"(1) The Minister may make Regulations generally for the purpose of carrying this Act into effect, and in particular, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provision, may make Regulations—
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1, e), to leave out the words "registration books" ["providing for the issue of registration books"], and to insert instead thereof the words "particulars of the entry in the books of any registration authority."
The object of this Amendment is to ascertain, if possible, what are the inten- tions of the Ministry in regard to the registration book. What has appeared in the Press rather suggests the registration book may be to provide a life history of the car and must be transferable with the vehicle. The object of that appears to be to guard against theft, but actually the effect of this registration book will be to impose a most intolerable nuisance upon many private individuals who do not keep a large staff to deal with such books. Furthermore, there is always a chance of losing a document of this description, or of unwittingly making false entries in it, or entering it up in the wrong way. In any case, it means an additional burden, and what we want to find out is exactly what the Ministry intends to do with it. Possibly it may be intended to stop the traffic in stolen cars, but, if so, it seems to me much more a matter for the police than for the Ministry of Transport. Furthermore, I cannot see what advantage it has over the Excise licence. Already in this Bill we are providing for the Excise licence to be carried. If the Excise licence is carried on every vehicle, and inspected by the police, it should be possible to identify vehicles which are stolen. A book of this description, I imagine, can be forged just as easily as any other document, and, therefore, it cannot really stop the traffic in stolen cars. Another thing I would like to know is, what is going to happen to the owner when he tries to sell a car? Supposing I want to sell a car to somebody else by means of an intermediary, I suppose the registration book will pass with the vehicle. That means that I shall have to disclose my identity to the person to whom I am selling my car. I may not wish to do that. It may very seriously affect the price I might get for the car. Therefore, I do wish the Minister would give us a little more information about these registration books, and could get over the difficulty I indicate with regard to disclosing my identity to the person to whom I am selling a car. I understand that if the registration book is lost, a charge will be made for renewing it of one pound. This seems to me a very large charge.
There is an Amendment to that. I think I can, in very few words, relieve my Noble Friend of the anxiety he feels upon this matter. The scheme of licensing and registration has the unanimous recommendation of the most repre- sentative body that could be got together. A Departmental Committee unanimously recommended it as a relief to the motorist, and not a burden. The motorist gets his registration book automatically on paying his licence duty the first time, and that book is sent to him, and contains the particulars which he will wish to have. It helps him in all cases in dealing with the car, and there is no need for him to reveal his identity until he has sold the car, and the transaction is completed, and the registration book handed over. The registration book has not to be carried about in the car, but will be really a very great convenience that is reasonable. We believe, and I think rightly, that the suggested provision will be really a very great convenience ultimately to motor car owners.
I am one of those who cannot accept this as a very reasonable or sensible proposal. For the first time we are having our property looked after by the right hon. Gentleman and his officials. I believe my watch has a number, but that does not make me keep a book somewhere at home to prove to anyone some time or another that it is my watch. Why all these limitations and restrictions about my property because it happens to be a motor car? We thought we were going to get a little freedom when we were getting new laws about motor cars. Instead of that we are getting deeper and deeper into the mire. I am not quite certain what the object of it all is. There is a good deal of talk about stolen motor cars, but what has that to do with the Ministry? This provision is going a great deal further than the country is in any way aware. This is compulsory conscription for motorists under a scheme, it appears to me, worked out by the Army Council for military purposes of which we have been told nothing. You have not got this sort of thing today except in relation to the sale of land or stocks and shares. [An HON. MEMBER: "And ships!"] Why should you have it in the case of motor cars? I think it is most unfortunate that we should have more than this registration label on the car. We have accepted that. What the use of this registration book is I cannot see. We are told it has something to do with the traffic in stolen motor cars, but that has to do with the police, not with the Ministry of Transport. I hope this proviso will be struck out. It is not necessary. It is unfair to the people of this country. It hampers our liberty and makes us absolute slaves of the Ministry of Transport. I believe there is some ulterior motive in this: some form of compulsory conscription, if not for motorists, certainly for motor cars, and without any other object. Therefore I object to the whole system of registration, and I hope we shall not adopt it.
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, as he seems likely to do, he might let us know why we should have these books. If the War Office, in their wisdom, think it is desirable to have registration of motor vehicles for any possible offensive measures by our present Allies, or potential enemies, then personally I daresay that is quite all right. But I do not think we ought to go that way without knowing it. I think the Government has some obligation to be frank even if only in little matters and on rare occasions. I appeal to the Minister of Transport to be frank in regard to this matter. If we, as motorists, are prepared to put up with this fresh intrusion upon our liberties, I respectfully suggest that we should not be asked to pay for the privilege of having our cars registered in the interests of national defence, because, in my view, that is stretching the matter a good deal too far. The hon. and gallant Member for Southampton gave us a list of things that he could sell without interference, but I would like to remind him that he cannot sell a ship without disclosing the name of the owner.
