Orders of the Day — ROAD TRAFFIC BILL [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th January 1974.

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Order for Second Reading read.

4.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Ragbags—Bills on this subject tend to be of that kind—can nevertheless contain useful and valuable things. The last Bill which set out to deal with such a variety of matters under this subject was more than 10 years ago. In saying this I do not ignore the 1967 Act which introduced the breathalyser and made thereby a signal contribution to road safety.

I am sharply aware that ministerial speeches on these ragbag Bills are apt to be unduly prolonged and rather dull, but I assure the House that I shall get through this speech as quickly as possible.

We have over the past 20 years become a good deal more dependent than we realise upon the motor vehicle. For the undoubted benefits it confers upon many millions of people we pay a substantial price, not just measured in terms of land and money and resources, but reflected also in the brutal figures of death and injuries, not to mention the din and congestion of the streets.

The Bill covers a wide range of subjects—parking, safety, licensing of both drivers and operators, and penalties. It does not—perhaps I should deal with this point at the start—seek the repeal of the 1968 Act quantity licensing provisions, largely because to do so—I am quite straightforward about this—would put this meritorious measure into the field of party controversy. The Government are fortified in their restraint by the reasonably confident hope that no one would ever be so daft as to try to put those weird and cumbersome arrangements into practice.

The parking of vehicles on the highway is a major source of danger, congestion and nuisance, particularly in towns and cities. Enforcement of the necessary restrictions by means of fixed penalties has become in recent years increasingly ineffective and a time-consuming burden to the police. Evasion is both easy and widespread. Two-and-a-half million fixed penalty notices were issued in England and Wales in 1972, but payment was obtained in only two out of three cases, and often enough only after protracted police inquiries. In the Metropolitan Police District alone no prosecution was possible in 340,000 cases within the six months allowed.

The Bill, while preserving the basic liability of the driver, makes it possible where he does not pay to have recourse to the owner. The latter will, however, be liable only for those offences where, first, a fixed penalty or excess charge notice has been issued and, secondly, the driver has not paid. In practice the owner's liability will be limited to those cases in which he has been unable to persuade the driver to sign a statement that he is responsible.

The problem of hired vehicles has been met by providing for the transfer of the owner's liability in all short-term hirings to the person having the vehicle on hire. It would be unreasonable to expect the owner to exercise the same control over the vehicle and its user as is possible for an ordinary owner.

A substantial part of the Bill is concerned with road safety, a statutory responsibility for which is now placed for the first time by Clause 9 on local authorities. It is particularly opportune to take such a step now with the setting up of larger and better-equipped counties. I am hopeful that the Bill will offer the necessary spur and encouragement to those authorities which in the past have evidently found this subject uninteresting, and that they will close the gap in performance which separates them from others.

Clause 6 gives power to make regulations to prohibit the stopping of vehicles at street junctions in towns. Such a disagreeable and unwelcome measure obtains its warrant from the fact that no fewer than 6,000 casualties a year, the majority being pedestrians, are associated with vehicles so parked.

Clause 7, introduced into the Bill in another place, prohibits stopping or parking on pavements or footways. While I accept this in principle, I shall be putting down amendments at a later stage designed to see that the clause does not become a source of danger in narrow country roads, to give local authorities power of exemption in certain circumstances, and to provide for emergencies.

Clause 10, which was also inserted in another place, gives the Government powers to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory. I remind the House of what I said in a Written Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) on 13th December. I repeat that the Government will pay particular attention to the views expressed in Parliament and elsewhere on this contentious matter. The clause as it stands is quite practicable, though some detailed amendments might be desirable.

As I said in the Answer to which I have just referred, the question of compulsion gives rise to issues of personal liberty and considerable problems of enforcement. The counter-argument is that if the proportion of people wearing seat belts could be raised from the present 30 per cent. to 90 per cent. nearly 1,000 fewer people would die on the roads in a year and over 10,000 serious injuries would be prevented; that such a result can be achieved only by compulsion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December 1973; Vol. 866, c. 191–2.]

Photo of Mr William Rees-Davies Mr William Rees-Davies , Isle of Thanet

I have never been prepared to accept those figures. How are they arrived at? A large number of people are worse off through wearing seat belts than they would have been had they not worn seat belts. But even if I am wrong in that, what evidence is there that those people would have been killed? I can appreciate that they might have suffered facial injuries, but what evidence is there to support my right hon. Friend's figures?

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

Many accidents are facial accidents, which are very serious. I assure my hon. Friend that the matter has been carefully looked at in this country and elsewhere. The results of all researches can be impugned as unsatisfactory, but I believe that the figures are valuable and that considerable reliance can be placed on them. The Government approach the matter with an open mind.

There has long been criticism of the inflexibility and the inadequacy of the rules relating to the lighting of motor vehicles. There is little or no allowance for variations of visibility from hour to hour or day to day. There seems to be no good reason why lighting should not be dealt with in the same way as the many other matters covered by the construction and use regulations. This would be achieved by Clause 11.

Clauses 12 and 13 bear upon the quality and fitness of vehicles and their parts. The arrangements in Clause 12 for type approval will place responsibility upon manufacturers, rather than users as at present, for ensuring conformity with the relevant regulations. As the latter will, in the course of time, apply throughout the European Economic Community, such arrangements will be of considerable assistance to manufacturers who are concerned with export markets. To step up the degree of control upon secondhand vehicles we propose to widen the definition of unroadworthiness and to clear up existing uncertainty in the law as to offers for sale.

The Bill provides for the issue of driving licences valid until the age of 70 with renewal thereafter every three years. It is my intention that the till-70 licences should cost £5 and that any renewals thereafter should be without charge. For the over 65s the £5 fee will be reduced to £1. Clause 14 and Schedule 3 contain additional requirements of information concerning the physical fitness of drivers. These changes will result in a worthwhile saving of staff. I must make it clear that there is no intention to require everyone reaching the age of 70 to take another driving test or to have a medical examination.

Clauses 16 and 17 are concerned with the minimum ages and training of young drivers for heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles. Those between the ages of 18 and 21 will be able to drive such vehicles subject to specified conditions as to training and employment. The provisions have two purposes. The first purpose is that young men should not be deterred from joining the road transport industry by having to wait unduly long. The second purpose is that new recruits to the industry should receive the best possible training.

Clauses 18 to 21 deal with the licensing of bus services and reflect a widely felt need for greater flexibility in a licensing system which, in its main features, has existed for over 40 years. Particularly does that apply in more remote rural areas, in some of which the bus has almost entirely given way before the onset of the private car, leaving those without cars, and particularly the elderly and retired, without means of getting about.

I have been greatly helped by the advice of operators and trade union officials. I intend at a later stage to propose amendments to meet at least some of the views which have been expressed. I think that I now see eye to eye at any rate with the operators.

The Bill will make legitimate the already widespread practice of giving lifts in return for payment. While I do not believe that the minibus is anywhere near to being the answer to a stranded maiden's prayer, I propose that, subject to normal public service vehicle safety requirements, it should be freed from road service licensing outside urban areas and away from existing bus routes.

The licensing procedure is modified and simplified and the interest of the public is made the principal criterion to be considered in deciding whether a road service licence should be issued. The licensing system will continue to be administered by the Traffic Commissioners who, apart from the full-time chairman, consist of representatives of local government, who give their services free. I take this opportunity to thank them and to reaffirm the importance of their rôles as guardians both of safety and of the public interest.

Clauses 15, 22 and 23 provide additional controls upon the operation of heavy goods vehicles. The details could perhaps with greater convenience be dealt with in Committee.

I now turn to the important question of penalties. The effect of Clause 26, together with Schedule 5, is to increase the maximum fines on summary conviction for many offences under the Road Traffic Acts, and to remove the availability of imprisonment on summary conviction for all road traffic offences except driving whilst disqualified. I am aware that there are some people, including the Magistrates' Association, who feel that the power to imprison for these offences should be retained by magistrates' courts. I think that the arguments are sufficiently well known for me not to have to rehearse them in full. There will be an opportunity for more detailed discussion and examination of these matters in Committee.

It cannot be repeated too often that what we are doing in no way implies any criticism of magistrates by the Government. On the contrary, we have the highest regard for the way in which they deal annually with the great volume of work imposed on them by offences under the Road Traffic Acts.

Photo of Mr Alan Fitch Mr Alan Fitch , Wigan

It is a widely held belief that motorists who elect to be tried by jury get a better deal than those who are tried by magistrates. Is there any evidence of that?

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

That depends on how "evidence" is denned. On the whole I think that that is probably not the case. Most judgments of that sort arise for fairly subjective reasons. It is with that sort of point in mind, and with a view to relieving the Crown Courts of a heavy burden, that this measure has been introduced. Our reasons for wishing to abolish imprisonment on summary conviction for such offences stem, first, from our general penal policy, which is to reduce the scope of imprisonment wherever that can be done without risk to the public, and, secondly, from the need to reduce the burden on the Crown Courts which arises from the very many defendants in road traffic cases who elect to be tried by jury.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

I have read in the Press of many cases in which a person has deliberately broken as many as 10 of the rules and regulations of the Road Traffic Acts on three and sometimes four occasions and in which fines have been imposed varying from £5 to £20. Often the person who is fined has deliberately refused to pay his fines and he is brought before the court again. Is the Minister saying that such a person will be allowed to get away with it without any imprisonment? I can send him dozens of reports of such cases.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

Nothing that I have said and nothing in the Bill alters the fact that a man can still be sent to prison for nonpayment of fines. It does not matter from what cause a fine arises. I repeat that jury trial will remain available for the more serious offences. It will be for the prosecuting authorities to identify those cases which in their view are sufficiently serious to warrant trial by jury in the Crown courts.

I am sure that the effect of the Bill will be beneficial. It is not as if magistrates were being deprived of a power of which they have made extensive use or which is essential if they are to deal adequately with the cases which come before them. Imprisonment has proportionately been very little used in the past by magistrates' courts. Nor should it be thought that the Government do not continue to take a grave view of road traffic offences. The very substantial increase in many of the available maximum fines lends weight to this.

