraordinary and exceptional cases that have been used as examples, such as the noble Lord indicated. When one realises that convictions numbered about 40,000 in 1971, this is biting. I think it is the very fringe activities that concerned the noble Lord. So perhaps he will allow the Government to continue to keep an eye on this, even if we cannot put it all right under this legislation.

That leads straight to the question of seat belts raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, my noble friend Lord Montagu and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Again this is a matter that is at the moment very much in everybody's mind, and we realise that what is at stake here —as noble Lords have said—is something in the region of 13,000 serious casualties a year, and 1,000 fatalities. After all, those who do not protect themselves by wearing their seat belts run the risk of very disfiguring and disabling injuries to their faces—indeed, to their brains and to their whole future. We know from research and actual experience in the parts of the world mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, among others, that these accidents could be avoided.

Apparently people, despite Mr. Savile, still do not use the protection they can give themselves. But as against that folly, we have influential voices such as have been raised this afternoon and evening urging the Government to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory. That in its turn raises objections, in principle, to the restriction of individual liberty or the question of enforceability.

What I should like to do this evening, on the Second Reading of this Bill, is to leave it—I hope this will be satisfactory for a Second Reading—that the Government will be considering the views that have been received, not only to-day, but previously, and they hope to be able to be in a position to report on the consultations within the next few weeks. I do not think I can take it further than that. But nobody can possibly doubt this is a matter that needs to be taken very seriously and considered.

My noble friend Lord Ferrier raised some points of maximum abstruseness. I am afraid I do riot think there is room in this Bill for the axle measurements above ground level or the size of lettering on street signs. We may also find difficulty in dealing with pavement parking, even if the 1835 Act is a little out of date, which I am prepared to concede. The only comfort I can offer my noble friend on his list is that there is at any rate something in the weighing provisions of this Bill to deal with overloading and the individual axle loads that can now be dealt with compulsorily or will be dealt with under Clause 13 of the Bill.

Again, I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Wise, that, though I have the greatest sympathy in regard to the fatalities that arise from school children running out from behind buses and other unfortunate accidents of this sort, we are getting into an area which involves fairly complicated consultation and fairly complicated equipment. The noble Lord's speech indicated that much. I wonder, again, whether in a comparatively short Bill like this we can fit in all these ideas, worthy though they are and much though one would desire them to save lives. It is simply a question of the scope of the possible. I believe noble Lords in all parts of the House would have so many good ideas for increasing road safety, perhaps most of which alas‡ we shall not be able to fit into this Bill. But I welcome the fact that noble Lords have put these points forward, because it is always worthwhile to hear the views of those who know about such matters, and of course the Government are pleased to consider them.

My Lords, that brings me to some of the matters contained in the Bill, a number of which have been the subject of comment this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, raised a number of points on Clauses 1 to 5, among them the question of how long the offence was required to have been committed before the six months in the Magistrates' Courts Act expired. The whole of this problem is extremely complicated. What I hope the noble Lord will do on this area of the Bill, if he is still puzzled by some things when, with his usual care, he has read the Bill again, is to put down probing Amendments or Amendments to suggest alterations so that we may discuss these matters fully. I could give a long exposition of how this works, but I think at this stage of the evening, when I have already been speaking for 10 minutes, that would be rather too much. But this does not mean to say that we cannot discuss this question in great detail in the Committee stage and subsequent stages of the Bill.

I am satisfied—and I have been through them carefully—that the arrangements that have been made have produced a result whereby the owner, if he was not the driver, is protected, as far as it is possible to protect him. In this respect we have gone a long way. This, unfortunately, runs contrary to what another noble Lord said when suggesting that we should be rather tougher on the owner. It may be that we shall have to debate the philosophy as well as the details of this question in Committee. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, thought that these clauses were unexceptionable.

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, mentioned diplomatic immunity and foreign drivers. This is a difficult area. I suspect that the constitutional position—the noble Lord, Lord Foot, will remember this, as I do, from legal training—is such that if they are parking their cars in wrong places there is little we can do about it, except possibly to rely on Lord Janner's son, who produces the "league table" in another place of the countries which offend most. Some extraordinary statistics appear in Written Answers in another place, and I hope they put some of those countries to shame for failing to pay the fines incurred by their diplomatic representatives. So far as foreigners are concerned, I suppose to some extent it is reciproc4 because the Britisher who parks somewhere that he should not park when he is abroad will probably come back again unscathed, as foreigners do in this country. It is difficult to devise a method which will satisfactorily require a person here on a short visit to came back and face the courts in this country. And, of course, it is not only parking offences to which this applies but to other serious driving offences as well. Again, the Government are considering this matter, though I do not think we have yet found the answer.

