§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Report of Amendments received.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON moved Amendment No. 1:
§ After Clause 5 insert the following new clause:
§ Traffic regulation
§ ".—(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as he thinks fit for prohibiting the stopping of vehicles on any part of a highway—
- (a) which lies within such distance of an urban junction as may be specified in the regulations, being a distance of not more than 30 and not less than 5 yards measured from such point as may be determined in accordance with the regulations; and
- (b) which is marked by means of a traffic sign in accordance with subsection (3) below.
§ (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, regulations under this section—
- (a) may make different provision in relation to different classes of urban junctions and may define any such class by reference to any characteristics of the junction or to any other circumstances whatsoever;
- (b) may exclude from the application of the regulations any part of a highway which is marked in accordance with, and is subject to any provision of, regulations made under section 23 of the 1967 Act (pedestrian crossings) and, where it is necessary in consequence of any such exclusion, may reduce the minimum distance specified in subsection (1)(a) above accordingly;
- (c) may provide that, in relation to vehicles of such classes as may be specified in the regulations, such provisions of the regulations as may be so specified shall not apply, or shall apply subject to such modifications as may be so specified;
- (d) may provide that, subject to such conditions, and in relation to an urban junction of such class, as may be so specified, the appropriate authority for any highway, in relation to the whole or any part of which the regulations apply, may in such manner and to such extent as may be provided in the regulations exclude the application of any provision of the regulations in relation to that highway;
- (e) may provide that, subject to such conditions as may be so specified, in any case where—
- (i) apart from any provision made by virtue of this paragraph, the part of any highway in relation to which the regulations apply does not extend for the maximum distance referred to in subsection (1)(a) above, and
- (ii) the appropriate authority for that highway determine that, having regard to the characteristics of the urban junction in question, it is desirable in the interests of road safety to extend the part of that highway to which the regulations apply by substituting for the distance specified in relation to that highway under subsection (1)(a) above such greater distance, not exceeding 30 yards, as may be specified by the authority,
- (f) may extend to any vehicle which is stopped in such circumstances that part only of the vehicle is on or projects over a part of a highway falling within paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) above.
§ (3) Regulations under this section shall make provision for identifying any part of a highway to which any provision of the regulations is for the time being to apply by means of a traffic sign of a type or character specified in the regulations (being a type prescribed or character authorised under section 54 of the 1967 Act) and for the time being lawfully in place; and for the purposes of any such regulations any such traffic sign placed on or near a highway shall be deemed to be lawfully in place unless the contrary is proved.
§ (4) Nothing in regulations under this section shall prohibit the stopping of a vehicle if and so long as it is stopped in accordance with—
- (a) the indication given by a traffic sign, or
- (b) any direction or permission given by a constable in uniform, or
- (c) any direction or permission given by any other person exercising a power conferred by or under any enactment to control, stop or otherwise regulate traffic, or
- (d) any requirement imposed by regulations under section 23 of the 1967. Act, or
- (e) any requirement arising under section 25 of the 1967 Act (stopping at school crossings),
§ (5) A person who causes or permits a vehicle to stop in contravention of regulations under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding.£100; and at the end of paragraph (g) of subsection (4) of section 69 of the Transport Act 1968 (conviction on numerous occasions of certain offences to be a ground for revoking, suspending or curtailing an operator's licence) there shall be 1327 added the words "or in regulations made under section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1974".
§ (6) In so far as regulations under this section prohibit the stopping of a vehicle on any part of a highway,—
- (a) the prohibition shall have effect not-withstanding any provision made under any enactment, other than section 23 of the 1967 Act, before the coming into operation of the regulations, being a provision designating as a parking place, or prohibiting or restricting the waiting or stopping of vehicles on, any portion of that part of the highway, and
- (b) to the extent that it conflicts with regulations under this section any such provision as is referred to in paragraph (a) above shall cease to have effect (but without prejudice to its continued operation with respect to things done or omitted to be done before the regulations came into force), and the highway authority shall, as soon as practicable, take such steps as are requisite for removing any traffic sign indicating that any such provision is in force with respect to the portion of the highway concerned.
§ (7) For the purposes of this section "urban junction" means a junction of two or more roads, at least one of which is a highway which—
- (a) is a restricted road for the purposes of section 71 of the 1967 Act (30 m.p.h. speed limit); or
- (b) is subject to an order under section 74 of that Act imposing a speed limit not exceeding 40 m.p.h.; or
- (c) is subject to a speed limit not exceeding 40 m.p.h. which is imposed by or under any local Act.
(8) In this section—
appropriate authority", in relation to any highway, means the authority having power, otherwise than by virtue of section 84A (reserve powers) of the 1967 Act, to make an order under section 1 or section 6 of that Act, in relation to that highway,
road" means any length of road,
§ and subsections (1) and (2) of section 104 of the 1967 Act (interpretation) and section 107 of that Act (exercise of regulation making powers and parliamentary control thereover) shall apply as if this section were included in that Act."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1. Your Lordships will already have heard me several times moving this Amendment and I must apologise to the House that it appeared so late. That was not altogether our fault. We put it down on Friday morning. I say straightaway that it is tabled with a view to ascertaining Her Majesty's Government's further thinking on this matter. We are very grateful to the Government for the way in which they have treated the Bill so far and our suggestions relating to it. It is a Bill 1328 which is aimed at the safety of all users of the roads. It is a practical measure. We must pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for the way in which they have been able to meet our points. I am most grateful.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, dealt with the Amendment before; it is the one dealing with urban junctions and it is a measure of safety. I have several times reminded your Lordships that, if my memory serves me right, some 6,270 people are estimated to have suffered from accidents in 1972 through vehicles being parked near urban junctions. I have expressed previously the opinion that to have a general banning by the Secretary of State on parking at urban junctions is a good thing. The flexibility is there, as I have also pointed out and as is explained adequately in the Amendment which indicates distances of between 5 yards and 30 yards. Any ban could be applied to a distance of as little as 15 feet or as much as 90 feet. Local authorities would have the power to decide.
§ I do not wish to labour this aspect because the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, said he would consider it with sympathy and see what he could do. I merely move the Amendment with a view to seeing what the noble Lord has been able to accomplish. On the last occasion in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Foot, pointed out with great force that universality was a great strength. If people knew that there was a ban at every urban junction, at every corner where accidents occur, then they would know that they would need to look for a certain road marking. It might be as little as 5 yards or as much as 30 yards from a junction but they would know automatically, if they were in an urban area, that there would be a restriction of sorts. Local authorities would have their way and the Secretary of State would be able to enforce a prohibition of this kind. I beg to move.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, for the very generous way in which he has spoken. He was equally generous when we discussed this matter in Committee. I gave an undertaking that we would 1329 continue to give consideration to the points he had raised, and it is right and proper that we should remind ourselves that the clause which the noble Lord seeks to move into the Bill is one that was in the earlier measure. I ought to say that I have been very conscious of this throughout the discussions in which I have been involved and every time I have had occasion to come to this Dispatch Box in connection with the Bill, and I have wanted to be satisfied that there was a case for not proceeding with matters that were in the previous measure. I would say in all frankness to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that I believe the further thinking that has been given to this matter would have placed him or one of his colleagues in exactly the same position as I am in here to-day.
The Amendment is much the same (if, indeed, it is not worded in identical terms to it) as that which the noble Lord tabled at Committee stage, and, as he says, would re-introduce the junction-stopping ban provisions in the previous Road Traffic Bill. As I explained when we were in Committee, the Government have given much thought to this matter since the previous Bill was before your Lordships, and they have reached the conclusion on the best advice available to them that a national ban would be too much of a blunt instrument. Junctions come in all shapes and sizes. They have widely differing flows of vehicles and pedestrians, posing a multitude of problems. Some are controlled by signals, others are not so controlled. They have different requirements for servicing and different facilities for their servicing. A ban imposed centrally, even allowing that some broad classifications of junctions could be laid down for different treatment, could not hope to recognise the wide varieties of circumstances at the hundreds and thousands of individual sites involved. Therefore, we think that to attempt to impose such a ban would give rise to severe practical problems.
I have previously assured your Lordships that in reaching the conclusion that a national ban would be too inflexible the Government are not in any way attempting to deny the serious problem which exists and of which the noble Lord speaks—the problem of accidents at 1330 junctions, the number of which he has given to the House this afternoon. But we think that the best way to tackle what is, for the reasons I have briefly attempted to outline, a problem with many local ramifications is to ensure that local authorities have the powers to provide stopping bans at these junctions. They know the individual sites, the vehicle and pedestrian conditions and requirements at each one, and the associated accident problems. There are already fairly wide powers for authorities to make local traffic regulations under Section 1 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967; and, while we have not finally determined the legal issues involved, it seems that further main legislative powers may not be required.
The present powers are to some extent inhibited, and in general properly so, by requirements to hold public inquiries and to obtain consent of the Secretary of State when local orders prohibiting vehicles stopping or waiting at a site operate for more than eight hours a day. To give authorities adequate powers, it may therefore he necessary to make subordinate legislation to circumvent these inhibiting provisions in the case of junction-stopping ban orders. Thus armed, we are confident that the authorities will be able to deal with the problem in an effective and sensible way.
My Lords, when we were considering the matter previously, in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Foot (and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, has referred to what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, had to say), raised the important point that it would be essential to have a standardised sign marking stopping bans at junctions. I said then that we accepted the need for this, and I repeat now that a national sign, probably a road marking, will be formulated and prescribed in regulations to ensure uniformity of application over the whole country. I repeat that we have given this matter serious and lengthy consideration. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, will appreciate that not only have we taken note of his concern but I have also endeavoured to give an assurance from which I trust he will draw satisfaction. I hope he will feel that he has made his main point, and that the matter can rest with the assurance I have given.
§ LORD FOOT
My Lords, may I make two comments in response to what the noble Lord the Minister has just said? The first comment I should like to make is that it continues to surprise me that the previous Administration, when they were formulating their Road Traffic Bill, were presumably advised (because I do not suppose they thought this up themselves) by their advisers that this reform was necessary. I imagine that this is a reform which has been in the stocks, as it were, in the Department of the Environment for quite a long time, and that they have been waiting for a Bill in which this reform could be introduced. We are faced with the rather strange position that in the intervening six or eight months, or whatever it is, between the introduction of the Bill by the previous Administration and its introduction here to-day, apparently the people who are giving thought to this matter in the Department of the Environment have reversed their position and have decided that what they recommended to us in December, 1973, is something which it would be wrong to do in June, 1974. That strikes me as a strange way to go about things, because this cannot have any Party connotation, and it cannot be due to the change of Government, because there are no Party politics in this matter. It is merely a matter of trying to get the road traffic law right. Although the noble Lord the Minister says that he has now been advised that what was thought to be right then is not right now, he has not told us the reasons—at least, I do not think he has explained this—why there has been this dramatic change in the thinking of the Department during that time.
The second point I should like to make is that I am grateful to the noble Lord for having given careful consideration to the suggestion which I made on the last occasion that, even if the prescribing of the junctions to which this law is to apply is to be left to the local authorities, nevertheless under the regulations there should be a universal sign indicating the junctions which are so affected. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what I think is a marked advance, but I would invite him to consider whether it does really get over the problem.
1332 When you are approaching a traffic junction in a moving vehicle you are concerned primarily, of course, to keep a close watch out to see whether there is a "Stop" sign or whether there are lights, and to try to see as soon as you can whether there is anything moving on the other road or whether there is anything coming in the opposite direction. Is it desirable, therefore, that your attention at these important moments should be distracted by yet a further road sign that you have to look out for, indicating to you whether this is one of the controlled junctions or whether it is not one of the controlled junctions? When you are approaching a junction it is imperative that your attention should be directed to what may be the major hazards; and I suggest that the multiplication of road signs, particularly at junctions, is something which is undesirable if it can be avoided.
If you have a universal rule that all urban road junctions are subject to the restriction that nobody shall stop within 50 yards, it has the enormous advantage that people do not have to worry themselves, amid all their other difficulties, about the question of whether or not this is a controlled junction, because they know that in any event it is. Therefore, I still ask the Minister whether this matter could be considered again and whether the solution at which they have arrived is the best way of dealing with the matter.
The last point I should like to make is this: not only do you not want to have your attention distracted by road signs and by looking out for road signs when you are approaching a junction, but you may have very little time to ascertain whether this is a controlled junction or not. After all, if you are approaching from a distance of, perhaps, 100 ft. back, it takes only a second or two to cover that distance and it is during that time that you have to ascertain whether this is a controlled junction or not; am I permitted to stop as I approach this junction or am I not? I still think, despite what the Minister has said, that there is good reason for reconsidering this matter to see whether the proposals originally put forward by the Department were not in fact the correct solution.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, I should like very much to thank the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for what he has said. At the same time, the words of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, will weigh fairly heavily with all your Lordships. I, too, find it slightly curious that the advice that we got has undergone such a "dramatic change"—to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Foot—over this matter of control at junctions. But on such a Bill as this, which concerns a non-Party political matter and which is aimed at the good of all in road safety, I should not like to bring in a controversial note. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has made a marked advance on what was the Government's stance previously. He has said that he felt that it would be too much of a "blunt instrument" in a wide variety of circumstances. I accept that. We had thought that the variety of 5 to 30 yards probably took care of this point.
The only thing that worries me at the moment is that local authorities will feel—I think the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, used the word—"inhibited". The noble Lord has said, and I am very grateful to him for saying it, that he is proposing now to formulate and prescribe a nationally recognised sign to deal with this matter. I think the point made about extra signs by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, is good. As the noble Lord knows, we were going to have a sign on the ground, on kerbs and road, and when coming to a junction automatically a driver would know that it would be there and would look for it. I should still like the noble Lord to give me an assurance as to what extent local authorities are going to be encouraged—or is that too strong a word?—to put up these signs. I am not quite clear in my own mind at this moment as to how these signs will be formulated and prescribed for local authorities. Given the words the noble Lord has used—and we still have a Third Reading ahead of us—if the noble Lord can assure me that there will be a very definite instruction issued as to how this will be done, we would be quite wrong to force this point. The words the noble Lord, Lord Foot, used will be within the recollection of the noble Lord. We are all trying to reach the same objective and if the noble Lord 1334 will give me the few words for which I ask I will, by leave, withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, by leave of your Lordships there are one or two things I should like to say. I have been asked a number of questions and I hope it will not be expected that I should speak at any length. We are at Report stage and we have spent some time in Committee on this matter. First of all, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, I would say that every possible encouragement will be given to local authorities to get on with this matter. But I shall take the precaution of writing to the noble Lord, setting out more precisely how it is intended that it will be done.
I thought we had come a very long way to meet the points that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, raised on Committee. We are going to have one uniform sign and I should have thought that that was a very good thing. When he talks about a distance of 50 yards, and that sort of thing, at least in my mind he conjured up the situation that will confront the motorist. The motorist will never know exactly what distance is involved and he will need to be careful. If a uniform sign is employed I should have thought that from that point onwards the motorist would need to be extremely careful to appreciate that he needed to acquaint himself with exactly what was happening in that locality. The noble Lord mentioned 50 yards. There may well not be spaces of that kind to play with in some localities. We will give further thought to what he has had to say. I cannot say that our thinking is likely to be any different, but I would say to him that policy is decided by Ministers and Ministers take advice from a great many people. I know that my right honourable friend will want to take full responsibility for the attitude which the Government are adopting in regard to this matter.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, if, with your Lordships' leave, I may speak again, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1335
§ Clause 7 [Compulsory wearing of seat belts]:
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE moved Amendment No. 2:
§ Leave out Clause 7.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name which has the effect of excluding Clause 7 which deals with the compulsion for the wearing of seat belts. I make no apology to your Lordships for bringing this matter up again because interest has been steadily growing in this matter since the Bill was given a Second Reading, culminating in the Division on Committee last week when 55 of your Lordships voted against compulsion, compared to 66 who voted for it. Since that time, I read in the Press to-day, the judiciary has been making certain comments upon the compulsory wearing of seat belts and there is even a leading article in the Daily Telegraph to-day which mentions the name of my noble friend the Baroness behind me.
