HL Deb 14 July 1982 vol 433 cc359-408

4.2 p.m.

House again in Committee.

[Amendment No. 62 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 38, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 39 [Provision for exclusion of fixed penalty procedures where fixed penalty notice mistakenly given.]:

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 62A: Page 44, line 42, leave out ("that section") and insert ("section 36 of this Act").

The noble Earl said: This very small amendment corrects a mistaken reference back. Specific reference to" proceedings for enforcing payment" of an enhanced unpaid fixed penalty is to be found in Clause 36, not Clause 35. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment Nos. 63, 64, 65, and 66 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 40 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Fixed penalty offences confined to Scotland.]:

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 67: Page 75, leave out lines 27 and 28.

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I draw the Committee's attention to this second list of fixed penalties in Schedule 2. Lines 27 and 28 set out an offence under the 1972 Act of driving with uncorrected defective eyesight. Whatever one may think about the inclusion of separate fixed penalty offences which are confined purely to Scotland, I should like to ask my noble and learned friend whether there is any justification for the inclusion in this particular list of an endorsable offence, but one which is not regarded as a fixed penalty offence in England and Wales.

The Committee may recall that in June last year, during the Committee stage of the 1981 Act, we spent some time talking about the seriousness of driving with defective eyesight. It is surprising to me that in this comprehensive list of some 30 additional offences for fixed penalty, something which your Lordships thought last year was of a very serious nature is apparently less serious in Scotland in that it warrants an alternative and lesser penalty than it does in England and Wales. I beg to move.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I should like to support this amendment, especially with regard to line 28. I know someone who has been asked to produce evidence of his date of birth; in other words, to produce his birth certificate. Over a week ago he wrote to St. Catherine's House for a copy of his birth certificate. There was no reply. He wrote again, and still received no reply. Then he telephoned and a very sleepy girl said: "I do not know much about that, but I will try to find out about it". He had to wait about 20 minutes, adding greatly to the cost of his telephone bill. She then said:" We will make it an urgent case; I will put an urgent' tab on it and you should get your birth certificate within three weeks". If you are suddenly asked to furnish evidence of your date of birth—presumably your word is no good; it has to be a birth certificate as I read this—if the bureaucracy cannot produce it quicker than that, who is to blame? Is the individual to blame, or is the system to blame? It certainly seems to be unfair on the individual.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

The amendment which my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has moved is an amendment to delete lines 27 and 28 from Schedule 2, which will have the effect—and the effect only—of deleting the enactment Section 91(1), and the description of the offence of "driving with uncorrected defective eyesight". In other words, he is not seeking to amend the provision dealing with failure to furnish the Secretary of State, when required, with evidence of date of birth.

However, in answer to my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, the effect is that Section 104(5) of the Road Traffic Act 1972 creates an offence of the kind which is there described, and the mere fact that it is in the schedule dealing with it as a fixed penalty offence does not really affect that. But I can assure my noble friend that the procurator fiscal in Scotland would certainly exercise his discretion if a matter of this kind was reported to him, if the failure was not a failure of the individual himself but some failure on the part of the bureaucracy, to which my noble friend referred. In other words, if someone has a reasonable explanation for what he has done, the fiscal is perhaps the best person to go to, because he is accustomed to dealing with that sort of thing and adjudicating upon it. He has a fairly strong discretion and he is not afraid not to prosecute where he thinks that that is the correct decision to take.

On the amendment, I do not think that it is a correct assumption that because that offence occurs in Schedule 2, it is regarded as less serious in Scotland than it would be in England. As I sought to explain, the reason for Schedule 2 was that in Scotland we have the procurator fiscal, who has experience of exercising discretion at a fairly high level with very considerable protection of independence. An offence of this kind would be reported to him and it would be up to him to decide whether or not to prosecute. He would have the responsibility of conducting the prosecution and deciding about the evidence.

This schedule is constructed on the basis of the recommendations of the Stewart Committee—to which I have already referred—that committee having been set up by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and the then Lord Advocate, to consider the matters which it had in its terms of reference. One of them was to consider for what offences it might be appropriate for the procurator fiscal to have discretion to issue or to offer a fixed penalty. Looking at all the possible offences and having regard to all circumstances of the procurator fiscal's office and so on, the committee concluded that this was a suitable offence to include in the list. It does not mean that in every case of this sort the procurator fiscal will, in fact, offer a fixed penalty. That will depend on all the circumstances—for example, the consequences in the particular case of this particular breach of the law—and so on. Therefore, I think that I can reasonably assure my noble friend Lord Lucas that the fact that this offence is in this schedule will not in any way signify that it is not considered a serious offence and one which requires to be dealt with adequately under the law.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I must say that I do not find that explanation very satisfactory. I might add to my noble and learned friend that I do not propose to go further with this matter—at least not this afternoon. It seems to me that, on the one hand, one is trying to move to a simpler system of penalty enforcement with regard to motoring offences. It might perhaps be fairly useful if I now speak to my later amendments on the schedules so that we do not have to go through the whole thing again.

We have a position here which certainly a year or two ago we thought, as regards defective eyesight, was a very serious offence. We have moved this, by inclusion in Schedule 2, into an area that offers a lesser penalty than hitherto. In other words, by definition the offence is reduced. It need not be, but by its very inclusion it is reduced.

I find the whole of Schedule 2 something of a nonsense. Unless we want a lot of divisions between one side of the border and the other—and I do not think that any of us wants that—I cannot see why, since Schedule 1 contains about 40 offences which can be dealt with by fixed penalties common in England Wales and Scotland, but which are going to be dealt with offences. They are the same kind of offences which would arise from a breach of the law in England, Wales and Scotland, but which are going to be dealt with in this way because of the explanation that my noble and learned friend has given.

These two schedules arise because the Stewart Committee reported on alternatives to prosecution in Scotland in 1980, and they suggseted this list. The Inter-Departmental Working Party on Road Traffic Law, which reported in 1981, produced another list, which is Schedule many of the items became Schedule 2 by virtue of this arrangement. No clear reason is given other than it is more convenient for the fiscal to deal with these matters because they do not have the same arrangemnets within the police station itself for dealing with a fixed penalty notice.

It is far better that offenders in England, Scotland and Wales should be given the same opportunities. I understand what my noble and learned friend says; they are not meant to be separated, but it is rather more convenient for the Scots to be separated. On the one hand if the Scots are apprehended transgressing the law in England, they can either plead guilty and hope that the fiscal will deal with them lightly by issuing a fixed penalty, or he might even take them off to court. something which we do not have in England. On the other hand, we get an opportunity of a fixed penalty for certain offences, 40 of them, and the Scots get an additional 30. To me it just does not seem common sense or practical.

It does not seem reasonable, either, that because a particular system is set up one part of a nation should enjoy greater benefits, on the one hand, or fewer, on the other. I do not find that my noble and learned friend's answer is satisfactory, although I have little doubt that it is perfectly accurate. I find it a totally unsatisfactory position.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Underhill

May I briefly support the general tenor of Lord Lucas's remarks, and not necessarily support the deletion of Schedule 2, which is one of his later amendments, because that would bring complications. I appreciate the points that are made about Scots law being different. The last thing I would wish to do is to cause cross-border difficulties. But an issue might be satisfactory if it is something that is being dealt with for the Scots alone, but this will not be for the Scots alone. It will be for the people of England and Wales who may be visiting Scotland. Therefore, it affects people other than Scots. Even though it may not be possible to deal with it in this Bill at this time, I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate whether it is not possible for Ministers to get together, for those responsible for that report to get together, so that on these issues of traffic law and regulations we can at least have some common treatment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

If the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, happened to get involved in one of the offences listed in Schedule 2—and I sincerely hope that he does not on his forthcoming Scottish holiday—he would, because we have the system of a procurator fiscal, be able to have that dealt with without any inconvenience of court. Now why, because we have that system, should we make use of it simply because in the particular arrangements available in England that possibility does not exist? It does not mean any injustice. It just means that if you happen to be in Scotland you can be dealt with in this particular matter more conveniently than happens to be the case in England.

Schedule 1 offences are offences in which the police can give a fixed penalty, and that applies north and south of the border. The reason for Schedule 2—the extra offences so far as Scotland is concerned—is that these offences are of a kind which the Stewart Committee thought the procurator fiscal could reasonably deal with. It does not suggest that they are any less serious, or that the penalty that he gives will be less than it would be if it went to court, as I explained in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton. The penalty in court might be more, or less, depending on the eloquence of the advocate and the circumstances as the court saw them.

It is simply a convenience to avoid the necessity in the appropriate case of the person who happens to transgress in Scotland going through the court procedure. That has the great benefit of saving the court time, occupying the court with matters which should not concern it, because the person who is being dealt with is perfectly satisfied to be dealt with by the fixed penalty that the procurator fiscal has offered him. May I correct one thing. I said earlier that the Stewart Committee was appointed by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I was giving it slightly too long a parentage. I think it was his right honourable successor, Mr. Millan, who had that particular honour.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am glad to dissociate myself from the parentage of the Stewart Committee, but not from the findings of the Stewart Committee. It must be terrible for English Peers to find that we have an entirely separate, not legal system alone, but way of dealing with the law. Simply because the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is troubled that we have this advantage, that we have somebody who is independent of Government and indeed independent of the judiciary, who is concerned with prosecutions in Scotland, he suggests that we should forget all about that when it comes to traffic offences.

If we can deal with these matter much more expeditiously because of our traditional form of dealing with legal matters in Scotland, then why should we be denied it just to get some uniformity with the primitive English? I am glad that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate at least stuck up for the Scottish legal system. We are not going to dispense with it.

Noble Lords had the solution to this in their own hands. They decided they wanted to retain control of all Scottish legislation here in England. There was a devolution Bill. Tomorrow this place will be crowded with English Members when we are dealing with a Scottish Local Government and Planning Bill. They will all be here because they can insist that it should be dealt with here in London. I am looking forward to that, and I daresay that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will be here as well to put his point of view and his thoughts on Scottish local government, and the rest of it. But the one thing that makes it possible to have a measure of devolution in Scotland is that we have a different legal system and a different administration of justice and courts administration in Scotland. Long may that continue, and it is about time people in England realised that unlike English areas—unlike even Wales—we have had it for centuries and we intend to continue it.

It was one matter that was in the Act of Settlement; the treaty said that the Scottish legal system should continue, and it has. To suit the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the desire of my noble friend Lord Underhill for uniformity there is no reason why we should in this case be denied the benefit of dealing much more expeditiously with the 30 listed offences.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Ross, that I have no wish whatever to impose my will on the Scots, in lawful or any other matters, and I said at the outset that I was not proposing to take the amendment further. I moved it because I wanted an explanation, which is surely not an unreasonable request to make of my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate. I admire some of the differences that obtain in Scotland, particularly in regard to property transactions—they have a far more sensible way of dealing with such matters—but, having heard the explanation given by my noble and learned friend, I assure Lord Ross that I have no intention of raising the matter again tomorrow.

One of those people who examine Bills and amendments has suggested to me, however, that my noble and learned friend's explanation may not be correct if one considered a rather absurd case, that of a straying dog wandering without a lead on a designated road in Berwick on Tweed. That could result in the owner being in trouble under the 1972 Act as reflected in Schedule 2 of this measure. If it were on the Scottish side of Berwick on Tweed, it could be dealt with by way of a fixed penalty.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It might be.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am obliged to the noble Lord; it might be dealt with in that way, and most probably it would be. However, if it happened on the English side, it could not be so dealt with. It would have to go to court. I find that odd, but perhaps I had better just leave it there, regarding it as being odd, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment No.68: Page 76, line 42, at end insert ("which is, by virtue of section 26 or 40 of this Act, a fixed penalty offence").

The noble and learned Lord said: I have spoken to this. I bee to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 41 agreed to.

4.23 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 69: After Clause 41, insert the following new clause:

("Amendment of Transport Act 1981.

Speeding Offences

. In Part II of Schedule 7 to the Transport Act 1981, the following words are deleted:

"Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 s. 78A. Exceeding a speed limit 3"
and the following words are substituted:
"Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 s. 78A(1). Speeding offences under the 1967 Act and other Acts except those dealt with by fixed penalty notice. 2–3"
Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 s. 78A. Speeding offences under the 1967 Act and other Acts dealt with by payment of a fixed penalty. 2"")

The noble Lord said: I return to matters we have discussed on innumerable occasions, notably last year and earlier in this Bill's Committee stage. This amendment is another and further attempt to move to a simplification of the system of penalties—to move further towards a system of differentiating between the serious and less serious offence, or between the more serious and what I have been pleased to call in previous debates the technical offence.

As your Lordships will see, I have suggested that we remove the penalty for exceeding a speed limit, which carries endorsable penalty points of an obligatory nature (three of them) and transfer that into two groups. One is of speeding offences other than those dealt with by a fixed penalty notice, giving an obligatory points endorsement of either two or three; if they are not dealt with under a fixed penalty notice they will go to court, where the magistrates will determine the seriousness or otherwise of the offence and the seriousness of the penalty that should be awarded. On the other hand, there is an inclusion in the amendment that where speeding offences will be dealt with by a fixed penalty, there should be a lesser obligatory endorsement, that of two points. The new clause, if accepted, would represent a halfway house towards the ideal system of a two-tier fixed penalty offence system. From our discussions recently, the Government are disinclined to remove a number of offences totally from the endorsable points system, letting them rest, alternatively on a fixed penalty, or court proceedings—a normal prosecution—with all the panoply of penalty that might result.

