§ House again in Committee.
§ Clause 8 agreed to.
§ Clause 9 [The testing and surveillance functions]:
§ Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 10, leave out lines 15 to 18 and insert—
("The Secretary of State may by order prescribe such further functions (whether conferred by or under any existing enactment or not) being functions which appear to him to be connected with any of the functions described above, but shall exclude the transfer from the Department of Transport of the function of monitoring the standards of an approved testing authority.").
The noble Lord said: At present, various staff of the Department of Transport have authority for all the testing and monitoring, in fact the entire procedure, for this particular type of vehicle testing. Clause 9 sets out the functions to be transferred to an approved testing authority, and all these are listed under the various Acts on pages 8, 9 and 10 of the Bill. However, as noble Lords will see on page 10, the final paragraph headed "Further Functions" reads as follows:
Such further functions (whether conferred by or under any existing enactment or not) as may be prescribed, being functions which appear to the Secretary of State to be connected with any of the functions described above".
This would seem to be a rather sweeping paragraph,
particularly in view of the use of the term, "connected with".
In the Committee stage in the other place, the Minister said that monitoring will continue and that the national supervisory staff will make sure that standards are maintained, and said,
that is why it is fully expected that the Government would need to retain the inspection staff".
All this is not in the Bill, and in view of the paragraph on Further Functions, this amendment seeks to insert a definite safeguard. It will be noted from the amendment that what we are endeavouring to do is to lay down quite clearly that any further functions that the Secretary of State might wish to transfer under the final paragraph of this clause shall exclude any functions which deal with the monitoring of the standards of an approved testing authority. We believe that that should not be by just ministerial statement; it should be written into the Bill so that that will remain with the Government and the Department of Transport. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
I am pleased to say that I am in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on the point he has made. The supervision of statutory testing should be carried out only by the Department of Transport's officials—the Bill was in fact amended in another place to make this absolutely clear. Perhaps I could refer your Lordships to Clause 10(11), which in lines 26 to 30 categorically rules out the supervision of an approved testing authority's examination by anyone who is not an officer of the Secretary of State. Under this provision, private sector inspectors may only supervise examinations carried out by their own employer as part of his own internal management.
If it is felt that there is some deficiency in the provision in subsection (11) then I should be glad to consider the matter further, and if there is indeed a shortcoming in it, to introduce an amendment at a later stage. I believe on looking at that subsection of Clause 10 that we shall be able to agree that there is in fact no difficulty in this area. But, even so, if that is the feeling, we shall look at it again in case something needs to be done. Perhaps with that the noble Lord may feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Underhill
I shall be happy to beg leave to withdraw, and I am grateful to the Minister for drawing attention to that. As he proposes to look at the wording and we shall do the same, that will be satisfactory, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Underhill
There are one or two points on Clause 9. Can the Minister give some assurance that, whatever may be the final decision on the testing authority, or authorities, there will be a uniformity of charges throughout the country? At Committee stage in the other place the Minister said that no doubt cross-subsidisation will continue even if there were a number of separate chains. I wonder whether that is still confirmed. Although the Government are looking at the possibility of a single agency, or single 615 authority, through Lloyd's, the question arises as to how that would be achieved if there were going to be a number of separate chains throughout the country.
Will there be uniformity of conditions of employment for the authorised inspectors and the approved assistants both for the HGVs and the PSVs? It would seem that there could be different functions for separate approved testing authorities. The Minister drew our attention to the fact that under Clause 8(9)(b) a document has to be presented to Parliament for a resolution of approval, but if there were to be separate testing authorities could it be that we would have one authority being given certain functions within the terms of the Bill and another authority being given rather different functions in the terms of the Bill? In that case how would the other functions which may be excluded from the document for one particular authority be handled? If the Minister can answer those questions I shall be grateful, but if he cannot I understand why he may have to write to me.
§ Lord Bellwin
I think I can give the information to the noble Lord, but it may be necessary to write to him to elaborate on it. To his first question, the uniformity of charges, the answer is, yes, and cross-subsidisation will continue. I gladly confirm that again. As the noble Lord says, the clause defines the limits of private sector testing and lists the functions which may be transferred to the private sector. Within the limits set by this clause, the Secretary of State can decide what exactly should be done in the private sector and by whom. But if, as we intend, the testing system is transferred to the Lloyd's Register Vehicle Testing Association, then all the functions listed in this clause will be transferred to them. As I have a great deal of information here which I think the noble Lord would like to have to enable him to look at the matter in more detail, rather than go over it now I would suggest writing to him, and then he can always question it again later if necessary.
§ Clause 10 [Provisions supplementary to section 8]:
§ Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 14, line 2, at end insert—
("(13) The Secretary of State may make orders with respect to the provision of pensions by any person authorised to conduct a business which consists of or includes any of the functions specified in section 9 of this Act, for or in respect of persons who are transferred from the Department of Transport to employment with an approved testing authority under the provisions of section 8 of this Act.").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is somewhat similar to that of the amendment we dealt with on the question of pensions for persons who are transferred from the National Bus Company. Therefore, I shall not go into it in detail because it may well be that the arguments will be precisely the same as we had on that occasion. This concerns the position of civil servants who will presumably be transferred either to the Lloyd's register or to whatever authorities there will be, because they are skilled people versed in this work and this is their full-time job.
616 We understand from statements by Ministers and also the Memorandum preceding the Bill that at least 900 people will be involved. Are there any arrangements proposed for pensions for these people when they are transferred? If not, this is a matter we shall have to consider along with the consideration being given to the transfer of personnel from the National Bus Company. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, rightly said, many of the points that need to be raised in connection with this matter are very similar to those we were discussing earlier, but so far as the Civil Service is concerned, perhaps I could give some information which the noble Lord might find helpful in considering his position in the matter. As with the other pension matter, we all want to see fair and reasonable provision made for the future pensions of testing staff after they leave the Civil Service.
However, we are here talking about whether there should be a provision included in Part II. The staff at the HGV testing stations will be transferring to a new employer in the private sector, and we have already referred to the agreement which has been reached with Lloyd's Register for the formation of a new authority to carry out testing. That authority will make provision for its staff's pensions in the future. The principal Civil Service pension scheme, which was often cited during discussions in another place, contains full and detailed provisions concerning the important question of how pension rights accumulated over past years can be preserved or transferred when an individual leaves the service. Provision for future pensions, earned with the new employer, will be covered by the rules of whatever scheme the staff join. All employers are free to set up pension schemes for their employees, and the establishment of new schemes is a common event, and this does not need the kind of order-making power which the amendment proposes.
All the provisions here are made for specific purposes. I think it is true to say that non of the precedents concerns the transfer of civil servants currently within the principal Civil Service pension scheme to an independent private sector employer. The scheme contains rules about what happens when someone leaves the service, either voluntarily or on redundancy. It goes into great detail about the question of preservation of pensions and pension transfers. As regards the payment of pensions by the new employer, the Social Security Pensions Act 1975 and other relevant enactments provide a carefully worked out structure of rights and obligations which is ample to ensure that proper provision is made. Within that framework, pension arrangements are a matter for negotiation between employers and workforce. Even where we have thought it necessary to take order-making powers, as in Part I of the Bill, the Government have made it clear that we have no intention of using these powers to dictate pension terms to a private sector company and its workforce.
I hope I have made it clear that the Government have no objection in principle to making legislative provision about pensions. But equally, we see no point in encumbering the statute book with provisions which are not needed. On the substance of these issues, I do not think there is any significant difference between us; 617 we all want to see proper pension arrangements made for the staff. The question is: What is the best approach? We think that, as it stands, this is the best approach; but this is a matter for the noble Lord to consider
§ Lord Underhill
I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the situation clearly, though it still leaves the position confounded because it links up with the debate we had on pensions for the National Bus Company staff. While their present entitlements will be safeguarded by the schemes to which the Minister referred, their expectation—on which at present they rely, bearing in mind that they are being transferred from the Civil Service possibly without any desire to be transferred—is different and those individuals are in rather a predicament. We understand, from the quotation I gave from the Under-Secretary's remarks, that one of the purposes of the scheme is not purely one of safety, but to save 900 Civil Service posts. That was an unfortunate statement to have made. In consequence, those 900 persons may find that their future pensions are not what they thought they would be had they stayed with the Civil Service. This is an issue we shall have to link with the consideration being given to the NBC's pensions position. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
§ Clause 12 [Investment by the Secretary of State in Government controlled company interested in former Government testing stations]:
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
moved Amendment No. 17:Page 14, line 28, leave out ("on such terms and") and insert ("provided the interest payable shall not be less than the average of the clearing banks' base rate of interest prevailing at the time and on such other").
The noble Lord said: This amendment has been occasioned by the provision of subsection (1)(a) which will enable the Secretary of State to make loans to any company interested in taking over a Government testing station. I appreciate that the paragraph continues:
on such terms and conditions as he may with the consent of the Treasury determine".
We have in mind some of the unfortunate incidents which occurred as a result of the sale of Amersham International, where the total fees and commission were some £2.8 million; but we need not go into the history of that matter, about which your Lordships have heard on a number of occasions.
§ It is surely unusual that the Government should make provision in a Bill for loans to be made to persons to take over their undertakings or services. In another place the Minister said that loans would be to the initial company to be set up by the Secretary of State to facilitate the disposal, and would be made only to a company in which the Secretary of State had a controlling interest. I cannot understand the reason for this provision. I may be wrong, but I cannot 618 recall such a provision in previous Transport Bills, at least not in those with which I have been involved from this Dispatch Box. Is there a special reason for it to be in this measure, and in connection with the transfer of testing stations?
§ The purpose of the amendment is twofold. First, it is a probing amendment—to ascertain why this has been done; and secondly, it is to obtain an assurance from the Minister that if there is a good reason for it to be done, then, as the amendment says, a proper rate of interest should be charged. The Under-Secretary said that Clause 12 may not be needed at all if the agreement with Lloyd's comes to fruition. But we are not faced with there being a definite agreement with Lloyd's or of having anything drawn up. Therefore, as with the other provisions concerning testing, we must be ready for any eventuality. I therefore hope that the Minister will explain the reason for this provision and will give an assurance that a proper current rate of interest will be charged.