I know the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to watches. There are, however, two things which this Committee has a right to ask, and the first is, what is the real reason for the introduction of these registration books? I think there should be a gradual reduction of bureaucratic control. I suppose the only effect of this proposal will be that it will provide jobs for at least another 500 people. One way of keeping the Government in power is to have plenty of jobs to give out. I, for one, resent anything which tends to take away from us the liberty, about which we boast so much, which is gradually becoming a thing of the past. I asked the Minister of Transport to give us an assurance that this proposal will not be used as the thin end of the wedge for further restrictions.
I am sorry that this proposal is looked upon as a sinister move to commandeer motor cars or any connivance with the War Office, because that is quite a misunderstanding of this provision. A book has a very grandiose sound, but this is not really a book, it is a folded card introduced for simplicity and economy. All the motorist has to do is to apply for the only form he ever fills up, and he sends that with a cheque to the county council. He knows exactly what his motor car is. He then gets a licence and he gets this book. I wish it had never been called a book at all. He then keeps it, just the same as he keeps his gun licence or anything else, in the drawer of his desk, and when the next year comes round he does not have to hunt up his chauffeur and get the horse power of his car, or make out any more particulars or fill up any more forms; he simply takes it to the nearest post office, and it is handed back to him with a fresh licence. I have the book here in my hand. It was devised as the simplest and most economical way of carrying out the taxation of vehicles on the horse power. It is a handy little folder, which those who wish to get a new licence can send to the post office and have it filled up and get a new licence. There is nothing complicated about it, and there is no question of asking people to be docketed or of putting labels upon them.
If the car be sold, this document on the completion of the purchase goes with the car, because the licence belongs to the car and goes with the car. The Noble Lord is fearful that if he sells one of his cars it may not fetch as much on the market as the car of my hon. Friend. He need not disclose that it is his car until he has the cheque. There is no reason to say whose car it is until it is sold.
Why should I disclose to anybody that it has been my car? What possible use can it be to the Government or to the buyer to know that the car has ever belonged to me? I do not know whether the House realises what has to be done when one sells a car. First of all, the vendor has to record the sale transaction in the registration book. Then he has to send the book to the registration authority. The purchaser has to notify the registration authority in his area that he has purchased the car. Then the vendor's registration authority has to cancel the registration in its records and send the registration book to the registration authority of the purchaser, and the last named authority has to enter the necessary particulars on its record and finally forward the document to the purchaser, who retains it. That is the operation which everybody who sells a car has to go through, and I do submit that the right hon. Gentleman should try to help us out of the difficulty with regard to this registration book.
The Noble Lord did not say that there is a fine of £50 every time that one makes a mistake in carrying out these negotiations. The Minister has not yet told us the benefit of this book. It has all the horrors of a registration book, and, though it may be nice to call it a handy little folder, it does not get out of the difficulty pointed out by the Noble Lord. It is really a very serious matter to inflict this burden on a very large number of people in this country, especially in view of all the penalties that are to be attached. My right hon. Friend evidently, judging from the affectionate way in which he handled it, finds that this folder has a great attraction for him. I am sure the public generally will not be attracted by it at all. If the right hon. Gentleman had sat on local benches far away from London he would have realised the vast numbers of people who have failed to properly carry out even the present simple registration Regulations, and if these new Regulations are imposed the number of defaulters will be vastly increased. Are you going to impose them on boys and girls riding motor cycles? Are they likely to carry out all these Regulations? People will not stand this bureaucratic interference. I think the right hon. Gentleman—and I do not say this antagonistically to him, for I have done my best not to oppose him on this Bill—is embarking on a course which will prove impracticable and impossible. People will not fill up these forms. It is bad enough now for some of us to have a pocket-book full of gun, game, motor, and driving licences. If we are also to carry about the right hon. Gentleman's nice little folder—
Then you have to build a house to put it in. I believe this is going to be a great infliction on a very large number of people. After all, we have not had one single reason given us by the Minister why he should not tear up this little folder and have done with it altogether.
I think I have given a reason and it is that it is the most economical and most convenient way of getting a renewal of licences for motorcars without having to draw out afresh each year all the particulars. The postal clerk to whom we are entrusting the work will simply have to look at what is written on this paper and will be able to grant a renewal of a licence while the owner of the vehicle will be saved all trouble about filling in new forms and giving particulars of his car. I repeat it is a most economical and convenient way of dealing with this question.