The Government have listened carefully to the arguments advanced against this clause, and we shall continue to do so to any others which may be adduced. But we believe it to be on the right lines.

Before concluding my remarks, I must apologise to the House and say how much I appreciate the patience of right hon. and hon. Members. Opening speeches on Bills such as this, which are ragbag affairs, are necessarily fragmented and nearly always place heavy demands on the patience of the audience, for which I am very grateful.

4.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

The House will be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's brisk dispatch of the customary duty of a Minister in presenting a Bill. I agree that a Bill of this character is not the most exciting parliamentary occasion. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that the duty upon the Opposition to come second inevitably results in a duller but I hope on this occasion not a longer speech.

I do not go quite as far as the right hon. Gentleman in describing the Bill as a ragbag. One correspondent who described it as a hotch-potch of minor matters also went a little far. In my view it would be better to have called it a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill than a Road Traffic Bill.

Although the Government have many matters on their mind at the moment. I am disappointed that the Bill has not been taken in the context of the White Paper promised earlier in which we would have had the Government's considered views about transport policy as a whole. We have had no indication of their view about what, if any, changes we should have in our outlook on transport matters following the very large increase in the cost of imported oil and the current difficulty of obtaining it even at these enhanced prices. There is no doubt that we could have had a better look at road transport problems if it had been possible to do it in a wider context. It may be that we shall have another Bill when we have the Government's views on the wider area of transport policy.

In addition, it would have been enormously beneficial to the new local authorities which will take office on 1st April if the Government had given them more of a lead than they can get from a Bill of this character on the road planning policies that they should pursue. As it is, we have to do our best without it.

A Bill of this kind does not give rise to great party controversy. For the convenience of right hon. and hon. Members, I say now that it is the intention of the Opposition to support the motion that the Bill be read a Second time. That does not mean that there are not a number of matters in it with which we are far from satisfied and on which we shall seek to press amendments after full discussion in Committee.

All these matters may seem very small in the context of the parliamentary agenda. However, there is one feature about transport which all of us will endorse, and it is that it touches the lives of so many of our citizens that a great number of people take a very close interest in such issues as the length of a street in which parking is forbidden and so on with which we are concerned here. It is my intention, in view of that, to make not so much a Second Reading speech as perhaps a number of "clause-stand-part" speeches on some of the major matters in the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) will try to develop some of them later. He will deal especially with matters of concern to the trade unions, notably the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Another general thought that we always have to keep in mind is that although most citizens tend to carry about three or four draft clauses in their pockets which could be inserted in a Bill of this kind, the big problem is how to enforce even the existing law. In the short time that I had the honour to be the Minister responsible for these matters, I was always very apprehensive about adding provisions to our legislation because I knew how inadequate were the enforcement arrangements for the existing law. In fact the very important Clauses 1 to 5 which deal with the liability of vehicle owners stem from the fact that the existing law frankly cannot be enforced.

I have similar reservations about the unchecked growth of fixed penalties. If, 10 or 20 years ago, a Minister had said as the Minister did today that we were to have more fixed penalties, there would have been a parliamentary row about the rights of the citizen and the rest of it. Certainly the right hon. Gentleman would not have got away with the clause about magistrates and trial by jury as he did today. But we all recognise that it is an attempt to get over the enormous problem of how to enforce the existing law.

Clauses 1 to 5, dealing with the liability of vehicle owners, will have to be examined very closely in Committee. I know that there are safeguards here. However, we are virtually intoducing a new principle of law where a person can be charged and made responsible in the absence of evidence to show that he was involved in committing the offence with which he is charged.

The Minister told us today of 340,000 cases in London which had not been followed up, and one can imagine the enormous office and police time involved in trying to pursue them. In moving the Second Reading in another place, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said that there were 2·5 million fixed penalties in 1972 in the whole of England and Wales and that only 64 per cent. of them had been enforced. In addition, there are all the excess charges penalties which in many cases are not paid. One hears of people who have collections of unpaid items of that kind who vie with each other to collect the first hundred. It is a very serious state of affairs, and it is the view of the GLC that Clauses 1 to 5 are essential if we are to have any attempt to enforce parking and other regulations in London. After a thorough examination in Committee, I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will reach the view that that is right.

Photo of Mr Stan Cohen Mr Stan Cohen , Leeds South East

May I make a point which does not appear to have been made in the debate in the other place and which has been put to me by the National Federation for the Blind? The practice of parking vehicles on pavements creates a problem for the blind. Right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate that it is necessary for blind people to use their sticks on kerbways, and it will be readily understood that that is very difficult if vehicles are parked on kerbs. In addition, many blind people use routes regularly. If they are accustomed to no obstructions being there and suddenly find themselves confronted by parked vehicles, very serious problems are created for them.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I am obliged to my hon. Friend, but I was trying to deal with the liability of vehicle owners, Clauses 1 to 5. I had not yet reached Clause 7, dealing with parking on footways. My hon. Friend has made an eloquent speech in support of that clause, which was inserted against the Government's wish, on the motion of the right reverend prelate the Lord Bishop of London, who is, I believe, president of the Pedestrians' Association. My hon. Friend has, therefore, anticipated me somewhat.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the question of enforcement, if, as is the case, the police are undermanned and overstretched, and they say that they cannot spare the time or effort to enforce the existing law—many of them state frankly they will not attempt to do it—does he not agree that to give them more work to do and to increase the number of rules and regulations will exacerbate the problems already confronting the police?

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

Adding additional regulations is bound to present some problems, but, as I read the first five clauses, the purpose is to ease pressure on the police by not requiring them to chase people who cannot be caught.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

The right hon. Gentleman has made the point absolutely correctly. The object is to cut out the number of wild-goose chases on which the police are currently obliged to go in pursuit of people who do not pay.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

If the hon. Gentleman will be kind enough to look more thoroughly at these clauses instead of talking to himself with such conviction, he will find that they provide a reasonable opportunity for the police to do their job efficiently. They have no such opportunity at the moment.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. No doubt, he will make another forceful speech on themes that are familiar to the House. To be fair to my hon. Friend, he has campaigned for a long time, and it would be extremely helpful to the revenue, among other things, if people who have not paid their road tax did so. They were quick off the mark to pay up when there was a threat of petrol rationing.

My hon. Friend rightly says that, when there is no attempt to enforce the existing regulations, it is extremely difficult to persuade people that it is sensible to make others. But, as I have said, the first five clauses—it is not true of the others—are directed to trying to ease the load on the police.

On the question of preventing vehicles parking at junctions, we all agree that, if there is a case—there seems to be a strong case on road safety grounds—we should support it. But I am by no means convinced that it should be necessary to have power—I agree it is only a power—to apply these restrictions up to 30 yards from the junction. When the space that is lost because of zig-zag crossings and so on is added, this will sterilise for both unloading and parking purposes a great deal of space.

I understand that in another place the spokesman on behalf of the Government said he thought that it would not be necessary, if at all, to go beyond 15 yards. If that is so, why not put 15 yards in the Bill? It is the common characteristic of officials and draftsmen always to want more in hand. There is a lot to be said for having at least a minimum of uniformity in the law, and the existing law is that one is not allowed to park within 15 yards of a junction after dark, without lights. So why not make 15 yards the maximum in this case as well? Why go to 30 yards? No doubt, this is a matter which can be pursued.

Photo of Mr Charles Simeons Mr Charles Simeons , Luton

In daylight, there may be lorries, whereas at night there may not, and that could be an extra hazard.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

Riding on the roads anywhere is a hazard. I am not convinced that it is necessary to have a 30-yards prohibition of all unloading or parking at all intersections. I should have thought that the hazard of bumping into another vehicle, or something of that kind, was greater at night—particularly in present circumstances, with semi-dark streets—than in broad daylight. But this is a matter upon which people have differing opinions.

Clause 7, as I have already said, was inserted into the Bill in another place against the Government's advice. It would be convenient if we could know today whether the Government intend to let it stay. I do not criticise a fellow amateur for his drafting, but it seems to me that the clause needs to be polished up if it is to stay in the Bill. For the reasons which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) gave, there is a substantial road safety case to be answered.

I do not think that any hon. Member who has a car can cross his heart and say that he has never parked on a footpath, or with two wheels on the footpath. In many places—one thinks of crowds at football matches, for instance—there would be chaotic traffic conditions if people did not occasionally park with two wheels on the pavement, because other vehicles could not pass. When an enormous lorry is unloading in a narrow street, if it is not allowed to use part of the footpath other vehicles cannot get by.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

To answer the right hon. Gentleman's question, I said that we accept Clause 7 in principle. I believe that it would be necessary to qualify it by giving local authorities power to make exemptions regarding country roads where it could be a source of positive danger, and to deal with emergencies. Otherwise, we accept it.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

The right hon. Gentleman went so briskly that I did not take that in the first time. I am much obliged to him, and I feel that this may represent a reasonable compromise. I do not think that anyone wants to be dogmatic.

While the Minister is thinking of a redraft, there is much to be said for trying to bring some uniformity into the law throughout the country. Otherwise, how can a stranger in a town have the faintest idea what the local authority's rules and regulations may be about parking on footpaths in its area? We had this problem about leaving vehicles without lights after dark, because the arrangements were so unsatisfactory between one authority and another. Fortunately, I was able to initiate consultations, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has put that matter right. There is a measure of uniformity now which is beneficial to all road users. I hope the Minister will bear that in mind. It may be fine in one locality for one to park on the footpath in certain streets and not in others, but how will someone visiting a town know when and where he may or may not park on the footpath?

Next, the question of seat belts. This is bound to be a matter which both in Committee and, I suspect, on Report, the House will want to examine in some depth. It was not a Government initiative. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu moved a clause in another place, and it is now in the Bill. The Government have said that they are open-minded about it, which we all accept and appreciate. It is right that they should sound opinion. But somebody, some time, has to make a decision. The Government will have to make a decision and then stand by to defend it. We cannot take the decision for the Minister.