It might be helpful if all the points to be made about the amendment were made before the Minister replies. As my noble friend Lord Underhill said, this is a somewhat unusual provision. I do not want to deal with the principle of the matter—he has already done that—but to ask a few questions, because at present I do not understand the situation. First, while I may be wrong, I see no definition in the Bill of what is a controlling interest. I know what the definition is in other measures; it is a question of holding, as a rule, 51 per cent. Merely leaving the situation, as in the Bill, as "controlling interest"—so that one could argue later that really you do not control a company unless you own over 90 per cent., so you can deal with any question of acquisition, or over 75 per cent. so you can deal with extraordinary and special resolutions—seems insufficient.
The second point that arises—I believe it is not just an eccentric point—is that the amazing situation exists where, taking it for granted that it is 51 per cent., the Government lend for the benefit not just of the 51 per cent. shareholder, the Government, but also for the benefit of the 49 per cent., who may be somebody quite different from Lloyd's. We do not know who are the owners, the transferees, of the property. That may be an acceptable position, but as I read the clause at the moment—and this is relevant to the amendment—I am not quite sure what happens if the Government cease to hold their controlling interest. Is the guiding factor for the timing of the loan and for the enabling provision to make the loan, that at the time when the loan is made the Government have to have the controlling interest'? Further, does the loan become immediately repayable if the Government cease to hold a controlling interest? That is certainly not clear under the Bill.
However, without any question of doubt the Committee may feel that in any event, since this is public money, one ought to ensure that a proper market rate of interest is chargeable. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will think it appropriate to answer both of those questions which, if I may say so with respect, should not come to him as being unexpected, since this matter must be within the meaning of the clause itself. Either the clause means what it says, or it does not mean what it says.
§ Lord Bellwin
It always means what it says. Whether we understand it and interpret it in the way that we would want is another matter; that always applies. First, there is the question: Why do we need the power to lend to a Government-owned company? It was originally proposed that testing should be transferred to a Government company for an interim period, allowing time to prepare for the testing stations to be sold to the private sector in a number of chains. Loans would be made to the Government company in order to allow it to buy the testing stations from the Secretary of State. These would be repaid when the company received the proceeds of the sale to private sector companies.
In fact, there is unlikely to be a need for the interim company, or for the lending provisions in Clause 12, if, as is now expected, testing is transferred to Lloyd's. Lloyd's will almost certainly take over the stations as a going concern, and therefore there will be no need to reorganise the network during an interim stage. But the clause is retained in case agreement is not reached with Lloyd's, as was mentioned earlier. If that were to happen, our Government-owned company could provide the best means of transferring testing out of the department while alternative arrangements were considered. It is also just possible that negotiations with Lloyd's Register might change course, and that they will come to prefer an interim stage before LRVTA is set up. But of course all of that is still very much subject to what I said just prior to dinner—that everything has to have parliamentary approval in any case. So there is no danger that, if for any reason negotiations fail or change course, there would suddenly be imposed an organisation with commercial interests and so on. That is not a worry so far as I am concerned.
I shall later come to the points that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made. In the meantime I hope that I can reassure the Committee about the use which could be made of the powers in Clause 12 and that I can show that the proposed amendment is not really necessary. First, I must emphasise that, by virtue of subsection (2) of the clause, the power to make loans can be exercised only in relation to a company in which the Secretary of State has a controlling interest. The power could not be used to make loans to a private sector company which had acquired, or was about to acquire, an interest in testing. I think it very important that that be clearly understood. The powers in Clause 12 are therefore effectively restricted to the Secretary of State's own interim company, if such a company is in fact set up. When the testing stations are transferred onwards to the private sector, the loans will be repaid by that company. The effect would be to defer the net benefits from the sale of the testing stations until the company transferred them to the private sector and repaid its loans from the proceeds. If, as I gather from what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, the concern behind the amendment is that loans might be made to private companies at advantageous rates, I can assure your Lordships' Committee that the Bill would certainly not allow such a thing, and that therefore there is no need of an amendment to make sure of that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked, what is a controlling interest? May I respectfully refer him to 620 Clause 12(8)(b), which states that, for the purposes of the clause, a controlling interest,is one in which the Secretary of State holds a controlling interest if more than one-half of its voting shares are owned by the Secretary of State or by nominees on his behalf".I hope that that will cover the point.
The noble Lord referred to loans benefiting the minority shareholders. That is quite right. As the Bill is drafted, that would be the effect in regard to loans which are not immediately repayable if the Government cease to have a controlling interest. But perhaps we could look at that again. I think it is an interesting point that the noble Lord raises, and perhaps we ought to look at it to make sure that it meets exactly what we are seeking to do.
§ Lord Mishcon
I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for giving way. I should like at once frankly to confess that, though I looked for it, I had not seen in the clause the definition of controlling interest. I readily concede that it is contained in subsection (8)(b), but I make the point—not by way of excuse for my having overlooked it—that it—is always convenient to have the definition of a controlling interest roughly where the controlling ',is first mentioned in the Bill, and I am afraid that on this occasion I missed it.
I should like to ask the noble Lord the Minister a question. It is always unfortunate if there is written into a Bill a power which one knows is not likely to be exercised, or will be exercised only in certain circumstances, and there is nothing to limit the power. Is the noble Lord the Minister prepared to give an undertaking that the clause will be used by the Secretary of State only for an interim company in the circumstances that the Minister has mentioned? That would relieve some anxiety. However, if the noble Lord is not able to give the undertaking, I would point out that the power is there, and the mere fact that he says that he thinks it would be used only for the purpose mentioned is not sufficient.
§ Lord Bellwin
I think that I can perhaps help with that point. I said that the powers in Clause 12 are restricted to the Secretary of State's own interim company only if—and I stressed this—such a company were set up. That should perhaps assuage the noble Lord's concern on that point, but I said a few moments ago—did I not?—that we could perhaps consider the other point that he raises. We ought to be sure that we have it absolutely right, and I certainly undertake to consider it.
§ Lord Airedale
The place where I looked for the definition of "controlling interest" was Clause 25, which is the interpretation clause for this Part of the Bill. The clause defines a "business", and I should have thought it worth considering whether it would be advisable to include in the clause a definition of "controlling interest", since I think that is where people would look in order to find it.
§ Lord Bellwin
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. Perhaps we may consider that; indeed, I undertake to do so.
§ Lord Underhill
I am grateful, and I am certain that my noble friend is also grateful, to the Minister for giving an assurance that he will look at the particular phrase with which we are concerned. I do not want to detain the Committee unduly, but before we depart I should like to mention one question which interests me in particular. Why do we have this provision in the Bill? There is provision for interim companies in the Transport Bill 1981, now the Transport Act. There is a provision there for disposal of British Rail subsidiaries. If my memory serves me correctly—and I apologise if I am wrong—I do not think that the Transport Act contains provision such as we have here for loans to an interim company. Therefore, I query why in this case it is thought necessary to have provision regarding loans made to an interim company in which the Secretary of State has a controlling interest.
§ Lord Bellwin
I am not sure that I can expand further than I did previously on this point. As I said before, it was originally proposed that the testing should be transferred to a government company for an interim period, allowing time and so on; and clearly it is felt that this is desirable on this point. I confess that I cannot go into more detail now, but it has certainly been considered that this is now necessary. If the noble Lord wishes, I will certainly go further into the matter with him, too, if necessary, and perhaps that may be the right way for us to proceed at this time.
§ Lord Mishcon
I hope I am not being a pest to the Committee, but will the noble Lord, at the same time as he is courteously looking into that, also look into the question of why it has to be a company with a controlling interest by the Government? One would have thought that if it were an interim company it would be a company that was owned by the Government. I cannot quite see who would be the other shareholder. But, as I have said, I am not going to detain the Committee on that, if he would be kind enough to look into that issue as well.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 12 agreed to.
§ Clause 13 [Exclusion of security of tenure in case of premises used for vehicle testing business]:
§ 8.32 p.m.
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 16, line 3, leave out from ("where") to ("are") in line 6 and insert ("the property comprised in the tenancy is or includes premises which, in accordance with any agreement relating to the tenancy (whether contained in the instrument creating the tenancy or not)").
§ The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment to put right a deficiency in Clause 13(1) which was pointed out in another place. I should say at once that I think it most unlikely that the provisions of this clause will ever be needed, given the Government's intention to transfer testing to an independent and non-profit-making body under the control of Lloyd's Register of Shipping. We believe it is right, however, to provide a proper legal framework for control of the new testing system by the Secretary 622 of State. In an area so important to safety, nothing should be left to chance.
§ Against that background, the provisions of Clause 13 ensure that the Secretary of State would be able to regain possession of testing stations quickly and without fuss if an approved testing authority were to be in breach of the provisions of its lease, or if at the end of the tenancy the Secretary of State thought it right to appoint a new authority to do the work at that site.
§ It was pointed out in another place, however, that the provisions of Clause 13 might not bite if the premises were not used solely for vehicle testing but also included, for example, an area used for the sale of spare parts. Clearly it would be absurd for the Secretary of State to be unable to repossess essential, specialised facilities simply because a small part of the site was also used for some other purpose. This amendment puts right that potential anomaly. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mishcon
With great respect to the noble Lord the Minister, I wonder whether this has been thought through properly and fairly. The original provision, as unamended by this proposed amendment, said (and I understood it perfectly well) that if a site consisted purely and simply of a testing station and it was the subject matter of a lease, then at the end of that term there should be no security of tenure. I understood subsection (1) quite well, and it seemed sensible.
What this amendment now says is not only that there should be no security of tenure but, as I understand it, that Part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act should not apply to those premises which might include a testing station. The noble Lord the Minister gave an example of where a very small part of that site was made up of some shop that sold spare parts; but we are drawing a Bill (and we have to envisage all possibilities) and we do not know who the testing station authority, if I may call it that, may be.
In those circumstances, what we are saying is this—and it is going to make it terribly difficult both for the tenant and for the Government in their letting negotiations. This clause—which now says two things in separate parts of it—says that no question of compensation for goodwill in the parts of the premises which might be on the site will be available if there is no renewal of the lease. The Government will not be liable to compensate anybody, and therefore the question of subletting, so far as the testing authority is concerned, is going to be very difficult.