I believe there has been, last year and in the proceedings on this measure, a general feeling that there should be a differential punishment for what one might call the technical offence—that offence which is not desperately serious, dangerous or reckless—the kind of offence that a policeman at the roadside or when apprehending an alleged offender would decide there and then, "This is obviously not a court matter". We know in practice that that happens already. Somebody may be stopped and the policeman asks if he is in a hurry, where is he going, why and so on, and at the end of all that he may just say, Let this be a warning to you. Take more care and go rather more slowly in future". We know that happens, and it is very good. It reminds one of the 1930s "courtesy cops who did so much good.

Why cannot we accept something of that nature, which is the halfway house? That is all it is. In any event, there is power in the 1981 Act to alter the point system, to add and remove offences, and my amendment goes some way towards jogging some activity under that provision. I do not think I need say more, except that I believe that where we are having to step up the enforcement of the law in regard to traffic offences, it is no bad thing—I said this on Friday morning—to offer a carrot as well as thumping the motorist with a stick. I suggest that my amendment carries an element of carrot with the stick attached. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth for explaining his amendment with such clarity. His proposal is that instead of three penalty points being given for a speeding offence, whether it is dealt with by fixed penalty or in court, two points should be given if it is dealt with by fixed penalty and two or three points if it is a court case. As such, the proposal is a much less radical departure from our own proposals than was the noble Lord's amendment to Clause 26.

On the one hand, it has the attraction of providing a further incentive to the motorist to accept a fixed penalty, and not take his case to court. But, on the other hand, it represents a further relaxation of the effect of endorsement for this particular group of offences. Your Lordships' Committee will recall that at present a person is liable to be disqualified after three speeding offences. When the new points scheme is introduced he will, with three points for the offence, be able to commit four offences before being liable; and that is already a relaxation. Under my noble friend's proposal it will be possible for him to commit six offences at two points per time before that happened. I must ask the Committee to consider whether we are not in danger of carrying relaxation a little too far, and perhaps too fast.

I should also draw the Committee's attention to the argument that if a court can award two or three points, people will surely want to take the opportunity to argue that they should be awarded two, rather than three, points. As the noble Lord is aware, that would not make the system much simpler. Furthermore, I have a slight feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, might not like it very much, since surely a motorist would be tempted to accept a two points penalty fixed fine straight away, since if he went to court he could risk being awarded three points. As was mentioned in discussion on earlier amendments, we should want to avoid that kind of situation.

I think that my noble friend is trying to introduce into the points system a degree of fine tuning which, quite frankly, is too complicated. He has to convince your Lordships' Committee that the present legislation is wrong; in fact that the legislation which your Lordships passed last year is wrong. I feel that he must find that rather difficult to do, since the points system does not come into effect until this October, and I believe that we really should give the 1981 Act a fair trial before we start tinkering with the details in the way proposed. My noble friend said, I think, that he would like to jog my right honourable friend's memory on the point that under a provision of the 1981 Act he is able to change the points count, but I believe that we must give the system a chance to come into effect before we start trying to change it.

Lord Gisborough

I wish very briefly to support the amendment. Undoubtedly, in regard to speeding offences there is a significant difference between the motorist who drives at high speed and the motorist who is just over the speed limit, and obviously that point is not recognised with the single three-points penalty system. There are also considerable differences among the attitudes of both police forces and individual officers in them as to whether to insist on imposing penalty points or an on-the-spot fine, or, as often happens, to let off the motorist with only a warning. I believe that there is a very good argument for the variable penalty points system. There is no argument against it. If there were to be an argument against it, it must also apply to variations that are accepted in other parts of the Bill.

The Earl of Avon

I wonder whether my noble friend has really studied the penalty points system which your Lordships passed last year.

Lord Underhill

I, too, wish briefly to support the amendment. I supported the principle of it last year, and I also spoke on it on the second day of the Committee stage, in relation to another amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. So, obviously, I do not intend to change my attitude within a short period. It is not so much a question of waiting to see how the points system works. Rather, it is a question of whether or not all speeding offences deserve three points. We know that there are a number of types of speeding offence that are very serious, but there are other types that are purely technical. I do not suppose that there is a noble Lord in the Chamber who does not share that view. A motorist might build up four or five sets of points, yet each set might arise from a mere technical offence that has caused no danger at all to anyone.

Noble Lords have given examples of occasions when they have been pulled up. I remind the Committee of what I said 12 months ago. I have had only one speeding offence. It occurred at half an hour past midnight, on a dry road, with a glorious moon shining. There was no one on the road apart from myself. There was a 40 miles-an-hour limit and a de-restriction sign half a mile ahead. I was doing 46 or 47 miles-an-hour, causing no danger to anyone at all. On the other hand, a motorist might do 35 miles-an-hour in an urban area—a really serious offence. Therefore, I believe that there is a sound case for looking at what the amendment proposes. Perhaps the Minister cannot accept it in its present form, but I urge that serious consideration be given to it at sometime.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for his continued support for the principle that is underlined by the amendment. I would say to my noble friend Lord Avon that currently, until October of this year, (as he said), the motorist is permitted only three convictions for speeding before disqualification. After October under the three-points system, he will have four chances before disqualification. I do not disagree with that.

My noble friend suggested that if my amendment were accepted, there would be a great degree of relaxation, since a motorist could commit six offences before disqualification. My noble friend stated that the motorist would take the option, but I would point out that he might not even have the option, because the alternative has not yet been offered. What the motorist has is an option to accept an offer of a fixed penalty with, if my amendment were accepted, the lower endorsable points value. However, so far as I understand the position—and I think I understand it—the constable is not obliged to offer a fixed penalty. He might say to the motorist, "You have exceeded the speed limit, and I am going to report you for prosecution. Kindly show me your licence, insurance, and other documents". The motorist goes to court; and so there is not necessarily a relaxation.

The amendment would mean that the policeman would have to make a decision. He would have to ask himself, "Do I go for the heavier course of taking the motorist to court, or do I let him off with a warning, or do I impose a slightly lesser fixed penalty which carries two endorsable points"? I think that that is perfectly reasonable.

My noble friend stated that the 1981 Act is not yet in force, and that we should give it a chance. But why give it a chance if it is no good? I have said repeatedly during discussions on the Bill—and I shall probably say it again today—that the department thinks along the same tram lines all the time; it cannot move outside of them. The amendment might have some imperfections, but I believe that if your Lordships' Committee were to accept it, that would demonstrate to Her Majesty's Government and the department that we want more flexible thinking and a far wider range of options and opportunities. Therefore, I ask your Lordships' Committee whether it will express its view on the matter.

4.39 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 69) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 74; Not-Contents, 66.

Airedale, L. Cross, V.
Ampthill, L. Davies of Leek, L.
Annan, L. Davies of Penrhys, L.
Ardwick, L. Denington, B.
Avebury, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Aylestone, L.
Baker, L. Ellenborough, L.
Balogh, L. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Banks, L. Energlyn, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, I Fisher of Rednal, B.
Beswick, L. Gaitskell, B.
Bishopston, L. Gisborough, L.
Blease, L. Glenamara, L.
Blyton, L. Gosford, E.
Brockway, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Hunter of Newington, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Byers, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Caccia L. Kimberley, E.
Chitnis, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Kirkhill, L. Rochester, L.
Leatherland, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Lee of Newton, L. Sainsbury, L.
Listowel, E. St. Davids, V.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Seear, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Stone, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.—[Teller.] Strauss, L.
Tanlaw, L.
McNair, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Mais, L. Teviot, L.—[Teller.]
Milford, L. Underhill, L.
Milverton, L. Walston, L.
Monson, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Mottistone, L. Whaddon, L.
Oram L. White, B.
Peart, L. Willis, L.
Plant, L. Wise, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Kinnaird, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Long, V.—[Teller.]
Alport, L. Lyell, L.
Auckland, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Avon, E. Macleod of Borve, B.
Bellwin, L. Mancroft, L.
Beloff, L. Margadale, L.
Belstead, L. Marley, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cathcart, E. Merrivale, L.
Clitheroe, L. Mersey, V.
Cork and Orrery, E. Mills, V.
Daventry, V. Mishcon, L.
Davidson, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
De Freyne, L. Moyne, L.
De La Warr, E. Northchurch, B.
Denham, L.—[Teller.] Nugent of Guildford, L.
Dilhorne, V. Orr-Ewing, L.
Ebbisham, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Eccles, V. Polwarth, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Portland, D.
Faithfull, B. Rochdale, V.
Fortescue, E. Romney, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Strathspey, L.
Glenusk, L. Sudeley, L.
Glenarthur, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Glenkinglas, L. Vickers, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Vivian, L.
Henley, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Windlesham, L.
Killearn, L. Wynford, L.
Kilmany, L. Wynne-Jones, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clauses 42 and 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 [False statement in response to notices to owner]:

4.47 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment No. 70: Page 50, line 40, leave out from ("knowledge") to end of line 42.

The noble and learned Lord said: Perhaps T could speak to these three amendments, Nos. 70 to 72, together. These amendments remove a redundant reference to local authorities in Clause 44. Local authorities will not be involved in the notice to owner procedure under the Bill, and they will not receive any evidence about false statements. I beg to move Amendment No. 70.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment No. 71: Page 51, line 6, leave out ("or the local authority").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment No. 72: Page 51, line 8, leave out ("or their").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 45 [Evidence in fixed penalty notice cases]:

The Earl of Avon moved Amendments Nos. 73 to 76:

Page 51, line 19, leave Out ("sufficient").

Page 51, line 20, leave out ("unless the contrary is proved").

Page 51, line 28, leave out ("sufficient").

Page 51, line 30, leave out ("unless the contrary is proved").

The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to Amendments Nos. 73 to 76 with Amendment No. 51. With the leave of the Committee, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 73, 74, 75 and 76 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agree to.

Clause 45, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 46 [Fixed penalty notice in Scotland]:

On Question, Whether Clause 46 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

As I explained, we have amalgamated this clause, and the result is that Clause 46 as printed in the Bill should be deleted. I therefore ask your Lordships not to allow this clause to stand part of the Bill.

On Question, Clause 46 disagreed to.

Clasue 47 [Jurisdiction of the district court in Scotland]:

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment No.77: Page 53, line 23, leave out from ("Act") to end of line 25 and insert— ("(1A) Nothing in this section shall empower the district court in respect of any offence—

  1. (a) to impose—
    1. (i) a penalty of imprisonment which exceeds sixty days; or
    2. (ii) a fine which exceeds level 4 on the standard scale; or
  2. (b) subject to subsection (1B) below, to impose disqualification within the meaning of the 1972 Act.
(1B) Where a person is convicted in the district court of an offence referred to in subsection (1) above, being an offence involving obligatory endorsement,—
  1. (a) the court shall order that particulars of the conviction shall be endorsed on any licence held by him in accordance with section 101 of the 1972 Act; and
  2. (b) if the penalty points to be taken into account under section 19(3) of the Transport Act 1981 number twelve or more, the court shall order him to be disqualified under section 19(2) of that Act.").

The noble and learned Lord said: With the permission of the Committee, I should like to speak to Amend- ments Nos. 77 and 78 together. This amendment reformulates much of Clause 47(1) of the Bill. The purpose of that clause was to make fixed penalty offences, and offences in Schedule 2 to the Bill, triable, in Scotland, in the district court. The district court is the court which deals with the least serious criminal offences in Scotland, while the sheriff court and the High Court deal with more serious matters. The object of making these offences triable in the district court is to make the extended fixed penalty system in the Bill run as one with the existing parking fixed penalty system, which is operated in the district court.

The clause does not quite achieve its purpose, because, as drafted, it excludes fixed penalty offences which have a maximum fine of more than Level 4 on the standard scale—as introduced in the Criminal Justice Bill which your Lordships' House recently considered, which is intended to be £500. That does not catch all fixed penalty offences because one, breach of construction and use regulations involving a heavy goods vehicle, carries a maximum penalty of £1,000, by virtue of Clause 55 of the Bill. Further, other offences with a penalty greater than Level 4 could be included in Schedule I by order under Clause 28

It is obviously desirable that all fixed penalty offences should be triable in the same court, so that we can have a single unified fixed penalty system, and policemen and motorists do not have to follow one procedure for one offence and a different court procedure for another. The amendment therefore reformulates the clause so as to provide that all fixed penalty offences are triable in the district court; but in so doing it does not give that court any greater powers of punishment than it would otherwise have.

The amendment also seeks out the powers of endorsement and disqualification available to the district court under the Bill. At the moment, the district court has no such powers, and is not competent to deal with endorseable offences. The amendment would allow the court to endorse, and to disqualify on a totting-up basis, but not give it power of discretionary disqualification. This, I understand, is in accordance with the views of the Central Advisory Committee on Justices of the Peace, chaired by the noble and learned Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Wheatley of Shettleston. More serious examples of these offences will continue to be prosecuted in the sheriff court, where the power of discretionary disqualification will still be available. As your Lordships will appreciate, it is ihe procurator fiscal who decides into which court the case should be taken. He has the power to discriminate between cases on the basis of the circumstances. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment No. 78: Page 53, line 28, leave out ("(1)") and insert ("(1A)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 47, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 48 [Supplementary provisions]:

The Earl of Avon moved Amendments Nos. 78A and 78B: Page 53, line 34, after ("notification") insert ("certificate"). Page 53, line 35, leave out ("(1) or (3)") and insert ("(1A) Or (1B)").

