§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Chesham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Enforcement and Administration of traffic Laws Punishment without prosecution of offences in connection with lights, reflectors, obstruction, etc.
§ 1.—(1) This section shall apply to any offence created by or under an enactment and punishable on summary conviction, being an offence committed in respect of a vehicle—
- (a) by its being left or parked on a road without the lights or reflectors required by law; or
- (b) by its obstructing a road, or waiting, or being left or parked, or being loaded or unloaded, in a road; or
§ (2) Where a constable finds a person on any occasion and has reason to believe that on that occasion he is committing or has committed an offence to which this section applies, he may give him the prescribed notice in writing offering the option of payment of a fixed penalty under this section without prosecution for that 969 offence; and no person shall then be liable to be convicted of that offence if the fixed penalty is paid in accordance with this section before the date on which proceedings are begun.
LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (1) (a), after "road" to insert "during the hours of darkness". The noble Lord said: The purpose of this Amendment is to clarify the real intention of subsection (1), which at present reads:
This section shall apply to any offence created by or under an enactment and punishable on summary conviction, being an offence committed in respect of a vehicle—
It used to be the law that the owner of a vehicle had to have lights effectively operating upon any vehicle on the roads during the hours of darkness. The law was altered to get over a legal technicality in the regulations, which perhaps one day will be presented to Parliament, concerning the 10-year-old motor car. A motorist could not successfully plead, "I have no lights on my car because I never use it at night", because under the Construction and Use (Amendment) Regulations, 1956, it is compulsory to have lights in proper working order during the hours of daylight as well as during the hours of darkness. I do not think the literal impression of subsection (1) is its real intention. I do not think that it is intended to create another offence. It is not intended that a traffic warden or police constable should have power to give a ticket to the owner of a vehicle parked in a restricted area just because the lights do not work during the hours of daylight. I think that my Amendment gives effect to the interpretation which the Government intend. I beg to move.
Page 1, line 9, after ("road") insert ("during the hours of darkness").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
When I first saw this Amendment, I confess that I thought it was a work of supererogation, but on considering it more closely, I came to the same conclusion as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I believe that it is necessary. In addition to the technical reason that the noble Lord proferred—namely, that without 970 these words the Bill would in fact create a new offence additional to the offence created under the Construction and Use Order—there is, in my submission, a further objection to it. Basically, I think it is fundamental that it is the duty of a constable or a warden in this connection to verify that an offence has been committed. Without the words which the noble Lord is proposing to put into the Bill, a traffic warden, if he is going to carry out that principle would require to have access to the inside of the car in order to see if the lights will work during daytime. That I am sure is something which the Minister never intended and which your Lordships would not wish to occur. Therefore, for the sake of traffic wardens, as well as for the sake of the public at large, I concur in what the noble Lord said, and I feel that this matter should be clarified, so as to exclude the possibility of there being an offence committed for this purpose under this Bill by reason of the lights not being in proper working order during the hours of daylight.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Before I deal with this Amendment may I be permitted a personal word of explanation, and perhaps apology, to your Lordships, and in particular to the noble Lords, Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lord Silkin, who are the co-perpetrators (if I may so call them) of the majority of the Amendments. At the time when they were co-perpetrating these Amendments and the Amendments were arriving in a steady stream, a stream of another kind, a stream of bugs with the queer names that all seem to end in "coccus", unfortunately descended upon me and arrived in the region of my upper lip and nose, which necessitated a feat of skill by my medical advisers even to get me here, including the instruction that I should take only a modest part in the first stages of the Bill in order to be fit for battle in the later stages. Consequently, I am most indebted to my noble friend Lord Bathurst, who has nobly undertaken to carry a great deal more of the heat and burden of the day than we had originally planned. I can only say that the proceedings will be none the worse for that. I think I need only add that the modern method of administering antibiotics makes even sitting in my place a slight inconvenience.
971 I turn now to the Amendment itself, and I will deal first with the point raised by my noble friend Lord Brentford. He insinuated that the clause, as drafted, would create a new offence. That, I assure your Lordships, is quite impossible under this clause, because it only identifies what are the offences under the existing law. The clause as drafted cannot, and does not, create a new offence in any shape or form. It relates only to those offences which are offences under the existing law. It identifies them, and the query before us is whether or not the ticket system is to be applied to them. That is all the clause does, and it is misleading to contemplate that any new offence can be created. It is not necessary, and the clause does not try or purport, to go into the details of the way in which these offences become offences. Those are clearly set out in the relevant Acts under the law as it exists at the present time.
Therefore I would start by saying that, at face value, at any rate, the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is unnecessary. But he is right in saying that there is this provision that a vehicle shall be fitted with the lights that the law requires, as set out in another Act, during the hours of daylight. He is right also in saying that that was a technical measure, and I think I must agree with him that that is not the kind of offence to which it is intended the ticket system should be applied. I do not think it is intended that traffic wardens should wander around looking at all motor cars to make certain that they have two reflectors at the back. Therefore, perhaps I may put it in this way to the noble Lord. This Amendment unfortunately is slightly defective as to wording, but if he would consider withdrawing it now, on my giving an undertaking either to put down an Amendment myself or to discuss it with him to get the wording in accordance with what it should be to match up with previous Acts, I should be glad to give that undertaking.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Lord. The point that struck me was that it is an offence under this clause for a vehicle to be left or parked on a road without the lights or reflectors required by law— 972 it does not say which law—and the law as it stands at the present time is that you must have proper lights operating effectively on your motor vehicle during the hours of daylight. However, I accept the noble Lord's undertaking that he will accept the principle of my Amendment and draft out such an Amendment as to make it clear what paragraph (a) means. If that is the undertaking, I accept it and withdraw my Amendment; but if it is not, we shall have to go on arguing.
§ LORD CHESHAM
If I may speak again, I think we must be clear about what my undertaking is. The noble Lord really must disabuse his mind of the idea that this clause creates an offence. It does not. He referred to "an offence under this clause". It is not: it is an offence under a previous existing regulation, and it is referred to in this clause. It is not created, and no offence is created, by this clause. I cannot say that too often. I accepted the principle of the noble Lord's Amendment, but what I intended to convey was that the words he has used "during the hours of darkness", will not quite stand up: they are not quite specific enough for the purpose he has in mind or to be put into the Bill. It is a question of modifying the words "during the hours of darkness" to the required degree to fit the law I was talking about. I do not mind which way it is done—whether we get together upon it or whether I put down an Amendment which carries out exactly what the noble Lord wants in the right words. That is my undertaking.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Which I gladly accept, although I do not accept the noble Lord's explanation of why he has given it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.40 p.m.
LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (1) (a), after "law" to insert
or otherwise than with the left or nearside of the vehicle as close as may be to the edge of the carriageway;".