I was glad that noble Lords who considered the road safety aspects of this matter, such as my noble friends Lord Monck, Lord Ferrier and Lord Montagu, welcomed them. I dare say that my noble friend Lord Monck was a little mystified by some of the things which happened to white lines. I do not think he can be blamed, but I am not sure that this is a matter for legislation so much as one for local authority administration. As for the junctions, the markings and the various rules mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I am sure we can talk more about these things at subsequent stages of the Bill rather than go into them further tonight. There will have to be exceptions, but noble Lords will wish to see them kept to a minimum, and my noble friends will be glad to consider these later on when we come to that point. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, asked about the importance of bus lanes. Under the Functions of Traffic Wardens Orders, it is possible to allow traffic wardens to police bus lanes. I think it is possible for them to do that without further specific legislation. We have already got the powers and therefore we are assembling the ability, with the additions in this Bill, to enable bus lanes to be properly operated.

Noble Lords showed a great interest, and rightly so, in prospective disabilities. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and my noble friend Lord Ferrier were both looking at the difficult problem of the length of time for which a driving licence could be issued without someone having to disclose that something was medically wrong. My noble friend Lord Ferrier suggested five years for the length of the licence. On balance, we think that a licence lasting to the age of 70 is a really worthwhile saving, in terms of expense and manpower. Therefore it has to be bolstered by the need to show to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the existence, or the incipience, of a disabling disease. There are diseases which are progressive, alas‡: diseases like sclerosis, arthritis and cataract, which may not at one particular stage be sufficient to deprive a person of his driving licence. However, it is well that people should be required to pass on the information that they are suffering from such diseases so that a check on the progress of the diseases may be carried out and, if it becomes a disability, then I am afraid that unfortunately the licence may have to be withdrawn. It is a difficult balance to draw, but if you are going to have a licensing system which allows a licence to go on for as long as this—and we think there are advantages in it—then equally one has to be careful on the other side as well; and I doubt whether, in practice, this is going to be unenforceable or, indeed, held to be a very great restriction on people's liberty and wellbeing.

The question in Clause 13 of axle weights was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and he mentioned the Transport and General Workers' Union. In fact, the devices that the noble Lord wanted can already be required under the existing powers of the 1972 Act—or rather the Construction and Use Regulations made under it. What we are really doing in Clause 13 is looking at enforceability; we are trying to make it a requirement that drivers should take their vehicles over the individual axle weighing weighbridge in the correct way and at the correct speed. I do not thank any further powers are needed to provide this equipment. It may therefore be that if the noble Lord pursues this matter further he will find that we do not need any change in the law to meet that point.

Under Clause 14, my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth mentioned some important points about heavy goods vehicle instruction. I should like to try to reassure him on this subject, because I indicated that I would do so. If I may put it as briefly as I can, detailed discussions have been held between the Department of the Environment, the Department of Employment and employers and employees in the industry. Agreement has been reached on a training scheme which will provide for the recruitment and progressive training of young people. A scheme has been agreed upon in order to carry this out. The answer to my noble friend's point about training is that under a part of the scheme this training will be undertaken in accordance with certain agreed and approved syllabuses, and practical driving instruction (and my noble friend was particularly concerned about that) must be given and assessed by instructors who have satisfactorily completed a course of training approved by the committee under the scheme. Other instruction may be given by the employer or by educational or other training establishments. We have progress by voluntary agreement, if not all the way, at any rate along the way the noble Lord wanted to see.

