HL Deb 11 June 1974 vol 352 cc346-415

3.40 p.m.


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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.

LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

Traffic regulation

".—(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as he thinks fit for prohibiting the stopping of vehicles on any part of a highway—

  1. (a) which lies within such distance of an urban junction as may be specified in the regulations, being a distance of not more than 30 and not less than 5 yards measured from such point as may be determined in accordance with the regulations; and
  2. (b) which is marked by means of a traffic sign in accordance with subsection (3) below.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, regulations under this section—

  1. (a) may make different provision in relation to different classes of urban junctions and may define any such class by reference to any characteristics of the junction or to any other circumstances whatsoever;
  2. (b) may exclude from the application of the regulations any part of a highway which is marked in accordance with, and is subject to any provision of, regulations made under section 23 of the 1967 Act (pedestrian crossings) and, where it is necessary in consequence of any such exclusion may reduce the minimum distance specified in subsection (1)(a) above accordingly;
  3. (c) may provide that, in relation to vehicles of such classes as may be specified in the regulations, such provisions of the regulations as may be so specified shall not apply, or shall apply subject to such modifications as may be so specified;
  4. (d) may provide that, subject to such conditions, and in relation to an urban junction of such class, as may be so specified, the appropriate authority for any highway, in relation to the whole or any part of which 347 the regulations apply, may in such manner and to such extent as may be provided in the regulations exclude the application of any provision of the regulations in relation to that highway;
  5. (e) may provide that, subject to such conditions as may be so specified, in any case where—
    1. (i) apart from any provision made by virtue of this paragraph, the part of any highway in relation to which the regulations apply does not extend for the maximum distance referred to in subsection (1)(a) above, and
    2. (ii) the appropriate authority for that highway determine that, having regard to the characteristics of the urban junction in question, it is desirable in the interests of road safety to extend the part of that highway to which the regulations apply by substituting for the distance specified in relation to that highway under subsection (1)(a) above such greater distance, not exceeding 30 yards, as may be specified by the authority,
    the regulations shall apply in relation to that highway as if the distance specified by the appropriate authority were the distance specified in the regulations; and
  6. (f) may extend to any vehicle which is stopped in such circumstances that part only of the vehicle is on or projects over a part of a highway falling within paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) above.

(3) Regulations under this section shall make provision for identifying any part of a highway to which any provision of the regulations is for the time being to apply by means of a traffic sign of a type or character specified in the regulations (being a type prescribed or character authorised under section 54 of the 1967 Act) and for the time being lawfully in place; and for the purposes of any such regulations any such traffic sign placed on or near a highway shall be deemed to be lawfully in place unless the contrary is proved.

(4) Nothing in regulations under this section shall prohibit the stopping of a vehicle if and so long as it is stopped in accordance with—

  1. (a) the indication given by a traffic sign, or
  2. (b) any direction or permission given by a constable in uniform, or
  3. (c) any direction or permission given by any other person exercising a power conferred by or under any enactment to control, stop or otherwise regulate traffic, or
  4. (d) any requirement imposed by regulations under section 23 of the 1967 Act, or
  5. (e) any requirement arising under section 25 of the 1967 Act (stopping at school crossings),
or for the purpose of making a left or right turn, or in any other case where the driver is prevented from proceeding by circumstances beyond his control or it is either necessary for him to stop in order to avoid an accident or reasonable for him to do so in order to give way to other persons using the road.

(5) A person who causes or permits a vehicle to stop in contravention of regulations under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100; and at the end of paragraph (g) of subsection (4) of section 69 of the Transport Act 1968 (conviction on numerous occasions of certain offences to be a ground for revoking, suspending or curtailing an operator's licence) there shall be added the words "or in regulations made under section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1974"

(6) In so far as regulations under this section prohibit the stopping of a vehicle on any part of a highway,—

  1. (a) the prohibition shall have effect notwithstanding any provision made under any enactment, other than section 23 of the 1967 Act, before the coming into operation of the regulations, being a provision designating as a parking place, or prohibiting or restricting the waiting or stopping of vehicles on, any portion of that part of the highway, and
  2. (b) to the extent that it conflicts with regulations under this section any such provision as is referred to in paragraph (a) above shall cease to have effect (but without prejudice to its continued operation with respect to things done or omitted to be done before the regulations came into force), and the highway authority shall, as soon as practicable, take such steps as are requisite for removing any traffic sign indicating that any such provision is in force with respect to the portion of the highway concerned.

(7) For the purpose of this section "urban junction" means a junction of two or more roads, at least one of which is a highway which—

  1. (a) is a restricted road for the purposes of section 71 of the 1967 Act (30 m.p.h. speed limit); or
  2. (b) is subject to an order under section 74 of that Act imposing a speed limit not exceeding 40 m.p.h.; or
  3. (c) is subject to a speed limit not exceeding 40 m.p.h. which is imposed by or under any focal Act.

(8) In this section— "appropriate authority", in relation to any highway, means the authority having power, otherwise than by virtue of section 84A (reserve powers) of the 1967 Act, to make an order under section 1 or section 6 of that Act, in relation to that highway, "road" means any length of road, and subsections (1) and (2) of section 104 of the 1967 Act (interpretation) and section 107 of that Act (exercise of regulation-making powers and parliamentary control thercover) shall apply as if this section were included in that Act.

The noble Lord said: In moving the Amendment we are in effect putting back into the Road Traffic Bill what was in it before this Government came to power, in other words into the foster father! When we had our Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading on the old Bill this old Clause 6, as it then was. dealing with the traffic regulations, met with no opposition except on detail. In his introduction of the new Bill the other day the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich said only that although it was intended to reduce the number of accidents which occur at junctions when pedestrians are hidden by parked vehicles, his right honourable friend had come to the conclusion that the ban would have given rise to the most serious practical problems. I find this somewhat hard to understand. His noble friend who answered for the Opposition, as they then were in the last Parliament, said on Second Reading in this House that he found it was a reasonable power to invest in the Secretary of State. He qualified that remark by suggesting that, of course, the way that the Secretary of State handled the power would have to he examined, and that was understood.

All through our debates in Committee we had all the people who are most expert in road and motor affairs dealing with points. Nobody ever questioned that the general principle was not good. We had many Amendments as to whether 30 yards was too long or five yards too short, but as I pointed out, and as my noble friend Lord Aberdare also explained, this was a flexible and an enabling Bill. It enabled the Secretary of State to bring in regulations. It was never intended to be, and there was no need for it to be—it it was allowed to come to light again—an inflexible Bill for the Secretary of State to have to dictate. In this clause as in the last one, there is power for the local authorities to interpret the 30 yards to five yards in the way that they wish.

In the last Committee stage I explained that in 1972, at such urban junctions as there are in the country, we had 6,270 casualties directly attributable to this kind of offence—which it would be if the clause were approved. One may say that that is not very much, but perhaps 6,270 people could have been spared such injuries. Certainly many people could be saved. Bearing in mind the distances involved, we envisaged that the normal Class A and B roads stopping-distance ban would be 15 yards. I think I am right in saying that. It would normally be envisaged that the ban would run 15 yards from the corner of Class A and B roads and for 10 yards on other roads. There was nothing dictatorial about it. It was a matter to be left to the local authorities to deal with themselves.

Your Lordships, headed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, who I am happy to see here, raised the point about vehicles having sufficient stopping power. We had an interesting debate in Committee in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, the noble Lords, Lord Airedale, Lord Foot, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and others took part. We introduced a new Amendment, which is incorporated in Amendment No. 1 in page 3, which says: an accident or reasonable for him to stop. That word "reasonable" reassured your Lordships and the clause went through without any further objections. I should like to hear what the noble Lord the Minister who will answer has to say about that point.

I do not think there is any necessity for me to explain further. Your Lordships are perfectly well aware of the subject, having heard all our previous discussions, and the few words I have said, bearing in mind that this is a provision to avoid accidents, underlines that it is a flexible provision. However, I should be glad to hear why the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, should find it so impractical. I beg to move.


The Committee will appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, has spoken with moderation but also with feeling. It is not difficult to understand his reason for speaking in such terms. In the interval of time that has passed since the last Bill was before the House there has been an opportunity to give further thought to the matter. As the noble Lord has explained so clearly, the purpose of the Amendment is to provide enabling powers for the Secretary of State to impose by regulation a national ban on vehicles stopping at urban junctions, so that the Amendment would restore to the Bill the junction-stopping ban clause which was contained in the previous Road Traffic Bill. It has been omitted from the present Bill because it was considered that to apply a national ban on all urban junctions, which are infinitely varied in shape and layout and in attendant circumstances, would give rise to quite considerable practical problems, for example, when there is no alternative provision for people to park at corners outside their homes or for deliveries to be effected at junction sites,

Nevertheless, we fully accept that there is a need to tackle the problem of accidents at junctions and rather than a blanket provision, as is proposed in the Amendment, it is thought, after full consideration, that powers for local authorities to designate no stopping distances at junctions is the best answer. This would be in keeping with the provisions of Clause 9, which places a duty on authorities to carry out road safety measures, and would enable site conditions at individual junctions to he taken fully into account. The compulsory national ban proposed in the Amendment provides limited opportunities to do this. It is thought that existing local authority powers to make traffic regulation orders (Sections 1 and 6 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967) may need to be strengthened to enable the authorities to implement stopping-bans at junctions, and the question of the right type of sign or road marking, we acknowledge, also needs to be considered. If some Amendment to the present powers is needed, it is the Government's intention to introduce it in another place as an Amendment to this Bill.

In other words, we are prepared to continue to look at this. Leaving it out at this stage does not reflect the fact that the Government are satisfied, but if there is a problem here that needs to be dealt with then we think it ought to be dealt with in a different way. Greater reliance ought to be placed, and essentially placed, on local authorities, and they could do it in an even more flexible fashion than the noble Lord feels could be done by way of his Amendment—and certainly in a more flexible fashion than could be done by way of a national ban. If the powers of local authorities need the strengthening that I have mentioned, then there is no great difficulty about that; I understand that existing regulations could be amended without difficulty. I hope that that explanation will satisfy the noble Lord that we have not dropped this clause for any other reason than that we think the matter can be better dealt with it we rely on the powers that local authori- ties already possess, strengthened if necessary by way of amendment of the regulations, as I have indicated.


My noble friend Lord Mowbray has raised the question of vehicles stopping in the proximity of an urban crossing place, and the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has explained clearly, I think, why the provision that was in the last Bill has not been repeated on this occasion. The question I should like to ask is this. I gather by implication from what he said that that would apply to parking as well as to merely stopping. If he would be kind enough to say whether that is so, in which case I would take it that the question of parking within the proximity of a crossing place would fall to be dealt with within the existing powers of local authorities, then that is a situation with which I would certainly not quarrel.


If the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, will study what I have said—and the relevant part of what I said was very deliberately set out; I took very great care there to rely on the advice I had received—I think he will find that he has reason to be satisfied that where there is a real difficulty, the parking question can be dealt with by local authorities.


I wonder whether I might add a word, not perhaps of alarm —that would be putting it too high—but of a little concern at the attitude which has been expressed by the noble Lord opposite about this Amendment. As I understand the situation, when we had the previous Bill before us back in December of last year the provision which is incorporated in this Amendment was the thinking of the Home Office or of the Department of the Environment, as the case may be, and they thought that it was satisfactory. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, has said, it attracted no criticism except a small Amendment in order, we hoped, to improve it. It is rather astonishing, is it not, that some six months later the Government should come along and say that the whole of their thinking upon this matter has been revised and that they now think it is inadvisable to have any national practice and any general national rule to govern this sort of situation, but rather that it should be left to the discretion of local authorities.

There are, as it seems to me, evident objections which occur to one at once against leaving this matter in the hands of local authorities. One of them, I would suggest, is that unless you have some universal practice, so that a driver driving throughout the country can recognise at every road junction what his obligations are, it may be very difficult for him, in moving from the area of one local authority to another, to distinguish whether he is permitted to stop within 50 yards of a particular junction or not; and all the time, presumably, he has got to be looking out to see whether a particular junction is governed by some special notice erected by the local authority showing that the restriction applies to that junction.

I should have thought there were manifest objections to having a different type of traffic sign and a different type of traffic behaviour in different parts of the country depending entirely upon the discretion of the local authority. Of course, I recognise that, since the Government are taking this view, and since they are saying that they will introduce some suitable Amendment at a later stage, perhaps in another place, we shall then have another opportunity to look at the matter, but I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, whether between now and the next stage of this Bill he would again consider this matter, and also consider whether there are not evident advantages in having traffic rules, traffic regulations and traffic signs which are of universal application.


Again I should like to say that I appreciate the force of the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has used. I think the one point I should like to make in reply to his argument in regard to uniform regulations is that here we are dealing with a tremendously wide variety of local circumstances. If there has been further thinking on this matter, that indeed does not preclude even further thought, and I am happy to give the Committee an assurance that we will look at this matter again in the light of what has been said, in case we may have missed something, although at the moment I have no reason to think that we have; but certainly there is no reason why we should say that our minds are finally made up. We can look at it, and indeed we will continue to look at it, to see whether we are at fault in the line we are taking at the present time.