The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to Amendments Nos. 78A and 78B when I moved Amendment No. 56A. I beg to move them en bloc.

Lord Mishcon

Purely as a matter of interest, if the noble Earl, will look at the clause and the line we are dealing with, the words used are "notice" or "notification". We are now putting in a certificate. Simply for clarity of language, what is the difference between a "notice" and a "notification"?

The Earl of Avon

As this refers back to one which is "pre" my present notes. I cannot satisfy the noble Lord at the moment; but I will find out.

Lord Mishcon

I am sure that I have mentioned one of the most important points in the whole of the Bill. I am perfectly content to have a word with the noble Earl at any time hereafter in order to elucidate this extremely urgent point.

The Earl of Avon

Actually, if we read this back in Hansard we will find it under the description of No. 56.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 79:

Page 54, line 8, at end insert— ("(a) where a corporate body is the registered keeper of a vehicle the owner of that vehicle shall be taken to be the person given responsibility for that vehicle as certified in the prescribed form by an officer of that corporate body; and (b").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment in connection with a series of other amendments which I withdrew. But I feel that the substance of the present amendment is of some significance and, before deciding how to proceed with the matter, I should like to know the views of the Government. In Clause 48(2) the owner is deemed to be the driver of the vehicle, although there is no doubt that it is the driver himself or herself who must be dealt with. In order to transfer responsibility from the owner to the driver, if they are not the same person, it is necessary for an statutory statement to be made in accordance with Part II of Schedule 3 and countersigned by the actual driver.

In the case of a company car, this should not be necessary. It should be sufficient for the company to indicate the employee responsible whether or not she or he signs a declaration and whether or nor he or she personally defrays the fixed penalty or fine. Unfortunately, a very high proportion of the vehicles which obstruct our highways are owned by corporate bodies and are being used by business purposes. This seems to add a degree of recklessness to the attitude of the drivers and it is this which my amendment seeks to remedy. I beg to move.

The Earl of Avon

My noble friend Lord Teviot spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 23. I do not have any further points here to add. I can, of course, find out the answer to this particular amendment.

Lord Teviot

In that case, I will withdraw the amendment. I suppose that I should have given my noble friend notice a little earlier that I intended to bring this up. It was a separate point that was dealt with very briefly when we dealt with Amendment No. 23 and I think it is an important point. Perhaps I might put it down again on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 48, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 49 [Interpretation of Part III]:

5 p.m.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 79A:

Page 56, leave out lines 6 and 7 and insert— (""justices' clerk" means a clerk to the justices for a petty sessions area; magistrates' court" and "petty sessions area" have the same meanings as in the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980; and").

The noble Earl said: This small amendment simplifies the definition of "justices clerk" at present contained in the Bill and adds definitions of "magistrates' court" and "petty sessions area". The second has become necessary because of the changes which have been made already in Clauses 35 and 36. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 80: Page 56, line 24, at end insert (", but no such order shall prescribe as appropriate for discharge by traffic wardens functions under this Part of this Act which relate to moving traffic offences, nor shall any such order authorise a traffic warden who is in a moving vehicle to discharge functions.").

The noble Lord said: Subsection (3) of this clause reads: In so far as an order under Section 81(3) of the 1967 Act authorises the employment of traffic wardens for the purposes of this Part of this Act references in this Part of this Act to a constable or, as the case may be, to a constable in uniform shall include a traffic warden.". The amendment seeks to provide that any order referred to in this subsection shall not prescribe the use of traffic wardens on functions which relate to moving vehicles nor to a traffic warden who may be in a moving vehicle. As the fixed penalty system is to be extended to include endorsable offences, it is imperative that everything possible be done to preserve police public relations. The amendment wants to ensure that the situation is not aggravated by the use of wardens in relation to offences by moving vehicles. I should like to make it clear that I am not in any way disparaging wardens. They do a difficult job which is not always fully appreciated when one gets parking tickets. It is a difficult and necessary job. But it is a different job from that of a constable.

A similar amendment was brought forward in the Committee in the other place and the Minister rejected the amendment for various reasons. She said—and I am paraphrasing—that a number of offences in the fixed penalty system do not carry points but are moving traffic offences. The current shortage of wardens does not permit an extension of their duties. But, however, she said, this should not shut off a provision which a future Govermnent may think it desirable to introduce and we should do nothing which will bind a successor Government. Also, there is provision for orders affecting the functions of traffic wardens to be scrutinised by both Houses. I am certain that noble Lords will appreciate that the affirmative procedure is useful, but the orders cannot be amended. One accepts them or rejects them. In my view, none of these reasons given by the Minister is sufficient justification for not accepting this amendment.

If a future Government wish to widen the functions of wardens, they should do so by primary legislation, not by a draft order with the affirmative resolution procedure. In support of the amendment, I should like to quote paragraph 38 of the inter-departmental working party on traffic law. It is headed "Police Action". It says: We do not consider that persons other than police officers should operate an extension of the fixed penalty system. The procedures involved, including stopping drivers and examining their documents, are suitable only for police officers to undertake especially since most of the offences concerned would be endorsable. There is a further important consideration that only police officers have discretion to caution a driver in lieu of any other action, and it is obviously right for this power to go hand in hand with an extension of fixed penalties".

In further support of that view, and of this amendment, the Minister, Mrs. Chalker, in Committee in another place—and this is from col. 1107 of Hansard for 27th April—said: I think that I gained the feeling of the Committee that we would all be against giving traffic wardens the power to issue a fixed penalty notice for endorsable offences". Later, she said: … I shall consider what has been said because I share the natural feelings of any motorist about extending the duties of traffic wardens and would want there to be a full and proper debate before such duties were given to traffic wardens". A little later she said: But I shall consider further what the honourable Member for Westhoughton and his colleagues and my honourable friends have said, although at present I do not wish to accept the amendment until I have reached further conclusions". So it is pretty clear that the Minister was not averse to the general principle of this amendment. I believe in view of the departmental working party, the Statement by the Minister and the general view held on this, that the Government should feel fit to accept the amendment.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

I should like to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on this matter. It is wrong that somebody who has not had any correct training should do this. I have looked at Clause 26 which I feel covers this point. I wonder whether my noble friend will be able to assure me on this.

The Earl of Avon

The Committee are no doubt aware, and the noble Lord has said, that this issue was debated at some length in another place and they must forgive me if what I say has a familiar ring. The position in law at the moment is that the functions of traffic wardens are defined in the Functions of Traffic Wardens Order 1970, which is made under Section 81(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1967. I must emphasise that nothing in the Government's proposals in the Bill is intended to alter the substance of these provisions. What this amendment is seeking to do however, is circumscribe the discretion of Ministers to add moving traffic offences to the list of offences for which a warden may issue a fixed penalty notice. What I think noble Lords have in mind is that it would be undesirable—and everybody will agree—to allow wardens to issue fixed penalty notices for offences carrying points. I quite agree. Nothing could be further from the Government's intentions.

There are a number of moving traffic offences included in the fixed penalty system which do not carry penalty points. In the past it has been seriously considered whether it would assist the police to include these offences in the range of wardens' duties. These plans had to be shelved when it became apparent that manpower in the traffic warden service was declining, but it may be that in the future Ministers will again be in a position to make such a decision. It would seem unreasonable to prevent this.

By the same token, while it is not our current policy to change the existing constraint in the Functions of Traffic Warden Order on wardens discharging their functions from a moving vehicle, it may be that in the future Ministers might wish to look at this again.

My second reason for hoping that this amendment will not find favour applies to both parts of the amendment, and it is that it seems to me that there are already more than adequate safeguards and parliamentary control on the issue of what duties a warden should perform. The existing provisions ensure that any change to the Functions of Traffic Wardens Order has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament through the affirmative resolution procedure. I hope this may satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, because it seems to me to get the right balance between allowing Ministers to decide on their policy in the light of current circumstances, and allowing the House to scrutinise, and if need be object to, what is proposed. My noble friend Lady MacLeod asked about Clause 26. In that clause a constable is referred to but a traffic warden may be regarded as a constable for the duties while he is empowered to carry them out. I hope with that explanation the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, may be able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mishcon

I hope very much that my noble friend will not withdraw his amendment. This is an important point which the Committee are now considering. I should like to underline briefly what is involved. The House has been treated in the course of this Bill and in regard to other legislation—and there is no party political argument in this because I should be saying exactly the same, in a very humble way, if this were Government legislation and I happened to be sitting happily on the Government side.

This is the point that is involved: people drive very often as a matter of livelihood. People value their clean driving reputation even if they do not drive for a livelihood because they have a connection which they regard as a very reputable one with their insurers. People in neither of those categories value their driving reputation by virtue of the fact that they regard it as a social duty to be a good and careful driver and that people who are bad drivers with bad driving reputations are anti-social and are not good citizens. So we have been very carful in our legislation to see that those who are in a position to impose a penalty upon a driver, which is one which affects his driving record, are our courts; and our courts are supposed to listen to the evidence, weigh it up carefully and come to a just conclusion, having done so.

Under this Bill we are giving greater powers—and I am glad that we are—to police constables. They are going to be allowed, in regard to matters which previously went before the courts, in respect of moving offences to say, "We think you have committed an offence: we are now in a position, though we were not before, to issue a fixed penalty notice, if you want it. If you do not want it I shall have to consider reporting you for a prosecution".

This is a matter of judicial decision which we are delegating to our police force, believing that they are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, said, trained for that purpose, trained to ascertain whether an offence has been committed and trained to be judicial in their approach. Like my noble friend Lord Underhill, I have nothing but admiration—except when they approach me in my personal vehicle—for traffic wardens. Obviously they do a most unwelcome task and very often have to put up with a lot of abuse. Very often they have to take that abuse on the chin, whether it is a male or female chin, and they are fulfilling a very necessary public purpose. But they have neither the training nor the ability very often, and it would be quite unjust to them—and quite unjust to the motorists—to impose upon them the duty of dealing with endorsable offences. It is all very well for Ministers to say, wherever they come from—and I repeat that there is no party argument about this at all—"This Government have got no intention, with this Minister, of giving traffic wardens the power or trying to make an order which would be subject to the affirmative procedure in regard to offences where endorsement is obligatory: there is no such idea in our heads".

I would have been a little more content if the Minister had said, "We are prepared to write into the Bill that no order will be made where any endorsable offence is under review". Not a bit of it: there was no such offer from the Minister at all, and I am not saying I would have been wholly content even with that, because there are quite serious offences which are not endorsable but which from some points of view may be regarded as serious to somebody who values his driving record. It is not good enough to say: "We will never do this except by order which is subject to the affirmative procedure". In this Chamber those words sound glorious, except to those who—I say this with the greatest respect—have become used to that procedure of both Houses of Parliament. There cannot be a debate on an affirmative motion in the other place without the Whips having decided that it is of sufficient importance to find time for debate. If there is no time found for debate, it goes through on the nod and Members of the other place find afterwards, very often to their great disquiet, that something has gone through about which they might have had quite a lot to say, given the opportunity.

In this Chamber the tradition is such that if you counted up the number of affirmative resolution debates in respect of statutory orders and instruments where a Division was taken over the last century, you would be quite amazed to find how few there have been. On a Transport Bill, which those of us who are here think important—let us look round at this moment to see the number of people on all the Benches who are present considering an important clause of this nature—what would the likely attendance be if it were a question of an affirmative order, conferring the power on traffic wardens to enable them to issue penalty notices and adjudicate on moving vehicle offences and where it is not an ordinary "obstruction" matter to be dealt with?

I do ask noble Lords on all sides to see that this power is not given to a Secretary of State, whether it be by means of the affirmative procedure or not. I ask it in the name of justice and in the name of motorists who deserve to be treated fairly and, if I may put it in this way, I also ask it in the name of traffic wardens who I do not think would ever want to have this responsibility thrust upon them.

The Earl of Avon

I take very much to heart the force of the argument put forward by the noble Lord. I would be appreciative if we could look at this again to see whether we can move towards him in some way before the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Mishcon

With the concurrence of my noble friend Lord Underhill, I should like just to thank the noble Earl for his most gracious remark on the suggestion. I hope he will realise that I believe I am right in saying that there is a very definite feeling in all sections of the Committee on this matter. I hope he will be able to make a practical contribution, having heard the arguments put forward today.

Lord Gisborough

Before the noble Earl sits down finally, may I just ask him whether special constables come into the category of traffic wardens or of police regarding this particular aspect?

The Earl of Avon

I would imagine as constables.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

Before my noble friend leaves this completely, would he, when giving consideration to this matter, bear in mind that there seems in the country to be a general feeling that we do not want to move anywhere towards a dual force. The police generally are held in high regard. They are the enforcers of the law and it would be quite wrong to give another body equal or similar status.

