HL Deb 07 November 1974 vol 354 cc581-3

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. Before the Question is answered, may I offer my apologies for having left out the words "and revoked" after "endorsed" in the third line, because that was the intention of the Question.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that insurance cover is being offered by an insurance company to enable defendant drivers who have had their licences endorsed after committing offences to recover sufficient funds to enable them to avoid the consequences by providing cars and drivers for them and for paying costs incurred by them; and whether they will take steps to ensure that the penalties become realistically effective.


My Lords, the amendment which my noble friend has made I have already taken into account. There are several insurance schemes which offer benefits in the event of their members being disqualified from driving. Generally they meet the cost of a chauffeur during business hours for up to twelve months and may also pay legal expenses. They do not pay any fines which the courts may impose. Furthermore, these policies do not and cannot alter the fact that a disqualified motorist must not drive himself. They are merely one of several ways in which he can arrange personal transport.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness state how on earth a penalty will be of any use, particularly for a person who has money, if the courts themselves have no right of detention—in very serious cases, in some instances—because of the Road Traffic Act? What on earth is the idea of allowing people to insure themselves against penalties? Will the noble Baroness allow people to insure themselves against imprisonment?


My Lords, on the last part of my noble friend's question, he knows as well as I do that that is quite impossible. Disqualification is not designed to prevent a person from travelling around—it is merely to prevent him from driving. Many disqualified drivers have other members of their families who can drive them—or there are many who can afford to hire chauffeurs. What these schemes do is to offer similar arangements for those without these facilities, and short of stopping everybody who is disqualified from driving from using any transport other than public—and how one would enforce that I am afraid I do not know—I cannot see that one can do anything.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the most innocent of us can have an accident (and I have been lucky enough since the 1920s not to have had a driving accident until the 1970s) and most of us insure ourselves against the possibilities of fire or accident that may even sometimes be caused by negligence? Secondly, is my noble friend aware that a Greek philosopher once said: Laws are like spiders' webs: the weak are enmeshed but the strong can break through"? Thirdly, is she aware that while the rich may drive easily, the insurance companies which provide this cover (and I have their rules here) state that if there is a revocation or too much drink is involved they will not pay for a chauffeur-driven car for that person?


My Lords, in answer to my noble friend's three supplementary questions, the answers are yes, yes, yes.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that we on this side of the House are very pleased with the Answer she has given: to prevent from driving a driver who is not fit to drive is the object of this exercise. At the same time may I congratulate the noble Baroness on, I believe, answering her first Question on the transport problem.


My Lords, in spite of the reference to the Greek philosopher and the words expressed by the noble Lord opposite, is it not absurd that a court—


My Lords, I wonder whether that is really in the form of a question? The object of Question Time is to elucidate information from the Government, and, although it is a question, to use the phrase "is it not absurd" is not exactly the form in which to put a Parliamentary question.


My Lords, while I appreciate that the Government could not possibly do anything absurd, nevertheless will the noble Baroness consider the question of whether detention should not be one of the penalties that may be imposed in respect, I do not say of all offences, but those offences which are serious? That is the purpose of this Question.


My Lords, I rather suspected the purpose of my noble friend's Question, but as the purpose goes beyond the scope of the Question I do not feel that I can answer it on this occasion.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that this may be a precedent for a comprehensive extension to the danger area of membership in local government?


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that while many of us on this side of the House welcomed her Answer it would be grossly unfair to punish a man twice for the same offence? A commercial traveller or a doctor who are dependent upon a car would be deprived of their livelihood.