HL Deb 18 June 1974 vol 352 cc839-86

4.36 p.m.

House again in Committee on Amendment No. 17.

[Lord Maybray-King in the Chair.]


We return to the Amendment which was under discussion, Amendment No. 17, to insert a new clause after Clause 15 of the Bill. I should like to make a brief intervention at this stage in view of the discussion we had in Committee before the Statement on coal was made by the noble Lord, Lord Balogh. Perhaps the debate on coal could continue outside the Chamber rather than in the course of the Committee stage of the Road Traffic Bill with which we are now concerned.

I have not been close to this subject. I do not know the pros and cons on the installation of tachographs. Many other noble Lords in this House are probably as ill-informed as I am on this matter. I cannot believe that there is not more to be said for and against the Amendment than we have heard so far in the speech made by the noble Lord. Lord Garnsworthy. We might recall that this clause, which has now been put down as an Amendment, was in the original Bill before the House. There must, therefore, have been some reason for inserting it into the Bill. It has been carefully considered. It has been the subject of a great deal of consultation. The clause was originally included in the Bill; now it has been omitted. Only two arguments have been advanced against the inclusion of the clause in the Bill.


I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way. I do not know whether he is aware that I indicated that we were not going to oppose this Amendment if it were clearly the desire of the Committee that it should be included in the Bill. Before the noble Lord goes any further, I ought to say that his noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton indicated that he was quite prepared to move it without even speaking to it.


Perhaps he felt that the merits spoke for themselves. Let us go into it. We are in Committee. This is what a Committee stage is for, to debate the pros and cons in our Committee proceeding. Any noble Lord can take part. There is no pressure on time. Thanks to the co-operative attitude of the noble Lord opposite, the Bill has been moving along very nicely. Let us hear the pros and cons of this proposal.

Two things have been said. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton. referred to them. The noble Lord, Lord Slater, told us that if the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, had made the speech that he had made to your Lordships to-day before a meeting of drivers he would have had a very hostile reception. That was thought to be an argument which would carry weight in a House of Parliament: that a special interest, an organised interest, did not like it. This is a serious and important point. It is not a new one, because on the Second Reading of the original Road Traffic Bill and during the Committee stages of the original Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, was honest enough actually to say that the Transport and General Workers' Union was very disturbed about Clause 21. He made this point on Second Reading and he referred to it again in Committee. Then, in reply to this Amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, said that if something of the sort was adopted it might be regarded as going along with what is required by the European Economic Community. This again does not appear to be a very strong argument. Now the noble Lord seems to be somewhat uncertain. If he wishes to say that he accepts the Amendment here and now, I shall sit down with pleasure. But he could have said that perhaps, if there was nothing to argue about, before asking my noble friend Lord Mowbray to make a detailed speech, which he did, and before the noble Lord made the speech that he did in reply. If he would like to accept it here and now, let him say so.


I think the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is making rather heavy weather of this. I do not think he is going to be able to make many bricks because he has not got much straw to play with. I indicated quite early that if the Committee were so minded—and I suggested that I needed to be able to assess the reactions of the Committee to what the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, had to say in proposing this Amendment—we should not oppose this Amendment. I do not think I could possibly have been more forthcoming.

The noble Lord takes me to task on the issue of the E.E.C. I did not introduce the E.E.C. His noble friend introduced the question of the E.E.C. Indeed, as I understand it, the E.E.C. is central to the purpose of the previous Administration's scheme for the use of tachographs. In fact, there is nothing peculiar in that I followed his noble friend on that point. I think that also deals with the query raised by my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, addressed a specific question to me and he is entitled to a specific reply. He asked whether it is correct that the Labour Government included the tachograph provision in the Transport Act 1968. I have to tell him that I understand that is true. I also understand that, in fact, it was never implemented. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, will appreciate that that is the reply to his question. May I say with regard to what the—


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I am most grateful for that statement. But I should also like to add that when the Labour Government of 1968 took their decision on tachographs they had the E.E.C. in mind, too. Whether it is agreeable, one does not know. But, as I have already said, we have accepted in road traffic legislation provisions like the breathalyser, which I think we all agree is very successful. Maybe we should wait and see whether tachographs are unsuccessful, and perhaps make an amendment later.


I am sure that the Committee is grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said. May I come to the comments of my noble friend Lord Slater? It is important to know how this matter is regarded by those on both sides of the industry. I am grateful, as I thought the Committee was, for what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, had to say on this subject. As I understand it, it is not only a matter of those who drive the vehicles. I am informed that there are a number of operators who are also opposed to tachographs. One of the reasons why the Government did not include the provision in the Bill when it was drafted is that installing the instruments would be a very expensive undertaking. The Government felt that, until it was inevitable that we were in the E.E.C., industry ought not to be called upon to carry the very great costs that would be involved. I would repeat what my noble friend Lord Slater said, that there is considerable resistance by drivers; I do not think it possible to over-estimate the feeling on this issue. They may be misguided but some of them have a feeling that this is almost like being called upon to carry a spy aboard. If we are to make progress over the use of tachographs, it would surely be better to avoid the deep feeling that we have been advised exists. I would repeat that it is not my intention to ask the Committee to oppose the Amendment.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for saying that. But I should like to know how the noble Lord has arrived at the advice which he is giving to the Committee. He said that the provision of tachographs would be expensive and that the special interests concerned do not like it. I understand that position, and that might be the reason why he felt it would not be right to advise the Committee to accept the Amendment. But he is in Government. He has the responsibility here. He has given us the arguments against the measure. What are the arguments for it? What has led him to conclude that it is more desirable to have these instruments installed than not to have them? I feel that he has given us only half of the argument, and has come to a conclusion which does not arise out of the arguments which he has laid before the Committee.


Before the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy replies, may I emphasise that the whole essence of the clause which we are trying to move back into the Bill is that it is not compulsory but voluntary. I believe that that has been forgotten by the noble Lord, Lord Slater. I emphasise that it is a voluntary clause. Also who are the operators who are objecting to the installation of tachographs?


I am in no position to give a list of the individuals concerned. I can only repeat the advice which I have been given. I fully accept that the clause is voluntary. As to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, there was a critical debate when this subject was previously before the House, when I indicated that I was prepared to accept the Amendment. I do not know whether there is disappointment that I am being as forthcoming as I am, but I should have thought the noble Lord would have been satisfied that there were good reasons for moving the Amendment. If the Amendment is to be moved, it is up to those moving it to state the details of the case. His noble friend was willing to move it without any statement at all. It seemed to me that it would be useful if we could have some discussion on it. I do not think I can usefully add anything further.


My noble friend answered the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, regarding the infallibility of this type of recording instrument. Are we satisfied, however, that perfection has now been achieved? Can we install these instruments or make these provisional arrangements for them before we know how perfect they are? Furthermore, if we exempt a driver from recording in his log any offence that may be committed, or thought to be committed, what evidence can be produced in connection with it? Does this cut right across the keeping of the log or, if that is done away with, will these recording instruments be utilised in a court of law in order to implement the rest of the law attached to these driving regulations? They are so very important. There is, of course, a general reluctance by drivers to use these instruments, but I would take the line that we should be certain about their perfection. To the best of my knowledge, our scientists have not given us that assurance. The technological people who install them have not given that assurance. So far as I know, sufficient research has not taken place.

Although my noble friend said that he is prepared to accept the clause, I have some doubts as to whether we have reached the position where, as the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said, we ought to make temporary provisions by the clause—because it may make regulations. Before we embrace a clause of this description, some further assurance ought to be given that sufficient research has taken place, and that it will be infallible when it is installed. The recording of the log is so important in regard to safety, welfare and other matters to do with drivers' hours, et cetera. It is a very important step that we are proposing. My noble friend has said that he is prepared to accept the Amendment, but I should have thought it-better to ask for it to be withdrawn until we receive the assurances which have not yet been given.


I should like to support this Amendment. The argument that the drivers, the operators, do not like this tachograph, which has not yet been totally developed, does not cut any ice with me. I think that this permissive installation ought to be provided for because if pilots of aircraft have no objection to having black boxes on their aircraft, then drivers of passenger vehicles and heavy lorries, and so forth, ought not to object to having their performance suitably recorded. I support the Amendment.


In view of the fact that the noble Lord has been good enough to say that he is willing to accept this Amendment, I am not inclined to prolong the discussion any further. I must confess that the route by which he has arrived at this advice is still somewhat of a mystery to me, but since he is willing to accept an Amendment from these Benches who am I to press him further? Thanks to the good judgment of the noble Lord opposite and of the noble Lord the Leader of the House. who is also concerned with matters relating to the Department of the Environment, we have now reached the position where the three clauses which were omitted from the Bill when it was republished (this Bill, we might recall, was introduced by the previous Conservative Administration)—that is to say, the clauses on the reduction of the age for driving certain vehicles, the provision for more flexible rural transport and, now, tachographs—have all been replaced. The Government have seen the virtues of the Bill as it was originally drafted and laid before the House, so I suggest that the Question is now put.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 16 [Experimental introduction of road humps for controlling vehicle speeds]:

On Question, Whether Clause 16 shall stand part of the Bill?

4.52 p.m.