I should like to mention one other factor. I have noticed in some cities a new group of people who look something like traffic wardens. The only difference that I can see is that, whereas a traffic warden wears a yellow band round the hat, this new group bear a blue band. I do not know what they are but it seems to me that if we are not very careful we are all going to end up—

Lord Mishcon

I do hope the noble Lord will not think me discourteous, but we have in front of us a very heavy agenda in respect of this Bill. The noble Earl has been gracious enough to say that he sees the force of the arguments put to him and that he will consider them if with a view to helping. Would it not be the wish of the Committee—and I hope that I am not being too venturesome in saying this—that, having had that courteous assurance, we should now move on? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 49, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Macleod of Borve

May I make a comment on this clause, because I understand this is the last clause which deals with fixed penalty notices? I should like to ask my noble friend if he will take on board that in future when this Bill is implemented there should be a great deal of publicity given about fixed penalty notices. Those of us who have discussed it perhaps now understand it better than we did previously, but the general public have not had the opportunity of listening to our debate; nor perhaps have they had the opportunity of reading a great deal about them. Would it be possible to draw public attention to the fixed penalty notices fairly vehemently?—because they will not understand it unless the Government take a hand.

The Earl of Avon

I very much appreciate my noble friend's point and, of course, I will make sure that the Secretary of State has it well in mind.

Clause 49, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 50 [Control of operating centres for goods vehicles on environmental grounds]:

5.20 p.m.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 81: Page 58, line 2 at end insert ("and for the purpose of extending the right to object to or make representations against the grant or variation of such licences to certain authorities, other than local authorities, exercising planning functions").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment, I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 93. These amendments provide for amendment of Section 63 of the Transport Act 1968, extending the right to object to the grant or variation of operators' licences. Local authorities already have the right to object, by virtue of subsection (3) of Section 63. This amendment extends the right to other bodies, including the Lake District Special Planning Board, the Peak Park Joint Planning Board and Merseyside and London Docklands Development Corporations, who exercise planning functions. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 50, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Amendments of Transport Act 1968 relating to operators' licences]:

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 82: Page 81, line 20, leave out from ("prescribed") to end of line 31.

The noble Lord said: This amendment takes us into the somewhat emotive area of heavy lorries and where they operate. This amendment, which is to delete a number of lines on page 81 from Section 69C(2), is primarily to ensure that no undue emphasis is placed on the conditions under which an operating centre may receive approval, because the whole question of an operating centre's approval has to be set out in regulations, which will in due course come before the House. In any event, they are subject, as always, to consultation with the various interested parties. It appears to me that it is undesirable, in the light of those regulations, that special emphasis should be put upon those conditions to which a licensing authority should pay regard.

This subject has been discussed on a number of occasions and Section 69 provides for environmental considerations to be taken into account by the licensing authority. I do not think there is anybody who disagrees with that. Certainly, none of the heavy goods vehicle associations, such as the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association, disagrees with that. However, the environmental condition may be one which has not been brought about by the operator or by his choice of centre. It might be an environmental consideration brought about by some other aspect, notably planning.

A haulier or an operator of a heavy goods vehicle may have been operating out of a centre for some years, but planning permission is subsequently given and a new estate surrounds the centre. It could be that the environmental consideration is then brought to bear. This is probably quite a good thing and we shall be dealing with that aspect when I come to my next amendment. Nevertheless, it seems totally undesirable that these three points, which are set out in Section 69C(2)(a), (b) and (c), are singled out for mention in a Bill which, as I have said, will in any circumstances be dependent upon regulations.

As I understand the position, there was a commitment during Report stage in the other place that this part of the Bill would be looked at further. Certainly, the hauliers' interests were of the opinion that the Government might have tabled an amendment to satisfy them. In the event, it appears that they have not, or are unwilling to do so.

To emphasise the point, I should mention lines 30 and 31, which read: (c) the hours at which operations of any prescribed description may be carried on at any such centre". That is a comparatively new one. Normally, the licensing authority has to pay due regard to a number of factors, some of which I mentioned on Second Reading. The licensing authority is now asked to consider the environmental conditions and one of the items which is set down, and which the Government feel is of considerable importance, is the hours at which operations may be carried on. This seems to put a very heavy emphasis on hours. What are reasonable hours? There is no definition of "reasonable"; it is just the hours".

If you have to make a delivery to a ship which is 150 or 200 miles away, it may be necessary to start at four o'clock in the morning. It may be necessary, for example, to make a collection from a farm. We discussed this point last year when my noble friend Lord Stanley talked about the pea harvest, where the big buyers demand picking and delivery, literally, at a few hours' notice. I am not suggesting that the hours should not be one of the many considerations of which a licensing authority will have to take account. But I am suggesting that the inclusion in this Bill of these three conditions is unfair, and sets an unfair bias on what a licensing authority should do. I beg to move.

Lord Underhill

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has said, the purpose of his amendment is to leave out three conditions which a licensing authority may attach to an operator's licence. We ought to look again at what the three conditions are, and I shall paraphrase them—the number, type and size of vehicles or trailers which may, at any one time, be at an operating centre; the parking arrangements provided at, or in the vicinity of, the operating centre and the hours at which operations may be carried out. I regard these as absolutely essential conditions. Without them, any talk of environmental control appears to make nonsense. I shall not weary the Committee by quoting from the Foster Committee's report on haulage operators' licensing or the Armitage Committee's report on lorries, people and the environment. But both of those reports recognise that environmental difficulties are associated mainly with places from which vehicles are operated. That view was confirmed by the Under-Secretary of State when this matter was dealt with in Committee in the other place.

The three conditions are almost, word for word, those proposed in paragraph 9.18 of the Foster Report. If these conditions are not attached, it could be that the licensing authority's only alternative might be to refuse a licence. I can readily understand the concern of the NFU, particularly where houses have been developed after the operating centre was established. On the other hand, there will be cases where an operator may have extended greatly since he was first established in that area. I can also understand the interests of operators, as reflected by the Freight Transport Association, who wish nothing to impede the essential movement of freight. With that I think we all agree. But I see that in Part II of the schedule, paragraph 4, there is a reference to right of appeal. When one looks at the Notes on Clauses which the department has kindly supplied we see: This paragraph extends the right of appeal by licence holders to the transport tribunal". There is, therefore, an essential right of appeal now written into the Bill. That would be a safeguard for an existing operator. If conditions should affect an existing business, I wonder whether the Minister can tell me whether there would be provision—I presume that the licensing authority would have the opportunity—for a period of adjustment or removal, or even the offer of alternative sites. We must keep in mind that we should not treat an existing operator differently from the way in which a licensing authority would intend to treat a new operator who wishes to come in. This is an essential requirement for which most people have waited for a long time. Those two important reports say that these are essential conditions. If we really want environmental control, to delete these conditions would make nonsense of it.

Baroness Denington

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will not press the amendment. I understand his concern on behalf of the operators, and I am sure that he is not without concern for the people who may be affected. The Government are introducing conditions to protect the environment, which means to protect the living conditions of our citizens. I would draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to the fact that the section with which we are dealing is permissive, not mandatory. The wording is "of such description as may be prescribed". The conditions where the descriptions which we are looking at now will probably be prescribed are those which, though not universal, are to be found in built-up areas.

I used to represent the constituency of Islington. It is a highly built-up area and contains a number of depots of this kind. Because it is an old area, they established their depots wherever they could—generally at the backs of houses where there was a bit of land—before planning control had any teeth. The hours specified in these conditions are very important. Lorries may want to start off at five o'clock in the morning, which means that men will be loading and calling out to one another and that the people round about will be unable to sleep. Therefore, it is vitally important to the people living in built-up areas that those conditions should specify the number of lorries, where they can park in that neighbourhood and the hours during which they can operate. I believe that the Government are absolutely right, therefore, to set this down fairly and squarely in the Bill.

If, however, we are considering a depot which has been developed in modern times on an industrial estate and which is therefore outside a built-up area, nobody will impose unreasonable conditions, for the simple reason that in those cases such conditions are unnecessary. They are necessary to protect people. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that as a GLC representative I have often been approached by constituents who are desperate because of what goes on in a depot at the back of their houses. Therefore, I hope that he will reconsider the matter and withdraw the amendment.

Lord Bellwin

May I emphasise the overall aim of our proposals in Clause 50 and Schedule 4. What, precisely, is it that we are trying to do? It is to strengthen the powers of the licensing authorities and to enable them to take adequate account of environmental considerations in dealing with road haulage operators' licences. At present, the licensing system does not allow this, but we all know of the concern caused by the activities of operators with unsuitable facilities.

Our approach is to redefine the operating centre under a goods vehicle operator's licence as the place at which the vehicle is normally kept. This is in line with the position in regard to public service vehicle licensing. Operating centres will have to be specified in operators' licences and the grounds on which existing statutory objectors may object are extended to include environmental considerations. Owners or occupiers of land in the vicinity of a proposed operating centre are given a new right to make representations against the grant of an application on environmental grounds.

We recognise that existing operators might face difficulties under the new provisions when seeking to renew a time-expired licence if factors, not of their own making and over which they may have no control, have arisen since the licence was first granted. It was therefore precisely to protect the legitimate interests of responsible hauliers that we included in the schedule a provision preventing a licensing authority from refusing an operator a new licence on environmental grounds, if there is no material change in the operations to be covered. The only exception to this rule will be considerations about parking arrangements.

We are proposing that in all cases the licensing authority should be empowered to attach conditions to a licence, for the purposes of preventing or minimising adverse effects on the environment where they arise from the use of the operating centre. These conditions will be prescribed in regulations, on which we shall consult widely, but I hope that noble Lords will agree that it is right that the Bill should give some indication of the most important conditions which would be prescribed. It is this that my noble friend Lord Lucas would remove with this amendment. We believe that the licensing authorities should have a power to attach conditions regulating the number, type and size of motor vehicles or trailers which may at any one time be at an operating centre. We believe that general guidelines can be developed which will be useful for operators contemplating the use of new sites and there may well be circumstances where, for example, small, rigid vehicles would be appropriate and large, articulated vehicles would not.

There is general agreement that parking arrangements can be one of the major problems concerning goods vehicles. It is quite within the capability of licensing authorities to say that, for example, lorries should not be parked down the road from an operating centre every weekend. I am sure the general public and many operators would welcome this sort of control.

So far as hours are concerned, this is an aspect of use of an operating centre which can cause serious difficulties for local residents. I see merit in licensing authorities being able to attach conditions which would help to minimise adverse effects on the environment in this respect, on a best practicable means approach and, not least, in discussions with the operator himself. The other point I wanted to make about hours is that the provision only gives a power. There may be cases where the power may be reasonably exercised as to hours and cases where it could not be so exercised. I believe we have talked that one through and that what we are proposing is right.

We have looked at Section 69(c) again and the commitment given in Committee in another place; this was a point which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, raised. It has been discussed again with the industry associations. We have explained to them why we do not feel able to amend the section. Although they were disappointed, they were also pleased with the assurances we have given as to how the provisions will not be operated to prejudice existing operators. That is not what we are about; to make life more difficult. Quite to the contrary; we want to be helpful, but we feel that as far as this aspect of the Bill is concerned there is a problem. We believe it is right upon entering the new régime of licensing in this way that we should take into account something which, perhaps, has not always been taken into account in the past; namely, the environmental aspects of the particular type of licensing which we propose.

I hope that my noble friend will feel slightly more relaxed about this now, following my explanation and my absolute assurance to him and to others who are concerned about this matter in respect of our intentions. Before I sit down, I will deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, when he asked whether there would be any discretion. As he knows, the situations are very varied and individual cases will be dealt with on their merits. The traffic commissioners have great experience in these matters and I would be confident about the way in which they would work this.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am most grateful to my noble friend for that very detailed and interesting explanation. May I just comment on the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. I have no wish whatsoever to impose a heavy goods vehicle operating sector in a situation which is totally and blatantly undesirable. I have no wish—and neither, I am sure, do any of my friends in that business—to operate from a place where we are not wanted; I apologise to the Committee for that appalling grammar.

I believe it is quite right in this day and age that the Government should introduce into a Bill of this kind measures which add some additional control. Where, as in the case mentioned by the noble Baroness, there were lorries in built up areas where no planning existed, one has to be very careful that one does not disturb or perpetuate—disturb the benefits of what are popularly described as "grandfather's rights", nor perpetuate those rights which are patently undesirable. That is perfectly fair. But I have to say to the noble Baroness that from my knowledge of the industry, industrial sites are not always the right answer to an operation of this kind. One cannot just say, "All this should go to an industrial site", or "Any new application for a haulage business shall go to an industrial site".

Turning to the remarks of my noble friend the Minister, I suggested during an earlier stage of this Bill that the cardboard box of licensing was now overfull and split, but that we were now putting more into it. I still hold to that view. That does not mean I do not accept what he was suggesting in regard to this matter. But if the licensing authority paid proper and due regard, according to the likes of this noble Lord, to certain of the conditions which have to be satisfied in regard to an operating sector, or indeed to an operator's licence, then much of what surrounds the need for this particular piece of legislation would not apply.