I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, very much for the way he has explained the omission of this clause from the Bill. It is somewhat ironic how the mind seems to change as one crosses the Floor of the House. Not so long ago I was preaching from the noble Lord's side and from his position the merits of what local authorities could do in relation to parking motor cars on footpaths, and at that time your Lordships' House told me and the Government in no mean terms what your Lordships thought of leaving it to local authorities. Your Lordships were not having it; and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London led a determined attack, saying it was not good enough to leave these things to local authorities. He wanted it in black and white in the Statute, and your Lordships insisted on it. That Amendment was won, and the Government bowed to the superior wisdom of your Lordships' House. I notice that the present Government have kept that Amendment in the present Bill, and I do not quarrel with that: but I do not see why what is sauce for that particular goose should not be sauce for this particular gander.

I was not too happy at one of the points that the noble Lord the Minister made, concerning parking outside one's home because it happened to be on a corner. I hope that will not he taken as an encouragement to park by car owners who have houses on corners. It strikes me as being a particularly good example of what we were trying to avoid —unless it is a complete cul-de-sac or something like that. The very powerful support of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, so much more lucidly put than I can put these points, strikingly bears out the truth of what he was saying, that when it is known that there is a general rule about something people expect to have to look to see whether it will be five yards, ten yards, fifteen yards or whatever it may be. This universality of expectation is a good point. I am grateful to the noble Lord. He has said that he will look again, and I hope he will look very closely at this point. I also hope he will be able to give us an assurance that the looking will be sooner rather than later, and that we might be able, if necessary, to have by Report stage an indication of whether the Government are able to help us on this point. With those words and with the consent of your Lordships, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


Before the noble Lord withdraws the Amendment I should like, in addition to the undertaking I gave, to give a further undertaking that we shall definitely consider standardised markings at junctions where stopping is prohibited by local authorities. That might go a long way towards meeting the point that has been made.


Since it appears that the noble Lord was looking at me, if not addressing me, may I say that I appreciate that point. The distinction which I should like to make to the noble Lord is this. I can quite understand that it is very appropriate to allow local authorities to decide, for example, where a pedestrian crossing should be and that sort of thing. But the markings at the approach to a pedestrian crossing, and what a pedestrian crossing should consist of, ought surely to be a matter of national policy. It is the location of a pedestrian crossing or any traffic sign which are matters for the local authority. So long as that distinction is borne in mind, and so long as the noble Lord produces to us something that will ensure that where a local authority imposes a restriction of this sort it uses signs and indications which are universal throughout the country, that will go a long way to meet my difficulty.


What the noble Lord, Lord Foot, was saying is very true, and it leads me to say that I was going to point out to the noble Lord, with great respect, that I did not think Clause 9 had sufficient powers. However, the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has made that point for me. I take it that the noble Lord and the Government will be looking at this point. With those few words, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Traffic surveys]:

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


Before we move on past Clause 6, may I say that I get slightly alarmed at this statement: "If a traffic survey of any description is carried out" The question which at once rises to mind is: who can decide what traffic survey is to be carried out, and when it has been decided can the police automatically be called upon to come to direct traffic? I can envisage something being called a "traffic survey" by, shall we say, an affronted village which has a lot of juggernaut lorries going through, and which wishes to make a survey of what the loads are and of other connected matters. Would the police be bound to come and direct the traffic? Who would give them permission?


I understand that the police would come and do the job only when the appropriate authority had called on them to do it. It would not be any insignificant authority; it would be the appropriate authority. I should like to check the matter further and write to the noble Lord on it. Oft the cuff, I cannot go further than I have done.


I thank the noble Lord.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Compulsory wearing of seat belts]:

4.4 p.m.

EARL HOWE moved Amendment No. 2

Page 11, line 21, at end insert— ("(c) may be made in relation to seat belts capable of fitting and adjustment by automatic means.").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth and myself. In, I think, the Report stage of the Bill at the time of the last Government this matter was referred to, and there was a somewhat heated and emotional discussion, so I shall say no more about that. But it now looks as if we are to be forced to wear seat belts, and if that is so we should concern ourselves very much with the design and fitting of these belts. This clause which, to a certain extent, embraces the design and fitting deserves considerable thought. Great care must be taken in its drafting, bearing in mind that, for one reason or another, a number of motorists may not be able to wear seat belts.

I am fully aware of the position in Australia whereby the seat belt is mandatory, but my friends tell me—I know Australia pretty well and I know the Australians—that the belt is worn so slackly that one can almost wrap it around the neck of the driver. That is a state of affairs that should not exist. If we are to have a sensible law for the wearing of seat belts, they should be of such a design and fitting that they can be worn successfully and can carry out the purpose for which they are designed; that is, to save severe injury. It is a fact that in many vehicles the present seat belts are not entirely satisfactory, and I am hoping that if the Amendment is treated kindly the inclusion of paragraph (c) will deal with the point of the design and fitting. I beg to move.


It is recognised that this Amendment is intended to be helpful and, as the noble Earl has indicated, it might be a good thing if we made a statement of policy on the idea of making automatic seat belts mandatory. I should like to make quite clear that the clause as it stands does not deal with the design and fitting of seat belts. Those matters are dealt with in Construction and Use Regulations. As I understand it, the Amendment refers to inertia reel belts—often known as automatic belts—which allow the wearer to move freely until the car makes a rapid deceleration, when they automatically lock. I am advised that if this is the purpose that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, have in mind, it is not a necessary change to the Bill since the compulsory wearing regulations would relate to "seat belts of such description as may be so specified" The wording of the clause is thought to be quite wide enough to cover any design. I have dealt with the question of design and fitting coming under Construction and Use Regulations. The intention is that the Regulations will refer to the seat belts which are required to be fitted by the Construction and Use Regulations. These are amended from time to time when new British Standards are introduced, and at some time they may conceivably make automatic belts mandatory in new cars.

Perhaps I might say a few words on the Government's intentions regarding automatic belts. Technical development and international discussions on seat belt standards are still proceeding, and it would be premature to limit the range of types which could be fitted more than at present. I think I may have gone a little wider than the noble Earl went in his questions, but I thought that might be useful. Certainly, we have tried to anticipate what he had in mind in drafting his Amendment, and in what I have said have tried to set out the thinking behind this clause. I hope that the noble Earl will be satisfied with what I have said, and that he will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.


Before my noble friend Lord Howe speaks again, it might be helpful if I said that in drafting the Amendment we were not particularly concerned with what is called the "inertia reel belt", because that is a belt which has to be fixed by the individual wearer. We were more concerned with a belt device that is fixed automatically as one gets into the car and shuts the door, or makes a move towards driving off. That is what we meant by an "automatic" seat belt. We felt that any belt of a manually adjusted type could not be said to be fitted. It could be said to be worn and that might even mean that it could be draped loosely around one's person, serving no useful purpose whatsoever. It seemed to us that there was no point in having Construction and Use Regulations prescribing the type of belt to be fitted, which is what those Regulations do, when the Regulations provided for in this Bill are concerned with the wearing of such a fitment. Surely, if a fitment cannot be worn effectively there is little point in having Regulations demanding the wearing. That is the real purpose of this Amendment.


There is one other point which strikes me. The vast majority of cars in this country are old ones which will not have these new automatic belts fitted. If the Secretary of State did as my noble friends are suggesting, would it not cost every motorist quite a considerable sum of money to put in new belts? This is a point which I think my noble friends and the Government ought to think about.


If I might intervene, we seem to have got into a little muddle over this problem. I am not in any way blaming the Government or anyone else, such as my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth who is an expert on these problems. I am far from being an expert, but I have asked Questions in this Chamber over a number of years concerning seat belts. I have been down to what used to be known as the Road Research Laboratory several times and have seen films showing seat belts connected to dummies, and so on. I remember once asking a supplementary question concerning taut seat belts. Now we have automatic seat belts—a term for the non-expert like myself. Surely the basic problem—and I am sure it could be sorted out with little difficulty—is to get people to wear seat belts. A taut seat belt is more comfortable than a normal seat belt, if I may use that term. It is freer, it takes the strain at the last moment, I believe—though I can say no more than that—that it has normally been installed in a number of continental cars, a great many of which have been marketed in this country, and it has been tested, though I have not heard the result, by the Road Research Laboratory. Now we have the term "automatic" and this is fine. But I feel it would be most helpful if all these types could be blended together so that the best designed belt, whether of the taut or the automatic variety, might be worn by all motorists.


I have made it very clear to your Lordships in the past that I am entirely in favour of this measure, and I believe that the wearing of seat belts should be made compulsory. But I should like to say, despite the slight doubt regarding the Australian experience, that the reduction in casualty figures for Australia is scarcely borne out by the allegation that they wear them loosely draped around their necks. However, if my noble friends have picked on something which could leave a little gap the noble Lord ought to consider including what they have suggested, in order to get totality in the Regulations and so that the compulsion can be applied to the wearing of any form of belt.


I think our discussion has shown once again that this Chamber is never short of experts. The debate has been extremely useful in that we have heard from a number of speakers, and we will certainly be pleased to examine all that has been said, in order to see whether anything has been missed. I should like to say, as did the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that it would be very expensive to require automatic belts to be fitted in all existing cars, and this is not intended. Nearly 90 per cent. of existing cars have belts which give very valuable protection. The point about Australia was well made and well taken. We shall consider very carefully what has been said. The advice I have had is that the clause as it stands is adequate. But what has been said this afternoon provides an opportunity for further thought.


I should like to thank the noble Lord for his very careful and considered remarks. It is quite obvious that we must make certain that seat belts are worn securely by the individual motorist. I have not referred to the passenger. I suppose he is not included at all here, although I should have thought his chances of being injured were greater than those of the driver, since he has nothing in front of him except the windscreen. However, that is a different matter which is perhaps slightly irrelevant to this Amendment. But I hope that the noble Lord will take back this point and consider what has been said this afternoon by my noble friends. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.19 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 3: Page 11, line 28, leave out ("£50") and insert ("£100").

The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment I should perhaps make it clear to the noble Lord opposite that I do so purely and simply in order to make an inquiry. Even in view of what has just been said regarding the wearing of a seat belt, I should like to know just how the authorities who will have the job of determining whether a prosecution shall take place for failing to wear a seat belt are in fact going to determine whether it is worn or not worn.

The exact terms of the Amendment are immaterial. For example, the motorcar that I use has some rather old-fashioned seat belts. I am told by belt manufacturers that I cannot have an automatic or inertia reel type of belt. It is garlanded with various buckles and snap-on clips which I get in a tangle. The adjustment is of a complex nature. Under the terms of this Bill, if I put on my seat belt and clip up the clips, I should be wearing the seat belt, but in fact it would be ineffective in securing me in the event of an accident. I imagine the policeman or some other authorised person will stop me to see whether or not I am wearing it properly. I should like to know exactly how the authorities can bring to bear a law which is so patently full of holes that any penalty is rather futile. I beg to move.


The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has raised a point which I hope he will forgive me for saying I could not have anticipated would have been raised on this particular Amendment. The Amendment is to leave out "£50" and insert "£100" I cannot, off the cuff, give an authoritative answer here. I will look at the point and write to him. Should the noble Lord want to raise it again on Report I hope then to be in a position to deal with it. I cannot usefully add to that this afternoon.


I am very sorry that the noble Lord was taken a little unawares. When I put down the Amendment I was tempted to add another nought after "£100", so to illustrate the futility of the penalty in relation to the offence, which cannot be proved one way or the other. However, I thought that might have been a little insulting to the Committee.


I would think that proof as to whether the belt was being worn properly would need to be determined in much the same manner as the wearing of a safety helmet by a motorcyclist at the present time. It occurs to me that after an accident one can never be sure that the safety helmet had been properly fastened. It may well be that consideration along those lines would apply regarding safety belts.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. I had anticipated that he might have produced that answer to which, as a motorcyclist, I would say that if you do not fit a helmet properly it just falls off; the bouncing about of the motorcycle bounces the helmet off a motorcyclist. You need to have it fitted properly. We are obviously not going to get very far; but I take it that I have an assurance that the noble Lord will look at this and let me know his answer in good time, so that if I do not like his reply I can formulate another, and more appropriate, Amendment. On that understanding, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 7 shall stand part of the Bill?

4.22 p.m.


I must first apologise to the Committee for my absence on Second Reading when I would have given some notice of my intention to seek to delete this clause from the Bill, because it gives me great cause for concern. I am glad to know that I have a supporter in the noble Lord, Lord Monson; but I am surprised at the evident support for this provision in that this House accepted a similar clause in a previous Bill, to say nothing of the remarks on Second Reading of my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton. Despite the apparent support, I ask that we should very seriously think again of the merits and consequences of retaining this clause in the Bill. I should like to emphasise that it is not the obvious good intentions behind this clause with which I am concerned, but the unseen principles which may have been overlooked and I believe ought to be considered.

The first point, which has been lightly touched upon this afternoon, concerns the administration of the law. I believe that it is generally accepted that laws which pass through Parliament and which cannot effectively be enforced are regarded as had laws. I do not see how this law can be effectively enforced. I do not think that it is in our interests to see to it that we pass bad laws. The police are already very fully committed in their numerous duties. Apart from the occasional look by a policeman on the beat at the occupants of a passing motorcar, can any check be made, unless the police who are already on speed control or road traffic control are equipped with some form of geiger counter which will hiss, whistle or flash lights every time a car passes in which the occupants have not secured their seat belts?

There is a far better and far more effective way to achieve the desired result that this clause seeks to attain without actually making it a law. I have in mind that the courts, when deciding on injury claims, or any other claims fot damages in connection with accidents involving motor vehicles or passengers, might well take into account whether seat belts were being worn at the time of the accident. In the event of belts not being so worn, the courts might well consider awarding substantially reduced damages If this were to become public knowledge it may well help to encourage a more extensive use of seat belts. I suggest that this would be more preferable to having a law which in itself is bad, if only because of the difficulties of administering it.

