HL Deb 23 May 1974 vol 351 cc1565-603

12.30 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I must begin with an apology. I realise that it is not so long since a fairly similar Bill was exhaustively—and no doubt some of your Lordships take the view exhaustingly—debated in this House. Unfortunately, the Bill had not concluded its passage in another place at the time of the General Election. As a result, I fear that we once again have to apply ourselves to this particular measure.

The aims of this Bill are not easily summarised. It touches on very many facets of traffic and road transport. But it is broadly concerned with strengthening and up-dating the law in the interests of road safety and the environment. There are provisions to restore the effect of the law on parking in cities, measures for road safety and consumer protection, and proposals which take account of developments in Central Government, of local government reorganisation, and of trends in penal policy. It is the kind of revision of the law which Parliament should find time for every few years, between major consolidations.

I will start by mentioning the main changes from the previous Administration's Bill. With the exception of some omissions to which I shall come in a moment, these are few. Clause 6, which deals with traffic surveys, is new. Clause 16, which will give an opportunity to conduct experiments into the effectiveness of road humps in slowing traffic, is also new. There are some minor Amendments in Schedule 6. We have revised and clarified the clause on scat-belt wearing, and that on parking on pavements.

There are five significant omissions. First, the previous Bill contained a number of proposals on the important question of bus licensing, with an eye to improving passenger transport in rural areas. These proposals were criticised by both sides of the industry. My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport, when he spoke on the Bill in another place, said that he thought it would have been better to get broad agreement before presenting a licensing measure. He is now going to have discussions with both sides of the industry about rural transport problems before deciding about the merits of the proposals in the last Bill.

Second, the power to ban the stopping of vehicles at urban junctions has been dropped. This was intended to reduce the number of accidents which occur at junctions when pedestrians are hidden by parked vehicles. But my right honourable friend has come to the conclusion that the ban would have given rise to the most serious practical problems. Third, there were provisions for young people under 21 to be trained for driving heavy goods vehicles. My right honourable friend is still reviewing this proposal, and the parallel provision for a public service vehicle scheme, which is also omitted. Finally, the provision for use of tachograph records needs to be considered in the wider context of the review of our E.E.C. commitments, which the Government have in hand, and it was not appropriate to include it in this Bill.

I will now turn to the provisions of the Bill. The first five clauses are in essence the same as the corresponding clauses in the previous Administration's Bill. As your Lordships will recall, there were criticisms, when the Bill last came before this House, that Clauses 1 and 2 were intensely complicated. We have therefore tried to improve them by recasting them slightly. These clauses, together with Schedule 1, provide for the registered owner of a vehicle to be liable, in addition to the driver, for certain minor stationary road traffic offences when fixed penalties or excess charges are not paid. As your Lordships will know, the effectiveness of the fixed penalty system has been increasingly undermined in recent years because more and more people simply do not pay, and then persistently evade police inquiries. This places a considerable and growing burden of work on police and traffic wardens, particularly in London (where the problem is perhaps more serious than it is in any other part of the country), in trying to trace the drivers through the owners of the vehicles. Many cases now go by default because drivers, many of whom are themselves the owners, cannot be identified. Similar difficulties arise where excess parking charges have not been paid.

The position is now little short of a scandal. In 1972, when about 2½ million fixed penalty notices were issued in England and Wales, payment was made in only two-thirds of the cases and then only after police inquiries, and sometimes quite substantial inquiries, had taken place. In the Metropolitan police district alone, about 340,000 cases could not be prosecuted within the six months the law allows.

Last year, just over 3½ million fixed penalty notices were issued in England and Wales and, if past experience is any guide, this will mean that over 1 million offenders will escape payment altogether. This situation clearly cannot go on, and that is why the Government are accepting the proposals of their predecessors in this regard, and taking action along these lines.

Clause 1 limits the arrangements to certain fixed penalty offences alleged in respect of stationary vehicles. These are parking and waiting offences, lighting offences, and the offence of failing to display a valid vehicle excise licence. The clause applies only where a fixed penalty notice has been issued and has not been paid. The police may then serve a notice on the owner requiring him to furnish a statutory statement of ownership within a prescribed period, unless within that period he pays or secures the payment of the fixed penalty, in which case no further action or liability arises. But failure to furnish a statement, if payment is not made, is an offence on the part of the owner. Clause 2 provides the same procedure in the case of excess charges.

In both cases, however, where an owner was not the driver, he can also furnish another statement, called a statutory statement of facts, giving the current name and address and signature of the driver. The joint statement will be admissible as evidence against the driver, and will therefore enable the police to prosecute the driver. The previous Bill included both these statements in one because there was then a requirement on the owner, if he was not the driver, either to furnish a signed driver's statement, or simply to state the name and address of the driver if he was unable to get his signature. But if an owner was enabled simply to name the driver without getting his signature, there would not only be no admissible evidence against the driver: the owner could well lay a false trail (and unfortunately, an increasing number of anti-social drivers do precisely this) and hence cause delay, because the police would be under pressure to follow up all such unsigned driver nominations. This Bill does not offer an owner such an opportunity and I commend this arrangement to your Lordships as a better scheme for restoring the effectiveness of the fixed penalty system.

My Lords, I am sure I do not need to enlarge further on these provisions on owner liability. It has already commended itself to your Lordships' House and was accepted in principle by another place only four months ago. The Government believe that the introduction of this scheme is essential if we are to arrest the decline in enforcement of the fixed penalty system.

A second group of clauses has among its principal objects to promote road safety and reduce casualties. With over 7,000 deaths and 90,000 injuries on the roads every year, a vigorous road safety programme is clearly essential. Many measures have been taken over the years to improve road safety. The British accident rates are now low by international standards and it will take sustained effort to bring about further improvements. We believe that the most striking casualty reduction would come if everyone wore the seat belt in his car: this, it is estimated, could save 1,000 lives and 10,000 serious injuries every year.

In Australia and a growing number of other countries laws have been introduced to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory; and experience in Victoria and New South Wales—the pioneer States—is very encouraging. Casualties there have been reduced and many serious head and spine injuries have been eliminated. The Australian experience has also shown that the law is complied with to a considerable extent. According to opinion polls, an overwhelming majority of the car-using population in this country have been convinced by the publicity on the value of seat belts, and would comply with an obligation to wear them. But I fear that it is equally clear that publicity by itself will not significantly raise the number who habitually wear seat belts.

A clause enabling the Secretary of State to make compulsory wearing regulations was added to the previous Bill at the initiative of the noble Lords, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Lord Davies of Leek and Lord Avebury, and accepted in this House without a Division. A similar clause appears in this Bill, and if it is accepted by Parliament the Government intend to go ahead with consultations about the necessary exemptions and other aspects with a view to implementing the provision by the end of 1975. As I have said, the Government are convinced that this is right and we are grateful to the noble Lords, to whom I have referred, for focusing attention on this issue. A third group of provisions is perhaps primarily concerned with the interests of the public as consumers and as the recipients—or perhaps one should say sufferers—of the many environmental consequences of motor vehicles.

During the passage of the former Bill, your Lordships accepted a clause moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London to ban parking on footways and verges. I think we would all accept that this practice is a nuisance which should be controlled, and, indeed, parking of lorries on pavements is already an offence under the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973. But there is an almost infinite variety of circumstances and road layouts, and we have to recognise that in some cases parking off the carriageway is the lesser of two evils. I understand that the sponsors of the former clause are ready to accept the lines of the provision now in the Bill, which confines the ban to urban roads, and allows local discretion for exemptions where these are necessary as well as for emergencies and other special cases.