As my noble friend said, the Bill now prevents an application for renewal—and I take it that renewal means a variation as well as the ordinary five-year renewal—of an operator's licence from being refused on environmental grounds unless there has been a material change. What is a material change? The separate clauses now set down in the Bill allow the licensing authority to impose without any let or hindrance any kind of condition it makes. I feel that this might well be grossly unfair. The planning authority could quite easily abrogate their responsibility, saying, "We would not normally give a planning application approval for building a small estate of 20 or 30 town houses there because of access to the builder's yard and the hauliers' operating sector". But perhaps that could upset other longer-term aspects of the whole planning for the region. What the planning authority could say is, "We will give the planning authority now", and then in two or three years the environmentalists will get hold of it and the licensing authority will have that kind of pressure brought upon them, to impose such conditions that the whole operation falls by the wayside.

About the only comfort I can take from my noble friend the Minister are the words "the best practicable means". I have to tell him that certainly the Freight Transport Association and Road Haulage Association have not gone away from the current series of discussions with assurances which satisfy them. In begging leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment, I must say that it is up to those organisations to fight this battle further when it comes to the matter of the regulations. I believe that the Government have stepped a little too heavily in this direction.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 83: Page 81, line 42, at end insert— ("( ) In the case of an application for an operator's licence concerning the use of any place as an operating centre already in use as an operating centre under an existing licence or an application for variation of a licence in accordance with section 69D of this Act any conditions attached to the licence shall be such as not to materially affect the continuation of the applicant's business.").

The noble Lord said: We follow the same argument. This amendment is set down as an additional clause, to protect the legitimate interests of those people engaged in the haulage industry who have operating sectors upon which a licence application, renewal or variation might have attached to it a number of special conditions. Some of those special conditions are set down and were among those we discussed on the previous amendment. Surely it cannot be right that special conditions should be and can be imposed on the operation of a commercial undertaking whereby that undertaking's very existence is threatened, unless there are compensatory factors? In this Bill there are no compensatory factors for the imposition of special conditions.

I have a shrewd feeling that I understand exactly how this Committee feels towards me at this moment. I think I do, because lorries and Lucas always seem to go together. Lorries seem to evoke the most emotive arguments—they are horrid, they are beastly, they are obtrusive, they should go anywhere, but near where I live, in my street or in my village. It is not just this aspect of it. Your Lordships will see that Lord Stanley's name is on this amendment. I am joined, therefore, by the views of the National Farmer's Union. So it is not just the hauliers, the road transport people, but the farmers as well who are particularly concerned that conditions might be imposed, and particularly one for hours, highly desirable for the neighbourhood, totally detrimental to the existence or continuance of the business. I have spoken about the pea harvest; that is one of them. If you happen to be in the road construction business and concrete or tarmac or whatever the substance it is being laid tomorrow, the gang starts at 7 o'clock in the morning; you have to get to the plant and you may have to leave at 5 o'clock in order to be on site, or the whole thing falls down and costs an enormous amount of money. Those are just two aspects. I think these are really quite important.

If one then sets, as another condition, "Right, you have approval here for the parking of 20 lorries, five rigids, ten articulated and another 10 trailers, and you have your own bunkering facility. You can go on doing that, but you must take your fuel bunker away because we do not like the smell. Somebody's back garden has now arrived up against your back fence. So take that away; that is the special condition we are imposing on renewal". A man might be penalised as much as 3p or 4p per gallon of derv, and derv is a considerable factor in the costing of road transport.

What I am suggesting in this amendment is to secure some fairness, some understanding as between the licensing authority and the operator of what the ground rules are in this new game. It is a new game to them; they have been aware of it for some time but it is going to come right hard into their operating centres quite shortly. So what are the rules. One of the rules should be, I am suggesting, quite simply that the licensing authority shall take into account all these factors and bear in mind that these conditions should not be imposed if they would materially affect the continuation of the applicant's business.

I do not think it is right—grandfather's rights or not—that a man should be run out of business because of a particular condition, hours, bunkering and so on. Some deal might be arrived at. I think this is only fair and only reasonable in the light of all that the Committee have said with regard to my earlier amendment. I do ask the Committee to think of this in terms of fair deals for all, a balance as between the rights of the man in an operating centre to continue in business without heavy penalty, and the rights of those who live near and around to enjoy the benefits of an environment not totally despoiled by a commercial operation. That is all I am asking for in this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My noble friend's second amendment in this little group reflects, as he has said, the concern expressed by the road haulage industry that the conditions which a licensing authority could attach to a licence might prejudice established businesses and circumvent the protection otherwise afforded by our proposals to existing operators. Let me say straightaway that I am not in the slightest unsympathetic to the use of lorries, quite the contrary. I think anyone who does not today recognise that they have an absolutely essential part to play in so many aspects of our everyday life, commercial, even private, really is living in another world entirely. I do not think as far as I am concerned that is so, and I gladly assure my noble friend as to that. I suspect that Members of the Committee would go along with me on that. I think what is of concern here is the question of balance, trying to ensure that while one does cover the points of concern of my noble friend we also look at certain other aspects at this time of change, the new situation, that we take them all into account. That is all we are trying to do.

This amendment would introduce into draft Clause 69C, which deals with the attachment of conditions, a provision parallel to that in Clause 69B which deals with refusal of the licence. But the two situations are not the same. Where an operator's business has remained unchanged, it would be wrong to refuse him a new licence, even though developments have taken place around him. As I have indicated on the previous amendment, it may not be unreasonable to attach conditions to a new licence in order to ameliorate the effects of his operation on the surrounding environment, provided that those conditions are not so onerous as seriously to prejudice the running of the business.

We do not believe that the provision in Clause 69C could be used in the way that my noble friend fears. Let me try to explain why. In striking what I referred to as the balance between the legitimate interests of road hauliers and the need for improvements to the environment, the licensing authority will have to form a balanced and lawful judgment in each case when attaching any conditions to a licence. We shall be prescribing the considerations to which the licensing authorities shall have regard when attaching any conditions to a licence. We shall make it clear that the licensing authority shall have regard to the nature of the operator's business and his past record. I believe that our approach is sounder than that suggested by my noble friend. I submit that it would be mistaken to include in the Bill a provision to the effect that conditions attached to a licence shall not materially affect the continuation of the applicant's business.

Apart from the difficulty of defining the phrase, "materially affect", it is well established that a public body invested with statutory powers must take care not to exceed or abuse its powers but must act in good faith and must act reasonably. There are legal limits to every power, and statutory power conferred for public purposes can only be used in the right and proper way. In the planning field, for example, planning conditions have been held invalid unless they fairly and reasonably relate to the permitted development and if they attempt to restrict the owner's existing rights in his land. Similarly, conditions attached to an operator's licence would be held to be invalid if they were such as to prevent the operator from using his operating centre as such. These analogies could not be ignored.

My noble friend's proposal would also, if I may use the term, be rather dangerous, because it might suggest a change in the law which, though he surely does not intend it, could possibly be a change detrimental to the operators and which could be resolved only by the courts. It might cast an unintended shadow. The House did not think it appropriate to include such a provision in other comparable legislation, notably Sections 16 and 32 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, which relates to licences for the operation of public service vehicles.

We recognise the concern that has been expressed about the attachment of conditions; I tried to emphasise it when speaking to the last amendment and I meant it very seriously. But I hope that, in view of my explanation, my noble friend will agree that perhaps his concern need not be as great as he had feared. I point out that the bunkering condition which he mentioned would be ultra vires and maybe that will also make him feel a little better about what we are proposing.

We have given firm assurances and I gladly repeat them again today for the record. It is no part of our intention that responsible road haulage operators should—to use the phrase of my noble friend—have their very existence threatened. That is the very last thing that we want to see happen as a result of these new measures. Nor, frankly, do we think that our proposals will have that effect. Without any doubt, if we did think that they might have that effect, then frankly we would not be putting them forward. It is as simple as that. I hope that with those comments my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

6.1 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

I am still slightly concerned about this point, and I rise to support my noble friend Lord Lucas. Recently one has encountered a number of occasions when the local planning authority has imposed working hour restrictions on industrial sites. That is a growing trend that is causing concern to industrialists. Therefore, one can only expect local authorities—without perhaps meaning to do so—to abuse the law and the good intentions of my noble friend the Minister by putting working hour restrictions on licences. That could be very detrimental, particularly in agricultural cases, where working hours are crucial in order to get fresh produce to markets on time. If one finds oneself in a situation where one's licence has not been renewed or is renewed subject to working hours conditions, it will be an expensive and lengthy process to combat the local authority to prove them wrong. What remedy does the individual have in those circumstances?

Lord Mottistone

I, too, am concerned about this matter, because one has met it in many other areas. I do not question the sincerity of my noble friend Lord Bellwin in saying what the Government mean and do not intend to happen in the sense that they have no intention of upsetting the situation, and that the industrialist, of whatever type he might be, is not a target for anything. The difficulty is that the licensing authority in this case, and other local authority bodies, like planning authorities, do not seem to me to be shackled in the way in which one would like. If there were something written into the statute which put some type of restraint upon them, or if my noble friend could quote another statute which puts restraint upon them, other than the "good intention" remarks, then it would help tremendously to set our minds at rest. If my noble friend cannot do that because it does not exist or because it will take time to find it, then perhaps he could undertake to look at this again before turning down the basic theme of what my noble friend Lord Lucas is putting across in his amendment. However, one wants to have something rather more underpinning than just good intentions.

Lord Underhill

It was not my intention to speak on this amendment, because I thought that I had said what I had to say on the other amendment. I thought that they were both being taken together. While appreciating the argument put forward, it will be fatal to underpin to such an extent that the desire of everyone to deal with the environmental issue plainly falls to the ground. One can picture circumstances where a company may have set up an operating centre and then, with the passage of years, what may have been three vehicles becomes 15 vehicles which are parked all over the place—parked outside the centre; parked in residential areas and a danger to traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, shakes his head. We do not want to mention specific places here, but I could mention places that I pass almost every day. Therefore, one cannot possibly leave it so safeguarded that one does nothing. That is the point.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. That is the kind of emotive talk which appalls me. The noble Lord said that he knew of an operating centre which started with three vehicles and which now has 15. It could not have increased by 12 without the licensing authority granting the appropriate licences. You cannot just buy them and stuff them into a park and operate them: you have to have a licence on them. Therefore, there is a failure further down the line—my split cardboard box argument. I do not see how he can apply that kind of argument to the point which my noble friend Lord Mottistone makes.

Lord Underhill

I think the answer is that the Bill is now giving the licensing authorities power to deal with licensing on environmental grounds, which they have not had up to now. That is the point. I do not think that there is a great deal of argument between us. The difference is that if we try to write in all the safeguards that are wanted then, frankly, the aims of the Foster Committee, the aims of the Armitage Committee, the aims of the Government and, I believe the aims of many noble Lords in this Committee, will be completely and utterly frustrated.

In my remarks on the previous amendment I referred to the right of appeal. I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister could emphasise this point because I understand that it is now quite clear that there is the right of appeal by licence holders to the transport tribunal. I believe that that is something that they do not have at the moment, but it is an important factor where the very points which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others are, making surely could be covered.

Lord Bellwin

Perhaps I may comment on one or two of the observations that have been made. Let me deal first with the right of appeal point. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is absolutely right: there is the right of appeal to the transport tribunal. I think I should say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that in fact the local authorities have nothing to do with this at all beyond the fact that they can make objections, if they wish, to the licensing authority. However, they are not the arbiters; they are not the ones who are making the decisions—it is the licensing authority who will do that. Licensing is a quasi-judicial appointment rather like that of a magistrate. That is really what the traffic commissioners are about. I do not think that my noble friend need be too concerned about that.

My noble friend Lord Mottistone acknowledged my good intentions—and they certainly are that—but I would say that we are going beyond that here. The best of intentions must be restricted by the general rules of ultra vires. If my noble friend, in the assiduous way in which he always tackles everything with which he deals, would like to talk to me about that separately or to correspond with me, I should be very happy to do so.

I can only say, as I said before on the previous amendment, that we are trying here to strike a balance; we are trying to get it better than it is at the moment, recognising absolutely the validity of what my noble friend Lord Lucas says about his concern for the industry. He is absolutely right. I think he knows that we would have equal concern for the prosperity of that industry. I think that we have the balance right. I hope that, as a result of what has now been said, my noble friend will feel somewhat assuaged in his concern and perhaps able not to press his amendment.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am not assuaged one little bit. My noble friend talks about a balance. Here we are asking quite simply for a balance to be stntck—a balance between the licensing authority being able to impose any conditions upon a new applicant, a renewal of a licence or a variation.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to 15 lorries, saying that it was high time the licensing authority was able to regularise this position. Is he therefore now suggesting retrospective legislation? Because in the past licensing authorities have granted licences which are in what are now termed undesirable operating centres, is he suggesting that they can now say "All right, you can have a renewal of your licence, but from 15 vehicles down to seven"? That is exactly what could happen.

I am no lawyer and I would hesitate to trespass on the law, but I am advised that all those precedents with regard to what is unfair have never applied in this area. I understand that there are many precedents in the planning area, but not in road transportation. Therefore, I do not think that those who speak with me will rest very happy on this.

I do not have the direct quotation, but in looking at my notes I see that during the Report stage in the other place on 24th May the Minister, Mrs. Chalker, said that the Government wanted to enable licensing authorities to impose conditions when there had been no material change. What is the material change? Is it a material change from a Ford lorry to a Scania lorry of perhaps a different horsepower, with perhaps some other differences—three axles instead of two for the tractor unit?