Having listened carefully to what has taken place previously, I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, who has shown such kindness and resilience, will possibly do the same thing so far as this clause is concerned. I am quite sure that when this clause was inserted by the Government it was done with every good intention, but, knowing the situation that this sort of road hump creates, I frankly do not think it will work. I think it is going to prove costly, unnecessary and possibly dangerous. I do not know how many noble Lords here (or noble Baronesses, for that matter) have ever had the pleasure of riding a motor cycle or of sitting on the pillion of one, or even of riding in the chair of a motor cycle and sidecar, but I can assure your Lordships that two wheels or three wheels being ridden, or even driven, over humps of this nature will be most unpleasant and could be very dangerous. Would it not have been a good thing, in the circumstances, to have consulted both big motoring organisations and the B.M.F., the British Motorcycle Federation? I think the Government could have received some very useful information as to what the B.M.F. feel, because with regard to these so-called "sleeping policeman" they know what they are talking about in detail.

In the country—in some of the rural areas in my county, for instance—we have for some time tried to put up bevelled kerbing, instead of the rather dangerous sharp-edged kerbs which we have in towns. That is all very well if you meet it at an acute angle—an angle of about 45 degrees; you can then carry on across the verge. But if you were to meet bevelled kerbs head on—not just one, but several—it would prove very dangerous. These humps, I gather, are something like five inches high. If you think of hitting just one five-inch high obstacle in the road, and then think of hitting several, which is what I think this will mean, you will realise that it could be most dangerous. So I am hoping that this remedy will be reconsidered by Her Majesty's Government. Public service vehicles (an ambulance, for instance) or articulated vehicles, or commercial vehicles of that nature—public service vehicles as a whole—will not like it at all. On Sunday I am giving away a prize or prizes to the lorry driver of the year, and I am quite sure that even lorry drivers, with their heavy vehicles and their rather more fixed and rigid suspension, will find it very unpleasant and dangerous to have to come across these obstacles.

Even though there may be a speed limit of 15 m.p.h. I am sorry to say there are not many drivers of either private cars or heavy vehicles who will observe such a limit. The signs themselves may well be covered by snow or ice in wintertime so that you will not even see them; and, after all, we have such a forest of signs nowadays that if the motorist has to look at that he will not be expecting to find another one of this nature. So, purely on the grounds of road safety alone—and I know that is what we in this Committee are all interested in—I think it would be a great mistake to proceed with this particular clause. With those few words I ask your Lordships to support me in the deletion of this clause.


The Question is, That this clause shall stand part of the Bill? Noble Lords who wish to leave it out will vote, if necessary, against the Question, That the clause stand part.


Having raised this question on Second Reading, I must say straightaway that I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for having written to me and consulted with me since on this particular clause. I raised the same point as my noble friend Lord Howe on the danger to public vehicles, such as ambulances and fire engines, going about their normal duties in the correct manner; and I also mentioned motor cyclists. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, wrote to me and explained that in fact the maximum height of the humps would not be more than four inches—not five inches, as my noble friend was indicating. He said that the gradient would be tapered down, so that he, the Minister, believed that motor cyclists would not be too much in danger, but that larger vehicles, if speeding, would certainly not find it very comfortable, and it would therefore have the effect of reducing speed, which is the intention of this provision. The noble Lord. Lord Garnsworthy, emphasised, as I inquired on Second Reading. that the introduction of Clause 16 was experimental; and, to be fair to this clause, I think we must realise that it is not mandatory but experimental. It is on a par with safety belts, although in that case the Government have made up their mind. But this is an experimental clause, and the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has been good enough to confirm that. I do not myself see why, in the interests of safety and of reducing speed in areas where it is necessary to do that, and where a speed limit in itself may not be having the desired effect, it is necessarily wrong to write off straight away the introduction of a hump.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has also assured me that the signs leading to these humps will be clearly visible and will not be of such a nature that snow will hide them, or something like that; they will be illuminated like other important road signs. So I must confess that many of the doubts and worries that I personally had with my experience on this side of your Lordships' House have been removed by the noble Lord in his very kind efforts to allay my anxiety. His object was to remove my doubts, and I must confess that he has succeeded. As this is an experimental clause, and as he has admitted that in the Bill it is experimental, I really do not see why we should agree to the deletion of this clause. It is an experiment in the interests of safety.


I should like to add a few words in support of the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton. I have had experience of seeing a sign saying "humps" on private drives and then thought that I could be very clever and could drive faster than the sign said. I found it a very effective method of reducing speed. If it can be introduced correctly and safely, I think it would save police time and leave them to control other things. I should like therefore to support the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, in keeping this good experimental clause in the Bill.


I should certainly not be in opposition to the continuation of this experimentally, but what is required is whether or not there is to be a term to the experiment and whether or not we shall be informed of the results. If there is no limit, it could go on for years as an experiment. There comes a time, however, when an experiment should be either concluded as not being worth going on with or alternatively made part of the law so that it may be done where an authority wishes so to do in order to reduce speed. A good deal depends on the shape of the hump as to whether or not it will have a serious effect upon a vehicle riding over it. Further, we should be more than satisfied that the signs on the approaches to a section of road which is to be subject to a reduced speed by this method are beyond doubt visible at all times and in all circumstances. Those are the things we want to know. It is not that we want to stop the experiment, but that it should be a properly controlled experiment and that we should be informed from time to time as to the results of the experiment.

In exactly the same way, the bus lane experiment must go on. But there are two or three things we should know about it. Outside the hours when the bus lane is in operation, you may have the position where one vehicle is in the outside lane and another comes in on the inside. Almost inevitably vehicles will be parked along there and then somebody tries to cut in. Even in the bus lane experiment there are all sorts of dangers that want ironing out. There are many matters to sort out and on which the House should be informed. I do not oppose the introduction of bumps on those grounds but merely want to know from time to time what is happening to them.


I would not go finally against this Amendment, but I hope that great care will be taken in deciding where these bumps are to be tried. I am thinking particularly of the extreme danger of bumps in the road where ambulances are concerned. We thought of trying this in a hospital with which I was connected, but we came to the conclusion that we should not put bumps in because the ease of the person inside the ambulance was not helped by the fact that these bumps were in the road. We have also to think of police cars which have to go at a fast pace and where an axle can easily be broken. Although there may be something to be said for this procedure to prevent people going fast, great care must be taken in where these bumps are put so that the dangers involved are not too great.


I first saw bumps of this nature in 1930 in the State of Oregon. I do not know how many States have them now or, indeed, if they are still in use in Oregon, but these bumps were only at intersections at right angles; in other words, they were at dangerous intersections where here we have a "stop" sign. I could not agree more with what other noble Lords had to say about their dangers and what a bump they can give. I know one golf club which has bumps, and I should hate to drive an ambulance over them. I have two sons at a prep school where there are bumps of this nature every 20 yards up the drive.

I have lately been driving a great deal on motorways and I feel that this experiment has already begun. I do not know how many of your Lordships have noticed that these wide transverse yellow lines at the approach to roundabouts are now raised above the level of the road. You can definitely feel the effect and you can see that something is coming along. I agree that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, on Second Reading said that this was experimental and I personally feel that we can leave it with the powers that be. After all, they are highly skilled and the Road Research Laboratory will have their own views. I have not read any of their reports about them. Four inches sounds to be rather high, but accepting that this is to be experimental, and if, as I believe, this particular protection will save lives, then I think we might let it stand.

5.4 p.m.


Before the noble Lord the Minister replies, may I ask a number of specific questions? Is it proposed that the hump is to be accompanied by a speed limitation as well? If it is not accompanied by a speed limitation—and I am sorry the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is not here—I can assure him that it is comparatively easy to get over a hump in a road with a four-wheeled vehicle without any undue inconvenience or disturbance. The whole trick of the thing is to take one wheel at a time, so you set your car diagonally. That is exactly what happens on private driveways, and if one sees that the road is reasonably clear—in other words, if you can use the whole of the road, point your motor car diagonally, take one wheel over at a time—it would be no worse than the extraordinarily dangerous white raised line that is seen in a road which diverts the passage of a motor car so very easily.

I would also ask why, in paragraph (7)(b) it says:

… it is of such a shape that no damage is likely to be caused to the tyres of a vehicle passing over the hump. With tyres in good condition I do not think that any reasonably constructed hump can cause any particular damage, so why is it necessary to particularly specify that part of the vehicle? Were I drafting the Bill I would set down a great many other parts of a motor car which can suffer even greater damage. I recall driving a rather famous make of motor car which has twin silencers, two in line on each side, which I removed quite neatly on the Kingston Road only about three years ago because a manhole cover was slightly raised. If one even passed over a hump one is quite likely to remove that part. I should have thought that it might have been the Minister's responsibility to see that no damage came to my car through driving reasonably over a hump.

The last question I should like to address to the Minister—and I do not think in all fairness that he will be able to answer it—arises out of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, in relation to the diagonal yellow lines now used to give the visual and physical warning of an intersection. I understand that the visual aspect of this particular warning device has alarmed a number of doctors in that it can create a circumstance which leads to migraine. This has been reported on a number of occasions by three different people to two different doctors, to my knowledge, and it is always at exactly the same point in the journey; that is, the intersection on to the M.4 as one comes away from Windsor. I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer that question but he might like to let me know if there is any information on this point.