I then must turn to the exemptions which will raise their ugly heads if this clause becomes law. People are going to say, "What about me? I am only going down to the shops", or "I am only driving in an urban town", or something of that nature. Van drivers, local delivery drivers, travelling salesmen. who have to travel short distances, will all complain bitterly if they have to strap themselves in and then unstrap themselves each time they get in or out of a motor vehicle. And what about Land Rovers? The noble Lord mentioned something about having belts which were taut. That is fine. But how do you start a Land Rover when wearing such a belt? You cannot reach the starter. If a Land Rover stalled at traffic lights the driver would have to unstrap himself in order to operate the starter. That seems to me a very cumbersome operation.

One might then say, "All right; the law will not cover the wearing of seat belts for short trips" But such a proposition would be wrong in principle, because four or five years ago there was a great publicity campaign quite rightly encour- aging people to wear seat belts, and it referred in particular to the housewife who just waves goodbye to her husband and says, "I am just going down to the shops to get a packet of soap flakes", then, 200 yards down the road, she crashes. This illustrates the point that it is just as important to wear seat belts over short distances as over a long distance.

I was going on to say that we ought to look at the design of seat belts, but this has been fairly extensively touched on this afternoon and I will not go into it any further. But I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a report in The Times of Wednesday, June 5. There it states: Seat belts' effect on head injuries questioned. The number of car drivers receiving fatal or severe head injuries in crashes is not reduced by wearing seat belts, Mr. E. Grattan and Mr. J. A. Hobbs, of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, stated in an analysis of crash injuries released yesterday. This is something which should give us all very grave concern. What would be the effect on us all if we pass a law which could of itself create injury or create a death which would otherwise not happen? Take, for instance, an open sports car without a hard top. I know from my personal knowledge of one person who has had an accident by turning his car over and, not being strapped in—it was either before seat belts came into being, or a belt was not used—he was thrown clear. If you are strapped in you have not a hope of getting out; the car comes on top of you. Therefore, if we pass a law to say that everybody will wear seat belts in whatever vehicle is used, and someone has an accident, then if it were proved that because the person concerned was wearing a seat belt injury or even death occurred, we should all have a heavy responsibility to bear. And it needs only one accident.

I go on to my fourth and last point. How far is it right and proper for Government to suppress by law the freedom of choice of an individual? I believe there could easily be a tendency for Government—I say Government, not "the" Government—to go too far in making laws protecting people from themselves, when in fact laws should go only so far as to protect the third party. For instance, it is obviously correct and highly desirable to enforce the laws relating to third party insurance for motoring. There is and should be no law concerning enforced insurance for the individual himself or his property. This is left to his own judgment. Similarly in licensing laws, quite rightly because it is considered undesirable to allow public drinking to take place at all times of the day and night, there are appropriate times when a licensee is required by law to cease from serving any further alcohol to people. But there is nothing to stop anybody, if he so chooses, from drinking himself silly all the time in his own home, however regrettable to any of us that particular choice might be. While, therefore, it is entirely right that belts should be fitted in motor vehicles—and indeed I would go so far as to say into all vehicles if that is possible—and it is right and proper that publicity to the greatest extent should be given to the obvious advantages of using belts, I consider it is only right that the individual must be allowed freedom to choose whether or not to avail himself of their use. In other words, let us by all means make laws to ensure that the actions of one party are not injurious to a third party, but let us try to avoid laws which may be interpreted as defending people from themselves.

I should like to make myself quite clear. I support seat belts. Their advantages are quite unquestionable. I believe that this is widely accepted in the country as well. But, for the difficulties of administration, the endless exemptions that would be demanded, the appalling consequences that could occur by causing an accident on any occasion, and, above all, the denial to the individual of the right to exercise his freedom of judgment —which is his right—and infringement in this matter may lead to the same type of directives in other matters, the situation overwhelmingly dictates that the Committee must not allow this clause to stand part of the Bill.

4.34 p.m.


I have great pleasure in supporting this Amendment. I must ask the Committee's indulgence if I speak at some length, so vitally important are the principles involved, particularly the fourth point raised by my noble friend Lord Mountgarret—the freedom of the individual. First, it may be both helpful and reassuring if I reiterate just what the Amendment, if it were agreed to, would not do. It would not, quite clearly, forbid motorists from wearing seat belts. It would not, equally, discourage or hinder them from doing so. It would not prevent motorists from exercising their considered judgment in deciding to wear belts in certain circumstances only, for instance, when riding as front-seat passengers, or when driving on motorways or dual carriageways. It would not retard the gradual and progressive reduction in the number of fatalities and injuries per vehicle mile over the past few decades as a result of better roads, the elimination of black spots, improvements in vehicle and tyre design, and, above all, the acquisition by motorists generally of greater skills and a greater sense of responsibility.

Your Lordships may have seen an advertisement recently which begins: "What happened on the day of your birth?" For about £1 it is possible to send off to obtain a facsimile of the front page of the Daily Express of almost any day during the past seventy years or so. I was given such a facsimile for my last birthday, and by a pure coincidence the front page of the Daily Express of May 3, 1932, 42 years ago, bears the headlines: Startling increase in road casualties. More killed and injured than ever. It goes on to report that in 1931 6,691 people were killed on the roads. Since 1931 the number of vehicles on the road must certainly have multiplied at least tenfold, if not more. Yet the number of fatalities is up by somewhat less than 10 per cent.

In anticipating the objections that may be raised to this Amendment, I have tried tentatively to categorise the proponents of compulsory seat belts. The first category, a very small one, is those who believe that individual freedom should be subordinated to the interests of the State. The State has spent money in educating and bringing people up; it has paid family allowances, paid for higher education, vocational training, or whatever it may be, and premature death would mean a financial loss to the State. It is a view commonly held in totalitarian countries of both Right and Left, but fortunately it is not represented at all in your Lordships' House, and I think it is scarcely represented in the country as a whole. Much the same can be said of the second category of those who do not care really much one way or the other. They think much fuss is made about phrases such as, "freedom of the individual" Again. I do not think these people are actually represented either in this House or in another place, but perhaps they may be more prevalent in the country as a whole than we think. An Englishman will fight to the last to defend his home cm his "castle", but when abstract concepts of freedom are introduced he tends to become rather embarrassed and turns his back and gets on with cultivating his garden, whether in a Voltairean or literal sense.

The third category presents rather more of a challenge because it is based on a genuine ethical case. It includes people who take literally John Donne's declaration that: No man is an island, entire of itself. They believe that in so far as possible it is the State's duty to prevent premature bereavement of widows, the orphaning of children, the distress of relations, loss and hardship to employers, employees, partners or whoever it may be. I do not underestimate the strength of this argument. They believe (in a nutshell) that in so far as possible it is the State's duty to ensure that everybody lives his allotted three score years and ten. The difficulty with this argument is that if taken to its logical conclusion you will have to go much further than making seat belts compulsory. You will have to ban boxing, mountaineering, pot-holing. steeplechasing and possibly Rugby football. You will have to restrict the speed limit on all types of road to as low a level as is consistent with the country's economy not grinding to a total halt. It would not be as high as 70 miles an hour; probably it would not be as high as 50; it might be as low as 40. Almost certainly you would have to ban motor cycles altogether, because the fatality rate for motor cyclists is at least six times that for motorists.

This applies to some extent to the fourth category—those who take a more hard-headed and less idealistic view—and I have met a great number of people who take the view in question. They say, "Yes, you are perfectly right. It is an infringement of freedom. Your argument would have been perfectly valid before the war when people were responsible for looking after their own health, but now that we have a National Health Service the burden of these extra deaths and severe injuries falls upon the Health Service. Therefore the taxpayer has to pay".

It is not entirely easy to refute this view, but I can only say that one does pay National Insurance. We know that to some extent this is fraudulent because the weekly stamp does not cover the benefits provided, most of which are provided by general taxation. None the less, it should be possible actuarially to calculate the additional cost to the Health Service of injuries received as a direct result of not wearing seat belts and for those who object to wearing them on practical or idealistic grounds to pay an additional tax —or perhaps to be given a sticker to put on their windscreen testifying to their exemption. This would cover that particular objection. The fifth category, which straddles most of the others, embraces those who for one reason or another want compulsory seat belts, but not until such time as seat belts are made safer, more effective and more easily operated. In one sense they are allies of my noble friend Lord Mountgarret and myself. In another sense they are opponents, given that their objections are only provisional and temporary.

To strike a personal note, in 24 years of driving, during which I have covered well over a quarter of a million miles, I have been fortunate enough to have had only one accident involving anything worse than a dented bumper. It occurred about 17 years ago when a car shot out of a minor road and hit my car broadside on. My wife and baby son were beside me in the car. The car was knocked round in a complete circle. We were shaken but not hurt. I believe to this day that had we been wearing seat belts (which were not, I think, invented at the time) my wife and I might well still have scars across our necks due to our necks having been driven against the diagonal seat belts by the force of the sideways' impact. That is not to say that we do not wear seat belts when we feel that it is right to do so, and normally I do so when I am a front-seat passenger and when I am on long drives. But we must not forget that there are people who have very serious objections to wearing them either because they feel hemmed in—they find them claustrophobic—or because they find, and this is a perfectly valid argument, that the wearing of seat belts makes them complacent. They feel too relaxed and secure, and their attention can be taken off the road. They know themselves that they are not driving as skilfully and as alertly as they otherwise would.

There is also the practical objection concerning people who are exceptionally short or exceptionally tall. Exceptionally tall people often find that seat belts slip off their shoulders, particularly in a pillarless coupé. Exceptionally short people find that seat belts cut them across the neck and I do not really see, however much seat belt design is improved and to whatever extent automatic belts are introduced, that much can be done about this. I should interject at this point that if a man is mature enough to vote in a General Election he is also mature enough to form his own judgment about when and in what circumstances he should wear seat belts, and how to look after his own safety and health.

I sincerely believe that if we wish to avoid moving gradually, if unconsiously, towards even a pale, benevolent and well-intentioned version of the form of society depicted by George Orwell in 1984, we must in 1974 make a stand against the encroaching collectivism and paternalism—the concept that the gentlemen in Whitehall or even the gentlemen in the Road Research Laboratory know best—and against the insidious erosion of individual freedom and responsibility.


I should like to support the Amendment my noble friend Lord Mountgarret moved so ably and I will do so on two grounds: first, on general grounds, and, secondly, on the particular grounds of the proposals in the clause. On the general grounds, the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, asked how far is it the duty of the State to prevent somebody doing something which the majority may consider foolish but which a minority may sincerely believe is a sound course to follow? How far is it the duty of the State to prevent a man from hurting himself by his own foolishness? There comes a limit to the individual inter- ference by the Government in the lives of citizens and this, I believe, is a particular instance of that interference. There are people who have conscientious objections to the wearing of seat belts. We have just heard from the noble Lord of the instance when he and his family were saved by not wearing seat belts. Do the Government propose that somebody who has conscientious objections to wearing a seat belt should be forbidden to drive his car unless he conforms to a law which he disagrees with conscientiously?

I have seen as an awful warning lurid pictures of the blood-stained and cut faces of those who have not worn seat belts. I have not seen—because there has been no propaganda in that direction—the awful internal injuries that may have been caused by the wearing of seat belts and which would have been avoided had seat belts not been used. I speak with some feeling as one whose life was saved by not wearing a seat belt. I must say at once that it was not in a motor car. It was in an aeroplane. But had I been strapped in at the moment of crash I should certainly have been killed. By the Grace of God I was thrown out and was all right. I believe that the majority of people want to wear seat belts. I usually wear one, but I object to the element of compulsion in this clause.

I have dealt very briefly with the general point because it has been so adequately dealt with by the mover of the Amendment and the noble Lord who followed him. On the particular point, I am very alarmed at the tremendously wide powers given to the Executive in this Bill. The Secretary of State may make regulations as wide as he likes. He can then make exceptions as wide as he likes. This does not seem to me to be very good Governmental administration. He can prescribe regulations requiring, subject to such exceptions as may be prescribed, persons driving or riding in motor vehicles to wear seat belts of such description as may be so specified. Does he intend that all the passengers in a motor car shall be forced to wear seat belts? There is nothing about the driver and the person beside him. Under this power the Secretary of State could say, if he so wished, that no motor cars should be without seat belts in the back, and that the law would be broken if they did not have such seat belts.

Of course, he could make an exception and no doubt we shall be told that he would not make such a regulation. But there is no excuse for the Executive taking such powers and then saying, "But we will be awfully good boys. We will not use them". The Bill says, Any person who drives or rides in a motor vehicle … without wearing seat belts shall be guilty of an offence." If a noble Lord going from your Lordships' House his home a mile away was kind enough to give me a lift, would he be liable to a fine of £50 if I did not strap myself in? If I am going, say, to Lord North Street, am I liable to a fine of £50 if I do not wear a seat belt? No doubt the Government will say," Of course that is silly. It would not be so. "But let us have some information about what these regulations will cover. We have spoken about the type of seat belts, but let us have some information about the regulations under which they would have to be worn. For what sort of journeys must they be worn? Is it a journey of two miles or over two miles? Is it a journey of only half-a-mile, or is it if you go outside the city?

I presume that these regulations will come forward under the Negative Resolution procedure, and we are therefore really giving the Executive enormously wide powers without any safeguards at all for the ordinary citizen. It is because we ought to ask the Government to be more detailed in their proposals in Clause 7, as well as in the general grounds, that I personally support the Motion to leave out Clause 7.


