Clause 1 provides for the omission from Part I of the Road Traffic Act, 1962, of certain obligatory disqualifications. I would make clear that I am wholeheartedly in support of the principle of the Bill, but felt that this might be an opportunity to ask the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), to assist the Committee by telling us what this Clause provides and how it does it.
I am glad to respond to the invitation of the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson). It gives me an opportunity to say a word or two on the Bill which, I hope out of a sense of modesty, I had not otherwise intended to do, partly also in case anyone interested in later Bills on the Order Paper should mistake my motives.
The purpose of the Bill, and the substantive part of it is contained in the first Clause, is to deal with an anomalous situation which has arisen as a result of the present law. The law is that when a person who has been disqualified from driving offends again by driving while disqualified and is caught and brought before the courts, the courts are bound to disqualify him again for an additional period of at least one year. On the face of it, that may seem quite reasonable.
Perhaps I can best describe the problem that arises by reading to the House a short report of a case which came before the Court of Appeal nearly a year ago, in May, 1969. I refer to the case of Regina v. Johnson. In giving judgment, the Lord Chief Justice explained that
The appellant was a man with 19 previous convictions, nearly all connected with motor cars. He was a compulsive driver while disqualified. In no instance was there a case of his being a bad driver.
He had never committed any driving offence other than that of driving whilst disqualified.
But because of the statutes applicable, he had already run up a period of disqualification which did not expire until 1984, and the Court was now compelled to add a further two and a half years, making it 1987. Yet the probation officer in his report said that probably the only thing that would keep the appellant out of trouble in the future, and the only thing he could do, and do well, was to get a job driving a car. Such circumstances",
said the Lord Chief Justice,
were constantly appearing in cases with which the Court had to deal.
Really it is for Parliament to consider whether this Court should not have the power to unravel all these disqualifications and give a young man a chance to do perhaps the one thing that he can do in life.
The Bill is intended to do that. The unravelling power is in Clause 2.
Clause 1 removes the mandatory nature of the power of disqualification and makes it purely discretionary for the court to decide whether to disqualify for an additional period when a person is brought before the court for committing this offence.
While I am on my feet, I should like to express my gratitude to a considerable number of people who have given their support and assistance. The Lord Chief Justice himself has permitted me to say that the Bill has his full support. I have had the assistance of the Law Commission, including its assistance in drafting, without which I do not think I could have got the Bill into proper shape and form. I have had great assistance from my hon. Friends the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Transport and my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and I am grateful to those two Departments. Last but not least, I have had the assistance of the Opposition Front Bench. I commend the Clause to the House.