§ This is not a Party political issue. The last Government, I think mistakenly, put Clause 7 into their Bill. The present Government have repeated Clause 7 in their Bill. But if it is not a Party political issue, it is, I submit, a political issue of importance in the broadest terms. I do not propose to try to re-hash the arguments and counter-arguments on belt safety in the majority of accident statistics which were quoted in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and contradicted by my noble friend Lord Mountgarret, who quoted the Report of the Road Research Laboratory. Of course I admit at once that the wearing of seat belts is probably right for the majority of people in the majority of cases. But there is a minority of cases—and no noble Lord who likes compulsion can deny this—where the belts cause injury or death in the circumstances of a certain accident.
§ My first submission to your Lordships in objecting to this clause is that I dislike passing laws which cannot be enforced. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, dealt with this point during the Committee stage, saying—and I think I may paraphrase not unfairly what he said—that it does not much matter, because we 1336 already have a lot of laws which cannot be enforced, so one more will not hurt. I submit that having laws already on the Statute Book which cannot be enforced is rather different from Parliament now being asked to pass a law which is generally admitted to be unenforceable by an overworked and undermanned police force throughout the country.
§ My second submission to your Lordships about this objectionable clause is that Clause 7 is really a horrid piece of delegated legislation. The Minister is being given powers far too wide and undefined. He can make what Orders he likes and can then make what exceptions he likes. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell said, that we shall have the Negative Resolution procedure, but that is not really a sufficient safeguard. Under the proposals here, the Minister could order everyone to wear belts all the time, and then make an exception and say that no-one need wear them except between, say, midnight and 1 a.m. The Minister will say, "Of course, we would never do anything like that"; that is always the excuse of any Executive when it is asking for the use of any undefined powers. But I submit that Parliament should not include Clause 7 in its present wide state, without further information on what the Minister proposes to do.
§ We are not opposing compulsion just for the sake of opposition. I am all in favour of ordering the fitting of seat belts to all cars. I am all in favour of seat belt-wearing in the majority of cases; certainly, I would never dream of going down the M.1 or any other motorway without my own safety belt. But there are circumstances where belts cost lives, and circumstances where no belts save lives. Those of your Lordships who looked at the Evening Standard last Monday would have seen a picture of a wrecked motorcar and an account of the accident, in which the non-wearing of safety belts saved the occupants of that car from serious injury. So that while the majority may elect to wear their belts, there is a minority who have real fears and objections—technical, personal and possibly medical.
§ If we pass a law for compulsion (and we must assume, when arguing this, that the law will be kept) will not Parliament 1337 be taking unto itself collectively, and we ourselves individually, a grave moral responsibility in respect of victims in those cases where death or injury is caused by the force of compulsion? Some of your Lordships, and I myself, might well have some relative, a wife or a daughter, who became involved in an accident while driving a car, with terrible results. In such a case, that member of my family would have had no free choice at the start of the journey as to whether or not she put on a safety belt. She may have had grave objections to wearing a belt, but because of the law she would have put it on. In such a case the victim would have been sacrificed on the altar of compulsion. In a sentence, compulsion may save but it may also kill, and I look to the Minister for a very clear reply to that point.
§ Without compulsion, responsibility lies where I submit it should lie—on the individual decision. Freedom of choice, individual freedom—call them what you like—are involved. During our debate during the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Slater, interrupted the Minister from the opposite side of the Chamber to ask whether he would consider what the noble Lord called the "liberty of the subject". The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, also interrupted to ask whether we were having a discussion on seat belts or a philosophical discussion on freedom. I would say to the noble Baroness that, like it or not, the whole philosophy of individual choice is involved in this Clause 7. The question we have to decide is: how far should the State go in protecting the individual from the possible results of his own actions? Or, to put it in another way, how far should the State go in ordering the course of action of an individual, even though such a course could result in a disaster to that individual? In Clause 7 this freedom of choice is being taken away, irrespective of the individual's own views and convictions, and is being replaced by a State-decreed course of action. For the reasons I have given, I believe that the encroachment of compulsion by the State should be resisted by leaving out Clause 7. My Lords, I beg to move.
My Lords, we have just listened to a most impressive speech on an extremely difficult subject and, speaking for myself, I think the 1338 arguments are difficult to balance. But having said that I should like to submit to the House for consideration the opposite view. We each have to make up our own minds. Subject to hearing what is said later during the debate, I have made a provisional decision for myself and I should like to deploy some of the reasons to justify the position which I have provisionally formed.
May I take seriatim the two arguments to which we have just listened? First, is it right as a matter of general principle that the State should interfere with the choice of the individual, to the extent that the exercise by the Secretary of State of his powers to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory would interfere with that choice? The noble Lord added that should a Secretary of State be reluctant to interfere, the individual concerned could only harm himself if he embarked upon the course which the Secretary of State thought of prohibiting.
I submit two points in answer to that argument: first, to-day we have to accept the fact that for civilised society to proceed, the State must habitually interfere in matters of personal, individual choice. Take, for example, the consumption of drugs. It could be said that if anybody has in his possession opium or cocaine, or something of that kind, it is entirely his own business as to whether he likes to inflict upon himself the harm which the taking of those drugs may cause. I know that there are many people who would say that it is the individual's business and that he should be allowed to take those drugs if he chooses to do so. I would have thought it was the general, strongly-held view of our community—and that is, after all, a relevant matter in this context—that the State was amply justified and, indeed, obliged, in order to preserve the individual from his own folly to say that under criminal sanction he must not take or consume what are described as hard drugs. I say in the presence of my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger that I would also take that view in the case of the soft drugs, though I know a number of people would not go nearly so far as I would go.
Those surely are clear cases in which the State is taking upon itself to say to the individual, "You are not to do this because it will harm you if you do it". In the context we are now discussing, the 1339 urgency, if the interference would be useful and productive, is every bit as justifiable as in the case of taking drugs. One therefore asks whether, if the State interferes there is to be obtained a gain to the public and individual, which makes that interference justifiable and worth while? I know there is dispute as to the figures. I asked for some information and I should like to make a short quotation because if it is true it is an important point from which to set out. I should like to quote two sentences from a publication by the Government called Road Accidents in Great Britain, 1972. Paragraph 13 under the heading of Seat Belts reads:The effectiveness of a seat belt in reducing injury depends on the type of accident and whether the belt is correctly adjusted. On an overall national estimate the wearing of a properly fitted and adjusted belt reduces the risk of death or serious injury by as much as one half. There is some evidence that the reduction in risk is rather greater in built up areas than on motorways and other fast roads.I know that that is not accepted by everybody, but it is an official and, I feel sure, a responsible publication which was brought forward, after mature reflection, by those who are acquainted with these matters.
It could easily be said—and I accept it at once—as noble Lords said in the course of the last debate, and as the noble Lord repeated to-day, that there are some accidents in which the use of a safety belt may produce injury which otherwise might have been avoided. One pictures the situation of a car overturning and perhaps catching fire. Those are cases in which it would be a disadvantage perhaps to be strapped in by a safety belt. I think one has to ask oneself—and this is the question I ask myself—whether one can nevertheless say, looking at the situation as a whole, bearing in mind the infinitely different types of accident that may occur, that the balance of advantage is really substantial? If it is accurate, or approximately accurate, that the risk of death or serious injury is reduced overall by a half, surely that is an enormous public gain. If it could be said that half as many people are likely to be killed or seriously injured over a period of time if safety belts are used than are likely to be killed or injured if they are not, that would go a long way to justify the com- 1340 pulsory use of them. It is an enormous gain.
I accept the point that the noble Lord made that it is a dreadful tragedy for someone to be seriously injured after having been compelled to wear the safety belt which that person would not have otherwise worn. I accept at once that it is a strong consideration on the other side of the case. But I look back on the broad conclusion I cited from the document. If half the people are saved from death or serious injury, it would take a great deal to justify the conclusion that safety belts should not be worn—and I leave out the word "compulsorily" for the moment. I start from that general proposition; I start from a bias in favour of their use. It is said, "In any event, if you make the using of them compulsory you are not able to enforce the law". I accept at once that the mere fact that there are a number of laws on the Statute Book which now cannot be enforced of themselves does not justify adding another. It is a bad general principle to enact laws that cannot be enforced. But we have had to do it in a great many cases.
Take the case of driving with a higher alcohol content in one's blood than is allowed. That is on the Statute Book, we approved it recently. I suppose it is constantly neglected and broken. Take any ordinary speed limit. I suppose the number of times a speed limit is exceeded is legion. The noble Lord says that is not another justification for adding one more. When dealing with this question of motor traffic which so directly and immediately affects every single person among us, we are justified in taking a rather broader view than we might take in other contexts. I should like to add that the information with which I was furnished from my own Front Bench is that the Department of the Environment in 1973 took a number of opinion surveys. The one which is directly relevant to what I am about to say, and what I am at present arguing, is this: they showed that, among other things, over 80 per cent. of the people of this country were convinced of the value of wearing a seat belt, and over 95 per cent. would wear it if it was a legal obligation to do so. That is an estimate, but if it is true, 95 per cent. of the people who travel in motor cars would, in any case, wear them.
1341 I should have thought it was not accurate to say that this was a law that would be massively disregarded. Certainly that would not be true. You will now and again get the person who, for one reason or another, does not wear a seat belt. There are persons like myself who very often are too lazy to wear one. And I would deserve punishment, I think. But it would not be a case of the police having foisted upon them yet one other gigantic task which they had not the manpower to enforce. I suppose that they would probably enforce a law of this kind, in so far as there were breaches of it, in very much the same way as other laws relating to motoring are enforced. A motor car is stopped and it is observed that the driver, and perhaps his passenger, do not wear a seat belt. Then a prosecution might result. That would be the way in which it was enforced, and that, after all, is the kind of way in which the breathlyser test comes to be administered. There is not very much distinction in principle, and both are matters of extreme importance.
It is said: "What about the person who really suffers from a sense of claustrophobia, or who has strong personal objections to wearing a safety belt?" Here I would point out that the form of Clause 7 is permissive. The noble Lord said that it was putting too much power in the hands of the Secretary of State. I would commend it for the reason that it only enables him to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory, and also gives him a power which is quite indispensable: to make any exceptions that he thinks are necessary. Exceptions will obviously have to be made, one would have thought, in all sorts of contexts—children, very old people perhaps, people who have a strong objection, people who really are frightened by having to wear a seat belt.
The power is one which also, taken in conjunction with the Construction Order made under, I think, the 1972 Act, can prescribe particular forms of safety belt. I should have thought that in the exercise of that power the Secretary of State would have to be extremely careful to ensure that the means of unclipping the safety belt in an emergency were absolutely foolproof and could be operated with the greatest possible ease. That, perhaps, would go some distance to meet the kind of situation in which a car over- 1342 turns and catches fire or something of that kind. Those powers are essential and I venture, respectfully, to disagree with the view the noble Lord expressed when he said that, after all, it was nothing like enough for those powers to be subject to Negative Resolution.
What does that procedure result in? Each exception would be individually scrutinised and criticised in whichever House had to deal with it. I should have thought that that was a very useful and valuable power, and what one would hope to see emerge from Clause 7 is a general provision making the wearing of seat belts obligatory on persons who ought to wear them as a matter of general common sense—but safeguarded and hemmed in by a large number of exceptions which would take account of all the kinds of cases that the noble Lord had in mind, and rightly had in mind, when voicing his opposition to this clause.
While I accept that the arguments are finely divided, and I accept the reluctance and hesitation—indeed, I was very much impressed by the reasons that were advanced by many noble Lords when this matter was debated on the last occasion—on balance, I come down in favour of the view that we should pass this clause. We can, I hope, rely on Secretaries of State to use their powers under the clause sensibly, particularly as the user of it can be constantly scrutinised by the House under the Negative Resolution procedure. I hope the result, if the statement which I have quoted from the Government publication is anything like correct, would be that over the years a great many people would escape injury or death who otherwise would have been seriously maimed as a result of being thrown forward against a windscreen, or something of the sort, in the event of an accident. For those reasons, I respectfully hope that your Lordships will not accept the Amendment to delete Clause 7.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I should like to support the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Balfour. He has put the arguments so well that I have very little to add. But I should like to take up one or two points which my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill has made. He has said, as I understand, that under this proposed clause the 1343 Minister could make exceptions. He could make exceptions, for example, for somebody who suffered from claustrophobia and found it impossible to wear a seat belt and who would therefore, I suppose, otherwise be debarred from going in a car. Just consider, my Lords, what might happen. I could be prosecuted for not wearing my seat belt. "Oh!", I say, "I suffer from claustrophobia and therefore I am within the exception." It makes complete nonsense of it.
§ LORD STOW HILL
My Lords, I quite agree. It would be a perfect nonsense if it worked in that way. But I certainly assumed that the regulations which were made under Clause 7 would provide for specific exceptions being granted in advance; that is to say, a person who could establish, by medical evidence or otherwise that for one reason or another he could not wear a safety belt would be granted a dispensation by the police or the appropriate authority. If he was stopped he could at once show the dispensation which he had been granted in the form of a permit or something of that kind. I quite agree that, if one did not get that, it would work in a perfectly absurd fashion.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble and learned friend. But I think your Lordships will agree there is a very possible weakness in the whole matter if one can obtain a certificate to say that one suffers from claustrophobia and is therefore exempted from wearing a seat belt. However that may be, my noble and learned friend then referred to dangerous drugs. That is an entirely different matter. I fully agree with everything he said about dangerous drugs. But here we have a situation in which, on balance, it may be safer to wear a seat belt. On the other hand, there are plenty of cases in which it is proved to be fatal to wear a seat belt. One's car crashes—supposing one is in an open car. Without a seat belt one is flung out; with a seat belt, one is tied to the car and burned to death. There are other cases. Surely the right answer is to educate the public. Let them know the advantages and disadvantages of wearing a seat belt. Make the provision of seat belts in cars obligatory so that the seat belt is there. Then the intelli- 1344 gent motorist can make up his mind whether or not it is desirable to wear it. But do not make these things compulsory. This is what I call nursery legislation in its worst form.
We have had a rather similar problem over the fluoridation of water. It is said—and it may be true—that if fluorine is put into the water it is very good for young children's teeth. On the other hand, it is also said that fluorine can be a poison to people with a certain medical history. Surely the answer is not to put the fluorine in the water so that one has to drink it whether one likes it or not. You can obtain fluorine on the advice of your dentist or doctor, and you can take a dose of it if it is good for you. You may, however, be told that it is very poisonous and is the last thing you should take. Leave it to the individual to take a sensible course. In the wearing of seat belts the same principle is involved. For myself. I would congratulate (if that is not patronising) my noble friend Lord Balfour on a really powerful speech. He said a good many of the things I should have liked to say, and I hope your Lordships will agree to his Amendment.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, if what we are discussing now is analagous to fluoridation, as the noble Viscount has said, no wonder I am against the Amendment, because I happen to be President of the Fluoridation Society which exists for the purpose of ensuring that fluoridation is universally adopted in water supplies in this country. It is not quite the same thing, because in the case of fluoridation one is not concerned with ill-health of a very serious nature. It may be widespread and damaging from a cosmetic point of view, but it does not cause the same kind of distress, and certainly not death, which we are talking about in the case of the wearing of seat belts.
Going back to the arguments of the noble Lord who introduced the Amendment, the advocacy of the Daily Telegraph and certain sections of the Judiciary would lead some of us in the direction of opposing his Amendment rather than supporting it. One would rather look at the evidence given by people like the British Medical Association and the casualty officers whom I noticed the noble Lord did not cite in favour of his Amendment. If we asked them, they 1345 would no doubt tell us that where the wearing of seat belts has been adopted it has caused a considerable decline in the number of serious accidents and deaths. The noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, gave us overall figures to illustrate the significance of the reduction which can be made.
The noble Lord said that he disliked laws that cannot be enforced. I think he is being a little pessimistic. At first, in cases of damages, the courts looked at the wearing of seat belts and made some reductions, but I understand that in the most recent cases which have come before the courts the Judges have held that since Parliament has not decreed that the wearing of seat belts should be compulsory this should not be taken into account in the calculation of damages. But supposing that Orders were made under the powers given to the Secretary of State, obviously the courts would take that into account and somebody who was not wearing a seat belt at the time of an accident would be likely to receive a smaller sum in damages than if he had been wearing one. I suggest that this might be quite a powerful inducement to the wearing of seat belts.
