§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, and I must confess that it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I do so: not so much because I fear that this Bill will arouse controversial debate, but because this is the first time that I have had the privilege of addressing your Lordships' House. I had hoped that, before making my maiden speech, I should have been able to put in sufficient attendances to familiarise myself more fully with the procedure; but, unfortunately, the fact that I live and work in Northern Ireland has prevented me from attending except on my very infrequent visits to London. I would therefore ask your Lordships to be indulgent to me on this occasion.
My Lords, the Bill is more or less self-explanatory. Its purpose is to enable the holders of full driving licences in Northern Ireland, in the Isle of Man and in the Channel Islands to exchange these for Great Britain licences without having to take a further test. The situation which has caused this Bill to be introduced is that, in order to obtain a driving licence in Great Britain, it has been necessary since 1934 to take a Ministry of Transport driving test. In the above territories, however, driving tests were not introduced until four or five years ago. It has therefore been quite reasonable hitherto that persons who had obtained such a licence without taking a test should not qualify for a British driving licence without having proved themselves to be up to the standard required of permanent residents in Great Britain. However, now that driving tests have been compulsory for several years in these territories, there appears to be no reason why inhabitants of these territories should not qualify for British driving licences. I think your Lordships need have no fear that there is any dis- 966 crepancy in the standards of the tests in these territories as compared with those in Great Britain. I understand that the Ministry of Transport have looked into this matter very closely, and that their experts have visited all three territories during the last five years and have found that the standards of driving required are as identical as human nature will allow.
At present there is a reciprocal agreement which enables any person who has taken out a full driving licence in Great Britain under the Road Traffic Act, 1960, to obtain a similar licence in Northern Ireland, in the Isle of Man or in the Channel Islands. There is one exception only to this, which is Jersey, and there I understand that at the moment amendments to the present road traffic law are being considered which include such a reciprocal agreement. It is therefore only fair that a person who has qualified for a licence on exactly the same basis in any of the above territories should have a reciprocal right in Great Britain.
There are one or two points limiting the scope of this Bill which I think I should mention, but I will not take up your Lordships' time by going into them fully. The first is that for any of these external licences granted in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands to qualify for benefit under this Bill they must have been current during the previous ten years; otherwise, they will not be eligible. Secondly, the Bill excludes the holders of provisional licences: the emphasis is on the term "full licence". Thirdly, it excludes any person who has been disqualified from holding or obtaining a licence to drive any class or description of vehicles in the above territories. In 1956, the practice of disqualifying a driver from driving one class of vehicle only was abandoned. This is still in force in Northern Ireland, but any person thus disqualified will not be eligible under the Bill for any class of driving licence whatsoever in Great Britain. The final point is that a certificate of competence will not be recognised under the Bill in Great Britain unless it has been exchanged for a full licence in the territory concerned.
To sum up, it is felt that a candidate who passes a test in County Down, Douglas or St. Helier should be on even terms with one who has passed an 967 identical test in Aberdeenshire, Cardiff or London. I feel that this Bill will remove a source of annoyance from people who have come from these territories to live in Great Britain and that, at the same time, it will ease to a small extent the burden on the British driving examiners. I understand that the Bill has the approval of the Ministry of Transport and that it enjoyed a clear passage through its Second and Third Readings in another place. Therefore I would commend it to your Lordships' favourable consideration. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Dunleath.)
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD CHESHAM)
My Lords, I am happy to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, on his maiden speech, a maiden speech which has been characterised by a capability and lucidity of explanation from which I think we may take an example. I think that he is the more to be praised in that he has ventured to introduce a Bill into your Lordships' House in his maiden speech and that he has selected a Bill which is entirely acceptable. Although the Bill does not deal with a large matter, it is a valuable one. It is really very nice to be able to welcome the speaker and the Bill at the same time.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I do not intend to impede the progress of this Bill. I rise only to say that noble Lords on this side of the House will support the Bill and to add my congratulations to the noble Lord on his excellent maiden speech. It makes some of us "old stagers" regret the fact that we did not have the opportunity of introducing a Bill in our maiden speeches. As my noble friend said in another context, we put it down, in jealousy, to "beginner's luck". We accept the Bill and we congratulate the noble Lord.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, in also congratulating the noble Lord, may I ask him a question, if it is permissible on a maiden speech? Is this reciprocal: that is to say, does a person who holds a driving licence in this country automatically get one in the territories with which the Bill is dealing?
My Lords, I am sorry if I did not make that point clear. At present, with the exception of Jersey, a reciprocal right exists. If a motorist holds a full driving licence in Great Britain and goes to Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man or Guernsey, he can exchange it for a full driving licence without having to take a test. The exception, as I said, is Jersey, but I gather that Jersey will no longer be an exception in the near future.
I should like to express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, for his assistance and for the assistance of his Ministry in getting this Bill through without difficulty. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for his kind remarks and for his helpful assistance in securing the Bill an easy passage.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.