I should very much like to support this Motion, but before doing so I should like to apologise to the Committee for being so late. I had a meeting in Nottingham which lasted until lunch time and I could not get back earlier. I wish to support this Motion on two main grounds. First, as a magistrate I do not think this law could possibly be implemented. Unless he actually stopped a car, I do not see how a policeman could tell whether or not the driver was wearing a seat belt. I know from experience that it is perfectly easy to put a seat belt around one's arm, so that it looks to all intents and purposes as though that seat belt is being worn when it is not. In my view, it is bad to make a law that cannot be implemented.

Secondly, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that there are so many rules and regulations that we should not be forced against our will to have yet one more added, when we should have a freedom of choice to do whichever we like. As my noble friend said, in these days very few people on the roads are absolute fools—indeed, I rarely find any fools at all— and I think one should still be allowed to do as one likes in this matter. With regard to paragraph (b), I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that the words, may make any prescribed exceptions subject to such conditions as may be prescribed really carries it too far. This is too wide for any of us to agree to. Perhaps we can have some help as to what is really intended by that part of the clause when the noble Lord replies, when perhaps we may be able to agree. I certainly could not agree now.

On my way down from Nottingham I probably did the wrong thing, but I picked up a long-distance lorry driver because I have a very high regard and respect for the way in which normally they drive. He had his trade plates under his arm. I picked him up and I said: "I am going to the House of Lords, where they want to make seat belts compulsory for all drivers" He said: "Over my dead body they do that. I have no intention of ever wearing one and I do not think any of my mates will, either". Not only that, but his wife apparently drives a fairly small family car and they have three children. He said: "You should not wear a seat belt, but whenever you are in an accident throw yourself across to the nearside of the car if the offside is the part that is being hit. If you do that you will probably save yourself from a great deal of harm" If you are wearing a seat belt, then, of course, you will be unable to move and, as noble Lords know perfectly well, a great many accidents and fatalities have been prevented by people not wearing seat belts. am well aware that there are enormous numbers of statistics put out by the authorities, but I for one would be very sorry to see this country and all the motorists in it forced to conform to this rule.


I should like to support my noble friend in this matter. I have one absolute main objection to this clause, which is that it is unenforceable. We have far too many traffic rules on the Statute Book at the moment which are flouted. The only people who get picked up for offending against them are the people who say, "Oh, bad luck!". We are here producing another rule to exactly that same standard.

Another aspect of this matter is that in my view it is going to be a lawyers' paradise. Clause 33A(3) says: Any person who drives or rides in a motor vehicle in contravention of regulations under this section shall be guilty of an offence. Supposing some well-meaning son takes his mother out in his car and the mother says, "Don't you expect me to wear a seat belt", and refuses to do so. If there is an accident and it is proved that she was not wearing her seat belt, is he aiding and abetting her? Is he committing any offence? Does he make himself liable for any penalties? I think this a really ridiculous performance and I trust that the noble Lord will press his Motion to a Division.


I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, something about subsection (2)(a) of Section 33 of the 1972 Act, which allows exception to be permitted. I can understand that it may be decided not to insist upon seat belts being worn in buses, but what is the position in regard to taxis? Has any decision been made about this? I suggest that seat belts should be made available for those in taxis who wish to wear them. We have heard about the rights of the individual not being contravened, but I suggest we should consider that the individual should not be deprived of any extra safety measures which he may wish to use. The back of a taxi may he a very dangerous place in which to ride, and I hope that full consideration will be given to the provision of seat belts in taxis for the use of passengers, at any rate for those who may wish to use them.


I am loath to add to the hard task of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, in answering so many questions. This has been a most remarkable turn round for the book. We have had five noble Lords who have come out completely against this clause, or the principle of seat belts, whereas when we took this same clause in the last Bill, with the exception of about two noble Lords all the rest of the noble Lords who spoke (there was a very strong team) spoke in favour of the ability of the Secretary of State to have these powers. It would be churlish of me not to say that in principle, although I am loath to hurt the feelings of the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, we as a Government approved of this potential power in the Bill, and would still support in principle Clause 7.

However, I should like to ask one or two questions. I appreciate the feelings of some of my noble friends about freedom of judgment; how much it is right for the State to nanny the individual for his or her good? I appreciate that point I thought my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, with his freedom of conscience over seat belts, was going a little far—I have yet to meet that religion. I also wonder what a person with such a conscience would do if he went into an aeroplane, because I cannot imagine that the aeroplane would take off if the pilot were told by a steward that there were passengers who refused to wear seat belts. So as a matter of principle—


It I may interrupt the noble Lord, I can tell him that the aeroplane would not be allowed to take off, but the motor car is still allowed to go.


I was thinking about the point of conscience. Another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, was that of the powers to the Executive. This brings me to my main question. Let us go back and take first things first. My noble friend Lord Aberdare, when we discussed this matter last repeatedly said —and I think I did also—that we were carrying out an exercise to find out the views expressed in Parliament. To-day we have had totally different views expressed from those we had last time. I should like to ask the Government whether it is still an exercise in that direction, or have the Government in fact made up their minds? Supposing this is still an exercise (or they may have made up their minds), and supposing they will one day put it into effect, under this Bill would the Secretary of State, when he makes these regulations, do so under the Affirmative/Negative procedure, or not? I think many of the objections of my noble friend to this blanket clause —on the point of whether or not the backseat passengers in a taxi would have to wear belts—if this were to be done in Parliament by Affirmative/Negative procedure, would disappear and people would be far happier probably with this clause. I should like to know the answer to that point.

My only other point is that I imagine the noble Lord, Lord Platt, and others who know about medicine, would agree there would have to be allowance made in these regulations for people who genuinely did suffer from claustrophobia, if they felt enveloped. I suppose that doctors would have power to exempt people. Would the Secretary of State be envisaging these sorts of exceptions? I imagine I am asking for details not yet thought out, but this is all the more reason why I should like to hear that these regulations would be subject to Affirmative/Negative procedure.

5.4 p.m.


I am in some difficulty in replying, because a number of points have been raised. I have tried to make a note of them in the hope that I can do justice to those noble Lords who have asked very definite questions on this matter. I must confess that I am tempted very strongly to enter the philosophical sphere of what we really mean by freedom, but I am sure your Lordships would not want me to do so. although I personally would greatly enjoy it.

"Freedom" is a much hackneyed expression. We have to bear in mind that there can be no freedom at all in any society unless there are laws, unless there are restrictions. We have to impose laws and restrictions so that each of us can in fact be free. Freedom means being able to pursue a course of conduct which is not going to have adverse effects upon other people. May I say that I regard Parliament (as your Lordships regard Parliament) as being the place where we consider what is best for the community as a whole. We frequently pass laws that restrict the freedom of the individual. It the individual were not restricted, it would not be safe to walk our streets. Some of your Lordships may say that it is not safe now; but it is reasonably safe. Not one of us here really has two minds about going out into the streets. We should not be, shall I say, safe in our own homes. I think one has to bear in mind that it is necessary in the interests of real freedom to impose restrictions and to have laws which do place upon the individual a responsibility which, some people will argue (and have argued this afternoon) does in fact restrict the freedom of the individual from expressing his own personal views.


Would the noble Lord forgive me for one moment? He has emphasised what freedom is with regard to this particular clause. But has the noble Lord given any thought to comparing the word "freedom" with the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in the course of the introduction of this Bill in taking into consideration what is known as the liberty of the subject? I think he has to bear that in mind when he is talking about freedom.


Are we having a discussion of a philosophical nature about freedom, or are we discussing seat belts?


It is quite obvious that I must resist the temptation to pursue this question. Perhaps one of these days we could have a debate on what we really mean by personal liberty, and what we mean by freedom. But I do not accept the point that, because there may well be difficulty in enforcing a law, it is unwise therefore to make the law. Many of the laws which we have put on the Statute Book over the years have occasioned some difficulty in their enforcement; nevertheless, is is desirable I think for the wellbeing of the community as a whole that these laws should have been put on the Statute Book.

Perhaps I may try to answer some of the questions which have been put. The noble Lord, Lord Brock, raised the question about seat belts in taxis; and the question of exemptions for certain individuals was raised by other noble Lords. Quite clearly, these matters have not yet been decided. If this clause remains in the Bill then there is an obligation on the Government to consult various sections of the community as to what is desirable, and what really is effective. Taxis will certainly be one of the sections involved; but it would be quite wrong for me to go beyond that point. This is a matter for consultation, in just the same way as one has to take a realistic view about delivery journeys—people who are delivering milk, or bread, or something like that. One has to take into account the fact that they are constantly stopping. It may well be that some kind of exemption has to be granted in that sphere.

I recognise that the question of what results from the wearing of seat belts is an emotive matter. I can produce statistics, just as other noble Lords can produce statistics to prove other matters. I accept that as a fact. But this is always the case: there is always another point of view. But I would suggest that there is ample evidence that loss of about £40 million a year, including lost production by those killed and in health service costs, is experienced by the community. Seat belts represent an investment of about £50 million in road safety, of which two-thirds is not used because only 30 per cent. of the motorists, I acknowledge, wear them regularly. Again statistics are available, and I know they will not be accepted by some noble Lords, that use of seat belts roughly halves the risk of dealth or serious injury. It has been stated time and time again that there are about 1,000 people saved annually from death by the wearing of seat belts, and some 10,000 serious injuries are avoided annually by the wearing of seat belts.


I am sorry to intervene, but has the noble Lord forgotten the Report of the Road Research Laboratory which I quoted. which seems to be in direct contradiction? Somebody must be right.


That is precisely what I have said, that one does get contradicting reports. But there is no evidence that the wearing of a seat belt is in itself a greater disaster than not wearing a seat belt. One noble Lord— I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Monson—referred to open sports cars. I can produce a piece of research which shows that it is more dangerous to be thrown out of a car than to be secured until the vehicle comes to rest. I am sure the noble Lord will not agree, but there is this evidence.


If I may briefly interrupt the noble Lord, I referred to a coupé, a fixed head or open coupé, where the seat belt was mounted below a tall passenger's shoulders and therefore slipped off. I did not in fact mention sports cars.


I think again, in reply to the noble Lord, that one would say that the number of motorists driving about in such vehicles is infinitesimal compared with the larger number of motorists who drive what I would call a more conventional car.

I do not think there is very much more I can say about this, which is a matter of personal opinion. But I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind that there is a responsibility on Parliament—and that is not just the Government, but Members of both Houses of Parliament—to do what is considered best in the interests of the community as a whole. Some people have to be saved from themselves. I would remind your Lordships that a similar clause in a previous Bill was debated, as the noble Lord. Lord Mowbray, has just said, at some considerable length, and this clause was agreed to without a Division. I would ask your Lordships to resist this Motion. The Government feel, as the previous Government felt, and they have been to some considerable difficulty to get the best possible opinion about this matter; and, as I say, both sides of this House came to the same conclusion, that this is really desirable as far as the vast army of motorists in this country is concerned.


Before the noble Lord sits down, is it possible for him to answer my question; namely, whether the Regulations the Secretary of State may make under this clause would be subject to the Affirmative or the Negative Resolution procedure in Parliament?


I understand it will be the Negative Resolution procedure, which will provide the House with the opportunity for a very full discussion, if it wants it.


I had no idea when I started this afternoon's discussion that I would generate such an apparently controversial subject. I was speaking rather personally. I am very glad to find such a wide degree of support. I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for his exhortation not to fall into the trap of carrying things too far and to have regard to what we did when we were in Government and to what the Government are now trying to do. We all live and learn. Whereas earlier we may well have felt—I was not present at the time—that it was right and proper to protect the individual and make the wearing of seat belts compulsory, I believe there is a very strong feeling in this country that we are going too far in insisting on looking after the individual and spoonfeeding him. I do not think that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell; perhaps I may get my words wrong if I say we do not have a responsibility to look after the citizens. That is not exactly true; we have; but the point is as to where you draw the line. I think this is a matter of opinion, and I am sure we do not want to enter into a debate on that at the moment.

I am not really satisfied that the question of the administration of the law has been answered. Nobody has said anything, so far as I am aware—I hope I will be corrected if I am wrong—as to how this law is going to be administered; there is no indication given. It comes back to what I said in the first place. It will be a bad law, and we are here to pass good laws, not bad laws. Lawyers up and down the country, as I am sure all your Lordships are aware, complain bitterly that some laws that are passed through Parliament have not been well enough thought out and drafted. This clause is, or could become, as I think

the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, said, a lawyers' paradise. On the one hand, he wants to support me in deleting this clause; on the other hand, he is picking holes in the very drafting of it, as indeed the noble Baroness did. Well, I agree with them both; I think it is appallingly badly drafted, but I am not going to get misled into the way it is drafted. I want to see the clause out altogether, because of the freedom of the individual. My noble friend Lord Mowbray said that maybe those people who suffer from claustrophobia can apply to someone to be exempted from wearing seat belts. All I can say is that if this clause goes on the Statute Book we had all better apply as suffering from claustrophobia, and then we can decide for ourselves whether to put seat belts on or not.

I think I have talked long enough this afternoon. I very much regret that I may not be able to attend the Report stage of this Bill; I do not know what the programme is, and my business commitments may prevent me from coming. I am not certain whether my noble friends who supported me this afternoon will indeed be available themselves. With the greatest respect to your Lordships, and being a comparatively new boy in that this is the first time I have ever had occasion to query the experts on the drafting of their Bills, I really must ask your Lordships to give a decision on this matter this afternoon, because I should like to know where I stand. As I say, I consider that this clause ought not to stand part of the Bill.