It has been mentioned this afternoon that the law on drinking with alcohol in one's bloodstream is widely disregarded. At the same time, people who are in the habit of drinking when they drive are also careful not to commit moving traffic offences which would be likely to prompt a policeman to stop them and make them liable to take a breath test. I suggest that those people who have had a drink would be extremely careful to put on their seat belts and thus avoid the necessity of blowing into the bag and finding themselves in a police station giving a sample of blood.
I think also that in general the people of this country are much more lawabiding than the noble Lord gives them credit for. The noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, said that 95 per cent. of the people would wear seat belts if there were a legal obligation upon them to do so. I would certainly do so myself. I have to confess to your Lordships that although I am very warmly in favour of the wearing of seat belts, so long as it is not a legal obligation I do not normally put on a seat belt and I think that most of us are in that position. We are too careless 1346 and too unobservant of our own safety to do it as long as there is no law, but we would certainly obey the law if it were on the Statute Book.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, says that the intelligent motorist can make up his own mind whether or not to wear his belt. How can he possibly tell when he gets into his car whether he will be involved in the type of accident which the noble Lord describes, where his car overturns, he finishes up in flames and the seat belt stops him from getting out, or whether he will be involved in the much more common type of accident which causes death or serious injury within, maybe a few miles of home at the fairly low speed of 30 to 40 m.p.h. and does not bring in the kind of considerations which the noble Lord has given us?
Finally, the noble Lord who moved this Amendment said that there is a great moral responsibility upon those who suggest that there should be this element of compulsion, as they see it. I put it to your Lordships that there is a great moral responsibility upon those who, by supporting this Amendment, cause the destruction of human life and serious casualties in very large numbers.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I had not intended to involve myself in this argument but I should like to put two short questions. The first is that the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, has told us that in about 50 per cent. of accidents if the person involved is wearing a seat belt he will escape death or serious injury. I am quite prepared to accept that, but I wonder whether anybody can tell me the number of people who have been involved in accidents, who, if they had been wearing a seat belt, would have been involved in serious injury or death which they would have escaped if they had not been wearing a seat belt? That is a fact which we should know. I ask the question entirely without prejudice.
Secondly, if this Amendment is not carried, the Bill becomes law, the wearing of seat belts becomes compulsory and somebody is involved in an accident in which they are killed because they are wearing a seat belt, will it be possible for their executors to sue the Government for damages, because they were carrying out the Government's law which made their death certain in this particular kind of accident?
1347 Apart from the moral issue which is involved these appear to be two simple and practical questions which one would like to have answered before one makes up one's mind.
§ BARONESS MACLEOD OF BORVE
My Lords, I will speak briefly because I have spoken on this matter before. I am strongly in favour of what has been said by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I have had many years of experience of driving every kind of vehicle on the roads of this country and I shall certainly vote for his Amendment, for three particular reasons. One is that I do not think that a safe seat belt has yet been designed. The noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, has said that if it can be easily unclipped then it will be a good seat belt. I have not found one that can be easily unclipped from the right place. In my car it is down on the left-hand side and if I am crushed in my car and my car is on fire, either somebody has to saw off my seat belt with a very sharp instrument, which he probably has not got, or he has to try and get across the driving wheel and try to unclip the seat belt clip which, in my view, is in the wrong place. I am also against the clip being in front of one's body because that is dangerous. Therefore I am against seat belts, anyway, because in my view they are badly designed.
I think, too, that freedom of choice is very important. I think that we should all have seat belts in our cars but that we should be allowed to be adult enough to know whether we want to use them or not. Thirdly, from the police point of view I do not think that the wearing of seat belts is enforceable, because a policeman, whether he is travelling behind you in his car or whether he overtakes you, cannot possibly say whether you are wearing the belt as prescribed or not. The only time he could possibly say whether you were wearing one would be if he stopped you on the road. My Lords, you and I know that if seat belts were compulsory and one were stopped on the road it would be quite simple to fasten the seat belt quickly. I know that that is cheating, but people do cheat on the roads of this country. I would certainly vote for this Amendment.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, unfortunately I was not able to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, said, but I can imagine what he said from the tenor of the subsequent remarks of various of your Lordships. I wonder just what the House is about, because I heard a number of reasons advanced against the compulsory wearing of seat belts which strike my mind as unconvincing, and in some cases virtually trivial.
Your Lordships know that I have had a certain amount of experience in the field of road safety and of driving cars and flying aircraft, and so on, and I believe that some of the things that are being said are absolutely not true. I think this Amendment is looking for reasons—and not very convincing reasons—to try to stop compulsion. I know why your Lordships do not like compulsion; none of us does. None of us cares for legislation to protect fools from their folly. We never have liked that, yet I suspect that was why we were all so enthusiastic to make crash helmets compulsory for motor cyclists. That we did.
My Lords, where lies the difference? It is said that, because of their adult intelligence motorists must be given freedom of choice; they must be educated to wearing seat belts and understanding all about it. They have been in the process of being educated for 15 years along these lines. The noble Lord, Lord Marples (who I believe has just left the Chamber) and I were associated in beginning this education in the early 1960s. We have had upwards of 10 years of education. What has been the result? All we have at the moment are some rather pathetic figures which indicate that this education and propaganda is not getting home. To argue that occasionally a casualty will be caused by the wearing of a seat belt is possible.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, that of course it is compulsory to have windscreen wipers, and headlamps and glass in the windscreen, and so far as I know if you get killed by any of those things you have no compensation claim against the Government. I would disregard completely any insinuation that a seatbelt is 1349 a compulsory killer installed by legislation. That is nonsense, and to take the view that this is an unacceptable measure, one that the public do not want, do not require and do not need, is absolutely flying in the face of all sense. That is my view, my Lords.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, I only want to intervene for a second or two because I think Parliament has no right compulsorily to enforce upon a certain section of the public the necessity, in their opinion, to strap themselves to death. There are two views on this problem of the seat belt. Seat belts can be very dangerous; they can make it impossible to escape. The seat belt is known perfectly well, it is well advertised and it should be left to the individual to judge what he prefers to do in the interests of his own safety. The wearing of seat belts can result in death, and I think it is an intolerable and tyrannical act of Parliament to attempt to impose upon adult citizens who are perfectly well in a position, when driving a motorcar, to judge for themselves the wisest course to adopt in regard to the necessity of wearing a seat belt and when, in the opinion of quite a large number of people, to do so would be strapping themselves to death. I support the Amendment 100 per cent.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, as the Member of your Lordships' House who originally moved this Amendment, together with the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Davies of Leek, I do not wish to repeat my speech or to get involved in moral issues, although those who do get involved in moral issues do not seem to get involved in the same way when they go in aeroplanes. However, let us deal with the question of the enforcement of seat belts. Seat belts were first introduced in Australia, followed by New Zealand, and there have been no problems whatsoever of enforcement in those countries; and if it is thought that we are less law-abiding or that our police are less efficient, I do not agree. Seat belts are also compulsory in France outside towns, and in Yugoslavia and Malawi.
I refute absolutely the suggestion that seat belts are dangerous; in fact I consider that view to be total nonsense. Thousands of people in this country, probably some Members of your Lord 1350 ships' House and millions in the world outside, can give definite evidence of how their lives have been saved by the wearing of a seat belt, and I do not think there can be many people who can actually say that they would have been killed if they had been wearing a seat belt. This is something which it is quite impossible to say. It is quite possible that seat belts have been wrongly fitted, but that is another matter because they should have been properly fitted. I also admit that considerable improvement could be made in the design of seat belts, but that is a matter that is going on all the time.
I believe that to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory is preferable to what has been tried in the United States of America. There it is impossible to start your motor car without putting on your safety belt, which means literally that if you have to take your car from your garage to your front door you must wear your safety belt. The reason for that is because there they have shirked the issue of making them compulsory; and those of us who have driven in America recently know how tiresome it is to have mechanical aids in the car to make one wear a seat belt when they can go wrong or can be cheated. We have a wealth of experience based on facts that have come from Australia and New Zealand, that there is an immediate 20 per cent. reduction in accidents, both fatal and injuries.
This proposal is supported by the Automobile Association, by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and by a great many people who are involved in motoring all over the world. Of course it is unfortunate to have to impose things on people, but I believe it would be foolhardy for any Government to throw away a chance which could at a stroke save so many lives each year on our roads.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ LORD FOOT
My Lords, may I intervene to make two points. One is following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, when he drew our attention to the terms in which the clause is expressed, permitting the Secretary of State at some future date to make regulations of whatever kind he may think satisfactory, if he feels inclined. I think the House ought to recognise that 1351 in being asked to approve a clause of that kind, which is purely permissive and does not require the Secretary of State to do anything, we are in fact shirking the issue. We are leaving the decision whether the wearing of seat belts is to be made compulsory to the discretion and judgment of an individual. We do not know who that individual will be. If he is an individual who shares the philosophic notions of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, about the freedom of the subject, and so on, he will not make any regulations at all; if, on the other hand, he is a person who shares the philosophic notions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, he will make regulations. So really we are funking the issue. We are saying, "Let us put it aside; let us sweep it under the carpet and let the Secretary of State pull it out at some later date". We are deceiving ourselves if we think that we are deciding this matter to-day.
Secondly, I want to engage in a little philosophic argument, if I may. with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, because he based the whole of his case on certain views that have been expressed about the rights of the State to impose its will upon the individual, and he sought to draw an analogy between the prohibition of the taking of hard drugs and the injunction which this clause might involve, enjoining the citizen to wear a seat belt, and he said that he could not distinguish between the two. I would suggest to the noble and learned Lord that there are two important points of distinction between his description of a prohibition against taking hard drugs and what is proposed in this clause. The first of them is this: When you prohibit a person from taking a hard drug you are saying, "Thou shalt not"; when you say to a person that he must wear a seat belt, you are saying, "Thou shalt". And there is a vital distinction between the two. It may well be that the State is entitled to say to somebody, "Thou shalt not do such-and-such and may not be justified in imposing a positive obligation upon him to do something. There is a logical distinction between the two.
The second fallacy which I would respectfully suggest came into the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, when he made that analogy is this. I suppose it will be conceded by everybody 1352 that in the case of consuming hard drugs there is everything to be said against it and nothing in favour of it. Nobody, I suppose, would argue that there is anything to be said for taking hard drugs, but in the case of the wearing of seat belts we are faced with a different proposition. We are faced with a situation in which the balance of advantage may be, for all anybody knows, in favour of the wearing of seat belts but where it is acknowledged that there are certain cases where it is not an advantage—indeed, where it is a disadvantage. That distinguishes this case wholly in logic, and in philosophy if you like, from the analogy which the noble Lord was trying to draw.
That, if I may say so, is the same fallacy as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, fell into when he said that there was no difference between compelling people to wear seat belts and compelling people to wear crash helmets. I suggest for his consideration that there is a distinction, and the distinction is this: in the case of the crash helmet nobody, I suppose, is going to argue that a crash helmet on some occasions has disadvantages and is likely to cause greater injury. I suppose that in 99 cases out of 100 the wearing of a crash helmet is likely to avoid damage, but in the case of the seat belt the whole matter is in dispute and there are some cases in which it is advantageous to wear it and some cases where it is not.
For those three reasons, I would suggest that there is a great deal of merit in what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, is proposing: that we should not engage in legislation and funk the issue to which we are supposed to be addressing ourselves; secondly, that the case for enjoining the individual to do something for his own safety is quite a different matter from prohibiting him from doing something which may do him damage.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, I rise for only a few moments to support my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye in this Amendment. I do so for a very broad reason which I do not think has been mentioned so far in this debate. We are living in a day and age when the law is being increasingly disregarded. Attention was drawn to the approach of anarchy and so on in a 1353 notable speech at the week-end by Sir Alec Douglas-Home. In the case of crash helmets, anybody can see whether or not a person is wearing one and therefore that law is completely enforceable. But this law is not enforceable. partly for the reason which the noble Baroness mentioned a short time ago. It seems to me wrong, when we are living in times when there is some indication of the approach of anarchy and power is being taken away from Parliament and from the law, for Parliament to introduce a law of which it can be said that the law is an ass because it cannot be enforced. I believe that for that reason apart from any question of statistics as to whether or not seat belts preserve life, it ought to be taken into consideration by the House when Considering this Amendment.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD MONSON
My Lords, in supporting the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I will, like him, try not to reiterate the arguments, mainly ethical but partly practical, which I advanced at Committee stage, but to move on to fresh ground. I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foot, in querying the analogy made by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, between the compulsory wearing of seat belts and the taking of hard drugs. First, I believe I am right in saying that in fact it is not the consumption of hard drugs which is the offence, but the possession of drugs—the distinction is subtle but important. Secondly, cocaine and heroin, I understand, are frequently taken by schoolchildren; and recently we have heard of children who started taking drugs at 15 and were dead by the age of 18. I think we all agree that it is society's duty to protect young people in this way. So far as LSD and amphetamines are concerned these frequently incite the person to commit violent crimes. Again, where third parties are liable to suffer, it is quite acceptable for the State to interfere.
My Lords, to take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foot: as I understand it it is not entirely true to say that there can be no ill effects from the wearing of crash helmets. I have been given to understand that in certain cases there is evidence of whiplash injury being caused to the neck from the sudden braking and deceleration of a motor 1354 cycle, because of the weight of the helmet. I agree that these are very small in proportion to the benefits conferred, but they do exist.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, I have read the excellent and interesting booklet Road Accidents in Great Britain during 1972 published by the Department of the Environment, but unlike him I have drawn entirely different conclusions, which only goes to show that statistics can mean anything according to how one interprets them. For instance, we see that road deaths in Britain per head of population per vehicle are, together with those in Norway, the lowest among the twenty-two countries surveyed, thereby confirming the observation made by my noble friend Lady Macleod a fortnight ago that, "in these days very few people on the roads are absolute fools; indeed there are very rarely any fools at all". However, if one extracts pedestrian deaths and considers them in isolation, this country does not come out so well. Pedestrian deaths here are proportionately roughly equal to those in Italy, while those in Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States are lower than in this country. I shall return to the significance of these pedestrian casualties in relation to the compulsory wearing of seat belts in a minute.
The survey goes on to suggest that about 400 deaths were saved during 1972 by the use of seat belts. This is no surprise to those of us who oppose compulsion. We recognise, on balance, that they do more good than harm. But this estimate does one thing: it very usefully knocks on the head the more wildly exaggerated claims made by advocates of compulsion. Less than three weeks ago the chief safety engineer of British Leyland was claiming in the Press that 1,500 lives would be saved annually if the wearing of seat belts was made compulsory. One can now see that this widely reported estimate was almost four times the actual figure. Of course, even as few as 400 premature deaths are to be deplored, but let us get the figure in perspective. Let us start by disposing of the purely financial aspects. This survey, Road Accidents in Great Britain, puts the cost to society of a fatal road accident at £23,000. This figure is somewhat inflated in that it includes 1355 what the survey admits to be purely subjective elements such as pain, grief and suffering.
Noble and learned Lords will correct me if I am wrong, but I have always understood that in English law no monetary value could be attributed to grief or suffering. However, let us give the survey the benefit of the doubt and accept this estimate of £23,000. It so happens that The Times supplement on Australia on June 5 reported that the cash value to Australia of a fully educated immigrant is estimated by the Australian Department of Immigration at £10,000. The logical corollary to be drawn is that the loss to the British Exchequer of the emigration of fully educated people is also £10.000 per head. If one wishes to subordinate human freedom to a profit and loss account coldly calculated consideration, then the Exchequer would save more by emulating the Eastern bloc and forbidding the immigration of 1,000 or more skilled workers than it would by making seat belts compulsory.
Even for those who disdain such financial considerations but believe that the State has a duty, in so far as is possible, to ensure that citizens die peacefully in their beds, the saving of 400 lives per annum by making seat belts compulsory is small beer compared with what would be achieved by other forms of restriction and coercion; not only by forbidding mountain climbing, pot-holing, boxing, steeple-chasing, and so on, but by banning cigarette smoking completely, or by severely restricting the consumption of alcohol, and not only in connection with driving.