The arguments for and against are well known. The broad argument is that it is difficult to lay down that people shall be compelled to take steps to safeguard only themselves. In most cases, there is no real road safety hazard to third parties, though I suppose that one might conceivably envisage that possibility. As the Minister and my hon. Friend said, one might argue that the police would say that they had other things to do without worrying about whether people are wearing seat belts. I believe that the Minister is right not to rush into a decision in that matter.

We now have the experience of some countries making the wearing of seat belts compulsory. Australia has recently introduced such legislation and it appears to be operating reasonably well. I believe that most motorists accept that it is sensible and right to wear a seat belt. I believe that compulsory wearing would be accepted and that many motorists might be more conscientious about wearing seat belts if they knew that there was a law about it, even if they recognised that the chances of being caught and fined for non-use were slight.

The type of difficulty that we have is illustrated by the fact that the AA is not only in favour but strongly in favour of compulsory action, whereas the RAC tends to be cautious and not convinced that such a step should be taken now. We should declare ourselves on this issue. On balance, I am inclined to support the introduction of a law on the subject. It would be wrong to let the opportunity pass, while we are discussing the Bill, without giving the Minister the power which he will need to take a decision.

I consider that the clause needs to be amended. As drafted, it creates an offence without a penalty, for although the Explanatory Memorandum states that the fine would be £50, I do not see that mentioned in the Bill. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will explain that apparent contradiction.

I refer now to the issue of driving licences to persons up to the age of 70 years. The Government could have been more candid in explaining that this was wholly for administrative convenience. The argument is not weakened if that is so, but, as I understand it, the only reason for the proposal is that possibly money and manpower will be saved if licences do not have to be renewed every three, five or seven years but are issued up to the age of 70.

The provision poses problems which are already inherent in the present system of issuing drivers' licences. The Minister has, no doubt, received evidence from opticians about eyesight defects suffered by many drivers. Those defects are bound to become a greater problem as time goes by, if drivers are not required to make the declaration every three years

I realise that the Government are seeking to meet the problem by requiring that people who have illnesses, accidents, and so on, should notify the Secretary of State so that the licence may be changed, withheld or suspended, or so that inquiries may be made. However, I cannot envisage a man, on returning home after having visited the doctor, saying to his wife "The doctor thinks it might be all right in a month or so, but he cannot be sure", and then going on to say, "Do you think I ought to write and tell the Secretary of State about it under Section 14 of the Road Traffic Act 1974, or do you think I might wait another week before I let him know how it is likely to affect my eyesight?", or the use of his leg, or whatever the affliction may be. I suspect that his wife would ask what the doctor advised, and if the doctor were asked he would probably say that he had never heard of the Road Traffic Act 1974, in the year 1984 or whatever year it might be by then.

I am not sure that all this paraphernalia about what people are supposed to inform the Secretary of State will result in a real safeguard. Admittedly, one merely has to complete a form every three years to obtain a driving licence, so there is not a great safeguard now. Certainly we ought to look into this matter.

The Minister was reticent about another point. Are we to assume that he is taking unilateral action in respect of his colleagues on the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community? I understood that the Community had very grandiose ideas about driving tests and regulations. I do not recollect anything among those draft regulations proposals that people should be given a driving licence for life. There were suggestions of psychiatric tests and medical examinations. Does this mean that those proposals are absolutely dead? I shall not weep if they are, but we should like to have the Minister's view.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I am not authorised to wring the neck of those proposals. I have said that they do not command my enthusiastic support. They are ideas which are being aired in the Community and will, no doubt, be considered from time to time. But they are in no way binding upon us, and I would be slow to agree to them.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I am sure that the House will have noted with appreciation the Minister's remarks. I regret that the Minister's hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) is not present as I am wondering whether they would carry his full support. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test is the Chairman of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament, which, when we held a debate on these proposals, seemed to be taking them seriously. However, this is a matter which can be sorted out by hon. Members opposite. For my part, and that of many of my hon. Friends we shall not seek to introduce the draft regulations of the EEC into this Bill in Committee.

We come now to the provisions concerning the reduction of the minimum age for driving certain vehicles. For road haulage, I understand that they have been largely devised with the agreement and possibly at the initiative of the trade union concerned. We all welcome the reduction of the age for training drivers for heavy goods vehicles. This is an admirable development, and it is much easier in a sense with heavy goods vehicles because there is the possibility of graduation from one type of vehicle to a larger one and so on which does not exist in the road passenger industry.

There is concern about the proposals for reducing the age from 21 to 18 at which people may hold public service vehicle licences and drive enormous double-decker buses with up to 70 passengers. Before this proposal, or any proposals about road passenger transport were included in the Bill I would have liked the Minister to go a little further in getting agreement between the unions and the operators. Unless one obtains the agreement of those who have to obey the law and provide the service, both on the operators' and the unions' side, this proposal will not work properly. When the Bill was launched in another place there was far from agreement between the Department and the operators, and there was certainly a lack of agreement between the Department and the unions about the proposals in Clauses 17 to 21.

We would have liked to see something more dramatic to meet the problems of public transport, especially in rural areas. I do not think there are any easy solutions to those problems. Some of these proposals are right, certainly the proposal that people should give lifts for payment or for a contribution towards running costs. This is probably only legalising what is happening now, and I believe we all agree that that is right. Any proposal to help people—particularly old people—to get from rural areas to work or for shopping, is to be welcomed.

I was interested in the Minister's statement that he had been having discussions and was willing to consider amendments. We have to be careful not to do anything which would make the operation of existing services even more difficult than it is already. If somebody runs a minibus on the route during the morning and evening peak hours and takes the traffic away from the existing service, that will be another service which will be in danger of closing and for which a grant will be sought to enable it to remain in business.

We must be careful that, in trying to increase the availability of transport in the rural areas, nothing is done to undermine the existing services. When we examine this in Committee I hope the Minister will agree to make amendments so that the commercial operation of minibus services will not cut into the already difficult business of the existing operators. I know that the Minister has another engagement, and I shall not speak for much longer. However, it is important that nothing is done to make things worse when we are trying to make them better.

If the Under-Secretary can provide the information, I think the House would be interested to know how the 1968 grant provision for rural services is proceeding. The burden on local authorities is such that they are probably not giving the grants to maintain services with the generosity that we would like. One knows of the enormous pressure on the rates, but, as I recall it, such grants were on a fifty-fifty basis—50 per cent. central funds, 50 per cent. local funds—and, since the local contribution also attracted rate support grant, in many counties I believe that the net-cost to the ratepayer was certainly less than 25 per cent., and in some cases even much lower. It would be interesting to know to what extent these grants are now being used in rural transport, and whether the right way to maintain and increase services is not to make a greater central Government contribution to the cost of maintaining the services.

I think we have to accept that there will be no way of providing services in the rural areas that can come anywhere near to measuring up to the total cost involved. The minibus is not an enormous economy because the labour costs of any public transport service are about 70 per cent. and a man's wages have to be paid whether it is a big or small bus.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

I accept that the rural bus service is a difficult problem, but I am slightly worried by the suggestion that we must take care of the scheduled services. In some parts of Scotland that I know well there may be a rural bus night and morning only, but it would still be on an existing bus route that a minibus, for instance, would operate. It would be difficult if some sort of concession were not allowed between, say eight o'clock in the morning and five o'clock in the evening. It is bad for old people to have to go to market towns at eight o'clock in the morning and have to wait until five o'clock in the evening before being able to return. I hope that there will not be too many pettifogging regulations about the use of minibuses on existing bus routes.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, but I would also put to him the thought put to me by those with great experience in the business. There could be a situation where a minibus was allowed on such a route which would take passengers from the rural bus service in the morning and the evening and the service would close down. There would only be the minibus service left, and when the commercial operator found that it was not making money and he withdrew it there would be no service at all. It is a difficult problem, and in Committee I hope we shall find ways to help without destroying or making more difficult the existing services.

In days gone by, one used to talk about cross-subsidisation. It was said that for years the rural services were kept going only because of cross-subsidies from the more profitable urban services. There will be no profitable urban services any more. The general feeling in the country is that it will be extremely difficult to make the urban services pay at fares that will attract people to use the services. If there are no urban surpluses, there can be no system of cross-subsidisation. This seems to me to be a part of the Bill which we would all welcome if it made a positive contribution, but it will need careful examination.

We would welcome a statutory duty being put on local authorities in respect of road safety, but how would it be paid for? Would the Government make more money available to local authorities to carry out these responsibilities? The pressure on the rates in our big cities is enormous, as any hon. Member representing a conurbation knows. The size of the rates to be announced next April, will be frightening. Although the local authorities will welcome the power, will they have the resources to do the job?

It can be expensive to do a proper road safety job. How, under the new system of grants embodied in the Local Government Bill, will road safety and bus services in the counties be affected? Will it make a significant difference? It will be helpful if the Minister deals with some of these points.

Now, Clause 23. I do not think that the tachograph is mentioned in the Bill, but that is what this clause is about. There are grave problems in requiring it to be a compulsory fitting. There is no instrument which records when a vehicle is not moving, and it is important to know how long a rest has been taken. This matter should have been settled with the trade union before we were asked to legislate.

It has a connection also with some proposals coming from Brussels. I do not know whether the Minister will be as forthright in denouncing the proposals on tachographs as he has been on drivers' licences. Is that why the clause was introduced? I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to satisfy us on this point tonight.

The Minister touched on the revision of penalties, the rôle of the magistrates' courts, and trial by jury. It is unfortunate that a Bill should reach the House, after lengthy discussion in another place, when the people involved feel they have not been properly consulted. This is unusual for a Bill emanating from what was the old Ministry of Transport. What-ever view the House may take, it is necessary for magistrates to feel that their views have been properly considered. We shall want to see that that is done before Report.

I pay tribute to the magistrates. Of all forms of public service, theirs is one of most essential but unsung and unrewarding. In the old days, people may have thought it rather grand to have JP after their name, but no one becomes a magistrate nowadays unless he or she is dedicated to public service. It is a thankless task. My wife is a magistrate, and I can think of no more difficult way of passing a day than sitting in a road traffic court where hundreds of cases come up, one after another.

