§ In subsection (1) of section 97 of the Act of 1960, the Act of 1960, the table shall be amended by leaving out the words—
|' 1. Motor cycle or invalid carriage||16'|
|and inserting the words—|
|' 1. Invalid carnage||15|
|1A. Motor cycle||16'—|
§ Brought up, and read the First time.1162
§ Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
This is a simple Clause which, I think will, attract the sympathy of the House. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to accept it. If he is unable to accept it in its existing form, I hope that he will accept its principle.
Section 97(1) of the 1960 Act sets the minimum age limits for the holding of various licences. The lowest age allowed to hold a licence is there given as 16 and the class is:1. Motor cycles or invalid carriages.
§ The Clause seeks to separate invalid carriage and accord it the earlier age of 15. There are reasons for this I hope, which will, commend themselves to the House. I would think that there are no dangers involved in this. I appreciate that it is essential that we ensure that people are not permitted to drive mechanically propelled vehicles on the highway unless they are of sufficient age to behave responsibly. To that we adhere. Nevertheless, there are special difficulties facing disabled persons, who can get about only by virtue of having mechanically propelled invalid carriages, for which they must hold a driving licence. They are also subjected to special tests, both in respect of the nature of the disability and in respect of their proficiency in the act of driving.
§ The provision of invalid carriages has been extended. We look forward to further extensions. It is by virtue of the provision of mechanically propelled methods of transport that many seriously disabled people are able to work and lead lives which are profitable to themselves, to their families, and to the community. As the school-leaving age is 15, and as the present minimum age at which a person can drive an invalid carriage is 16, there is a gap of 12 months which for many people can have serious consequences.
§ I have experience of constituents and, indeed, of patients—persons with disabilities—who were able to attend school because special transport was provided to take them to and from school, but who, when they left school and wished to obtain employment, faced the immediate problem of how to get to and from 1163 their employment. We have tabled the Clause to meet this difficulty.
§ Safeguards exist. Nobody is issued with a licence to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle unless he has reached the requisite standard of proficiency. A course of instruction is given and the person is properly supervised. This category of person—the disabled person who could be enabled to work by having a driving licence—is not the type of person who will go tearing about the roads at high speed. He is the kind of person who is likely to drive with a special degree of responsibility.
§ I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to reply sympathetically.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Neil Carmichael)
I have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) and realise that in his work outside the House he must have come across many instances where he would feel that a reduction in the minimum age for driving would be of advantage. In the interests of road safety we have not allowed people to drive any motor vehicle on a public road until a minimum age has been reached. A different minimum age is set for different classes of vehicle to allow for the differences in stature and physical strength required to drive them. It is also necessary to ensure that persons driving on the highway have reached an age at which they can be expected to have developed a sense of responsibility and to be mature.
The minimum age for driving invalid carriages has been 16 since it was originally introduced as a separate class in 1930. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. We think that this age is about right. Although the mechanical conditions of vehicles have improved since 1930, driving conditions have not. In fact, they have become much more difficult. The majority of severely handicapped young people attend special classes from which the leaving age is normally 16. As soon as they take up employment they can be provided with personal transport to give them the nobility they need.
This is the experience we have had. We have no evidence that the present age limit causes any hardship to the 1164 young disabled person. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific cases which he can give me, I will certainly look into them. The mass of evidence so far is that there is not sufficient call for a reduction of the driving age to make it something that the Government could, in the interests of road safety generally, accept. For this reason, although we are completely sympathetic with the hon. Gentleman's objective, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Clause, or. failing that, the House to reject it.
§ Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
Can the Parliamentary Secretary produce accident statistics for 16-year olds? His argument is based on two premises, the first of which is that the hazards involved in a reduction of the minimum age from 16 to 15 might be very serious. Therefore, we should know the accident figures relating to 16-year olds. The hon. Gentleman's second premise, on which it is for the House to reach a decision, is that there is no necessity for this reduction.
§ Mr. Carmichael
I could not without notice give any figures of accidents relating to 16-year olds. We have had no serious requests, other than that which arises on the Clause, to reduce the minimum age from 16 to 15. Sixteen is the youngest age at which anyone is allowed to drive, and this covers motor cycles and three-wheelers as well. As I have said, most severely handicapped young people stay at school until they are 16 and have transport to and from school, and so they are covered. Once they leave school and start work, they are able to apply for a licence for an invalid vehicle. We have had no request for the law to be changed, which makes it appear that this is not a burning question. We do not feel that this is a risk which should be taken, not only for these people but for the rest of the community. Road conditions are now much worse than they were in 1930 when the age limit was introduced, and the roads are certainly no safer now.
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
The Parliamentary Secretary has explained why he cannot accept the new Clause, but I hope that he will go a little further in view of the excellent case advanced by the hon. Member for 1165 Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley). The Parliamentary Secretary's first argument concerned the lack of evidence. As the numbers involved are obviously very small, it will be extremely difficult to get evidence, but I hope that he will say that he will go into the question to establish the nature of the problem.
The hon. Gentleman said that there was a common age for driving licences for vehicles, motor cycles and invalid carriages. But the invalid carriages have to be compared with some of the terrifying machines which go by the name of motor cycles, and any difference in ages might be justified by a difference in the construction of the machines themselves.
The most important consideration, of course, concerns those who leave school at the age of 15. The age limit ought not to impede the efforts of young disabled persons to get employment. In the last few months we have been considering appropriate ages in other connections, and the time may have come to consider this age limit. I appreciate that on the evidence available it would be wrong to accept the new Clause, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will look further into the matter to see whether there is a problem and, if there is, what its extent is.
§ Mr. Carmichael
The numbers involved are obviously small, and statistics are, therefore, difficult to obtain and would not always be reliable. The accident figures for 16-year-olds on two-wheeled vehicles are appalling, and it is because of this that recent legislation has limited the size of vehicles which may be driven by anyone under 17.
While we could not, in fairness to other road users and those who drive invalid carriages themselves, accept the new Clause, if the hon. Member for Cheadle can give us details of any specific cases we will inquire into them, because we do not want to hamper disabled persons who leave school a year earlier than is normal. Our information, however, is that severely handicapped people normally leave school at 16, so that there is no gap. The question has not arisen before, but I undertake that we shall consider it sympathetically.
§ Dr. Winstanley
There is a difficulty even for those who remain at special 1166 schools until they are 16. If they want employment immediately after leaving school, they have to have a driving licence for an invalid carriage, and that means that they need to have a provisional licence in order to undertake the stringent training course which is required for the licence itself. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of the possible danger to other road users, but I assure him that these tests are so strict that they provide in themselves a special safeguard.
However, although I do not regard the Parliamentary Secretary's answer as wholly satisfactory or sympathetic, in view of his assurance to look at any special case which is sent to him by me or any other hon. Member I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new Clause.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.