More relevant to the matter under discussion is the whole question of motor cycling. The survey reveals that motor cyclists are no less than 27 times as likely to be killed as motorists. By banning all forms of motorised two-wheel transport other than mopeds, one could almost certainly save more than 400 lives a year. Against this, our export trade would be severely hit, unemployment in the Midlands would escalate, the present troubles at the Meriden Works would resemble by comparison the proverbial vicarage tea-party, and a large number of people would be deprived of a cheap form of transport and an enjoyable form of recreation— 1356 though undoubtedly a somewhat dangerous one.
But as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, so rightly said 12 days ago, on the notable occasion when the House was debating the Report of the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure, the acceptance of risk must be a matter of personal choice taken when one is well aware of it. It is up to the individual to choose the risks he takes. Accidents are bound to occur occasionally, and when unhappily they do, it is wrong to put the whole spirit of the daring in reverse, from a failure to retain a sense of proportion. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was speaking about mountain climbing, but his remarks apply equally, I submit, to motor cycling and other forms of dangerous sport.
I want to move on from comparisons, from the strictly libertarian argument, to suggest why compulsion may in some respects be positively harmful. In the first place, despite the undoubted overall benefits of seat belts, it is a fact that 211 drivers and front seat passengers were killed in 1972 while actually wearing seat belts—over 8 per cent. of the total. From reports of inquests we know that seat belts have acutally caused deaths in at least a few cases. I am sorry to have to contradict the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, but this is recorded fact. Surely it is up to the individual to decide whether he or she wishes to take the relatively greater risk of being hurled through the windscreen through not wearing a seat belt, or the lesser but still real and even more frightening risk of being trapped in a blazing car through not being able to release the buckle of the seat belt. As the Daily Telegraph writes to-day in a leading article:Let the motorists make their own judgment, for how can the State know better?Even more important is the worrying question of the relatively high incidence of pedestrian casualties in this country, compared with some others. To put this into perspective, no fewer than 3,083 pedestrians were killed in 1972, almost eight times as many as the non-seat belt wearers. Of these, 320, over 10 per cent., were children between the ages of 5 and 9 years. There exists a school of thought which believes that ideally the car driver 1357 should feel as vulnerable as the pedestrian, for the optimum safety of the latter. Experimental cars for use in towns are usually designed with no bonnet or other projection between the driver and the road, for this very reason. One may add to this the undoubted fact that many drivers feel excessively secure and relaxed when wearing a seat belt, to the extent of being inattentive—day-dreaming if you like. Given the tendency of children of the 5 to 9 years age group to dart out from behind parked cars, and the consequent absolute necessity of a split-second reaction from the driver if an accident is to be avoided, is it not arguable that compulsion may indeed save the lives of a number of drivers and passengers, but at the expense of a few unfortunate pedestrians?
I have received a mass of telegrams and messages of support from a wide variety of institutions—the Royal Automobile Club, the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, the Motorcycle Action Group, the Society for Individual Freedom; and also from a great many impassioned private individuals. After all, there are a great many ways of improving road safety which involve neither restrictions on personal liberty nor the expenditure of taxpayers' money. If we were engaged in a general debate on road safety, I would happily spend 20 minutes expounding these to your Lordships, but to-day we are discussing the subject of compulsion.
Every now and again this House has the opportunity to demonstrate to the public at large in a forceful way its essential common sense and concern for the freedom of the individual. I believe to-day is one of those occasions. I hope your Lordships will give massive support to this Amendment in the Division Lobby.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
I was afraid that the longer the discussion went on on this Amendment, the fewer of your Lordships would be here to deal with the next one. One point of fact was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Bealieu, amongst others, and I think it should be answered. The point was raised whether there was anyone about who would have been killed had he worn a seat belt. My Lords, I stand before you. I ordered safety belts eight or ten years ago. Before they were 1358 delivered I was involved in a major car crash. I was not severely injured. My car was; in fact it was written off. When I went back, the space between the driving seat and the ceiling of the car on that side was 8 inches, and had I been wearing a scat belt, I would have been dead, and it would no doubt have saved everyone a lot of trouble. I would add this before it is sprung on us as an argument in favour of the Amendment, that had I had seat belts fitted, I should have been wearing them voluntarily, so I should still be dead. So I do not think the Amendment would have affected my survival in any way whatsoever.
§ LORD SOMERS
I was not in the Chamber to hear the speech of the mover of the Amendment, but I should like to say something on the question of seat belts. Much has been made of the fact that the wearing of seat belts is not enforceable. There are more rules concerned with motoring and road traffic that are not enforceable, than there are rules that are enforceable. So I do not think one really needs to take a lot of notice of that. Then, of course, the perennial argument about the liberty of the individual, the liberty to do whatever he likes, however absolutely crackpot it may be and whatever disadvantages it may cause to anyone else has been raised. That is an argument of which I am heartily sick and tired. This question of compulsory wearing of seat belts is supported very strongly by the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
I would point out one aspect of this matter to your Lordships. No doubt, if one is to press the argument about the liberty of the individual, one has liberty either to kill oneself through carelessness or to injure oneself severely, but there is something else to consider in this case. What about one's wife or one's husband? If one kills oneself, it would be a bitter blow, but not perhaps an eternal one. If one injures oneself severely, then one's wife or husband has to look after one for the rest of one's life, and that, to my way of thinking, is an extremely selfish and idiotic thing to do.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ BARONESS MASHAM OF ILTON
My Lords, last year I asked a Question which was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, and at least he 1359 will remember it. It concerned the wearing of safety belts when in the cabs of lorries. The Answer to the Question was very unsatisfactory, because I gathered the reason why people in the cabs of lorries did not get the opportunity of having a seat belt to wear was that the cabs were not strong enough, and the loads came through them. Since this might squash the driver, if he had a seat belt he might not be able to jump so quickly out of the lorry. I support the wearing of seat belts. They prevent brain injuries, of which I have seen far too many. Anything that will prevent them is a good thing. I would ask the Minister whether, if the law to wear seat belts in cars is enforced, he is going to do anything about strengthening the cabs of lorries, and therefore making more safety precautions for commercial vehicles?
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, before the Minister answers, may I speak very briefly. I have pondered long about intervening in these matters, but we are discussing life and death, or rather life and pain, which to me is far more important. What has finally decided me is the remarks of the High Court judge which we heard so much about to-day, and a report in my local paper, the Bucks Examiner, where a headline reads:Car's seat belt caused girl's death in crash, pathologist tells inquest.Both reports appear on the same day. I could instance the case of a noble Lord whose spine was broken in two places over 40 years ago before seat belts were invented. If they had been and I had been wearing one, I should certainly have been dead. The noble Lord says it may have saved my life by making me incapable for combat, and he may well be right at that. But "three swallows do not make a summer", and no doubt countless other examples in a contrary sense could be found.
What finally convinced me was The Times report of June 5, quoted, I think, by the noble Viscount Lord Mountgarrat, that the number of car drivers receiving fatal or severe head injuries in crashes is not reduced by wearing safety belts. This is the opinion of Mr. A. E. Gratton and Mr. J. A. Hobbs of the Transport Road Research Laboratory. They should know, if anyone does. Anyway, much as I dislike the idea of being killed or 1360 severely injured, I would dislike still more the idea of being unable to get out of a car and being burnt alive. These are the practical reasons why I am against making compulsory the wearing of seat belts.
The other reason is that I agree wholeheartedly with the learned judge when he speaks of the invasion of the individual's freedom of choice, just as I disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, when he said in Committee:Some people have to be saved from themselves".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11/6/74, col. 378.]I have never been so shocked by any remark in your Lordships' House. It is to me the negation of all I stand for. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said in Committee:I usually wear one, but I object to the element of compulsion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11/6/74, col. 370.]That is my view. I usually do not wear a belt, and I believe both of us have an inalienable right to do as we please. To end may I quote once more from the learned judge:Without the sanction of Parliament, and perhaps even with it, I do not feel that the courts are justified in invading freedom of choice.My Lords, let us not give that sanction.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, if the noble Earl will permit me, we have been on this Amendment, now since a quarter-past four and I think this is the fourth time we have had a debate on this subject. It is a matter entirely for the House as to how it wishes to conduct this debate, which I know is very important. We have a number of other Amendments on this Bill in which I know many noble Lords are particularly interested. My only fear is that if we go on too long this will make discussion of the other Amendments even more difficult. It is entirely a matter for the House itself to take a view, but seems to me, taking into account all the other business that we have and the time that we have spent on this Amendment, that we ought in the interests of further consideration of this Bill to bring this discussion shortly to a close.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, may I say that while I agree very much with what the noble Lord the Leader of the House says, several noble Lords have taken much trouble and care and feel deeply on this matter. I suggest that, with a limited number of speeches, we go on for half-an-hour or so.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MOUNTGARRET
My Lords, I apologise very much to your Lordships' House, and I appreciate very much what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd has said. I remained silent in order to let as many noble Lords as possible speak, because this question has generated an enormous amount of interest since I moved the Amendment in Committee. I felt, therefore, it was possibly correct that before saying anything further I should wait until everybody had had a chance to speak. I am sorry that the discussion has gone on so long, but with your Lordships' permission, I would draw attention to one or two points raised this afternoon and try to co-ordinate them in such a way that noble Lords can best see them.
The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell mentioned the word "freedom" in Committee. He said:Freedom means being able to pursue a course of conduct which is not going to have adverse effects on other people".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11/6/74; Col. 375.]He was, of course, entirely and absolutely right; that is exactly what I said in Committee. We must have laws to see that other people do not suffer, but we must not have laws which affect the individuals themselves. We must have freedom of the individual to choose for himself what he wants to do. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said that he did not accept the point that because there may well be difficulty in enforcing a law it is therefore unwise to make the law. I find that really a remarkable statement. It surely must be extremely wrong to make such laws. For instance, there was a report in a newspaper not so long ago in which 1362 the right honourable Member for West Ham, North—a Member, I may say, of the Labour Party—was reported as saying that the fact is that the police are snowed under by bureaucracy and cannot cope. My Lords, do not let us do something else which will aggravate that situation. I can see no justification at all for this.
The noble Lord went on to say that it was calculated that some £40 million a year might be saved to the National Health Service if all drivers wore seat belts. This may very well be true; I am sure the figures are as accurate as they can be on a subject like this. But let us think of something else. Let us think of smoking, for example. I wonder how many millions of pounds a year are spent by the Health Service trying to patch up people who have ruined their health by smoking; and yet there is no law to stop smoking, at vast expense to the consumer. There is a "Warning by Her Majesty's Government" that "smoking can damage your health". We try to encourage people not to smoke, and I am sure that that is an excellent thing to do, but we do not make a law saying, "You will not smoke". As the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said—and I think this is one of the strongest points— "Thou shalt do something" and "Thou shalt not do something". This is very important.
Evidence of belts not reducing fatal or severe head injuries has been mentioned by noble Lords. This is a fact, and if we make the wearing of seat belts compulsory we may tarnish our reputation as legislators in that we will insist on making people do something which will kill them or injure them, and we must not do so. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, asked whether we were having a philosophical discussion on freedom or a discussion on seat belts. I submit that we are possibly having a philosophical discussion, not so much about seat belts but about Government as a whole.
One noble Lord said that people in this country are very law abiding. It is perfectly true that they are, so long as they can see that it is for the good of others. People do not like having good done to them. Nanny always said to us: "Come along, dear, it is time for you to drink your milk of magnesia. 1363 It will do you good." We did not like being done good to, then, and we do not like it now, and I do not think that we ought to do good to other people "in their own interests". The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, made a comparison between drugs and seat belts. With respect to him, I would suggest that although the law relating to drugs relates to people taking drugs and trying to protect their health, people who take drugs encourage the taking of them by other people. The point is that if we stop people taking drugs themselves, we are helping to stamp out the encouragement of drug taking by the third party. That again illustrates my point that we must have laws to help a third party, but not for the individual.
My Lords, is not the noble Viscount perhaps "flogging" this issue too far? He has had the very strong advice from the Leader of the House that we have argued this endlessly not only to-day but on earlier occasions. I think that the feeling of the House is that we have probably had all the arguments. I wonder whether the noble Viscount would feel that perhaps he could draw to a close?
My Lords, having asked one noble Lord to sit down, and having had the acceptance of the House in this, I wonder whether really it is wise for others to get up?
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I think that some 18 Members of your Lordships' House have spoken this afternoon. I want to repeat something that my noble friend Lord Stow Hill said, because it is extremely important. Wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of death or serious injury overall by nearly half. I hope that all your Lordships will bear that in mind, because that is the conclusion reached as a result of considerable research by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. I doubt whether there is a Member of your Lordships' House who does not respect the conclusions that that body comes to as a result of the research it undertakes.
1364 How far have we got with persuasion? It has been said this afternoon that we began seeking to persuade people in January, 1965. Since that time we have secured the fitting of seat belts in 80 per cent. of motor cars on the road. Up to 1973 we had spent £1,700,000 on publicity campaigns to persuade those who have seat belts compulsorily fitted in their cars to use them. And yet the sad truth is that at maximum we have only been able to encourage something like 30 per cent., at the highest, to use them. There was a short break in the advertising campaign and, as a result, there was a fall off from 30 per cent. to 20 per cent. in the number using their seat belts. To-night, a new TV campaign is being started again at a cost of £850,000 to persuade people to use seat belts. It is unfortunately all too likely that this campaign will not do much more than sustain the present low wearing rate, or raise it temporarily by more than a few per cent. This is an extremely disappointing response to all the effort that has been put in to persuade people of the value of wearing seat belts. I would say in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that we have been under some pressure, including that from the Automobile Association, to deal with this matter. The noble Earl nods his head.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Earl was speaking on behalf of the R.A.C., and I think that the point of view of the other main motoring organisation ought to be quoted. The question is raised as to the respect which such legislation would command. I hoped to have more time to detail what has happened in Australia, where they have had compulsory legislation dating back to 1971. Briefly, there has been a reduction of 15 per cent. in serious cases, and a dramatic fall in admissions to hospitals for head and back injuries. As a result of this, the Australians have been encouraged overwhelmingly to use the seat belts that have been inserted in their cars.
What is it that we can anticipate by way of benefit in this country? Allowing for the casualty reductions that are already attributable to wearing seat belts, it is estimated that an extra 1,200 lives 1365 could be saved and a further 11,000 serious accidents avoided each year if the 70 per cent. who do not bother to wear seat belts could be induced to do so. In sheer economic terms, terms of lost production and of costs to the Health Service, we should be saving something like £40 million a year, but in terms of suffering to the victims, and to those who love them or depend on them, the cost is incalculable.
The clause would give this Government, and indeed any Government—and the Front Bench opposite have been in agreement—powers to take steps to prevent such casualties. If Parliament grants these powers this year, then consultations can begin about such aspects as exemptions, for which the clause makes full provision, with a view to making regulations before the end of 1975.
I have information here that I could use to reply to the many questions that have been asked. I think your Lordships would not want me to pursue them unduly. I will give the undertaking that, in so far as I have been asked detailed questions, I will see that the information is passed on to those who asked for it. I trust that the House will resist this Amendment and will secure this clause within the Bill, because it is indeed a measure intended—and we can be as sure of this as we can of almost anything we do—to save life and prevent serious injury.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, before the Minister sits down may I ask whether he is proposing to reply to the question that I raised on Committee stage, for which purpose I specifically put down my name to this Amendment? In his speech from the Box this afternoon he has not in fact replied to the question I raised. He has offered to reply in writing, as he did last time, and his reply in writing is nothing more nor less than a statement of the Department of the Environment's view. I asked a specific question, and I think that I am entitled at this stage to an answer.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I shall be brief, since I sense that the House 1366 wants to come to a decision on this matter. I do not want to go into arguments as to the merits, so ably put forward on both sides, but as I was responsible in the last Government for this clause in your Lordships' House I should like to make my position clear. Your Lordships will recall that this clause was not in our original Bill. It was an Amendment put down at the Report stage by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and two other colleagues and was similar to what is now contained in Clause 7. Our position when we were in Government was that we were anxious to consult as widely as possible and to have the views of both Houses of Parliament before we came to a decision. We were therefore prepared to accept the Amendment of my noble friend, which provided enabling powers and did not prejudice in any way the final decision, which was left to the negative procedure; and, again, we left the final decision in the hands of both Houses of Parliament.
