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Orders of the Day — ROAD TRAFFIC BILL [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th April 1955.

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Photo of Mr John Higgs Mr John Higgs , Bromsgrove 12:00 am, 5th April 1955

I agree that there are limitations, but since we have not yet sufficient knowledge to go in for full-scale tests in practice, and since we need to gain more knowledge of the subject, I do not think we should start to try to set up such a series of stations as would be necessary to achieve universal testing.

There is one other subject I want to say a word about. This may be a little more controversial. In the debates on the Bill in another place, and in discussion of it throughout the country, a lot has been said about enforcement. It is a matter of general concern because the Bill proposes to increase penalties, and there will be room under it for more disqualifications of drivers or vehicles than heretofore.

If the general complaint is that the penalties now authorised are not being imposed, then it seems to me that the one way of not doing anything about correcting that is to increase the maximum. If the courts will not impose the present maximum penalties, we certainly shall not make them do so by increasing the maximum. We cannot maintain that this is the way in which Parliament expresses its will.

Every Member of Parliament and every judge of the High Court has expressed his will, urging magistrates to impose heavier penalties. One right way of achieving our object is that of a slow process of education. I must say that it is not stimulated by the daily placing on probation for short periods of people convicted for offences against honesty and other morals, which will surely seem to magistrates to be offences of much the same degree of seriousness as those with which we are dealing here.

The argument which I find the most distressing of all is one which is put in a number of ways. Sometimes it is put in this way:" Parliament is trying to tie the hands of juries and magistrates." Sometimes it is put in this way: "How on earth are judges to impose penalties if they have first to persuade juries to convict?" I dislike that argument. Parliament has its job to do. The juries have a job to do. If we want to persuade juries to refuse to convict, one way of doing it is to tell them, "If you do convict, disqualification is the automatic penalty." The penalty ought to be left to the court, and the jury ought to do its job.

Neither Parliament nor the judicial bench will encourage or sustain respect for justice, which must be a part of respect for law, if they are heard to express regrets that the judges have to carry juries with them, or if Parliament is suspected of trying to tie the hands of justices, so that the courts feel that, whatever may be the merits of cases, they have been prejudged by Parliament, which cannot know the facts in those cases, and usurps the functions of the courts by thus prescribing advice to them.

I hope that in Committee we shall find means of showing our trust in our courts of justice, and that we shall not try to do their job for them in advance by prejudging cases the facts of which we cannot know. The right use of the law courts. and our trust in them, including our trust in them to impose exemplary penalties in the appropriate cases, are ways towards reaching the very desirable object of road safety.