My Lords, I should like to mention one other matter. When the Bill reaches the Committee stage the Government propose to table an Amendment which would ban the sale and fitting of defective components. This is a problem which received some publicity last year in connection with the sale of tyres which were not suitable for use at high speeds without sufficient warning to purchasers. Action will now be taken to stop this practice.

Finally, I come to the penalty provisions of the Bill, which are in Clause 19 and Schedule 5. I do not need to say a lot about them now, because they were discussed at length, both here and in another place, when they formed part of the previous Bill. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has given the question of penalties the most careful personal consideration, and the Government are satisfied that the penalty provisions in the Bill are in the best interests of penal policy as a whole. I know that their principal effect—the removal of imprisonment on summary conviction for all road traffic offences except driving while disqualified—is not welcomed in all quarters, and especially not by the Magistrates' Association and the Justices' Clerks' Society. I realise that we shall hear more of this as the debate progresses, not least, I suspect, from my noble friend Lord Janner.

We have a high respect for the magistrates and for their clerks, and we value their opinion on matters of this sort. That is why we consulted them before returning this measure to Parliament in this form. My honourable friend the joint Minister of State at the Home Office recently received a deputation representing both bodies to discuss this clause of the Bill. But we do not feel able on this occasion to accept the advice of these two bodies.

I commend this Bill to your Lordships as a collection of valuable improvements and additions to road traffic law. I look forward to hearing noble Lords' views on it, and to the opportunity we shall have of examining it in more detail in Committee. I have explained the Government's reasons for presenting a Bill which follows closely, apart from the omissions which I have detailed, that which was lost at the time of dissolution. I hope that it will be welcomed in all parts of the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)

12.45 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for the succinct and brief way in which he has introduced the Bill—pleasantly brief, because he said he would require half-an-hour, so I am pleasantly surprised. With one or two reservations, we on this side basically welcome the Bill—and so we should, because much of it was fostered by us. I am sure that we welcome again the owner liability clauses and, as the noble Lord the Minister has said, we certainly welcome the seat belts clause, on which my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and the other noble Lords he mentioned did so much; and, of course, the potential powers which this gives the Secretary of State will be of great importance later.

Our Clause 7, on parking on pavements, in the last Bill has been polished up very considerably by the Parliamentary draftsmen. I regard the new Clause 8 in the Bill as an improvement on our one, and I congratulate the noble Lord on that. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of London, and all the other noble Lords who struggled to get this provision on the Statute Book, will be equally pleased with me to see that this has been polished up so nicely. I notice, incidentally, that the maximum penalty for this offence has inflated from £50 to £100. Clause 9 is also one which this House welcomes, with its replacing of local authority powers in road safety matters by a statutory duty. I expect that the technical points about vehicle lighting and vehicle type approval will also not need much further discussion.

The sale of unroadworthy vehicles dealt with in Clause 11, was also a point much discussed and agreed. Clause 13, giving adult drivers their licence to the age of 70 instead of the three-yearly application period, will save much clerical work and the accompanying safeguards putting the onus on licence holders to disclose their relevant physical condition was obviously a necessary corollary. The weighing of vehicles clause and the operator's licensing clause will also, I suspect, not detain us in this House very long. Clause 19 basically unaltered concerning the variation of penalties, on which the noble Lords, Lord Janner, Lord Hacking, and others will no doubt talk at great length—I was going to say interminably, but that sounds rude—is beyond me and I will leave it to go back to the transport side.

Many noble Lords on all sides of the House, and, most especially, those from countryside areas, will welcome the addition to the Road Traffic Act 1972, dealing with damage to roadside property, which is now made in paragraph 9 of Schedule 6. I expect that the noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Foot, and my noble friend Lord Middleton, in par-Ocular, will welcome this, and we are all most grateful that the Home Office and the Department of the Environment have had conversations with the police authorities over this matter, which have been carried out with commendable promptitude. When we were last dealing with this subject in the House, I believe that noble Lords felt slightly upset that the police conversations had not been held and I must congratulate the Minister on expediting this activity so quickly to enable him to get this into the new Bill.

Another interesting new clause is Clause 16, empowering the Secretary of State to experiment with humps, "sleeping policemen" as they are often called, for the purpose of making drivers reduce speed. My Lords, although I. appreciate that paragraph 5 does give powers, which I am sure would always have to be used to erect adequate signs relating to these humps, I feel there may well be a danger here. In icy or snowy weather, with signs sometimes obscured, motor cyclists in Particular will be at risk. The other point I would draw attention to is that public service vehicles, such as fire engines and ambulances, going at speed about their duties, would also be at risk. I therefore trust that the experimental nature of the clause will always be clearly remembered until it has proved itself acceptable or otherwise.

Now, my Lords, having dealt so far in sugary phrases with this Bill I come to three or four questions which I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, the Minister who will be replying. Firstly and most importantly may I ask why the Government has not kept the four Clauses 18 to 21 of our old Bill, dealing with the relaxing of the old bus licensing system? Everyone in this House must be well aware of the need to do something about the acute problem of the ever-diminishing number of buses, especially in country areas. Our pilot studies, when we were in Office, showed us clearly that where demand was not sufficient to warrant a full bus service there was still a need for road transport for many, and to this end we had proposed removing licence restrictions from vehicles seating less than nine passengers and privately-operated mini-buses. I think this flexibility in the licensing system is still needed, and we shall be putting down Amendments on these points to try to persuade the Government to restore it to the Bill, unless, of course the Government's conversations, about which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has told us, bear rapid fruit.

The second question is: why has the prohibition on vehicles stopping at urban junctions not been included in this Bill? We were told that it was not considered practicable, but we should bear in mind that our Bill gave the local authorities and the Secretary of State, working together, the option of up to a maximum of 15 yards but down to a minimum of five yards, and at many junctions five yards is not a very great distance. We also have to bear in mind that some 60 per cent. of road casualties in towns occur near road junctions. Clause 6 of our Bill was a first-rate safety measure, and after much discussion, as your Lordships will remember, we accepted Amendments to that clause in which the word "reasonable" played a very major part. As your Lordships will all remember, we had many debates on the word "reasonable" and on stopping thus to avoid accidents. I think we probably got it right. I must confess that I am not really satisfied with the noble Lord's explanation of this omission, and, again, I think we shall be raising this point in Committee.

My third question relates to the dropping of the old Clauses 16 and 17, which dealt with the minimum age for driving heavy goods vehicles and would have allowed persons of 18 to 21 to do so subject to definite conditions as to training and employment. These proposals were known as "the driver apprenticeship scheme", and in the views of the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association would have established for the first time a genuine career structure for drivers which, in their view, is essential to attract school-leavers into the industry by providing prospects and opportunities for them to obtain the highest class of heavy goods vehicle licences soon after reaching the age of 21. If there is going to be, as is likely, a shortage of these drivers, it will also be a matter of great detriment to the nation. The Department of the Environment, the unions and the road haulage industry had all agreed this scheme, and we, when in Government, approved it. The industry concerned feels that the dropping of these proposals will be a disaster. Unless the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has a very convincing answer as to why this scheme has been dropped, we shall be putting down Amendments on this point.

My fourth query is: why has the old Clause 23 been left out of the Bill? This clause dealt with the tachograph. I made a speech about this in this House on December 4, when it was then in Clause 21. My arguments are as valid now as they were then, and I will not weary your Lordships by repeating them except to remind your Lordships that conversations have been continuously held with the unions on this matter, and I do not really believe they are as much against the tachograph as so many people would have us believe. They know perfectly well that it has a lot of good points, which are useful, and which ought not to be disregarded lightly. Lastly on this point of the tachograph, we have to remember the E.E.C. implications of this now omitted clause, which will bear harder and sooner on our heavy lorries going to Europe than otherwise they would have done.