If that voluntary unpaid service were withdrawn, could any road traffic laws be enforced? Those who speak for the Magistrates' Association should be taken seriously on this matter. I do not think that magistrates would be worried about losing the power to imprison as a general principle—I am sure that they would agree with the Government that imprisonment should be avoided if at all possible—but, as they receive very little recognition, they probably see this as a blow to their status.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not impute to me any wish to underrate the value of magistrates' services. I recognise the heavy burden which they carry, particularly in discharging the enormous volume of work which arises, alas, under the Road Traffic Acts.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I had no such intention. I was merely putting before the House what seemed to me to be an unfortunate fact in the passage of the Bill thus far. From the letters I have received, it is clear that the magistrates are far from satisfied that they have been adequately consulted. One has been in this business long enough to know that people sometimes have that feeling when there is no genuine reason for it, but my impression is that magistrates are not the sort of people to bear that sort of grievance, and I hope that between now and Committee, before the House returns to this matter, something will be done to meet their viewpoint.

On a wider issue, many people will question the removal of the right to trial by jury on serious charges involving disqualification. Many people regard disqualification as very serious, and, with respect to the Minister, although everyone accepts that the basis of fines has to be changed, as a consequence of inflation—to make a party point in a non-party discussion, I wonder how frequently these changes will have to be made if the present rate of inflation continues—for many people a fine will not necessarily be adequate.

Wealthy people, or those who have their fines paid by their companies, will not be deterred necessarily by increasing those fines from £50 to £100. At some point—I think that this is the broad view of the average motorist—there may have to be imprisonment or disqualification. Those are serious matters and certainly the right of trial by jury should be retained or, if it is not retained, great pains to put across the case in question must be taken.

The Committee will have a substantial agenda before it, but, as I have said, the Opposition believe that there is a need for a new Road Traffic Act. It may be also that hon. Members will produce new clauses for the Government's consideration, but certainly I hope that as a result of our deliberations we shall not only have a better Bill ultimately, but we shall have made further contributions to road safety, which is so essential.

5.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Clive Bossom Mr Clive Bossom , Leominster

The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) has made some extremely useful points. Both of us have studied motoring problems, not only in this country but right across Europe—thanks to the all-party road study group—and later I should like to follow his comments about seat belts and minibus services in rural areas.

I welcome the Bill because it has some sound and helpful new provisions which will affect the private motorist. I should especially like to welcome Clause 9 which states that it is the duty of local authorities to promote road safety. No doubt in Committee more information will be forthcoming about how the Government will help the new county councils after 1st April, and also about what practical assistance they will give to get better comprehensive training for young road users. The most dangerous age today on our roads is between 17 and 24 for car accidents, and the simple answer, as we all know, is to provide better basic teaching and better training.

Ever since I have been in the House I have pressed Government's to allocate a specific sum to local authorities to enable them to promote driver training facilities in our schools. Driver training should be added to the school curriculum for those in their last 12 months at school. In America, more than 95 per cent. of pupils in public high schools are offered driver-training instruction. In this country, I understand that the figure is barely 10 per cent.

I believe that every county council—and especially small county councils—should be equipped with a couple of mobile trainers fitted with 20 simulators—a type of link trainer—which would tour schools giving instruction. Simulators are used by the Army, and more sophisticated ones are used by the Royal Air Force. I am the first to agree that they are not a complete alternative to instructors in a vehicle, but pupils get the feeling of being in a vehicle and are able to experience and practise the Highway Code, and I feel that we could do a lot more than we have done in this country by introducing simulators. People ask who would be the instructors. They could be drawn from trained school teachers, police, or even registered instructors of the RAC who run the RAC junior driver courses.

Over the last few years, we have heard a lot about road safety centres which would be run by local authorities. These have not been as successful or as plentiful as many hoped. The Government must try to encourage local authorities to develop more training grounds. These would be less expensive and, in many areas, could be more easily constructed.

I turn to Clause 14 which relates to driving licences being valid until a licence holder reaches his 70th birthday. I think this would be popular with the driving public, it would certainly be much more convenient, and the cost of £5 is reasonable. The change would save administrative costs. I understand that it would save about £1 million a year and reduce the staff by about 350.

It struck me that as we are considering a lifetime licence, it might be a good idea to have a photograph with it. That would help to identify the driver and it would help the police. This is done in Europe and America. I know that the idea has never been popular here, but I feel that it is worth considering while we are designing a new life licence——

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

I am interested in this point and I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does not he think that a photograph taken at the age of 17 or 18 might look rather different from the owner when he reached 70?

Photo of Mr Clive Bossom Mr Clive Bossom , Leominster

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is a problem, but the idea should be considered. It may not be the answer, but other countries use photographs on licences. I should have thought that this was the time, if we were changing our system, to consider the idea—no more than that.

Clause 19 deals with relaxing the present bus licensing system, which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. For the last few years there has been a need to introduce some new systems of public transport in rural areas. The small minibus with 10 to 12 seats would be able to give a most useful—I call it "informal"—service in counties such as Herefordshire, which I have the honour to represent. Small village garages would be able to supply this service.

Herefordshire has a scattered population. Many bus services have been withdrawn, there have been several rail closures, and now there is a growing need to collect labour, especially women workers, from small villages and to bring them to our market towns to work in light industry factories. Also, due to the present petrol shortage and to the ever-increasing price of petrol, more people may be encouraged to make use of a local minibus from their own village. That would help to reduce the number of cars taking people to work and to alleviate traffic congestion in some of our small towns.

Clause 10 says: The Secretary of State may—I underline the word "may"—make regulations requiring … people to wear seats belts. First, let me say that I have always been in favour of seat belts. It has been shown time and again that they reduce serious injuries by over 50 per cent.

During the past few years the carnage on our roads has continued, and last year about 3,000 people were killed in cars and 40,000 were injured in car accidents. It is almost impossible to put a figure on the cost to the nation, but I would hazard a figure of some £200 million to £300 million a year, and that is not counting the real cost, which is the human misery and suffering that these terrible accidents cause.

I believe that the way in which the Government have so far handled the seat belt controversy has been right. They have not rushed in with legislation, because they are fully aware that it takes time to get the public into a new habit. A good example is that it has taken several years to educate the young and the old to use zebra crossings. This is something we should remember.

The "clunk-click" campaign on television has been put over very cleverly by Jimmy Savile. Whether one "goes for" him or not, he has made people talk, think and, in many cases, act by "belting up". It is reckoned that about 30 per cent. of drivers now regularly do so, so the campaign has been a success so far——

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that enforcement is impossible, no matter how it is worked. The next time he drives anywhere in London he should notice the percentage of police drivers using seat belts.

Photo of Mr Clive Bossom Mr Clive Bossom , Leominster

I understand that it is left to chief constables in different areas to decide whether police drivers shall use them.

Let me continue with my argument. I am not worried about the cry that we have often heard—that it would be an infringement, of personal liberty. If the Government make wearing seat belts compulsory and it saves lives and serious injury, all right; but I do not believe that the time is yet right. There are still doubts about the difficulties of enforcement by magistrates and by our overworked police.

Circumstances in this country are not the same as those in some parts of Australia or New Zealand, where wearing belts is compulsory. I still want more pressure to be applied—and more persuasion. Every time one flies in an aeroplane, one automatically straps up without any question, for it has become a habit.

There is also the point that all new cars must now have the better-designed seat belts, which can be fastened with one hand. That is compulsory, but the Government should look at this development carefully. Are they going to insist on the inertia reel belt? I believe that that is the best sort, because it allows a driver to move about. Most people prefer it and are more willing to wear it.

The problem is that there are too many different designs. One can find belts of all sorts, One can find a belt worth £13, another worth £26, or even more. Unfortunately, most people usually go for the cheaper one. Therefore, the Government must look into this matter carefully before making it compulsory. We definitely need a better standard belt than we now have.

I hope that the Government will continue to persevere with persuasion, which has not proceeded as fast as they would like, because it takes a long time to get people into a habit in this country. It is better to persuade people to do things than to make them compulsory. If the compulsory wearing of seat belts is introduced I should like to know the Government's intentions regarding the framing of compulsory laws. There will be many problems involved. I hope that the Government will look carefully into this matter before taking any final decision about making it compulsory.

5.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I agree with the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) that this is a compendious type of Bill dealing with a variety of matters. Nor are they unimportant for they deal with the life and work of a large number of people in this country. It is an important piece of legislation which should be scrutinised with the greatest care in committee.

I agree especially with my right hon. Friend that considering the massive transport problems which face us, and the enormous problem in London particularly, it is a pity that we are not given a full statement of transport policy to debate at this time. I believe for example that consideration must at some stage be given to prohibiting commercial traffic over a certain weight from the centre of London between, for example, 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. It may be that this prohibition should also be extended to some of our other great cities.

I realise that I shall cause pain to certain vested interests, but I suggest that the time must also soon come when a great deal of the heavy traffic that is now carried on our roads should be transferred to the railways. Such a transfer would help to resolve their financial difficulties and make travel on the roads far easier and less perilous than it is now.

Traffic is in danger of seizing up in certain areas. The present emergency has eased the situation artificially but that should not blind us to the problem that has developed over the last few years. It is disappointing therefore that we have not had a full statement from the Minister on our transport needs.

I will not weary the House with detail, but I should like to refer briefly to several points. The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) in his interesting speech referred to Clause 10, as did the Minister and my right hon. Friend. That clause would make the wearing of seat belts compulsory, with certain unspecified reservations. I approached this problem with some doubt, mainly because we all tend to shy away from legislation that places a restriction on personal liberty and choice.

After considering all the available evidence, I believe that Parliament would be right to make the wearing of seat belts obligatory. In 1967 the Labour Government made the fitting of safety belts in all new cars compulsory, because it was accepted as a most effective life-saving method.