The other thing that I should like the noble Lord the Minister to consider—and again I am trying to think in terms of the ease of the letting and of the negotiations—is why it is that the normal provisions should not apply, and why it is that if, for example, it is alleged by the Government (and the fact that this is the Government as the landlord does not make considerations of justice fly out of the window) that rent is about 14 days overdue through some error, it could in fact forfeit under the strict terms of the lease without the lessee having any opportunity to apply, as any other tenant is able to do, for relief from forfeiture on the ground that it is quite unjust in the circumstances. It could in fact be a sheer omission 623 on the part of the Post Office, for all one knows, that the remittance did not arrive.
Secondly, the clause says that if there is any breach of covenant there shall be no relief against that at all. If the Government merely say, "You have breached the covenant", that is the end of the matter. That is something which is not thought to be just in any landlord and tenant situation where normal circumstances apply. I am not raising only an academic issue. If one knew now who the testing lessee (if I may call him that) or the testing authority was, I do not think any of us would be really troubled about this; but we do not. We do not even know what sort of sites or areas we are talking about. Therefore, to insert this provision in this way, as amended, especially, seems to me to be a matter which deserves our consideration and that of the Minister.
This is not the sort of debate to start at this hour of the night, and subject to what my noble friend Lord Underhill has to say as regards my point as well as his own I would have thought that, having made the points, the sensible thing to do would be to ask the noble Lord the Minister whether he would be kind enough to consider them and possibly correspond with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and myself and anyone else who may be interested in these particular matters; because they do deserve consideration. It may well be that, as I said, a debate on this matter at the present moment is not the most suitable way to get that consideration.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I wonder whether my noble friend would allow me to say this. While I am quite happy to accept the sense of my noble friend's proposal of this amendment, he said one or two things which sent a few tremors through me. For example, he spoke about it being only a testing station. Of course, one might want to reserve a position for another authority. I recall from some two or three years ago. when we were looking at the chain system, that some of these sites are highly desirable pieces of property. Most of them are sufficiently large to be in excess of the testing site requirement. Earlier, when we were discussing the broad principle of this matter under Clause 8, we talked about "the other commercial interests". These are the ripples that are running through my mind.
I am sorry to say that the adjournment came at a time when I was hoping to extract a little more information from my noble friend with regard to Lloyd's—how far they had got along the road. What he has revealed now, some hour or so later, suggests to me that we are such a long way away from doing a deal with anybody. I can see just that which I do not wish to see: the business of a testing station, with its environs, being sold. That is what we are trying to do—get rid of it; put it on to another authority in the private sector.
Now we have this other complication, that it may not be Lloyd's; it may be another authority; we may carve up the site; some other activity may happen, and if the Government fall out with the testing part of the other commercial activity they can fire them and get the site back. It seems to me that, although this is Committee stage, we ought to be having a Third Reading debate. I am sorry that there may be some depressing news for many of your Lordships in about five minutes' time, but I think we ought to get more of 624 these things resolved here in Committee. This is the stage at which we should be finding out about these things. I am now very worried about how far the Government have got with their negotiations with Lloyd's and what kind of tenure Lloyd's are likely to have; because, frankly, if it is another authority, and they fail in any other parts of this Part of the Bill, they get fired; the contract is not renewed, in simple terms. They lose everything. Or do they not? I do not know.
It seems to me that we are putting provisions in the Bill to preserve a position which we cannot yet recognise, but we have a half feeling behind us that it might arise because we have not got far enough down the road with the main principle of the transfer of testing from the Government to the private sector. I ask my noble friend whether he could reassure me; I am not quite so worried about my noble friends.
§ Lord Bellwin
I thought I had been able to give reassurance to my noble friend and others. We have agreed in principle. We are down the road, much further than my noble friend intimates, and now we are dealing with the nuts and bolts, the details. I cannot say tomorrow or next Monday. I do not know. I will try to firm it up as best I can and be in touch with all who are interested in this point, to give them the most information I have on that matter. But there is no cause that I know to consider other than that this agreement is going forward.
I was glad to hear the concern that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, expressed to ensure there be no injustice in terms to a tenant. I would very much endorse that philosophy. The fact is that the provisions in Clause 13(1) are intended to ensure that a testing station could be repossessed if a tenancy expired or if there were a breach of covenant by the tenant. I understand what the noble Lord says when he says he does not want to see any (what would be) unnecessary advantage taken of a tenant in such circumstances. I understand that point. We are anxious to ensure that time-consuming procedures laid down by the 1954 Act should not mean that specialised test facilities would be unavailable and continued provision of testing services could be difficult.
This is a special situation we are catering for. While the noble Lord is right that we must be sure that we do not breach the basic principles of landlords and tenancies of this kind of premises, nevertheless the kind of situations which we envisage are rather special. We could not be without a facility for this kind of testing for any undue period of time. The noble Lord put it fairly: that we had better look and make sure and get the answers set up in the way he has put them so as to be able to satisfy him; and if we cannot, he will know we are not always able to do it but it is proper that we should look at the points he raised. I undertake to do that.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 14 [Consultation with representative bodies]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?625
§ Lord Underhill
I have one question to ask the Minister on this clause. Subsection (1) says:… the Secretary of State shall consult with such organisations appearing to him to be representative of persons engaged in the road transport industry as he thinks fit".At the Committee stage of another place there were a number of amendments put forward to include various local authority associations, to include various operators' bodies and to include trade unions. The question I have to ask is this: What is the interpretation of "engaged in", "persons engaged in the road transport industry"? Would that cover not only the operators but the trade union organisations representative of persons employed? Does the term "engaged in" include employed in?
§ Lord Bellwin
I would say that it did include the persons in the categories the noble Lord mentioned. That would be my answer. If it should prove otherwise, I would be in touch with the noble Lord. My interpretation now is, yes, it would include them.
§ Clause 14 agreed to.
§ Clauses 15 and 16 agreed to.
§ Clause 17 [Alteration of plated weights for goods vehicles without examination]:
§ 8.48 p.m.
The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 19, line 24, leave out from ("the") to ("of") in line 25 and insert ("cancellation of any such certificate and the issue in place of it").
§ The noble Earl said: This small amendment improves the procedures laid down in Clause 17 for the alteration of plated weights on goods vehicles. It has the effect of allowing us to cancel the existing plating certificates and issue a new document, instead of having to amend the old one. Amended certificates can be hard to read and it may be difficult to distinguish between a certificate which has been officially altered and one which has been falsely amended by an unscrupulous operator. Issuing a new certificate is an altogether clearer and more efficient way of dealing with alterations to plated weights. I am sure members of the Committee will agree with me. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 18 to 25 agreed to.
§ Clause 26 [Fixed penalty offences and fixed penalty notices]:
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 27, line 20, leave out ("Subject to subsection (3) below,").
§ The noble Lord said: We now move to Part III of the Bill which, in some respects, is slightly less contentious in that it does not have the party political overtones that Parts I and II had. In moving Amendment No. 20 I should advise your Lordships that this amendment, with Amendments Nos. 22, 36 and 46, paves the way for Amendment 50 to Clause 32. This looks fairly complicated but it is reasonably 626 simple in that, taken together, these amendments remove. from the Bill the proposal (which some of us have discussed and found to be objectionable) that a constable should be able at the roadside to have the right to inspect the whole of the driving licence of an alleged offender for any moving vehicle offence, or any other offence involving a vehicle, when he is proposing to issue a fixed penalty notice.
§ If your Lordships go back a few years to the old style licence, you will remember that it was a little red-covered book. When it was handed to the policeman it was easy for him to flick it open to the rear and see the endorsements stamped thereon. This was held to be an unauthorised action that usually happened by accident. It was held to be an objectionable practice because it might or might not have influenced the constable in his subsequent decisions. When we redesigned the licence there was a firm intention to remove this probability. Under Section 161 of the 1972 Act, the constable is only empowered to see the name and address of the holder, the date of issue and the authority by which it was issued. He can see no further than that.
§ Now we are, under the proposals for the fixed penalties, allowing the constable to ask for the licence and make a full examination. He will thereby see whether there are any endorsements. A quick and mentally agile constable can work out whether, if he gives a certain warning of prosecution, if the prosecution is upheld in court the person may lose his licence. The constable may on the other hand equally find out that the alleged offender may not lose his licence. All this would be coloured by his knowledge of a previous situation.
§ Indeed, I understand that, in court cases involving motorists, the case is normally heard, the decision is made by the magistrates as to whether the person is guilty or not guilty and then usually the magistrates ask the question, "Is anything known?" Then the previous history comes out. This enables the magistrates, the bench, to determine the level of punishment.
§ Under the Bill as it now stands, we have removed that from the court. We have put the entire decision as to what punishment shall or shall not be levied upon a constable. Whether constables or drivers, they have the frailties of all humans and can be influenced. This amendment removes that power.
§ If the Committee agree with me and these amendments are carried, the first official to inspect any endorsement detail on a licence will be the clerk dealing with the fixed penalty offences. He is very far removed from the scene of the incident, so he can look at it with a certain amount of detachment. The licence is given to the fixed penalty clerk together with the penalty slip. On examination, the clerk may find that penalty points that would be awarded as a result of the alleged offender accepting that he has committed an offence and will accept penalty points will take him into an endorsable and disqualification situation. The clerk could return the notice and the payment and tell the driver that an ordinary court hearing can be arranged. The licence could be retained by the court so that nothing untoward happened there.
§ We are talking about fixed penalties as a means not of creating new punishment but of easing the burden on the courts. I understand that in 1980 about 627 30,000 drivers were disqualified under the automatic totting-up procedure, the old three endorsements procedure. Even in the unlikely and unhappy event of all those drivers having their fixed penalty notices and payments returned, this would be quite a small number in relation to the some 500,000-plus that it is estimated are going to be taken out of the prosecution process.