We then listened to what your Lordships had to say in the last debate and the weight of opinion on that occasion was very much in favour of this clause and of compulsory seat belts: some 12 speakers spoke for compulsion with four against, and the Amendment was accepted without a Division. Then we lost Office and had no more to do with it. All I should like to say from this Front Bench is that we came to no final decision. Many of us were convinced, one way or the other, of what was correct; but so far as this debate to-day is concerned we shall vote as individuals, taking our own lines as to what is right and what is wrong. I shall vote against the Amendment because I believe, from the arguments I have heard, that the case for compulsion in this matter, subject to certain exemptions or exceptions, is made out.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I shall not stand between the House and the Division Lobby for more than a moment. The question has been well and truly argued from both sides and I am grateful to noble Lords who have put their views on both sides of the case. The only noble Lord I am sorry for is Lord Stow Hill. He put up a number of ninepins and one after the other they 1367 were knocked down. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, and also the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, knocked down the one about drugs. The rest have been knocked down, and the poor man has been left with very little to the arguments which he put forward.
Referring to what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said, there is no analogy between crash helmets and what we are discussing to-day. I do not know of anyone who has ever been hurt by wearing
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.1368
§ a crash helmet. I do know people who have been hurt by wearing belts. I thank the Minister for his reply. It was an admirable reply of general contentions, supported by no arguments or facts, to which I listened with great interest. I hope we shall now go to a Division.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 79; Not-Contents, 72.1367
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Elles, B.||Monson, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mountevans, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Emmet of Amberley, B.||Mountgarret, V. [Teller.]|
|Arran. E.||Erskine, of Rerrick, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Falmouth, V.||Onslow, E.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Ferrers, E.||Platt, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Feversham, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Foot, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gainford, L.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Berkeley, B.||Gladwyn, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Halsbury, E.||St. Just, L.|
|Bourne, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Sandys, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Howe, E. [Teller.]||Selsdon, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Killearn, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, B.||Kindersley, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Sharples, B.|
|Caccia, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Slater, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Long, V.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Loudoun, C.||Strathspey, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Daventry, L.||Luke, L.||Thomas, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Verulam, E.|
|de Clifford, L.||Mansfield, E.||Vivian, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Meston, L.||Wise, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Milverton, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Garnsworthy, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Addison, V.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Arwyn, L.||Grenfell, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Hacking, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Hale, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Hall, V.||St. Davids, V.|
|Bernstein, L.||Hanworth, V.||Sandford, L.|
|Birk, B.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Seear, B.|
|Brayley, L.||Henderson, L.||Shepherd, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Burntwood, L.||Henley, L.||Somers, L.|
|Byers, L.||Jacques, L. [Teller.]||Stamp, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Stow Hill, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Lyell, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Mais, L.|
|Darwen, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Denham, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.||Walston, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Norwich, V.||Wheatley, L.|
|Elton, L.||O'Hagan, L.||White, B.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Phillips, B.||Wigg, B.|
|Reay, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Feather, L.||Redcliffe-Maud, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Fulton, L.||Redesdale, L.|
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON moved Amendment No. 3:
§ After Clause 10 insert the following new clause:
§ Amendment relating to noise.
§ ".—(1) In Section 43 of the 1972 Act (tests of satisfactory condition of vehicles other than goods vehicles to which s. 45 applies) at the end of subsection (5) there shall be inserted the words" and from 1st January 1976 such stations and apparatus shall be so provided for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not vehicles satisfy the Minister's regulations for the time being in force concerning the emission of noise".
§ (2) In section 45 of the 1972 Act (tests of satisfactory condition of certain classes of goods vehicles and determination of plated weights and other particulars therefor) at the end of subsection (9) there shall be inserted the words "And from 1st January 1976 the Secretary of State shall provide and maintain such stations and apparatus for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not such vehicles satisfy regulations for the time being in force concerning the emission of noise"."
§ The noble Lord said: Most of your Lordships would agree with the late Sir Winston Churchill that, "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war". But I believe most of your Lordships feel that it is a great deal less good than a drink before dinner, and I shall therefore be as brief as I can. In the recent past we have discussed the pros and cons of the Amendment which I place before your Lordships for your attention. I said then that we had been waiting 40 years for the effects of the Amendment brought in by my father in 1934 and now, in case this should go against me, I offer through the columns of Hansard my affectionate good wishes to my son in the year 2014. But I hope they will not be needed for this occasion.
§ In the earlier debate, I drew the attention of your Lordships to the fact that the Road Traffic Act 1972 and the Statutory Instruments in the past laid down the acceptable maxima of noise emitted by motor vehicles and the means of ascertaining it. It was agreed that this was largely honoured in the breech. I put it to your Lordships that the Noise Advisory Council was right in saying that the only way of getting an effective control of the noise made by vehicles was to establish testing stations, and that the Minister had the power to do so, but that it was not yet used. I said that a date was needed on which that power should become compulsory on the Minister, and by amending 1370 the Act of 1972 the Amendment would ensure that it was put into action.
§ In his reply, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, made a number of points, which I have now had time to consider, and on which I should like your Lordships' indulgence while I briefly answer them. He said that no maxima were prescribed for the Ministry of Transport's annual test for heavy goods vehicles, but that maxima were prescribed for vehicles in use. These, however, are not effective because the means of testing are not yet satisfactorily available, and the Amendment would ensure that the means do become available. The noble Lord further said that the British Standards Institution's test of noise levels of new vehicles required precise conditions which were not suitable for large-scale testing. But these standards and methods are laid down by Statutory Instrument and can therefore be changed by Statutory Instrument without Parliamentary debate. So that the standard of the British Standards Institution, which is used in this case, is used as a matter of convenience and not obligatorily by the Minister who can substitute other standards if he wished. My Lords, we are not concerned here with the decibel ratings of acceptable noise; at this stage we are only concerned that such maxima should exist and should be enforced. The Secretary of State finds the criteria and the methods of establishing them an obstacle in his path. This Amendment will encourage the Secretary of State to remove that obstacle, and therefore that argument is one not to reject the Amendment but to accept it.
§ If I go fast, my Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven, because I sense that it is the will of the House. The question of the actual date to be inserted in the Amendment arises and if the noble Lord feels, with the advice he has had, that 18 months hence is too soon I am more than sympathetic to that; perhaps two years or even three years would be acceptable. If in his reply he asks me to do so, I shall be more than ready to ask the Chair to accept a revision of the Amendment so as to insert the date of July 1, 1977, if that will help the noble Lord. I am glad to concede that, but I cannot concede that the complication of the noise tests, as it exists at the moment, is a sufficient reason for standing still on the whole matter. The difficulty of devising a simple noise test was advanced by the 1371 noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, at the Committee stage as a reason for rejecting the Amendment. But immediately afterwards the force of that argument was much reduced by his saying that in the case of diesel engine vehicles a stationary and simple test was already devised.
§ At this stage I should like to express to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, who is now at the wicket my appreciation of his great patience and kindness and of the time spent in discussing this matter with his advisers earlier to-day. During that, I gathered that the diesel testing device is simple to operate and, indeed, mobile. Supported by similar equipment at test stations, it seems to me that what already exists would very nearly meet the requirements of this Amendment as it stands. Surely a date can, therefore, be found.
My Lords, I have very briefly, and I hope not too succinctly, recapitulated almost all the Committee stage arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, on the Government's behalf, and I hope I have shown that those arguments either have little force or, in some cases, have a force in favour of acceptance of this Amendment. There was one more point made, however, to which I believe many of your Lordships will take as strong, as particular and as principled an objection as I did. It was the last point. The noble Lord said that the question of vehicle noise control was under examination by the E.E.C., and he continued:
We do not really know what the outcome will be, whether it will measure reasonably equally to what we have at the moment or whether our own regulations will be too severe or not severe enough".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11/6/74, col. 402.]
§ In considering these words, I am instantly aware of two considerations. The first is that a large and increasing volume of heavy-goods vehicle traffic consists of so-called juggernauts coming from the E.E.C. countries, who, together with us, are considering the problem at the present; and I feel that if any vehicles ought to be controlled then it is these, first on grounds of practical necessity and in common every-day fairness to the British people, who live under their shadow, as it were, at the roadside. but that is an emotional reaction, and perhaps a little superficial, and I do not want to make too much of it. The 1372 other consideration is more profound and more important, and it is this. If we are to sit back with our hands folded and wait for every piece of our own legislation on such trivia as even this to be decided for us in Europe, then I think not only will our own dignity be affronted, not only will our Parliament atrophy, but we shall be missing a golden opportunity into the bargain.
§ I was under the impression that we were in Europe to lead it; and, whether we wish to be in Europe or not, a lead is something that we should give. It seems to me that here is a question concerning the quality of life, particularly the quality of life in our cities, which we cannot afford, and must not be content, to let others who live outside these shores decide for us. If our standards turn out to be higher than theirs, so much the better: it is up to them to conform with us, and not the other way about.
§ My Lords, we are under stress of time. I see the noble Lord opposite looking anxiously at me, anticipating my subsidence on to the Back-Bench again, where I belong, probably. I would therefore ask those, if there are any such, who wish to support me to speak for not more than five minutes, and any of those who wish to speak on the other side to speak for not more than three minutes. I beg to move.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I should like to support this Amendment, but I really do not know whether I am in order to do so since I do not have a copy of it in front of me, there being a printers' strike at the moment. My noble friend has been kind; I now have a copy. I support this Amendment entirely. It is time we did something about noise on the road. It is absolutely shattering sometimes. I think there is one point that should be emphasised, and that is that any vehicle makes more noise when accelerating than when merely cruising. Therefore, any tests that are made as to the noise that is being emitted at that time should take that point into consideration. But no doubt those who organise the tests will be perfectly competent to see to that. I strongly support this Amendment.
§ LORD REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, may I add one word to what has been said? I apologise for speaking, as 1373 the second Cross-Bencher, when the feeling of the House is that we should get on with it, but I think that noise is one of the aspects of pollution which it is most difficult and most important to control. My mind goes back 25 years, and it seems to me that there were then immense risks that we were to make our life almost intolerable, particularly through vehicles on the roads; and those of us who had had experience of other parts of the world, whether in Mexico, in Italy, in Spain or, indeed, in Paris, realised what tremendous risks we in this country were running. Since then we have held the ford more successfully than I expected, but we are proposing to spend large sums of money to attempt, at any rate, to abate the noise of aircraft. It seems to me ludicrous that we should not take this opportunity to do something that may help. However few statistics one can produce in support of this Amendment, I hope that your Lordships will support it, if necessary in the Lobby.
§ LORD LYELL
My Lords, I seek to add my support to this Amendment, as I understand that it is a relatively simple operation to bring into force the requirements of the existing Ministry of Transport test, which I am given to understand is applicable to heavy-goods vehicles. I understand that the Minister in another place is considering making testing for defective silencers and the incidence of noise in motor cars a requisite of the annual Ministry of Transport test for motor vehicles over the age of two years. So far as I am aware, all the silencers on new cars are approved and are efficient, and, also so far as I am aware, they meet all the E.E.C. Regulations. It would therefore seem to me to be a relatively simple request to make that this efficiency of new silencers should indeed be maintained and that effective measures to reduce the incidence of noise in all motor vehicles, however old they arc, should be enforced, because it is a law which can be very easily, conveniently and effectively enforced. I cannot see that speed, or any form of effective transport with an efficient engine, requires noise. It is for that reason that I am glad to add my support to the noble Lord, Lord Elton.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, speaks with 1374 speed, and he has marshalled his arguments very well. I may say that we have done our best to appreciate the stand that he has taken on this matter, and I have listened with interest to what those noble Lords who have spoken in support of the Amendment have had to say. The difference between the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the Government is over means, not over ends. We are all after less noise from traffic, and as soon as possible. If we are to keep an environment fit to live in, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, himself said, measures must be taken to deal with this problem. The question for discussion is: what measures will give us the best results quickest, and the best value for money?
In the Government's view the matter has to be tackled on three levels. First, there is the setting of standards which will limit the amount of noise which vehicles may produce. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said, we already have a set of limits covering all vehicles, but many people think they are not severe enough, and the Government share this view. We are therefore discussing with our European Community partners to what extent vehicle noise limits can be reduced. The Council of Ministers has set a deadline of October 1 this year for reaching agreement on this matter.
Secondly, there is the problem of ensuring that vehicles meet the standards when they are first built. The House is making a major contribution to improving the powers available to the Government in this field by agreeing to the clause on type-approval in this present Road Traffic Bill. For the first time in this country this will give a general power to ensure that vehicle manufacturers produce for sale in this country only vehicles which comply with the legal requirements, including noise limits. When these powers become law the Government intend to introduce the scheme as fast as possible. Thirdly, there is the problem of ensuring that vehicles meet the legal requirements once they come into use on the road. That is what the noble Lord is concerned with and what he wants to achieve through his Amendment.
When we are considering noise on the road—"in-use enforcement" as it is called in the jargon—we are faced with a very difficult problem. This is the problem of how to measure noise. Noise is in 1375 fact very difficult to measure in a way which will give consistent, repeatable results, since it is very dependent on the circumstances in which it is measured. While we are all anxious to repress unnecessary noise, we must at the same time be fair to the motorist and the haulier: a method of test which did not give consistent repeatable results would not merely create injustice between different motorists and hauliers, but would also bring the whole attempt to enforce this type of requirement into disrepute.
It is for this reason that the two tests which are laid down in the present Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations specify very precisely the conditions in which the test is to be carried out. This involves a number of matters, such as the size of the testing ground, its surface, what obstructions there may be around it, and how many people there may be near the microphone. The British Standard test also specifies the speed and gear at which the vehicle must be driven. There are two inevitable results of all this: first, it is not practicable to test more than a small number of vehicles by these methods; and secondly, the established tests are not suitable for large-scale in-use enforcement.
The question arises: what are the Government doing about this? The first answer is that we are developing new methods of test which can be used for large-scale enforcement. For diesel engines, the Department of the Environment's engineers have already produced a test which can be administered while the vehicle is stationary. Although this cannot take into account the noise generated by the tyres, or the noise resulting from a loose load, it can deal with engine noise—the worst source of noise on most vehicles. This has been incorporated into a draft amendment to the Regulations, which has been circulated for comment to interested organisations. I can promise the House that, subject to the normal procedure for Satutory Instruments, we shall see the new test in operation well before the deadline set in Lord Elton's new clause. This test method is not suitable for petrol engines, since it relies on the presence of an engine speed governor to prevent the engine being damaged. Research is 1376 in hand to develop a way of dealing with this problem, but I cannot forecast when we will have usable results. However, we must remember that diesel engined vehicles—buses and lorries—are the main source of complaint.
The Government are also using their existing powers in other directions: first, noise tests are included in the certificate-of-fitness examinations for buses—and no bus may be used on stage services without this certificate. Secondly, the annual test for heavy goods vehicles includes a check on the silencer and exhaust system of all large lorries—and it is in this area that the bulk of the problems of noise due to poor maintenance arise. Finally, as my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell announced at Committee Stage, the Minister for Transport is considering including a similar check on exhaust systems as part of the annual M.O.T. test.
I am sorry that it has taken me so long to explain the action already being undertaken by the Government in this field. But I am sure the House would not wish met o ssvheotero shrdl cmhm not wish me to gloss over the very real practical difficulties facing us despite the pressure of time. But I do not wish to blur the fundamental issue: how are we going to make real progress with in-use enforcement? Basically as we see it, there are two methods by which we can tackle the problem. First, by periodic tests of all vehicles on the roads; or secondly, by spot-checks of vehicles which are prima facie in breach of noise limits. By requiring equipment to be provided as part of the stations used for the annual tests of vehicles, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has opted for the first of these methods. In the Government's view this is not the right approach. Rather than waste resources on testing the large bulk of vehicles which give no offence, the Government would prefer to test only those vehicles which seem to be in breach of requirements. For this reason, we feel that we have been right to give priority to the new Regulations for spot check tests of diesel engines. I feel, therefore, that it can fairly be said that the Government are pursuing the same ends as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, wants them to—and at least as fast as his Amendment is suggesting—but by a different enforcement system.