There is no doubt that the wearing of seat belts has been responsible for saving many lives. As the House knows, the wearing of seat belts was made compulsory in Australia quite recently, and the evidence there is that it has reduced deaths in car accidents by 20 per cent. It is calculated—this point was referred to by the Minister—that the wearing of seat belts would save 1,000 lives and 14,000 casualties in this country. This seems an overwhelming argument in favour of the clause.

Public opinion has moved substantially in favour of this proposal. A recent survey shows that 84 per cent. of the population accept that the compulsory wearing of seat belts is desirable. There is also a need to standardise and improve safety belts. Getting into some safety belts can be a strenuous and exacting task, requiring the ingenuity of a Houdini. This is a deterrent to many people.

I hope that the Road Research Laboratory can produce an efficient belt which is easy to fix, and possibly without the large buckle, which I believe is a potential danger. All these points must be considered.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said. He may like to know that I have taken up this matter with the seat belt manufacturers. I have made it my business to let them know what many members of the public think about their products. It is only fair to add that they have responded extremely well by introducing greatly improved designs.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. That is the kind of information that the House needs at this time. No doubt the Minister will want to enlarge upon it when he speaks on the clause in Committee.

There may be initial problems about enforcement. I noted that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) was concerned about this point. But I think that the habit will soon catch on and that the wearing of a seat belt in a motor car will become as automatic as fastening a seat belt in an aircraft. I hope that further careful consideration will be given to this clause in Committee and that it will become law in due course.

Concern has been expressed about Clause 7, which covers rural areas, where the circumstances are not comparable with those in towns and cities. We are all concerned about the safety of pedestrians. The ban on the parking of cars on the verges of rural roads can create considerable difficulties. Most roads in the countryside are narrow. Therefore, the prohibition on the parking of motor vehicles on verges could and probably would create congestion and road blocks.

I should like to know how local authorities will make exemptions from the ban. Is it proposed to be an exemption of specific individuals or of designated areas? Farmers and rural dwellers take the view that the need for the ban in rural areas has not been adequately established. I hope that the Under-Secretary will comment on this matter when he replies to the debate. The Minister said that he is considering some amendments, but we need more clarification.

Clause 15 deals with the weighing of motor vehicles. I understand that the mobile weighbridges that will be used have not yet been fully developed and tested. Is the Minister satisfied that they are as accurate as they should be, before legislation is introduced empowering their use?

I also ask the Under-Secretary to comment on the position of farmers whose walls and fences are damaged by vehicles. I understand that the Minister has undertaken to study the problem since it was discussed in another place, but he said nothing about it in opening. I hope, therefore, that the Under-Secretary will indicate the result of the Government's thinking on this matter.

What will be the practical effect of Clause 18? We have heard a good deal about it, but I am not satisfied that the position is yet clear. I think that the Minister has accepted the paucity of bus services in rural areas. I understand that the effect of the clause will be to improve and to supplement bus services in rural areas. If so, all well and good; we should support it. My fear is that the provision may give some bus companies another excuse to go to the traffic commissioner and ask for the cessation of yet another service. As the Minister knows, this has been happening in rural areas. The first stage has been the closure of railway lines on an undertaking that an effective bus service would be substituted. Then, after a period the bus service ceases because it is found to be uneconomic.

As a result of legislation we introduced, many county councils are keeping essential transport services alive in the countryside and doing a splendid job. But we want to be certain that the effect of the clause will mean that existing services will be improved and supplemented and not eroded.

I want to keep to my word about brevity, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill has many useful provisions although it needs careful study in Committee. I wish it well.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Like other hon. Members, I, too, welcome the Bill. I congratulate the Minister on the way that he introduced it. It is good in parts but other parts should be improved. Possibly the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) and I have a similar interest in Clauses 18 to 21 about rural transport. I hope that together we shall be able to improve what is in the Bill.

I share the belief of the right hon. Member for Anglesey that we do not mind how we get it, but that we must secure better transport service in country areas. The right hon. Member would probably place more emphasis on an extension of the major bus companies, running bigger buses with bigger subsides. However, I feel that there is a great opportunity through the Bill of perhaps replacing these heavy buses, which still operate on the Leicestershire country roads with only two or three people in them, and operate on Government and ratepayers' subsidies. We now have an opportunty to get them off the country roads and provide without fetter a better and far more prolific minibus system.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I am sure that the hon. Member did not intend it, but he has been putting words in my mouth. I did not say that I wanted an increase of large buses in country areas. What I asked for is that the provision should supplement and improve the service and not erode it.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I am sure that we have the same aim.

When one or two of my right hon. Friend's ministerial colleagues were talking a year or two ago about the improvement of rural bus services as a result of the Bill, one said that one effect would be to free the minibus and allow it to operate without fetter on rural services. As the Bill stands, it will not, perhaps, free the minibus. According to Clauses 18 to 21, privately-operated minibuses will be excluded entirely from the system, although other minibuses will be exempted from road service licensing only if they are not used to take up and set down passengers in urban areas or on existing bus routes. That is a different kettle of fish from what I understood a year or two ago. What is the use of a minibus if it is to pick up only half-a-dozen passengers in a little country village and can deposit them only in a rural road miles from a town or shops? This aspect must be examined stringently.

I have a similar problem in my constituency to that of the right hon. Member for Anglesey, and other hon. Members, in that in 12 years we have lost 22 of our 24 passenger railway stations. They have been axed; shut down. But services were substituted but they gradually faded away. In Leicestershire we still have over 50 communities, some of over 3,000 people, with no form of public transport, road or rail. Obviously if I am lucky enough to be a member of the Committee, I shall endeavour to improve one or two parts of the Bill and to impress on my right hon. Friend the urgency of giving a better deal to people who live in the countryside.

Another reason why this aspect of the Bill is so important concerns the fairly new development in the countryside in relation to local health centres. These centres are an innovation. A health centre serves several villages and the scattered populations have to find a way of getting to the central village or the central community where the health centre and its doctors are located. The villagers have to rely on public transport.

Thus there is great scope in the Bill for writing in more emphatically the important rôle that the minibus could play in maintaining a regular shuttle-service from outlying villages to the health centres and, in some cases, providing shuttle services from outlying villages to resuscitated urban railway stations.

I am gratified to have the assurance of my right hon. Friend about Clause 7—the prohibition of stopping of motor vehicles on footways. I welcome his assurance that this will be looked at again, with the difficult situation in the countryside that the clause would cause being recognised and rectified. I also hope that one of the considerations which my right hon. Friend might think about for inclusion in Committee would be a new clause or amendment on the lines which I understood the Government accepted in another place recently, namely, to provide for certain new regulations requiring drivers who damage road signs, hedges, walls and fences to take steps to report the incident. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take some initiative in that respect soon.

Clause 28 is an interpretation clause. I want to ask my right hon. Friend and his hon. Friend to note this point because I have letters from them both in relation to this matter. If the Under-Secretary can think back a few months only, and if his predecessor were here and he could have gone back two or three years, they would recall that they assured me in correspondence that they were waiting only for a suitable parliamentary vehicle as a way of establishing a new interpretation of a "user" in respect of the Transport Act 1968. If my hon. Friend will recall, I had correspondence with him about the growth of the driver hiring system. He undertook to establish a new up-to-date interpretation of a "user".

I also hope that we might be able to persuade Ministers in Committee to look ahead to the position on 1st January 1976 when some of the new regulations come into effect about heavy goods vehicle licensing. As my hon. Friend will know, certain concessions will be made on that date to free from control certain goods vehicle operators. However, some of my hon. Friends and myself and certain sections of industry are anxious that these exemptions should be made now. We can see tremendous benefits for certain narrow sectors of British industry if these regulations are lifted now.

I had a Question down to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries last week concerning the safety aspect of parked vehicles. I understand from inquiries made among my hon. Friends that my right hon. Friend's replies are always terse and to the point—generally "No" or "Yes" and never with a "Sorry" or a "Pleased to say" or anything like that. I understand that that is my right hon. Friend's habit—and it is an excellent way of saving parliamentary time and materials. However, I was a little disappointed at the abrupt manner in which he dismissed the suggestion, which had come from a number of accident prevention committees in the Midlands, of requiring the display of parking lights on vehicles during the hours of darkness while street lighting is at a reduced level. We are particularly concerned not with the point when visibility is normal, but with the bigger risk which exists on foggy evenings when unlit vehicles are allowed to stand unattended in unlit streets. I had hoped for a more favourable response from my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

I can assure my hon. Friend that no discourtesy was intended, nor did I wish to give the impression that his view had been lightly brushed to one side. I have developed a habit of economy perhaps from learning by examples of prolixity.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend for that explanation.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

The answer is still, "No".

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will be grateful to hear what my right hon. Friend said because it has caused misunderstanding in the past.

5.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Tope Mr Graham Tope , Sutton and Cheam

I was most interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's explanation of his habit of economy in replying to Questions.

In his opening speech the Minister referred to the Bill as a ragbag, but that was perhaps a little unkind. There is certainly no general theme, but it is none the worse for that. It contains many necessary measures, some of which are overdue and to which my hon. Friends and I give a particular welcome. We give the Bill a general welcome, but some of the measures we treat with reservation. I share the view expressed by Labour Members that in many ways it is a pity we are not able to have a debate in the full knowledge of the Government's overall transport policy.

I shall confine myself to a few points, the first of which arises on Clauses 1 to 5, which introduce the concept of keeper liability. I welcome the proposals without hesitation. They will go a long way towards improving the administration of the law. The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) referred several times to the difficulty of enforcing these proposals but it is the intention of the clauses to make that enforcement much easier.

Photo of Mr Graham Tope Mr Graham Tope , Sutton and Cheam

Making the owners liable for fines should greatly ease administration. I am glad, too, that the Bill will deal with the problem, which has arisen all too often in the past, of abuse by people who hire cars.

I welcome Clause 6 which gives power to impose prohibitions on parking at urban junctions. Representing as I do an urban constituency I know, as will anyone who drives in London and the other conurbations, how necessary such regulations are. I, too, wonder whether 30 yards is perhaps a little too far, but that is a point of detail which could be better dealt with on a later stage of the Bill. In general, we welcome the clause on the ground that it will go a long way to improve road safety.