The noble Lord said: This Amendment really paves the way for the third Amendment and, with your Lordships' permission, in order to save time, I should like to argue the case for both together. Together, they are of substance. We must make an effort in this
Bill to make it clear—or as clear as we possibly can—to the ordinary vehicle driver, be he a private or a commercial vehicle driver, just what the Bill and this clause of the Bill entails. On Second Reading the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said—I paraphrase what he said. I think, correctly—"It is no good passing laws unless we understand what they really mean." This subsection as at present drafted is very confusing. Unfortunately, there is not one motorist in a thousand—in a million, I could almost say—who understands the law of obstruction, and I doubt whether some of your Lordships do. Obstruction can be a very minor thing or a very major thing. So I want to put into this Bill what obstruction really means.
We can understand a lot of other laws. We can understand the speed limit law. But what is obstruction? Obstruction is the most debatable offence that can be committed by a motor vehicle driver. It is prone to many interpretations. Indeed, even under Acts of Parliament it can be a modest thing. Prosecutions for ordinary obstruction take place under Regulation 90 of The Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations, 1955, No. 482. Regulation 90 says:
Save as provided in paragraph (2) of this Regulation no person shall, except with the permission of a police officer in uniform, cause or permit any motor vehicle to stand on any road during the hours of darkness otherwise than with the left or near side of the vehicle as close as may be to the edge of the carriageway.
May I say in passing that the maximum penalty for that is a fine of £20.
Section 16 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, says:
If a person in charge of a vehicle causes or permits the vehicle or a trailer drawn thereby to remain at rest on a road in such a position or in such a condition or in such circumstances as to be likely to cause danger to other persons using the road, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, or in the case of a second or subsequent conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.
That is another form of obstruction.
My argument is this. In this Bill we should make it abundantly clear what is the offence for which a driver of a motor vehicle can receive a ticket. We must make it as clear as we possibly can, if this Bill is to do anything that is claimed for it, which is that it would save a lot
of trouble, expense and unnecessary police court proceedings. In my third Amendment, page 1, line 12, I say:
by its obstructing a road, or waiting, or being left or parked, or being loaded or unloaded, in a road contrary to directions given by a traffic sign or by carriageway markings.
Now that is perfectly clear. If you leave your vehicle where there is a clear official notification that there is no waiting—which can be a traffic sign. "No Waiting", or by a yellow line on a carriageway—then that is what the noble Lord himself described in his Second Reading speech as, I think he said, not a self-evident offence, but a self-proven offence. I think that was the expression he used, or something like that—if there is such I thing as that; I do not know whether there is. The noble Lord said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 224 (No. 91), col. 408]:
… it is proposed to introduce a standard penalty for certain minor offences in which there is no doubt of guilt …
If you leave "obstruction" in there without a qualification there is every doubt of guilt. If you consult the police, they will tell you that there is no prosecution or alleged offence which causes so much bad blood between the motor vehicle driver and the authorities than a summons for obstruction.
§ After all is said and done, many of us who have driven cars for years know very well when we have driven over the limit—though we may argue that we did not. We know that. But what is obstruction? On Second Reading I quoted the Divisional Court—I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, was presiding at the time—who said that an unreasonable use of the highway can be obstruction. I do not want to minimise the dangers and the seriousness of obstruction, but I do argue that when a charge of obstruction is brought against the vehicle user in the future, it should not be subject to the ticket process of fining; it should be subject to the ordinary prosecution in the courts by summons by the police.
That is clearly stated in what I say in the second Amendment, and if my wording does not clearly define it, then I hope the noble Lord will find better wording. Let me save him the trouble of repeating on every one of these Amendments that the drafting is bad. That I know. But as my noble friend Lord Silkin said on a previous Bill this
afternoon, you know what I want to do, and I do not doubt that the Parliamentary draftsman can find a better way of doing it, as the noble Lord has graciously suggested they can with regard to the first Amendment I moved. We must be able to make it crystal clear that all the offences that are subject to a limited fine are clearly stated in the Bill, and if he will accept my wording, that obstruction by a vehicle is caused
by its obstructing a road or waiting or being left or parked or being loaded or unloaded in a road contrary to directions given by a traffic sign or by carriageway markings",
I suggest that that is as near as it is possible to get. The noble Lord himself said that it is proposed to introduce a standard penalty for certain minor offences in which there is no doubt of guilt, and
I think that in the majority of parking cases it is fair to say there is no doubt"—
that is what the noble Lord went on to say.
§ An Amendment on these lines was proposed in another place and it was argued by the Government then that if they accepted the Amendment as worded (it had not got the words "carriageway markings" in it) it would prevent the giving of a ticket for other offences, such as leaving a motor car facing the wrong way after the hours of darkness had fallen. So I added those words to this Amendment to help the Government, and I have taken the words literally from the Construction and Use Regulations. Therefore, if it is bad draftsmanship, do not blame me; Parliamentary draftsmen drafted the Construction and Use Regulations, including Regulation No. 90, which I quoted just now.
§ I think I have made this case perfectly clearly. I say it is a matter of substance. It will force local authorities to mark clearly and without any equivocation where a motorist—and I use "motorist" in the widest sense of vehicle driver—cannot park his vehicle. That would be the first thing. It would also force them to provide places where he can park his vehicle, which is equally important. I know there is an intermediate gap: can he park his vehicle where there is no sign that he can and no sign that he cannot? The literal interpretation of the law to-day is, No, he cannot, because he 976 can be summoned for obstruction if he leaves his motor car anywhere on the road if, in the opinion of the police, he is causing an obstruction. I think we have to tolerate that for the time being. But I do not want to put the onus of issuing tickets on anybody in that area; I do not want the onus on a traffic warden, and I do not want it on the constable, either. I think that the ticket system has got to be kept for the self-proven offences, where there is no argument or very little argument. But where it is a contentious decision of obstruction I think the police should do what they do now.
With that explanation, with which I hope I have made clear what I am seeking to do, would your Lordships allow me to move the first of these Amendments. Perhaps I should, to save time, add that I have seen a manuscript Amendment to this Amendment. I do not mind it at all; it may be good, it may be unnecessary. But in Regulation No. 90 of the Construction and Use Regulations to which I have referred, which says that a person must not cause or permit any motor vehicle to stand on any road during the hours of darkness other than with the left or near side of the vehicle as close as may be to the edge of the carriageway, there is a proviso (it is on page 33, Regulation 90 (2) (d)) that that regulation shall not apply to
any motor vehicle in any road in which vehicles are allowed to proceed in one direction only".
In that, the manuscript Amendment may have force. But we may perhaps argue that. I beg to move.
Page 1, line 10, after ("law") insert the said words.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES
I have received notice of a manuscript Amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Som̃ers. In case any of your Lordships have not seen it, the Amendment is as follows:Amendment No. 2, at end insert ("except in a one-way street").