The only conceivable acceptance of road humps that I can think of is where they are constructed so as to give some gap across each section of the highway to enable two-wheeled vehicles to pass with a degree of safety. This of course then invites the four-wheeled driver to attempt to offer two wheels through the gap so that he has only two bumps on the other side. Unless the Minister has some rather better ideas as to how these things may operate and be constructed then I am rather in favour of supporting my noble friend Lord Howe.


Before the noble Lord sits down, may I point out that he said "diagonal yellow lines". I have just driven up North in Yorkshire, and the lines I referred to are completely transverse. They are very wide, painted yellow and extend probably a hundred yards before approaching a roundabout. They certainly give not only a sense of flashing light but also one of corrugation, which I thought was an excellent idea.


Before the noble Lord replies, I wonder whether he could make one point clear. From what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said, I gathered that a single large hump was intended, but from the Bill it seems that there would be a series of small humps—rather like corrugated iron—which I think would probably slow up traffic quite appreciably.


Before the noble Lord replies, I wonder whether I might put this point to him. He stated that the humps would be not more than four inches. Does he propose to put forward an Amendment on the Report stage to amend 7(a) from 5 inches to 4 inches?


I do not think it matters much whether this clause comes out or stays in. Let the Ministry have their toys, because I feel it is absolutely impracticable to have these things on the main road. Some of the older type of sports car have a ground clearance of perhaps only one or two inches. The Minister would therefore be accused of removing the silencers from half the vehicles in the country! As proof of that, one has only to see the notices that are erected at level crossings these days: "Uneven surface: danger of grounding". Will similar notices be erected alongside our main roads in respect of these humps? I do not think so. It is impracticable and I do not think it matters whether it is in or out of the Bill.

5.13 p.m.


I do not wish to delay the proceedings in any way, but I would disagree with my noble friend who has just spoken, because I have had experience of these humps abroad. They are most effective. If one goes over a hump rather quickly for the first time, one treats a hump with the utmost respect the second time. I am wholly in favour of this experiment and I think it would be a good thing if we tried it out.


The Committee will, I am sure, agree that we have had an extremely useful discussion on the value of this clause. Before going any further, I should like to say that I was concerned before coming here to-day as to whether the two main motoring organisations had been consulted. In view of what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, I have taken advice and have been reassured that the A.A. and the R.A.C. were consulted informally and accepted the case for the experiments which this clause would allow. I thought the noble Earl would like to have that information.

Several of your Lordships have clearly had some experience of humps, either in this country or abroad. I believe the noble Earl. Lord Howe, will know the part of the counry to which I shall refer from my own personal experience, because he lived quite close at one time. He will know the roads that run through the Gatton estate: we have a residential school there for 500 children. A great deal of traffic drove at speed through the estate and we were very concerned about the danger to the young people for whom we were responsible. We have installed a number of humps, reasonable in height and width, and I rang up the secretary of the school shortly before coming here from the Department late this morning, to inquire whether there had been any single accident caused or any report of any vehicle having been damaged. He said that to his knowledge there had been no accident, and certainly no one had come to him to complain, but there had been a considerable reduction in vehicles travelling at high speed through the estate.

Surely we all want—and there is no division of opinion about it—to achieve the greatest possible degree of safety. I ought to remind the Committee that residential streets account for some 100,000 injury accidents each year, including 40,000 pedestrian casualties. It is against that background that I believe we should consider this clause. This is not an experiment that will be undertaken lightly. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory have conducted all the experiments they usefully can, without going on to public highways, and it is felt that the time has arrived when we ought to allow a limited number of experiments on public highways. I deliberately use the word "limited", because it is not intended to instal these humps all over the place. I cannot give a reply to my noble friend Lord Pargiter as to the time limit, because clearly there is need here for some flexibility. It is an experiment that will be properly planned and controlled, and it will be publicly reported upon. It is not something that is to be undertaken and on which decisions will be made privately. There will he a public Report as to the results of the experiment.

I have pursued this question of the height of the humps, and it is thought that four inches will be about right, but the figure of five inches was mentioned, and indeed a question was asked about this matter because it was thought to be a figure which should be included in the Bill in order to allow some flexibility. As I understand it there is no intention of taking risks. As I indicated during Second Reading, great care will be taken on the placing of the humps. Clearly we are not intending that anything shall be done to endanger the lives of persons, since the object of the experiment is to save possible injuries and to prevent accidents; so quite clearly there is a determination not to put life at risk and therefore the humps will be signposted and there will be adequate warning.

When we come to the question of speed, they will only be placed where there is very good reason for the avoidance of excessive speed. I have referred to the large number of accidents in residential streets. There is not one Member of this Committee who is not aware of the excessive speeding all day and almost every day. Whether the speed limits are 30 m.p.h., 40 m.p.h., or whatever it may be, we all know that they are being flouted. It is one thing to take risks oneself as a motorist, but it is another to put other people unnecessarily and improperly at risk. I am satisfied—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, for what he said—that we can leave it to the T.R.R.L. to see that this experiment is conducted in such a way that, at the end of it, we shall have information that is really useful.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, raised the question of damage to vehicles. Clearly, if motorists drive at excessive speed and ignore properly placed signs they must take the responsibility. I appreciate that he drew attention to the fact that all we are concerned with here is damage to tyres. There is clearly a very good reason for ensuring that we avoid damage to tyres. That is why the specifications are set out as they are. The humps will not be installed on high-speed roads; they will be so sited that approach at high speed is virtually impossible. I do not think we can be more specific that that.

I have been asked a number of questions and I do not know whether I can recall them all, although I have made notes of most of them. The attention of my right honourable friend will be drawn to everything that has been said, whether the Members of the Committee have supported the clause or have voiced disquiet about it. I am grateful for the support from the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. I think the noble Lord, Lord St. Helens, really answered the criticism voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. I do not think I want to add anything to what he had to say. I took particular note of what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, had to say regarding damage to ambulances. If every motorist drove as carefully as ambulance drivers, we should probably have far fewer accidents. The point was well made and was equally well taken. It is impracticable to cover in legislation all the matters that we should like, but I am sure Members of the Committee appreciate that the laboratory have great experience in research of this kind and can be relied upon to conduct operations on public roads with full regard to all considerations of safety. I appreciate the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has made this discussion possible. I hope he feels that it has been a valuable debate and will not, in the circumstances, wish to take this matter to a Division.


I am sure that the Committee appreciates the considered, thoughtful and generous way in which the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has dealt with this matter. We have talked about the road hump being five inches high. I think that five inches is probably too high, and it should be four inches. Subsection 7(a) says: … 5 inches above, or lower that surface by more than 2 inches below, the surface of the highway … It is conceivable that between the bottom of a recess and the top of the hump it may make a difference of seven inches. My only suggestion is that the noble Lord might think again and, at a later stage, possibly alter the wording of that subsection.


It would be churlish of me to say that we would not do so, but this matter has been much discussed and I have given an indication as to the probable height. It is thought that we ought to have the degree of flexibility that subsection 7(a) provides.


Can the noble Lord tell us what is envisaged regarding the width of these humps? That will obviously make a great difference in the difficulties created for the cars.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness, and I had in tended to make that point. When we talk about width, we probably mean length. As I understand it, it is likely to be 12 inches.


I am grateful to noble Lords who have supported me but on the word "experiment" I am afraid that I have no great faith in the Government's experiment. I call to mind the experiment over the 70 m.p.h. speed limit, which rapidly became permanent and which, so far as I can see, is still permanent. I am glad that this debate has raised interest regarding road safety which I feel is a vitally important matter. I am a vice-chairman of the R.A.C., but I was not aware that the R.A.C. had been consulted over this matter. I shortly have to go to a meeting there, and I will soon find out the details.

I am not at all satisfied. First, I am doubtful whether an experiment will ever come to an end. I have failed to relieve myself of that concern, but I have made a protest which I feel was well worth making. There is so much one would like to say on this matter, but I would be the last person to waste the time of the Committee on matters which do not interest all Members. There are various points that I might raise with the noble Lord at a later date, bearing in mind that I am prepared not to take this matter to a Division.


I should like to make a correction. I should have said "12 feet" and not "12 inches" earlier on. I am sure the Committee will have realised my slip of the tongue. If the noble Earl, Lord Howe, cares to write to me reasonably urgently, I will do what I can to see whether we can get replies to him before we reach the Report stage.


I am surprised that when the noble Lord referred to the two motoring organisations he did not include the British Motorcycle Federation as well. They are the people I am concerned about probably more than the motorist.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clauses 17 and 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [Variation of penalties for certain offences]:

5.29 p.m.

