Orders of the Day — Vehicle and Driving Licences Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd November 1968.

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Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock 12:00 am, 22nd November 1968

I shall be only too happy to be corrected if I am wrong, but on the evidence available to the House the economies are all fictions.

I want to look at the detailed figures we have available for 1975. We find that some economies put forward are bookkeeping entries between Government Departments. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) has drawn attention to the fact that one economy we shall achieve between now and 1975 arises from the fact that local authorities will not receive £800,000 in rents in respect of properties which they rent to the Government. I can only assume that that means that an extra burden of £800,000 will be placed upon the backs of the ratepayers. I do not know where the money will come from otherwise. That economy will in no way materialise for ordinary members of the public.

The second example of this sort of economy is the £900,000 that the Post Office will not receive for collecting fees. That may well result in increased charges by the Post Office. So at least £1·7 million of the economies which we are promised by 1975 are simply bookkeeping entries between Government Departments which never find their way into the private sector. I have no alternative, therefore, but to conclude that the total lack of financial discipline which seems to have governed the thinking behind the Bill is typical of the way in which this Government persistently behave.

You rightly drew the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the fact that he might have been wandering out of order when he said that the last time that he and I sat on this bench on an occasion like this there was another economic crisis. It is true that it was perhaps a larger crisis than the present one—I cannot tell—but the costs then were £400 million, to be dispensed under the Transport Act. We are now dealing only with a petty £19 million, but it is typical of this Government's approach. I find it extraordinary that we should, by coincidence, be repeating the sort of strictures which we have put on this Government on two similar occasions.

Any discussion of the Bill has one common feature. All speeches on it have had to be very superficial. No one has had any choice but to skate over the surface and ask very detailed questions about the sort of Regulations which will follow. It has been difficult to detect great issues of principle, although my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) and one or two others did raise one, but by and large this is a highly detailed and technical Bill. It is the great dilemma of us all that, in practice, we shall have no real chance to examine these Regulations, to make suggestions about them and to play a part in formulating the law.

We all know that we are powerless to do more than we are doing today, because the Ministry will make up its mind, although in consultation with interested professional bodies outside, not in consultation with the public, who are the most interested body of all, and certainly not in consultation with hon. Members. They will then bring forward Regulations which we have the right to pray against, but only by rejecting them totally, and we do not want to be wrecking but to make helpful Amendments. There is no procedure for that. We have been able to make suggestions only, knowing that this is the last time that we shall be able to press the points. I have been very impressed by the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East who have repeated these points with great force.

I should like to give an example of how one can detect a change in policy, although there may be no ground for suspicion, and nothing for probing to reveal. At the moment, there is power in the Bill for various people to demand to know the age and sex of ordinary citizens. I have just noted three occasions. On page 16, there is the Amendment to Clause 102 of the 1960 Act, which will mean that, whenever a licence is changed—in other words, in three or four years, this will apply to everyone—one will have to state one's age and sex. It will only be a short time before the vast majority of citizens are caught in this net.

Then there is the Amendment to the Schedule to the Road Traffic Act of 1962, which will give the courts, in certain prescribed circumstances, the right to demand to know the date of birth. My hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn opposed this on principle. My hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) wanted to know whether the information would then be made public. That is a second example of age and sex being brought into the public domain by civil servants and those administering the law.

The third example is that under the 1960 Act, a police constable can stop one in prescribed circumstances and demand to know the date of one's birth. I notice that he has not the power there to demand what one's sex is, but I suppose that even in this permissive society this is not yet necessary.

These are three examples where it will be possible for the age and sex of ordinary citizens to be registered and recorded. It may be that nothing more serious is intended than that the computer will not be able to function unless we give it this first-time information.