I beg to move the Amendment to which the noble Lord the Lord Chairman has referred. I have tabled it after conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, because I feel that even though, as he points out, that proviso 977 about the one-way street stands in another Bill, this, as your Lordships will see, is not an Amendment Bill, and therefore unless these words are inserted in the Bill it will be an offence under the Bill to park in a one-way street otherwise than with the left or nearside of the vehicle as close as possible to the edge of the carriageway. The street in which my club is is a one-way street and it is quite a wide one. Parking is allowed on both sides. I feel that in cases like that, where it is made clear that parking is allowed on both sides, cars should be allowed to face in their proper direction. Therefore, I am just adding these words "except in a one-way street".
May I say before I sit down that I am in wholehearted agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said about clarification of the word "obstruction". I would tell your Lordships a little story about what happened to me at the beginning of last month. I had been leaving my car in a mews which is behind my club. I had been told by the club porter that it was all right to leave it there, and I had been leaving it there quite happily since January. Then, suddenly, at the beginning of June I came out and found a police notice tucked under my windscreen wiper, and among the other things that it accused me of was the offence of obstruction. The construction of that mews is rather peculiar. The entrance at each end is quite narrow but immediately you get in the left hand side goes back into a bay. It is quite possible to park your car facing sideways without obstructing the carriageway at all, so that actually the word "obstruction" was a purely theoretical one; it did not mean obstruction at all. That is why I feel that it is necessary for the motorist to know what the law is and what he may do and what he may not do. I know—or rather I highly suspect—that my noble friend, Lord Chesham, is going to say that that is all made perfectly clear; but I am afraid that, with the greatest possible respect, I cannot agree with him. There have been many times when I have wondered whether I might or might not do all sorts of things on the road, and I think that motorists would be found a great deal less guilty of breaking the law if they really knew what it was. I beg to move.
Amendment to Amendment moved—
At end insert "except in a one-way streert."—(Lord Somers.)
§ LORD SHEPHERD
May I briefly support the Amendment moved by my noble friend? I do not think anybody would dispute that the general public have a variety of definitions for obstruction, particularly when the police accuse them of obstructing. I believe that we must try, so far as possible, in this Bill—and so far as our command of language makes it possible—to define obstruction. We must do so for one very special reason. My noble friend mentioned the hard feelings that developed a year or two ago between the police and the motorists. It was a relationship which I believe we all resented. But this Bill is going to bring into being the traffic warden, who in any case, until he has established himself in the public eye, is going to have quite a difficult time. I think it is vitally important, therefore, that at this stage, when we are bringing in this new official to deal with the traffic problem, we should endeavour so far as possible to lay down what is an obstruction, so that there can be no dispute or ill-feeling between the new traffic warden and the general public. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, feels that the expression used by my noble friend will define more closely what is an obstruction, but I believe the words which are written down in the Amendment are sufficiently clear for the general public to realise what is an obstruction, and will make it possible for them to avoid that type of offence.
§ EARL HOWE
I listened to the explanation by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, of his manuscript Amendment, but there seems to be another point that requires consideration—the position where cars are parked on one side on one day, and on the other side the next day. I do not know whether the existing regulations or the Bill provide for that; but if they do not I think they ought to do so.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I should I like to associate myself with the principle contained in these Amendments as they have been expounded by noble Lords who have spoken, but I feel some apprehension about the actual wording 979 of the Amendments. With regard to the first, particularly, it rather appears to me that it seeks to introduce another existing offence within the purview of the road traffic warden which was not previously contained within his purview in the Bill as drafted. I may not be correct about that, but I am sure that the Government draftsmen will have a much more definite view about it. On the main principle which has been laid before the House, however, I submit that this is quite the most important part of the first Part of the Bill, because the basis of it is that the offence of obstruction shall not be one of the offences for which tickets can be given. I believe that those of us who feel very strongly upon this point are already half-way towards winning the battle, and I very much hope that, as a result of this afternoon's debate, we may receive an assurance from my noble friend in charge of the Bill that we can have the whole battle won.
May I remind your Lordships of what was said in the Second Reading debate by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 224 (No. 91), col. 445]:I shall merely content myself with saying that so far as the duties of the wardens are concerned it is proposed that in the initial stages"—and those are the first words of which I am rather frightened—"in the initial stages"—they should be in connection with static offences—to do with parking and with not leaving lights on when necessary, and where appropriate, where the local authority agree, with parking meter offences.There was then an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, subsequent to which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham continued the argument. He said:His"—he was referring to the traffic warden—duties will not be broadened beyond what I have said… As I have already said, my right honourable friend will be very interested to hear what your Lordships say about the functions of traffic wardens, and he does not propose, to begin with, at any rate, to include among their duties the dealing with offences of obstruction.I feel that that is exceedingly satisfactory; but it is relying, so far as statutory legislation is concerned, 980 entirely upon the time when the Minister exercises the power which he has, or will have, to enable traffic wardens to deal with these particular offences. I should like to ensure that there is no statutory authority whatsoever given for that purpose, and that if, as time goes on, it is felt necessary, desirable and proper, that wardens should have such powers, the Minister should come to Parliament again to seek these additional powers.
I appreciate, as I believe your Lordships have appreciated, that there are many degrees of offence in obstruction; and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, speaking just now, expressed, as I understood it, the hope that this Bill would lay down what really is obstruction. I feel that if we were to do that it would involve us in many days' sittings and argument, because as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has emphasised, obstruction is something that the law finds is almost impossible to decide upon, in any event at the present time. In fact, I am myself now involved in considerable legal argument with some of my legal advisers to try to ascertain whether, if I were to leave my car in a street which is not subject to restriction but which may be an exceedingly busy street, as many of our streets in Central London are, and if I leave it not within 25 yards of a crossing and not parked opposite to a car parked on the opposite side of the road, and if I do not leave it there for a period in excess of five hours, I am guilty of obstruction. So far as I have been able to obtain an interpretation of the legal expressions of opinion from the highest of our legal authorities, that is about what one is allowed to do. But at the other end of the scale there are exceedingly minor things which one can do which definitely do create obstruction.
For these reasons I greatly support what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has said: that the offence of obstruction is just about as far away from any self-evident or self-proven offence as one can get in this country, and that it would therefore not be fair on the wardens, or on the police themselves, to give them the right and duty of deciding whether a person has or has not committed an obstruction. It is essentially a matter for the courts of 981 this country, essentially a matter which is open to argument in every case. I am quite certain that it will only bring the whole system into disrepute, and bring the motoring world into antagonism with authority, if we seek to impose on police and wardens the duty of deciding (and obviously without hearing the arguments of the other party, because in the majority of these cases the other party, the motorist, will not be there) whether or not an offence has been committed. Therefore, I am quite sure that the intention which we seek is the intention which the Government have at the present time. I am therefore asking for only two things: first, that they shall confirm that that intention is to last until they seek other Parliamentary powers; and, secondly, that they shall put it in the Bill.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
In considering the two Amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has spoken, I am in a little of a quandary to know quite how to approach the matter. I may as well be quite open, to begin with, and say that I am unable to accept his Amendments, either severally or collectively. I want to avoid, if possible, wasting the Committee's time by speaking for a very long while, and I think it might be better if I were to attempt a short-circuiting move and discuss them together (if I might reserve a right, so to speak, if necessary, to discuss them separately after, because I have definite views about them on both counts), because we might be able to remain more clear and to get on faster if we do it that way.
