HL Deb 15 July 1981 vol 422 cc1238-49

2.58 p.m.

Read 3a, with the amendments.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 3, line 38, at end insert— ("(9) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section and section 1 above the harbours company shall continue to be part of Sealink").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, during the Committee stage I asked the Minister whether, in any possible disposal of the shipping and harbour service operations of Sealink, they would not be separated. The Minister said that he recognised that there were such apprehensions, but assured me that it was the firm intention that the shipping and harbour operations of Sealink would be kept together. But, as noble Lords will appreciate, there have been discussions on possible proposals for, I do not know whether one would call it a take-over, a merger or an amalgamation, possibly with another cross-Channel ferry operator. Therefore, it would appear desirable to ensure that what the Government say is their intention and what I raised during the Committee stage should be written into the Bill. I readily have accepted the assurance of the Minister. Therefore, that is not in question; but Secretaries of State may change and the view of the Government may change. In view of the fact that the shipping and harbour services are so closely related to Sealink, the amendment proposes that this should be written into the Bill so that what the Government seek and what I sought at Committee stage is firmly in the Bill. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, Clause 2 of the Bill provides for the establishment of a new company to which Sealink's harbours will be transferred. There are legal and commercial reasons for this which I have explained to the House before and which I shall not therefore repeat. The new company will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Sealink.

It is true that as the Bill stands there would be nothing to prevent the Railways Board selling the harbours company separately from Sealink's shipping business, or to stop any future private sector owner of Sealink disposing of the harbour company while retaining the shipping business. However, I do not think that this is likely to happen. The present intention of the Railways Board is that the two businesses should be kept together, and there are good commercial reasons for this. Sealink believes that ownership of its harbours, some of which are strategically very well placed for crossings to the Continent and Ireland, gives its shipping business a significant advantage over its competitors. If all connection between the two businesses were severed, in Sealink's view this would damage the company's commercial interests. Assuming that this is so, separate sales might also be expected to command a lower price than if the two companies are sold together. So, there is every reason to expect that the board will want to keep the two companies together.

I would have thought that that was as powerful an argument to assuage the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, as the previous references which were made as to the attitude of the board on general lines, the Secretary of State, and so on. I should have thought a good commercial incentive was a very substantial additional reason why the dangers which he fears in fact will not happen.

Lord Underhill

I am very grateful to have the reassurance from the Minister. Everything that has been said justifies why the amendment should be in the Bill. He has agreed that it is desirable and commercially wise to do so. Therefore, it would seem that this ought to be something written into the Bill. It is not an issue on which one would seek to divide the House but there is a principle involved. I shall not withdraw this amendment but ask the House to make a decision without a Division. If only the Minister would accept that what he wants is what we want and that all his arguments go to that length as well.

On Question, amendment negatived.

3.3 p.m.

Clause 3 [Powers of Secretary of State to give directions]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 4, line 3, at beginning insert— ("The Secretary of State shall exercise these powers in a reasonable manner and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at both Committee and Report stages various noble Lords from all sides of the House have considered amendments and expressed their views on the arbitrary powers which are given to the Secretary of State under Clause 3 of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, at each stage could not accept the particular amendments, and at Report he could not accept an amendment which proposed deletion of the entire clause because of these arbitrary powers. The noble Lord said that it was essential that the powers were wide-ranging but they were reserve powers. I quote: … we have no intention of using these powers in an underhand or vindictive way or in a way which damages the interests of the board's main activity …"—[0fficial Report, 2/7/81; col. 338.]

What we are suggesting in the amendment is that that ought in some way to be put into the Bill. In framing this amendment, we considered how it was possible to lay down some criteria because both at Committee and Report stages the point was: What should be the criteria for the Government using the reserve powers? It may be recalled that at the Report stage there was an amendment which intended to make it quite clear that the board would not be asked to do anything which was against the powers and duties given to it under the previous Act.

It is extremely difficult to frame a criteria and therefore we are using the words: The Secretary of State shall exercise these powers in a reasonable manner and".