He raised some incredibly complicated points under Clause 20 and Schedule 4. These are so detailed, and the matter is so complex, that it would be better to leave it, if he will forgive me, until another stage of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, mentioned the clauses about buses, as did my noble friend Lady Macleod, who welcomed these provisions; while my noble friend Lord Teviot, who was a little critical, thought we might have gone a little too far on this matter. Without going into it in too much detail, the best thing to do is what I asked when I was considering this matter: to look at some of the instances of what the Bill would allow people to do in a perfectly sensible way but which the law previously forbade them to do. My noble friend Lord Teviot referred to what one could do about taking people in a car. I know that this point is tied up with taxis and hackney carriage legislation. Even under public service vehicle licensing, it seems to be very restricted. As the law stands now, it is generally an offence for a car owner to offer lifts at separate fares without a public service vehicle licence and a road service licence as well —neither of which is at all easy to get. The result is, as my noble friend admitted, that many motorists knowingly or, as is more likely, unknowlingly break the law regularly; but of course there is negligible risk of detection.

On the other hand, reputable bodies, like women's institutions, who would like sensibly to be able to do this, dare not organise lifts of this sort for any kind of payment, because they know very well what the law is. The law as it stands is effective in the one area where it specifically operates against the public interest. Clause 16(1) would remove the anomaly. The remote village in the Cotswolds to which my noble friend Lady Macleod referred can also be dealt with under Clause 16(2). Such vehicles as Dormobiles are increasingly popular with social clubs, and clubs have been formed largely to provide transport from remote villages which are now without a bus service. Clubs of this sort often find it difficult to meet the administrative and financial criteria to get their public service vehicle licence, let alone their road service vehicle licence This is something on which we think we can relax the law and enable people to live much more easily in these villages, without being totally cut off by the lack of their own car.

My Lords, there is no doubt that apart—if I may put it this way—from the ever fresh and green subject of whether it is right to bring different parts of a Bill under different initiation orders about which the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, has indeed addressed the House before now, I think the real substance or the real heat of the argument on the Bill is undoubtedly going to arise on Clause 24 and Schedule 5. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, mentioned this as also did my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, made a powerful speech about it, all of which we should like to study. One has to get this into context, because although it is perfectly true that we are dealing with imprisonment, suspended sentences, community service orders and many other things in theory, we have to see the extent to which these have been used. The central issue in withdrawing from magistrates' courts the power to pass sentences of imprisonment and others as well for the more serious motoring offences is one of some importance, and as I said in my speech on the humble Address, one that I recognised to be controversial, and so it has proved.

Our main objectives are twofold: first of all, it has been said many times by this Government that our penal policy is to replace custodial measures where we can with non-custodial alternatives. If we cannot do this in the field of motoring offences where can we do it? This must be a place where the test of this policy must be examined and looked at with great care. The second point is the administrative objective of enabling the magistrates' courts—so rightly praised by the noble Lord, Lord Janner—to relieve some of the burden imposed on the Crown Court by large numbers of fairly minor road traffic cases where the defendant exercises his right to elect trial by jury. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, mentioned the Committee under Lord Justice James, but I do not think that the present Bill impinges on the principle of that. That covers a much wider field. It may be prayed in aid, but in fact it is a very small element in the whole area being looked at by Lord Justice James and I do not think that anything he is looking at is affected in terms of principle by what we are putting forward here. In fact, we think we have a good opportunity here to rationalise the situation in respect of a large body of offences which do not merit trial by jury.

Although the noble Lord mentioned forgeries, falsifications and so on and he is quite right that they are involved here, in fact they have not merited very many prison sentences either, nor, indeed I am advised, have there been very many suspended sentences which have been the subject matter of what my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve was talking about. There will be the power to proceed on indictment in the case of the prosecution—the prosecution can choose in serious cases—and then of course the Crown Court will be able to pass sentences of imprisonment if it thinks this necessary. I know that there are the counter arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Janner, put to us in the course of consultations: that we should fail in our objective of reducing the number of cases going to the Crown Court because the prosecution would use the indictment more often, or, alternatively, as the noble Lord said, the magistrates would refuse applications for a summary trial more frequently. This is a matter of speculation, but our judgment is that this would not be so, and that on balance we would satisfactorily relieve the Crown Court of a substantial amount of the burden that they have arising out of these hybrid cases.

I cannot stress too strongly that the removal of magistrates' power to send people to prison for offences of this kind is not intended by the Government in any way to be a weakening of the law. In fact, if one looks at the substantial increase in the maximum fines on summary conviction that the magistrates would be able to impose, one cannot possibly have any doubts of our acceptance of the seriousness of these offences. Certainly there is nothing by way of criticism of the method in which magistrates haw previously exercised their powers.