The interpretation in the mind of any particular man is, as the noble Lords, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, Lord Shepherd, Lord Brentford and Lord Somers, said, a pretty loose one. In fact, I think that what has been said in the last few minutes make this pretty clear. Even my noble friend Lord Somers wrung our hearts with his interpretation of what had happened in his case, an interpretation which might obviously not be shared by the residents of the mews who have been complaining to the police—though I do not know about that. It is sufficient to say that the interpretation in the public mind (if one can use such a term) is loose.
982 Perhaps we may look again at what the law says about it—I make no apology for saying this. Section 121 of the Highways Act, 1959, says:… a person, without lawful authority or excuse, in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage along a highway …And it is an offence under Regulation 89 of the Construction and Use Regulations to cause or permita vehicle to stand on a road so as to cause any unnecessary obstruction thereof.There is the definition and, of course, there is no question of seeking to change that definition in this Clause 1 (1). It is true, and obvious, that whether an obstruction is or is not being caused is a matter of opinion. It seemed to me from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth—and it was confirmed by what was said by my noble friend Lord Brentford—that what the combining of these two Amendments seeks to do, quite frankly, is to move "obstruction" out of the Bill.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
No, my Lords. It does not. The noble Lord is completely and utterly wrong—I repeat, completely and utterly wrong. What I seek to do is to define "obstruction" which will apply to the ticket system, not any other obstruction. That is not moving "obstruction" out of the Bill; it is saying what "obstruction" is for the purpose of getting a ticket—selfevident obstruction, when a man is doing something when there is a notice in front of his very eyes saying that he must not do it.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am amazed. But that point can wait for the moment. In fact, whether he seeks to do it or not, the effect of the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord means that the application of the ticket system to the offence of obstruction as laid down by the existing law is moved out of the Bill. That is what in fact it means; and the fact that it is desired to do that has been amply confirmed by my noble friend Lord Brentford. Whatever the noble Lord sought to do, I can concern myself only with what he is, in effect, doing. Therefore I think I am completely right to address myself to the problem in that way.
Obstruction, for better or for worse, is a prevalent offence, and I do not see how the law against it can be effectively 983 enforced by ordinary means. If we are to clear the streets in favour of traffic flow, and clear them of unnecessary obstructions, we may have to use, we feel, more effective means of enforcement than we at present have, including, in due course, the ticket system. I do not pretend that the ticket system is anything other than an innovation, and I am not surprised that some of your Lordships have doubts—anticipatory doubts, perhaps I might call them—as to how it would work at the present time in relation to obstruction. I think that the point for which my noble friend Lord Brentford asks—that "obstruction" should be, as the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, would do, taken out of the Bill at the present stage—is a reasonable request. I believe that in the future, when the ticket system is established and proven, and we know a good deal more about it, it will be perfectly reasonable to utilise it for tackling the problem of obstruction.
It is not, I repeat, the function of this Bill to define "obstruction". It is already defined as are the other offences mentioned in Clause 1, by the relevant Statute elsewhere. I should like in this connection to say this. I know what I said on Second Reading and what I would do—and this is my "short-circuit" procedure, which I hope will perhaps save some time—is this. If the noble Lord sees fit to withdraw his Amendments, at any rate as collective ones taken together, I am quite prepared to give him an undertaking that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, when he makes the first Order applying the ticket system to London, will exclude from it, under the powers he has in the proviso to Clause 1 (1), the offence of obstruction.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
The noble Lord offers me a tempting bait. I do not know whether I am going to nibble at it, because I am not particularly interested in what the Home Secretary says he will do at some future date—he might not be the Home Secretary then, if there is any truth in what I read in the Press. I am interested in what is in the Bill. I should like the noble Lord to give me this explanation. First of all, I do not want to take obstruction out of this Bill. I do not want to interfere with the powers that the ordinary constable has to-day. 984 What I want the noble Lord to do is this: will he please define what he meant when he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 224 (No. 91), col. 408]:Under Clause 1 it is proposed to introduce a standard penalty for certain minor offences in which there is no doubt of guilt …Will the noble Lord tell me that? I can only assume that they are the offences set out in this Bill: by the vehicleobstructing a road, or waiting, or being left or parked, or being loaded or unloaded, in a road …I can only conclude that those are what he calls the minor offences for which the standard penalty will obtain.
It has been said—I think the noble Lord himself said it—that his right honourable friend the Home Secretary does not intend that the ticket penalty shall go as far as this. By moving my Amendment, all I want him to do is to define such a minor offence which will attract a ticket, and to say whether it includes obstruction as laid down here in this Bill or whether it is that obstruction, which, as he said in another place, is self-evident and without any doubt of guilt—when there is a traffic sign which says "No waiting", or when the kerb or gutter is marked by yellow lines that clearly define that you cannot leave a vehicle there or wait there, and that if you do then you have a ticket. That is all I am trying to do—to see that if a motorist stays at a place in a designated street in which he cannot park, or at any place that is clearly marked so that the motorist knows it, he is subject to a ticket. Will the noble Lord define that for me? I want to see it in this Bill.
I might be tempted to accept the noble Lord's offer if I could get two Amendments accepted that I propose to move later on, but I cannot job backwards. I should like to hear other opinions on this point, because this, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, said, is the nub of Clause 1, which brings about this innovation of punishment without trial. That is what it is—punishment without trial. Whether or not the man accepts the punishment without trial does not alter the fact that it is punishment without trial, because he can accept the £2 punishment without going to court.