The word "reasonable" is used in a number of places in this Bill. Only this week there was a long discussion in your Lordships' House on the word "reasonable" in another Bill. What we are trying to do in this amendment is to make it quite clear that the Minister will use the powers in a reasonable way. In other words, as the Minister has said, this is the intention. That should be written into the Bill. This will give an assurance for the future; and whatever may be the wise attitude of the present Secretary of State, Secretaries of State can change. Therefore, it is desirable that these powers should not be used in an arbitrary way, but that they should be the reserve power to which the Minister has referred. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will accept the simple words in the amendment: The Secretary of State shall exercise these powers in a reasonable manner". I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, this amendment takes up again a theme which we discussed both in Committee and at Report stage. The noble Lord is not convinced, despite extensive assurances which I have given, that the present or future Secretaries of State might use these powers in an irresponsible or vindictive way. I have to say that this latest amendment is no more acceptable to the Government than the others which we have already discussed and for reasons with which the House will by now be familiar.

I said at Report stage that it was important when taking powers of direction to leave no doubt as to the scope of those powers. If powers of direction are to be worth having they must be absolutely clear. I thought at the time that this was one issue on which there was agreement between us. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, seemed to accept the force of my point that we must avoid enacting ambiguous powers whose use invites litigation. Yet this amendment offends against that important aim: it creates ambiguity in a clause whose purpose and effect are crystal clear. It introduces the criterion of reasonableness to the exercise of these powers; and yet offers no test by which reasonableness may be established.

Reasonableness depends on the eye of the beholder. We may be sure that the Secretary of State will not give directions that he does not think to be reasonable; but will the Railways Board agree? The very existence of a situation in which a direction needs to be given implies that agreement cannot be reached. The Secretary of State may want to do something that appears to him perfectly reasonable as a way of implementing the Government's policy—policy that will have been discussed in great detail by Parliament and approved. The Railways Board may disagree and may therefore want to challenge the reasonableness of the Secretary of State's direction simply on the grounds that it does not please them. In that case it would ultimately be for the courts to consider whether or not the Secretary of State's direction should stand. This is quite inappropriate. It is not for the courts to interpret Government policy and we ought not to include in legislation of this kind such a subjective requirement which can only be interpreted by a court.

Both Houses of Parliament have for decades accepted the principle that the appropriate Minister or Secretary of State should have the last word on when to exercise powers of direction given to him by Parliament. I have looked at more than a dozen Acts containing powers to direct the disposal of assets and, as one might expect from what I have said, none of them contains the kind of limitation that the noble Lord wants to introduce. I see nothing in the policy under discussion or the proposals before the House that suggests we should depart from these precedents. I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord opposite that the amendment would create confusion by its dependence on the subjective element which has no place in the drafting of legislation, would place on the courts a role in policy-making that they could not suitably carry out, and that its chief practical effect would be to give the board or any other interested party scope for argument and delay. I have given the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, categoric assurances about the Government's intentions to proceed as far as possible by agreement and to use the powers of direction with care and discretion. I cannot go further than that without nullifying the whole of Clause 3, a clause already approved by the House in Committee and at Report.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, aware that some five or six years ago I put forward an amendment on similar lines to this when speaking from the Back Benches opposite, and his noble friend on the Front Bench—I forget who it was—said, a great deal more succinctly than my noble friend today has just said, that whenever Secretaries of State exercise powers they always do so reasonably?

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am dealing with 1981 and not with 1976. Not only myself but other noble Lords, not of my party, at the Committee and Report stages expressed great concern at what they called the arbitrary, wide-ranging powers given to the Secretary of State. I made it clear, in moving the amendment this afternoon, that I fully accepted the assurances of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and that I could do nothing else but accept them. However, it is what is written in the Bill that matters—I have said this so many times—and when there are wide-sweeping arbitrary powers in a Bill they can be used; and assurances are not sufficient to bind any future Government or any future Secretary of State. Far from my creating ambiguity by trying to put these words in, the ambiguity is already there, because the Secretary of State is given these powers of direction—direction to dispose of and to form subsidiaries. Those directions are really instructions, and no matter how much one may say, "We have the assurances that these will not be used", the fact is that the powers are there. What the amendment was seeking to do was to make their use "reasonable".

