HL Deb 02 April 1984 vol 450 cc485-90

3.33 p.m.

Losd Mottistone

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Mottistone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.] Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Licences to give instruction in the driving of motor cars]:

Lord Tordoff moved the following amendment: Page 3, line 31, after ("words") insert— (" "that the applicant has undertaken a suitable training course to standards and of a duration which shall be from time to time laid down by the Department of Transport and").

The noble Lord said: First, let me apologise to your Lordships for taking this House into Committee just to discuss one amendment. But I think it is an important matter that is before us. As I indicated on Second Reading, although I support the general principles of the Bill and the way in which it has been put together, there is a problem which worries me and some of my friends. It relates to the question of licensed trainees.

Those of your Lordships who were present at the Second Reading debate will remember that I drew attention to the fact that, under Statutory Instrument No. 1043 of 1977, it is possible for licensed trainees for 80 per cent. of the time to be unaccompanied with learner drivers, having had no formal instruction on how to teach. There is no doubt that the provisions of this Bill will make the trainee instructor a more skilled person. Perhaps I may take the analogy of an ordinary school teacher. The school teacher must have some academic qualifications in the subject which he or she is intending to teach. He or she also must have some instruction on how to teach. The teacher is eventually let loose on the unsuspecting children with a certain amount of supervision, but he or she spends quite a lot of time, unaccompanied, face to face with children, in a class room. Clearly, that practical experience is very important in making them better teachers.

Similarly, the provisions of the Bill as it now stands allow trainee instructors to go out with clients and to gain practical experience in a car with a learner. The purpose of this amendment is to make sure that, before that happens, people have had some instruction on how to teach. As I said on Second Reading, it seems unfortunate that people who may be good drivers themselves, who may have taken the written examination, get into a car, unaccompanied, with a learner and do not have the slightest idea of the mechanics of teaching people how to drive.

Certainly at the end of their licensed period they have to take an examination, and if they fail that examination of course they do not become fully qualified instructors; they do not go on the register. But there is a period—particularly in the first three months—when they need to be accompanied only as to 20 per cent. of the time, which seems to me to be dangerous. In that period they can well damage the driving ability of learner drivers for a long time to come. Therefore. I believe that before they reach that stage they should have received at least some rudimentary knowledge of how to convey their own abilities to the learner driver.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, suggested on the Second Reading, I am aware that if this Committee were to carry an amendment to this Bill it might further delay its progress. I am sure that there is a feeling all round the Committee that this Bill should proceed, and certainly I am anxious that it should. Therefore, I am reluctant to force this amendment on to your Lordships, even if the Committee were to agree to it. However, before the end of these proceedings I should like some assurance from the Government that they can go some way towards tackling this problem, that the provision setting out that the licensee should be supervised for 20 per cent. of the time should state that that period should come during an early part of the licensee's life.

Certainly I should like to think that the Government appreciate that there is here a problem which is widely felt among the driving schools, particularly the larger ones, and that they can go some way towards meeting what I am suggesting in this amendment. There is an indication of this in a letter dated 1st March from the Minister of State. Mrs. Lynda Chalker, to the British School of Motoring, which says: I share your concern to improve driving instruction standards. The Bill makes it necessary for trainees to be partly qualified and we shall certainly want to encourage new entrants to get some formal ADI training".

It is that formal ADI training which I hope this amendment will go some way towards providing. I beg to move.

Lord Mottistone

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for putting his amendment in such measured terms and for showing that he appreciates the problem that we shall have with regard to the passage of this Bill in the event that this amendment is made to it.

I should like to make three points on what he has said. Before doing so, I should say that I have great sympathy with what he is suggesting. It was my happy business at one stage to be director of an industrial training board, and many times we had to try to impress on companies that it is important to have classroom training as well as on-the-job training. Therefore I have sympathy, but in this particular case I suggest, as I did at Second Reading, that with this amendment the noble Lord is bringing the qualifications for the licensed trainee so close to those of the approved driving instructor that there is little distinction between them, though there is some. Whereas the Bill has sought to have two of the qualifications—that is, to have the appropriate driving licence, and I cannot remember the other one but it does not matter—and the third one is this particular training which the noble Lord is bringing in rather closer, I should have thought that that makes such a narrow difference as to perhaps defeat the object of having the separate post of licensed trainee at all. That is one thing.