1377 To sum up, I would say that I sympathise entirely with Lord Elton's aim of improving enforcement, but I would say in reply to what he has said that his Amendment is not the best way of achieving this end. More flexible and cost-effective powers will be available through the new Regulations the Government have in hand and well within the timetable of the noble Lord's new clause. I therefore recommend that the House should not accept this clause.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to that reply, and, with great respect, I am glad to hear that Her Majesty's Government are seeking to increase the rigidness of the standards of noise control within the E.E.C. That, of course, is not an argument against the Amendment. I am also glad to hear that the type-approval certification scheme will be enforced so that in future vehicles made after this Bill will conform to the standards which we require. That again is not an argument against the Amendment because these are all the vehicles already on the road. The noble Lord spoke of the problem of in-use enforcement, and that I accept is the most difficult problem we have to tackle. It is rather a question of the chicken or the egg. If you have not got the stations to test, there is no point in having the standards, and then when you are asking for a lower standard you are told that there is no station at which it can be enforced. The circle must be broken somewhere and I submit that this is the point at which it should be broken. It is a difficult problem and I have advanced the offer of putting the date of July 1, 1977, into the Amendment in place of the present date. When I sit down perhaps the noble Lord will tell me whether lie would wish to take up this suggestion. He shakes his head.
Then there is progress, we are told, in the testing of vehicles but this is not suitable for large-scale tests, and, since the choice is between periodic testing of all vehicles and spot-testing of individual vehicles the Government have come down on the side of spot-testing of individual vehicles. There is nothing in the Amendment which will prevent that going on. The noble Lord suggested that the wrong clause was amended in 1378 this Amendment because it came down on the side of blanket testing.
I am now going to advance to your Lordships a proposition which I think bears consideration. It is a proposition for the passing of this Amendment and it rests upon the peculiar standing of this House in the community at the moment, which results in the fact that the debates in this Chamber are not widely reported. I think noble Lords will agree that not only is my Amendment and the purpose of the Government identical but that the purpose of all of us is identical and it is a purpose which is accepted by the great majority of the citizens of this country. It is the control of vehicular noise. To get that control faster one needs pressure of public opinion. The public must be aware of the discussion, and it will he more aware of the discussion if it takes place in another place than if it takes place in this Chamber. Therefore, it is logical. I do not accept unreservedly that this Amendment is in the wrong clause, but I am saying this to those who have considered it and think that it is in the wrong clause; let it be threshed out there, because that will generate attention and support. Therefore, if noble Lords opposite do not wish to take up the offer which I extend to them, it only remains to me to move this Amendment.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD ELWYN-JONFS)
The Question is that Amendment No. 3 be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". I think the "Contents" have it. Clear the Bar.
Tellers for the Not-Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 51. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the "Contents" have it.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 13 [Amendments relating to licensing of drivers of vehicles]:
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 19, line 10, at end insert—
(dd) conferring powers on appellate courts to suspend orders of disqualification imposed by lower courts".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment goes with Amendments Nos. 12, 14 and 15, and in conjunction with those Amendments it enables appellate courts where an appeal is lodged, or where an application is made for leave to appeal, to suspend any disqualification imposed by lower courts. I believe your Lordships are already aware that where a driver is disqualified in a lower court the disqualification begins immediately and his licence is taken away from him. Where he gives immediate notice of intention to appeal—
§ BARONESS MACLEOD OF BORVE
My Lords, on a point of Order. I am sorry, but I gather that my Amendment which was after Clause 22 has not been called. Is that correct?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I called Amendment No. 4 in the name of Lord Harris of Greenwich, and this Amendment is being dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I was dealing with the position where a driver is disqualified in a lower court. Unless he immediately gives notice of intention to appeal his licence is taken from him. This Amendment provides that where he subsequently gives notice to appeal, the appeal court is able to suspend the order of disqualification and he is able to use his licence until the appeal has been dealt with. This is largely a matter of routine. In operation, it ought to prove fairly automatic. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 22 [Experimental introduction of road humps for controlling vehicle speeds]:
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ BARONESS MACLEOD or BORVE moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 31, line 2, at end insert—
(aa) the width of the road surface shall be not less than 12 feet; and".
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I must apologise to the House. I had not seen the Amendment before mine. I shall not take up very much time on this Amendment. I am not at all keen about the possibility of having humps in the road, in any case, but as the Govern 1380 ment have put it into the Bill that humps should be at their apex five inches above the road, then it is also vital for local authorities that the width of the road that comes up to the apex of five inches should be defined in the Bill. I have taken 12 feet as being the footage, giving six feet on either side of the apex of five inches; that figure was given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, at the Committee stage. I believe that this is terribly important, because, as we all know, local authorities, vary so much in the ways in which they implement even Acts of Parliament. So I hope that the Government will see fit to include the width of the road as well as the height of these humps if they are minded to go ahead with experimenting in the use of humps. My Lords I beg to move.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, this is a rather technical matter. Briefly, a short hump affects smaller vehicles such as motor cycles rather more than larger vehicles such as lorries. With a long hump, the reverse is the case and 4 inches by 12 feet appears, in laboratory conditions, to be the most promising design. But these dimensions are not sacrosanct: they are inter-related in a rather complex way. A reduced height would allow a reduced length.
Subsection (7) of the clause prescribes a maximum height of 5 inches or a depth of 2 inches, as the noble Baroness will be well aware, and a shape which will not damage tyres. This sets statutory bounds to the nature of the device used, but these are experimental powers. Specifying a minimum length will not guarantee safety, which depends on a host of factors. What it will do is inhibit the design flexibility and so detract from the value of the experiments. Design is a technical matter; it must take account of conditions at each site.
The only practical way to proceed is by relying on the skill and experience of the Transport Road Research Laboratory. The whole object is safety, and it is the safety department of the T.R.L.L. that is carrying out this research. I want to emphasise the fact that the clause authorises only the Secretary of State to undertake experiments, and not any other authority. In practice, the T.R.R.L. will be responsible for the control of the experiments. These remarks apply to the 1381 present experimental proposals. If legislation is introduced later providing for the general use of humps, it will then be necessary to consider more stringent statutory safeguards. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel she has achieved a good deal of what she was aiming at, because I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment.
§ BARONESS MACLEOD OF BORVE
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord fot making me more aware of the difficulties, and the fact that it will be only at the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State that experiments with these humps will take place, and not local authorities. It would be an impossible situation if various local authorities were trying to carrying out their own experiments. With the assurance that that is not likely to happen, and that it is outside the province of what the Government are now aiming at, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD HARRIS OF GREENWICH) moved Amendment No. 6:
§ After Clause 22 insert the following new clause:
§ Use of pyrotechnic flares by police for traffic purposes
§ .—(1) Notwithstanding anything in the Explosives Act 1875 or in any other enactment, a constable who is for the time being engaged in the regulation of traffic in a road or any person acting under his authority may, on or in the vicinity of the road, light and use a flare for the purpose of regulating the traffic.
§ (2) In this section "flare" means a firework or other device designed to produce a light by a process of combustion."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think the House will agree that this is an extremely modest and non-controversial matter. For some years the police, particularly on motorways, have been using flares These are used where there is a substantial amount of fog. It is obviously highly desirable that this practice should continue. However, there is some ambiguity in the law here. Under Section 80 of the Explosives Act 1875 there is a provision which forbids the setting off of fireworks on a highway. We are removing in this Amendment the ambiguity in the law. I beg to move.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, my mind goes back 30 years ago, in 1944, when I was in Normandy. 1382 It so happened that in my previous "incarnation" in those days I was a subaltern with four General Sherman tanks. The tanks were positioned on either side of the road which I had been told was of vital importance—the usual story! If anybody came along I was told to fire a Very pistol and if I did not like the look of the chap to open fire at him. The only vehicle that come along in two or three days while we were at this post was when I happened to be on duty in the turret 'at about one o'clock in the morning. I fired my Very pistol towards the oncoming vehicle. The vehicle took fright and promptly went into a hedge not knowing what was about to come down on it. In the vehicle was no less a person than the corps commander who had no idea that he was coming along the road from the enemy side! I did not know whether I would be sent back to Britain, court martialled or recommended for a medal. In fact none of those things happened.
Thinking of that experience, if flares were used by the police on a dark night, or when dawn was just coming up, perhaps a driver of a motor car, rather stupidly, would be using only side lights and if the police did not illuminate themselves and just fired a flare at the vehicle, it might cause fright. The perfectly innocent driver might well drive off the road into a hedge. I should be grateful for reassurance on this point. If the police illuminate themselves, all well and good, but it should be borne in mind that firing a flare could be frightening to drivers.
§ BARONESS MACLEOD OF BORVE
My Lords, will the flare be a continuous light? In the circumstances of fog, that would be helpful to motorists.
§ LORD HARRIS OF GREENWICH
My Lords, I am sure that we do not want a situation where any motorist is put in the peril that the noble Lord's corps commander was in on that rather disagreeable occasion for him. As I understand it, when the flares are used they are pointed away from the highway. We are simply removing an ambiguity from the law. This practice of using flares has been going on for a substantial period of time and we want to remove this ambiguity to avoid difficulties for the police authorities who are continuing to use these flares. I cannot answer the 1383 point raised by the noble Baroness, at the moment, and I will discover it in due course.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, may I, with the leave of the House, ask whether the instructions to the police are to fire away from the vehicles?
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 25 [Variation of penalties for certain offences]:
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 33, line 13, at end insert—
(6) Notwithstanding the preceding provisions of this section or Schedule 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:
Section 15, Criminal Justice Act 1972 (Community Service Orders).
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the story behind this Amendment is as follows. It is part of compound Amendments put down in the name of my noble friend Lord Janner at the Committee stage. In the event, he was unable to move the Amendments and they were taken over by my noble friend Lady Phillips. In the discussion that ensued there was considerable confusion. The Government's reply was mainly directed to arguing the point against retaining the magistrates' powers to imprison people for certain traffic offences. But that was not at issue in Lord Janner's original Amendments, and it is not at issue in the four Amendments which I am now moving, and to which I hope I may speak altogether.
§ The intention of these Amendments is not to retain the magistrates' powers of imprisonment, but to ensure that should that power be withdrawn there will not also lapse with it the power to impose certain other sentences, some of which are of a wholly non-custodial character. As the law now stands, and as the Bill now stands, withdrawing the power from magistrates to imprison for these traffic 1384 offences would have the result that they could no longer make orders for community service or for attendance at attendance centres. Also, they could no longer make orders under the Mental Health Act for hospital or guardianship orders. That is because those orders can be made, as the law now stands, only in the case of what are vulgarly known as imprison-able offences. But if the traffic offences cease to be imprisonable offences, the magistrates will lose the powers to impose these non-custodial orders. I should have thought that community service orders were very appropriate in the case of a number of traffic offences—for instance, the hit-and-run driver who does not report an accident or some of the cases of driving with excessive alcohol in the blood. I should also think that there was a special case for retaining the power to make an attendance centre order.
§ At Committee stage the Government pointed out that there are only two adult attendance centres in the country. I think not a great deal of use is made of them and there is some uncertainty as to what their particular function should be. But I would remind the House that the Penal Advisory Council, in their Report on Non-Custodial Offences, made a recommendation that one attendance centre, either one of the existing ones or a new one, should be set us to deal solely with motoring offences, and that it should provide a programme of instruction and guidance in motoring law, traffic manners and good driving. That recommendation was not accepted by the previous Government, although most of the Advisory Council's Report was in fact passed into law. So far the present Government have not made any reaction towards it. But it is desirable to keep the power for magistrates to send a motoring offender to an attendance centre, in the event that perhaps we shall some day have an attendance centre which is specifically designed to deal with cases of that kind.
§ Your Lordships will notice I have not retained from the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Janner a number of items which included custodial treatment. It would be wrong, if we are deprived in the magistrates' courts of the power to imprison persons, to retain the power to send persons to borstal, since one should 1385 perhaps not use a greater power of detention against young people than is used against their elders. If these Amendments are not accepted then the result will be, unless the same objective is reached by another road, that the magistrates' courts in dealing with serious traffic offences will be able only to impose a fine or to put the offender on probation or, in the case of an indictable offence, if the offender has a very bad record to send him up for sentence to the Crown Court. This seems to me to make the magistrates' function in relation to traffic offences almost ridiculously small.
§ It may well be that these Amendments are not the right way to achieve the object in view. I have taken over the drafting of my noble friend Lord Janner and accepted this rather roundabout way of achieving his object by saying that, for the purpose of these sentences, and no others, the traffic offences shall be deemed to be punishable by imprisonment—not that they should be imprisonable but that they should be deemed to be punishable by imprisonment, so that these particular types of order might still be imposed. I would add one word about the mental health order which is custodial because that is in a rather different position. The grounds there are different. The grounds for retaining the mental health order in the magistrates' court are that, although this is very seldom used, if it is used it is used in the case of a person whose mental disturbance is very obvious and severe, and the grounds are humane; namely, that in such a case where it is perfectly clear that a mental health order, that a hospital order or a guardianship order is the appropriate treatment, it is not humane that the person concerned should be made to go through the judicial process twice, first before the magistrates' court and subsequently before the Crown Court.
§ It may well be that the objective can be attained in another way, and if there is another way and the Government will indicate that they have some sympathy with my wish to retain the power to impose community service orders in the case of serious traffic offences, the power to impose attendance at an attendance centre, and the power to impose a hospital order under the Mental Health Act, with the supplementary power to order a remand for mental investigation, 1386 I shall be happy to withdraw these Amendments. But if they are resisted I would point out the disastrous consequences this would have on the newer forms of non-custodial treatment to which the Government are sympathetic and which have been tried out in recent years, apparently with considerable success. My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ LORD HARRIS OF GREENWICH
My Lords, I will be brief because the Government are prepared to look at this particular set of issues raised by my noble friend in this set of Amendments. It is particularly appropriate that she spoke on this question of community service orders because she was, of course, Chairman of the Sub-Committee of the Advisory Council which recommended the introduction of these orders—a decision which was encompassed in the 1972 Criminal Justice Act and which the Government are considering extending. Given the fact that she was Chairman of this Committee, it is not appropriate for me to lecture her on the purpose of community service orders. I would defer to her rather superior judgment in this matter, except to say that she is aware that normally—and indeed this is the objective of the policy of the Home Office, and in the six probation areas where these schemes exist—this is seen as an alternative to imprisonment. We certainly do not wish to see community service orders as an alternative to probation. Nevertheless, the point the noble Baroness has raised in this debate is right and we are prepared to look at it. I cannot make a final commitment, which she will understand, but we will certainly look at it in another place when this Bill arrives there.
I think I may say the same so far as attendance centres are concerned. The position here is that, generally speaking, these are not available to the Crown Court; and this is one of the rare instances of a lower court having a power which the higher court does not have, largely because juveniles rarely appear in a Crown Court. But once again the noble Baroness has raised an important question here and we will look at it, as we will the question of hospital and guardianship orders—although these are used rarely; but in some situations no 1387 doubt they are appropriate. Again, without committing the Government finally, we will look at that question, too. The issue of arrest warrants and fine enforcement is a little more difficult, but I would not wish to spoil an otherwise agreeable evening.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, I would point out that the particular question of arrest warrants is not in my Amendment.