§ This proposal contained within this amendment was endorsed by the interdepartmental working party report. This is on page 16. I do not in fact have the report with me. It certainly means that there could be a probability that an alleged offender opts for the fixed penalty and then finds himself in the position of having a court case by virtue of the penalty points exceeding 12. It would seem to me that that situation should not arise at the roadside. It should arise in the calmer atmosphere of an office and then, if necessary, in the court. That is the purpose of this rather complicated series of amendments. In truth they are fairly simple: the policeman does not have the right to see this which may or may not make up his mind.
§ There is perhaps the emotional aspect of policemen.
§ Most of us law-abiding citizens experience a little qualm when a policeman approaches us. We wonder what we have inadvertently done wrong. We have a long way to go in this Bill to talk about relations between the motorist and the policeman. Anything that can be done to remove any possible cause of friction between the constable and an allegedly offending motorist should be done. As the Bill stands now, I believe that this could be a source of some slight contention. I should like to see this provision, as embodied in my amendment, accepted by the Committee. I beg to move.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
I had better explain the procedural difficulty in which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I find ourselves. I am certain other noble Lords in the Committee are also in this difficulty. It will be noticed that this first amendment, which is a paving one, is in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and myself. We had intended to deal with two different sets of consequential and subsequent amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has explained that the purpose of his paving amendment is primarily to introduce Amendment No. 22, which will take out subsection (3), whereas I wanted to introduce paving amendment No. 20 in order to introduce Amendment No. 21 which deals with some of the points contained in subsection (3).
The advice that I have been given is to point this out and not speak in detail on the points involved in Amendment No. 21 and nine other consequential amendments, but to defer that until we reach Amendment No. 21. It is merely to say that I have no particular disagreement with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, except that, when we come to Amendment No. 21, the Committee will see that my amendments and the consequential amendments go rather further.
§ The Earl of Avon
In speaking to this amendment, 628 I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 22 and 46, 50 and 52 and, I believe, 53, 54 and 55. I think my noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned No. 36, which I believe has now fallen. In looking at this group of amendments and what they seek to achieve, I can see two things which may make them seem attractive to the Committee: first, the apparent simplicity of the system that would be left, and, secondly, the abandonment of the need for the police to inspect the driving licence, either at the roadside or at the police station. I hope to be able to persuade the Committee that these advantages are illusory.
To take the last proposition first, my noble friend Lord Lucas has made much of an objection that it is not appropriate for a police officer to inspect and take possession of the licence. The fear has been that seeing the licence will, in some way, prejudice the officer and alter his approach to the driver. May I reiterate what I said on Second Reading, that there will be no obligation on the driver to show the officer his licence, and that in asking to see it the officer will have explained why he wants to see it. He will, too, have already decided in principle that the offence could appropriately be dealt with by fixed penalty, and the only reason for him to change his mind on seeing the licence will be the discovery that the driver is ineligible, because of the points already on his licence.
In a case dealt with at a police station, again the driver will be under no obligation to show and surrender his licence, and the officer inspecting it will be concerned only to make sure that the driver is eligible to receive a fixed penalty. Therefore, I do not think we need show so much concern as has been expressed about this procedure. I feel that we are going some way towards helping the driver here, because many law-abiding drivers would rather have their licence inspected and get the fixed penalty over with, rather than go to court; and it is this option which we are giving them. My noble friend talked about friction with the police. I am a more or less law-abiding citizen and I do not understand why anybody should be afraid of showing his licence to a policeman. After all, what is there to fear—
§ Lord Mishcon
I ask the noble Earl the Minister to be kind enough to let me intervene, in order to clarify at least my mind. I thought there was always a duty when any offence is committed to produce the licence, either to the police officer who took up the question of the offence, or, if it was not then available, to the police station. The noble Earl said that there was no need for it to be produced to the officer, and that if the citizen concerned who is alleged to have committed an offence did not want to do so, he need not produce the licence at the police station. I do not understand.
§ The Earl of Avon
The noble Lord is very happily reinforcing my point, which is that there is no real change in what we are expecting, and that the fear which has been expressed that you could be asked to produce a licence under this system is not a real one. There is no real change. You can still deny having your licence and then take it to the police station at another time, to show that you have it. Perhaps I may develop my argument a little more, because there is quite a lot of it.
629 Looking at the issue from the other viewpoint, the administrative angle, it cannot be denied that, on the face of it, for the driver to send his licence direct to the clerk, since it has to go to him ultimately anyway, would seem to be a saving in time and trouble for all concerned. This is not entirely the case. True, the police would no longer have to handle the licence. The work for the justices' clerk, however, would be increased: he would have a duty to scrutinise and interpret every licence that he received. We have, of course, already provided that a fixed penalty clerk will be able to send a licence back to the Chief Officer of Police, if he happens to notice that a fixed penalty notice has been issued in error, but this is quite different from requiring him to check every licence. So in this case, we would simply be transferring work from the police to the clerk.
Furthermore, since the police would not be acting as a filter at the roadside and ruling out those cases which are ineligible on points, the clerk would actually be receiving a great many more licences than he would under our system. I simply cannot see the point in his having to inspect and send back a great many licences which are ineligible, when the whole process could have been done by the officer at the roadside. I would also have thought that this would seem disappointing, time-wasting and pointless to drivers who had hoped to receive fixed penalties then and there.
The clerk will also have the additional work which will arise when people misunderstand the system: inevitably, some people will send in licences but no payment, or vice versa. What is the clerk then to do? There is likely to be strong pressure for the clerk to reply immediately explaining the mistake, so that a person could correct it before incurring the extra one-half penalty for administrative costs after 21 days, but this, in its turn, would place a burden on the clerks.
The amendment next suggests that where a person is ineligible for a fixed penalty notice, the clerk should return the payment to the offender and the offender would then be informed that the normal process of prosecution would be initiated. This, too, is not nearly as simple as it sounds. I am not quite sure whom my noble friend intends should tell the driver that he will be prosecuted instead, but the implication is that it should be the clerk. This, however, would be outside his proper role. A fixed penalty clerk is not the prosecutor; the police are. Where a person is ineligible, it would therefore be necessary for the clerk to return the payment and inform the police, who would then have to decide whether to prosecute or to use their discretion to drop the case. To make this decision, it would probably be necessary for the police to see the licence, so the clerk would have to send this to them with his original notification. If the police did decide to drop the case, they could return the licence to the driver. But if, as is more likely, they decided to prosecute, the licence would then have to be sent back to the clerk for him to send to whichever court would be hearing the case. I hope the Committee will see from this that this amendment, though apparently simple, is, in fact, likely to involve quite as much administrative work as what we have proposed, and probably more.
But my main anxiety about the amendment is more fundamental. The Committee is, I think, well aware 630 of the background to this legislation—the review of road traffic law, which had as one of its main concerns the failure of the fixed penalty system to deal effectively with unlawful parking. The system has fallen into such disrepute—and we have discussed this a number of times—that people do not pay the penalty, in the hope that it will never be enforced against them. By doing nothing, they can escape the consequences of their illegal action. One of the most important innovations in the Bill is the introduction of what is called "contracting out"; that is, that the fixed penalty system will operate in any case where a fixed penalty ticket has been issued, unless the driver takes positive action to "contract out" of the system and ask for a hearing. If he does nothing, he knows that the penalty will eventually be registered and enforced as a fine. This is a crucial tightening up in the effectiveness of the system, and my noble friend's amendment would undermine it.
It would be all too easy for a person to accept a fixed penalty notice at the roadside, and then do nothing about it. The fixed penalty clerk would receive from the police a copy of the notice, but after 21 days, if neither licence nor payment has come along, he would then have to inform the police that there had been no response, and the police would have to issue a summons in the normal way. To the supporters of the amendment this may sound not unreasonable, but remember how many cases we are dealing with here: potentially some 800,000. For every case where the police have to revert to normal prosecution, the time spent issuing the ticket at the roadside, sending the paperwork to the clerk, checking the tickets issued against payments and licences received and informing the police of the result is wasted time; it would actually increase the cost involved in dealing with such a case. And this is intended to be a system which saves the police and courts' time.
Meanwhile drivers may feel encouraged by their experience as parkers to hope that the enforcement system will become so overloaded that it will not catch up with them, and will deliberately fail to follow up fixed penalty notices. So the vicious circle that we have seen on parking tickets begins. Even honest drivers may find that the need to do something positive to obtain a fixed penalty notice may tip the balance of advantage, and in many cases I fear that inertia would prevail. So a system which is designed to benefit all the parties in the criminal justice system may end up by being under-used. I stress "all the parties". I cannot believe that the Committee would wish this to happen.
All in all, therefore, I hope the Committee will feel unable to accept the validity of the apparent underlying purpose of this amendment. I cannot help but feel that my noble friend's apparently innocuous and calmly expressed variation on what we propose would have very serious consequences indeed for the effective working of the fixed penalty system. I look forward to hearing further discussion on this point.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
Having tried very hard to assimilate the eight pages of the Bill which are given to fixed penalties, and having listened to mn noble friend the Minister, the fog I am in is even thicker than it was before. Before he sits down may 631 I ask my noble friend whether the on-the-spot fixed penalty notice will be given only for offences which carry neither points nor endorsement? There still are some, but there are not very many. It seems to me that if one has to go through the rigmarole of the fixed penalty notice by the roadside and then send away one's licence and everything else which my noble friend has described to us, it will take up a lot of people's time and, therefore, money, and there will be many differences between the penalties, the awards, the various criteria—however well the Ministry set them down—by which the clerk will adjudicate on somebody's licence. I am not in favour of it, but I wonder whether the Minister can tell me whether the object is that these offences should carry neither points nor endorsements if a police officer stops a person for a fixed penalty notice?