I was much struck by the statement of the Noble Lord (Viscount Curzon) explanatory of the processes which are involved by this paper. The statement was very impressive, but if the Noble Lord had ever had his motor-car stolen, I am sure he would have made it still more impressive. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman has any statistics he can give the House as to the increase in the thefts of motor-cars, or any comparison with the number of similar thefts in America. There is no doubt that thefts are on the increase to an enormous extent. They are carried out by skilful persons who quickly remove all the identification marks in the cars themselves, and I know very many people who have suffered in that way and have never been able to trace their cars. If these complications harass the honest seller of a motor, I am sure it is worth his while, having regard to the safety against stealing which we will thereby obtain.
The Parliamentary Secretary apparently suggests that this scheme is devised in the interests of motorists and motor owners, but, speaking on my own behalf and that of other motorists, I say that that is entirely wrong. This is another case in which the Government have been guided by their official advisers, and have absolutely flouted the judgment and advice of the House of Commons. It is merely another irritating restriction on the motor owner. This book, which has now become a piece of paper, has to be kept. It is only required once a year, and it is suggested that a document of that sort will facilitate the renewal of a licence. So far as I know, the present arrangements give rise to very little difficulty. You fill up a form, get the licence, and that ends the matter. There is no obligation to keep any paper or record from year to year. I protest against the suggestion of the Parliamentary Secretary that this scheme represents the wishes of the private motorist, or is designed to meet his convenience. It is nothing of the sort; it is another idea of a Departmental Committee for finding jobs for people in another public department. I protest against this kind of legislation being forced through the House of Commons against what I am sure will be the considered judgment of all those who have taken an interest in the matter.
The present procedure is that you get your Inland Revenue form, fill it in, and post it, and that is the last you hear of it. Under this new procedure you cannot post the form, but have to go down to the post office with it, while it is adding one more form and not eliminating any other form. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he can give us any idea as to whether this will increase the staff required and, if so, to what extent. As a matter of economy we have to remember that these forms are already printed, and of course the right hon. Gentleman does not want to waste them. That may be some reason for using them, but, as taxpayers, we would sooner lose the cost of the printing than be put to the inconvenience of this extra form.
I really think this Clause simplifies the present arrangement. Most people who are criticising this Bill are too expert. That is the trouble. They all know the number of cylinders of most cars in existence, but the ordinary user of a car who employs a chauffeur does not. In some cases I have had actually to take the cylinders out to find out what size they are. In this case all you have to do is to pay every year without filling in these very technical details.
I am very sorry there should be this feeling in the Committee about this record, because it was devised as the most economical and simple way of imposing the new taxation. I am afraid I differ from my hon. Friend who thinks I made a mistake. I did not. You do not fill up any more forms. The Post Office was consulted, and gave most careful consideration, and came to the conclusion that this was the simplest and most economical way of giving these particulars each year, so that the girl at the Post Office could quite simply issue the appropriate licence. It is an essential part of the scheme. I do not wish to urge on the Committee in any way that the matter has been prejudiced, and if it were of minor importance, I would endeavour to meet the view which has been so strongly expressed by a great many Members of the Committee who are owners of cars themselves; but it is essential to the scheme. The Post Office could not undertake to do it otherwise, as it would mean an additional staff. It was done very largely to meet their views. They say, "If you will have the registration particulars sent on to us in this way, we can very readily issue a new licence every year," and it was devised as the most simple form. There is nothing sinister behind it. I do not think it will be found very complicated or onerous.
May I raise a point of Order? There are some two pages of Amendments to paragraph (g). I was going to suggest, with a view to saving time, that you allow a general discussion to take place on the paragraph, on the understanding that those who have Amendments do not make long speeches, or do not make speeches at all, when we come to the actual Amendments. It has frequently been done before, and with such a vast number of Amendments, I think it would facilitate business.
I think I may facilitate matters by stating where we stand in this matter. On Second Reading I said quite frankly that I thought the Clause could be interpreted in a way which went further than it ought to go. What I propose to do is to bring up on Report stage a new paragraph in substitution for paragraph (g), and which will only apply in circumstances involving the safety of the vehicle itself, not to individual vehicles, but to a class of vehicles, the safety of other users of the road or the suitability of the road, and that it should be on the application of the county council by the Minister after he has held a public inquiry. It is not for the purpose of preventing one vehicle competing against another, but is a practical point. I would ask the Committee not to limit this only to the third-class roads, but to the use of all roads where the question of safety comes in. It might be desirable to prohibit a certain class of vehicles on certain roads, even though they were high-class roads. I take it that by this suggestion the apprehensions of some hon. Members will be removed.