§ LORD HARRIS OF GREENWICH
In that case, my Lords, we are in even greater harmony than I thought. On the issues the noble Baroness has raised, the Government will be delighted to look at the matter, although again I cannot commit my right honourable friend in his final judgment.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's reply. I am torn about the basic question of the powers of the magistrates and power to imprison. I am torn between my dislike of imprisonment and my desire to see serious motoring offences treated seriously. I hope that that dilemma may be resolved by the Amendment to be moved next by the noble Lord, Lord Foot. But in view of the generous response of my noble friend Lord Harris to my particular Amendments, which do not imply retention of the power of imprisonment, I beg leave of the House to withdraw Amendment No. 7.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ LORD FOOT moved Amendment No. 11:
§ Leave out Clause 25.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like as briefly as possible to raise a point which I raised at the Committee stage and to pursue it a little further than I pursued it then. My object then, as is my object now, was to draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that this clause, No. 25, as it now is, has an effect and a result and a consequence which is not immediately apparent upon the surface as you read it. The apparent purpose, and indeed the real purpose of this clause, is to take away from magistrates the power of imprisonment for 1388 road traffic offences, with one exception only, namely, in the case of the person who drives while disqualified. That is what the clause primarily does. At the same time it steps up in Schedule 5 the financial penalties that can be imposed by magistrates. Thirdly, it leaves undisturbed and untouched the penalties which can be imposed by the Crown Court when a case is sent to the Crown Court by the magistrates. That is what the clause does and that is what it appears to do. But what I want to draw to your Lordships' attention is that the clause has another consequence. It goes not only to the question of what powers of punishment magistrates should have in road traffic offences but also to the question of when a defendant should have the right to elect to be tried by jury.
§ For the benefit of those who do not have the point, may I very briefly explain how it arises. For a certain purpose criminal offences in this country can be divided into three categories. First of all, there is the indictable offence which is triable before a judge and jury. At the other end of the scale there is the summary offence which in the ordinary way is only triable by the magistrates. In between there is what we call the intermediate offence which may be dealt with on indictment and, therefore, tried by judge and jury or may be dealt with by the magistrate. The only factor in the situation to which I want to direct attention is that in deciding whether a person is entitled to claim trial by jury, it has long been the basic test to ask whether, if he is dealt with before the magistrates, the magistrates have the power to send him to prison for a period in excess of three months. That has long been the test by which we decide whether a man should have the right to go for trial, and it is embodied in Section 25 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952. My Lords, that may or may not be a good test as to whether a man should have the right to go for trial. Some people may think that it is an arbitrary test and that it draws the line at an arbitrary point. But let us leave that on one side, if we may. That is the test as it stands at the moment.
§ How does this clause, which takes away from the magistrates the power to imprison for traffic offences, affect that matter of the right of trial by jury? It 1389 affects it in this way. If you take away from the magistrates all their powers of imprisonment for road traffic offences, except in the case of the person driving while disqualified, you take away those cases where at present the law says that the magistrates have power to send a man to prison for more than three months —usually four months. Therefore, in taking away from the magistrates the power to impose imprisonment at all, automatically at the same time you deprive the defendant, who hitherto has had the right to elect to go for trial by jury, of that right of election.
§ That is the spin-off effect of this clause which is intended to do something quite different. It has this very material effect. The effect of it is that in a number of so-called traffic offences, which I will not refer to but which are set out in Schedule 5, the law as it stands at the moment allows the magistrates to impose a penalty of four months' imprisonment. If this clause is passed, in those cases the defendant will be deprived of the right to go for trial by jury. I do not imagine that it will come as any surprise to your Lordships to learn that those cases where the magistrates can now impose a penalty of more than three months' imprisonment are exclusively offences of dishonesty. They are offences such as making a false statement for the purpose of obtaining a licence or making a false declaration for the purpose of obtaining insurance. They are serious offences of dishonesty.
§ My first submission to the House is that it is a serious matter to take away from a man or a woman the right to he tried by jury when he or she is charged with an offence of dishonesty. I suggest that that is a serious step for us to take. As I think everybody will recognise, if a person, especially a young person, is convicted of an offence of dishonesty, perhaps for the first time (indeed it is most serious when it is for the first time) it may ruin his career and may prevent him from ever following the kind of occupation he would like to follow because the occupation that he seeks to follow is one that requires complete integrity and an honest record. Therefore, this is a matter of great importance. I dare say that the House will remember the famous Archer Shee case of years and years ago when the Constitution was almost upset on the question of 1390 whether a naval cadet had stolen a postal order worth five shillings. However, there was a Bill of Rights in order to put the matter right. To deprive a person accused of a serious offence of dishonesty of the right to trial by jury is a serious matter. Let it be recognised that that is what we are doing under this clause.
§ The second reason why I suggest that this is a matter of very great importance is that if we pass this clause and deprive these people who are charged with offences of dishonesty which have some traffic connotation of the right to trial by jury, and leave to other people who commit offences of dishonesty in some other field—say, in the field of social security, or the Health Service, or whatever you like—the right to trial by jury, then we are deliberately creating an absurd anomaly, which is, I suggest, quite intolerable. If this clause goes through as it stands, the situation will be that a person charged with making a false statement for the purpose of obtaining an insurance certificate will not have any right to be tried by jury. If, on the other hand, you are charged with making a false statement for the purpose of obtaining a medical certificate, you will have retained the right to elect to be tried by jury. These are absurd anomalies which we are being invited deliberately to build into this Act of Parliament.
§ The third reason I suggest that we are making a mistake is because for some time past there has been a Committee sitting under the chairmanship of Lord Justice James which has been given the specific task of making recommendations upon the distribution of criminal business in the criminal courts as between the Crown Courts and the magistrates. They published a working paper quite a long time ago explaining the view that they take of their task and duty and what they are up to. They have explained the difficult questions which arise. One of the things to which they have drawn attention, one of the things which they have to answer and one of the criteria to which they have to apply themselves is: when should the decision as to whether a case is to be tried by jury or whether it is to be tried by magistrates be the decision of the defendant?
§ We are being asked here, in the field of road traffic, to prejudge and pre-empt the very issue that we have remitted to 1391 the James Committee and upon which we are still waiting for their Report. I should like to ask the Government specifically whether, in introducing this part of the Bill, they had consulted with Lord Justice James to ascertain whether he thinks it is appropriate that the law should be changed in this way in relation to road traffic offences only. Does he think it right and does he think it interferes with his job if the Government pre-empt the situation in this way?
§ That was the stage which we reached in Committee and, if I may say so, the Government did not make any answer to the case on that occasion; they did not say that they would reconsider it and they did not challenge the validity and the force of the arguments which I ventured to address to the Committee. They did not challenge that it was a serious matter to remove the right to trial in cases of dishonesty; they did not challenge that this was one of the subjects which the James Committee had been asked to look at and to recommend upon; they did not challenge that it would create absurd anomalies if one went about it in this way. But what the spokesman for the Government did on that occasion was to invite me and my friends to see whether, at this stage of the Bill, we could table some Amendment which would perhaps be a cure for the difficulty I have tried to explain. We have done that, but I am bound to say that I can see only three ways out of this dilemma in which we find ourselves. The first of them would be to strike out this clause and Schedule 5 altogether and stand on the status quo; that we should leave things as they are and wait for the Report of the James Committee over the broader field and the broader question of the distribution of business between the Crown Court and the magistrates' court. That is the first course which might be pursued.
§ The second course which might be pursued would be to retain this clause but, when we come to Schedule 5, to leave in the present powers of the magistrates to imprison and step up the financial penalties, because I think everybody would agree that, with inflation and the rest, the financial penalties are inadequate and there is much to be said for stepping up the financial penalties in 1392 any event. The third course which occurs to me and which would meet my problem involves what would be a rather tedious and elaborate device; namely, to write a new clause into the Bill. This would mean retaining the present Clause 25 and retaining Schedule 5, but then writing in a new clause to state that despite Clause 25 and Schedule 5 a defendant charged with a traffic offence would continue to have the right to elect to be tried by jury in those cases where, under the law as it existed up to the passing of this Act (as it would then be)—that is, as the law stands at the moment—the magistrates have power to send him to prison for more than 3 months. I hope I have made that clear, but it seems to me to be the only way in which one could meet my point and leave Clause 25 in its present state.
Perhaps I may just repeat that, to ensure that I have it right. I suggest a new clause to state that, although the magistrates have had their powers of imprisonment removed under this Act, in deciding whether a defendant charged with a traffic offence is entitled to trial by jury, the magistrates shall consider whether they would have had power under the earlier law to send him to prison for that offence for more than 3 months; and if they did have that power under the law as it stood before the passage of this Act, they should give that defendant the election to go for trial.
§ Those are the only three ways in which I can see that this matter can be met and my own conclusion is that the device I have suggested is open to manifest objections. Something that occurs to my mind at once is that it is an elaborate and artificial way of dealing with the matter. Secondly, it would mean that when magistrates had somebody before them charged with a traffic offence, before they told the defendant whether he had a right to trial by jury they would have to look back to the earlier law to see whether under the earlier law they had the power to send him to prison for more than 3 months. This would involve a complicated reference back into a great number of proceedings before the magistrates for traffic offences. I cannot commend that to your Lordships. My solution is that the best way of getting out of this difficulty is to abandon Clause 25 altogether and to abandon Schedule 5 with it.1393
§ I should like to make three brief comments that to give three reasons why I suggest that is the best course to adopt. The first reason is that to maintain the status quo, pending the Report of the James Committee, would fully accord with the unanimous view of the Magistrates' Association and the Justices Clerks' Society. It seems to me that when you are passing a piece of legislation specifically dealing with the powers of magistrates' courts, it is a little worrying (to put it at its lowest) that you should be doing this in the face of the united opposition of those people, the magistrates and the magistrates' clerks, who will have the job of applying the law.
§ We live in days when the Government at any rate, take the view that when you are passing new legislation you ought to do it as a matter of consensus; you ought to carry with you the people who are affected by it. This piece of legislation, so far as it affects the magistrates' courts, is being pushed through by the Government in the face of the united opposition of the Magistrates' Association and the Justices Clerks' Society. It is only in the face of the united opposition of the Magistrates' Association and the Justices Clerks' Society. It is not only in the fact of their opposition, because perhaps it is understandable that people do not like to see their powers being taken away, but surely the objections of the magistrates to their powers of imprisonment being taken away in certain cases have great force. The noble Baroness referred just now to the "hit-and-run" driver. It is a serious offence, and can indeed be one of the gravest offences where somebody has a crash but drives off regardless of what injuries have been caused. The magistrates say, not unreasonably, "Surely we ought to have the right to impose a penalty of imprisonment in cases of that kind", and it is no answer for the Government to say, "No, it does not matter if we take the power away from you because the Crown Court will still be able to impose the same penalties as before". That really is an argument in favour of taking away the powers of the magistrates to punish by imprisonment at all. In any case, if it does not matter whether or not the magistrates have the power to imprison, because there is the "long stop" of the Crown Court, one 1394 might as well take away the powers of imprisonment from the magistrates altogether. That is the first reason that I would suggest.
§ There is another reason why I suggest that the best thing to do is to drop Clause 25 altogether; that is, that the two arguments that have been advanced in favour of what is being done in Clause 25 do not appear to me to have any sort of validity. The first argument that the Government used, which was used by the previous Government, was that they were anxious to send fewer people to prison and that this was a contribution towards that end. I am wholly sympathetic to that, but the question is: will it work out like that if you take away from magistrates' courts the powers of imprisonment for traffic offences? I suggest that it may very well work out the opposite way. As everybody agrees, the number of cases in which the magistrates use their powers of imprisonment in road traffic offences is minuscule. These figures have been bandied about on both sides of the House. I cannot myself understand how the Government can use the argument that the magistrates very rarely use their powers of imprisonment in road traffic offences as an argument for taking those powers away from them. Everybody will agree that it will not make very much difference whether you take the powers away from magistrates or whether you leave them.
§ The second point is that the calculation is that you do not send fewer people to prison if you take away the powers of imprisonment from magistrates, because it may well happen that more cases will be sent up to the Crown Court. In the Crown Court the powers to impose penalties of imprisonment remain the same; they are unchanged. So you may well have more cases going up to the Crown Court and, in fact, more people being sent to prison. If the Government are really engaged in the exercise of trying to send fewer people to prison, the way to do it is not only to cut down the powers of imprisonment of magistrates but also to cut down the length of imprisonment which can be imposed in the Crown Court.
§ Finally, my Lords, the second argument which has been used is that if you do this you will, in fact, reduce the amount of road traffic cases reaching the 1395 Crown Court, and will therefore reduce the burden on the Crown Court. In so far as defendants who have previously had the right to elect to go for trial by jury will now be prevented from doing so, you are reducing the number of cases that will go to the Crown Court. On the other hand. because the magistrates are being deprived of their powers of imprisonment, is it not overwhelmingly likely that the magistrates themselves will send up more cases than now to the Crown Court on committal, on the grounds that they consider that their powers of punishment, either to fine or to put on probation—which is all they have as things stand are inadequate? Therefore, the only two arguments that have been advanced by the Government throughout this debate for the provisions of Clause 25 and Schedule 5 are, in my submission, open to the gravest doubt. Even at this late hour I would invite your Lordships to come to the conclusion that the better way of dealing with this matter is to leave things as they are, and we can look at this matter again when the James Committee's Report is available. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ LORD HACKING
My Lords, in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Foot, in his Amendment, I find myself adopting all the points which he made and, perhaps to the pleasure of this House, throwing away about ten pages of notes on points that I was anxious to make in this debate. I particularly adopt the comments which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, made about the James Committee. I am not anxious to develop the argument further here. I have expressed concern at other times, in other debates on this matter on the relationship of this clause in the Bill to the James Committee, and I content myself at this stage with waiting to hear what the noble and learned Lord says in answer to the direct question concerning the James Committee put by the noble Lord, Lord Foot.
I now make one point which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has not made so far in this debate. In my submission to your Lordships, there are wider considerations than simply taking away the power of imprisonment from the justices, and all the important and ancillary results and objections arising from that proposal. As 1396 an example of the wider considerations, I draw your Lordships' attention to the offence of dangerous driving. Some of your Lordships may recall that at the Second Reading of this Bill I pointed out to the House the lack of definition between the offence of dangerous driving and that of careless driving to the point where dangerous driving, to all intents and purposes, has absorbed the offence of careless driving.
So it is, my Lords, that dangerous driving covers a range of culpability in a driver, from a small misjudgment (where there has been fault and a consequent danger to another person) to the cases of wanton, reckless driving where a car has been used as a weapon of aggression. It is true that a motorist could in certain cases be charged with manslaughter or with causing grievous bodily harm, but that is not the policy of prosecuting authorities to do so. The fault, I must suggest to your Lordships, lies with Parliament which invented an offence which bears little relationship to culpability and which is founded not on the quality of driving, but on the consequences of bad driving.
I refer to the offence of causing death by dangerous driving. So it has happened that distraught husbands have been brought to the ordeal of a trial before a High Court judge for causing a wife's death by dangerous driving arising out of a small error of judgment, with the constituent fault and danger to other road users. So it has also happened that other car drivers, using a car as an aggressive weapon having caused injuries which have not resulted in death—although paraplegia, quadraplegia and many other severe and terrible injuries have resulted —and have only been brought before justices to be punished by them.
My Lords, I argue that Parliament should not start altering the powers of imprisonment until the offences themselves have received proper consideration and have been properly redefined, because we are not ready for these proposals. It is because the present powers of imprisonment, as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has argued, are doing no harm, because the proposals will cause trouble without bringing benefit, that I ask the House to remove this clause and the attached Schedule from this Bill.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Foot has put, more particularly with those relating to the removal of election for trial by jury. I think I am right in saying that while the noble Lord, Lord Foot, argued mainly about those motoring offences which are akin to offences of dishonesty, it would also be true if Clause 25 stayed that persons charged with having excess alcohol while driving, and persons charged with dangerous driving, would also be deprived of the right to elect for trial by jury. It seems to me that this is improper in itself, that this should happen as a sort of incidental consequence of a Road Traffic Bill which is really dealing with totally different matters. Secondly, it is particularly improper, as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said, while we are waiting for the Report of the James Committee. Therefore, I should like to support his Amendment.
§ 7.40 p.m.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, in replying to the interesting speeches which have been made on this Amendment, it may be helpful if I indicate at the outset of my observations what is the object of the Government in making the changes in the law which are contained in Clause 25 of the Bill. They are twofold, first, to replace imprisonment by non-custodial treatment where this can be done without danger to the public—and I am sure that that intention at any rate will appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Foot, to my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger and, I have little doubt, to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking. That is the primary purpose of the changes. The secondary purpose is to reduce the burdens which road traffic cases of the type we are dealing with impose upon the Crown Court.