§ The Earl of Avon
May I put the Committee straight on that point immediately, because it is an important issue. It will cover both points and endorsements. That is why we are getting in 800,000, otherwise we could not hope to get in such a number. Once a police officer has decided—for instance, about speeding —that he wants to see the licence, if it results in too many points he will have to take it back up the tree because he will be unable to deal with it then and there by means of a fixed penalty.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
Having listened to my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borvc, I find myself in agreement with her. I have tried to go through the eight pages in the Bill which deal with fixed penalties. Having listened to what the Minister said and to his reply just now, I am even more confused. He is now saying that a police officer will look at the licence and then send the licence higher up because it has got so many points on it.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
I apologise to my noble friend Lord Lucas and Lady Macleod of Borve for the fact that I find myself totally unable to agree with the amendment which has just been moved. I should have thought that anything which would ease the procedure of justice through the courts in order to prevent the back-log of matters which ought to be regarded almost as de minimis but which have to be looked at by lawyers, ought to be welcomed. If a motorist commits a simple offence, to which this clause relates, it should be a comparatively simple matter to slap a ticket on the window and tell him to get on with it. I do not agree with my noble friend who has just spoken, about a constable looking at a licence and thinking that because the driver has got a couple of endorsements on his licence he will slap a ticket on him. That is totally wrong. I do not believe that officers in our police force think like that, and I do not believe that they would want to think like that. The fact of the matter is that other countries have a fixed penalty system. If you do something wrong, that is it and there is no argument about it.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
That is not quite the point I was getting at. I was getting at the police constable noticing that a driver has so many penalties 632 already that he will send the matter higher up. It is not a question of dealing with it on the spot.
§ Lord Mishcon
If I am looking solemn at the moment it is only because I have heard a score and it does not fill me with excitement. That is the only reason why I am looking solemn.
May I just ask the noble Earl a question while we are trying to clarify our minds on this issue? In answer to my question on my reading of the Bill, I understand that if a police constable finds that the points on the licence before him do not add up to such an amount that if this offence was added to it, the court would have to suspend the driver, then the police constable can adjudicate in the sense that he can make it a fixed penalty offence. Am I right so far? The noble Earl has indicated that I am.
Does this not introduce an entirely new system which some of us may feel to be unjust? If I, the motorist, find myself confronted by a police constable who is alleging that I have committed an offence and I do not think that I have, if I go to court and the court finds I am guilty, then I get an endorsement. That means that not only do I not have a clean licence but also I have some points against me. However, if I "give in" to the police officer in spite of the fact that I do not think I have committed the offence, presumably I get no endorsement and I have nothing to fear over the points. If this be wrong, then I believe it ought to be made entirely and absolutely clear at this stage that at the time of the administration of the fixed penalty, there would be an endorsement clearly put upon the licence, either at that stage or subsequently—so that I am in the same position as if I had appeared before the court. What I have done is to get rid of an awful lot of administration and waste of time. Can the noble Earl make this point clear?
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
Basically, if one has a clean licence then one has nothing to worry about. If a police officer looks at the licence he can act on the spot. If one's licence has too many points, which will take one over the limit, then obviously the police officer cannot adjudicate. If one does not have one's licence on one or does not want to show it, then one can go through the procedure as per normal; one can still ask to go to court. This is an additional process to the law and it does not in any way stop anybody from taking the matter to the court, to have an argument about whether he is guilty or not guilty.
§ Lord Mishcon
I plead guilty to one thing right away; I have not made myself clear to the noble Earl, for which I apologise. I was asking about the endorsement procedure. Take it for granted, and the noble Earl would, that I have a clean licence; that I want to keep it clean and I know that if a matter goes to court I will have an endorsement. If I "give in" to the fixed penalty notice even though I do not believe I am guilty, will I or will I not have an endorsement on my licence? If I will, who will do it?
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I wonder if I could just help the Committee? It is my understanding that notwithstanding what may be on the licence, if the offence is one 633 which carries either an obligatory or a discretionary endorsement, then it does not matter what one says to the policeman because it goes to the higher authority. Perhaps I can just tell the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve that I want to move on to that aspect in a much later amendment. What concerns me now is the fact that sight of the licence may induce the policeman to do a number of things.
Your Lordships may perhaps have heard of people being stopped for an alleged offence and that during the course of the discussion the policeman may have said, "Just be a bit more careful in future". If, however, he has in mind that a fixed penalty might be better than a warning and asks for the licence and sees that you have already been a naughty boy and got nine points up, and, though we are dealing with a technical speeding offence, another three points are going to carry you to the limit and you will be disqualified, he may say, "Ha, this will teach him even more". That is really what lies behind this amendment.
Since I am on my feet, in a vain attempt to answer some of the questions, I must say that my noble friend Lord Mountgarret's support is disappointing. I think he talked about de minimis. We will come to that also. You see, there arc no degrees; that is one of the great tragedies in the system. We have argued this to my certain knowledge on three Transport Bills. Speeding is speeding. There arc no grades of speeding, apparently. We are not talking about de minimis at all. We are talking about an offence.
When my noble friend says that this fixed penalty notice will remove a lot of the aggravation and remove a lot of the work from the system that has failed to deal with the parking ticket, there is no reason why it should. If the policeman gives a fixed penalty notice, he does not take any cash. Your licence is clean, and you just get a notice to pay some money within x days. Similarly, if a parking warden puts a penalty notice on a windscreen, it says you will pay a penalty, I think it is £6, to such and such an authority within so many days. My noble friend says thousands have been getting away with it. They do not pay any regard to this. What makes him think they are going to pay any regard to the fixed penalty notice, the piece of paper, other than that, if they do not pay within the time, there is a half fee fine that will go on top when the authorities finally catch up with them? The only people who catch up with the offenders are policemen. It cannot be done by the clerk; he is not a prosecutor. On failure to pay, the matter goes back to the police, and the police take action. So I do not think that that holds water at all.
The noble Earl also spoke of the great problems of parking. We are not talking about parking alone; we are talking about offences involving a motor car; speeding is probably the main one, but it might be going up a one-way street; it might be failing to stop at a policeman's sign; it could be one of 40 things which are set out in Schedule 1. So it is not just a simple matter.
I do not believe that the vast majority of people are going to understand this. It is all very well to say here in Parliament, in the other place and in your Lordships' Committee, that it is fairly easy to follow. Some of my noble friends have not been able to follow it. I think it is very difficult. T do not believe this ends up 634 at the end of the day with a driver choice. He can accept the penalty for certain things. He can pay up and shut up—the point the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, makes. He can, for the sake of convenience, deny himself a fair shout in the court and just pay up and shut up, or he can go to court, if he has a clean licence, to defend his action. He will probably go for the former, particularly if he feels that the policeman has not decided that that is the penalty inflicted on the spot without prejudice to his previous record. This is what lies behind this amendment. It really is simple.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
May I come back in reply to my noble friend Lord Lucas, or would it he more convenient for the Committee if my noble friend the Minister would like to reply to what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said earlier? I want to refer to my words "de minimis" —my noble friend Lord Lucas took me up on them. I am afraid that I stick by those words. The offences that arc listed under Schedule 1, which are suggested as being fixed penalty offences, are, frankly, de minimis. There is no argument about it. If one breaks the law, that is it.
I see no reason why an offender should not have a fixed penalty imposed upon him without going through all the ramifications and so on of going to a court of law. It is very silly. A great deal of valuable time and a great deal of the valuable experience of people in the courts will be taken up arguing about whether there was a breach of pedestrian crossing regulations or using a vehicle in contravention of street playgrounds. It is quite wrong. If you know what the law is, you stick by it. If you do not do so, you are dealt with accordingly. I regard the offences listed in Schedule 1 as being comparatively de Minimis.
§ The Earl of Avon
It seems a long time ago that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and I crossed swords right at the beginning about the surrendering of the licence. Although he did not think that he was speaking on my side, I rather thought that he was—
§ The Earl of Avon
Oh, good! I am glad to hear it. The noble Lord is quite right, of course. Under the present law the driver has five days to produce a licence. Let me try once again to explain about the fixed penalty.
Let us begin by saying that this is another option which is open, and therefore everything can go on which is going on at the moment. There will be no obligation on the driver to show the officer his licence before the officer makes up his own mind what he is going to do. In asking to see it, the officer should, under the Bill, explain why he wants to see it. He will have already decided in principle that the offence could appropriately be dealt with by fixed penalty, and the only reason for him to change his mind on seeing the licence will be the discovery that the driver is ineligible because of the points already on his licence—that is to say, that he will go over the limit on points. If he so discovers, he must then have the licence sent up to the fixed penalty clerk who will make the necessary endorsement.
In a case dealt with at a police station the driver will be under no obligation to show and surrender his 635 licence and the officer, should he inspect it, will only be concerned to make sure that the driver is eligible to receive a fixed penalty and that means that he is not going over the top. I have tried to put the matter more clearly. I see that I still have not helped the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
The noble Earl the Minister has tried with his usual courtesy to answer me. If I am to blame—and I repeat this—for not making myself clear, then I apologise both to him and to the Committee. I had hoped that this was the question that I had asked. The Minister has said that fixed penalty notices can be issued in respect of endorsable offences. That is principle No. 1. Principle No. 2 is this: I have a clean licence. The question, therefore, of going over the points does not apply at all. I produce my clean licence. The officer smiles upon me and recognises me as being a good user of the road and says, I still allege that you have committed an offence: I am going to give you a fixed penalty notice". I, the driver with a clean licence, am confronted with the following problem. If I say, no, to the fixed penalty offence I invite a prosecution, a summons; and on receipt of that summons if I turn up in court and a magistrate does not find in my favour, I have for the first time in my life an endorsement on my licence. That is a very serious matter, for example, to someone who is earning his livelihood as a driver. On the other hand, if I surrender to the blandishments of the officer, in spite of the fact that I think the allegation is unjust, I then accept the fixed penalty notice. I think that that is an injustice if of course, and only if, I am told that if I take the fixed penalty notice, I do not get an endorsement. I ask the Minister to say that. If I do get an endorsement, I ask him to tell me from an administrative point of view who makes the endorsement. I have taken my licence back; the officer does not have it. Is he supposed, on the road, to write in an endorsement? That is the question that I have asked and to that question I have had no reply.
§ Lord Teviot
Before my noble friend replies to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on the question of parking offences, they are usually fairly straightforward. You must know when you are guilty and when you are not, or usually you must. After all, there is a single yellow line which means that you cannot park between 10 and 6 on Monday to Friday or Monday to Saturday.
§ Lord Mishcon
I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, but the hour is getting late. I have not been talking about parking summonses or notices. We have always had that; we have it now. I am talking about the new procedures.