My Lords, I think I have got most of the points off my chest. There are one or two other points, but these can be left to later stages.

12.55 p.m.


My Lords, owing to a breakdown in the sound warning of our public address system, I am afraid I had not realised the sudden termination of land tenure in Scotland and came in a few minutes late for the Minister's initial address. This I greatly regret because I have one or two small interests in this Bill which I hope now to put before your Lordships. I shall make no general comment. On the whole, the Bill seems an extremely good Bill. Very largely it follows the previous Bill which was going through Parliament. Again, I have no comment to make on that.

My first comment is on this question of parking on pedestrian footways. I remember that it was the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who was very keen that this should be prohibited. In fact I spoke against prohibition, for two reasons. One was that I felt that many small streets where houses are rather crowded together—houses either semi-detached or terraced, which were built at a time when the people who lived in such streets would never have been able to afford a motor car—are now lined with motor cars and I think there are some streets in which it would be a very serious deprivation if people could not park on the pedestrian footway. I see that there is a sort of escape clause and that the local authority may exempt some places from this general rule of not parking on the footway. I should like a little reassurance from the noble Lord who is going to reply that this is so and that this will not seriously interfere with, shall we say, the little man who has his motor car and who lives in a house where no provision of any kind has been made for putting it either in a sort of car port or in a garage.

My other reason for speaking against the right reverend Prelate was that I think that on the faster roads where there is a breakdown it is so much safer, if your car is obviously failing, to drive it on to the footway and take it right off the carriageway. I realise—at least I think I am right here, but I find this Bill extremely difficult to interpret because it relies so much on reference to other Acts—that there are two sorts of escape to this. One is that it is now confined to urban highways, and most of the fast roads that I am thinking of, where if you have a breakdown it is so much safer to get on to the footway, are not of course urban highways. But there are a good many urban highways where there is a speed limit of, say, 40 m.p.h. The approach roads to the big towns of England are very often of this type. It is quite dangerous if a car breaks down and you suddenly come across it and stand on the brake and the van behind you runs into the back of your car. This has in fact happened to me. I should like to know whether there is some kind of escape clause in this case.

The other escape, of course, is that in cases of great emergency you can park on the footway. But as I understand it, this provision is written in such a way that it is only if the car is catching fire that you can avoid trouble under that clause. I should like clarification of that point, so that I need not put down any Amendment in the Committee stage.

My other point is on Clause 13, which deals with the licensing of drivers and relies largely on Schedule 3. I am worried about this. This clause proposes that under ordinary circumstances a driving licence will continue until the age of 70. Why 70, and not 80 or 90? I suppose that there must be some arbitrary end to it, but it is very difficult to be sure that a driver is not disabled in some way. As things are at present, we have to declare every five years that we are still sound in limb, if not in mind. If a licence is to be given at the age of 18 or 20 to last until the age of 70, there obviously has to be some provision for informing the Secretary of State if one is no longer fit to drive.

This seems to me to create a number of great difficulties, and I would ask Her Majesty's Government whether they think it is worth while. Will it save so much work if people get licences to the age of 70 instead of every five years? Will it make such a difference that it is worth while? It will make it very much more difficult to be sure that a person really is fit to drive. He will be inclined to let his disability drift on and on, knowing full well that he has his licence in his pocket which lasts until the age of 70. I doubt whether a driver will write a letter or fill in a form to inform the Secretary of State. It is much more likely that he will have an accident, and in retrospect it will be discovered that he was not fit to drive.

There is the question of prospective disability; I do not like that at all. It leaves it to the judgment of the person holding the licence and to the judgment of his doctor. Even assuming that the doctor's judgment is good, ought the doctor to be charged with this responsibility? It is adding one more thing to the jobs which doctors have to do which are not directly concerned with the investigation and treatment of their patients. It is putting a new responsibility on doctors which I should have thought would be rather unwelcome to my profession. Although I do not always agree with everyone in my profession, in this instance I do.

Furthermore, there is some penalty on the doctor if he does not inform. I am also worried about sub-paragraph (3)(b) of Schedule 3 on page 34, which reads: shall authorise any registered medical practitioner who may at any time have given medical advice or attention to the applicant or licence holder concerned 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 if so to what extent, the applicant or licence holder concerned may be suffering, or may at any time have suffered, from a relevant or prospective disability. I do not like that at all. Is the doctor then bound to disclose the nature of the patients' illness? Have Her Majesty's Government realised, as the previous Government realised in conversation with the profession, that the doctor-patient relationship is such that, quite apart from disclosing information which has been given to us privately—which we do not want to do—we do not always want to disclose information to the patient. We do not want to say to the Secretary of State, "Look, this chap does not think he is very ill at the moment, but, my God, he is going to be disabled in two or three years' time." That is not the kind of statement a doctor would like to put out.

I should like as many assurances as I can get on the general lines of what this prospective disability will mean to the relationship between the doctor and his patient. I am told by members of the medical profession that there can be some appeal, if a person has been denied a licence on account of his disability, and this appeal will be made to the magistrates' court. I can find no trace of this in the Bill, nor can I find it in the previous Act. I suppose it is in some other Act and is probably referred to as "Section 18 of Schedule 19(a), (b) or (c)". If, in fact, the appeal is to the magistrates' court, I think, again, that the medical profession would like to resist this strongly and would rather suggest, as I know they suggested to the previous Government, the kind of appeals procedure which we have under the Industrial Injuries Act, where two doctors sit with a lawyer and consider the medical evidence. I hope your Lordships will not think these points are too detailed and should be raised in Committee stage, but I do not want to move Amendments if we can have assurances on them and, if possible, some rethinking.

1.9 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, thought that some of us, including myself, might be speaking on points which we have endeavoured to bring forward previously but have not succeeded in doing. We still have hopes that good sense will prevail and that what we are proposing will be considered between now and the Committee stage, and perhaps the Government will be good enough to put down Amendments themselves. First of all, let me say that there is much in this Bill with which everybody in the House agrees. But before reaching the main point on which I wish to speak, I should like to mention one or two matters that are disturbing various people.

The question of seat belts has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I hope the point will be proved, and that it will be accepted as necessary to have a regulation without further delay. There has been a great deal of delay in regard to the introduction of the regulation, which is causing considerable disquiet among those who are concerned about the proper provisions of seat belts, and of course, manufacturers are being prevented from providing the necessary belts because they do not know the kind of regulation the Government will want to enforce. I am glad to hear that this matter is being considered. There is one other important matter which is not of small significance in the minds of a very considerable number of people throughout the country, particularly the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that is, that in the definition of "animals" in the Act, which provides for a compulsory report to be given in respect of the killing of animals by a motorist cats are left out. Many people are very concerned about that and it is something which the Government should consider putting right between now and the Committee stage.

I come now to a matter of which I hope the Government will take note. A very large number of people in this country are deeply concerned about the increase in crime, particularly juvenile crime. Anything that is done that could possibly prevent the kind of crimes which are increasing should be very carefully considered before the Bill is put into effect. The Magistrates' Association of this country feels that the type of provisions which are being brought in by this Bill, or which are intended to be brought in by any Government—and I am talking about this Government as well as about the Opposition—will not enable those who have been asked to serve in a voluntary capacity, and who have served so well for many years, to carry out their duties. It is as simple as that. I must say that I become worried when I find both sides of the Front Bench agreeing on something, and I begin to wonder what is happening, when it is something of a controversial nature. But in this matter I do not see where a controversy should exist, although it is being treated as a matter of controversy.