5.19 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 7 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 55.

Aberdare, L. Douglass of Cleveland, L. Hacking, L.
Allerton, L. Elgin and Kincardine, E. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)
Annan, L. Energlyn, L. Hale, L.
Archibald, L Evans of Hungershall, L. Hanworth, V.
Arwyn, L. Ferrier, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Auckland, L. Fortescue, E. Hayter, L.
Blyton, L. Gainford, L. Henderson, L.
Brock, L. Gaitskell, B. Hertford, M.
Buckinghamshire, E. Gardiner, L. Hoy, L.
Crook, L. Garnsworthy, L. Hughes, L.
Davidson, V. Geoffrey-Lloyd, L. Jacques, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Gisborough, L. Janner, L.
Diamond, L. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Lauderdale, E.
Leatherland, L. Phillips, B. Summerskill, B.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Popplewell, L. Swansea, L.
Rochester, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Sandford, L. Walston, L.
Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Shinwell, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Longford, E. Somers, L. White, B.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.] Wigoder, L.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L. Windlesham, L.
Ogmore, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Goschen, V. Merrivale, L.
Alport, L. Granville of Eye, L. Meston, L.
Amulree, L. Grenfell, L. Monck, V.
Balerno, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Monson, L. [Teller.]
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Howe, E. Mountgarret, V. [Teller.]
Boothby, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Northchurch, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Inglewood, L. Platt, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Ironside, L. Poltimore, L.
Caccia, L. Kindersley, L. Portsmouth, Bp.
Cathcart, E. Kinloss, Ly. Rankeillour, L.
Clitheroe, L. Leconfield and Egremont, L. St. Just, L.
Clwyd, L. Loudoun, C. Sempill, Ly.
Courtown, E. Lovat, L. Sharples, B.
Daventry, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Strathclyde, L.
de Clifford, L. Lytton, E. Teviot, L.
Dundee, E. Mackie of Benshie. L. Vernon, L.
Dundonald, E. Macleod of Borve, B. Vivian, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Mancroft, L. Wade, L.
Feversham, L.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 7 agreed to accordingly.

Clause 8 [Prohibition of parking of vehicles on verges and footways]:

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

5.28 p.m.


Your Lordships will remember that Clause 8 of the Bill is the clause which would prohibit the parking of motor vehicles on verges and footways. I must remind your Lordships of the history of this clause just to make sure that you vote in the right direction, if indeed it comes to a vote. The clause was not incorporated in the original Road Traffic Bill which was before your Lordships' House in December last. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London put down an Amendment at the Committee stage on December 3 last to prohibit the parking of motor vehicles on verges and footways. After a fairly full discussion, his Amendment was defeated by 54 votes to 52—a very close thing. I stress the fact that it was defeated because the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, very kindly showed me a note from his Department which stated that the right reverend Prelate had in fact won the day and the clause had been accepted, and that was not the case. I also want to stress the fact that to me this is in no way a Party matter. I stand here on the Cross-Benches. The Bill was introduced by the then Conservative Government, and most of those voting against the right reverend Prelate's Amendment were supporters of that Government. I therefore hope that they will to-day support an Amendment which seeks to remove the clause, which will have the effect of accepting the right reverend Prelate's Amendment. I hope I have made this rather complicated situation clear. If it is not clear, let me repeat that this clause would forbid the parking of motor cars on verges and footways.

At first sight this sounds a very sensible thing to do, and I am sure that in a perfect world with a benign dictator (who might be the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London) no vehicles should ever park on footways. I would not contest that for a moment if we lived in a perfect world, or even in a perfect urban area. Having mentioned urban areas, I am reminded that this clause is not quite in the words of the right reverend Prelate's Amendment. He was for forbidding parking anywhere. This urban roads where there is a speed limit Amendment forbids it only on certain of 40 miles an hour or less. In a perfect society it would obviously be right that motorists should not use the footway, but we are not in a perfect society and it would be extremely difficult to enforce such a ban. Furthermore, there are very many circumstances in which parking on the footway is positively desirable.

This clause favours the most affluent people who have one, two or three garages, or at least a driveway, a car port or room in the front garden to put a car. I do not think it sufficiently takes into account the very large number of urban town dwellers who live in narrow back streets, but who in the present state of society are quite able to afford to keep a motor car. There would have to be so many exceptions made—and the clause, of course, allows for exceptions to be made by the correct authority—there would be a mushroom-like growth of all kinds of signs, new signs would have to be designed, and it would be unenforceable and unnecessary legislation.

There are two other points which are of very great importance. The clause makes an exception for states of emergency, but is so badly drafted that it reads as if you have to be putting out a fire or saving life to plead a defence in a case of emergency. It could, of course, quite easily be re-drafted, but as it reads it is rather absurd. There is another absurdity in the clause. An exception can be made for people loading or unloading vehicles, provided they are at no time left unattended. How does a single man driving, let us say, for the parcel post deliver parcels without leaving his vehicle unattended at any time? For all these reasons I ask your Lordships not to accept this clause, even though we all realise that its intentions are highly desirable.


The noble Lord, Lord Platt, is well-known for his sympathy with disabled persons. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, is not in his place, because I have heard him speak very eloquently about the danger to blind people from cars parked on the footway.


I hesitate to interrupt the noble Baroness, but has she been promoted to the Episcopal Bench?


May I suggest that an imaginary Bishop has paid a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Platt, for his sympathy with disabled persons, and regret the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Fraser? I should like to suggest that there is a serious difference between parking on footways and parking on grass verges in rural areas. Footways are intended for foot passengers; grass verges have a number of purposes but are not primarily for the walking of pedestrians. I should hope that this clause might stand, so that we could put a stop to parking on footways in urban areas and perhaps make some alterations at a later stage to exempt, or make different regulations about, grass verges.


One cannot help but admire the determination of the noble Lord, Lord Platt, in this matter. I shall not go over the ground we covered in previous debates on the question of parking on footpaths. I support what the noble Baroness has just said about the blind, the handicapped—even sighted ones—and people pushing prams with children at hand and so on. There is one other point which I do not think has been mentioned in any debate and which I think is worth mentioning; that is, the damage which heavy vehicles can cause when they are parked on the pavement, displacing stones, and when you get your toe against a stone which has been moved it is a very serious matter. In the ordinary way, when vehicles are parked on a footway, in terms of the Act, properly supervised and left attended, people see to it that damage is not done to the pathway. I personally feel inclined to suggest that the clause should remain part of the Bill.

5.37 p.m.


As has been stated Clause 8 provides for a ban on parking, either wholly or partly on footways or verges in urban areas, to be inserted as Section 36B of the Road Traffic Aot 1972. The noble Lord, Lord Platt, is worried lest that is too inflexible. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger and to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for the two points they have made. They were two very effective points, probably in themselves sufficient to persuade many of your Lordships that this clause is properly included in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Platt, is, I think, over-worried, because he acknowledges that the driver of a vehicle parked with the permission of a policeman or for meeting an emergency, such as saving life or extinguishing a fire, has a sufficient defence. But if someone pulled off the highway in the event of a breakdown, in order to avoid causing danger to moving vehicles by parking wholly on a narrow road, this might very well be construed as taking action to avoid an emergency.

I do not think I can add anything to what I said at Second Reading, because the noble Lord, Lord Platt, raised this point then, and I think I have covered the matter today even more fully than I did at Second Reading. I also wrote a letter to the noble Lord in which I gave a very full explanation of the reasons why we thought this clause should be included. It is quite correct that I told him that the Bishop of London had carried the day. The noble Lord has now chosen to remind the Committee that the Bishop of London was, in fact, defeated. What I think he has overlooked is the fact that whereas the Bishop of London was defeated in Committee, he won the day when it came to Report stage. Clearly, it was the wish of the House as a whole that the case made by the Bishop of London should be recognised. We have tried to meet the point of the Bishop of London in the wording of this Bill. It is not exactly all that the Bishop had hoped for, but I think I can say that, by and large, he has accepted that we have met the point he raised.

I think that what the men and women in the street want, beyond any question, is that it shall be established that the pavement is for pedestrians and the carriageway is for vehicles. As I appreciated the arguments on the occasion when the Amendment of the Bishop of London was considered at Report stage, that was the basis of his case; that is what it amounted to. I very much hope that the Committee will see the great value of this clause. But I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Platt, that it could well be that we have missed the point that he has raised for the first time this afternoon and we will certainly have a look at it. But I must say that I give that undertaking without any commitment, because a great deal of thought has been given to the matter and we feel we now have it roughly right, as we appreciate the mood and the wish of the House when the last Bill was at Report stage.


I think we all sympathise with the points that the noble Lord, Lord Platt, has made very well. I feel that there is a good deal to be said for the point that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has just made to us, that we want to do what we can to protect the rights of motorists but we must not forget the rights of the pedestrians. Between the two, in the overcrowded conditions in many towns to-day, the rights of the pedestrians are perhaps the more important. There are a number of provisions made for exceptional cases, which I should have thought roughly met the point. I think the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has offered to look at them carefully and to see whether they can be at all improved, but they seem to deal with the more important cases. Between the two views in this case, I think it wiser to keep the clause in the Bill.


I must first thank the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for reminding me of what is perfectly true; that the Bishop lost the Amendment but it was brought back in the Report stage and agreed to then. I am very sorry that I misled the Committee. It was certainly not intentional in any way. I was just so surprised to read about it.

The Committee knows very well my interest in the disabled, which includes the blind. I had this interest in mind when I was bold enough to suggest that this clause should not stay in the Bill. Blind people have a lot to put up with and one might very well ask, "Why give them something else?" Of course, they meet obstructions. For example, they meet two women with a pram. They carry sticks and they are very skilled at looking after themselves. I do not think there is very much likelihood that they will run into a stationary car. But I will not pursue that point if your Lordships do not think it is of importance. With regard to the point of Lord Ferrier about the damage done by heavy vehicles, there is of course a provision in the Road Traffic Act 1972 which I think forbids heavy vehicles—


Heavy commercial vehicles.


Heavy commercial vehicles. I think that point is already looked after. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, also said that if a person went on to the verge or the pathway to avoid an accident and so on, that would be looked upon as an emergency, I would remind him that the subsection which deals with that point does not have words to that effect. But he has promised to look at it again, and I am sure he will do so, to see whether those words could be improved. There was one other point that I left out. I thought this would lead to a lot of petty litigation. It would give the police, who are already overstretched, more and more to do with petty offences and would also give the magistrates more and more to do. Nevertheless, I do not feel that I have sufficient support in the Committee to press my Motion.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Duty of local authorities to promote road safety.]:

5.47 p.m.

VISCOUNT MONCK moved Amendment No. 4: Page 14, line 12, after ("roads") insert ("including the provision and maintenance of sufficient and correct traffic signs and signals.")

The noble Viscount said: This is a very short Amendment consisting of only 13 words. Therefore, its inclusion would not dislocate the Bill to any great extent—in fact, it would dislocate it to a far lesser extent than would the eradication of whole clauses and a Schedule or two, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Platt, is proposing; or indeed the inclusion of new clauses. There is one yet to come which amounts, according to my computer, to 370 words. Of course, the point it not whether a 13-word Amendment is better or worse, but whether a 13-word Amendment or a 370-word Amendment is necessary. I hope to show to your Lordships that my little Amendment is necessary.

These road traffic signs and signals are made for the convenience, the guidance and the warning of road users. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that they are correct and not misleading. That, I fear, is not the situation today in many parts of the country. I shall give only three illustrations.

We all know the double white line system. My first illustration is where one white line is broken and the other one is continuous. When the broken white line is on your side of the road, you may overtake something in front of you if it is safe to do so. The obligation is put, quite rightly, on you. But this does not excuse any broken white line being on a road where it would never be safe to overtake a vehicle in front of you. I remember extending invitations to noble Lords in the last Government to come and visit my humble home, and I extend a similar invitation to noble Lords in this Government. After a slight fortification, I can take noble Lords out and in half-an-hour show them at least three or four places where the existence of the broken white line is nothing less than suicidal.

The second illustration is warning signs where there are road works taking place. The warning signs may be put up very properly, but when the roadworks are finished they are often not taken down, or at least they are turned around so that they are not visible to traffic. One sees a succession of these warning signs and, in the end, one comes to nothing in the way of a warning which puts these signs into contempt, and that is bad.

The third point is that there are cases where signs are not visible, either by a overhanging branch or some obstruction of that type. They are just three short illustrations; all I say is that, as local authorities have to take over these obligations for road safety, mention of road signs and traffic signals, should be made in the Bill. I beg to move.


I should like to confirm what the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, said about the misplacing of road signs. I remember when I lived in Wiltshire there was a stretch on the A4 where the double white line was placed so that on a lefthand bend, where you could not possibly see ahead, the broken white line was on your side. On the righthand bend, whore you could see ahead, the continuous white line was there. It seems to me that these local authorities really should learn something about road problems before they start erecting signs. I cannot see that it is right for local authorities to erect a proliferation of signs without having the faintest idea whether they are necessary, misleading or even dangerous.