§ The Earl of Avon
I wonder whether I may try to answer the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, because I think that he was more or less right the whole way up his family tree, except about the endorsement. If you agree with a policeman on the street, he will give you a fixed penalty ticket. You send up your licence with that fixed penalty ticket and you will get the same endorsement as you would if you were found guilty 636 under the other system. So I do not think that there would be any injustice. Even after you have received the fixed penalty, it is still up to you to contest it in a court if you so wish. This is another method that has been included.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
I am sorry, but the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, gave the Committee to understand that he is always very good and carries his licence. Most people do not. Then what happens?
§ The Earl of Avon
It is no different from what happens under the present law. Under the present law the motorist has to produce a licence in five days.
§ Viscount Cross
Briefly, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for the reasons that he has given. May I also ask whether the problem might not be solved by the police officer fining the offender on the spot?
§ The Earl of Avon
I think that that would be a terrifying complication which I should not like to enter into at this stage.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
There is obviously still quite a lot of confusion here, and I think that some of the confusion may be eased as we progress. Certainly, fixed penalty notices can be issued for endorseable and non-endorseable offences. That seems to me to be totally and absolutely wrong. I regret to tell my noble friend Lord Avon that I am not totally satisfied with his answer. Quite frankly, I am tempted to ask the Committee whether his view or mine obtains.
On the other hand, we have in front of us another amendment, and my reading of that amendment is that it goes a good deal further than mine. Therefore, rather than have the issue prejudged—that is, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, prejudged—which it would be were Ito ask the Committee to decide, I think it would be fairer to the Committee if I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my amendment, and therefore the series of amendments, reserving to myself the opportunity of bringing it back at the next stage in the light of what we might discuss in this subsequent series of amendments to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. In this way, it will in no way prejudice the debate in this matter. Under those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Lord Mishcon
Before that amendment is withdrawn, may I say that I have had another look at the Bill, and I know the Committee will pardon me and not think that I keep on intruding upon the discussions, because we have to get one thing absolutely clear. The noble Earl the Minister gave me the information that he had received from those who are briefing him. I know he would always want to explain things most clearly to the Committee, but I now find on looking at the Bill that the answer he gave is not truly accurate.
We are dealing with two questions of endorsement. One is discretionary endorsement and the other obligatory. I understood that the answer that I had been given was that in respect of all matters of endorsement this would be done in fact when the licence was 637 sent in. That cannot be right in regard to a discretionary endorsement. I still maintain my position, that if I am the innocent motorist I stand the chance in court of the court exercising its discretion against me and endorsing, whereas if I give in to the police officer and say, "Here is the fixed penalty", I do not run that risk.
Why should I be able to escape from a risk on one count whereas the person who wants to go before the court cannot? Worse still, is it not a complete injustice—and I repeat this—that I should be tempted to give in to the officer, even though I do not think I have committed the offence, because I am anxious to avoid the question of what may be an endorsement in a discretionary case? If there is somebody who is able other than a court to put on an endorsement even though it be discretionary, I again ask the noble Earl if he would kindly tell us who is the person who is so authorised, and what things would he take into account on the question of discretionary endorsement.
§ The Earl of Avon
The point system included in these fixed penalties is only obligatory endorsements.
§ Lord Mishcon
But not on the question of points, I point out to the noble Earl. Forgive me for being such a pest, and I say that openly to the Committee, but I must get this clear in justice to myself and other members of the Committee who are not clear. I am on the point of a discretionary endorsement. If I go to the court thinking that I am innocent of the alleged offence, I find that I have a risk, in regard to certain offences, of the court endorsing my licence and exercising their discretion in that regard. If I give in to the policeman on the fixed penalty notice in regard to a discretionary endorsement offence, I presumably get no endorsement at all because there is nobody who can exercise the discretion.
Therefore, in spite of the fact that I think that I am innocent, I am tempted quite obviously to pay the fixed penalty even though I am innocent, because I know then that nobody can put an endorsement on my licence because there is nobody there to exercise a discretion. I am either right or I am wrong, and it has nothing to do with points.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
May I back up the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon? On page 28 subsection (4) says:A constable may not affix a fixed penalty notice to a vehicle under subsection (2) above in any case where the offence in question appears to the constable to be an offence involving obligatory endorsement.
§ Lord Mishcon
The Bill says, if I may say this to the noble Earl, "obligatory endorsement". Therefore, the answer that he has given, I know by being briefed and therefore it is not his fault, is that you cannot have a fixed penalty notice if there is a discretionary endorsement. But the Bill does not say that. It only says it in the case of an obligatory endorsement.
§ The Earl of Avon
I think we are still all right, but we are doing it in different terms. It is only what my 638 noble friend said: that is, on the fixed penalty, on the fixing. If I may, I should like to look at what the noble Lord has said because we are going round in knots at the moment.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
It really seems to me, having moved the amendment, that we have received a lot of promises, we have a lot of talking to do, and I did suggest that we might want to come back to this. It seems to me a good idea if I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this time.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 27, line 29, at end insert—
("() Where a constable gives a person a fixed penalty notice under subsection (1), or affixes a fixed penalty notice to any stationary vehicle under subsection (2), of this section and the fixed penalty is paid in accordance with this Part of this Act before the expiration of the twenty-one days following the date of the notice or such longer period (if any) as may be specified in the notice—
§ The noble Lord said: I hope that, having moved this amendment, we shall not find ourselves in the same confusion as we were with No. 20, which was also intended to be a paving amendment to this one. If No. 21 and its consequential amendments were accepted, on Report we should have to adjust the measure in the light of No. 20 so as to put everything in order. I shall, in moving No. 21, speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 25, 41, 62, 63, 64, 65 and 66, which also entail the deletion of Clauses 33 and 34.
§ On Second Reading, it may be recalled, I said we should need to look carefully at all the clauses dealing with fixed penalties, as I had grave doubts whether fixed penalty notices should attract endorsements and penalty points, and that is the subject raised in this amendment, which would add a new subsection (3), the effect of which would be to restore the law to its present position so that the proper payment of a fixed penalty notice would not count as a conviction. It also provides that if a fixed penalty notice for an endorsable offence is properly paid, the motorist's licence will not be endorsed with particulars of the offence and penalty points.
§ The new subsection which the amendment proposes is based on the existing Section 80(2) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 which, with the rest of Section 80 of that Act, is repealed by Schedule 6 to the Bill. I will not read the whole of Section 80(2), because it covers 12 lines, but the amendment seeks to put all that back in to this measure. That would continue the present law where a motorist pays his fixed penalty points in the prescribed way and then his liability for that fixed penalty offence is not treated as having received a conviction or endorsement.
§ The purpose behind this part of the Bill, we have been told, is to simplify motoring offence procedures, and I believe the position would be considerably improved if all endorsable offences were dealt with by 639 the issue and proper payment of a fixed penalty notice and did not attract endorsement or penalty points on the driving licence of the offender. In support of the amendment, I contend that any offence dealt with by a fixed penalty should not involve the expensive administrative procedures of endorsement, the levying of penalty points and the associated record-keeping envisaged in the Bill. Once a fixed penalty has been paid, that should be the end of the matter. I must emphasis, however, that if the offender comes before the court for non-payment of the fixed penalty, the penalty points procedure should apply as if the matter has been dealt with summarily in the first place. If the case comes before the court, the offender will still run the risk of having his licence endorsed.
§ In accepting the extension of the fixed penalty procedure, which we recognise will greatly ease the administration of the courts, I feel sure it will be clearly recognised that it is not a judgment about the appropriateness of the penalty to the offence; it is a rough and ready convenience—a point which my noble friend Lord Mishcon has been making clearly. Thus, the substance of this series of amendments is to remove from the fixed penalty procedure, if a notice is properly paid, all question of conviction, endorsement and penalty points. I will not go into the reasons for the consequential amendments which involve a certain amount of detail. The deletion of Clauses 33 and 34 would be entailed because they relate to the endorsement of licences without hearings and to licence receipts. Therefore, if Amendment No.21 were carried, we could not leave Clauses 33 and 34 in the Bill. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
Perhaps it would be helpful if I speak at this stage, and then get shot down from all sides. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment is that endorsable offences which were dealt with by the fixed penalty procedure would attract a fixed fine, but no penalty points. If the same offences were reported for prosecution and dealt with by the courts, they would attract a fine to be decided by the courts and the number of penalty points appropriate to the offence. The Government's proposal is that endorsable offences should attract penalty points, whether they are dealt with by the fixed penalty procedure or by the courts, and I should say straight away that we regard the noble Lord's proposal as being not merely a modification of our proposals, but as putting forward something which is fundamentally different.
The purpose of the fixed penalty system is to provide a convenient procedure for dealing with a case where both sides agree that it can be settled out of court. It is advantageous to the police and the courts because it saves time and work, and it is advantageous to the motorist because he knows what the penalty will be and he knows that the fine will probably be somewhat less than he would receive if he went to court. It is basically a procedure to help improve the administration of justice, but it also helps the motorist. All we are doing in the Bill is to try to bring about a further improvement by extending the procedure to a wider range of offences.
The noble Lord is proposing something slightly different. He is proposing a restructuring of the system of road traffic offences, which we carried out to some 640 considerable extent in last year's Transport Act. He is proposing a two-tier system for endorsable offences, under which they would in some cases attract points, and in others not. The division is to be based not on any specific criteria, but solely on the method of procedure for dealing with the case. I believe that this whole approach is open to a number of objections. To start with, it would place unacceptable responsibilities on the police, because they would be deciding not merely whether a case could he dealt with out of court, but whether the motorist should, or should not, receive penalty points. I think that that would be wrong in principle because it would bring the police into the area of sentencing policy, and difficult in practice because it would make the roadside transaction a much more momentous one. For every motorist who was glad that he had been given a fixed penalty, there would be others who would be indignant that they had not.