Now I know what the noble Lord is going to say, because he said it further on in his previous speech, and I cannot 985 quite understand it. It is not, as he quite rightly says, an on-the-spot fine, because the motorist has to walk as far as the nearest clerk of the peace to pay it, but that is the only difference. The noble Lord said [col. 409]:His right to go to court is not taken away in any shape or form".I find that rather an ambiguous statement—"His right to go to court". The only time he can exercise a peculiar right to go to court is if he does not pay the line, in which case he gets prosecuted.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I hope the noble Lord will forgive my interrupting him, but we seem to have rather strayed off the substance of this Amendment.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
No, we do not. I am trying to define for what offence you are going to give this man this ticket, which he can refuse to pay, can then be prosecuted and have to go to court, or can pay in twenty-one days and then not be prosecuted. This sets out the offence, and it says here:… by its obstructing a road, or waiting …That covers all the roads and streets of a town where there is no sign. He can get a ticket if he leaves his car in any street in any town. That is what this says—if he loads or unloads anywhere. I want to say, "No, he cannot get a ticket for that; he can get a ticket only if he leaves his vehicle where there is a clear indication that he cannot". Now am being reasonable?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
That, of course, is the Government spokesman's point of view. Perhaps if he were sitting on the Back-Bench, he would not say it. If the noble Lord will tell me that, I shall be grateful. I will ask him another question: why is his noble friend willing by regulation to take obstruction out but is not prepared to do it in the Bill? That seems a peculiar thing to me. I am not moving to take obstruction out of the Bill. The police can always bring a charge for obstruction inside those areas that are designated as "No parking" areas either by traffic signs or by yellow lines. There the warden or the police constable can give a ticket; but in regard to any obstruction outside that clearly-defined area the police should go through the ordi- 986 nary processes of the law and state their case as to why the vehicle was obstructing that road or street.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It seems to me that we are getting into a certain difficulty in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has moved a series of Amendments, or proposes a series of Amendments, to two at least of which he has spoken. They both refer to Clause 1 (1) (b). But Clause 1 (1) (b), deals with two completely separate forms of offence. The first is obstruction, and the other is… waiting, or being left or parked, or being loaded or unloaded, in a road …That, I understand, is an offence, created by a certain number of Regulations which have been passed and approved by Parliament during the last few years. I quite appreciate that this Bill creates no new offence: it creates only a new way of dealing with an existing offence. But the fact remains that there are two sets of offences mentioned in this paragraph. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, spoke to them together, and, to some extent, I thought, linked them together. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that if he could get his Minister to make a concession with regard to one of these offences, he hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, would withdraw the whole series of Amendments which he has put down, some of which deal with completely different offences. I feel the House ought to deal first with this question of obstruction. Let us have that out, and get it clear. Then we can come on to these other offences, about leaving, parking, loading or unloading a car in a road, which is a different matter altogether.
At the moment I should like to say a word about obstruction, which I think is the main subject with which the Committee are concerned. I understand that the proper definition of obstructing is "to obstruct the free passage of a road". Undoubtedly that is a matter of opinion. It is different from these other offences, which are technical offences, like not putting a car in the right bay of the parking place or leaving it there too long, which are not allowed by the regulations under the existing law. But obstruction is a matter of opinion. I would urge the 987 noble Lord, Lord Chesham, not to dismiss this point by saying that he cannot accept these Amendments. No doubt that is the view of the Ministry of Transport, but it is not necessarily the right view.
If the wardens are given these powers, the motorist will find a ticket on his car asking him either to pay up £2 or go to court. Probably he will go to court, but there may be a strong feeling in his mind that it is better to pay £2 and be shot of the whole thing. I think that it would be a very unfortunate thing if the motorist should pay for an offence that he does not think he has committed, to save the bother of going to court. The noble Lord indicated that the Minister did not propose at present to give the wardens these powers of dealing with obstruction; but, if that is the case, why put it in the Bill? Would it not be better to leave obstruction to be dealt with as at present by the police and the courts, which is the normal procedure?
I cannot quite see why this offence, which is not in the same category as the other offences mentioned in paragraph (b) should not be treated entirely differently. I cannot feel that there would be great loss to the public or to the authorities if that were done. It has been the practice for a great many years and seems to have worked perfectly well. I would also say to the noble Lord that it would give great comfort to many of us if the Minister would take this clause back and look at it further before coming to a final decision, and let us hear more about it on the next stage.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Salisbury for drawing attention to the fact that more than one class of offence is referred to in this subsection. I thought that I had gone some way to indicate that I was talking about obstruction only and that there were other aspects to which I would have to return later. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, challenges me in ringing terms to define various offences, but I do not think that it is my function to define what is already defined by Statute.
Noble Lords have set the fashion of going back to what they said on Second Reading, and I would remind your Lordships that on Second Reading I said that in the case of minor offences, where there 988 was no doubt of guilt, this system would be used. I went on to say that it was because obstruction was open to fairly wide interpretation and was a matter of opinion, and not a self-evident offence, that it was proposed not to include it in the ticket system in the initial stages. I had thought that it was clear that it would not be included among the offences for which tickets could be given until we had sufficient experience of the ticket system on the other self-evident (if that is the word we are going to use) offences, and until the whole thing was working and had the confidence of the public. That would be the time for it to be extended to cover the offence of obstruction.
§ LORD DERWENT
I do not quite follow the argument. If under regulations the Minister empowers wardens to give tickets where an offence is self-evident, how can that be any guide to what should happen where an offence is not self-evident? There would be no experience of obstruction. I cannot see how one is any guide to the other, however long the scheme has been in force.
§ LORD CHESHAM
In the earlier stages the scheme will cover only self-evident offences. Not-very-experienced traffic wardens could not be expected to deal with obstruction. In any case, the existing method by which a policeman brings a prosecution for obstruction will still continue. I should say that, in London at any rate, the experience is that 90 per cent. of those charged with obstruction plead guilty by post. I think it is perfectly right and proper for the Government to ask for this power to be retained in the Bill for the time when the traffic warden system is experienced and proved. I do not think that any Home Secretary is going to include obstruction among the offences to be dealt with by traffic wardens if he does not think it is going to work. I should like to repeat the undertaking I gave, but I think that it is perfectly reasonable that this should remain in the Bill. I do not think that there is any more clarification that I can reasonably be expected to provide.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
The difference between us has been somewhat narrowed but it has not been explained away. Some of us take the view that in no circumstances 989 should traffic wardens be entrusted with powers over matters which are disputable. These are the function of a police constable, and of nobody else; and they should remain so. On the other hand, if the view of the Government is that traffic wardens, when their position, capabilities and value have been established, should be empowered to deal with disputable matters, such as obstruction, then that should be stated in the Bill. As it stands, whatever the noble Lord says, the day after the Bill has been passed it will be open to a Home Secretary to confer on traffic wardens these powers of dealing with obstruction. I should have thought that, on the noble Lord's own view, the right thing would be to take this matter out of the Bill, or at any rate out of this particular clause; and if it should be decided later to entrust these powers to traffic wardens, the Government should do so subject to an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. That would be the way that I would respectfully suggest to the Government of carrying out what the noble Lord has told us is their intention.
Here, however, we are asked to give the Government carte blanche to introduce this thing at any time they choose, without the House expressing its views on the matter. As I say, they can think the experiment of introducing traffic wardens justifies its extension to disputable matters but the public may think otherwise. We surely have the right to express a view as to whether these powers should be extended at some future time. Some noble Lords will take the view that in no circumstances should traffic wardens be entrusted with these powers, but I say that, if the Government take a different view, then it should be done in the form of an Affirmative Resolution in both Houses.