BARONESS PHILLIPS moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 26, line 16, at end insert— "(6) Notwithstanding the preceding provisions of this section or Schedules 5 to this Act the following provisions of the 1972 Act, namely, Section 2, section 5(1), section 5(2), section 6(1), section 6(2), section 9(3), section 25(4), and section 29 shall be deemed to be offences punishable with imprisonment for the purposes of:—
  1. (a) Section 20, Criminal Justice Act 1948 (as amended) (Borstal Training)
  2. (b) Section 4, Criminal Justice Act 1961 (as amended) (Detention of offenders aged 14 to 20)
  3. (c) Section 12, Criminal Justice Act 1961 (Return to Borstal on re-conviction)
  4. (d) Section 19, Criminal Justice Act 1948 (Attendance Centres)
  5. (e) Section 60, Mental Health Act 1959 (Hospital or Guardianship Orders)
  6. (f) Section 67, Mental Health Act 1959 (Restriction Order in respect of a Hospital Order)
  7. (g) Section 15, Criminal Justice Act 1972 (Community Service Orders)
  8. (h) Section 26, Magistrates' Courts Act 1952 (Remand for Medical Reports)
  9. (i) Section 24(2)(a) Criminal Justice Act 1967 (To enable a warrant of arrest to be issued after conviction)".

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Janner, who is unfortunately abroad. I am very heartened that the three Ministers sitting on the Front Bench at the moment are all magistrates, as I am—I notice that one is leaving at this point—and therefore they have a consumer interest in this Amendment. It would be unnecessary, I think, to go over the whole of the debate which we had, very exhaustively, throughout the passage of this Bill on the previous occasion, but I do recall that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, seemed to think that we had a lust for imprisoning traffic offenders and that this was the sole purpose of moving this Amendment. As was reiterated by several of your Lordships who are magistrates, that was not the purpose at all. In order to retain the opportunity for various constructive alternatives to imprisonment it appears necessary to have power of imprisonment by the magistrates' courts for various dangerous road traffic offences.

I do not wish to go over the ground which will be covered by my noble friend Lady Macleod when she comes to her Amendment. I would only mention the one example I mentioned previously, which I still consider to be a very good one of a dangerous offence; namely, failure to stop and report after an accident. People have been left to die, and the kind of person who fails to stop and report is invariably, I would suggest, the hit-and-run driver.

In this Amendment we are emphasising the importance of the kind of constructive alternatives to imprisonment which need to be retained. I will not go through them all—they speak for themselves—but I will emphasise particularly the need to be able to refer for community service orders. It was your Lordships who, in a very enlightened way, originally debated the great value of community service orders and of the ability for the magistrates to be able to retain the attendance centres; and, of course, it is very important to emphasise that the magistrates' courts would not be able to issue a warrant of arrest after conviction if they did not retain powers of imprisonment as an alternative.

I would remind your Lordships that during the recent industrial dispute in Scotland it was an imprisonable offence to buy petrol. If that was introduced, and very rightly, during that time of stress, it seems to me that offences which are offences against the person in many cases are equally important and in many cases much more so. People, I would suggest, will always be more important than property. There is at the moment a suggestion that there should be an expert inquiry into the laws on dangerous driving, particularly those on driving under the influence of drink. It therefore seems the wrong moment to remove from the magistrates the power of imprisonment as an alternative.

I was very heartened by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, appeared to accept an earlier Amendment, even though there seemed to be still some debate whether it should be accepted by those who had proposed it. I therefore hope that he will influence his noble friend who is to reply to take the same line on this, because I should not like to have to attempt to divide the House against my own Front Bench. I do not think this is a reasonable request and I am very surprised that with all the useful additions to the Bill, the fact that seat belts have been brought in, that non-parking on pavements has been brought in, several things which were subjects of Amendments, this still seems to remain a stumbling block.

On behalf of the magistrates—who if I may say so with some due sense of humility, serve the community in a very remarkable way when we consider the amount of time and care which they devote to their work, all as a voluntary piece of service—I would say that they will not exercise the power of imprisonment unless they are absolutely certain that there is no other way of dealing with a case. But they are particularly anxious to retain the constructive alternative. For that reason I beg to move this Amendment.

5.35 p.m.


This is familiar ground to your Lordships, because we have been over it before and we spent a good deal of time in considering this matter. On that occasion my noble friend Lady Phillips, if I remember—and I am speaking entirely from memory—said on December 4 that she herself saw no merit in sending people to prison. I think that is the substance of what she said. It is true that in the present oil situation a crisis has arisen and in that kind of situation crisis measures have to be taken, and I do not think, if I may say so with respect, that we can equate the position which we are discussing now with an emergency situation which we hope will not be with us for much longer and for which any legislation that has been passed will probably disappear.

The difference between the Government—and I want to put the Government's point of view—and my noble friend can be summarised fairly quickly and simply. Noble Lords may well ask: what is the issue before us? The issue is one upon which there was considerable agreement between my right honourable friend the present Home Secretary and his predecessor, Mr. Robert Carr, both of whom wanted—and certainly my right honourable friend wants now—a general penal policy which will reduce the scope of imprisonment and, if possible, the prison population.

I think we must ask ourselves whether the penalties of imprisonment which one finds in the Acts at the present moment are serving any useful purpose at all. It is true that magistrates at the present time have the power in certain cases to commit to prison, but I would remind your Lordships that of a total of motoring offences amounting to over 150,000 something like 120,000 were dealt with by fines. If we take the example of persons convicted of being in charge of a motor vehicle while unfit through drink or drugs, 104 of them were found guilty, of whom 98 were fined. If we think of persons convicted of driving while unfit through drink or drugs, there were over 5,000 found guilty of whom 4,994 were fined.

The argument that magistrates should have the ultimate sanction to send people to prison may in itself be a good argument but, frankly, it is not a sanction which is used to any extent whatsoever. The present Bill provides an opportunity of doing so in respect of a numerically large number of offences for which, I agree, the magistrates' use of imprisonment is proportionately very low; and that is my reason for quoting the figures. At the same time, it enables the Government to relieve the Crown Courts of a large number of cases which do not need to be tried there but for which the defendant has a right to elect jury trial because the maximum summary penalty exceeds three months' imprisonment. The most serious offences remain triable on indictment; in other words, the most serious offences under this Bill will remain triable on indictment; namely, in the Crown Courts, but it will be at the instance of the prosecution, and the Crown Court's powers, including imprisonment, are undiminished by this Bill. It means that there will be an onus on the prosecution to ask the court of summary jurisdiction to send a specific case for trial if in the opinion and the knowledge possessed by the prosecution this is one that should go to the Crown Court for more severe penalties than the magistrates' court will be empowered to impose under this Bill. It seems that this is the right way of dealing with it.

Particular anxiety has been expressed about the loss of the custodial powers for juvenile and young adult offenders, but, as I tried to point out to your Lordships a moment or two ago, if one examines the criminal statistics one sees they show that magistrates' use of these powers in relation to road traffic offences has been very limited indeed and not so different from the use of custodial powers in adult cases as to make young offenders a class apart in this respect. It is a fact that magistrates' courts impose prison sentences both for under-21s and for over-21s on very rare occasions. As I tried to point out to your Lordships just now, when serious cases are coming before the magistrates' courts, where the question of depriving a person of his liberty should be taken into account, then all the prosecution has to do is to ask for the case to be remitted to the Crown Court. The argument may be advanced that fines are inappropriate or unenforceable in the case of young persons, particularly juveniles. But if this is so, the existing pattern of sentencing is hard to explain, since fines, as I pointed out, remain by far the most common sentence for this age group and, together with discharges, probation and supervision orders, embrace all but a small proportion of sentences on those between 14 and 21.

To turn to another point, the recently published Report of the Advisory Council on the Penal System of Young Adult Offenders favours an increased emphasis on non-custodial treatment. The Home Secretary has welcomed the Report in principle. Yet I must tell the Committee that what is being proposed in these Amendments to-day flies totally in the face of the general approach of the Advisory Council which was set up to consider matters such as this. We must ask ourselves in the light of the knowledge we have—and we have a great deal of knowledge—whether a short prison sentence has any real effect to the good on people on whom it is imposed. This is not an indictment of a prison sentence. The whole value of committing a person to prison takes into account whether he needs some kind of training which will help him to lead a better life on return to the community. But the kind of prison sentences which are proposed are, I submit, unlikely to have that effect.

The Government are satisfied on a matter of general penal policy that, with the exception of driving while disqualified, offences under the Road Traffic Act should cease to carry imprisonment on summary conviction with all that that entails. I want to make it perfectly clear that this does not apply to driving while disqualified. The Government, indeed both sides of your Lordships' Chamber, came to the conclusion that this was a serious matter that had to be dealt with in a serious manner, and so the policy does not include driving while disqualified. It is worth repeating that in respect of the most serious offences not only imprisonment but a whole range of other powers, both custodial and non-custodial, will remain available if the person is convicted on indictment; namely, found guilty in the Crown Court. The Government have every confidence in the ability of prosecuting authorities to select those cases which are serious enough to warrant trial by jury in the Crown Court. This is often done, as magistrates will know, in other kinds of cases which come before magistrates' courts when the prosecuting solicitor or counsel asks for this or that particular case to be committed for trial.

It may be suggested that the Bill is premature—in fact I think my noble friend Lady Phillips said so—in seeking in effect to alter the distribution of work between the magistrates' court and the Crown Court at a time when a Committee is sitting, under the chairmanship of Lord Justice James, to consider exactly this question. But I do not believe that this is the case. I must point out to your Lordships that the James Committee are not concerned with statutory penalties. And, although it is part of the Bill's purpose to relieve the Crown Court of the burden of straightforward road traffic cases which come to it as a result of the defendant's right to elect jury trial in many instances, the Government's principle motive in including in the Bill penalty provisions is one of penal policy; namely, the desire to reduce the scope of imprisonment wherever this can be done without endangering public safety. I would suggest that this is desirable.