I should like to say a few words in support of the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Monck. It is of the utmost importance that there must be a complete uniformity of type of road signs. If you travel the country sufficiently widely it will be seen that some of the signs vary considerably in their meaning. I had an instance of that motoring down to Scotland last weekend. On the main A9 road in Perth there is what appears to be a completely normal electric traffic light and when it turns green one expects to continue in a Southerly direction. However, much to one's surprise one suddenly finds that a filter has appeared and traffic starts coming the other way across one when one expects it to turn right. No doubt if one lives in Perth one becomes accustomed to it and takes it as perhaps a normal sequence of events. But if you do not you can be seriously misled and get into a great deal of trouble.

The other point I wish to make is about warning signs. I think that my noble friend stressed the importance of having warning signs at a considerable distance from the hazard of which they are giving warning. In various places there is a great difference in the proximity to the hazard. I think it is completely wrong that merely because one has a comparatively slow road a warning sign should be placed right on top of the obstruction. It often seems to me that the signs are not necessarily placed by a motorist, but rather by a man on his feet who has no idea of the speed at which traffic is moving. If they are placed too close the unfortunate motorist finds himself on top of the hazard long before he expects, which again can produce unfortunate results.


I wish to support my noble friend's Amendment. In reference to what the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, said, I have motored a great deal in recent years and in the last two days drove from Scotland and some distance in Suffolk. I believe that although a number of signs are poorly sited, as the noble Lord, Lord Somers, suggested, my experience is that they are gradually being better placed. I put that down to the fact that men employed on the road to-day are nearly all motorists themselves, whereas 10 or 20 years ago they were not. They understand the distances from obstructions for which signs must be placed and proper warning given to motorists handling the car of to-day. One point raised by my noble friend Lord Monck which I should like to emphasise, which derives from my experience of the last two days, is that I would suggest the addition of two words in the Amendment, that "Men Working" signs should be there only if they are working. So often one notices such signs when men are not in attendance. It brings a most important sign into contempt if it is not taken down when work is not going on and when, in fact, the road is perfectly clear. Therefore, I suggest that if the noble Viscount redrafts his Amendment he should add the words "and use" after the words "maintenance" in line 5.


We have had an interesting discussion. I do not know how firm was the invitation of the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, to pay him a visit, but I think he will have to make it a little more attractive than it sounded to me before I—


I did say "after suitable fortification".


I had an idea that there would be some clarification about it. However, the effect of this Amendment is to secure a specific reference to traffic signs and signals in the measures which local authorities shall take as they think appropriate to prevent road accidents. The purpose of Clause 9 is not to add to the powers of local authorities but to ensure that road safety and highway powers are directed to reducing accidents, an aim with which I think everybody who has spoken will be in complete agreement. The powers to which the clause already directs attention include, powers for controlling, protecting or assisting the movement of traffic on roads". Therefore, with the greatest respect to the noble Viscount it would appear that his Amendment adds nothing to what is already in the Bill. Local authority powers to erect traffic signs of all kinds including road markings, to which the noble Viscount referred, stem from Sections 54 and 55 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967. All these must be to a design either prescribed by regulations under the Act or individually authorised by the Secretary of State.

Local authorities' discretion about the number of signs and markings to display in particular circumstances varies. There is a distinction between signs which warn or advise and those which control the movement of traffic. It may be helpful if I remind your Lordships of what I am sure your Lordships already know, that warning and advisory signs include direction signs and white lines on the road showing the edge of the road or the division between carriageways; and your Lordships will appreciate that local authorities do not have to meet statutory requirements in regard to these because what is needed in any one case depends on the judgment of traffic and road conditions. Instead, authorities work within a framework of guidance laid down by the Secretary of State and backed up by day-to-day contacts between authorities and the regional controllers of the Department of the Environment.

However, it will be appreciated that the position is different with signs which control the movement of traffic, such as speed-limit signs and signs controlling access and directing the flow of traffic in one-way streets. Here there are specific statutory requirements for signs either in Acts or in regulations and orders made under the Acts. In the case of speed limits, for example, authorities have a duty under Section 75 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 to: …erect and maintain prescribed traffic signs in such positions as may be requisite", and these requirements are developed in detail in regulations. Most road traffic schemes depend on orders made under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967. Regulations made under that Act require that authorities shall erect: such traffic signs in such positions as the authority may consider requisite to give effect to a traffic scheme. I appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, that probably many of these could be more advantageously sited.

Whatever the requirements, local authorities must have a measure of discretion to place signs sensibly in relation to precise local circumstances. I am advised that powers to erect signs are adequate, and I am assured that authorities have a clear duty to do so where appropriate. In all these activities they work closely with the Department of the Environment. It is acknowledged that the performance of local authorities inevitably varies, but again I am advised that the Amendment would do nothing to overcome that problem. Administrative action and continuing local interest will do more: and I feel that if the kind of comments that noble Lords have made this afternoon were made locally, some notice would indeed be taken of them.

I have noted the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and I have taken note of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Allerton. I would say to them both, as I would say to the noble Viscount, that I give the assurance that when circulars about this clause are issued to local authorites, or when revised road traffic regulations are made, in those circular letters we will attempt to meet their points and to include the advice that has been called for on those points this afternoon. I hope that with that assurance, and with the knowledge that the discussion on this Amendment has had some effect, in that we will attempt to make absolutely clear to local authorities what they ought to do, the noble Viscount will feel that he can withdraw his Amendment.


I am grateful to those noble Lords who have so kindly supported me, and I am also most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy. I think I can practically give him 100 out of 100–99½, perhaps. It is clear that I must do much reading up of these Road Traffic Acts and those kind of matters, and I will not guarantee not to raise this matter again on Report. But having already informed the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that if a circular was issued to local authorities at the time I would be satisfied, though I would rather have seen it in the Bill, I must keep to my word. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Extension of construction and use regulations to lights]:

On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?


If I may intervene for a moment, the basic part of this Bill always refers back to the Road Traffic Act 1972, which at times makes it extremely difficult to follow it. But this new Bill is reasonably good until you get to Clause 10, when you find some remarkable sentences put into it. They confuse me completely, and I do not know what they mean. I am sure they are right; but from the Benches on which my noble friends sit now I have previously heard protests about the drafting of Bills. I should like to make a mild protest and to ask whether we could not have some simpler drafting in, for instance, subsection (4)(b). That says: (b) subject to subsection (5) below, any provision contained in an enactment or instrument which is not repealed by this Act and in which any expression is given the same meaning as in, or is otherwise to be construed by reference to, any provision of the said sections 68 to 82 which is repealed by this Act shall continue to be construed as if that provision had not been so repealed. It leaves me breathless. I am sure it is good, but would it not be possible to draft matters somewhat more clearly?


It is beyond me to draft in a more satisfactory way than the draftsman does. Nobody would be happier than myself if legislation could be more simply drafted. I think that any of your Lordships who has had any experience of dealing with legislation in this House or indeed in the other place will appreciate that it cannot be dealt with as simply as we should like. But I would say to the noble Lord that I appreciate his difficulty in regard to this particular clause, and I will ensure that he receives notes on this clause so that he has the opportunity to understand it better between now and Report stage. I fully appreciate that that will not satisfy him, in that other people will have as much difficulty as he has had, but if we had legislation as simple as he and I would want it, there would he little for the legal profession to do.


Would not that desirable aim be attained if the Ministers were to say to the Parliamentary draftsmen, "Take this away and put it in simpler language"?


I think we should probably then get little legisla- tion because they should want such a very long time to draft it.


That, I think, would probably be excellent because everybody, on all sides of the House and in all Parties, complains there is far too much legislation.


I am not sure that we could accept that, and I am not sure that even the noble Lord's Party would accept it.

Clause 10 agreed to.

6.10 p.m.

LORD ELTON moved Amendment No. 4A:

After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

Amendment relating to noise —(1) In section 43 of the 1972 Act (tests of satisfactory condition of vehicles other than goods vehicles to which s. 45 applies) at the end of subsection (5) there shall be inserted the words "and from 1st January 1976 such stations and apparatus shall be so provided for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not vehicles satisfy the Minister's regulations for the time being in force concerning the emission of noise". (2) In section 45 of the 1972 Act (tests of satisfactory condition of certain classes of goods vehicles and determination of plated weights and other particulars therefor) at the end of subsection (9) there shall he inserted the words" And from 1st January 1976 the Secretary of State shall provide and maintain such stations and apparatus for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not such vehicles satisfy regulations for the time being in force concerning the emission of noise".

The noble Lord said: On July 10, 1934, a noble Lord moved the insertion into the Road Traffic Bill then before the House a new clause—Clause 33—the effect of which was to make it illegal to sell or supply for use in the United Kingdom a motor vehicle of a design which it was already unlawful to use on the roads. He did so with enthusiasm because its particular intention was to prevent the sale to intending drivers of vehicles with inefficient silencers. It was already illegal to drive vehicles without effective silencers, but the difficulty of monitoring the noise made by defective silencers meant that prosecutions were not brought and the law was flouted. The Amendment was accepted without a Division.

The noble Lord who moved the Amendment was my father, and it is almost exactly 40 years to the day since that Amendment was accepted and passed into law. It is therefore in something of an anniversary spirit that I occupy these Benches to move a Motion with the same intention as my father did in 1934. Forty years, all but a month, have passed since that day and still the law is flouted. The vehicles are just as noisy and far more numerous. Immeasurable discomfort and much actual pain and even injury have been inflicted upon the British public simply because Statutes already in existence are not enforced.

It cannot be good for the standing of Parliament that its laws should be thus set aside. It cannot be good for the citizens of this country to be exposed to an intensity of noise which can do actual medical harm as well as merely annoy. It cannot be argued by the motor manufacturers and importers that they would between them sell one individual vehicle less if all of them were required under the type approval certificate scheme already operated by the Ministry, to limit the amount of noise generated by the machines that they sell if these limitations were actually enforced upon all of them. It cannot even be argued by the drivers and the riders of motor cycles that any but the smallest of their machines would go perceptibly slower if their exhaust emissions were effectively silenced. Only in aircraft and in racing cars is performance so critical as to be significantly altered by effective silencing.

Who, then, stands to lose by making our laws effective? Not the Government; they will be doing their job better and earn the grateful thanks of 90 per cent. of the electorate—surely a consideration that must bear some appreciable weight with them at this particular juncture. Not the manufacturer; because efficient silencers are no more difficult to make than inefficient ones. Not the motorist, the haulier or the motor cyclist; they will get to their destinations as swiftly as before. Not the nation at large; it will be better tempered and less hard of hearing. Who then? Perhaps a handful of exhibitionists who wish to impress the whole world by making a hideous roar very often at a hideous speed. A handful, and otherwise nobody.

The problem, therefore, is not: Do we want to make this law work; but, how do we make it work? It is a difficult problem. The Minister already has power to regulate in some detail the design and effectiveness of all motor vehicles manufactured in or imported into this country. It is already a simple matter for the Secretary of State to alter specifications without which a type approval certificate will not be available, and without that no vehicle can be sold. There is already in Schedule 9 of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1973 a complete list of acceptable limits of noise for all types of vehicles. I doubt whether many of your Lordships are aware of that, for the simple reason that it is never referred to. The Minister already has powers, and they are in use, for seeing that vehicles are roadworthy, These powers are exercised under Sections 43 and 45 of the Road Traffic Act 1972; yet still, vehicles that make a noise that amounts to a nuisance in the open country, and in narrow roads an actual assault, are openly driven upon our roads.

Of course, anyone can buy a vehicle with an effective silencer and modify it or simply take it off so that his vehicle makes more noise. And let us accept that most—not all, but most—private vehicles are fitted with efficient silencers before they are sold. But, since this silencing can be interfered with, it is not enough to have enforceable regulations about how much noise a vehicle will make before it is sold. We already have those regulations, but they are not at present enforced. The odd thing is that the machinery for enforcing them already exists. It exists in the form of Regulations 29 and 108 of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1973, and in Schedule 9 and 10 annexed thereto. Regulation 29 says that no one shall make a vehicle that will make more noise than a certain permitted maximum and sets out the apparatus needed physically to test it. Schedule 9 lists the permitted maxima of noise for different vehicles. Schedule 10 elaborates the description of the test equipment and area in which testing is to take place. Finally, British Standards 3425 of 1966 and another one of 1962 are cited as the ultimate authorities for this purpose. It is all there. The machinery is to hand.

That is exactly where into this very Chamber my late father came in in 1934, quite possibly in the company of one or two of your Lordships and of rather more of your Lordships' late fathers. As the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, has already said, "Law which cannot be enforced is bad law" The difference here is that it is not the case that this law cannot be enforced, but that it is not being enforced. What has gone wrong is that the means of testing defaulting vehicles, although legislated for, are not provided. The Secretary of State already has powers under Clauses 43 and 45 of the 1972 Act to provide them specifically to control the nuisance of noise. The purpose of my Amendment is to see that he uses those powers.

I hope I can persuade noble Lords opposite that I am in earnest in this matter. I readily accept that a better means can be found, more elegant, more efficient and more easily managed than by my Amendment, but I must say that if a better means cannot be presented while legislation is still with us, then at a later stage I shall have to ask your Lordships to insist upon this Amendment.


I should like to support the Amendment of the noble Lord, but with qualifications. There is no doubt that he is quite right in saying that there are many cars on the road to-day which are insufficiently silenced. There are a good many people, young people in particular, who like to drive sports cars which have very loud exhaust, in order to convince themselves that they have plenty of power under their bonnet. But there are certain difficulties. For one thing, it is the law at present that every internal combustion engine shall be silenced; but no law is laid down as to what form that silencer shall take. In the case of a smaller engine, a motor cycle engine for instance, the most rudimentary expansion chamber counts as a silencer and that does not do very much. Again, the smaller the engine the more difficult it is to silence it, because its revolutions per minute are much higher. But there is also another question. As we all know, sound is measured in decibels; but I do not think there is anything in the law as it stands at present to say at what distance a car shall not emit more than so many decibels. Is it to be from right next-door to it, or is it to be at a distance of 20 yards or so?