I think that my noble friend the Minister is being harsh and unreasonable in not allowing the operator to have some comfort, if nothing else, but at least the right that the licensing authority must take into account the business. There is nowhere that he need do that. It is no good this operator going off to the courts to sue for what is fair or not fair. The Bill should set down clearly what is fair and what is not fair.

Although I still do not detract one bit from what we said earlier, that there is a need for environmental control, I am sufficiently unhappy about this matter to accept the invitation of my noble friend the Minister to talk to him, perhaps to find some form of words in an amendment which would give me the protection I want for a very significant industry, without detracting at all from those who want to pursue a purely environmental benefit argument. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 84: Page 83, line 7, after ("effects") insert ("on environmental conditions").

The noble Lord said: This is a minor drafting amendment to subsection (6) of new Section 79D of the Transport Act 1968. Persons will be able to make representations under subsection (5) of Section 69D, against the grant of an application for variation of an operator's licence, if there would be adverse effects from the use of the operating centre. This amendment makes clear that these adverse effects shall be those "on environmental conditions", consistent with subsection (4) and with Section 69B. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 85: Page 83, line 10, leave out from beginning to ("the") in line 11 and insert ("Where any objection or representations are duly made under this section in respect of any application for a variation of an operator's licence").

The noble Lord said: This, too, is a minor drafting amendment to subsection (7) of new Section 69D of the 1968 Act. The licensing authority's power to refuse an application for variation of an operator's licence, on environmental grounds, is to be exercised only if objections or representations have been duly made to him. The amendment makes subsection (7) consistent with Section 69B in this respect. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 86 and 87: Page 84, line 40, leave out ("69D") and insert ("68(4) or 69D(3)"). Page 85, line 18, after ("section") insert ("68,").

The noble Lord said: While moving this amendment, I should also like to move Amendment No. 87, and speak to Amendment No. 90. The first two of these minor drafting amendments are to subsections (2) and (4) of new Section 69G of the 1968 Act, extending these subsections to cover applications made under existing Section 68, consistent with new Section 69D.

The third, and related minor amendment is to paragraph 3 of Part II of Schedule 4. It amends existing Section 68 of the 1968 Act to refer to new Section 69E, which requires publication of applications in newspapers before the licensing authority considers them I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 88: Page 85, leave out lines 22 to 33.

The noble Lord said: This minor amendment deletes subsection (5) of new Section 69G, which relates to the contents of notices of applications for variation of operators' licences published under Section 69D. Arrangements will be adequate for ensuring that potential objectors know about applications, since applications will have to be published in a local newspaper under Section 69E. The detailed content of notices of applications is a matter best left to the licensing authorities to decide. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 89: Page 86, line 10, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 15.

The noble Lord said: With this amendment I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 130 and 133. The main purpose of these amendments is to leave intact the requirements concerning suitability of operating centres, inserted in the 1968 Act by the Road Traffic Act 1974. They are not entirely superseded by the new provisions of Clause 50 and Schedule 4. We see merit in retaining these requirements since licensing authorities have found them to be useful in some circumstances. There is also a repeal of Section 64(2)(b), consequential to the repeal of Section 65 of the 1968 Act, concerning transport managers' licences, which is explained by Amendment No. 126. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 90: Page 86, line 19, leave out from beginning to ("for") in line 22 and insert ("In section 68 of that Act (variation of operators' licences)—

  1. (a) at the beginning of subsection (1) there shall be inserted the words "Subject to section 69E of this Act"; and
  2. (b) in subsection (4), paragraph (a) shall be omitted, and").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 91: Page 86, line 26, at end insert— (". In section 87(3) of that Act (inquiries by licensing authorities as to proposed exercise of powers under section 69), after "69" there shall be inserted the words" or 69F". . In section 91 of that Act (regulations and orders for purposes of Part V)—

  1. (a) in paragraph (a), for the words "section 69" there shall be substituted the words "sections 69 and 69F"; and
  2. (b) in paragraph (d), after "69" there shall be inserted the words "or 69F".").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 134. These are technical amendments to Sections 87 and 91 of the 1968 Act, and to Section 66 of the Transport Act 1980, consequential to the new powers of revocation under Section 69F. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 92: Page 86, line 27, leave out from beginning to ("(construction") and insert ("In section 92 of that Act— (a) in subsection (1) (interpretation of particular expressions used in Part V), the following definition shall be inserted at the appropriate point in alphabetical order— owner", in relation to any land in England and Wales, means a person, other than a mortgagee not in possession, who, whether in his own right or as trustee for any other person, is entitled to receive the rack rent, of the land or, where the land is not let at a rack rent, would be so entitled if it were so let; and (b) at the end of subsection (3)").

The noble Lord said: This is a minor technical amendment designed to clarify the definition of "owner", which is used in Schedule 4 in relation to those persons entitled to make representations about operator's licences. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 93:

Page 86, line 31, at end insert— ("6. In section 63 of that Act (objections to grant of operators' licences)— (a) in subsection (3) (persons entitled to object) the following paragraph shall be inserted after paragraph (c)— (d) a planning authority"; and (b) in subsection (6) the following definitions shall be inserted after the definition of "local authority"— "planning authority" means any body other than a local authority which by virtue of any statutory provision for the time being in force is—

  1. (a) in England and Wales, the local planning authority for any area for the purpose of determining applications for planning permission under Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 (general planning control); and
  2. (b) in Scotland, the planning authority for any area for the purpose of determining applications for planning permission under Part III of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 (general planning control);
statutory provision" means a provision contained in an Act or in subordinate legislation within the meaning of the Interpretation Act 1978; and".").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 51 [Immobilisation of vehicles illegally parked, etc.]:

6.20 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 94: Page 58, line 8, leave out from ("it") to end of line 11.

The noble Lord said: We now come to a series of amendments all concerned with the immobilisation of vehicles. Let me repeat at the outset my profound disgust that the Department of Transport find themselves so bereft of any ideas with regard to motor vehicles parked in such cities as London—or indeed any other idea—that they have to impose upon the motoring public a clamp. I shall have more to say about that later. This amendment—and I think it would be more sensible if we went through the amendments rather than speaking to the whole clause at the outset—

Lord Underhill

I wonder whether we can have guidance on this? The department has given me a form in which the amendments should be grouped, and it seems sensible. To take them all together would seem to me to be an unwise procedure, and I would much prefer, if the noble Lord agrees, to take them in the form that the department has agreed on.

Lord Bellwin

So far as we are concerned, Yes. If we had agreed the groupings, I thought that would be the way to do it.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I do not know about there being an agreement to group. Certainly no proposal has come before the Committee. A suggestion came from the department of which I had a copy, and that was that. I am not prepared for a debate—

Lord Bellwin

Would my noble friend give way? Do I understand from my noble friend that he, having seen this suggested list of groupings, did not agree with it? If so, did he say so?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I saw the suggested grouping. I was neither asked nor did I say whether I agreed or disagreed. If it is the wish of the Committee to deal with Clause 51 and a number of amendments that are down, then let us do that. In which case I do not know what time we are going to go to dinner before we finish this first amendment.

Lord Mottistone

Could we be told what the grouping is, then we would know what is puzzling us?

The Earl of Avon

I think we are getting unduly complicated in this. My understanding of the grouping is that it was suggested by the Department with a telephone number to ring if anybody wanted anything. It is a simple one. I do not think the Committee will be worried. It is not a large one. It is purely that with 94 we thought 98 was appropriate. With 95 I was going to move 99. When we get to the 100s, with 100 we were thinking that 101 would go together, and then 105 with 106, 107, and 121, which fit together very well, I think the Committee will agree when they look at them.

Lord Airedale

Would the Minister say that again?

The Earl of Avon

Indeed. 94 with 98; 95 with 99; 100 with 101; 105 with 106, 107, and 121.

Lord Underhill

Was not 103 going to be the main group? It is a Government amendment, 103, plus 105, 106, 107 and 121.

The Earl of Avon

I will be perfectly happy when I speak to 103 to speak to the others.

Lord Mottistone

Surely my noble friend must now tell us whether he likes this. I do not see why we should be dragooned just because from the Opposition Front Bench they tell us that this is the way we have got to do it.

The Earl of Avon

We were not dragooned at all. We entirely accepted this point. The person I am slightly worried about is whether my noble friend Lord Lucas is happy with that set-up.

Lord Underhill

I am sorry that the reference to dragooning came in. I could go through the list here and tell you what each amendment is going to do and the reasons why they should be as they are. For instance, we do not want disabled badges linked up with other factors. It seems to me logical and sensible, and I am certain noble Lords will agree that if you took the subject matters the grouping is sensible and would make for better debates in the Committee.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

I agree, but it was a pity that the department did not let anybody, except perhaps the Opposition Front Bench, have the list.

Lord Mischon

In fairness, because the noble Baroness always wants to be fair, the people responsible for the amendments, as I understand it, were informed of the groupings. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has down a number of amendments. He was informed. The Opposition Front Bench were informed. We were treated with the courtesy of a telephone number if we had any views on it. This is the usual procedure, as I understand it, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who occasionally uses language that he sometimes regrets and apologises for, would wish not to continue using words like "dragooned" when they are quite unnecessary and completely inappropriate.

Lord Mottistone

I have no wish whatsoever to withdraw my remarks on this particular occasion.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

I would not wish to prolong this discussion but I wonder whether in terms of the future there can be some arrangement whereby these matters can be posted publicly in some way in the House so that we can all see this. I do not share Lord Mottistone's views on the matter, and I think the use of the term "dragooned" is a rather extreme form of language, to be blunt. There must be a simple way to avoid arguments of this kind in the future, and I hope we can do something along these lines to avoid this difficulty again.

Lord Bellwin

I would just want to say that, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, so properly put it, there are procedures that one follows in this. Having gone through myself I think some 3,000 amendments in the last three years I am not entirely unfamiliar with what has to be done. We always try hard to observe the courtesies, and I challenge my noble friend Lord Mottistone, or anyone else, to say otherwise. Occasionally one can make a mistake. I frankly do not think a mistake was made on this occasion.

The procedure is known. Of course, we discuss with those who put down an amendment what might be the sensible grouping. If they think not, then that is their prerogative; that is their privilege. We would not dream of trying to dragoon or suggest that it be taken in any way other than the way the proposer of the amendments wishes. Nonetheless, it is often sensible to put them together for obvious reasons. If we can do it it helps the business of the House. It makes for more meaningul debate, and it is helpful. If not, my noble friend Lord Lucas is absolutely within his rights to say, "No, I do not want it this way", and I would want to take it the way he wants. That is up to him. But so far as courtesy and the procedures are concerned, I think we have not stepped one bit any more out of the way with this than we have tried to do in the past.

Lord Tanlaw

May I point out to the Minister that we have had no knowledge of these groupings, and hence our bewilderment on these Benches. This has possibly been overlooked.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

But you have not tabled any amendments.

Lord Tanlaw

I have an amendment to leave out Clause 51.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

I do not want to prolong the discussion, but I believe that all Members of the Committee have rights in this matter whether they have put amendments down or not. I am sure the Minister would agree with that. The question is how we can improve our internal processes of communication. I hope that this can be looked at in future. I do not want to prolong the matter but I think there is general agreement that we should try to avoid this sort of problem in the future if we can.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Listowel)

Perhaps I might remind the Committee that Amendment No. 94 has been called. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, whether he wishes to move the amendment?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

With Amendment No. 94, I would obviously like to deal with Amendment No. 98, to which it is related. If one accepts the power being given to constables—which I do not, but we shall come to that later—by subsection (1)(b), I should like to know precisely what is meant by the wording of the provision, when it says that he may, move it from that place to another place on the same or another road and fix an immobilisation device to it in that other place". I should like to know how far from the original place to another place or another road he can move it. How will the driver know where his vehicle is when he returns to it? And will there be any safeguard that the power to move the vehicle to some other place will be used properly; for example, will it apply to cars on meter bays? The idea apparently is to fix a device—again, we shall come to that later—so that the motorist is suitably embarrassed in that he must find somebody to unlock the device so that he can drive away, having first parted with some money. How is the motorist to know where the vehicle is, if it has been removed and locked up? Will there be proper safeguards so that the unlocking process will be easy, and will the vehicle be moved only a reasonable distance? Later we shall debate a number of amendments—we can discuss them collectively in groups—dealing with the various issues, but meanwhile I suggest that this provision means that a constable will be able to move a vehicle from one place to another simply to enable him to fix an immobilising device. That seems to be a contradiction in terms, and perhaps the Minister can enlighten me.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

It is important that we retain the essence of being able to remove the vehicle. I have spoken on this issue in detail before, and I do not propose to delay the Committee on it now. I oppose Amendment No. 94, and therefore No. 98 also, because unless there is a right to move the vehicle, the obstruction or danger being caused by the vehicle being in a certain position will remain. I do not accept my noble friend's argument about people not knowing where their vehicles have been moved to. If at present one's car is towed to the car pound—which is a much further distance than is envisaged under the new system of immobilisation—one usually has to go a great distance and one is caused much greater inconvenience. Drivers usually discover that their vehicles have been taken to the pound by telephoning the police to report their cars stolen. It is then they are informed that they are at the pound. The right to remove the vehicle is a most important part of the immobilisation process.