Clause 7 deals with parking on footways. I welcome the Minister's declaration that he will clarify the situation for rural areas and for the parking of farm vehicles, and so on. I hope that he will indicate whether the exemptions he has in mind will apply to individuals or to areas. In urban areas the footways are used a great deal more by pedestrians. Parking on the footways causes many hazards for the blind and the partially sighted and creates difficulties for the disabled and for mothers with prams. No one would question the need for regulations of this sort.

However, there is another side to the argument. Many urban areas are so densely crowded that car owners cannot find off-street garaging for their vehicles. They cannot put them in their front gardens because in many cases these do not exist. The roads are often so narrow that parking on them would cause considerable obstruction, especially to the emergency services. Motorists feel, therefore, that they must park on the footway. There is no easy answer to the problem. The principle that the footways are for pedestrians is correct. One possible solution is for the Government to encourage local authorities to provide more lock-up garages for rent and to include these in redevelopment programmes.

Clause 10 deals with a difficult problem in relation to safety belts. It says that the Minister "may" introduce regulations and it is right that he should be given the chance to do so when he has made up his mind. However, that raises difficult problems of individual liberty and personal freedom. On the other side is the need for road safety, and for public expenditure to be saved by a lowering of the casualty rate. I am sure that all hon. Members would prefer not to see complsion if there were a way of voluntarily encouraging the vast majority of people in cars to wear safety belts at all times. We should prefer to see the matter handled in that way. I fear that that is not possible.

Reference has been made to the excellent publicity campaign which has recently been conducted by Jimmy Savile and others. This has had an extremely good effect in encouraging the use of safety belts. I speak as somebody who at one time was not quite converted to the wearing of safety belts, but I was certainly encouraged to use them by that publicity campaign—and also, incidentally, by the fact that I purchased a car which had inertia reel safety belts fitted to it. Convenience in the use of safety belts is an important factor in encouraging people to wear them. It is important to find some way to encourage passengers and drivers voluntarily to use safety belts. I hope that the Government will take a careful look at all the considerations involved before they consider introducing compulsory regulations.

The public's attitude to safety belts is interesting. Very few people doubt the wisdom of wearing safety belts, and a recent public opinion poll has shown that a large majority of people are in favour of the compulsory wearing of safety belts—yet figures have been published by the Automobile Association showing that only 30 per cent. of people bother to wear them. This appears to demonstrate that there is no consumer resistance to the wearing of safety belts, and it might well be possible to encourage people voluntarily to do so. If that effort fails, as I fear it will, the Government will be right to take advantage of the Bill's provisions and introduce—much as I personally would regret it—compulsory regulations.

I wish to deal briefly with the provisions in Clauses 16 and 17 relating to the lowering of the minimum age for trainee drivers of public service vehicles and heavy goods vehicles. This is a point which has long been advocated by London Transport and is an important element in its campaign to relieve staff shortages. I understand that the vast majority of passenger road transport operators welcome the clause. I gather that the unions have some reservations on the matter, and I look forward to hearing the views of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) who will be replying from the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that he will deal with this important point.

Contributions to the debate so far have dealt at some length with the problems of rural transport as envisaged in Clauses 18 to 21, and with the apparent relaxation of the bus licensing system. It seems to be generally accepted that there are still problems to be dealt with, and I shall be interested to see the promised amendments that the Government table. In principle we in the Liberal Party agree wholeheartedly that any measure which will provide a much more flexible rural transport system should be welcomed. We would wish to encourage greater use of minibus services. This is not the only answer, but is an answer to many of the problems in rural areas.

We must ensure that the Bill will have the desired effect which we all want to see. I am not yet convinced that its provisions will have that effect. I have great reservations as to whether it will achieve its aim and I am told by transport operators that they feel the proposals are so complex that they will act as a barrier in the attempt to encourage innovation and initiative. Many of these matters can be dealt with in Committee.

On the other hand, fears are rightly being expressed about minibus companies and the effects which these proposals will have on the existing bus services in rural areas. In areas where there is still a service, albeit inadequate, I fear that that introduction of privately operated minibuses may have a harmful effect on existing services, such as they are, in taking passengers from existing services and leading those services to become even less economic than they are at present so that they may even cease to exist at all. I fear that a free-for-all system may not be quite such a good thing for rural transport as on the surface it appears to be.

I have not been able to deal with many of the points in the Bill, for I set out to be brief. I conclude by saying that we give the Bill our general welcome. We believe that there is a need for a new Road Traffic Act and this Bill goes a long way to meet that need. There are matters which we would like to see included in the Bill, and inevitably there are some things we would rather have not seen in its provisions. There is room for improvement, and I hope that these matters will be dealt with in Committee so that many real improvements may follow. I look forward to seeing the Bill in an improved version back in the House on Report.

6.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

I am sure that the House is grateful for the support given to the Bill by the Liberal Party via the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope). If the hon. Gentleman is fortunate enough to serve on the Standing Committee on the Bill, I hope that he will be a regular attender because we like to have the constant attendance of Liberals on these occasions. Liberals are not always present on Standing Committees.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries on introducing the Bill in the way he did and for the brevity of his remarks. It was a pleasant surprise for back benchers and we are grateful to him.

This is a difficult Bill on which to make a Second Reading speech. It has been given various descriptions. I regard it as a kind of lucky dip in terms of the various measures which the Department would like to see brought about. I imagine somebody sitting down, putting his thumb in the pie, pulling out various plums and feeling virtuous when he selects a plum that can be included in legislation. Certainly many of the plums are well worth having.

I shall restrict myself to making one or two points and saying one or two words of criticism. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on dealing at long last with the vexed question of rural transport. I have always been amazed, when I have addressed village meetings to hear the spontaneous applause and interest that arise when one criticises the lack of public transport in country areas. I think that I receive more letters and complaints about local bus services than I do about any other issue. This is not surprising if one observes the increasing use of the motor car and the fact that bus passengers increasingly tend to be the people with the least purchasing power—and perhaps with the least electoral pull. I refer to people who live in isolated places and who make the occasional visit to nearby towns.

To be fair, it must be said that bus companies have been facing difficult times and have not always been coping with matters that are within their own control. They have found that the sort of wages they can offer are often much below wages offered in local industry. Furthermore, they find that they cannot obtain new buses as quickly as they would like. The result has been a rather vicious circle of declining standards and increasing costs. The net result in many parts of the country—and this certainly applies to North and East Northamptonshire—is that in many villages not only are there no bus services but few if any shops—because even the mobile shops are being withdrawn. Post offices are gradually being closed down on the direction of the Post Office, and people often have to rely on their friends and neighbours to keep them in touch with neighbouring towns and villages. Anything aimed at improving rural transport must be a good idea and should be given a hearty welcome.

I have two points of qualification in welcoming these provisions. The first relates to insurance. To allow people to use their private vehicles for what would appear to be hire or reward may be considered to be legalising a fairly common practice. There is a danger that some people may take advantage of what is normally a private car policy, so amended, to conduct a business. I hope that the matter will be gone into in detail with the insurance companies, to prevent such an abuse.

Many bus routes have to be subsidised to be kept going. Some hon. Members may not be aware that perhaps the great majority of bus routes are through villages, but from one town to another, and these are the mainstay of the inter-county bus service. Many such services have had to be subsidised in recent years.

A possible effect of the Bill is that some minibus operators could run along part of a route used by bus services covering longer distances, thus drawing off some of the passengers. Therefore the profitability of the longer-distance services and the amount of subsidy would be affected. I understand that representations have been made that the Bill should be amended so that minibuses which are run on the same routes as service buses should not pick up or set down at the same stops as the service buses. It has been suggested that the minibuses should not pick up or set down within 400 metres of the points used by the regular bus services. I hope that this will be borne in mind. The clauses should be drawn more carefully, not only to encourage extra rural transport but to protect the existing bus services, and the ratepayer and taxpayer.

I turn to the clause dealing with the prohibition of the stopping of vehicles at urban junctions. Like most hon. Members, I can see the good sense behind it. However, the idea of a wide national prohibition does not appeal to me, particularly in the way it is specified in the Bill. A 30-yard maximum would give too much leeway. It has been suggested that most local authorities would need not 30 yards but perhaps only 10 or 15 yards, yet even a distance of 15 yards could cause considerable difficulty. For example, parking meters and bus stops would have to be resited.

Haulage and delivery firms have agreed to previous restrictions on main roads because they have been allowed to park vehicles round the corner and make deliveries from a nearby point. The clause would considerably hamper the activities of the many different firms and interests which make deliveries or collections. We should consider the kind of traffic which legitimately stops at road junctions, such as Post Office vans, whose drivers are collecting from letter boxes, and cars left by drivers who have to collect money from banks, which are often situated on corners. Licensed premises are often on corners, and pipes have to be connected from the cellars of public houses to delivery vehicles. If a delivery vehicle is not allowed to stop near a corner, problems will arise. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not wish to deprive our fellow countrymen of their supply of beer.

The proposed limit would make it much more difficult for a whole range of business interests to carry out their legitimate activities. Even the delivery of coal would become a greater problem than it now is, as would the removal of furniture. Deliveries would become more difficult and expensive. Delivery vehicles would have to make longer stops, which would mean greater traffic congestion.

I endorse what has been said about the shortage of parking or garage accommodation. In many areas it may be a mistake to go ahead with wholesale prohibition when facilities are not available for people to leave their cars when shopping or on business. This is a danger in many towns, especially those in which central redevelopment has meant cutting out many parking spaces. I hope that the clause relating to this will be closely examined and possibly amended in Committee.

Clause 7 deals with the prohibition of the stopping of motor vehicles on footways. Many of us can understand what was behind the introduction of the clause in the other place, but it will have several unhappy effects. The rural areas' interest has already been expressed. We can all anticipate the problems associated with a farmer who, while working in a field, may cause more obstruction if his car is left on the road than if it is left on the grass verge. But the problem goes even further. The clause speaks of "driving … or parking" on footways, but does not allow for possible reasons. A lorry which has broken down may have to be taken off the road. It may be necessary for traffic to mount the footway to get round an obstruction in the road before a police constable arrives on the scene to allow what would be a lawful use of the footpath in that way.