It is pretty clear that the Government will not move on this. I thought I was being very reasonable in moving this amendment, because I should have liked to frame exact criteria to be used for the reserve powers—I accept that the Government may wish to use reserve powers. But the clause does not refer just to reserve powers: it refers to these wide-sweeping powers which a Secretary of State could use if he so desired. The comments made about the word "reasonable" may unfortunately come back in discussion on other Bills in which the same word appears: the point was challenged in this House only a few days ago. In the circumstances, although I think our amendment is right and justified, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 [Compulsory wearing of seat belts]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 20, line 37, at end insert— ("Provided that such regulations shall not require the wearing of seat belts on private roads whether or not such roads coincide with public footpaths or bridleways").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this amendment. It is an improved version of an amendment which I moved last week and which attempted to provide that the wearing of seat belts should not be compulsory on private roads. I do not believe it was ever the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, or of the Government that seat belt compulsion should apply to cars when driven on private roads, but unless we accept this amendment, or something very like it, we are going to run into difficulties. The difficulties arise because under the 1972 Act the definition of "road" not only embraces public highways and bridges over public highways, as might be supposed, but also includes all roads to which the public have access.

The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, speaking to my amendment last week, gave an assurance that the driveways of houses open to the public and indeed of all houses would be automatically exempt from these provisions, on the grounds that public access was strictly limited both in duration and in other respects. But this still leaves us with roads on private industrial estates, such as can be seen in great profusion within a radius of 10 miles from London Airport and in other parts of the country, private housing estates—and here Wentworth springs to mind: it is 20 years since I was there but I believe the roads there are still private—and, above all, farm roads where they happen to coincide with public rights of way, as they so often do. After all, public footpaths are open to the public 24 hours a day, by definition. One can visualise the sort of trouble this could cause for farmers and for those shooting over private estates. Modern Land Rovers have three seats in the front and it is common for three guns to sit in the front and put their dogs in the back; but there is no seat belt on the centre front seat in a Land Rover, nor is it possible to fit one.

The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, suggested that this matter should be left for litigation, but I really do not think that is at all a good idea. Is it not the case that judges are constantly complaining of the way in which Parliament, certainly in recent times, produces imprecise and obscure statutes, which throw a great burden on the courts? I really think we ought to try to get it right at the outset.

It is a little unclear as to whether private roads can be dealt with under the regulations, because the regulations do allow the Minister to make different provisions for different circumstances. I am not sure whether that would include different provisions for different types of road. If that were indeed the case, perhaps this matter could be left until we have discussed the regulations. If the noble Lord could assure us on that point, and if he could also assure us that he would look very seriously at what has been said, then I would consider withdrawing the amendment; but I should like to hear what the Minister has to say.

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, I should like strongly to support the noble Lord's amendment in this regard, until we have better and further information. Owing largely to the operation of the Hydro-electric Board in the parts of Scotland where I live, there are very many miles of private roads, and on the estate which belonged to my brother and myself there were something like 25 miles of private roads. They were used, as the noble Lord said, by shepherds, by people crammed into Land Rovers, and so on. It would be absurd and ridiculous if the regulations suitable for other roads were insisted upon in these areas. What is more, it would be even more absurd if the police had to come and check up.

Viscount Barrington

My Lords, I should like strongly to support this amendment. I do not know if it is relevant, but I have only twice been upset and overturned completely in a motor car, and neither time was I driving. The second time was on a private road when I was rather rashly asked to act not as a kind of "baby-sitter" but as a semi-instructor to a learner driver, a rather timid, middle-aged lady. I tried to impress upon her that when one was approaching a right-angled turn one should go very slowly and turn into it. She was doing admirably until a friend of hers who had taken her out said: "You are going much too slowly." So the next time she was approaching a right-angled turn on to a private road I said: "I presume, Mrs. H, you are not going into that turning?" She said: "I am." It was much too late, of course. We landed upside down in a ditch with a crash of glass, and such is the peculiarity of one's subconscious that I found myself saying to her: "Mrs. H, this happens to everyone who learns to drive!"

Had I been wearing a seat belt I think I should have had much more difficulty during the 10 minutes it took me to extract myself and her from the car. Before it was lifted out by a crane in 10 minutes' time it had sunk very much deeper into the ditch, and I think that a seat belt, far from being a help in those circumstances, might have spared your Lordships this latest speech of mine. That is only one particular example but, for what it is worth, I would ask your Lordships' forgiveness for putting it forward.