If we are bothered, as many of us are, about the increase in crime among the 17 to 21 age group, or even the 14 to 17 age group, we may have to ask ourselves whether some form of non-custodial treatment is not far better than some form of custodial treatment. The attendance centre has been mentioned. I believe I am right in saying that there are only two attendance centres in the country—I repeat, only two. Detention centres have been mentioned. Anyone who knows the functioning of a detention centre I think will have grave doubts as to whether it serves the useful purpose that many of us hoped it would serve. I suggest there are other ways of dealing with this question, and one way is to continue fining, in appropriate cases, and to use the non-custodial methods that are open to magistrates to deal with our young offenders. I ask your Lordships to resist these Amendments.

5.48 p.m.


The Minister appeared to be covering some of the later Amendments, which I rather avoided doing. I will still avoid it and keep to the one Amendment we are discussing. Perhaps I am not very bright, but it seemed to me that he was trying to have it both ways—although when I say "he" I am, of course, referring to the Government and not to the Minister personally. On the one hand he was arguing that magistrates did not use these powers much and with this I would agree. But in the next breath he said that it was part of a penal policy that we did not want to put so many people in prison. Since magistrates were not putting them in prison, I could not quite follow how the retention of this opportunity would aggravate the situation. Also, I could not follow—again, I am subject to correction—the Minister's point about referral to the Crown Courts. I have been sitting in court this morning and, as I understand it, when one refers to another court for punishment one is not allowed to specify the kind of punishment; this must he left to the Crown Court. So if the magistrates wanted a community service order (and incidentally I did not mention the other one), or an attendance centre order, they would not be able to specify that; they would have to leave the punishment to the Crown Court, which might well take an entirely different line, a much more severe line. Therefore, I do not think that this is a legitimate point.

I agree, and I have said each time I have spoken on this matter, that the magistrates have not sent many people to prison, but I do not regard that as a legitimate argument for taking away completely the powers of imprisonment. If we are to apply this argument this might well go through our whole structure of law; because certain things are not done, there is no need to have any powers of deterrent at all. The magistrates are concerned about these other angles to this matter. If there was a way of disentangling the fact that it has to be connected with their powers of imprisonment, I am sure they would be happy. But since this is the ultimate sanction I would say at this time—and I was not referring to the James Committee when I said that another Committee was sitting, it is this new Committee of Inquiry that I was referring to—that I still feel that this is not the moment to make a major change like this.

When we discussed the Bill before, the Minister said that he would look at it, and he came back with some not very convincing answers which have been repeated today. Can I ask him—I am very reluctant to divide the Committee on this—whether my noble friend would be a little more flexible on this matter? Is his right honourable friend so completely tied to the idea that he is not even prepared to listen to the voices of a number of responsible people who have been carrying out their duties with great care for many years? He did not appear to me to give me a crumb of hope at all, but can I ask him, before I make a final decision, whether his right honourable friend is prepared to look at this matter?


Can I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether the matter we are now discussing is about whether we should preserve the penalty of imprisonment for offences under Schedule 5, Part I? If that is so, I should like to say a word about it. The noble Baroness informs me that that was her intention. It has been the habit during this debate to declare one's interest as a magistrate. I was a magistrate for over 25 years, and I still am. I have not hesitated to send people to prison when I thought that they were guilty of some wicked offence. I have abstained from sending them to prison when it was a matter of forgetfulness, carelessness, or a minor offence. That is the general mental attitude that I have adopted during more than a quarter of a century on the Bench. But it seems to me that if we are to restore the penalty of imprisonment, and the right of magistrates to impose that penalty of imprisonment for some of the very minor offences enumerated in Schedule 5, Part I, then we are guilty of doing something of a regressive nature.

If your Lordships will look at pages 42 and 43 of the Bill, which contain Schedule 5, Part I, you will see certain offences. My noble friend, the Government, and the Bill, propose to abolish sentence of imprisonment for these offences. My noble friend Lady Phillips, who has an even kinder heart than I have in most matters, proposes that the penalty of imprisonment should still be available to magistrates. Let us look at the kind of offences we are discussing. Contravention of regulations as to conduct of passengers in public service vehicles. I suppose some young people, and probably some old people, do not conduct themselves with the requisite degree of propriety while travelling on a bus, but ought we to send them to prison for that? The Bill proposes to increase the fine from £20 to £100, and I should think that that was appropriate in those circumstances.

Another of these offences for which it is suggested imprisonment ought to be preserved is that of an unlicensed person driving, or acting as a conductor of a public service vehicle, or the employment of such a person. If I went along and got a job as a bus conductor without having been licensed for that purpose, surely it would be going a bit far to send me to prison, or to imprison my employer? I think that it is sufficient, as the Bill suggests, to increase the fine for that offence from £20 to £100.

We have another of these offences for which it is suggested that imprisonment is a proper penalty; failure to give notice to the traffic commissioners of failure in, damage to, or alteration of a public service vehicle. Imagine for a moment that I operate, for the benefit of my neighbours in surrounding villages, a small public service vehicle—one of these little buses that take a dozen people. Suppose that I am a kind hearted owner of this small bus and I do not like the way the passengers are bumped about on the seats. Suppose that I, of my own volition, out of the kindness of my heart, put cushions on these scats. What have I done? I have altered this public service vehicle, and so I could be sent to prison, under the suggestion of my noble friend Lady Phillips. I should have thought that the £20 fine to be increased to £100 fine under the Bill is adequate for the kind of horrible offence that I have committed!

There is another offence for which it is suggested that we should send people to prison, contravention of regulations providing for control of the number of passengers in a public service vehicle. Here again let us visualise me in the capacity of conductor of a bus. It is supposed to accommodate 40 people. By some accident in the heat of the moment, the hustle and bustle of the busy time of day, I have allowed 41 people to get on that bus, and I have not ordered off that 41st person. At the present moment I can be fined £20, which is probably generous; the Bill suggests that I should be fined £100, which perhaps is appropriate. But I do not think that it would be appropriate that I should be sent to prison for that offence.


I wonder whether my noble friend would give way? This is an interesting argument he is pursuing, but I should like to point out that I am not actually restoring anything, I am trying to maintain the status quo. Since the noble Lord, as a magistrate, has been part of this system, it is extraordinary that he has allowed what he considers these injustices to have gone on so long without coming to your Lordships' House to suggest modifications much earlier.


In my 25 years on the Bench I have never allowed politics to interfere with my judicial capacity. I enforce the law as it is. Let us note more of these terrifying penalties to be imposed on people. Failure of driver to produce work ticket on demand by police. I might have been so busy driving the bus that I have not had time to prepare my work ticket. At the moment I could be fined £20, or sent to prison. This is a reform in the other direction; I could only be fined £100 in the future. There are several other offences of that kind which might be due to carelessness, to the fact that the bus driver, or conductor, or proprietor was not sufficiently observant of the law, and that he deserved to be punished. I feel that the proper punishment in those cases is a financial penalty and not the threat of a man being sent to prison. I regard this Amendment as a most regressive step.

5.58 p.m.


I regret that we are getting into a hopeless muddle on this matter. If I correctly understand the Amendment that the noble Baroness has moved, it is not proposed to maintain the status quo, and it is not proposed that the magistrates should retain the right to send people to prison for any offence except for that of driving while disqualified. In the debate we had on the previous Bill we then argued as to whether it was right to deprive the magistrates of the powers they have had in the past to send people to prison for a variety of road traffic offences. We debated that matter at length. For reasons best known to them, the people who were then proposing that the status quo should be maintained, and the magistrates should retain their powers to send people to prison for these offences, have not on this occasion pursued that argument on the Amendment.

The effect of the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Janner, is that they have accepted Clause 19 as it stands. That is the clause which removes from magistrates the right to send people to prison for road traffic offences, with the single exception of driving while disqualified. It states— Notwithstanding the preceding provisions of this section or Schedule 5 to this Act the following provisions of the 1972 Act, namely", and goes on to set out certain Sections which deal with types of road traffic offences. It says that for those purposes those Sections of the Criminal Justice Act, shall be deemed to be offences punishable with imprisonment for the purposes of certain other Sections of the Criminal Justice Act and other Statutes.

The movers of this Amendment have put it in that way, because they want to be able to retain this variety of alternatives to imprisonment, especially for dealing with young offenders. Therefore, they are not asking that imprisonment shall be retained by magistrates as a punishment for traffic offences. They are saying that certain serious offences shall be regarded as offences which are deemed to be punishable by imprisonment for the purposes of these other Acts. I am afraid that the whole of the speech which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland—much as we enjoyed it—is wholly irrelevant to what we are discussing to-day. I should have thought that we should be directing our minds to the subject matter of the Amendment.


I did not get a reply from my noble friend, or any crumb of comfort. I am in some dilemma because this is not really my Amendment. But as we have yet another stage of the Bill, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.4 p.m.