May I inform the noble Lord that these specifications exist in the legislation and Regulations that I have cited, and also in the British Standards Institute Regulations.


In that case, I withdraw that qualification. But none the less there are difficulties and I sincerely hope that something will be done to make it obligatory to enforce this legislation. As the noble Lord has said, it is not impossible to enforce it; it is just not being enforced.


I too would support this Amendment. I entirely agree with what my noble friend Lord Elton has said in moving the Amendment, and also with what the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has just said on the details of enforcement. He is perfectly right in that the means whereby what used to be known as the M.O.T. noise test was carried out was a difficult and cumbersome one. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Somers, of what these regulations were, in a specific instance. There are specifics over the type of vehicle and horsepower. In the case of a specific vehicle, at a range of 25 feet travelling at 30 miles an hour, the maximum amount of noise it is allowed to emit is 80 decibels. This is a most difficult thing to enforce because it would need perfect conditions: it has to be in the open air; it cannot be in an enclosed street with high buildings. It cannot be surrounded by woodland and, really, it has to be in the middle of Salisbury Plain.

Clearly this is a highly impractical situation, and I should like to suggest to your Lordships that as we are in the complicated mathematical field of acoustics, where frequency and level of noise have to be taken as combined factors, we should take practical measures first to equip the Ministry of Transport inspectors and the police with the "noise torch", which we have previously discussed in your Lordships' House and which is well known as an instrument for measuring noise in a rudimentary way up to a quite reasonable standard of efficiency.

Secondly, I suggest that we should establish a static vehicle test. I believe we discussed this at some length on March 7 last year in a debate on road transport and the problems of the railways. At that time I suggested to your Lordships that testing bays should be established by the Ministry in a way rather similar to that in which premises are licensed to test vehicles. Testing bays should be established to carry out a static vehicle test on heavy goods vehicles, private cars and other vehicles. The practical aspect here has been dealt with at some length, and the Noise Advisory Council in their Report (published earlier this year) had a great deal to say about this subject. They particularly referred to the menace of noise as it will be in the next ten years. I should like to quote very briefly from paragraph 12 on page 3 of that Report. It reads: The vehicles which generate the highest noise levels are heavy commercial vehicles although these only comprise some 5 per cent. of the total vehicle population. We are advised that if we do nothing about it, the noise of traffic is likely to increase by over 50 per cent. in the next ten years and twice the number of people at present exposed to a high level of noise can expect to be involved in what is termed "the noise nuisance net". I feel that a very important point has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell—it is a pity that he is not in the Chamber at the present moment. The noble Lord raised this point during the same debate I have already mentioned, in col. 1210 last year, when he said this—and I quote his exact words: Secondly, as regards the increased volume of traffic carried by heavy lorries, is it not correct to say there has been an increase of 817 per cent. in the number of lorries … in the last six years?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7/3/73, col. 1210.] That alone, I feel, is a very important factor in determining the degree of urgency with which we should examine this Amendment, which I support most heartily.


I hope my noble friend Lord Sandys will forgive me for saying that if he is going to quote the speech which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, when we discussed road transport and railways, I think he ought to be quite fair and quote the other side of the coin, because the figure of 817 per cent.—and I speak absolutely from memory—was contested by me and it was agreed by the noble Lord. Lord Popplewell, that the percentage mentioned was in respect of one particular class of heavy goods vehicles. I think perhaps it is just a little wrong of my noble friend to suggest that the noise is going to grow at that kind of level.


I entirely accept what my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has just said. The figure does indeed refer to a category. Nevertheless, it does give a degree of urgency to the matter.


On this question of noise, my heart beats in unison with that of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, but my head tells me that probably he is going the wrong way about this. I do not think we shall solve this question by talking about mathematics and decibels. Most motor vehicles in this country, when they leave the factory, are tuned in such a way that the noise is acceptable to the general population. I do not like this bureaucratic attitude of setting up what are called testing stations and apparatus where these vehicles are to undergo tests. I think the whole matter is much more simple than that: it is for the police to pounce upon noisy vehicles when they encounter them and to take them before a properly constituted court.


The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has been very persuasive. and I quite sincerely wish that we could in some way meet him over this. He referred to his noble father, and I can remember that many years ago my first introduction to what the Commonwealth really meant was effected by reading a book written by the noble Lord's father, which became in certain fields quite a classic—indeed I think I still have it to this day. If I may say so, I was a little bothered to see the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Sandys, on the Back Bench and I hurried across to the Front Bench to inquire whether they had been demoted, because clearly it would be a great loss to the Opposition Benches if they had been; but I am assured that the noble Lords are sitting there for a specific purpose.

We are in some difficulty about this. We recognise the force of the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and it has—if he does not think I am being patronising in saying so—a great deal of merit. But I hope he will allow me to state the position as we see it at the present moment. At present the Regulations laying down maximum permissible noise levels for different classes of vehicles are not prescribed for either the Ministry of Transport or the heavy goods vehicle test. Some of the heavy goods vehicle testing stations have the necessary equipment, and this provision is being gradually extended to other stations. That is our first difficulty.

The reason for this lies in the problem of defining adequately what we mean by "noise". This is not trying to beg the question at all: there is a very real difficulty in ascertaining what we mean by "noise" The level at which a vehicle noise limit is set depends on the conditions laid down for testing the vehicle. The British Standard method of test is used for defining the noise limits for newly constructed vehicles: this requires very precise conditions for the test, and is consequently not suitable for large-scale testing. The Motor Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations lay down a less restrictive test method for vehicles in use (with consequently less stringent levels for the noise limits), but even this is not suited for use in the periodic compulsory tests since it requires the vehicle to be driven past the noise meter: sites of sufficient size which meet the acoustic requirements of the Regulations are not available at many testing stations. This presents another very real difficulty. The situation is thus that the present Regulations are difficult to enforce, though not impossible because, as the noble Lord will know, there were a number (albeit a small number) of successful prosecutions in 1972, the year for which I have the latest figures.

Effective enforcement therefore requires an improved test method. The Department of the Environment has produced proposals for a stationary method of testing the noise from vehicles with diesel engines, and a draft regulation implementing this has been circulated for comment: comments from interested organisations are at this moment being considered. The Department has announced its intention of making this method available for the heavy goods vehicle periodic test in due course. The speed at which this can be done will depend on finding test sites which meet the requirement at the heavy goods vehicle testing stations and in training the staff in the test method which the noble Lord will appreciate is rather complicated.

No method of testing noise levels can be simple, and one of the factors which is important is to ensure that only vehicles which seem likely to be exceeding the noise limits are put through the full test: otherwise a lot of time and effort will be wasted in proving what is readily apparent. For this reason, as things are at the moment spot checks on vehicles may prove a more effective use of resources than the screening of the whole vehicle population at the annual test. A defective silencer is a frequent cause of excessive noise in vehicles. A check on this is therefore already included in the heavy goods vehicle test, and the Minister of Transport has announced in another place (reported in Hansard for May 8, 1974) that he is considering including this aspect of vehicles in the Ministry of Transport test. The Government are therefore making full use of their existing powers in this field, to the extent that present techniques permit, and the proposed new clause would be difficult for the Government to implement if it were accepted.

There are two further points which I should like to make to the noble Lord. Methods of testing vehicle noise—I hope he will agree—are still in an experimental stage, and the Government do not yet know whether they really require new powers in addition to what they have already. There is a further difficulty: the E.E.C. countries at the present moment are examining this, and that means that we are involved. We do not really know what the outcome will be, whether it will measure reasonably equally to what we have at the moment or whether our own regulations will be too severe or not severe enough. It is because of that and the other difficulty which I described, that testing is still at an experimental stage, that I wonder whether the noble Lord will feel able in the circumstances to leave the matter and not press it at this stage.


I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for the lengthy and illuminating answer he gave and, more particularly, for the flattering remarks and anxiety which he expressed about myself and my noble friend Lord Sandys's temporary retreat to the Back-Benches. I will bow to his greater wisdom and more thorough brief regarding the gaps in the regulations of which I am not aware. I shall read what he said with great interest. This Amendment does not press for new powers; it presses only for the exercise of very old powers. The reason they are not being used is because the places to use them are few and far between and not properly understood. This goes against the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland. I welcome the support of his heart, and I think I can have the support of his head as well, because his policemen may pounce but they have to have somewhere to take the vehicle. At the moment it may well be on Bodmin or Ilkley Moor, or some other inaccessible place, and therefore they do not pounce.

My noble friend Lord Sandys advanced the merits of a spot check which I heartily endorse, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, gave a favourable but glancing view, which I was glad to see. Coupled with a stationary testing system which could be evolved either before or after we get knowledge of the E.E.C. system, this would answer all problems. My purpose is simply to see that the means should be available to use the powers at present to hand. The news which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, brings from another place is glad tidings and I was not aware of it. I shall also read that with interest.

I will not press the Amendment at this point, but I wish to place it on the Record that I reserve my position regarding the Report stage and some possible Amendment until the moment when I have read the noble Lord's reply more closely and, if it is permitted, possibly discussed it with him. In conclusion, I would remind the Committee that my noble friend Lord Sandys for certain and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and possibly other noble Lords, prayed in this Chamber earlier to-day for the public peace and tranquillity of the Realm. This is something which is appropriate to the occasion and which I ask the Committee to remember. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that so far as the Government are concerned they are alive to the situation, and we will take note of what he has said to see what can be done to ensure that his prayers in this matter are answered.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Amendments relating to licensing drivers of vehicles]:

6.36 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 19, line 22, at end insert— ("(2) In section 126 of the 1972 Act (instruction for payment to be given only by registered or licensed persons) in subsection (1) after the word "car" there shall be inserted the words "and commercial vehicles".)

The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment, I should make two declarations to the Committee. First, I am currently President of the Heavy Goods Vehicle Driving Instructors—although such a position can only be of help in what I have to say. Secondly, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, who invited me at the time of the Second Reading to visit him and his officials at the Department to discuss this and other matters which I mentioned at Second Reading. We had such a meeting and although we could not agree on a number of things, we certainly were able to set aside a number of other matters for which I am grateful.

I am sure that the Committee will be conversant with what lies behind this Amendment: it is purely and simply to regularise the position of men and/or women who give instruction in heavy goods vehicle driving for reward. It is to bring that class of person into the same situation as applies to those instructors engaged in motor car driving instruction. On previous occasions I have established without quarrel and question that there are no regulations whatsoever to prevent any man or woman holding a heavy goods vehicle driving licence from giving instruction. It is my contention that this is not only unfair to the public at large; it is unfair to those people who pay money for such instruction. It is also unfair to those who seek to earn a living by giving heavy goods vehicle instruction.

Until a short while ago the Road Transport Industry Training Board ran courses for heavy goods vehicle instructors. But at that time the Board were reluctant to accept any responsibility for offering a "fail" or "pass" verdict upon the attender. It was sufficient that he received a certificate of attendance. In many instances these people gave instruction for reward; some set up in business and have loosely been called "qualified". Attendance at the course did not give any recommendation as to the fitness to instruct. Nevertheless, it was generally accepted that people having attended that course would have reached a certain standard.

During the Second Reading debate the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, in replying to me regarding the instruction of drivers of heavy lorries, said at columns 1598 and 1599: The situation has however changed since he raised the matter during debates on the previous Road Traffic Bill. The Road Transport Industry Training Board has now introduced the revised system of assessment of candidates attending courses … Instructors will now have to pass the course before they can claim to be qualified. This is a significant step which will I10 doubt help to relieve the concern of the noble Lord."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23/5/74.] Of course, I am grateful for that, but in fact the qualification, such as it is, is not recognised by anybody at all. It is merely an assessment by the Industry Training Board that a man has passed their examination. But it is not these people about whom I am concerned; I am concerned about all the other people. I understand that in 1973 some 71,500 heavy goods vehicle tests were carried out, and the pass rate was 55 per cent. If one breaks down the total of applicants, one finds that 14,600 were trained under the Road Transport Industry Training Board grant scheme; that is, with teachers who have passed through their course. The pass rate there is 80 per cent. I infer from that that the people who have not received instruction from (and I shall now use inverted commas) "a qualified instructor" have a high failure rate.

I have evidence, a number of letters, from up and down the country which supports the contention that there are people who have not undertaken this training course and who are therefore not qualified, in the new terminology, to give instruction for reward. I have a letter in which the secretary of a group writes to tell me that a driving school used car instructors for their heavy goods vehicle training. He knows this because a man asked whether he could be sent to the Multi-Occupational Training and Educational Centre, run by the I.T.B., to have his heavy goods vehicle instructor training. This was refused, but he still gives instruction in heavy goods vehicle driving. There is another instance where a man was rejected from heavy goods vehicle driver training instruction by the Group Training Association. I have letters quoting instances of men who have no formal training in the instruction of heavy goods vehicle driving, from every corner of the United Kingdom.