Lord Barnby

My Lords, I also support the amendment, which I thought was put forward with great reasonableness by the mover. Without going into any details on this point, it seems to me that the question of seat belts had wide discussion in previous stages of the Bill. I refrained from participation, though I followed as closely as I could the reasonings put forward. But it seems not improper that, in this connection, there should be reference also to the general question of seat belts and it is on that that I have reservations.

I realise that, in the Bill's passage to this stage, there have been imposed qualifications which should allay the anxiety of many, like myself, with regard to the considerations in general, which equally apply to this amendment. Like so many in the country, my objection is to general compulsion in this matter, and it seems to me that the Government should now reflect on the possible priorities. Many speakers in the previous stages were moved by the emotional aspect of the loss of life, due to the absence of seat belts. There was less advancement of the point that people strapped in by seat belts often lose their lives, too. So I think that the Government should consider the priorities in other directions, which would help to avoid further loss of life. There are many other angles that could be advanced that would save lives, but which have received less emphasis.

Lastly, I come to the question of enforcement. How can the police be everywhere on private roads, so as to enforce this law? Already there is wide disregard of regulations and it is just folly, at this moment, when there is such pressure on the police, to put more on them by this legislation. That is why I support the amendment moved on this phase of the whole problem.

Lord Derwent

My Lords, there is one small point which I wish my noble friend would clear up. Am I right or wrong in thinking that the police have no right of entry, as such, for prosecution purposes on a private road?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, this amendment is concerned with a technical legal matter and I am afraid that, in explaining why I think it is unnecessary, I shall have to resort to the use of legal technicalities. As I explained during the Report stage, the clause relates only to roads as defined by Section 196(1) of the Road Traffic Act. These are highways and any other road to which the public has access. I do not think we are concerned today with highways. As to other roads, I think the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is misdirecting himself when he refers to "private" roads. The ownership of the land is not the critical point. All roads are in private ownership, be it the ownership of a highway authority or other body or, more usually, the frontagers. One question in relation to a road which is not a highway is relevant—and only one. Namely, is it a road to which the public has a sufficient degree of public access to bring it within the statutory definition, or not? If so, the seat belts clause relates to it; otherwise, it does not.

Access is a matter on which there has been considerable litigation over the years. The fundamental principle is that the meaning of the words "to which the public has access" is a matter of fact and degree. It is clearly established that, if persons obtained access either by overcoming a physical obstruction or in defiance of a prohibition, express or implied, they do not have access within the meaning of the Act. It has been held that, to be within the definition, access has to be by the public in general and not by a special class of persons, such as residents or visitors only to an estate, and that general public access has, at least, to be by the tolerance of its owner or proprietor. And it has also been held that use by dustmen, milkmen and postmen is not evidence of use by the public, so as to bring a "road" within the statutory definition. In giving these two random examples of decisions in the High Court, I hope that I may have persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that there is no need for the amendment which he moved and, with respect, it tends to confuse the issue.

Similarly the second part of his amendment is also somewhat misplaced. "Footpaths" and "bridle-ways" are also defined under Section 196(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1972. In neither case do the public have any vehicular right of way. Therefore, although there may be a right of way on foot or on horseback to that part of the land which is a footpath or bridle-way, that does not affect the classification of the road and as public rights of access are not vehicular they are irrelevant to the point. It is no use saying that a private road is to come within the scope of this amendment, without defining that expression. For example, a private street is defined in great detail in the Highways Act 1980 for the purpose of street works. I respectfully submit that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, would cause more litigation and uncertainty than it seeks to save. I feel that that detailed and rather tortuous explanation is necessary, because I understand exactly what the noble Lord is seeking to achieve.

I and other noble Lords who have spoken have much sympathy with what he is trying to achieve, but I fear that, because of the complexity of the definition and the legal technicalities to which I have referred, the amendment will not achieve what he wants and would only make the position more complex and difficult. For that reason, I hope the noble Lord will feel that he does not wish to press the amendment.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, does my noble friend's explanation mean that, if people who control what they think is a private road put up a notice saying that the public are prohibited, the effect would be that the amendment was in operation?