On Question, whether Clause 19 shall stand part of the Bill?


Before we dispose of this clause, may I take the opportunity of drawing the Committee's attention to a matter that is different from those we have been discussing? I believe that although it is a legal point it is one of general interest and importance, and of some consequence not only to lawyers but also to laymen and all people who are interested in the proper administration of the criminal law. I hope to draw the attention of the Committee to some of the consequences which would follow from passing this clause into effect, which may not be apparent when it is first looked at.

I was attempting to say just now that what this clause does is to take away from the magistrates the powers which they have hitherto enjoyed—if "enjoyed" is the right word—of sending people to prison for certain types of traffic offences, the only exception to withdrawal of that authority being the case of the person who drives while disqualified. That is what the clause appears to do and indeed does. Before the Committee allows this clause to slip through, I want to draw attention to certain serious consequences which I believe will result if it passes and becomes the law of the land. This question as to whether it is right to take away from magistrates the power of imprisonment for road traffic offences is one which we have debated at considerable length in the past, and it is an important matter. But it is not the point to which I want to address myself to-day.

I believe that there is hidden away here—not deliberately—a legal point of much more moment than the question whether or not we ought to leave the magistrates with the right to send people to prison for road traffic offences; that is the important principle of when, and in what circumstances, a citizen should have the right to elect to be tried by jury. May I attempt to explain to the Committee, if they do not already have the point, how that question arises under this clause? In this country, as all lawyers will know—and I shall try to simplify the matter—for the purpose of considering before what tribunal or court criminal offences are to be tried, you can divide them into three categories.

First, there is the indictable offence which can be tried, if it is in contention, only before a judge and jury at the Crown Court. There is then what is called by some people the intermediate offence; that is, an offence which can be dealt with either on indictment before a judge and jury, or summarily in certain circumstances by a magistrate. The third category is the summary offence which, subject to one vital qualification, is the sole prerogative and business of the magistrates' courts. The vital qualification—and this applies as much to the intermediate offence as to the summary offence—is that as the law stands at the moment, and as it has stood for very many years (indeed, if my recollection is right, throughout the whole of my professional life of something like forty years) the test as to whether a person has a right to be tried by a jury is whether, if he were dealt with before a magistrate, he would be liable at the hands of that magistrate to a term of imprisonment in excess of three months. That is the classic test by which it has been decided over the years whether an individual has a right to carry his case to a jury.

The layman may think that that is not unreasonable. Perhaps that is not a sensible way of drawing the line between the cases where a man ought to have the right to go to a jury, and those where he ought not. That test is embodied to-day in Section 25 of the Magistrates Courts Act 1952. I doubt whether anybody would dispute that, whether or not that test is the right one and a good one, the question as to when and in what circumstances an individual should have the right to claim trial by jury is of considerable constitutional and criminal law importance.

I want to show the Committee how this clause impinges upon the right to claim trial by jury. As we know, with one single exception, the clause completely takes away from the magistrates the right to send people to prison for a road traffic offence. In doing that, it takes away from the magistrates the power to send people to prison in those cases where they have hitherto been able to send people to prison for a period of more than three months. Therefore, the effect of doing this is not only to deprive magistrates of the power to send people to prison, but automatically, at the same time, to deprive the individual of the right to claim trial by jury, which he has previously had, because the magistrates can no longer send him to prison at all; and, therefore, ipso facto they cannot send him to prison for a period of more than three months. So that what this clause does is to make inroads into the long-standing principle that if a person is in peril of going to prison for more than three months at the hands of the magistrates, he should then have the right to claim trial by jury.

I would ask the question: does it matter? If we are going to change the law and deny the right of people to claim trial by jury, does it matter if we deprive them of it in this way? I suggest that it matters a great deal, and for three reasons. First, I do not suppose the Committee will be surprised to hear that almost all the offences under the various Road Traffic Acts, for which a man is now liable to be sent to prison for more than three months by the magistrates, are offences of dishonesty. They are offences such as making false statements for the purpose of obtaining a licence or an insurance certificate; they are offences of telling lies; they are offences of falsifying documents. In fact, they are not road traffic offences at all; they are offences of dishonesty, and it is in these cases that one will find almost exclusively that the Legislature has seen fit to allow the magistrates to impose a penalty of four months' imprisonment, in order that the accused person, the defendant, might have the right to claim trial by jury.

Let the Committee clearly understand what they will be doing if they pass this clause. They will be removing the right of a person who is charged with falsifying a document, with making a false representation for the purpose of obtaining a licence, or with knowingly making a false statement for the purpose of obtaining an insurance certificate, to trial by jury. Does it matter? I suggest that it matters a great deal, because when we are dealing with offences of dishonesty the penalty which is eventually imposed by a court on conviction is very often the least part of the punishment which the person undergoes. A conviction for an offence of dishonesty, falsification of documents, misrepresentation or knowingly making a false statement can smash a person's career and preclude him for ever from gaining employment in occupations where integrity and honesty are essential. Is it right that we should deprive these people of the right to be tried for such offences by their peers and by a jury? That is what this Committee is being invited to do.

The second reason why I suggest that it matters a very great deal whether or not we take away this right which has been previously enjoyed is this. I suggest to the Committee that if we do this and make it impossible for the person who is accused of making a false statement in connection with a traffic offence to claim the right to be tried by jury we are going to create absurd anomalies in the law. If you are going to say to the person who is charged with making a false statement about an offence which has a traffic connotation that he has no right to go to a jury, what about the people who make false statements in other fields? They will remain able to go to a jury. If a person makes a false statement for the purpose of obtaining a medical certificate he has the right to trial by jury, because under the existing law he is liable to four months' imprisonment at the hands of the magistrates. What about the person who is alleged to have stolen a milk bottle from a doorstep? He will have the right to go to a jury under the Theft Act, because he is liable before the magistrates to six months' imprisonment. What about the alleged shoplifter who purloins a packet of sweets? He or she will be entitled to claim trial by jury. But the person who is alleged to have made a false statement for the purpose of obtaining insurance under this clause—and could there be a more serious allegation?—will be deprived of the right to trial by his peers.

The third reason why I suggest that in this clause we are engaged upon a most dangerous course is this. Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, to the fact that for some years past we have had sitting the James Commission, presided over by Lord Justice James. What are the terms of reference of that Commission? Why are they there? They are there to consider the distribution of business in the criminal courts between the magistrates' courts and the Crown Courts, and they have issued a working document for public consumption which tries to explain their task. They have made it perfectly plain beyond a peradventure that they regard as absolutely essential to their deliberations the question of when and in what circumstances a man should have the right to claim trial by jury. Whatever the noble Lord may say about it, they have said that that question is central to the remit that they have received.

I do not know what the James Commission will eventually recommend. Indeed, I do not know what will be the future of the jury system in this country. These are grave matters which are the subject matter at the moment, and they are in the melting pot of public discussion and debate. But although I do not know what the James Commission will recommend, I am tolerably sure that I know what they are not going to recommend. What they are not going to recommend is that a person who falsifies a document for some road traffic purpose should not have a right to trial by jury, but that somebody who falsifies a document for the purpose of getting a medical certificate or for the purpose of getting a social security payment should have the right to trial by jury. That is the one thing I am confident that the James Commission are not going to do. But that is precisely what the Committee is now being asked to do in the posture and situation which it is being invited to adopt by this clause.


The noble Lord, Lord Foot, is persuasive, but is he right in implying, as I think he has implied, that people who have committed dishonest acts in point of fact always have the right to be tried by judge and jury? I do not think that that is the position. I believe there are many road traffic offences with an element of dishonesty that have never been triable on indictment. I can think of only one at present, that of a person using a false coin in a parking meter, perhaps not a serious offence but nevertheless one which has an element of dishonesty in it. I am wondering whether the noble Lord is saying that the power to imprison should be retained simply to allow jury trial. As the noble Lord said, it may well be that this is a longstanding principle in this country; but Parliament makes the laws and Parliament, surely, has the right to change them. I concede it is a matter for your Lordships as to whether or not we should pursue this matter. But the right to claim trial by jury exists only in a certain number of cases. It is not open to every person in every type of offence, albeit a criminal offence. Because it is to be found in some areas and not in others, I do not think one can argue that this is a longstanding principle which has got to be maintained. It is a matter for Parliament.

In the last analysis, what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, is saying, at least by implication, is that trial in a magistrate's court leaves something to be desired, and that trial in the Crown Court, before a judge and jury, is to be preferred. I would hope he is not implying that, because in the last analysis people have a right of appeal in a magistrates' court, and many of them do appeal. But I should not have thought that this should hang on the question of the right of a person to trial by jury. I believe this to be a matter on which Parliament must decide, as it has decided in the past, to change the law. This might seem to be an opportunity when a change is desirable.


On the question as to whether a trial in the superior court is more desirable, does it not occur to the Minister that when there is a jury trial in the High Court, there is a tran script of the whole of the proceedings? Every word which is uttered by the experienced judge to the jury before they arrive at their verdict appears in the transcript. If the judge makes a mistake there is an appeal to the Court of Appeal, who can scrutinise every word that the learned judge addressed to the jury before that jury arrived at their decision. This gives enormous protection to people who may possibly have been wrongly convicted in a jury trial.