I believe also that there could be problems later on. If a motorist were given a fixed penalty and later decided that in his opinion he was not guilty of the offence at all, he would be in a difficult position. If he accepts the fixed penalty, he gets no points. If he contests the case in court, he risks getting more points for the offence. In order to seek to establish his innocence he would, therefore, be forced to play a risky game of double or quits. Conversely, the motorist who is taken to court might feel that, while he was guilty of the offence, the seriousness of it was not such as to warrant penalty points. If such a defence were permissible—and I am not sure whether it would be—we should surely he in danger of increasing the number of contested cases in the courts and thus negating the benefits which the new system is designed to bring about.
Therefore, the Government do not want to agree with the concept of a two-tier system where the criterion for deciding the tier that an offence is in is based on the method used for processing it. We also have very serious reservations about some of the practical consequences. As the noble Lord will know, the overwhelming majority of offences to which the extended system would apply would be endorseable offences. They account for well over three-quarters of the 800,000 which could potentially be taken out of the courts. We envisage that in the great majority of these it should be possible for a fixed penalty to be both offered and accepted. If that is so, we should achieve our objective of helping to reduce the burden on the police and the courts, but that would not be at the expense of reducing the effect of the law and adversely affecting road safety, because penalty points would still be given in all cases.
I presume that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, must be contemplating the use of fixed penalties on as wide a scale as we are, otherwise we should not achieve the same administrative benefits. But, if he is, then he would be removing endorsements from road traffic offences on quite a scale, and that could reduce the effectiveness of the law and have serious road safety consequences. I doubt very much, for instance, whether persistent speeding offenders are going to be effectively deterred by what amounts to no more than a monetary caution—and the richer they are, of course, the less effective would be the deterrent, which is something it would be difficult for your Lordships, perhaps, to propose.
641 I think, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is really inviting the Committee to take a slight leap in the dark. It is one which the Government could not recommend the Committee to take, and I am quite sure that many others, including the police, would feel likewise. The Government resisted these self-same amendments when they were discussed at an earlier stage in the Bill's proceedings in the other place. I hope that in my explanation I have made my remarks more clearly than I did on the previous amendment, and that the Committee will be with me in resisting this amendment.
§ Lord Mishcon
The Committee will realise the breadth of mind that exists on the Benches behind me, as well as the fact that this is a completely non-political matter, when I rise in order to say that I personally agree with every word that the Minister has said; and although, as he very well knows, I have the greatest of respect and, indeed, affection for my noble friend Lord Underhill, I do not myself think that this is a just or proper amendment, for the very reasons that the Minister gave.
But I rise not only to say that. I rise to say that the reasoning that the Minister so clearly expressed was the very reasoning that I tried so hard to express myself in regard to the quandary of the motorist on the discretionary endorsement. I still have not had a reply to that question—and I am so glad that even at this late hour your Lordships have the strength to nod your heads in agreement. I come back to that, because the reasoning of the noble Earl the Minister breaks down at this point.
If I go to court with my clean licence—forgetting all about the question of points—and the court has a discretion to endorse my licence apart from fining me, I have that deterrent; or, if you put it another way, I have the encouragement, even though I do not think I committed an offence, to say to the police officer, as this Bill is now drawn, "I will have to accept the penalty notice because if I go to court and contest this and I lose, the court can"—not must, but can—" endorse my licence, whereas you cannot. I am a driver, I am a chauffeur, I am a lorry driver, and I earn my living by having a clean licence; I must not run that risk. So you are getting from me £20 which I do not think I ought to pay, but I am going to pay it because, otherwise, if you report me, I am going to run the risk of having my licence endorsed". I repeat, this has nothing to do with points and nothing to do with the clause which the noble Earl the Minister referred to, because that deals only with obligatory endorsement.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
Before the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, sits down, would he not agree that this is exactly the point we tried to make last year? This is being done as a convenience to the courts, to relieve the burden. It really has nothing to do with anything else; it is to relieve that burden. Whether or not it does at the end of the day, only the years will tell.
§ Lord Mishcon
I rise for only a moment, I promise the Committee. I would not mind if this did relieve the pressure on the courts—and one knows how severe that pressure is in regard to some serious criminal 642 matters. Therefore, if it relieved the court of a number of driving offences, I would be happy. If it relieved the administration of justice generally of a lot of work, I would be happy. What I cannot tolerate, however, is an injustice of the kind to which I referred.
§ Lord Underhill
The noble Earl implied that by this amendment I was endeavouring to introduce a new two-tier system. I said that what the amendment was seeking to do was to put into the Bill what is the present law in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967, Section 80(2). I said I would not read it, but perhaps I had better read it because that will let noble Lords know exactly what I am endeavouring to do.Where a constable finds a person on any occasion and has reason to believe that on that occasion he is committing or has committed an offence to which this secion applies, he may give him the prescribed notice in writing offering the opportunity of the discharge of any liability to conviction of that offence by payment of a fixed penalty under this section; and no person shall then be liable to be convicted of that offence if the fixed penalty is paid in accordance with this section…Under the existing law, under which fixed penalty offences apply, if it is paid within the prescribed period and in the proper way, any liability to conviction cannot be given.
What I am endeavouring to do in the amendment I have moved is to provide a similar provision, that in the event of a person paying in the correct way there should be no liability to endorsement or penalty points. The whole question is not of introducing something new but of continuing the present provision. I believe the noble Lord has made quite a convincing case on one particular point when he mentioned that so many cases could come under this heading, and I would certainly look at that.
I take the same view as my noble friend Lord Lucas that, at five minutes to 10 o'clock, to argue this any more would not get us a great deal further. In this case, the best thing for me to do is to read what the noble Earl has said and perhaps both the amendments proposed originally by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and myself may come back in different form, possibly looking at the whole thing afresh. I am sure the Committee is a little confused by one massive series of amendments and also a further series which deals with the same principle in effect, but tries to go further than the other. In the light of the explanations given and the confusion, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Mishcon
On that point, again with persistence —and I hope the Committee will not think it worse than that—before moving from Committee stage on this Bill and so that we know where we stand in our consideration between Committee stage and Report, I ask again whether I am correct or not, that someone will face an endorsement on a discretionary basis if he goes to court and there will be no provision for an endorsement on a discretionary basis if the penalty notice is accepted. If the Minister will be kind enough to answer that, we shall know where we stand.
§ The Earl of Avon
Looking at Schedule 1, the offences for fixed penalties are listed. The noble Lord will see that all the offences there are obligatory; there are no discretionary endorsements under the fixed penalty 643 system. What I should like to do between now and the next stage of the Bill is to try to get out a piece of paper which sets out clearly what we are trying to do, so that I can circulate it to all interested. Obviously we can go on and on across the Floor. I think I have said what the noble Lord does not think I have said and vice versa.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)
If Amendment No. 22 is agreed to, it will not be possible for me to call Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25.
§ [Amendment No. 22 not moved.]645
§ 10 p.m.
Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 27, line 33, after ("endorsement") insert ("other than an offence described in paragraph 3A of Part III of Schedule 4 to the 1972 Act").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, with the leave of the Committee I shall at the same time speak to Amendments Nos. 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 35, 48, 49, 79 and 131, which also appear on the Marshalled List in my name.
§ Before I go to the text or main point of my amendments, I appreciate that the Committee will take all this at this late hour. I confessed earlier when I apologised to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for making a social blunder, that I made a slight mistake. There was talk about being in a fog. It was more of a Scotch mist. When we come to Report stage some of these obligatory offences will remain contentious, I agree. This is not my amendment but I want to say this, especially with regard to matters such as pedestrian crossings. I think that we should deal with these matters one by one in a rather different way from that followed so far.
§ Now, with permission, I shall go back on to what I was going to say rather slowly, and I shall keep to my speech absolutely word for word, otherwise I shall get very lost. If noble Lords wish to interrupt me, they may do so because I shall be ready for them. The linchpin of this group of amendments is the proposed new clause, Amendment No. 113, in Part IV of the Bill. One might prefer to see this new clause incorporated in the Criminal Justice Bill, but I understand that in another place the Minister responsible for that Bill considered it would be more appropriate to the Transport Bill which the Committee are now considering. In support of that view, there is no doubt that all the amendments now being debated relate closely to Part III of this Bill.
§ In explaining the intentions of these amendments, may one first say that they seek to deter rather than to punish; but that the proposed penalties, seen as a package, are fitting to the crime. The proposed new clause has four objectives. First, it makes offences against traffic regulation orders, or traffic scheme regulations, subject to discretionary disqualification for driving; secondly, it allows use of fixed penalty notices under Part III of the Bill; thirdly, it ensures that the fixed penalty is at the rate applicable to endorsable offences; and fourthly, it precludes prosecution while the offence may be wiped out by payment of the fixed penalty.
§ Amendments Nos. 23, 27, 35, 48 and 49, to Clauses 26, 27, 29 and 30, remove relevant offences from the default payment procedure of Part III, thereby ensuring that court action is taken to bring into operation the deterrent of endorsement and possible disqualification.
§ Amendment No. 79, to Clause 48, relates to company owned cars. One does not want to get at a particular part of the community at this time of night, but the Committee may agree that the worst parking offenders are often drivers of company cars, who may regard penalties as a business expense. A company cannot 646 be disqualified, so a method of acting against the individual responsible is a fundamental necessity. Amendments Nos. 28 to 32, to Schedule 1, are purely consequential on the provision making the relevant traffic offences liable to endorsement and disqualification.
§ So these amendments introduce a new class of offence, in severity somewhere between those directly involving human safety—which is what Parts III and IV of the Bill are all about—and venial sins of selfishness. This distinction can be justified because of the economic and social cost the offender places on the rest of the community and because of the indirect effects of such offences on road safety, particularly through the frustration they cause other drivers. We all have seen risks taken by drivers due to frustration. We may occasionally be tempted ourselves.
§ Under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967, local authorities are given power to make orders and regulations controlling traffic on specified roads in their areas. It is for these authorities with their local knowledge to determine the appropriate circumstances in which regulation is required in the interests of the local community. It is for Parliament to determine the broad framework within which these local decisions shall apply, including the penalties which may attach to offences.