My Lords, with regard to the first principle to which the clause seeks to give effect, it is an important principle. I was interested to discover recently, from a questionnaire circulated by the Council of Europe at the behest of European Ministers of Justice, how much more this country uses the method of imprisonment for dealing with crime than most Continental countries of an equivalent standard of justice It is a matter to 1398 which the Government are seriously applying their mind. I hope to indicate in a moment that the Bill should fulfil that purpose. If it does that, I apprehend that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, will be pleased.
The criticism that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, is this: that the Bill will not achieve the first purpose of reducing the prison population because it will retain the power in the Crown Court to impose terms of imprisonment in traffic cases that are sent to the Crown Court for trial on indictment. But the situation with regard to road traffic offences is as follows. Even allowing for the fact that magistrates' courts have hitherto made little use proportionately of their power to imprison, the volume of road traffic offences is so large that there are still a considerable number of people who are sent to prison for them. In 1972, out of over 1,600,000 road traffic offences tried by the magistrates' courts, about 9,300 resulted in imprisonment, including suspended sentences. I am not including offences of theft and unauthorised taking, which are not affected by the Bill. It is true that the proportion is less than 1 per cent. although, of course, not all road traffic offences are punishable with imprisonment to begin with, and the number of actual offenders involved would be rather lower than the number of offences, but it is still a very large number when one considers that the prison population averages about 38,000.
My Lords, many of these sentences were imposed for offences which could not have been dealt with by the Crown Court because they are purely summary, and they do not confer on the accused any right to elect trial by jury by virtue of the maximum penalty of over three months which they carry. In my submission, there is an important issue of principle here. The provisions of the Bill can make a valuable contribution to penal policy as well as lightening the burden of work of the Crown Court.
The noble Lord, Lord Foot, attached great importance to the undoubted consequence that in some of these offences the right to trial by jury will go by reason of the attendant penalty being reduced to below three months. Of course, in the case of offences which will still carry a penalty of more than 1399 three months, the right to trial by jury will remain.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I should like to have notice of that question. I think it is the case that the right to trial by jury in the bulk of the classified road offences cases will go. This is a fact that is, on the other hand, offset by the consideration that the danger of imprisonment will go. That is the benefit that the citizen will gain. In this class of case, he will lose the right to trial by jury, but will gain by being spared the risk of imprisonment. That, I submit, is an important consideration, and is a furtherance of the penal principle that I was mentioning earlier. In view of the figures which I shall give in a moment, it will have the incidental effect of reducing the burden of work on the Crown Court.
Dealing with that matter, the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has suggested that by removing the defendant the right to elect trial by jury and leaving it to the prosecutors to determine in which court an offence should be tried, there might well be an actual increase in the number of cases coming to the Crown Court. But I venture to doubt whether that could possibly be right. A Home Office survey carried out last year suggested, for example, that of all the hybrid drinking and driving offences coming before a Crown Court, 96 per cent. did so at the election of the defendant, and for dangerous driving the figure was 100 per cent.—all at the instigation of the defendant. So it would seem very unlikely that these figures would increase if it were left to the prosecution to decide whether to proceed summarily or on indictment. Therefore, in my view the proposals would undoubtedly reduce the burden on the Crown Court, and, as I understand it, are welcomed by all the Crown Court judges who have been consulted.
Now I turn to an aspect of the proposed Amendments which clearly caused 1400 concern to the noble Lords who have spoken; namely, loss of the right of trial by jury in respect of offences involving dishonesty. I do not think it is right, however, to say that offences of that kind are almost invariably subject to sufficiently severe penalties on summary conviction to enable the accused to exercise the right to elect jury trial. I have been supplied with a long list giving a considerable number of offences involving an element of dishonesty for which no such right exists under the law. There are dozens of them, and they range from the making of false statements, the making of false claims, to various fraudulent activities; and, as a matter of interest, in regard to the precise type of dishonesty that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, referred to, making false statements to obtain benefits under the Social Security Acts carries a penalty of three months.
There is, as I say, in the law at present a wide range of offences where the honesty of the defendant is at the heart of the matter, where the right to trial by jury does not exist. We are not, therefore, embarking on a new and disturbing breach of a well-established principle of our criminal law in the limited field where that will be the effect by reason of the changes in the Bill. There are even crimes involving bribery and forgery which under our present criminal law do not carry a penalty which enables the defendant as a matter of right to claim trial by jury. And I cannot too strongly emphasise the benefit that the citizen will gain by being spared the agony and risk of a term of imprisonment. That is a high positive, I submit, from the point of view of the right of the subject which will flow from the proposals in Clause 25.
I was asked questions about the possible impact of what is proposed upon the work of the Committee presided over by Lord Justice James. I understand that the Government have heard from Lord Justice James and do not believe. and have no reason to think, that he will feel in any way inhibited in his task or or that his decisions may be pre-empted. This Bill takes the law regarding the right to jury trial as it now stands; a right, in other words, existing in the case of offences carrying a term of imprisonment for more than three months. If that law should change following Lord Justice James' Report, then road traffic 1401 offences will fall to be dealt with like the rest.
Accordingly, I hope that, in the light of what I have said about the likely effects of the changes, the House will feel reassured that the price that is paid for the loss of the right to trial by jury is more than compensated by the result which will flow in reducing the number of people sent to prison and by the result which will flow in reducing the amount of pressure upon the Crown Court. So far as the most serious offences are concerned, of course, these will continue to be tried on indictment on the application of the prosecutor. He, I submit, can be relied upon to see that the more serious offences are tried on indictment, and, of course, that will carry the right to trial by jury.
One of the consequences of carrying the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, would be to remove from the Bill the whole of the provisions regarding the revision of penalties for road traffic offences including an increase in maximum fines which may be imposed on summary conviction. The ability to impose those greatly increased penalties —fourfold increases in many cases—will provide additional sanctions and underline the gravity of these offences, and the scale that is proposed now brings the existing financial sanctions of the law up to date. In my submission, it is important, therefore, that the Amendment should he rejected for that, among other reasons.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ LORD FOOT
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord for the care with which he has answered the points I have attempted to make. With regard to what he said at the outset about the Government's intentions and the excellence of their intentions, may I say that I do not question those at all. I am wholly sympathetic to the idea of sending fewer people to prison and sending them for shorter periods of time. I am wholly in favour of reducing the burden of work on Crown Courts. All these intentions are things we share in common.
The nub of the matter is really this so far as I am concerned. The noble and learned Lord says that if you take away from a man the right to be tried by jury when he is charged with an offence 1402 of dishonesty, if you take away a right he has previously enjoyed, you are not really doing him an injury, because you are removing at the same time his liability to go to prison at all if he is tried summarily. I am afraid that I cannot regard that as any satisfactory answer, especially when it comes from the Lord Chancellor, because that is no compensation. If I may take the illustration which I sought to use to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, the other day: supposing a son of one's own in the early stages of his life was charged with the offence of making a false statement for the purpose of obtaining an insurance certificate, would any father regard it as satisfactory that that matter, the question of his son's guilt or innocence for that offence, should be determined by a bench of magistrates, and that he should have no right to elect to go for trial by jury. although the whole of his future life and prosperity and prospects might be at stake? Would it be any satisfactory compensation to the noble and learned Lord, if his son was in that position, to be told: "Oh well, that is all right; he has no risk of going to prison. He may he convicted of dishonesty and that remains a record upon his character for the rest of his life, but he does not stand any risk of going to prison. He may he convicted of dishonesty by a majority of two magistrates to one, but it does rot matter because he is in no risk of going to prison"? I am really astonished to hear an argument of that kind addressed to us from the place from which it has come. That really is the nub of the matter.
The situation under the present law is that every one of the offences, the road traffic offences so called, set out in Schedule 5 of the Bill, that is an offence of dishonesty carries with it to-day a penalty of more than three months' imprisonment if it is dealt with before the magistrates. Every single one carries a penally in excess of three months. In all those cases of dishonesty the effect of this clause is to deprive the defendant, how ever serious the offence may be, of the right to trial by jury. I regard that as wholly unsatisfactory. I do not think the Government ever really intended this to happen. I do not think it was realised when the Bill was framed that this was to be the consequence of it, but it is the consequence of it, and in my view it is indefensible.
1403 The argument here does not in the last resort turn upon the question of whether fewer cases will go to the Crown Court, whether the Crown Court will, in fact, be relieved of the burdens or not. In my belief, as many cases will go to the Crown Court as before, but that is a matter of guesswork or of judgment. Equally, I do not believe that this will result in fewer people being sent to prison, or sent to prison for a shorter period of time, but that also is a matter of guesswork. My belief is that the magistrates, being deprived of the powers of imprisonment, will send many more cases to the Crown Court where it is a hybrid offence than they are sending now, but that again is pure guesswork.
However, these are practical matters; nothing can escape the fact that what we are being asked to do under this clause is to deprive people who hitherto have had a right of trial by jury for dishonesty offences of that right, and that is something that we ought not to do. I do not believe that the Government ever intended that that should happen, but that is how it has turned out. Not with any great expectations, I shall invite the House to divide on this issue.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if I may be permitted to say a few words, may I say that I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has not been persuaded by the practical assurances that I gave him, on the strength of the best judgment of the Home Office, of the probable consequences of what is proposed in the Amendment. But the major issue that troubles him—and of course I think it is right that this should be raised in the House and ventilated—is that the Bill takes away the jeopardy of going to prison, and the consequence of that is that the right of jury trial is taken away.
§ That right to jury trial existed in the law because of the jeopardy, the risk of imprisonment, and it existed as a right in order to mitigate that risk. As I have endeavoured to explain, over the vast range of offences of the kind that are troubling the noble Lord (offences affecting forgery, false statements, far more serious matters than the hypothetical case that he gave), for better or for worse the state of our criminal law is that the right to trial by jury does not exist in those cases. I am an impenitent supporter of the right to trial by jury. Almost without exception every barrister in the land is such supporter, because the major qualities and achievements of the Bar and of solicitors, if I may say so, have often been accomplished before juries.
§ Sometimes it is said in regard to my own Principality of Wales, where I practised, that juries are against crime but they are not dogmatic about it. I am bound to say that is a gross libel on Welsh juries. I share the feeling of concern to maintain the right to trial by jury, but in this class of case, in the grave cases, in the serious cases, the right to trial by jury will remain. As I have said, and I do not suppose that it benefits by being repeated, for the loss of the trial by jury right in the minor cases, the less important cases, there is the important gain of not facing the risk of going to prison; there is the important gain of not adding to the overcrowded prison population, which has reached dimensions where rehabilitation is increasingly difficult, a number of defendants who, but for the proposals in the Bill, would hereafter continue to face that risk.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 8; Not-Contents, 32.1405
|Atholl. D.||Phillips, B.||St. Just, L.|
|Foot, L. [Teller.]||Raglan, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Hacking, L. [Teller.]||Rankeillour, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Elton, L.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.|
|Birk, B. [Teller.]||Elwyn-Jones, L. (Chancellor.)||Henderson, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.|
|Champion, L.||Garnsworthy, L.||Jacques, L. [Teller.]|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Maelor, L.|
|Denham, L.||Hale, L.||Mais, L.|
|Dunleath, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.||Newall, L.|
|Rathcreedan, L.||Segal, L.||Tenby, V.|
|St. Aldwyn, E.||Shepherd, L. (L. Privy Seal.)||White, B.|
|St. Helens, L.||Snow, L.||Wigg, L.|
|Sandys, L.||Somers, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 3 [Amendments of Part III of Road Traffic Act 1972):
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, I spoke on this Amendment when I moved Amendment No. 4. I beg to move Amendment No. 12.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 44, line 33, at end insert—
7A. After section 94 there shall be inserted the following sections:
§ Powers of appellate courts to suspend disqualification
§ 94A.—(1) This section applies where a person has been convicted by a court in England or Wales of an offence involving obligatory or discretionary disqualification and has been ordered to be disqualified; and in the following provisions of this section—
- (a) any reference to a person ordered to be disqualified shall be construed as a reference to a person so convicted and so ordered to be disqualified; and
- (b) any reference to his sentence includes a reference to the order of disqualification and to any other order made on his conviction and, accordingly, any reference to an appeal against his sentence includes a reference to an appeal against any order forming part of his sentence.
§ (2) Where a person ordered to be dis-qualified—
- (a) appeals to the Crown Court, or
- (b) appeals or applies for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal, against his conviction or his sentence, the Crown Court or, as the case may require, the Court of Appeal may, if it thinks fit, suspend the disqualification.
§ (3) Where a person ordered to be disqualified has appealed or applied for leave to appeal to the House of Lords—
- (a) under section 1 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 from any decision of a Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division which is material to his conviction or sentence, or
- (b) under section 33 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 from any decision of the Court of Appeal which is material to his conviction or sentence,
§ (4) Where a person ordered to be disqualified makes an application in respect of the decision of the court in question under section 87 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952 (statement of case by magistrates' court) or section 10(3) of the Courts Act 1971 (statement of case by Crown Court) the High Court may, if it thinks fit, suspend the disqualification.
§ (5) Where a person ordered to be disqualified—
- (a) applies to the High Court for an order of certiorari to remove into the High Court any proceedings of a magistrates' court or of the Crown Court, being proceedings in or in consequence of which he was convicted or his sentence was passed, or
- (b) applies to the High Court for leave to make such an application,
§ (6) Any power of a court under the proceeding provisions of this section to suspend the disqualification of any person is a power to do so on such terms as the court thinks fit.
§ (7) In any case where, by virtue of this section, a court suspends the disqualification of any person, it shall send notice of the suspension to the Secretary of State; and for the purposes of this section any such notice shall be sent in such manner and to such address and shall contain such particulars as the Secretary of State may determine.
§ Power of High Court of Justiciary to suspend disqualification.
§ 94B.—(1) Where a person has been convicted of an offence by a court in Scotland and the circumstances mentioned in subsection (1) of the foregoing section apply to that offence, any references to any person ordered to be disqualified and any reference to his sentence shall in this section be construed in like manner as in that section.
§ (2) Where a person ordered to be disqualified appeals to the High Court of Justiciary whether on appeal against a summary conviction or a conviction on indictment or his sentence, the Court, or any single judge thereof may if it or he thinks fit, suspend the disqualification on such terms as the Court or judge thinks fit.
§ (3) Where, by virtue of this section, the High Court suspends the disqualification of any person, it shall send notice of the suspension to the Secretary of State; and for the purposes of this section any such notice shall be sent in such manner and to such address and shall contain such particulars as the Secretary of State may determine.").—(Lord Garnsworthy.)1407
§ Schedule 6 [Minor and consequential amendments]:
§ Amendment moved—
8A. In section 31 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (powers of Court of Appeal on appeals to that court which are exercisable by a single judge) after subsection (2) there shall be inserted the following subsection:—
(2A) The power of the Court of Appeal to suspend a person's disqualification under section 94A(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1972 may be exercised by a single judge in the same manner as it may be exercised by the Court.
8B. At the end of section 44 of that Act (powers of Court of Appeal on appeals to the House of Lords which are exercisable by a single judge) there shall be added the following subsection:—
(2) The power of the Court of Appeal to suspend a person's disqualification under section 94A(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1972 may be exercised by a single judge, but where the judge refuses an application to exercise that power the applicant shall be entitled to have the application determined by the Court of Appeal."".—(Lord Garnsworthy.)
§ Amendment moved—
Page 72, line 21, at end insert
("12A. In section 94 of that Act (appeals against disqualification and power of court ordering disqualification to suspend it pending an appeal) after subsection (3) there shall be inserted the following subsection:—
(3A) Where a court exercises its power under subsection (2) or subsection (3) above it shall send notice of the suspension to the Secretary of State; and for the purposes of this section any such notice shall be sent in such manner and to such address and shall contain such particulars as the Secretary of State may determine."")—(Lord Gamsworthy.)
§ In the Title:
§ LORD HARRIS OF GREENWICH
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 16. This is an amendment of the Long Title of the Bill made necessary by an Amendment during the Committee stage.