Although it may be the ideal to prohibit parking on footways, in urban areas more obstruction may be caused if footways are not used at least partially by traffic. In streets where parking is allowed on one side there could be an obstruction if a delivery vehicle does not park on the footway.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

I appreciate that point. However, in constituencies such as mine, where the roads are virtually as narrow as the distance between the two Front Benches, lorries are parked on the pavement outside the front doors of houses. People cannot get in or out of the front doors, and they cannot see daylight because of the lorries parked there. Something should be done about that.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

That problem could be met if safeguards such as those in the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act were adopted. Those safeguards specify that such parking as the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned would be permitted only for loading or unloading, and that vehicles should not be left unattended while that was taking place.

The clause leaves much to be desired. I find it particularly unacceptable that local authorities are, in a peculiar way, supposed to be exempt. That could lead to a lot of bureaucracy, ill-feeling and difficulty. I look forward to what is said in Committee about Government thinking on that.

It is a pity that two matters affecting road safety are not covered in the Bill. It is becoming increasingly obvious that many accidents are taking place not on motorways but on smaller, secondary roads. Statistics show that the likelihood of an accident is three times as high on a secondary rural road as it is on a motorway. Thirty-five per cent. of all accidents occur in rural areas, 30 per cent. after dark and 15 per cent. on secondary roads after dark. To try to counteract this, the Department has given advice about edge marking on rural roads. Despite its recommendations, latest statistics show that 70 per cent. of secondary roads are unmarked or inadequately marked. In other countries the system of edge marking has proved successful. It has reduced accidents and has certainly returned the cost. It is a pity that the opportunity has not been taken in the Bill to ensure that there is an obligation on local authorities to do far more in this respect.

Returning to the question of general safety on rural roads, it is plain that in the past there has been an unwillingness on the part of local authorities always to understand the difficulties of farmers. In the days before the 50 mph limit we were probably all guilty of driving as fast as we could from town to town. Difficulties can arise if someone is trying to move a tractor from one field to another. He cannot get across safely because someone may come round the bend at 70 mph. Local authorities should be encouraged to provide more "drift-ways" to facilitate crossing and changes of direction.

Another suggestion which would not cost much money involves the resiting of gates leading to fields. Instead of being on main roads they could be round corners on side roads. This would be conducive to greater road safety.

I hope that I will be fortunate enough to serve on the Committee examining the Bill because there are a number of points I should like to make. I should not like my right hon. Friend to feel that I am highly critical of the Bill. It is a most useful measure, but it is something of a mixed pudding. It can only be improved by more stirring and sifting in Committee.

6.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

I have, first, two general points to make. I do not think that we can properly consider the public service vehicle provisions in the Bill until we have considered and expressed a view upon the changed oil and petrol position and the way in which public transport and city centre transport will react. The increasing cost and scarcity of oil means that we are unable to afford the thought that we cannot legislate against the private motor car. There may be circumstances which will compel us to do so very soon. The Government's assessment of this would obviously help when we are considering Clauses 18 to 20.

It is important to identify what we are trying to do in these clauses. We are trying to achieve an extension in the coverage of public transport. I mean a geographic extension, in the sense that we want communities not at present served by a bus service to have such services and, further, we want services operating at times when they do not now operate.

All of us in rural areas know the spectre of the last bus going at about 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. The flexibility given in Clauses 18 to 20 is only a contribution towards achieving that end and not an end in itself. We must make sure that in trying to provide greater flexibility to produce extra coverage we do not harm existing bus operators and end up by substituting a minibus service for a public service operation. I should like an assurance from the Minister on this point when he replies.

I do not think, as the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has pointed out, that the danger is in rural buses being able to pick up at the village and drop at the outskirts of the town. As I read Clause 19, an urban journey is an urban journey only if the bus both picks up and sets down in an urban area. If it picks up in a country area it would set down in an urban area and vice versa.

Clause 18 and the permission it gives to vehicles carrying up to eight passengers to ply for hire is a real danger to existing bus operations in towns and cities. Bus operators have made representations to that effect to a number of us. The clause does not restrict this to anywhere in particular, so the service could operate in town and city centres. It could also operate alongside established bus routes in towns and cities. That might lead to a war between private operators and public service operators, which could only harm the services in these areas and make them more uneconomic. This would, in turn, force a local authority into making the agonising choice between giving a greater subsidy or letting that bus service go.

The regulation on public service vehicles was introduced for the public good, to protect the public against such a cut-throat war. I would be loth to enact any measure which had the effect of weakening existing transport undertakings. I say that within the context of the criteria I have already laid down. Consider first the geographic criterion. The operators of vehicles carrying up to eight persons in the least populous areas will choose areas to operate in which they can get the quickest return on their capital. They are unlikely to take up marginal routes. Thus, they will cream off passengers from existing bus routes and leave the bus operators to service the marginal areas.

They are also likely to choose the most popular times for picking up passengers. They will turn out at rush hours, morning and evening, and possibly at certain times during the rest of the day. But they will not turn out late at night, when a bus conductor on the public service vehicle can often be faced with violence. Neither will they turn out on Sundays or Bank Holidays when the travelling public is comparatively sparse.

The effect of Clause 18 may be that by giving so-called flexibility to the eight-seater vehicle, enabling it to pick up in city and town centres, we will be damaging the public service vehicles without laying down adequate safeguards to ensure that those who undermine the existence of the public service operators shall provide a service to the public no less good in terms of area and size.

There is a third point. If the vehicles dealt with in Clause 18 are allowed to ply for hire they will be doing so in compliance with the lower maintenance standards applying to motor cars. That means that no certificate will be necessary for the first three years. This is a much lower standard than that expected from public service vehicles. I hope that in view of today's crowded roads we will not tolerate such lower standards.

I hope that the Government will amend the Bill to provide that these vehicles shall operate, for example, on a return fare basis only and will not be able to hop ahead of the public service bus, creaming off the bus queues in advance and robbing the public service bus of paying passengers.

I trust that areas will be laid down in towns and cities within which such vehicles will be prohibited from picking up, say, within 400 yards of an existing bus stop. Without such safeguards the cure we are proposing will run the risk of being worse than the disease.

I turn to the duty laid upon local authorities under Clauses 6, 7 and 9. Clause 9 lays a duty upon the local authority to take steps to deal with road safety in its area. I welcome that, but I point out to the Government that it is not a matter only for local authorities. There should be greater and better liaison between Government Departments when such matters are considered.

I can give an illustration from my constituency. The Glamorgan Polytechnic has been established in a district of my constituency. It has been a rapidly expanding polytechnic. The inhabitants of the streets around it live in an industrial area with comparatively narrow streets. They are faced with a great deal of inconvenience, caused by nose-to-tail parking during the hours when the polytechnic is open, namely, most hours of the day and many hours of the evening. Not only do the residents have difficulty in parking their vehicles; doctors and tradesmen cannot find parking spaces. I understand that there is no proprietary interest in the kerbside.

I have considered the complaints that have been voiced by residents and am satisfied from my own knowledge that they are justified. I am equally satisfied that the polytechnic is not being unreasonable. The solution is to create enough car parking spaces within, for example, a polytechnic so that students can park off the roads and not cause a traffic hazard.

At this stage we come up against the limitations imposed by Design Note 8 of the Department of Education and Science, which provides that at polytechnics and further education establishments there shall be one car parking space for every 10 students. The ratio of staff to students is also 1 to 10. The provisions of Design No. 8 mean that we only ever provide enough car-parking space to satisfy the demands of the teaching staff. The majority of the staff, of course, will have cars.

In any polytechnic there are many mature students. Treforest Polytechnic is a centre for business studies, and managers attend it for day courses. They expect to be able to use their own cars to afford them access to the college. Unless Design Note 8 is changed rapidly, or unless the Department of Education and Science and the Minister for Transport Industries are consulted during the design stage of such polytechnics as to the likely effect in terms of traffic hazard and the allocation of car parks, local authorities will be faced with an almost impossible task if they are to try to ensure road safety in their areas.

There is a need for better liaison between Government Departments, and I hope that an undertaking will be given by the Minister. If there is not better liaison, I fear that the general sense of Clause 9 is doomed to be unfulfilled.

6.39 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Arundel and Shoreham

I shall try to take up many of the points which the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) has made about the clauses relating to rural transport.

Clauses 18 to 21 relate to the relaxing of the controls on the operation of public service vehicles. My right hon. Friend used an economy of words and I shall try my best to follow his example. The clauses endeavour to deal with a serious problem in rural areas which affects gravely those people who do not own their own cars. During the past 25 to 30 years we have seen a growing affluence in our society and a higher standard of living. The higher level of car ownership has produced, in part, a growing social problem. With increasing car ownership we have seen declining bus services in rural areas. It seems that a social problem has been created because of the increased level of car ownership.

In the 1940s and 1950s rural bus services were adequate for most people, but since then there has been a decline. In my constituency the principal sufferers appear to be the elderly, the young and housewives without cars. Many people who live in an area without adequate transport find it extremely difficult, for example, to do their shopping, to go to hospital, to enjoy their leisure and to visit their friends.

Those points are borne out effectively by the interesting Government pilot studies which were published in 1971. The studies were made in West Suffolk and in Devon. In particular, they seem to bear out four points about rural transport. The first is that there is still some limited scope for full-scale bus services using, in particular, the power given under Section 34 of the Transport Act 1968, namely, the power of the county council to subsidise certain areas.

The second point is to encourage the use of cars to meet the irregular needs and requirements of the people who live in villages. The third point is the need to encourage the use of minibuses in some areas. Lastly, and perhaps one of the most important matters, is the rôle of local authorities in co-ordinating transport needs at that level.

All those matters were confirmed to me when I attended a conference in my constituency which was attended by approximately 100 people who represented 15 parish councils and a mass of local voluntary bodies. The need for such experimentation was confirmed.