§ One sometimes hears criticisms of restrictions placed on residential roads by the local councils. It seems to me that, if the penalty appropriate to trunk routes is a sufficient deterrent to keep them free of illegally parked or waiting cars, it should follow that councils would not impose unreasonable restrictions on subsidiary and residential roads. because they will recognise that the penalties are too onerous. This should help keep the traffic regulation policy in balance and prevent overkill with the new penalties. It is a matter of balance, as well as deterrence. While we must not allow the individual driver to act selfishly towards the great majority, neither should he be penalised for the responsible use of his vehicle. It is guiding this balance which is fundamental to these amendments which I urge upon your Lordships' Committee.
§ As has been said, Amendment No. 113, which is the proposed new clause, introduces a new category of offence. We live in an age when our cities are congested with traffic. There are massive difficulties in further improving the road network in the centres of these cities and, meanwhile, illegal parking of vehicles penalises other road users—indeed, the community as a whole—to an extent many hundreds, even many thousands, of times greater than the benefit to the individuals who offend in this way. It particularly affects users of public transport, since buses cannot deviate from their routes to avoid the obstructions and congestion which illegally parked vehicles cause.
§ There are many who would be pleased to rely on the public transport system, if it were able to provide a regular and reasonably swift service, but it is handicapped by illegal parking, misuse of bus lanes, and so on. People in our cities need a balanced transport provision ensuring adequate public transport for the majority, but 647 those for whom the private car is essential should have the opportunity to travel over our roads and be provided with a reasonable allocation of parking space. The reasonable needs of delivery vehicles must also be recognised.
§ In saying that the motorist must have a reasonable allocation of parking space, it must be remembered that parking space and traffic volume are two sides of the same coin. If there is parking there will be traffic; if there is not, then drivers will be deterred and will seek to keep their vehicles away from the congested area, so easing the congestion.
§ There was a classic demonstration of this last week at the start of the deplorable railway strike—this is rather contentious; and one must add that all rail strikes are now potentially suicidal—when London was deprived of its underground trains and parking space was substantially increased. The centre of London was saturated with cars and the police had to turn back thousands of motorists on certain approach roads. The relevance of this is that an increase in the supply of parking space attracts vehicles which, if the supply were reduced, would stay away. While the penalty for illegal parking is too low, the supply of parking is effectively increased and further aggravates matters.
§ Another penalty of heavy parking is the obstruction caused by drivers trying to manoeuvre—may be where junctions of narrow roadways are restricted by badly parked vehicles or maybe by trying to squeeze into a limited space between two vehicles which are already parked, probably illegally. Last year, in evidence to the Transport Committee in another place, London Transport's chairman said that, if its buses could move as freely on weekdays as on Saturdays, there would be a £30 million reduction in costs and an additional £12 million in fares revenue—a benefit of £42 million in 1980. The figure would be much higher now and would have gone a long way to avoid the recent fiasco over fares in London.
§ That is just one example, but there was also an interesting, if rather extreme, leading article in last Monday's Daily Telegraph by Professor Mishan. This, "with remorseless logic"—to use the sub-editor's words—showed the massive economic and social costs of the car, compared to public transport. Public transport is, perhaps, the major and most obvious beneficiary of freer traffic movement, but delivery vehicles and essential car users would benefit, too. Heart disease is a killer and the disease of our traffic arteries is killing our national efficiency. That is why we must take appropriate action. The measures already included in the Bill will help, but can one believe that they go far enough?
§ It is my personal belief that the deterrent of possible disqualification from driving will be more effective than the new fixed penalty procedure, and even than wheel clamps, which I welcome. It is for this reason that urge these amendments, even though I recognise that in one respect they run counter to the policy of the Bill. Part III takes responsibility for most traffic offences away from our magistrates' courts and courts of 648 summary jurisdiction. These amendments require the offender to appear in court. If he does not accept that it is fair and pays the fixed penalty, the question is whether the offender will pay. That we do not know.
§ I feel strongly that this is just as worthy of experiment as is the excellent trial of wheel clamps. The powers of the Secretary of State under Clause 28(2) will suffice for this purpose or, should they not, they could be extended to cover it. In either event, the time has come for positive action to protect the legitimate motorist, bus users, pedestrians and our own cities themselves from the modern equivalent of the highwayman—from that selfish and too large minority who now abuse our roads. I beg to move.
§ Lord Underhill
I have only two or three brief points to make. I am in full sympathy with the aim behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, which is to endeavour to remove obstructions—in particular from clearways and urban highways—so that traffic can flow smoothly. All of us are in complete agreement that this is what we are aiming for, but, when I look at the new clause proposed by Lord Teviot's Amendment No. 113, which is the important amendment in the list of amendments which he has moved, it appears to me that the same criticism could be made as was made of the amendment which I moved. It appears that, if the fixed penalty is paid within the proper period, that finishes the matter, but, if it is not paid, there can be discretionary disqualification. This is going much further than what even 1 suggested. It appears to me to be one anomaly. Further, while the obstruction of clearways, experimental traffic routes and so on is something to be avoided, ought it to carry the possibility of disqualification? If it is serious enough for disqualification, I believe that the Committee ought to look at the list of offences which are in the 1967 Act. We may find there much lighter penalties for offences which are just as serious. The two points I have made are critical of the amendment, even though I agree with its general aims and objectives.
§ The Earl of Avon
I join the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in his general welcome of the proposition which underlies these amendments, that illegal parking seriously disrupts the bus industry and that the bus operators could operate more economically and effectively in conditions free of obstruction caused by illegal parking.
My noble friend Lord Teviot has explained that the main purpose of these amendments is to provide a stronger deterrent against illegal parking. I hope he will agree that this Bill already takes several important steps to strengthen the deterrents to illegal parking. My noble friend has already mentioned the clause on wheel clamps. It has been a major flaw in the operation of the fixed penalty system in London in particular that court time has simply not been available to deal with all the unpaid fixed penalties issued for parking offences. The Bill tackles this fundamental problem by providing for unpaid penalties, plus 50 per cent., to be registered and enforced as fines without a court hearing, unless one is requested.
649 My noble friend's amendment is based on a radically different approach which we believe is incompatible with that of Part III of the Bill. The amendment, having defined a group of offences which includes yellow line parking offences but which could also embrace certain moving traffic offences—for example, in bus lanes or one-way streets—gives the courts discretionary power to disqualify and obliges them to endorse licences on conviction.
As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, and as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, will be horrified to hear, at the same time it provides a means whereby recipients of a fixed penalty for these offences may wholly avoid the risk of endorsement or disqualification. They could do this simply by paying the penalty. Indeed, they could receive and pay any number of penalties without risk of disqualification, because the amendment does not provide for points to be entered on the licence when a fixed penalty is paid. That amounts to a very strong and, I think, unjust pressure on the driver not to take his case to court, however good he may think his defence. It is quite unlike the alternative at present offered by Part III for endorsable offences.
A second objection to the amendments my noble friend has proposed is that they would put the clock back on two vital developments which have arisen from practical experience of operating the fixed penalty system. The first development concerns owner liability, which this Bill preserves, and which was introduced in the Road Traffic Act 1974 after police had found considerable difficulty in following up unpaid penalties left on vehicles in the driver's absence. My noble friend's amendments to Clause 30 and 48 would have the effect of dropping the presumption of owner liability for this group of offences. I am sure that is consistent with the intention of the amendment, as it would be a doubtful step to endorse or suspend the owner's licence for an offence committed by another driver.
But the approach would create major problems. Some 21/2 million restricted street offences were dealt with by fixed penalty in England and Wales in 1980. The present amendment would require all unpaid penalties issued for such cases to be followed up through the courts, as it disapplies the procedures for registering unpaid penalties as fines in Clauses 29, 30 and 31 of the Bill. Without any presumption of owner liability, it would be a mammoth task to identify the driver and summons him. This would involve the co-operation of vehicle owners. Experience prior to 1975 suggests that owners would not be co-operative, and the amendments impose no sanction on owners who do not assist the police to identify the driver. Nor do they help in any way to resolve disputes between owners and drivers as to who was responsible for a particular offence. Where doubt remained, I believe that magistrates would be inclined not to convict, knowing that endorsement followed. I think it is also likely that magistrates would be extremely reluctant to use a power to disqualify for parking offences. They already have such powers for offences which involve danger, such as leaving the vehicle in a dangerous position or parking on a pedestrian crossing. The validity of endorsement or disqualification for 650 offences with a road safety aspect is widely accepted. But the present amendment would extend endorsement to many offences which do not as a rule prejudice road safety, although I accept that they are often anti-social and prejudicial to traffic flows. We should be very wary of adding to the present list of endorsable offences, and particularly when the offences concerned are numbered in millions.
The Government believe that the improvements to the fixed penalty system which the Bill already contains constitute a sounder and more effective way of increasing deterrents to illegal parking, by making it more likely that unpaid fixed penalties will be enforced. We believe the amendment would disturb the enforcement of fixed penalties for parking offences rather than assist it, and that it would distort the option of a hearing by bringing unacceptable pressure on the recipient of the fixed penalty to avoid being taken to court. I have replied to my noble friend in some detail and I hope he will do me the courtesy of reading what I have said. I hope that I have answered some of his problems.
§ Lord Teviot
I am terribly surprised to be getting up again so quickly. In reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, if fixed penalties go further, then fair enough. He also felt that disqualification for obstructing a clearway was going it a bit strong. I believe that my noble friend also mentioned this. We have Transport Bills rather often, but we do not often have these sort of sections in Transport Bills. We are dealing with a major problem with congestion on the roads. I suppose that, directly, parking does not affect road safety; but it does due to frustration, as I have explained. I believe that we must look very much further than we are doing already. There is also this business about people paying. They jolly well do not pay. I shall not delay the Committee any longer, but I shall take my noble friend's advice and read what he said, he having read what I said. Perhaps at a later stage we can come back and deal with this matter all over again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Denham
I think we have probably reached as far as we can go tonight. What I have been trying to ascertain is whether any of these subsequent amendments have already been spoken to; we could get them out of the way for the Marshalled List next time. If the next amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas is one that he still needs to speak to, perhaps we should adjourn before we reach it.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I regret to tell the Committee that I would have to speak to Amendment No. 24.
§ Lord Denham
I am merely seeking for elucidation. I was not trying to hustle my noble friend into anything he would afterwards regret. Therefore, I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to: House resumed.