Lord Bellwin

No, my Lords. I cannot say that, because I am not sure how far putting up a notice of that kind could be sustained, based upon the access points to which I have referred. So I do not think that that would be enough to cover the point.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has satisfied me to the tune of about 75 per cent. of my doubts, but we still have some grey areas and I do not think this is very satisfactory. Unless I did not hear him, he said nothing about whether this is a matter which would be covered by the regulations; in other words, whether the Minister would have any discretionary power. This is rather important. If he would, then there is no problem, because we shall have some months before the whole thing has to be defined. I wonder—

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, by leave of the House, it would be very easy to say that and let it go at that, but I do not want to mislead the House at all. As always, we will read very carefully what has been said, and the noble Lord can be assured that my colleagues will think about the matter carefully. But I feel that the points that I made, very much based as they were upon the legalities and problems that would ensue if the amendment were put into the Bill, are a cause for real concern—not the motivation. Nevertheless, I certainly undertake that we will look at the point, although I cannot promise that we will be able to come back or, indeed, that it might be taken within the regulations, which I know is what the noble Lord would like.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I am still not entirely happy, and I do not imagine that every other noble Lord is happy about it, either. But for the moment I had better beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 4: Page 21, line 9, leave out ("persons") and insert ("any person").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to correct a grammatical error and, more importantly, to avoid confusion when the law is being interpreted, whether by the courts or anybody else. If your Lordships will examine Clause 27(2)(iii), it will be seen that there is a singular pronoun "him" which refers to a plural noun, "persons". This of course is ungrammatical. However, there also happens to be in the same paragraph a singular noun "medical practitioner" to which the pronoun "him" also might be taken to refer. Thus the subsection could be interpreted as meaning that the medical practitioner could sign a certificate to the effect that it was inadvisable for "him"—that is to say, the medical practitioner—to wear a seat belt. I really think that this is something that ought to be cleared up. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

Under section 6(6) of the Interpretation Act 1978, "words in the singular include the plural and words in the plural include the singular". The clause has been drafted so that all the exceptions in subsection (2)(b)(i) to (iii) are expressed in the plural in respect of the drivers of vehicles and persons holding a certificate. Subsection (2)(iii) does seem grammatically wrong because it refers to "persons". The amendment corrects this by putting the whole of this subsection into the singular, although stylistically it should be in the plural in order to tie in with subsection (2)(ii) and (iii). Having said that, if your Lordships feel that this amendment should be incorporated, the Government would have no objection. I believe that it is a matter of style and presentation and I am happy to leave it to your Lordships to decide the matter.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I simply believe that this amendment would help to avoid confusion, since the subsection contains another noun—"medical practitioner"—to which the pronoun "he" could relate.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Selkirk moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 21, line 12, at end insert— ("(iv) persons who from genuine anxiety are unwilling to use seat-belts").

The noble Earl said: My Lord, I must apologise to your Lordships for not moving this amendment at Committee stage because I was involved in some other activity in your Lordships' House at that particular time.

I am one of those who does wear a seat belt and who proposes to continue to do so, so my personal life will be totally unchanged by this particular clause. But my noble friend and everyone in your Lordships' House is fully aware that some people will never wear a seat belt. I am not going to give examples because I believe that almost everybody knows of examples. I will just say that the stories I have heard are certainly understandable and, in the opinion of many people, decisive. What I should like to ask is, is the particular case which is the object of this particular amendment covered by the proposed new Section 33A(2)(c) and (d)? Those are the sub-paragraphs which say that the Secretary of State may prescribe exceptions and that a fee may be charged for any certificate required. Will this point be covered by the statutory instrument when it is produced?

The reason why I believe that this particular point is important is that, although it is all very well to carry a majority in your Lordships' House and to carry a majority in the other place, to be successful, this clause must be accepted by the whole country. In fact, it must be something of a propaganda exercise; to draw the attention of the country to the desirability of the objectives we have in mind. I have a mild reservation that the balance might be weighted slightly in favour of what one might call the criminal aspects. The criminal aspect will not influence people to wear a seat belt, but the general acceptance by the public that seat belts should be worn will.