Compare that with the position of the Divisional Court of the High Court trying to do justice on appeal from a decision in a magistrates' court. Here there exists no such transcript of what took place in the magistrates' court. Of course, the magistrates do their best to provide notes for the High Court to arrive at a just decision on appeal; but there is no comparison at all between that and the careful scrutiny of a transcript by the Court of Appeal of every word that was said in the trial before someone was convicted by a jury.


I am grateful to my noble friend for coming to my aid in this. I should like just to add to what he has said about comparison between trial before the magistrates and a trial in the High Court before judge and jury. I would add only that if one is tried by magistrates and has no right to go to a jury, and one is compelled to be tried by the magistrates for an offence of dishonesty, one can be convicted on a majority of two to one. I would ask the noble Lord this question. Supposing a son of his were accused of a crime of dishonesty, making a false statement for the purpose of obtaining an insurance certificate, would the noble Lord be content to allow that matter to be decided by a magistrates' court? Would he be content to deprive his son of the right of trial by his peers, trial by jury? If the noble Lord would be content, well, so be it. But I wonder how many Members of the House would be content to allow a matter of that kind (which might wreck the career of a young man or woman) to be decided perhaps by a majority of three magistrates, with no right of appeal at all to a jury.

I suggest that these are serious matters. My only concern is to make sure that this Committee understands what it is doing, and what it is being invited to do. This Committee is being invited to draw a clear distinction between dishonesty in relation to some road traffic offence, and dishonesty in relation to any other kind of offence. In most other kinds of dishonesty there will remain the right to be tried by jury, because there will remain a power for the magistrates to impose a penalty of more than three months' imprisonment. But under this clause, we are saying that false statements, telling lies, if they have some sort of traffic connotation, are going to deprive the accused person of the right to trial by jury. On what possible grounds can this sort of anomaly be defended? I am not going to try to carry this to a Division, but I cannot feel satisfied that I have received any sort of answer from the Front Bench. If I could get even a hint that the Government will be prepared to look at this matter again before the next stage, I should be happy to leave it there, but it is surely quite inadequate that the matter should be left as it stands at present.


May I intervene briefly, because the noble Lord, Lord Foot, drew the attention of the Government Front Bench to the James Committee, and I have not heard the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, answer that point in the course of this discussion. This is a matter that I raised on Second Reading. I read out the precise terms of reference, and made the point that this clause was interfering with a Committee set up by the previous Government, and kept in being by this Government. In my submission, this is a matter that should be of concern to your Lordships. It is also a matter of added concern to me because, as from last Tuesday, I have a certain interest in Government Committees on certain aspects of road traffic law.


I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, was not present when I referred to the James Committee. My recollection is that I said the James Committee is not concerned with statutory penalties. Although it is part of the purpose of the Bill to relieve the Crown Court of the burden of straightforward road traffic cases which in many instances come to it as a result of the right of the defendant to elect for jury trial, the Government's principal motive in including the penalty provision in the Bill is one of penal policy; but we do not know at this stage what the findings of the James Committee will be. As I have said, that Committee is not solely concerned with statutory penalties.

I do not know that I am going to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Foot. As I tried to point out, the purpose of the Government in opposing what is before us, and in opposing Amendments Nos. 20, 21, 22 and 23, is to some extent to relieve the congestion in the Crown Court, and also to deal with those matters which it is felt can be done adequately in the magistrates' court.

I want to say at this stage that I take the noble Lord's point with regard to conviction by a two to one Bench, as against a jury, but the noble Lord will not want me to tell him that anybody who is convicted in the magistrates' court has a right of appeal, and many of them exercise that right of appeal.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but he knows as well as I do that while you can of course appeal against a magistrates' court decision, you can never get before a jury unless you have gone to the Crown Court on committal in the first place. The only person you can appeal to is the judge in the Crown Court.


This is perfectly true, but perhaps the noble Lord attaches far more importance to the matter of trial by jury than do some other people. I do not know that we are going to resolve this satisfactorily this evening. The Government feel very strongly about this position, as did the previous Government. In the circumstances, all I can say is that by all means we will look at this matter again, but it would be wrong of me to hold out any hope that there is likely to be any change in this matter. I think it is only fair for me to say that this has been looked at carefully by the previous Government and it has been looked at carefully by the present Government, and there is an almost complete identity of view so far as the two bodies are concerned on this matter. But I should like to read at leisure what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and others have said and see whether there is anything we can do. This is all I can say at this stage.


I know nothing about legal matters and this is largely a legal dialogue, or to a large extent it is. I appreciate the difficulty in which my noble friends are placed because we have nobody on the Front Bench, so far as I am aware, who is acquainted with every aspect of legal questions that arise. I have observed in the past, when legal questions are raised, that usually on the Opposition Bench there is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, an ex-Lord Chancellor, an expert on the law, and various other legal luminaries. But on our side nobody appears. I wonder whether in considering what ought to be done—my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell has suggested, quite rightly, that the matter will be looked at—it would be possible, before the matter comes before your Lordships' House again, to have somebody available representing Her Majesty's Government who is fully appraised of all these legal subtleties in order to assist people like myself.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, for that intervention, and I should like to say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for what he has said. I recognise that he cannot go further at this stage, and I should like to put it on Record that he was answering what I had to say without any previous notice that I was to speak on this subject. I recognise the difficulty in which he finds himself. If it would assist the noble Lord, I would be quite happy, before the next stage, to put down an appropriate Amendment so that the Government will have full notice. It is difficult to devise an Amendment, because I am in sympathy generally with the wish of the Government to remove the penalty of imprisonment for road traffic offences. I would take it away from the Crown Court, too, for most traffic offences. Indeed I would not make careless driving an offence at all, but that is another matter.

I am, therefore, in sympathy with the desire of the Home Secretary and his predecessor to stop sending people to prison unnecessarily, and I can think of no field where people are sent more unnecessarily to prison than in the field of road traffic offences. But having said that, I think that taking away this power of imprisonment from the magistrates, with the consequences which flow from it which I have attempted to describe, makes it almost impossible to put down an Amendment to the Bill which will accomplish the two purposes, the purpose the Government have in mind of preventing magistrates sending people to prison, and the purpose I have in mind, which is to defend the right of the individual charged with an offence of dishonesty to be tried by jury. I will try to do it between now and the next stage, in order that the matter can be further discussed.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I can see close to him two, if not three, other members of the Bar, and it should not be beyond the ability of noble Lords there to put down an appropriate Amendment. So far as the Government are concerned, we realise that certain noble Lords feel strongly about this matter. We would be glad to have all the help we can get in this matter. If it can be dealt with by an Amendment or Amendments, I hope noble Lords will put them down. If not, perhaps there can be some other form of communication before the next stage.

On Question, Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Interpretation]


I beg to move Amendment No. 19, which is consequential on my Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 which the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, was good enough to accept. I hope he will be able to accept this one. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 26, line 29, at end insert— ("( ) In sections (Certain small vehicles not to he public service vehicles) and (Modifications of provisions relating to permits for certain bus services) above expressions used to which meanings are assigned by subsection (I) of section 257 of the 1960 Act have in those sections the meanings assigned to them by that subsection.").—(Lord Aberdare.)


As I was pleased not to oppose the earlier Amendments, I would not wish to oppose this one.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Schedules 1 to 4 agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Variation of penalties for certain offences]:

BARONESS MACLEOD OF BORVE moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 50, line 20, leave out lines 20 to 22.

The noble Baroness said: In the unavoidable absence of the noble Lord, Lord Janner, I beg leave to move these Amendments. I am well aware that the Government may not treat them in the same conciliatory way that they have treated other Amendments moved by my noble friends this afternoon. These Amendments to Schedule 5 are aimed to retain the power of the magistrates to imprison an offender for driving while unfit through drink and drugs, tampering with a motor vehicle, failing to stop after an accident (hit and run), or dangerous driving. The only offence for which an offender will be able to receive a term of imprisonment from the magistrates' court is that of driving while disqualified. I hope that the Government realise—we have been over this ground so often before—that no magistrate wants to send an offender to prison. In fact, in regard to the offences in Clause 19 and Schedule 5 it is very rare indeed for a defendant to be imprisoned.

In 1972—the noble Lord gave these figures earlier but in a different way, so perhaps he will excuse me—for dangerous and reckless driving there were 6,241 convictions, from which only 36 people were sent to prison. For driving in the same period with an excess of drink or drugs, there were 43,836 convictions out of which only 317 were sent to prison. But my colleagues on the Bench feel that the powers of imprisonment should be retained as a deterrent. If you take away from the magistrates the power to send people to prison, an accused person will not have the right to elect to trial by jury.

Here I must say how very grateful I was for the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Foot. An accused person will have to be tried by a magistrates' court. If the power to imprison is removed, then borstal training, detention order centres, the return to borstal after conviction, attendance centre orders, hospital and guardianship orders, restriction orders, community service orders, remands for medical reports, and even—as the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said—the power to issue a warrant to secure an offender's presence after conviction will not be able to be used by the magistrates, and everything will be left to fines. Fines are not suitable in a large number of cases. The very young offender who is earning a small amount of money, but who as we all know on the benches, is liable to kick over the traces and quickly tot up a lot of these very serious convictions, cannot pay an adequate fine. No court would impose one. In our view, a short, sharp lesson may often be the only way to make them realise that laws are meant to be obeyed.