I do not know whether your Lordships realise that the system in this country, in so far as the magistrates' courts are concerned, is unique and is treated with the highest regard in practically every country in the world. That is a fact. Let us take the juvenile side. For example, highly paid juvenile court judges in America have commented upon the remarkable manner in which courts are successfully carried out in this country by people who are prepared to give a fair portion of their lives and their interest in order to help bring just results when cases are brought before them. It is unbelievable and incomprehensible to me, when the Association of these experienced people is so persistent in opposing certain proposals in this Bill—as it was in respect of the same proposals in the Bill which preceded it—that its opinion should not be regarded as of sufficient importance to be taken into proper account. That applies not only to them but to the justices' clerks as well. Both of them are the actual people in the field. They have no personal advantage to gain. They are anxious that justice should be meted out properly and that crime should be prevented. They have had a pretty tough time of it (particularly with regard to juvenile delinquents) since the Children and Young Persons Act was brought into effect in 1969.

What do they say? Incidentally, I speak with some little knowledge of this matter. Happily, I happen to have lived with a magistrate of long experience for many years, and we sometimes had different views on some matters. But we never, so far as I remember, disagreed on matters pertaining to the magistrates' courts, although I have been practising from the other benches and watching what has been going on, and have sometimes not agreed with what the magistrates have decided. Taking it by and large, everybody respects their views and their decisions. It is true that we want to keep as many people out of prison as possible. The magistrates themselves have demonstrated this fact by committing only a very tiny proportion of defendants to prison on motoring offences. So there can be no suggestion here that there is a lust for power or a desire to be vindictive in any way. Perhaps I am using language which ought not to be used in this connotation, but it is obvious that it is absurd for anyone to think that their motives are different from the right ones. For example, I am of the strong opinion that people who drive while they have a high proportion of alcohol in their blood, who drive dangerously, or who fail to stop after a serious accident are dangerous to the public and are in the same category as people who are sent to prison for the protection of the public in respect of other crimes.

Therefore, I would urge that the measures containing power for the magistrates' courts to send for a short prison sentence persons who are guilty—perhaps on more than one occasion—of the offences which I have mentioned, as well as some others, should remain. As with the previous Bill, by withdrawing from the magistrates' courts the power of imprisonment, this Bill will prevent other deterrents from being used. These have been spoken about a great deal and I do not want to delay the House with unnecessary repetition. But it is clear that we must repeat some of these arguments, because we have not yet convinced the powers-that-be to accept what we have been saying. The rehabilitation centres which exist at present should obviously remain. In the adult courts, community service orders, detention centre orders and attendance centre orders will also go if the Bill is passed as it stands. In the juvenile court, detention centre orders and attendance centre orders will disappear and it will be impossible to make a care order. I believe it is important for noble Lords to know this.

In these courts, persistent motoring offenders will be able to get away with anything and will be liable only to pay a fine, which in fact, their parents will pay, or to supervision by their local authority, which, with the greatest respect, means practically nothing. They know about this—and I am sure my right honourable friend the Home Secretary (for whom I have a very high regard) will find on going into this matter further that what I am saying is correct. I am certain that the magistrates will be happy to supply as much information as may be required for this purpose. There will remain no effective deterrent for madcap juvenile drivers, many of whom do not have a licence and are not insured.

To revert to the adult courts, there are two senior attendance centres, one in London and one in Manchester. These are important in dealing with motoring offences as well as with football hooliganism. Everyone is talking about this. How are you to deal with it, unless you have some sanction of this kind? The convicted defendants have to give up Saturday afternoons to go to the centre, where they receive some lectures in civics and a little training in car maintenance, as well as some physical education. It is interesting to note that the Report on young adult offenders, which was published by the Advisory Council on the Penal System on Tuesday last, in referring to senior attendance centres said in recommendation No. 23: The two existing senior attendance centres should be discontinued. There should, however, be an experimental attendance centre, properly equipped for the purpose, specially for the training of traffic offenders". I underline those words "traffic offenders"; and I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, comes to reply, he may be able to touch on this point. This Committee was set up by the Home Office, and that is what they said. Is it not ludicrous that, at the very time when an official Committee recommends a special attendance centre for traffic offenders, this Bill removes the possibility of sending anyone to such a centre?

Again, when a request was made for more senior atendance centres, the Government said that as the community service orders had just been brought in they wanted to try this experiment before opening any further centres. It would seem from the early years of community service orders that they are proving useful. Again, the Report to which I have referred strongly urges training for young people in the community—and at the same time that this high-powered Committee has been sitting the Bill is again brought before us, which prevents the courts from using community service orders. Even if the Government will not make concessions on the major point of sending people to prison for serious and dangerous motoring offences, it should surely be possible to amend this Bill so that the magistrates' courts could make community service orders and detention service orders; and, in particular, that the juvenile courts could use detention and attendance centres and make care orders.

The effect of taking away deterrents from the magistrates' courts has been highlighted by the results of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. It is startling to note that in comparing crime in that year with the year 1973, the number of arrests of juveniles for indictable offences rose by 40 per cent., while in the same year the number of adult arrests for indictable offences rose by only 10 per cent. The whole position is bad enough. Heaven knows!—but the contrast in respect of juvenile offenders as against adults is made perfectly obvious. In circumstances such as those, who on earth can reasonably find it in his mind—and I am sorry to have to put it so strongly—to take away deterrents of the only kinds that could possibly prove of any use? The Government turn round and say, "We are going to apply a maximum fine of £400." Who is going to pay the £400—anybody? Wealthy people, perhaps, to whom that sum is nothing (or almost nothing) will pay the £400.

But what will the court do? They will—as they have properly done hitherto—take into consideration the financial circumstances of an individual. In order to use a deterrent they do not apply a ridiculous fine which a person can never pay, but they impose a fine which they think a person will be able to meet. If the fine is rot paid, what happens? A person cannot be sent to prison—he really cannot. I realise that this is a personal view and there may perhaps be some difference on it, but I am prepared to argue that this is the case; in practice, it means that they would get away with it altogether.

We are told that the prosecutor will decide whether to send a case to a higher court. Why should the court not decide? Surely a court with experience is capable of deciding. If the prosecutor wants the case to go, he will explain why; but he should be in a position to say to the court, "I think this should go to a higher court for such and such a reason" and let the court decide. They are experienced enough to decide whether the person concerned should be allowed to go to a higher court. If he is not allowed to go to a higher court and the provisions of this Bill are passed, we shall undermine very considerably the whole of the present magisterial set-up.

There is one other matter I wish to raise—and I believe that some of your Lordships are very keen on this, too. We have a jury system. Why introduce into a Bill a measure which prevents an individual from being tried by a jury, if that is what he wants, in cases where he is entitled to do that at present? In the case of a person coming before a court and believing himself to be innocent (and he may very well be innocent, I know that magistrates can pretty well weigh up whether or not a person is innocent) why should that person not have the benefit, or perhaps the ultimate disadvantage, if you like, of going before a jury?

Have we really come to the conclusion that the jury system is no longer one which ought to continue? It has existed for very many years and, in my opinion, it has not proved to be a failure. I never fail to try to convince people that a minor crime is a major crime to many accused people, particularly those who have never been in a court before. You have only to inquire to realise that some people are deeply hurt about being charged on a minor offence. They are as concerned about that as if it had been a major offence with which a hardened criminal has perhaps been charged. It is not really a question of the gravity of the offence, as we would look at it, but of how the individual accused looks at it. Does he want to live the rest of his life with a possible stain on his character? At least, the man or woman must have an opportunity of choosing whether he or she wants to be tried by a jury. We shall soon have the James Report, and why not wait for that? There could be an appropriate Bill, if necessary, after we have heard the result of the inquiry.