I should like to associate myself with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has just said. What I think we want to make certain is that traffic wardens, until they have proved their worth, do not become involved in, as the noble Lord said, any debatable point or matter of opinion as to whether or not an offence has been committed. That surely should be clear in the Bill, and should not be left to a vague whim as to when the Minister may suddenly change his mind and perhaps try another experiment. He may 990 say that he would like to experiment with them—and the Minister is very keen on experiments. I think this should be made quite clear, and if it is not made clear and a proper assurance given by the noble Lord, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will press the Amendment to a Division.
I think my noble friend has made a very good offer, but quite clearly there are many who view with disquiet the possible functions of these traffic wardens. Personally, I believe that unless the traffic wardens eventually have full powers this Bill cannot possibly work. Our object, of course, is to clear the roads and free the traffic lanes. But in view of the various fears that have been expressed, I would suggest to my noble friend that it might be a good idea to take the halfway stage suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and that, in the first instance, matters of opinion should not be dealt with by these wardens until Parliament has approved. Personally, however, I cannot see why one should regard with suspicion the acts of a man of mature age, possibly a retired policeman, yet be perfectly prepared to accept the judgment of a young police officer on his first patrol.
§ LORD SILKIN
May I interrupt the noble Lord? We do not know what kind of persons we are going to get. It is all very well to say "a retired policeman", but most retired policemen are offered very good jobs once they retire, and I doubt very much whether you will get many retired policemen. Whom will you get? Until we know the calibre of these people, surely it is wise not to put into the Bill that they should be given these powers.
I was expressing only a personal view that I was satisfied, and the noble Lord will have noted that I suggested that a solution might be for my noble friend to consider the useful halfway stage mentioned by the noble Lord.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I should like to ask my noble friend one question for the purpose of clarification, in order that we may evaluate his offer. He did not, as I understand it, give us an assurance that the Home Secretary would not include in the first order he made any power for giving tickets for the offence 991 of obstruction. Could I ask my noble friend if that order would be made under Clause 1 (11)? Because in that case the order would be subject to annulment in pursuance of a Resolution by the House—in other words, subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. My noble friend Lord Chesham did say on Second Reading [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 224, (No. 91) col. 446]:The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was a little critical of my right honourable friend's power to vary the duties of traffic wardens by order, which of course he can do. But the noble Lord must remember that that order has to be laid and is subject to Affirmative Resolution.The order to which the noble Lord was referring would, I think, be the order under Clause 1 (12) which says:An order of the Secretary of State under this section may be varied or revoked by a subsequent order of the Secretary of State.That subsection does not make it quite clear whether it is subject to Affirmative or Negative Resolution. I wonder if, when he replies, by noble friend could clarify that.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Might I suggest this course? One of the difficulties in which the Opposition find themselves—and when I talk about "the Opposition" I am not referring only to this side of the House, but to the opposition on both sides—is that we get so many conflicting statements by the Government spokesmen. I will quote one by the Under-Secretary at the Home Office on the Second Reading debate in another place. He said:The limited range of offences in Clause 1 subsection (1) could, I agree, be extended by order, but my right honourable friend has no intention of doing so.Has he? I do not know. He has all the powers in the Bill to do it. In this Bill the Home Secretary has the power by order to turn a traffic warden into a fully-fledged police constable.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I will come to that in another place in this Bill. It is in there. "For 'traffic warden' read 'constable'; for 'constable' read 'traffic warden'". That is what it says. But the noble Earl challenges me.
Perhaps I may say that it comes under another clause, and is not really relevant to this particular Amendment. We shall be discussing that fully.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am not talking about whether it is relevant to this Amendment. I said, "in another place in this Bill" and the noble Earl said, "No". It is in the Bill. By order the Home Secretary can give to the traffic wardens all the powers of constables.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I do not mind by what Resolution. It has got it in the Bill. Do not plead in aid the fact that 90 per cent. of those motorists who are summoned to-day for obstruction write to plead guilty. So would I. So would you. My time is worth more than hanging about a police court. So please do not infer that because 90 per cent. of the motorists summoned under the Road Traffic Act take advantage of the procedure under the Magistrates' Courts Act and say: "I am guilty; tell me what I owe", that they are ipso facto confessing guilt of the offence with which they have been charged. It is a cheap way out.
I will follow the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I do not want to divide the House, but I shall have no compunction whatever in doing so. This is vital in the interests of those potential victims of this new system. I am going to have this, if I possibly can, as clear as crystal in this Bill. I was brought up in this House in a tough school. When I was in the noble Lord's place I had on the Front Opposition Bench not only the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, but the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and the late Lord Simon, who were merciless on this one point: "Put it in the Bill. We are not interested in what your opinion is, or what you say the Minister is going to do. We are interested only in what is in the Bill." I have stood on that precept ever since. So if the noble Lord thinks he is having a rough time now, it is nothing to the time that I had when I was in his position.
I am going to suggest to the noble Lord that I should withdraw both these 993 Amendments. The first one, if I may use the vernacular, is just "chicken feed". It is the second one that is important. The first one I put in because that was the ground upon which his right honourable friend the Under-Secretary at the Home Office turned the second one down, not because of the arguments the noble Lord has brought up. So I am willing to withdraw this Amendment. The noble Lord has heard the views of the Committee. I always think it is far better in this House to pay attention to voices first, before going into the Division Lobby. In point of fact, the noble Lord has not had one supporter. I hesitate to say that, but it is the fact. Every speaker has been against him, and they represent the feeling outside this House. If the noble Lord will agree to consider, between now and the next stage of the Bill, all the arguments he has heard and al the suggestions that have been made, and if he likes to consult with me—if it would not be too undignified, of course—shall be willing to withdraw this Amendment, while reserving the right to put it down again at the next stage of the Bill. If the noble Lord will give me that undertaking, I will follow that course.
§ LORD TEVIOT
I have sat here and listened with great interest to what has been said. There is just one thing that has not been said. I hope the noble Lord the Minister will listen to this, as it is a new idea. You might get a car in one place where it would be obstructing at one time of the day, whereas at another time of the day, or on a different day, it might not be obstructing at all. I should like the noble Lord to consider the possibility that it is not obstructing all the time, and that there might be a moment when you could say there is no obstruction, although there was at another time. You could give the wardens power to determine, under instruction, whether or not a car which is now obstructing is not obstructing at a different time of the day. I should like that matter considered.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I will say to Lord Lucas of Chilworth that, like obstruction, whether or not one is having a "rough time" is a matter of opinion. Before I come on to the substance of what the noble Lord said, I should like to make this quite clear in simple words. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary does not intend at the outset to 994 empower wardens to serve tickets for obstruction. I should like to make that perfectly clear. Constables will be able to do so, but even in that case the Commissioner, I understand, does not intend to instruct them to do so in the early stages until we see how the ticket system works. I see the noble Lord does not like that. Surely on these matters of innovation it is sense to make haste a little slowly, and get the thing working better and better. But that will be perhaps for another time.