My Lords, might I ask this? If, as the noble Viscount says, one of the principles the Government have in mind in removing the powers of magistrates to send to prison for these offences is that they want to send fewer people to prison, and for a shorter period of time, are they prepared to take some step to reduce the penalties of imprisonment that can he imposed by the Crown Court on indictment?


My Lords, I am not altogether certain that this follows from the argument about the magistrates' courts. The argument that I thought was being put forward by those who are advocating the retention of the status quo, or something like it, was that the magistrates themselves ought to retain powers to imprison. It is perfectly true, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said, that 96 per cent., I think, of these cases are dealt with by the magistrates. Therefore, if one looks at the matter statistically the likelihood of imprisonment being imposed seems very much greater if the power resides with magistrates than if it resides with the Crown Court. What we think is that the magistrates should have the powers to fine and that only the very serious cases should go to the Crown Court, in which case I accept that there may be a necessity to imprison or to send to borstal. It seems to me that we are attempting to tackle this matter at the right end by taking away the power to imprison in the less serious offence, while retaining the opportunity if it is necessary to be used in the more serious ones. I do not think there is any departure here from the Government's general attitude.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt; I appreciate it is very late and so on. But on the point the noble Viscount made about the James Committee, surely it is within the terms of reference of the James Committee to deal with a matter of this kind? They are going very thoroughly into the whole position. Does not he think that in the circumstances it might be left to them to make a decision, or at least to give advice as to what kind of decision should be taken?


Yes, my Lords, of course, and their decision could impinge upon this. What I am saying is that the matters they are looking at are of very substantial principle. They go to the very root of the whole method. There are so many things involved. There are cases which start off before magistrates sitting as examining magistrates and which are turned into summary trials under Section 18(3); there are hybrid cases, cases which are being tried summarily and then the magistrates decide to deal with them by committing them to the Crown Court. There is a whole area here. There are options on one side; there are options on the other. To pick out a comparatively small number of cases, as is being done in this Bill, does not go to the principle of what the James Committee are looking at. I am afraid I shall just have to disagree with the noble Lord on this point.

The fact is that 5 per cent. of the Crown Court cases at the present moment are hybrid road traffic offences. That does not mean 5 per cent. of the workload, because of course, ex hypothesi, those are not guilty pleas, so they are tried; and they are taking up a great deal of the time of the Crown Courts. Ninety-six per cent. of the cases that go there go at the election of the defendant because he wants a jury trial. Just as an example of the amount by which the matter is loaded on to the Crown Courts because of the pure option that the defendant has, 96 per cent. is a remarkable indication that it is not the prosecution that is choosing the most serious cases to take to the Crown Courts. So we think that if we give the magistrates the extra powers, they will continue to show the restraint and discretion that they have already shown. They have already shown this in a sparing use of custodial sentences and it will enable us to advance along the road that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, agrees with the Government we should pursue, to try to keep people out of prison unless it is absolutely necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Janner, asked us to take account of this, and of course we shall do so, but may I make one final plea on this subject? I see that I have spoken for as long to-night as I did last night, and I apoligise to the House, but I want to say this last thing. Rather than say to the Government. "Please put down Amendments", which is what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said, we have set out in detail in this Bill, in Clause 24 and in Schedule 5, what we propose. We think at the moment that we have got this right, but I would suggest to noble Lords, and particularly those who are skilled in and have spoken on this subject, that they could assist everybody by examining the Bill in detail and criticising by way of specific Amendment where they think we have got it wrong rather than put down an Amendment to leave out Schedule 5 and Clause 24, which will get nobody anywhere. Let us attack this thing by looking at the details of the matter. I shall look forward to this. I am sure that I can rely on the assiduity of noble Lords who are so very good at this, and that we shall really have a constructive and successful discussion on this matter, to which I very much look forward and which will really help the Government in trying to ensure that we really have got this right.

I am sorry that I have not answered all the questions raised, but I think I have dealt with some of the major issues. There will be substantial debates during the later stages of this Bill. I am very glad indeed that noble Lords have welcomed it to-night and I hope that it may now receive its Second Reading.

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