I do not want to detain your Lordships any longer, and I will finish by saying that I cannot understand why this Government, or the previous one, have not been able to appreciate that what has gone on effectively for so many years should not be allowed to become ineffective, and merely machinery which would serve no useful purpose. That is how we feel about it; that is how the magistrates feel about it; The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, who is a very keen supporter of efforts to stop imprisonment so far as possible commented similarly on it. Perhaps the Government will now think twice—perhaps thrice—about this matter, and will at least give us the opportunity of discussing an Amendment which they themselves would put down, and leave the subject open to a free vote.

1.34 p.m.


My Lords, I will not delay the House for long but as a keen motorist Clause 16 of the Bill is one that causes me some anxiety. The idea of humps—for want of a better word—in the roads to deter speeding vehicles is of course not a new one. I have met these humps in the grounds of hospitals and on a few private roads on the coast. In both cases their position in the road is controlled by private residents or hospital authorities, not by local authorities. These humps of course deter speed; but I should like to draw the attention of the House, and of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, to the expense of putting humps in the road—not only in building them, but in the expense caused to the ratepayers who have to pay for them. There is a great difficulty in putting humps in the road; and once you have put them in they are rarely taken away again.

The Bill says that the hump must not be more than five inches high, or two inches below the road. I wonder whether I could suggest also that there should be a definition as to the width of the hump because that is important. If it is to be agreed that there should be a set width, I should like to suggest it be two feet. These humps can be very dangerous, as everybody will be aware, mostly to bicyclists and also motor-cyclists. The other day I was driving slowly along a street in London and in front of me was a motorcyclist with a pillion passenger. The pillion passenger fell off the motor-cycle. I think the motor-cycle had gone into a pot hole which was probably about one and a half inches deep. Luckily, I was able to stop in time. That is the type of hazard a motor-cyclist would have to negotiate and I think it would be particularly dangerous. Obviously the danger to the undercarriage of a car is very great because on some cars the sump is only three and a half inches off the road surface. I also feel that although it would be expensive it would be absolutely vital that these stretches of road should be very well lit and clearly sign-posted. I should also like to suggest that the hump itself should be painted.

I now turn to the subject that I used to talk about when we spent many hours in this House on the previous Road Traffic Act. Once again I am delighted to be able to follow rather than precede the noble Lord, Lord Janner, because he has said far more eloquently than I could a great many of the things about which I feel equally very strongly concerning the abolition of prison sentences for certain contraventions of the traffic laws. I have been a magistrate for 20 years and I have had a certain amount of experience, but if we, as magistrates, are not allowed in future the possibility—and I repeat "possibility"—of sending to prison someone who is a frequent offender against the same traffic laws—for driving dangerously or failing to stop, or for taking excess alcohol—then it is very difficult, as the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has said, to know what we are going to do with these people.

I had never sent anybody to prison until the other day. About three weeks ago I had to send somebody to prison. He has been in this country for about 12 years; he was originally Italian. He had committed an enormous number of road traffic offences and he went to prison for three months. In 20 years, that is the first time I have ever sent a person to prison. Sitting once a week, that means I have heard a great number of cases. As magistrates we do not send people to prison for such offences unless they are very serious indeed. I personally want this punishment for certain offences to be kept as a deterrent in the Bill. I am certain that the deterrent effect is far more effective than anything else. I hope—I think it is rather a hopeless hope !—that the Government will think once again. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, and I, and others, when it was not a Thursday morning, expressed ourselves fairly volubly when a previous Road Traffic Bill was taken through this House.

My Lords, I do not think I want to say anything more except to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that a previous Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, was with us all the way on this matter, and I feel that if he says it is right, with his wisdom and experience, then it is very difficult for us to say otherwise. I would conclude by saying of this part of the Bill, like the Children and Young Persons Bill, that I wish those who framed the Bill also had to implement it.

1.41 p.m.


My Lords, it would be churlish not to give the return of this Bill some welcome. It contains important new measures; for example, safety belts, and the new facilities for traffic surveys; and it is shorter and, in parts, less burdened by complexity than its predecessor. On this point I was gladdened to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that parts of Clauses 1 to 5 have been made simpler; although I am afraid the greater simplicity has certainly escaped my own discovery. I must remind myself too that I must welcome this Bill because I have every intention of using the Bill again, or attempting to use this Bill again, for my own purposes. But none the less my welcome to this Bill must, alas, be muted. The Bill is still burdened with too much complexity. This is, I believe, the great and largely unnecessary defect of modern statutory law which makes it so difficult for the user of Parliamentary legislation, whether that user be a lawyer or a policeman, a civil servant or a judge. It is interesting, for example, to note that the Amendment of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, which covered, I think, only about one-third of a page on the Marshalled List, is now stretching over one-and-a-half pages of the printer's copy of the Bill before us.

Secondly, my Lords, this Bill again introduces new and ghastly (if I may use that expression) phrases into our statutory law. The expression "exposure for sale" occurs in Clause 12. It is true that the draftsman of this Bill has spared us from another ghastly phrase used by the judges in a case about 20 years ago, namely, "invitation to treat". The case was that of the Pharmaceutical Society v. Boots Chemists, in 1952. But that, my Lords is where the gratitude must end. Of course we know the problem. We know that cars can be exhibited by car dealers and car salesmen as being apparently for sale; but when they are before the courts they describe them as not being actually for sale. But does this new phraseology "exposure for sale" solve the problem? Will not the new defence before the courts (and I hope I am not asked to put it before a court) be, "Well, it was just exposure for display"?

The Bill too is to be brought into force by Statutory Instrument. This only adds to the difficulty of the practitioner, who has neither the time nor the money to stack his cellar full of Statutory Instruments just because the Statutes themselves omit to state the date of enactment. Finally, in criticism, the Bill follows the unhappy, and the increasing practice of legislation by expediency. I refer to Clause 19 about which the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has just spoken at such length and with such passion. Indeed as the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has told us, this clause, as well as restricting the powers of justices in imposing imprisonment, also has the effect of removing to the magistrates' court all but one of the traffic offences now triable before the Crown Court.

Of course we are familiar with the problem, although Governments are not very candid about it, that the Crown Courts carry a very heavy burden of cases, particularly an excessive burden of traffic offence cases and, dare I add, breathalyser law offences. So, this Bill says, "Let us transfer these cases back to the justices", as if the justices did not have enough to do already. The trouble is that the drafters of the Bill—and I do not refer to the Parliamentary draftsmen, I refer to the Departments of State—have failed to ask the basic question as to why the Crown Courts have so many traffic cases. The answer is this: much road traffic law is so badly drafted that the wrongdoer knows that if he goes to the Crown Court he stands a good chance of aquittal before the judicially qualified judges of the Crown Court. Yet, when a noble Lord, as he indeed did, comes forward and says, "Let us get to the foot of the problem of the breathalyser law, let us redraft these provisions in simpler and more sensible terms", that noble Lord is told by the then-spokesman for the Government, "It is all fine. Fresh legislation is not needed".