Lord Underhill

On Second Reading I too voiced criticism of this provision, but the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, converted me with the view she has repeated tonight, and I accept her argument immediately.

The Earl of Avon

It may help if I were to clarify some of our thinking on this matter, particularly as my noble friend Lord Lucas asked a number of questions. The idea as that the police areempowered to remove a vehicle before immobilising it. This brings the more serious and anti-social parking offence within the scope of the clause, and I note in particular that the Metropolitan Police attached great importance to this subsection. They will find it particularly helpful at the times when the means for removing an obstructing or dangerously parked vehicle to the pound are not immediately available. I should perhaps mention that we have power at the moment to move vehicles to the pound, and therefore we can move vehicles.

Anybody parking in a dangerous place will be used to returning to his vehicle and finding it gone; it has been moved to the pound and he must go to the police to find out where it is. If the power to move and then immobilise were deleted, the police would in those cases be unable to deal effectively with the offence. This will allow them to shift the vehicle to a safer or less obstructive position and then apply a sanction by immobilising it. They will be able to do this in a fraction of the time it might take to remove the vehicle to the pound, and to that degree the motorist, if he does not like going to the pound, will be better off because he can look a few yards down the road for his car.

Fears have been expressed that the vehicle will be moved an excessive distance or that the driver will be unable to find it. We do not think that will be the case. If the police have the means and the time to move a vehicle a substantial distance, they are likely to put it in the pound. The driver's position will be no different from that of 80,000 drivers a year who now find that their vehicles have been towed away. Indeed, in many cases the vehicle will have been repositioned only a few yards so that it is in sight of the place where it was left.

An example of the kind of thing we have in mind is that of a car left outside the entrance to a hospital. Obviously, one would not want to clamp it there, but it might be possible to move it five or 10 yards away from the hospital entrance, where a clamp could then be applied. That would save the necessity of taking it to the pound and enable the hospital to have its facility. I hope I have answered at least some of the points my noble friend raised, though others will no doubt arise on later amendments in his name.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am obliged to my noble friend for that explanation, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.37 p.m.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 95:

Page 58, line 11, at end insert— ("(1A) Subsection (1) above does not apply in relation to any vehicle on which there is displayed a current disabled person's badge.").

The noble Earl said: This gives effect to an undertaking which my noble friend gave your Lordships on Second Reading to exempt orange badge holders from the immobilisation powers. We are grateful for the representations of the Joint Committee on the Mobility of the Disabled on this point, and I am glad that we have been able to respond positively. The exemption will extend to any vehicle displaying a current badge which is issued, or has effect as if issued, under regulations if force under Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

On Second Reading several noble Lords pointed out that the creation of this exemption will make it all the more urgent that the proposed changes to the orange badge scheme should be implemented without delay. Interested bodies have recently been consulted on a draft circular to accompay the regulations, and their comments are now being considered. We hope that the regulations will be laid before Parliament before the Recess. Changes would not however come into force for a few months after the regulations are made, so that local authorities will have time to acquire stocks of the new badges envisaged in the regulations, and to acquaint themselves with the other measures being introduced. Nevertheless, we expect the changes to come into operation by the end of the year, and this should reduce the risk of abuse of badges in order to avoid immobilisation.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

As the Minister mentioned the orange badge, may I ask whether the other badges he mentioned include the special ones to London, because parts of London do not recognise the orange badge. I am thinking for example, of Camden, Kensington and Westminster; Westminster have a special white badge. While the Minister is obtaining that information, I should like to thank the Government and the Department of Transport for their helpfulness towards disabled people in the matter.

The Earl of Avon

I am advised that if applies only to the national schemes.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 96:

Page 58, line 11, at end insert— ("( ) An immobilisation device may not be applied to a vehicle parked in an authorised parking meter bay unless that vehicle has remained there in contravention of any prohibition or restriction for longer than 2 hours more than the parking time for which payment has been made.").

The noble Lord said: This is more important than my previous amendment, in that I have been worried throughout our debates on this clause, which deals with the immobilisation of vehicles, because we have been talking all the time about reinforcing the law particularly in regard to the persistent offender. I believe that attention has moved away from the persistent offender, because nobody has been able to identify him. We are now left with dealing with non-compliance of the law dealing with the total failure in the past few years of enforcement authorities to enforce parking regulations, in particular in Central London.

In proposing the amendment my worry is that willy-nilly an authority will decide that x area will be policed—and I use the word with a small "p"—in regard to wheel clamps on a particular day or days. I imagine, since no one has told me anything to the contrary, that wheel clamps will be fixed not only where vehicles are parked in dangerous or unauthorised positions, but in any circumstances where the parking laws are being flouted. Presumably that will include an authorised roadway parking bay, with a green or grey meter. If that is so, I feel that it means that we have failed to deal with the real problem. When using a bay with a grey meter an offender might well have intended to park there for only two hours, having paid £1.20, if it is in Central London (60p an hour) but could be delayed. So the amendment suggests that an immobilisation device may not be applied to a vehicle in the type of parking bay that I have described unless it has remained there for longer than two hours beyond the parking time.

I know full well that on a grey meter there is a two-hours paid period, followed by another period of two hours in which the excess charge of £4 arises. After a further hour a penalty fee is applied. In regard to the example that I have given, am I to understand that the immobilisation device could be applied after only five hours?—in which case it would be rather a nonsense; or perhaps the Government accept my view that a motorist might make a mistake, thinking that he has parked at a green meter, which would give him a few more hours. I have suggested a further period of more than two hours before the immobilisation device is affixed. In any event, it seems to me that with a period of five hours the penalty is quite sufficient, bearing in mind that penalties have now been increased. We must also bear in mind the question of parking illegally where there is no parking space, or where there is a danger. Perhaps my noble friend can help me on those points. I beg to move.

Lord Underhill

This is one of the occasions when the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I come together again, and I think that the principle that he is advancing is the right one. I shall support Clause 51 when we come to the question of whether the clause shall stand part, though of course there might be differences among us on how certain decisions should be taken. One of the arguments for the scheme is based on the element of persistence. The constable will have authority to decide, and I believe that a period of more than two hours after the normal parking time is reasonable. We do not want wheel clamps fitted to vehicles that have over-stayed for, say, only half an hour. We are talking about parking meter bays, not illegal parking on yellow lines or such, which will be considered in relation to the clause as a whole.

I believe that if the Government accept the general principle, the words more than the parking time in the penultimate line of the amendment should perhaps be altered, so that that part of the amendment would read, more than the initial parking period". That is the important point which I understand the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is pursuing, and I believe that the principle here is right.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I, too, should like to comment on the amendment, and like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I tend to support the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on it. There are a couple of points that should be raised so that they can be considered by the Government. If the wording, an authorised parking meter bay", is used, I think that it would be important to emphasise that it should be an authorised operational parking meter bay, since sometimes parking meter bays are cordoned off and must not be used, perhaps because of possible danger or obstruction. If the proposed amendment were adopted without covering the point that I have mentioned, it might not be possible to deal with vehicles that are parked in the circumstances that I have described.

The other matter that I want to raise relates to the period of time. Some tidying-up is needed here, since it is quite legal to have an initial period of two hours, or four hours, according to the type of meter, plus another two hours on an excess charge, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned. I think that even after the excess charge period there should be some leeway—possibly another hour. After all, the motorist would be paying a £l0 penalty on top of his earlier expense of buying time on the meter. We must bear in mind that the meters are positioned so as not to cause danger to any person, nor obstruction to traffic, except of course on the rare occasions when their use is banned for a particular period. So I would support the principle of the amendment, though I feel that some adjustment is needed.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

The noble Earl the Minister stated that vehicles driven by disabled people are not exempt from wheel clamps when in Central London, because the special London badges are not recognised. Does that mean that the wheels of such vehicles will be clamped? That would be a great worry to disabled people, especially if they were in a building that they were unable to get out of.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I should like to intervene at this point, since I, too, welcome what was said about the disabled badge, though I did not speak on it, so as to save time. I think that some confusion is arising here. Although areas of central London have their own white badges or other types of badges, there is nothing to stop disabled people using in those areas the normal national orange badge as well. They would then be properly covered. They could have both types of badge, surely.

Baroness Denington

I am not unsympathetic to what is being proposed, but it rather worries me, because surely it goes against the whole principle of parking meters. An authorised parking place, which is not obstructive, is intended to be used for only a limited period, so that a number of people can park during the day, and then business can be carried on, and so forth. If we are not very careful, we might be so generous as to destroy the proper principle behind the use of parking meters.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

At the moment it is possible to leave a car on a parking meter for the whole day for £10.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

Any noble Lord who believes that Greater London is in any way helpful towards disabled people really needs himself to be disabled to find out that that is not so. The situation is absolutely impossible for disabled people. The orange badge is never recognised, and now the Minister has told us that the other badges for Westminster, Camden, Fulham, and Chelsea will not be recognised, either. So for disabled people life will be even more difficult than it has been in the past—and it has been bad enough.

The Earl of Avon

Perhaps I may intervene at this stage and say that no motorist displaying an orange badge issued under the national scheme would have his car immobilised, whether or not it was parked in a position covered by the exemptions in the national scheme. The national badge is available to eligible disabled people living in London. As the noble Baroness probably realises, she somewhat took me by surprise on the issue that she raised, and so I should like to look into it.

We, too, accept the general principle as to the use of parking meters, but I should like to put before the Committee some of the reasons why we are reluctant to write it into the legislation. I understand that there are some 15,000 parking meters in central London. They are intended to provide a turnover of short-term parking spaces throughout the day, and have the additional function of raising revenue, which is primarily applied to the provision of off-street parking. The GLC's assessment is that the turnover at meters, and hence the vacancy rate and the availability of short-term parking space, is extensively undermined by misuse; and they calculate that 40 per cent. of time used at meters is used illegally.

There are, therefore, substantial potential gains in parking supply if meters are used as intended rather than for longer-term parking. In fact, few things would do more to improve the motorists' lot than a higher vacancy rate at meters, and this will not occur unless the present level of enforcement can be improved. The Government are therefore reluctant to see the effectiveness of wheel clamps as a means of enforcement at meters prejudiced. Having said that, the police do not intend to use wheel clamps to penalise short overstays, any more than they tow away from meter bays except in the rarest circumstances. A vehicle is not parked illegally—this is one of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made—during the excess period, and wheel clamps therefore could not be used during the excess period.

The amendment would create considerable difficulties for the police. The type of parking meter most widely used in London has a display which indicates the passage of time for more than an hour after the penalty period has begun, but it is impossible to tell by looking at the meter whether the penalty flag is displayed because the driver has failed to pay the initial charge or because he has paid the charge and overstayed the time. We believe that, here, the amendment would need some changing, as it would allow immobilisation at meter bays only where a charge has been paid and the parking period has expired by two hours. It would rule out immobilisation for such offences as meter feeding and, of course, failure to pay the initial charge.

I know it is too easy to give examples, but I have around the corner from where I live some meters, and there is a car which persistently parks there throughout the day. I am longing to give the number of that car to someone to deal with, because this is the sort of thing which will be effective. I will bring in the registration number if nobody believes me. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, also produced something we shall obviously have to look into, which is a covering over the meter.

I think that the Committe would agree that the amendment appears to protect meter feeders, and meter feeding is at the heart of the extensive use of meters for long-term parking which should be accommodated off-street. For these reasons I suggest that the amendment would render the wheel clamp less potent as a means of enforcement, and I think would greatly restrict the scope of the proposed experiment. I hope the Committee will agree with me. As they can see, I do not feel particularly strongly but I do feel that we should leave this option open and not close it.

Lord Mishcon

I wonder whether I may introduce, very shortly, one slightly differing thought on a matter which I know concerns not only the Members of the Committee but all citizens in the metropolis. I introduce the point that I want to make with the feeling that the Committee would always want the utmost consideration to be paid to anybody who is disabled; and the idea of anyone who is disabled having the vehicle upon which they depend immobilised (whether they have a white badge, a red badge or any other badge) I think fills all the Members of the Committee with a sense of abhorrence. I am sure the Minister feels exactly the same way as we all do, when he is looking at it.

What I feel is so unjust is this. The motorist is being very severely criticised for the fact that he has even had the courtesy, which most motorists have not got, to put his car in a parking meter space—he has had that amount of consideration—and he has stayed there (like a villain, it is almost suggested) for something like four or five hours. I put this point very shortly and very simply, so that it is in the correct context, certainly so far as London is concerned. If half the time and half the money that is going to be spent on administering this sort of service of clamping cars that are in fact on parking meters could be put into London Transport itself, so that London Transport was a little more efficient and a little cheaper, it might be a different matter. There are many decent citizens who feel they have to use private cars because of the difficulties in regard to transport that we are at the present moment belabouring.

I think we must have this in context. The citizen is not quite the criminal that we are making him out to be when he parks his car on a parking meter. He is usually a person who is now finding it too expensive to travel on public transport in London, or who finds that transport, unfortunately, not as efficient as it ought to be.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

I rather agreed with the general approach of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, though I accept the force of some of the arguments deployed by the noble Earl, Lord Avon. I think there is a real problem here, touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. Of course we have to encourage responsible use of parking meter bays. Of course that is fight. But I do not think that the department responsible for the implementation of this legislation should have any doubt about the degree of anger that there will be among many law-abiding motorists when they find these immobilisation devices on their cars when they have at least put their car on a parking meter, when there are many other people in the same area who have not troubled to put their cars on parking meters and when the only reason why they find themselves in that position is not for any deliberate desire on their part to ignore the regulations but because (and this is obviously a feature of many people's lives) they have been inadvertently delayed. I believe that there is likely to be a great deal of public indignation about this, and I hope we are not going to be told that it is quite impossible to refine this process.