The other matter is rather more important. The noble Lord mentioned how the larger driving schools are particularly concerned about this. There is a problem here. There are a lot of small driving schools, some of them consisting of only one approved driving instructor. There might be unfair competition between the smaller ones which would find it difficult, or might have to pay money, to arrange for the sort of courses for which the amendment calls rather than doing it on the job. as it were.

If there are such schools it would seem to me—and perhaps my noble friend the Minister will confirm this—that there is going to have to be some sort of monitoring of the schools and approving of them in order to achieve the aims, and that would add to the demands on the Government's own resources to ensure that the schools were up to the necessary standard. The approved driving instructors are already-examined in training and so that part is dealt with so far as they are concerned.

I have sympathy, but there are these difficulties about the amendment as it stands, apart from the fact that any amendment is going to risk the Bill's progress, which is a risk I think we would all wish to avoid. I said at Second Reading that I hoped that perhaps my noble friend the Minister would give thought to making some sort of amendment to the regulations, and the noble. Lord. Lord Tordoff, mentioned Regulation 1043 of 1977. That is clearly going to have to be amended now to meet the terms of the Bill. It could perhaps be that my noble friend the Minister would be able to take account of the principle behind Lord Tordoffs amendment in making amendments to the regulations. I would hope that that is something that he can do for us. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. will not be put into the position of feeling that he has to press his amendment.

Baroness Wootton of Abinger

I hope that this matter can be dealt with by regulation. It is a matter of considerable importance. My own experience goes a long way back, and perhaps I may give a short anecdote of the difficulty in teaching people who are not accustomed to teaching. When I was learning to drive I knew nothing at all. I asked my instructor what I should do about the gear lever. His answer to the question taught me nothing about gear levers but a great deal about my future academic career. He said, "Well, you see, Miss, it's all according." That is the perfect reply to any student's question that you cannot answer, and I have never forgotten it. It may well be from what I hear that sometimes the instruction that is given is given on that kind of basis. It has nothing whatever to do with the problem which is before you as to what you do with the gear lever.

Lord Underhill

I should like to support the principle of the amendment because it is something that ought to be in the Bill. Equally the Committee must take regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, emphasised at Second Reading, that any amendment going back to the other place could delay this Bill. The Bill is such a useful Bill that it would be sad if we pushed forward an amendment, much as we want that amendment in the Bill, and it delayed or stopped the passage of the Bill through the other place. For that reason, therefore, for myself I could not support pushing the amendment forward. On the other hand. I hope that the Minister will listen to the pleas which are being made particularly by the promoter of the Bill, the noble Lord. Lord Mottistone, that somehow the Government can bring in in regulations something which might cover most of the points in this amendment.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

May I ask the Minister whether he would ask the Minister of State to incorp-orate the words in Clause 2(1)(a), "fitness to instruct"? That is part of the examination that the full driving instructors will have to pass, and perhaps that could be incorporated by regulation.

3.46 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

First, I am obliged to the noble Lord. Lord Tordoff, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone for the triangular discussions which have taken place since we had our Second Reading on this Bill. I share the concern of all noble Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and my noble friend Lady Macleod, who expressed their concern about ensuring that new drivers are properly taught. I have had the opportunity to reflect on what was said at Second Reading. I am happy to concede in principle that point which the noble Lord. Lord Tordoff, is seeking to achieve in his amendment, which is that there should be more than perhaps just supervision of licensed trainee instructors.

I am aware, of course, of the letter that the Minister of State in the Department of Transport sent on 1st March, but as my noble friend Lord Mottistone said, we have to ensure that we do not close completely the dividing line between the trainee and the qualified instructor. I explained at Second Reading that while the department encourages formal training courses for would-be instructors, we do not consider that compulsory training is justified.

In any event, the approval of suitable driving instructor training courses would be difficult—not impossible, but difficult—particularly the definition of a halfway standard for those who have still to gain the experience and skill necessary to pass the final part of the qualifying examination for ADIs. That is essentially the test of the ability to instruct.