My Lords, the proposals contained in Clause 19 to which again the noble Lord, Lord Janner, referred, have a more serious feature in that they interfere with the terms of a Government Committee set up only last September. I refer, as did the noble Lord, Lord Janner, to the James Committee. My Lords, let us look at the terms of reference given to the James Committee by the then Home Secretary and by the then Lord Chancellor. They are these: To consider within the framework of the existing court structure what should be the distribution of criminal business between the Crown Court and magistrates' courts; and what changes in law and practice are desirable to that end. I should also inform the House, because I have certain personal knowledge of this, that this Committee under Lord Justice James has put into its work a lot of hard endeavour. It has received a number of memoranda and publications, from Justice, for example, and, to give another example, the Criminal Bar Association. What do the Government do? The answer is that without waiting for the Report, without considering the problem as a whole, they bounce into legislation—removing wholesale a large portion of work from the Crown Court to the magistrates' court—thus, reading the reference the former Government gave to this Committee, directly interfering with the work of this Committee.

This is not a new point. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, raised it in Committee; the noble Lord, Lord Janner, stoically fought against these provisions at every stage of the Bill when it went through last time; but, somehow, the Government or the Department of State have not the ear to hear.

This brings me, my Lords, to the heart of the current difficulty in statutory law. Governments, Ministers, and Departments of State are too interested in bringing in new legislation and are not sufficiently concerned whether the current legislation is working well or not. I suppose, that of all the offences that we as motorists, are closest to, other than speeding offences, are those concerning careless driving or perhaps dangerous driving. The distinction between these offences have now been reduced to the point of being quite artificial. This is an interesting and an important point. Let me, if I may, refer to the Act itself and read to your Lordships Section 2, dealing with dangerous driving stripped down to the essential material. It reads as follows: If a person drives a motor vehicle on a road in a manner which is dangerous to the public having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the nature, condition and use of the road and the amount of traffic which is actually at the time or which might reasonably be expected to be on the road, he shall be guilty of an offence. My Lords, what does that amount to? I turn to a text book which expresses it in better terms than I. I refer to Wilkinson's Road Traffic Offences. I read as follows: on a charge of dangerous driving a motorist is guilty if he adopted a manner of driving which was dangerous to other road users and it matters not whether he was deliberately reckless, careless, momentarily inattentive, or even doing his incompetent best.


Don't we all?


A noble Lord says, "Don't we all?" Let us now contain the offence of dangerous driving even further. It comes to this: there must be fault and there must be arising directly out of that fault danger actual or poten- tial. What offence of careless driving does not contain those two ingredients? Noble Lords will not therefore be surprised to learn that charges are now being brought, not so much upon the quality of driving but upon the consequences of bad driving—a minor scrape: a charge of careless driving; a serious collision: a charge of dangerous driving; serious collision with a death: a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. Yet there is no attempt in this or in any other Bill to put right this state of affairs, which can hardly be described as satisfactory. On the contrary, in the removing of the power of justices to imprison, this Bill helps to compound the difficulty.

It is the universal practice on pleas of guilty for driving offences for them to be dealt with by the justices. So let us then take the example of Accused "A". If Accused "A" seriously injures passengers in another car, but through the skill of doctors all of those passengers survive, and he pleads guilty before the justices, he will face, if this Bill is passed in its present form, a maximum penalty of £400. Now let us take another driver, Accused "B". Accused "B" less seriously injures passengers. Let us say the passengers are in his own motor-car. But one of those passengers, as sometimes happens out of traumatic injuries, gets, directly from the injuries, a pulmonary thrombosis and dies. Accused "B" desires to plead guilty. First, whether he likes it or not, he will find himself in the Crown Court; and secondly, Accused "B" will find himself facing a maximum penalty, not of a fine of £400 but of five years' imprisonment. Is this a satisfactory state of affairs?—for it is the direct consequence, first, of the failure to attend to current legislation and, secondly, of the provisions of this Bill.

I am not going to argue the case now for breathalyser reform. The tutorial (if I may put it that way) to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, can come later, and the refresher course to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, can also come later. But let me tell your Lordships just this, and let me tell it particularly to those noble Lords who are now in Government: I have continued my discussions upon my Amendments with those directly concerned in their enforcement and I have received widespread support, although with differing views, from judges, from members of the Bar, particularly members of the Criminal Bar Association, from the police and from magistrates' courts' clerks.

Let me secondly remind noble Lords who are now in Government that when they were unencumbered by instructions from the Department of the Environment and when they voted without a Whip on the merits of the argument, they voted for these Amendments. I can see in your Lordships' House two Members of the Government sitting on the Front Bench who voted for my Amendments when they came before your Lordships on the last occasion. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, and the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. Therefore, my Lords, all I ask of the Government is this. When I move these breathalyser amendment provisions again will they, unlike their predecessors in Office, give me a free vote—a vote on the merits of the argument, not on instructions from a Department of State? This, on non-political matters, is surely what Parliament is, or should be, all about.

1.54 p.m.


My Lords, I did not think I had much in common with the noble Lord who has just sat down, but I find that his description of some of the terminology of the Bill is somewhat sympathetic to my own feeling when I read it. At times I find it difficult to understand exactly what the Parliamentary draftsman is getting at. If one takes, for example, the last paragraph on page 20, one sees that from line 44 it reads: and the regulations may make different provision in relation to vehicles of different classes, in relation to different types of weighbridges and other machines and in relation to different circumstances. It all seems frightfully "different" to me—so different that I think it will be difficult to understand when we get there.

If this Bill has faults, I think it has rather worse faults than its predecessor, which in my view suffered largely from omissions. This Bill suffers even more greatly by having even more omissions. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in introducing it said that it was a Bill to strengthen and up-date the law, particularly in relation to safety. This may well be, but on the last occasion in October when we had the previous Bill before us, we were going to take care of some other rather important matters. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that perhaps there are two major omissions. One is provisions dealing with the training of young people. My noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton referred to this point and said that at the time both the employers and the unions were in agreement with these provisions. He described it as dealing with "career opportunity for young people" and so on. I quite agree. This is exactly the kind of career opportunity a young person needs. The work is well-paid; it is exciting; it is in the right environment, and there are many applicants. It also contributes to satisfying a need of the industry for more drivers.

I wonder, in all truth, whether the removal of these provisions is not, as the noble Lord suggested, so that a full review can be undertaken; I wonder whether the unions were quite so agreeable last time because they had to protect those people already in the industry. I would suggest that in the present climate their agreement has somewhat waned. I hope that during the course of his review the Minister's right honourable friend will find that the need of the industry perhaps comes second to the need of a career opportunity for young people. The noble Lord also referred to the removal of provisions in regard to the tachograph. I can understand some of the reasons for this. But let me say that it is quite unfair to have subjected an industry five months ago to an agreed programme, by the introduction of legislation which will involve it in quite a lot of expense, which will bring the industry by 1976 nearer to E.E.C. requirements, for which a number of people engaged in it have made their plans and committed some expenditure, only for that industry to find that the matter is to be withdrawn and made the subject of further review

On the provisions regarding the weighing of vehicles, my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton suggested that these provisions might not take very long to deal with. I much regret to say that they might take your Lordships a little longer than my noble friend suggested. I spoke about this matter on stages of the previous Bill, and my researches since that time indicate to me that, although trade unions may very well be in favour of the introduction of weighing devices on motor vehicles, of the five that have been introduced over the last four years, three have been withdrawn as completely unsatisfactory and two are held to be satisfactory insofar as the unions are concerned. But in so far as operators are concerned, they have proved extremely unreliable in practical service, particularly in the case of tipping vehicles which are, in the main, the worst offenders in overloading.

On the question of overweight vehicles, we may also have to examine exactly whose responsibility the overweight may be. The introduction of containers has removed from the haulier almost any authority for the weight. It is conceivable—in fact, I have been told this by a very reputable haulier from Southampton Docks—that you can get an overseas container which has all the right stampings on its outside, and all the right documentation in so far as dimension, weight and so on are concerned, but where on a trial the weighbridge indicates that the container, loaded as it is and bonded as it is, will provide for the vehicle going overweight on one or other axle.