If the hon. Members who are particularly interested would let me know, I will call a conference for Monday and discuss the paragraph on the lines suggested, and we will then know where we are.
Is this closing of roads only to take place on the application of the county council, because in many cases a county council might be running their own service, which would be upset if a particular road that should be closed were closed? Consequently, I think that the Ministry should have power to hold an inquiry without the original application coming from the county council.
I am strongly in favour of the Ministry having power to close roads which it is desirable to close for reasons of public safety, but I do hope that it will not rest entirely with the local authorities to apply to the Ministry to hold an inquiry. Will this prohibition be of a permanent character, or could not the right hon. Gentleman in his new Clause embody a provision that the prohibition would be only for a certain time?
The point which the Noble Lord mentions is before me, and I propose to provide something of the kind in the new Clause. The point which the hon. and gallant Gentleman raises presents great difficulty, because if you are going to allow anybody to ask for an inquiry you are going to entail a tremendous amount of work all over the country, as you will have people wanting to have roads closed here, there, and everywhere. We are so much in sympathy with this Clause that if hon. Members will accept the suggestion which I made I would now name 12 o'clock on Monday at the Ministry of Transport, and if hon. Members interested who have got Amendments down will come there I will try to meet them on the Clause as far as I can. I do not think there is much between us, and it is more or less a matter of getting the Clause into shape.
Some of us who have Amendments down may not be able to attend on Monday. I dare say before then the right hon. Gentleman will have got the Clause more or less sketched out. It is important that at this stage he should be aware of what we want. There is an Amendment by the right hon. Member for the City of London which would limit the power of closing the highway to those cases where the use of the highway would be dangerous to such vehicles. This Amendment is put down because otherwise there is a possibility that certain local authorities who have an interest in tramway undertakings which are perhaps affected by the competition of motor omnibuses might exercise power to get these roads closed to the vehicles in competition with the municipal service.
I have already dealt with that. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was not in the Chamber at the time. I mentioned that the conditions were safety for the vehicle, safety for the users of the road, or the unsuitability of the road.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make the condition that, in the event of permission being given to have a road closed, notices stating that it is closed must be placed by the county council at a point at least five miles away, or at some point where the route can be diverted to another road, so that the journey may be continued?
Amendment made: After Sub-section (1) insert a new Sub-section—
(2) Every Regulation made under this Act shall be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as may be after it is made, and if an address is presented to His Majesty within twenty-one days on which that House has sat next after any such Regulations is laid before it praying that the Regulation may be annulled His Majesty in Council may annul the Regulation, and it shall thenceforth be void, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder."—[Sir E. Geddes.]
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1, i,), to insert a new paragraph—
(j) prohibiting on all highways vehicles that are especially damaging to roads through bad design.
I want to know what are the Minister's present powers for the regulation of vehicles which do needless damage to the roads. As an old railwayman the right hon. Gentleman would object to any locomotive running on a railway and doing the track damage, but in the case of heavy motor vehicles one can design a car in any way one likes, irrespective of the damage that might be done to the roads. I think the right hon. Gentleman should give to the manufacturers notice that some of their designs must be altered.
Would it not be possible for the Minister to take powers and to lay it down that on and after a certain date no vehicle that is not rubber-shod will be allowed on the roads? Possibly 75 per cent. of the damage done by iron-shod vehicles would be saved were they shod with rubber tyres. In America, most of the heavy traffic is run on pneumatic tyres, because they find it is economical not only to the people who pay for the roads, but the people who have to provide the vehicles. I fail to see why that should not be done here. With respect to the hon. and gallant Member's suggestion as to the design of the vehicle, that would come into line automatically, because the designer, in laying out a plan of a motor car, if the car is to be rubber shod, will naturally take into consideration the distribution of weight to prevent the needless wearing out of the tyre by the road. That consideration is not given in the case of the iron-shod vehicles. More particularly is that shown by the steering of the "Foden" wagon, which does an immense amount of damage on the road. Can the right hon. Gentleman not put a definite date in the Bill, after which it shall be obligatory on the users of the road to employ rubber-tyred vehicles. I cannot see any possible excuse why one man should be allowed, under a sense of false economy, to drive ironshod vehicles with a narrow gauge and do an immense amount of damage. Having regard to the enormous powers of the Minister in this Bill, that one little power would be more economically sound than most of the rest of the Bill.