Quite bluntly, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is extremely tiresome so far as this particular issue is concerned because I believe (if I may repeat the point) that there is a real risk of some deterioration in the relations between the public and the police so far as this matter is concerned when this whole process has begun. I hope very much that the noble Earl will take account of what has been said and will give us some indication that he is prepared to look at this matter again, and will come back at Report stage with some rather more sensible arrangements than, frankly, are in this Bill at the moment.

Lord Feversham

It seems to me, as the noble Earl has himself said, that what we want to try to do is to get motorists, even though they have been parked on a meter for a certain length of time, off that meter once they have overstayed their time, so that somebody else can use it. I would not have thought that putting a wheel clamp on his wheel was a way of speeding up that process.

The Earl of Avon

There is only one point about which I should like to remind the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. Of course, the tow-away enforcement laws at the moment can do just that, so your vehicle might have gone if it had been there too long.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

Yes, but I hope the noble Earl is going to respond to the general feeling expressed in the Committee on this particular amendment. I hope he is going to give some clear indication that he is prepared to look at this matter again. Having simply listened to this debate, as he of course has, it appears that a very significant number of Members of this Committee are concerned about the provisions of the Bill as they appear on the face of it. I therefore hope very much that he will give some indication that he is prepared to look at this matter extremely seriously with a view to moving in the general direction set out in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

The Earl of Avon

Indeed (I probably sat down rather too quickly) I was going to say that I would take it back and have a look at it. Perhaps I could discuss it with my noble friend Lord Lucas and see whether we can meet somewhere along the line on it.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am very much obliged to noble Lords for taking part in this debate. It comes as no surprise that such an innovation as this strikes a little deeply into everybody's motoring bosom, so to speak. My noble friend in fact said that there were 15,000 meter spaces in central London. My information is that there are only 10,000 meter spaces in London. This reduction was largely as a result of the Labour GLC policy to cut parking spaces. At the same time, residential parking bay numbers went up so that, on the one hand, we are using the streets as permanent garaging for residents (and there must be something odd about that) while depriving the transient mover the rightful space and the turnover that the noble Lord wants.

I think there is one other point. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, mentioned that if certain amounts of money were diverted to public transport and it was improved, then people would use it. I wonder whether my noble friend can tell me what happened to the £19 million surplus on meter fees over the last 11 years up and down the country. One just does not seem to have seen much benefit, although the whole idea was that that money was to go twoards improvement of parking.

The Earl of Avon

I am not speaking to answer that particular question from my noble friend. It is a little wide of the mark. He queried my figure of 15,000 parking meters in Central London. I gather that there are 10,000 in Westminster and 15,000 in Central London.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

Those figures make it even more disappointing—10,000 in Westminster and 15.000 in Central London. There is not much hope for Central London. However, in view of what my noble friend Lord Avon has offered, to have further discussions on this matter, I think that the best thing I can do is to withdraw the amendment now and, if necessary, return to it at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 97: Page 58, line 31, leave out ("another person") and insert ("a traffic warden").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I should like my noble friend to tell me whether anybody at all, whom a constable authorises, can clamp a motor car. Can the Commissioner of Police or whoever is responsible engage an entrepreneurial firm of wheel clamp fixers with mobile vans and appliances and entrust them with this job? Are they going to be told, "Go round to everything you see on a double yellow line, half parked on the pavement in Beauchamp Place, or overstaying its welcome on a meter, or which has been on a meter space for more than two hours, fix one on, and bring me the list"? Can he ask a traffic warden to do this job, or can it be done only by a constable?—bearing in mind again Lord Mishcon's remarks with regard to the responsibility of the traffic wardens which my noble friend answered. We really want to know who is going to have the first and ultimate authority for imposing this additional and iniquitous penalty upon an offending motorist. I beg to move.

Lord Airedale

I should like to ask the opposite question. Who has authority to unclamp a vehicle; and how do you reconcile subsection (3) with subsection (5) because subsection (3) says that a vehicle can be released from its clamp only by a constable? I emphasise "only". Subsection (5) says: A constable may authorise another person to take under his direction any action that the constable has power to take for the purposes of this section". How do you reconcile those two subsections and how is a lower court—because I take it it will be the lower courts which will have to interpret this clause—to reconcile those two subsections?

If what is meant is that another person besides the constable can be authorised by him to unclamp the vehicle, I hope that that is right, and I question Lord Lucas's attempt to narrow the effect by saying that not "another person" but only "a traffic warden" may unclamp a vehicle. I think this provision may be undesirable because I foresee a situation where a busy surgeon or somebody of that kind, whom it is obviously in the public interest should not be hampered in his movements, commits the offence of parking illegally. His vehicle is clamped; he goes to pay the money to get it unclamped and the police say, "Yes, we will come along and unclamp it when we have the time. You have been very stupid. We cannot just drop everything and come and unclamp your vehicle. You will have to wait. We will do it as soon as we can". And there may not be a traffic warden available.

I should like to see a situation where the constable is allowed to ring up a garage of good repute—and they know them because they are vehicle testing stations' for instance—and say to them, "Please send round a responsible mechanic to unclamp this car because we are too busy to attend to this at the present time". I hope that the intention is that another person under subsection (5) is allowed to unclamp and that the sort of person I have mentioned will be, on occasions, employed to do the job when the police have other duties, more pressing, to carry out.

Lord Gisborough

May I raise a third question? It is the question of damage. In the event of a policeman locking or unlocking, presumably, there must be a liability for damage should he chip paint off, or whatever. What would be the position with regard to damages to the vehicle if he authorised a third person to do it?

The Earl of Avon

It might be helpful if I paint my picture now. I ought to say to the Committee at this stage that the thoughts I am getting are interesting and I should like to take them back after we have had this general debate to see what we can work out. This is a novelty; this will be an experiment and I shall be happy to be guided by the Committee on the way they are thinking. I should like to say at the moment how we are thinking so that I can get the Committee's reactions.

In the initial experimental period of operation, I understand that the Metropolitan Police intend to use their uniformed vehicle-removal officers. I do not know whether that fits in with the noble Lord's idea of somebody who is reliable enough to do it or not. These people at present assist in towing or driving away illegally-parked vehicles and these will be the people who will apply and remove the clamps under the direction of a police officer.

It may be that if immobilisation is successful and the powers are retained, practical experience will dictate changes to these arrangements. The Metropolitan Police civilian staff who assist the police in their duties will not necessarily need the same qualifications currently required by a vehicle-removal officer, for these officers all have heavy goods vehicle drivers' licences for operating "Z" wagons. This will not be necessary when we come to immobilisation.

There is a range of possibilities and this is the reason why the type of people who assist the police is not set out in the clause. Subsection (5) is clear that the persons assisting in immobilisation operations will do so only with the authorisation and under direction of the police constable. It also provides that their actions will be regarded as having been taken by the constable and the police will therefore take full responsibility. It will be for the police to see that unsuitable persons are not employed. My noble friend asked me about damage. I think that we are coming on to that in a later amendment so that I will leave that until later. I hope that I have given the Committee some food for thought.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My noble friend has just said that the holder of a HGV licence is not necessary. If the vehicle is a lorry and the lorry then has to be moved before being clamped in probably another dangerous position, the lorry mover must have an HGV licence.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Underhill

The Notes on Clauses explain in regard to subsection (5) of the clause that work that can be done by another person authorised by a police constable includes immobilisation, release and the collection of charges. Surely, it will be necessary to put into the Bill something different from "another person". "Another person" could be anyone. While the police may decide what they are going to do, surely there ought to be some guidance given as to who "another person" should be, particularly if he is going to have authority to collect charges.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

May I ask about the clamps and the undoing of them? Do they have a universal key? What happens if the clamper goes off-duty for the weekend and the next one coming on duty does not have the key?

The Earl of Avon

I think that the Committee's imagination is enormous. May I show the Committee how I think the system is going to be working at the moment. There will probably be a small vehicle which will have a series of wheel clamps in it with a team of people. They will go round and clamp something, and put the ticket on the vehicle which will show which police station has to be contacted. The car driver will then go to that police station and the keys will be there. Another team will go out and release the wheel clamp. That will probably allay the fears of the noble Baroness. I have not checked this information for the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, but my understanding is that the actual money will be paid at the police station by the car driver when he takes the ticket in there.

Lord Mishcon

We are all expressing a personal point of view, and I am sure that that is understood. Will the noble Lord the Minister not only review some of the points put to him in regard to difficulties on clamping but also consider clamping down on the whole idea? There are so many cases where citizens are going to be furious with the police: where, for example, a car has been left—and we are considering this type of example—on a parking meter because a father has been called back from business because his child is slightly ill. He then finds that he has to wait for the doctor and it is discovered that the child is rather more ill than was first thought. The father goes to his car and sees the clamp on his vehicle. It is bad enough to find that the car has been removed—one goes and collects it; takes a taxi, if one can afford it, or travels on public transport, if it is working.

We are introducing into our transport system under this Bill something that is so dangerous from many points of view in regard to the relationships between the police and the citizen, and there are so many hardship cases that will be caused that I ask the Minister whether all this is worthwhile and should be done.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

I share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. The more we go into this matter, the more apprehensive one becomes of what is being proposed. I agree very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. It is a point which I made earlier. There is a real risk of a very significant deterioration in the relationship between the motorists and the Metropolitan Police as a result of this situation. For example, a woman with two or three small children, experiencing the type of weather that we have today may find that the clamp has been put on her parked car. She then tries to find out who is going to come and remove the clamp. The amount of that is going to be engendered by this process will be astonishingly high. I have no doubt that the matter has been carefully thought through by the Ministers, their advisers and the Metropolitan Police, coping as they do with substantial problems in terms of the traffic management of London. I hope that the other aspects of this problem are going to be looked at because, speaking for myself, the more one listens to the debate the more one becomes concerned about what is being suggested. I believe that there is a real risk of an explosion of public anger when these procedures are introduced. It seems to me self-evident that that will arise.

Baroness Denington

The noble Lord the Minister said a little while ago that the Committee seems full of imagination tonight. I think that the Committee is getting quite carried away on this subject. What is proposed is a limited experiment—limited in area—to try to do something about the people who do flagrantly bad things when they are parking their cars.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I thank the noble Baroness for being kind enough to give way. We are debating a particular amendment; not the general principle. We seem to have slid away. If it is the Committee's wish that we go on to the principle in the hope that my noble friend is going to say, "Forget all about it, I will walk away with it" then, fair enough; but in that case we shall have a two-hour debate and let us get on with it. I do not think that that is what the Committee want nor what my noble friend will accede to. It seems to me we should stick to the amendment, giving my noble friend the ideas that he has asked for regarding this aspect; he can have all the rest later on, and then we can come to the principle on the Motion that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Denington

With the leave of the Committee, I was only trying to provide a slight corrective to the idea that this should all be washed out and forgotten. With the leave of the Committee, if I may say a few words: it is to be an experiment. I think that the police will go very, very gingerly with it. I do not think we are going to have a whole host of irate motorists writing to the newspapers and beseeching your Lordships and people in the other House. It is also to be tried, when we come to a future amendment, for a limited period. That is all that Parliament is asked for. I suggest that something like this ought to be tried in order to deal with, and help the police to deal with, some of the flagrant traffic offences that happen in the inner parts of our crowded cities.

Lord Harvington

I should like to intervene to say that I believe that the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Harris, have put their fingers on the right way of looking at this matter. I do not think that we are going to get better feeling with the police. We need more than anything to get good feeling with the police. It is desperate now. One saw it this afternoon in the Mall where the police were being cursed by everybody there for the mess that is going on outside the Palace and so on. We must do everything that we can to help avoid this. In bringing this in I have every sympathy with the police and the Ministry in wanting to stop illegal parking and put the matter right. I do not feel that this particular method is going to be helpful at all. I entirely agree with the noble Lords who have said this.

Lord Denham

May I support my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth? We are getting a little out of order in having a general debate on this rather limited amendment. I know that a lot of these matters will come out in the wash later. Perhaps we may come to some conclusion on my noble friend's amendment. I would not wish to stop anybody on any side of the Committee from talking about the general scheme at the appropriate time.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

May I thank my noble friend for bringing us a little nearer dinner time? It is quite obvious that my noble friend Lord Avon has had an expression of views in particular with who shall clamp and who shall unclamp. It is quite obvious that there is more imagination in the Committee than in the department and parliamentary draftsmen. That does not surprise me since this measure was only put down a very short time ago. It has not been thought out. This particular subsection of the clause has not been thought out. My noble friend has suggested that we should have a talk about it. If nothing else happens tonight, we can have another talk about it another day. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 97.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 98 not moved.]

Lord Denham

I think this is probably a suitable time at which to resume the House, but before I move that this be done, for the guidance of the Committee perhaps I might suggest that the House will not come back to this particular issue before five minutes past eight.

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.