I realise that everyone—and that includes magistrates—wants to reduce the prison population. We also want to reduce the number of people appearing before the Crown Courts. From the figures I gave earlier, it will be seen that road traffic offenders in 1972 formed only a tiny percentage of the prison population. Those of us who are entrusted with the administration of justice and the magistrates' clerks who advise us, think it is wrong that Governments—and, I have to concede, both Governments—should tie our hands and make the work of the courts even more difficult than it is already. At the end of last year when we had this Road Traffic Bill, I made a lot of speeches on many aspects and I do not want at this late hour to delay your Lordships or to weary you. I do not think I shall add anything further. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has already indicated that the Government are not prepared to accede to these Amendments. Despite that, I beg to move this Amendment.


There is not a great deal that I can say in relation to what the noble Baroness has said that I have not said earlier to-day. I think I am right in saying that the noble Baroness is on a very different point from the noble Lord, Lord Foot. As I tried to explain earlier to-day, both sides—the last Government and this Government—have gone into this matter very carefully and (it must be a very unusual situation) find themselves in complete agreement. Along with the Party to which the noble Baroness belongs, we feel it is wrong to have a custodial sentence for motoring offences. We feel quite strongly that this problem can be dealt with in another way.


May I intervene here? The noble Lord said that as a matter of policy it is wrong to have custodial sentences for motoring offences. Will he bring into his mind the offence of causing death by dangerous driving, which has the addage to dangerous driving only that the victim, instead of being grievously injured, shall I say, is killed.


I pointed out that in a matter of that kind the prosecution can determine whether the case should go to the Crown Court.


There is no option here. The matter is obligatory. It is an indictable offence. It has to be taken to the Crown Court and the penalty is five years' imprisonment, if my memory serves me aright.


That being the case, I do not understand why the noble Lord made the point. I was referring to those cases which come before the magistrates' court, and what I am saying is that those cases will be dealt with in the magistrates' court, unless the prosecution has reason to believe that the nature of the offence—or unless there are some other reasons which I need not go into, but which will be apparent to your Lordships—is such that the matter should be referred to the Crown Court, where the penalties can be far greater. With that very good exception, which I mentioned earlier, and which does not include driving while disqualified, the Government feel it desirable to deal with motoring offences either by fine or by some form of supervision in the case of those under the age of 21.

With respect, I do not feel that I can add much to what I have already said. We have gone into this matter very carefully. I do not think that this is on a par with the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, because it is something quite different. I think it is desirable that the matter should be dealt with in this way, quite apart from relieving what is a considerable and growing congestion in the Crown Courts.


May I add one or two words to the argument? The Amendment with which we are dealing at the moment is to strike out lines 20 to 22 from page 50 of Schedule 5. In other words, it is to leave with the magistrates power to send somebody to prison for three months or to fine him £50, if a person is convicted of failing to stop after an accident and of failing to give particulars or to report an accident. That is what we are talking about at the moment. I can understand the Government's saying, "We are, as a matter of general principle, in favour of cutting down the number of custodial sentences which are passed upon people, and we think it is very appropriate to do this in the field of road traffic." I go along with that all the way. But the Government are entirely illogical about this, because what they are proposing to do is not to cut down the overall power in serious cases for the courts to send people to prison for these offences; they are merely intending to deprive the magistrates of the power to do it and, as the noble Lord has explained, in all cases which are regarded as of any seriousness by the prosecution what they can do is commit to the Crown Court. But the Government have no proposals for reducing the penalties that can be imposed in the Crown Court for these offences. They are wanting to maintain all the existing penalties in the Crown Court. This is wholly inconsistent with their general conception that we should try to stop sending people to prison, or stop sending them to prison for as long as we do, because we will then leave the Crown Court to go on doing exactly what it has been doing in the past.

When it comes to the question of relieving the Crown Court of the burden of work by depriving people of the right to be tried by a jury and to claim trial before the Crown Court, of course the opposite argument applies, that you are in fact likely actually to increase the amount of work thrown on the Crown Court because wherever you have a case where either the magistrate or the prosecutor think that a fine will not do they are left with nothing but to order that the case shall be committed for trial and it will go to the Crown Court. As a result you will have many cases going to the Crown Court which, under the present legislation, would be dealt with by the magistrates, because they would regard their powers as adequate. It is pure guesswork as to whether this provision will relieve the Crown Court or whether it will add to its work. My guess, along with that of the noble Baroness, may be just as good as the Government's guess.

There is no principle in this. I am not in favour of the magistrates retaining power to imprison for road traffic offences, but that is another matter. There is no principle involved. It is no good the Government pretending that they are acting on high principle, because if they were and they wanted to cut down the number of people in prison what they would be coming forward with in the Bill would be a general proposal for the reduction of penalties for road traffic offences right across the board, magistrates and Crown Court, too. Until the Government are prepared to take that attitude then they are making no contribution to penal reform.


I should like to support the noble Baroness in the Amendment. I feel the difference between our attitude to property and to people creates a curious anomaly. This morning before the particular court where I sit as a magistrate there appeared a large number of shoplifters and, as your Lordships will know, such offenders are presented with the proposition that they can elect to be tried by a higher court, although the magistrates still retain powers of imprisonment. So far as I know there has never been any suggestion that these powers should be removed from the magistrates; yet the particular offence we are discussing, which may well involve death or accident to an individual, is to be taken away from the magistrates.

There are certain areas where one could go right throughout the whole structure of various kinds of criminal justice and could find these different kinds of anomaly. I think there is still prevailing a feeling that failing to stop and report an accident is not very serious. At the risk of wearying your Lordships I would instance a case in which I personally was involved, where a car appeared out of the night and practically broke in half the car which I had just left outside my own home. One of my friends standing by it was injured and the car was damaged to such an extent that it had to be replaced totally. The driver involved disappeared into the night and we did not see him again; so far as I know he has never been found. But that was a clear case concerning either a drunken driver or a stolen car. It was a hit-and-run driver, who in my judgment commits a serious crime. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to this matter.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

6.55 p.m.

LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 64, line 10, after ("specified") insert ("and").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment, with Amendment No. 25, is to correct drafting defects in the Bill. I think there may he no need to take up your Lordships' time because what we want to do is to correct an error which we have recognised. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD GARNSWORTHY: I beg to move Amendment No. 25.

Amendment moved— Page 64, line 12, leave out from ("it") to end of line 13 and insert ("and, subject to such exceptions as may be so specified or determined").—(Lord Garnsworthy.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 26: Page 65, line 31, at end insert— ("13A.—(1) In section 161 of that Act (power of constables to require production of driving licences and statement of date of birth) at the end of subsection (4) (no offence committed if licence produced at a police station within five days) there shall be added the words "in respect of a failure to produce his licence.

(2) Nothing in sub-paragraph (1) above shall affect the operation of the said subsection (4) in relation to a requirement made by a constable before that sub-paragraph comes into operation.")

The noble Lord said: This Amendment corrects another defect in Section 161 of the Act of 1972 relating to the power of constables to require the production of driving licences and in certain cases a statement of date of birth. Subsection (4) makes it an offence to fail to comply with a lawful request to produce a driving licence or to state date of birth and enables the person to discharge such an offence by producing his driving licence at a nominated police station within five days. It is not appropriate that the offence of failing to state date of birth should be capable of being discharged in this way. In any case, production of the driving licence does not necessarily disclose the date of birth. The Amendment would enable an offence of failing to produce a driving licence, but not an offence of failing to make a statement of date of birth, to be discharged by the production of a driving licence at a nominated police station within five days. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 65, line 37, at end insert— ("14A. In section 179 of that Act (restrictions on prosecutions for certain offences) after subsection (3) there shall be inserted the following subsection:— (3A) The requirement of subsection (2) above shall not apply in relation to an offence it, at the time of the offence or immediately thereafter, an accident occurs owing to the presence on a road of the vehicle in respect of which the offence was committed."")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 27. There has been a very long-standing provision, which is unique to road traffic law, to the effect that the police must serve a notice of intended prosecution within a fortnight of the commission of certain listed offences unless the defendant has been warned at the time or receives a summons within 14 days. The reason for this provision was that in some cases a traffic offence may be witnessed, perhaps far from the defendant's home and in circumstances which he has no cause to remember; for instance, he may speed through a village ignoring the 30 m.p.h. limit and he may not have stopped at the time. Generally this procedure has served as a safeguard for the driver, giving him a chance to refresh his memory and to seek his own witnesses, but in the case of multiple accidents, like the motorway pileups, the police investigations may take over a fortnight and, meanwhile, they have to preserve the right to prose cute by serving notices on all who were involved. This procedure has caused distress to many who have been injured through no fault of their own. Following consultation with interested bodies, the Government have decided that it would not be generally acceptable to abolish notices of intended prosecution, but that it is reasonable to provide they are not necessary in the case of a driver who has been involved in an accident, since he has good reason to remember the circumstances. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.