What is the haulier to do? It is not his responsibility. He did not load it. Does he take it back to the dock? Does he take it back to the chargehand stevedore and say, "Sorry, my dear fellow. You must take this container off my wagon, because I am going overweight?" My Lords, I leave it to your imagination what reply he gets. If, indeed, he ignored the reply and left the container there in the dockyard, our dockyards would then become congested with containers over which no hauliers had any authority whatsoever. It seems to me that perhaps we ought to introduce some kind of consignor's responsibility in the matter of overweight, or, far more practicably as I suggested last time, that we really ought to have a "due diligence" clause inserted. I think that this would be quite realistic. One must keep the wheels of commerce turning, rather than impose a law which makes drivers afraid for their jobs; otherwise, the interminable business of weighing vehicles will continue.

My Lords, I also deeply regret the fact that this Government have not found much worth in the suggestions which I made last time with regard to heavy goods vehicle driving instructors. Last time I felt that I had shown to your Lordships, without any shadow of doubt, that there is no approved heavy goods vehicle driver instructor in this country. Looking across the Floor this afternoon, I see a noble Lord who on that earlier occasion nodded his head in agreement, and I felt that we might have got somewhere with this point. Next year, heavy goods vehicle driver training comes out of the responsibility of the Training Boards and falls into the responsibility of the Central Training Agency. At that time, many hauliers will come out of the scope of the I.T.B.; in other words, they will not pay a levy and they will not be able to get a grant. Because the demand for heavy goods vehicle drivers is so critical, they will therefore turn to the commercial schools which have no approval whatsoever from anybody, for anything. Any person with a heavy goods vehicle licence for Classes 1, 2 or 3 can go and instruct.

We talk in this House about heavy goods vehicles and how their drivers used to be the knights of the road, and some noble Lords have expressed the opinion that they are not so any more. Why? Is it, perhaps, because they are not trained properly? Is it, perhaps, that a haulier is quite prepared to spend the minimum amount of money with any agency that can get his man through the driving test and then send the driver off to Milan, Glasgow or wherever you like with 30 or 40 tons, to earn him money? If that is so, as I think some of your Lordships may argue, then I say that it is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government to take the very first opportunity to put right this defect in the law, as they did years ago in so far as motor car driving instructors were concerned. I shall return to this matter with as much energy and as much gusto as possible at the appropriate time.

My Lords, I turn again to the clauses relating to operators' licences. The last time I raised a number of points the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, replied and he suggested that my points were a little complex. Perhaps I could remind your Lordships, quite briefly, that I was talking at that time about the granting of operators' licences and the regulations surrounding the suspension and revocation of those licences. In particular, I was talking about prohibition orders and the like. My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will remind himself of the discussions that we had then in order that at Committee stage we can deal with the whole business of operators' licences—not only how they start in business, but how they may be allowed to continue in business fairly; because I shall seek at the appropriate stage to make changes in so far as this is concerned.

In the moment left to me, I would make only one comment about Clause 16—the road humps. I should think that this would give a tremendous fillip to the manufacturers of shock absorbers. No doubt the Minister is very well aware of the recent tests which have been carried out, and, in the event of any kind of road control of this nature, we should look very carefully at the statutory obligation of a testing station. This takes me naturally to the Ministry testing regulations and prompts me to ask when we are likely to have the Minister's views as to the changes that we all know are vitally necessary, and necessary very quickly, in the area of the annual M.o.T, test of motor vehicles.

2.11 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a very helpful debate which has, I think, covered just about every possible aspect of the Bill. Like its stillborn predecessor, I think I can claim that this Bill has had a general welcome on its own terms, although I have noted the reservations that have been expressed, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking. I take it as a considerable warning of his intention to be active at Committee stage.

The welcome to the Bill has been not as a major measure on a single theme but rather as a collection of measures, all of them useful and some of them rather urgent, designed to bring many parts of the road traffic law up to date. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, asked a number of questions at the beginning of the debate and I shall try to answer them as I go along because I was asked similar questions by a number of other noble Lords—or at least they touched on the same items—but I assure the noble Lord right away that if I overlook any, thing I will certainly write to him. I notice that he gave clear warning, and I thought it was a warning to the effect that it did not matter what we said to-day, he would still pursue those matters during the Committee stage. That is fair enough.

Many questions have been asked and it would not be reasonable if I were to take up time even to try to answer all of them. However I will do my best with regard to those questions where I feel that a number of your Lordships have raised points for consideration. Most of the complaints that have been made about the Bill concern matters which are not contained in it, and in particular attention has been drawn to urban junction parking bans, lorry driver training schemes, bus licensing and tachographs, on which provisions appeared in the Bill presented by the previous Administration. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, explained in his opening remarks the circumstances in which the Government decided against proceeding with those provisions. I am not sure that I am going to be able to add much that will be persuasive beyond what the noble Lord had to say, but everything that has been said during this Second Reading will be studied very closely.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, I am not quite clear about—and I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, explained—the provisions with regard to the change from 21 to 18 and the apprentice drivers' scheme.


My Lords, if I do not cover that matter I promise the noble Lord that I will write to him about it. It will depend partly upon the time that it is reasonable to take up, because we have a lengthy debate following this.


Yes, my Lords, but the point I am making is that the road haulage industry has said that this will prove disastrous.


My Lords, I take the point raised by the noble Lord, but I think if he is going to interrupt me too much at this early stage I shall not be able to make a helpful speech. I should like to take matters in sequence, as I have sought to do in my preparation for this reply. I think I have made the point, but if I have not I should now like to emphasise that, with regard to the questions to which I have referred as having been excluded, the Government do not have a closed mind and I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister for Transport to the views that have been expressed here to-day.

With regard to the law on drinking and driving, the Government have noted the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, during the passage of the previous Bill and they will study the further points that he made to-day, and also any points made by any other noble Lord on that particular matter. My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport has stated that he is considering whether there should be an inquiry into the operation of this law, and this consideration must take into accounts aspects of the law with which his colleagues are also concerned. My right honourable friend hopes to be in a position to make a Statement while this Bill is before Parliament.

The noble Lord raised a number of other matters and perhaps again he will allow me to write to him on those, but he drew attention to the fact that my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell and I myself voted with him. Again to-day he adduced his detailed arguments with eloquence and with force and I am not surprised that I found myself in the same Lobby with him. I have since listened to other people who have also argued with strength, with conviction and with eloquence, but we shall return to these matters at the Committee stage. I should like to say at this point that I am no lawyer and I am sure it will need a lawyer to deal with him when we come to the Committee stage. I am rather pleased to think that it is the Section of the Bill which I hope I shall not be charged with handling in Committee.