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that my right honourable friend, or anyone else who should succeed him perhaps in due course, has not a carte blanche to do peculiar things with traffic wardens and police constables and so on—but we shall come to that point later. Neither can he make variations in the duties—as we shall find when we come to Clause 2—in the functions of traffic wardens, except by the Affirmative Resolution procedure. Having made that perfectly clear, I think the words of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, are to be heeded in this matter, and for my part I should like to have the opportunity of meeting the offer of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to look at this matter again before we come to the next stage. In saying that, I am b mind to say that at this moment I do not stand here convinced by any means.
I must also say this. Out of the issue about which we have been talking—that of obstruction—will come an answer of one sort or another. But I feel that in my own interests I should say that if we resolve that one, and if the noble Lord keeps those two Amendments down, there could be other grounds upon which I should have to speak to those Amendments separately. But I think perhaps it would be better to take that at the time.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I accept that from the noble Lord. It has been an interesting debate, and I hope it has been instructive to the Government. With your Lordships' permission I beg leave to withdraw Amendments No. 2 and 3.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Before your Lordships decide, I should say that Amendment No. 3 deals with a 995 completely different point. That deals with the other section of offences which I mentioned in the few remarks I addressed to your Lordships just now. So far as I can see, it has nothing to do with obstruction. A car owner can commit an offence by leaving or parking his car, or by loading it and unloading it in a road, whether it is obstructing the road or not. There are quite different regulations. I was rather attracted by the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that there should not be an offence unless the motorist did it contrary to a parking sign or carriageway markings. That is a completely different point from the one we have been discussing. The noble Lord may wish to withdraw them both. He may be satisfied about the carriageway markings and the traffic signs, but it is a different point.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
With that I agree. I was rather linking the two together for further consideration. I suggested to the noble Lord that I would withdraw both these Amendments if the principle in both of them was reconsidered. That I think meets the point of the noble Marquess. I have not by any manner of means given up Amendment No. 3.
§ LORD CHESHAM
That is rather what I understood. I understood that we had reached the stage when the noble Lord was going to withdraw both Amendments, but owing to our procedure he can withdraw them only one at a time.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
That is acceptable to me, because I am with the noble Marquess. I want to argue the other Amendments, too, but I thought it would be better to get the obstruction one out of the way. I hold myself free to put down Amendment No. 3 again at the Report stage.
§ Amendment to Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.996
§ 7.0 p.m.
LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (2), after "offence", where that word occurs a second time, to insert:
or having the alleged offence reported to the chief officer of police.
The noble Lord said: This Amendment is very important. Subsection (2) of Clause 1 says:
Where a constable finds a person on any occasion and has reason to believe that on that occasion he is committing or has committed an offence to which this section applies, he may give him the prescribed notice in writing offering the option of payment of a fixed penalty under this section without prosecution for that offence; and no person shall then be liable to be convicted of that offence if the fixed penalty is paid in accordance with this section before the date on which proceedings are begun.
That subsection could be read to mean that the alleged offender has an option. The Oxford Dictionary definition of an option is that it is freedom of choice. A man can choose, unless the option is taken away—"seven days without the option of a fine". But it is not stated in this subsection what the option is. It goes on rather to imply that the option is either acceptance within 21 days of a ticket fine of £2 or prosecution. If that is the right inference, then prosecution is automatic on not paying the fine within 21 days. That interpretation is strengthened by the words,
and no person shall then be liable to be convicted of that offence if the fixed penalty is paid in accordance with this section before the date on which proceedings are begun.
It implies that if he does not pay that fine within 21 days the commencement of proceedings are automatic. Is that correct?
§ Various statements were made in another place by the Minister and the Under-Secretary—I think the noble Lord made a somewhat similiar statement, but I believe his words were slightly more guarded—that if the person does not pay the fine within 21 days the matter will be handed over to the police, because they have to start verifying, if necessary, who the owner of the car is and going through all the normal procedure. But the point I wish to make is that proceedings cannot be automatic unless it is the Government's intention to take away the powers of discretion of the chief officer of police. I do not believe that that is the intention 997 of the Government for one moment. But if laymen, the ordinary motorists, read that subsection it will convey to 99 out of 100 of them that they have the option of going to the clerk and paying the £2, or being prosecuted. As the Bill stands it is automatic, because you have not stated what the option is.
§ Suppose the chief constable, in spite of the fact that the man has not paid the £2, decides not to prosecute, is there anything in this Bill to say he must? You cannot have it both ways. Either it is automatic and you have taken away the discretion of the chief officer of police to start proceedings, or, if you have not taken away the right of the chief officer of police to institute proceedings or not, the wording of this subsection is faulty, because it does not definitely state what the option is. The option is, as I interpret what the Government really intend, that he can pay that £2 within 21 days or have the matter reported to the chief officer of police. It is the same procedure as when you are stopped by a constable on any other motoring offence—exceeding the limit or doing any of those other silly things you should not do. What does the constable say to you? He says, "Sir, you will be reported". He cannot say that here, because he may not see the man to say it to. The ticket may just be put on the windscreen. Do you not think it is fair, if the second interpretation is the right one—that is, that the penalty is not automatic—that in this clause you should say so? You should say that the option you are offering is the payment within 21 days or having the matter reported to the chief officer of police. That is why I have put down this Amendment, to test out what the Government's intention is; because as it reads today the proceedings of prosecution are automatic unless the fine is paid within 21 days of the date of the notice. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 11, after ("offence") insert ("or having the alleged offence reported to the chief officer of police").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)
The noble Lord opposite made a great deal in the Second Reading about the "or" part of the option which a policeman was going to offer. I think that if the noble Lord would be agreeable to read a little further clown, in the next subsection, sub- 998 section (3), he will find that the "or" part of the option is made clear, and it is, of course, that the person who has committed the alleged offence will have to make his own option, and that is that either he thinks he is guilty, in which case he pays within 21 days the fixed penalty, the sum. of £2 or one half of the maximum fine, whatever may be the lesser, or if he so wishes he will be prosecuted in exactly the same way as to-day if a policeman prosecutes.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
The noble Earl says "if he so wishes". Can he state "I am not going to pay the fine and I do not wish to be prosecuted"? The noble Earl said he will be prosecuted "if he so wishes". Does he mean that he writes to the court and says, "I do not intend to pay this fine and I do not wish to be prosecuted"? What does the noble Earl mean?
If he wishes to pay the fine, or, in other words, admits his guilt, he will not be prosecuted.
If he does not, he may or may not be prosecuted—in exactly the same way as at present. At present the policeman sends in the report of an alleged offence to his chief of police and the chief of police will no doubt look into the matter.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I agree with the noble Earl, but the Bill does not say that. Why not put it into the Bill?
I am assured that the present circumstances are in no way altered by the Bill. I would go so far as to say to the noble Lord that if what I have said proves not to be true, perhaps the noble Lord will refer to it again. But I assure him that it is the intention that the chief of police, if he sees fit, will prosecute. This applies when an alleged offender has decided not to take the offer to pay the fixed penalty.