The argument that it is not necessary that these people should be treated the same as the car instructors because two factors are involved there, one being road safety and the other the protection of the consumer in monetary terms, does not hold water. It is even more vitally important that the drivers of heavy goods vehicles should be properly instructed in all matters pertaining to their craft, which can be done only by those people who know how to instruct as distinct from how to pilot a large motor vehicle. I believe that, because of the market demand for heavy goods vehicle drivers, there are some commercial schools charging the most fantastic rates for instruction. I have a letter quoting £25 a day, where a man spent five days with an unqualified instructor and failed the test. Surely not only the potential drivers need help; the public at large also need help, and the addition to this Bill of this Amendment will provide that there is a form of registration and formal approval of those who seek to give instruction in heavy goods vehicle driving for reward. I beg to move.

6.46 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has, as he has stated, raised this matter on a number of occasions. He was good enough to refer to the meeting we had in the Department on June 6. He has again this evening given a number of reasons for concern that a high standard should be maintained for instructors in the driving of heavy goods vehicles. We accept the theoretical force of his arguments and the concern of those for whom he speaks. He has put it to me in discussing this matter that there should be a reserve power to impose minimum qualifications for these people. The Government share his concern for standards of instruction, but I have to say that they are not aware of any cause of anxiety on this score, or any pressure by employers or professional instructors for a registration scheme. I am not suggesting that the noble Lord has said that all the professional instructors so want that. This is probably because the Road Transport Industry Training Board has made considerable progress in providing a recognised qualification on which the noble Lord has given the Committee information. The qualification relates to a pass or fail mark at the end of its course for instructors.

This ought to be said. From the standpoint of road safety the present stringent heavy goods vehicle driving test ensures the driving competence of newcomers to the driving of these vehicles. While the Government are in no sense complacent about the position, the rate of involvement of goods vehicles over 1½ tons unladen in injury accidents has fallen steadily from 259 per 100 million miles travelled in 1969 to 188 in 1972. It will be appreciated that I am quoting those figures only to show that progress is being made in regard to injury accidents. I will give a firm undertaking to bring all the points the noble Lord has raised to the attention of the Minister of Transport, but I have to say that the Government's present attitude is one of reluctance to introduce a further statutory control for which we feel at the moment the need has not been demonstrated.

If in due course the need for control is firmly established, the Government will probably wish to do it in a different way from that here proposed; that is, they might require professional instructors to have passed a departmentally approved training course, rather than extend the register of approved driving instructors. I want to make it clear that the Government's mind is not firmly made up about this matter. My right honourable friend will be pleased to give full consideration to all the points that have been made. I hope that with that assurance the noble Lord will feel that he has achieved his purpose in having set out as fully as he has done this evening the concern that he feels and the reasons for that concern, and that he will feel that he has been able to get on the Record further points which have been brought to his attention by those who have written to him. If he cares to let us have copies of those letters, we shall be very glad to have them. Everything will be taken into account.


Despite the assurances given by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, I feel that my noble friend had some cause for dissatisfaction because nothing that the noble Lord has said can give us any cause for complacency or comfort. The pirates operating in this field will be taken outside the law.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for that very full answer. I should say here and now that the professional instructors are pressing for some kind of divisive regulation which sets them apart from all those other people who hold driving licences for heavy goods vehicles and give instruction. I believe that it is quite wrong that anybody can give instruction for reward. I believe that it is a responsibility of Government to see that they do not do this unless they are approved by some body or another.

I noted what the noble Lord had to say with regard to the standard of the test. When only 55 per cent. of applicants can pass the first time, it is a condemnation of the system of instruction that produces an applicant at that time. From all points of view I am delighted to have heard from him the figures relating to injury accidents in which heavy goods vehicles have been involved. This is indeed encouraging.

In all honesty I cannot say that I am satisfied. I believe that what I have said and what I am suggesting is needed in one form or another and is right, but with the exception of my noble friend Lord Sandys I do not seem to have evoked overmuch support this evening. I am very reluctant to test the opinion of your Lordships when so many noble Lords have not heard the two sides of the argument. It is only this consideration which leads me, very reluctantly, on this occasion to beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?

6.53 p.m.


Clause 13 deals with a large number of things, some of which I support and some of which I am sure that the Government will wish to preserve in the Bill. However, it seemed to me so difficult to draw an Amendment which would leave out parts of it which I felt were wholly unacceptable and leave in others, that it seemed, to my somewhat untutored mind, that the easiest thing was to argue the case on "Leave out Clause 13", implying that some of it could be brought back in a re-drawn clause.

This is an extraordinary example of Parliamentary drafting. It has to do with the licensing of drivers, and after the first sentence or so in subsection (1)(a) it says that these are amendments— providing for the grant of a driving licence expiring, except in certain cases, on the seventieth birthday of the holder". That is something quite new and it would need to be thought about. In subsection (1)(b) there is the apparently innocent sentence— modifying the requirements, and requiring the disclosure of further information, relating to the physical fitness of drivers". Nothing whatever is said about the entirely new concept of the prospective disability until one comes to the very end of Clause 13 where it says, in small print: Failure to notify Secretary of State of onset of, or deterioration in, relevant or prospective disability will result in a fine of up to £100. You have to turn to Schedule 3 to find out what all this is about.

If you really want to have driving licences which you may apply for at the age of 17 or 18 and which will last until you are 70, it is reasonable that there should be some consideration of what is happening to your health during that time. Of course, that is acceptable. However, the first thing I would question about licences to the age of 70 is, what will be the state of the licence? I have had a licence for 51 years, and if I had my original licence in my pocket I think it would be completely illegible and not absolutely flat. That is a small but a practical point.

In order to discover whether somebody's health really is deteriorating during the 50 or so years that he is holding his licence, the Secretary of State now has to be notified not only of a relevant disability, which means something that makes it dangerous for that person to drive, which his doctor no doubt would warn him about and advise him about, but of a prospective disability. As examples of a prospective disability, when previously this clause has been briefly mentioned and discussed we have heard about cataract, multiple sclerosis and arthritis. Imagine a doctor confronted with a young woman who has some early signs of multiple sclerosis. What advice is he going to give her? One thing which he wants to conceal from her at that stage is that this condition may progress and that she may he completely paralysed by the age of 30. But if he does not advise her to tell the Secretary of State that she has got a prospective disability, she may be in for a fine of £100.

I cannot understand how a clause in this shape could have got into the Bill. So many people dread the word "arthritis". To a doctor "arthritis" means so many things that one has to define what kind of arthritis it is and where it is before one knows anything about it, but to a patient it means something rather sinister; and, indeed, it may be so. Again, if confronted with a young woman with pain in both wrists and you have a suspicion that this is going to develop into rheumatoid arthritis, do you want to tell her that at that time? Do you want to advise her to notify the Secretary of State that she has got a progressive disability or else she will be in for a fine of up to £100?

I am amazed that such legislation could creep in at all. The Secretary of State may have reason to believe that a person has a prospective disability but I do not quite know how he would have reason to believe this, unless it was somebody with whom he had lunched or unless the person himself, in conformity with the law (which would no doubt be printed on his driving licence) informed the Secretary of State that he had some condition which he felt might be a prospective disability. The Secretary of State may then tell him to authorise his doctor, or any registered practitioner who may at any time have given medical advice or attention to the applicant, to release to the Secretary of State any information which he may have or which may be available to him with respect to the question whether and to what extent the applicant may be suffering from, or have suffered from, a relevant or prospective disability.

So the result of telling the Secretary of State that you think you have a prospective disability is that you then have to authorise your doctor to give the Secretary of State all the information that your doctor has relevant to this disability, and I think the question of confidentiality, which we were discussing yesterday in relation to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, on the records of social workers, comes into the question in a big way in this clause. I therefore beg to move that Clause 13 be left out of the Bill.

7.3 p.m.


I should like in a few words to support completely what the noble Lord, Lord Platt, has just said about this clause. I share his complete surprise and wonderment as to why the age of 70 was chosen as the appropriate age for one to think about driving again. There appears to be no biological or statistical reason for that at all. The only people who would benefit from it would be the local authorities who would not have to employ staff to issue driving licences every third year. It used to be every year, but I think now it is every third year, and that seems to me to be quite sensible.

However, suppose one were given a driving licence for life, with the suggestion that one should support this curious phrase "progressive disability" which I do not think means a great deal, because in addition to the cases quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Platt, what would occur in the case of somebody who had a cataract developing? When one has an early cataract one can drive with reasonable safety, but the cataract develops and there comes a time when one cannot drive safely. I should have thought it was far better when the licence came up for renewal to say that one would have to get medical opinion on it. I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Platt, has said and I hope the Government will look favourably upon this.


Lord Platt is unhappy with the proposal to issue driving licences which would in normal cases remain valid until the holder reaches the age of 70. By dispensing with the triennial declaration of fitness, this would, he argues, be detrimental to road safety. He also, at Second Reading, objected to the provision for the Secretary of State to make inquiries into relevant and prospective disabilities.


May I get this straight. I do not really object to having a driving licence from the ages of 18 to 70 if anybody can prove to me that it is a good thing to do, but you must accept that this concept of progressible disability is notified to the Secretary of State.


If the noble Lord will be a little patient I will come to that and will try to deal with it. In applying for the renewal of his licence under the present system—and this is the point which the noble Lord has been speaking about—the driver must declare that he does not suffer from certain disabilities, and it is true that this regular declaration will be lost as a result of the changes in the Bill. But in fact the Bill tightens up the medical requirements laid on drivers in other ways. It lays on drivers a duty to report to the Secretary of State if at any time they become aware of a relevant disability or a prospective disability.

The Bill allows the Secretary of State, if he has grounds for believing that a driver may be suffering from a relevant or prospective disability to allow his doctor to make available information about that disability and to require him to submit to an independent medical examination. From the age of 70 onwards licences will be renewed every three years, as at present. The age of 70 was chosen because the accident risk rises at this point. Accidents per 100 million vehicle miles in the 60 to 69 age group average 18 a year; in the age group 70 and above they average 43 a year. We believe that these arrangements will be at least as effective in denying driving licences to people with dangerous medical conditions as the present arrangements. They were thoroughly discussed and agreed with representatives of the medical profession. Research results suggest that less than one accident in 1,000 is caused by sudden unconsciousness or other medical emergency striking the driver.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has joined with the noble Lord, Lord Platt, in this question of abolishing three-yearly renewal of licences until the age of 70. I think the Committee will be interested to know that there will be a considerable saving of money and manpower. I should not like to be too precise, but I think I am reasonably accurate in saying that it is expected that there will be a possible saving of 350 people a year engaged in this work, at a saving of about £1 million. If these figures are anywhere near accurate these are economies that are well worth making.

The medical profession sought specific assurances that the Bill will neither require doctors to report details of their patients' conditions to the Secretary of State without the patients' permission, nor require them to reveal to their patients facts about the likely development of their condition which they would not otherwise reveal. These assurances can be unreservedly given. The driver's duty to notify relevant and prospective disability to the Secretary of State only arises, and can only arise, when he himself becomes aware of it.

The doctor's discretion as to the point at which he informs the patient of his condition remains complete. The doctor who forms the opinion that his patient is not capable of driving safely will, of course, wish to warn him of this and to advise him to warn the Secretary of State. The doctor who forms the opinion that his patient is likely to develop a disability which will make him unfit to drive continues to have complete discretion as to the stage at which he warns the patient. The Bill secures that as soon as the patient is warned, he must inform the Secretary of State.

The licensing authority, the Driver and Vehicle Centre at Swansea, has made special arrangements to handle medical information. Medical information supplied by applicants and doctors is handled by a separate branch at Swansea headed by a senior medical adviser and a team of four doctors. The information is used only to provide a medical recommendation for the licensing authority to decide whether or not to issue a licence. I should like to emphasise that that information is not —I repeat "not"—recorded on the Swansea computer. The applicant or licence holder is not told anything of what his doctor or doctors have told the licensing authority. The arrangements for handling medical information at Swansea have been discussed, and have also been agreed with the medical associations.

I hope that I have said enough to indicate the reasons why this clause is included in the Bill. I hope I have done something, if only a little, to satisfy the noble Lords, Lord Platt and Lord Amulree that very considerable thought has been given to the matters they have raised.


I thank the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for his long reply. Of course, a large amount of it was taken up with telling us what we all know, and in convincing us that this would be just as effective in preventing accidents, or even more effective, than a three-year licence, and that an advantage would be the saving of clerical work by having a licence until one is 70. These are not things that worry me in the least. The point is that by having a licence until one is 70, one has to introduce this very undesirable concept of progressive disability. I do not think that any doctor, although he may not like the task, would shrink from the task of advising a patient, "Your sight has deteriorated; I really do think you should give up driving a motor car". If the patient does not like the advice, he can get a second opinion. That, I concede, is a doctor's duty.

My point was that it is now a doctor's duty to tell a patient that he has a prospective disability. This is defined in Clause 3 as something which does not prevent him driving now, which does not make it dangerous for him to drive now, but may do so in a few years' time, and therefore he should not have a long-lease licence. This is perfectly logical. The only thing is that it cuts across the ethics of medical practice of what we tell our patients. That is the only thing. If it saves the time of a clerk it may be worth while, but it is not too important.

Clause 13 agreed to.


In order that the House may now proceed with the next item of business; namely, the Lord Chancellor (Tenure of Office and Discharge of Ecclesiastical Functions) Bill, I beg to move that the House be now resumed. I should like to make it clear in moving this Motion that the Committee stage on the Road Traffic Bill will be resumed as soon as the Second Reading of the Lord Chancellor (Tenure of Office and Discharge of Ecclesiastical Functions) Bill has been disposed of, or at 8.15 p.m., if the Second Reading should finish sooner. I beg to move.

House resumed.