This is not the most important of all the road code regulations. There are many which are far more important. I will quote just one, which is that one should drive "with due care and attention", in the words of the Highway Code. It is for that reason that I am asking my noble friend this question because, if unreasonable cases are brought before the courts, it will act very adversely against the purposes of those who are promoting this clause. Suppose that a man refuses to wear a seat belt; he is convicted, fined £20 which he refuses to pay, and is sent to prison. He may have a sick wife and young children and this story will come out in the press. This will be adverse to the general operation of this particular clause. It is because it is very desirable that this clause should be acceptable and reasonable that I move this amendment.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, before this debate proceeds any further and without wishing in any way to curtail the discussion, I should perhaps tell your Lordships that it is at least arguable that my noble friend's amendment—and maybe one or two other amendments to Clause 27—goes a little wide of our rules and conventions on Third Reading. An amendment should not be moved that raises again an issue—and here the issue is in effect the compulsory wearing of seat belts—which has been decided at earlier stages in the Bill. In addition, Third Reading amendments should be limited to those which seek to remove remaining inconsistencies or uncertainties. I do of course realise the depth of feeling which noble Lords have on this particular issue, but I hope that your Lordships will bear what I have said in mind and will seek to keep debates as short as possible. I am not suggesting, of course, that my noble friend has been anything other than commendably brief in moving his amendment.

Lord Drumalbyn

My Lords, may I make an observation on what has been said by my noble friend? Surely the rule that he has just explained presupposes that there have been two previous occasions when this matter has been discussed. In fact, this particular amendment was first moved at Report stage and so there has only been one previous opportunity to discuss it.

Lord Denham

My Lords, the Procedure Committee discussed this point very recently and my advice is that the Procedure Committee is at the moment of the opinion that amendments to Third Reading should be on these very limited points.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, may I remind the House that the Amendment No. 46A moved by Lord Monson at Report stage dealt specifically with conscientious objections, and that point was answered by my noble friend Lord Bellwin. I would have thought that we were now being invited to cover the same ground.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I have made only one plea and that is that we should clear up an uncertainty, precisely as the noble Lord said. If that is contrary to the rule of your Lordships' House, then I think that the rule should be changed.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, perhaps I may join in. I appreciate that there are a number who would suffer varying degrees of anxiety about being made to wear seat belts because they believe that wearing seat belts would be worse in an accident. This could be because such people believe that they would sustain injuries from the belt itself, or because they were afraid of being trapped by fire, by water, or whatever. The problem is that the degrees of anxiety may range considerably: all the way from those who are known to suffer from acute claustrophobia to those who may merely dislike anything new which they do not altogether understand. Those whose anxieties amount to a medical condition (this part of what I have to say answers my noble friend Lord Selkirk in the affirmative) can, I suggest, be covered by the medical exemption already provided for in the clause. I see no reason why the inadvisability on medical grounds of wearing a seat belt should not cover both physical and mental conditions, though clearly this is something which we should have to discuss with the medical profession.

My next point gives the contrary view. I say that where such an anxiety is not thought to amount to a medical condition I can see no practical way of providing exemption, because I can see no practical way of testing whether the anxiety is genuine. Nor should I have thought that such grounds were in themselves strong enough to warrant people's being privileged to be exempt from a law of general application.

I hope that for most people the problem will largely resolve itself. Most of us dislike doing something new, especially as we grow older, but most of us get used to it in the end and think nothing more of it. The best answer I can give to my noble friend, hopefully to assuage his concern and those of others who are similarly anxious, is that a statement will be made some three months before we move to the Affirmative Resolution procedure. My noble friend touched upon this point when speaking to me only yesterday. I was not then able to answer him in the same way as I do now: by saying that there will be an opportunity to deal with points of this kind.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. If we are to have a non-medical condition known as anxiety, what about a conscientious condition known as deeply held personal conviction?

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that there will be a statement, but I very much regret that he has not answered the one question which I asked to remove uncertainty: whether the Secretary of State is perfectly free to prescribe any exemptions which he wants to, or thinks desirable, and may charge a fee for the cost of doing so. I think I am correct in so interpreting paragraphs (c) and (d), but I should like this to be confirmed.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, in my one speaking note I tried to cover it all by saying that the part where I refer to the medical condition generally, I feel, comes within the scope of the section to which my noble friend refers, but that the anxiety aspect of it does not.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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