Perhaps I may deal briefly with some of the points that have been raised on the provisions of the Bill. Again I hope that there will be ample opportunity during the Committee stage to go into these points more fully. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has warned us that he will ensure that there is adequate time for them. I think it would be helpful to the whole House if I were to make available some notes on various clauses and a list of the differences from the previous Bill that are being made to all those who are likely to take part in the Committee stage, and if we miss anybody I hope they will ask and I will certainly see that a copy of the list is sent to them. I hope that those who played a prominent part last time and who have taken part in this Second Reading debate will receive copies within the next few days.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, raised several points in connection with heavy goods vehicles. On the question of providing for the introduction of a scheme to train young drivers I am really in no position to say anything useful to-day since my right honourable friend the Minister for Transport has only just received further representations, which he is urgently considering. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also argued for statutory control of the qualifications of those who instruct the drivers of heavy goods vehicles. Recent changes in the courses run by the Road Transport Industry Training Board may well have reduced the need for intervention, but my right honourable friend will study very closely the arguments that have been advanced here this afternoon.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised a number of detailed points in connection with clauses covering matters which are rather too technical to be discussed on Second Reading. Therefore I wonder whether I may write to him as soon as my right honourable friend has had a chance to consider all the matters mentioned by the noble Lord, and in any event before we take the Bill in Committee. If the noble Lord would like to come to the Department and discuss these matters before we reach Committee stage I should be happy that he should do so. If he cares to take the initiative, or if he wants me to take it, perhaps at the end of this debate he will let me know, but certainly I should be glad to come in during the Recess to meet him and to discuss with officials the many matters that he has raised and on which his advice could be most useful.

I note continuing concern of the noble Lord for a measure of control over the training and qualification of those who instruct trainee drivers of heavy lorries. 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 for these instructors. Instructors will now have to pass the course before they can claim to be qualified. This is a significant step which will no doubt help to relieve the concern of the noble Lord.

My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport will, of course, study the arguments of the noble Lord, but he has not so far been persuaded that he ought to do more than keep in touch with the progress of the arrangements of the Training Board. But here again, I think we could have a very useful discussion. There is one point I should like to make which is that I am sure between the noble Lord and the Government there is a common desire to ensure that matters go in the right direction. We may have different ideas as to speed and as to how it may be done, but I would assure the House that the Government shares with me the desire to get to the right place, and to do it as quickly as we think it can reasonably be done.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, raised questions about bus licences. I would say to him that having studied the proposals, my right honourable friend has decided to consult both sides of the industry before he proposes legislation in regard to that matter. The noble Lord raised a question about tachographs, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. We are not proceeding with this proposal pending the outcome of a review to be undertaken with regard to our E.E.C. commitments. That is the brief answer that I am able to give on that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Platt, asked me a number of questions, first with regard to pavement parking. I have no doubt that a number of other noble Lords are interested in this subject.

The noble Lord mentioned the matter of narrow residential streets and emergencies such as fires, and so on. I think it will be worth while if the noble Lord studied the small print of the clause, because it is intended in fact to deal with that situation. I would say here and now there is provision for the police to permit a driver to move a broken-down car on to the pavement to prevent an obstruction. The noble Lord raised questions about changes in the licensing system. We take note of what he has had to say, but are thinking much on the lines of the previous Bill. We think the approach being made is generally a correct one.

I think I should say, as I am advised, that we have made our decision after consulting medical bodies. Like the previous Administration, we feel the proposals that are being made are acceptable on safety grounds. On the question of prospective disabilities, of course we always listen with the greatest interest to the noble Lord who speaks with so much wisdom and experience. We have in mind that doctors will advise patients to notify the licensing authority. There is no question of forcing doctors to disclose information about the patients concerned to the Secretary of State. I hope that that will be of some assurance to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Janner, raised a question about cats, and as I know a number of your Lordships are interested in cats, perhaps I could just say this about the matter. The reference is to Section 25 of the 1972 Act, and the list of animals therein is indeed quaint. While dogs, horses and some other animals are included, the omission of cats can be justified because they are so much more difficult to control, and all too often their owners are much more difficult to trace. The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, raised a question about humps. The experiment is intended to assess the costs and benefits. I cannot answer off-the-cuff the question the noble Baroness addressed to me about width, or deal with the suggestion she made, but I will write to her. Certainly we will study the points the noble Baroness was making. The humps will be carefully designed by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, so that we hope there will be no risk of damage at the right speed. I think that is something of an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. The noble Lord also asked about lighting. The humps will be in residential areas with street lighting.

My Lords, I have taken what is I think a reasonable amount of time. I am acutely aware of the fact that there are other questions, but as I promised I will write to noble Lords where it is felt that they ought to have information before we reach Committee stage. I believe this is a good Bill. I like to think we can look forward to co-operation with regard to the proposals that we are putting forward, and that they are common with those contained in the Bill previously before the House. With regard to the additional matters, I think we have a good case for them. With reference to the omissions, we shall do our best to explain to the House—


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him. I did not interrupt him again because he asked me not to, but as he is nearing the end of his speech, perhaps he will allow me to say something. In referring to the driver apprentice scheme for heavy vehicles, the noble Lord said that the Government have only just received representations. But the last Government—and I said it in my speech—had knowledge of the fact that the unions, the industry and the Department of the Environment were in total agreement with the scheme. So I find it rather surprising to be told that the new Government have only recently received representations. I still do not understand why that was left out.


My Lords, I will read again what the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said. I will check what I myself had to say, and I will write to him. Before I sit down, I did take note of the strong plea made by my noble friend Lord Janner, on the subject of penalties, and if the House will bear with me a moment I think it proper that something should be said regarding that matter, because not only my noble friend Lord Janner, but a number of other Members referred to the penalties issue. Like my noble friend the Minister of State, I do not want to dwell on it at any length. There will be opportunities for noble Lords to put forward suggestions and criticisms in greater detail than the scope of a Second Reading debate permits, but I would say that my noble friend took advantage of the opportunity this afternoon to make a considerable number of detailed points. We will study everything he has had to say.

As a magistrate, I recognise the sincerity of the arguments advanced against this clause of the Bill, but in my experience on the bench it is rarely that a motoring offender has needed to be sent to prison. The statistics suggest that most magistrates would agree. I believe it is best to leave to the Crown Court those few cases where imprisonment is necessary, as the powers of the Crown Court in respect of hybrid offences are undiminished by the Bill. It is the policy of this Government—and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made this point on Tuesday in a speech to the Central Council of Probation and Aftercare Committees—to shift the emphasis within the penal system in the direction of non-custodial treatment wherever possible, leaving prison for the small proportion of cases where it is necessary in the interests of public safety. This Bill provides an opportunity of making a significant step in that direction and at the same time protecting the Crown Court from the burden of straightforward road traffic cases which currently come before it as a consequence of the defendant's right to elect jury trial where the maximum summary penalty exceeds three months.

I noted what my noble friend Lord Janner had to say on this. I think there is an answer, and if I had the time I would indeed like to attempt something of an answer to some of the arguments he produced. It has been pointed out that what is proposed will leave the magistrates with no custodial sentence to impose on young offenders for the offences covered by the Bill. But it would surely be inequitable to expose this age group from 17 to 21 to the possibility of custody when an adult runs no such risk for the same offence. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, in the speech earlier this week to which I have already referred, welcomed in principle the Report of the Advisory Council on the Penal System which has just been published, and which recommends an increased use of non-custodial treatment for offenders aged 17 and under 21. There will, of course, be appropriate consultation with the various bodies concerned before there can be any question of action on the detailed proposals involved. I mention the Report as an illustration of the current thinking about the use of custody and what might be termed non-custody in the treatment of offenders. It will be for the House to decide when we come to Committee stage. I hope the House will give this Bill the Second Reading it deserves. It may be that before it leaves Committee stage some improvements can be effected. It may be that we shall be able to reach greater understanding than perhaps seems possible this afternoon.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, would he bring to the notice of his right honourable friend the fact that the Association to which I referred, to which the noble Baroness belongs, were called into consultation only after the Bill had been drafted, only a few days ago. Would it not be advisable—or perhaps the right honourable gentleman might consider it advisable—that they might be brought into consultation again between now and Committee stage?


My Lords, I will certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to that suggestion. I cannot help feeling that if there is any advantage in that being done he will not need overmuch persuasion.

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