Another problem is that the department would have to inspect and approve training bodies, course content, set standards, and supervise training to ensure that those standards were maintained. Frankly, we do not have sufficient staff to undertake such functions. It is also unlikely that the necessary additional staff could be made available under current constraints. The provision of such staff would also create a demand for additional Government expenditure and would, in the normal course of events, be beyond the scope of a Private Member's Bill. The amendment can thus only proceed if the Government agree to provide a money resolution, and this would not be forthcoming.

It will not surprise your Lordships to learn that I have to say that there are a number of technical defects in the drafting of the amendment as it stands. It is too broad, and even with re-drafting it is doubtful whether it would meet the intention. However, we have considered alternative ways of proceeding. I have it in mind that we should aim to build some provision into the basic training in the early stages of the trainee licensed period. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, reminded us that a trainee has to be supervised for one-fifth of the time, and we have in mind that that period of direct supervision should take place at an early stage in the trainee's provisional licence period. The training would in most cases be given by qualified instructors who would be supervising. In some cases it might be feasible for the trainee to receive training prior to the grant of a licence, as indeed some do already, and we certainly do not want to disturb that arrangement.

The nature of such a requirement and its technical and administrative context suggests that it might be best dealt with by way of regulation. The main enabling Act on driving instruction, which is Part V of the Road Traffic Act 1972, contains provisions under which such regulations might conveniently be made. The training requirement may thus be made a condition of the licence. Of course, we would want to consult the driving instructors' representative bodies on the technical details of such a requirement and to consider any observations they may make on the practical aspects. All noble Lords will agree that that is a sensible way to proceed.

I do not wish this afternoon to go further into the details of such a requirement, but would leave it open for us to develop it within the broad framework that 1 have described. I can give the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, an undertaking that that is the way we shall proceed. I should also like to assure him that we would be happy to discuss the details of any draft regulations with the noble Lord, if he thinks that that would be helpful.

My noble friend Lord Mottistone and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, both underline that it would be a pity for the Bill to founder on the matter now put forward for amendment. I hope we can find this way to let the Bill go forward unamended.

Regulations of the kind that I have described would enable us to effect the modifications to the trainee driving instructor licensing scheme that the noble Lord has suggested, without amending the Bill, and I hope, therefore, that my offer to consider making a further change in the scheme, through regulation along the lines I have suggested, will be acceptable to him. I hope that he may not find it necessary to pursue his amendment, certainly with the knowledge that we shall be seeking to satisfy his intention by other and more suitable means.

Lord Mottistone

I am most grateful to my noble friend for taking up the suggestion that there should be careful amendment to the regulations to take in as much of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, as can be. Indeed he has gone further and said that he has invited the noble Lord, if he wishes, to advise or take part in discussions on that sort of amendment. That takes us a long way and I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Lord Tordoff

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short discussion. It is a matter of some concern that the pass rate of people taking the learner tests has dropped significantly over a number of years. In the evidence that the Government gave to the transport committee of another place on road safety they pointed out that the annual pass rate in the 1950s was about 59 per cent., by 1960 it had dropped to 51 per cent., which is why the original Bill was brought in, and sadly it is now down to 46 per cent.; so this is not a trivial matter.

I am grateful particularly to the Minister for what he has said, that he has conceded in principle that there is an important point here. I worry a little about the fact that he says that he has insufficient staff to carry out what is an important matter in terms of road safety and life and death for many people. I accept that there may be technical defects in the amendment. It is important, as I said before, that the licensee should get instruction at an early stage on how he should instruct, but I very much welcome, and I am sure the driving schools will welcome, the undertaking that has been given.

I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, made about unfair competition, but in all these matters of health and safety one has to put those standards first. Single-man driving schools find it difficult to take on trainees because the principal would be spending 20 per cent. of his time sitting in a car with a trainee. Thus something needs to be done. The noble Lord is right in saying that this is like the training board situation and the same problems occur there. On the contrary to what he said, it is a little unfair on those driving schools that set high standards and inaugurate training that they should be in competition with people who do not. This is a constant problem in health and safety matters. I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for the spirit in which he has addressed the amendment and with your Lordships' leave, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment: Report received.