I assure the noble Lord that it is not the intention that there shall be any new penalty involved under this particular subsection. At present if 999 the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was dealt with by a police officer for some obstruction or infringement the chances are that he would be prosecuted.
It is almost a certainty. On the other hand, if there were some extraordinary circumstances the chief of police might not prosecute. He might send a note to the noble Lord, or drop the case altogether. I want to make it quite clear that in no way is it intended to infringe the discretion of a chief of police to prosecute. Equally, I should not like to say that if an alleged offender decides not to pay the fixed penalty he has a better sporting chance of getting off, of the chief of police deciding not to prosecute. It would be very wrong to give that impression. If the noble Lord should find that what I have said is not true, possibly he would return to the point at a later stage, but to the best of my knowledge what I have said is the position. I am assured that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack would give this most urgent consideration should it be found that my words are not true.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble Earl is once more doing what the noble Lord did on an earlier Amendment; he is telling us what are the intentions of the Government. He is telling us that it is not the intention of the Government that prosecution shall be automatic in the event of a person exercising his option of going to the court. No one reading this clause would gather that, and all my noble friend desires in his Amendment is that the meaning of the clause should be made quite clear. It should be made clear that a prosecution does not automatically follow where a person does not wish to comply with a ticket, and that the matter will be considered before any such prosecution takes place. It may be that the person does not stand one chance in a hundred of getting off, but that is not the point. The point is that his case is considered and prosecution is not automatic. If the noble Earl will ensure that that is made quite clear in the Bill, then we on our side shall be quite satisfied.
I believe the noble Lord would be satisfied with the situation as it is at present and that neither of the noble Lords has any objection to that. As I am advised and assured, this subsection in no way changes the position as it is at present, except that the alleged offender can take the choice of paying this fixed penalty if he so wishes.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
As I have always thought, there is nothing between us on this point. But I discussed the provision with a number of lawyers, and all have taken the same view as my noble friend took: that prosecution is automatic. It has always been almost a guiding rule of the House to try to make legislation in a form which the ordinary man can understand. This business of tickets is an innovation. Surely nobody will lose face by the sense of what I have said in my Amendment, and the sense of what the noble Lord has said, being put into that clause; but that would save a lot of time. Perhaps it was a little unfortunate that the noble Earl should have spoken about an "option", for with an option there has to be a choice. The Oxford Dictionary definition of "option" is "freedom of choice". But freedom of choice to do what: to accept a ticket and pay £2 or be prosecuted? But the option is not that. It is to stand the risk of being prosecuted, to have the matter referred to the chief of police who can initiate a prosecution—and in this context he is about the only one who can do so.
If the noble Earl will give me an undertaking that if I withdraw this Amendment now he will see that there are put into this clause words to give the sense of what he and I agree it means, I shall be prefectly happy to withdraw the Amendment, and he and I can discuss what that wording should be. Whether it is this wording or his does not matter, so long as it is made clear. As we go through the Bill, clouded as it is, I will point out to your Lordships many things which are about as ambiguous as they could possibly be. Let us see if we cannot clear up those points, so that we can present to the public a Bill which they can have some reasonable chance of understanding. If the noble Lord will give me that undertaking I will withdraw my Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
May I, in this connection, make a suggestion intended to be helpful to the Government? I have considerable sympathy for the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I believe the matter is purely one of drafting and that this is a frightfully badly drafted Clause. If my noble friend will have a look at it, with his advisers, I feel sure that some far simpler and more accurate words can be obtained. Because in subsection (2) there is really no option at all—in fact, there is no option anywhere in connection with this matter, certainly no option which an alleged offender has the right to exercise. What happens in that the constable serves upon the alleged offender a prescribed notice which calls attention to his right to contribute the £2. But his attention is not called to his rights for any other purpose. All the prescribed notice can do is to confirm what the constable will have told him—that he will be reported for a summons. I believe that the prescribed notice should do that, and that in the subsection which subsequently deals with the prescribed notice that should be provided. But I submit that the word "option" should be deleted all the way through, including in subsection (6), where it appears to be totally irrelevant.
I cannot quite agree with my noble friend Lord Brent-ford that there is no option on the ticket which will be issued to the alleged offender. It will be made quite clear by some means or another that the alleged offender can take no notice of this ticket at all, and in that case the proceedings may, or will (this is where the difference occurs which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is worried about), take place. I have assured the noble Lord that, so far as I understand this Bill, if the alleged offender takes no notice the position is exactly the same as exists to-day.
I am impressed with what the noble Lord opposite has said, and I know that all your Lordships appreciate the great work which the noble Lord has done with regard to traffic and all these complicated regulations. The noble Lord, I know, is out to help and to get the traffic moving. I am quite certain that 1002 all your Lordships will agree there. I have asked my noble and learned friend whether I could rely upon his judgment and advice, should such complicated legal problems and drafting problems come up, as indeed we envisage in the course of this Bill. If the noble Lord, as he has so kindly offered, will withdraw his Amendment, I assure him that everything he has said, and everything that my noble friend Lord Brentford has said, will be before my noble and learned friend. If, in some way, he feels that better drafting, or different drafting, could be used to make the point, which I myself made, quite clear, I am sure that my noble and learned friend will put something forward or will show good reasons why it is impossible to do so. The noble Lord will realise that I can in no way commit my noble and learned friend, but on that understanding I will certainly ask his advice and help at a later stage.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Earl and I take him literally when he says that he will consult with his noble and learned friend, because there is no one in whom and in whose judgment this House has more faith and trust than his noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack. But may I put this point to the noble Earl on the matter which the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, raised concerning the rights of the public? Making Bills is not a hobby or a cross-game of draftsmanship with the Parliamentary draftsmen's department and a game for us. A Bill and an Act of Parliament should state what the public's rights are as clearly as they state what their obligations are and what the penalties may be. We fail to recognise that in this subsection. I want the public to know clearly what is the option they must accept, and then they may like to take a sporting chance. Because do not forget there are two chances. First, the chief of police might not prosecute; and, secondly, if there were a prosecution the alleged offender might put up such a "hard luck" story—we know what magistrates are—that he might get off with a fine of less than £2.
I do not want this idea of the noble Lord to be put abroad 1003 —I expect he concocted that suggestion—that this will be any game of chance or of taking a gamble without being prosecuted by the chief of police. I want to make it quite clear that if the alleged offender does not pay the fixed penalty he stands just the same chance—I think that is the wrong word—but his position is in no way different from what it would be to-day if he were run in and reported. It would be most awkward if the noble Lord should let it be thought that it would pay someone not to pay the fixed penalty. I do not think it will.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
With that undertaking, may I have your Lordships' permission to withdraw this Amendment?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
I think this might be a convenient time to adjourn the discussion on the Committee stage.
§ House resumed.