The present rules regarding bus service licensing were ideal in the 1930s, when they were created, but they are now completely outdated. In modern conditions they appear to be unnecessary and restrictive in many cases. The relaxation of those rules will enable us to fill the gaps in transport inadequacies in rural areas. I share the reservations of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) about how far we have gone to relax the rules. I query whether we have gone far enough, and I hope that the matter will be considered thoroughly in Committee.

I stress five points which should be considered if the fullest value is to be obtained from the four important clauses which I have mentioned. First, powers are available to county councils under Section 203 of the Local Government Act 1972 to develop policies which will promote the provision of a co-ordinated and efficient system of public passenger transport to meet the needs of the community … Certainly the West Sussex County Council has already established a subcommittee to co-ordinate such matters.

If the Bill is passed and the four clauses are adequately fulfilled the county councils will have a vital rôle in coordinating transport and acting as a clearing-house or a lubricating machine where there are inadequate existing services and trying to encourage voluntary effort at a local level to fill the gaps. All sorts of ideas have already been suggested. We have heard about minibuses, and the combined use of postal vans as buses and school buses. The relaxations will enable us to use private cars for hire. We have also heard about a voluntary car service, a social car service and a hospital bus service.

There is power under existing law for county councils to purchase a vehicle and then to allocate it to a garage proprietor who can maintain and operate it. The scope for ingenuity is considerable.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been quite fair to the Opposition in attempting to meet this point. Where is the statutory authority for saying that the minibus which is to replace the public service vehicle will have to operate during unsocial hours and at unpopular times the kind of service which the public service vehicle is often compelled to provide by law?

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Arundel and Shoreham

I appreciate that point. It will be a matter for county councils, with the power that they have now, to coordinate transport so as to ensure that something adequate is put in its place before that is allowed to happen.

My second point concerns the scope for initiative and for a response from local voluntary bodies and district and parish councils to try to fill these gaps. I refer to Round Tables, the WRVS, community care organisations, old people's welfare and so on. If they used their initiative and linked closely with the county councils they could play a leading rôle in helping to fill these gaps.

That leads me to my third point, which is that there will be a need for an advisory service to those people who are interested in filling these gaps by private enterprise and the use of minibuses and voluntary car services. It is not easy to establish something like this. They will need advice about operating costs, insurance, and so on. At both county council and and district level there should be an advisory service of some kind for people who wish to do this.

My fourth point, again allied to the last one, is that the Government and the county councils in turn should circularise voluntary bodies with information about the implications of a relaxation of the present rules, and they should follow it up by suggesting how the gaps might be filled.

My last point concerns insurance. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) touch on this subject. As I understand it, the present position is that when using a private vehicle a person is insured against liability in respect of death and injury for himself as driver and for his passengers. However, insurance companies exclude from private motor policies the use of vehicles for carrying passengers for hire or reward. It is very important to understand the position of the insurance companies on this. Will they be prepared to include this in future? It should be pointed out to people who propose to take the initiative and to hire their private cars that it will cost more to do so in terms of insurance. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will comment on that.

If these four clauses are passed after close scrutiny in Committee, they will give a new opportunity to people in rural areas to overcome this growing social problem of isolation. They give scope for initiative, for self-help, for greater efficiency, for the rationalisation of services and possibly for economy. They also provide what has been missing lately, the scope for enterprise. With that in mind, I support the Bill.

6.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

The Bill, with 29 clauses, brings in again a number of ideas, suggestions and proposals for the alleged improvement of road traffic, but the most important need of all is not touched upon, namely, the enforceability of both existing rules and regulations and those proposed. I believe that there are now 2,000 or 3,000 rules, regulations, orders and so on affecting vehicles on our roads. Hardly any of them are either enforced or enforceable. The law-abiding citizen who carries out the rules and regulations does so voluntarily. However, I am concerned about the persistent, regular and deliberate lawbreaker who appears never to be interfered with by the authorities.

I do not want to attack the police. They have overall responsibility for the enforcement of our road traffic regulations, but not all of it, because the Department of the Environment and the local authorities have their part to play. But everyone knows that the police are undermanned in numbers and overstretched in their responsibilities. The Minister admitted today that millions of automatic ticket fines are never collected because the police simply cannot deal with them all.

I have been driving for 40 years, all over the country. I have never once been stopped by the police for them to check such matters as tyres, brakes, lights, the suitability of my vehicle and whether it has a certificate of roadworthiness. In the event of a person's being involved in an accident or committing an offence, such as breaking the speed limit, the police may well check on these matters, but it probably only happens in circumstances of that kind. I have asked policemen about it, only to be told that although they do their best they cannot deal with the 101 problems which confront them from day to day.

Only last night the GLC urged the Government to make the use of seat belts compulsory. The Minister told us that he might do that and that he was taking power under the Bill to do it. But there is nothing which can make a person wear a seat belt in his car, and there is no means whereby the police can be sure that people are wearing seat belts. Earlier in the debate I intervened to ask how many policemen in police cars were to be seen wearing seat belts. In my experience, in London the answer is, "Hardly any". If the wearing of seat belts were made compulsory, a driver pulled up by the police would simply explain that he had only just taken it off, or that he was about to put it on. Once again we are putting responsibility on the police for a provision in legislation that will be unenforceable.

I heard on the radio this morning—I believe it is mentioned in the Press today—that in another place a question was asked about tax on prostitutes' earnings. I understand the official answer is that it is possible, and that prostitutes should pay their taxes. It is farcical, because everyone knows that there is no way of enforcing such a provision—unless the tax inspector goes along to see that the client pays up the tax.

Here we have a further 101 rules and regulations, and I ask, "Who is going to enforce them? Will it be the already undermanned, overstretched police force, which cannot do the work that is put upon it now?" This Government—it happens under every Government, but under this one in particular—have provided the classic example of introducing legislation which they cannot enforce, namely, the Industrial Relations Act. It is all very well to have a wonderful Act with wonderful ideas and suggestions, but to what avail if there is no one to enforce it?

I suggest that there should be a clause to set up a road enforcement police force—call it what one will—consisting of ex-policemen or retired police officers who have become too old or too infirm to carry out normal police duties, to absolve the ordinary police force from doing the law work. There should be a special police force to deal with the enforcement of the Road Traffic Acts.

A new regulation is being brought in to make the keeper of the car responsible for the vehicle. What a farce this is. One-fifth of the vehicles on the road today are breaking the law under the noses of the police. I am referring to the offence of a car on the road without having a current road fund licence. Whether it is in existence or not does not matter; it must be showing. It is a "ticket" offence.

Let any hon. Member, as he drives home—perhaps not at night because it would be difficult but during the daytime—check the number of vehicles on the road without road fund licences, with no certificates of roadworthiness, no registration, and so on. I have done that and given to the police, the GLC, the Department of the Environment, and the Ministry of Transport the names and addresses of the owners and the keepers, but not a thing is done about it. Why? I have been told by the police that it is because so many thousands of people are breaking the law that they, the police, cannot process the action.

If the keeper is now to be responsible, to what extent will that help? It will mean that the genuine chap who slips up will again be caught, but persistent offenders who, year after year, deliberately break the law will still get away with it.

I could go on all night about the breaking of the law that takes place. If one goes tonight to Ludgate Hill, through Ludgate Circus to Fleet Street, one will see hundreds of cars that have been parked by the print workers—I am not objecting, but just stating a fact—on both sides of Ludgate Hill, Ludgate Circus, and along Fleet Street, where the printers have gone to work. All those vehicles will be parked without lights along bus routes, which is illegal. They will be parked facing different directions. That is illegal; they should all be parked the same way as the flow of traffic, and should all be showing lights. Policemen walk up and down, but take no notice.

It is illegal to park at night on a road junction, but one can go round London and find that it is done. It is illegal in London, but not in the provinces, to park and cause an obstruction, but cars are parked and they do cause an obstruction. It is illegal to park on the pavement in London, but it is done. It may be that no action is taken in most parts of London, but if it were to happen in the Mall or in Whitehall action would soon be taken, even though the police are overstretched and undermanned.

I should give more support to the Bill if the Government showed that they intended to do more about enforcement—if they showed that they were going to set up a proper road enforcement authority, or police force—call it what one will. They could then ensure that all these rules and regulations were actively processed.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has refused to introduce automatic ticket fines for a number of offences, because, he says, the wardens and police could not deal with the work involved. The Minister should create a proper force to deal with all the various traffic rules and regulations. I believe that he would find that the police force would welcome that. He already has a nucleus in the warden service, and with that he should be able to progress along the lines that I have suggested.

As I have been critical of the Bill, I shall naturally not get on the Committee, and I do not want to do so, but I ask the Minister to look at my suggestion, because I feel that it would solve many of the problems confronting motorists and pedestrians and impeding the flow of traffic.

7.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

I hope that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) will forgive me if I do not pursue his arguments about enforcement. It is a major problem, as I think we all agree, but my experience, which I shall recount later, and the experience in my constituency is that we do not have exactly the problems of enforcement that he has in his area.

The Bill has been described in different ways this afternoon. It has been described as a ragbag, a miscellaneous provisions and a mixed pudding Bill. Nevertheless, it is an important measure that will affect millions of private and commercial motorists, as well as local authorities and, of course, our courts. It appears to be basically non-controversial in its general aims and to contain some sensible proposals that will help the process of balancing the car and lorry with the social and environmental requirements of our crowded island.

I have always been interested in motoring legislation, partly because I come from the South-West where, as a holiday area, we have had to suffer for many years from the problem of too many cars and lorries on too few and totally inadequate roads. I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on the improvements that they have been and are making to our West Country road system. I hope that the current cuts in road expenditure will not affect this programme too drastically.

Over the years, I have put forward many suggestions to my right hon. Friend relating to motoring matters. Passenger insurance was the first, and it was finally incorporated in the Private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Stret-ford (Mr. Churchill). The tightening up of car insurance in general, following the collapse of the Vehicle and General Insurance Company, has been dealt with in last year's Insurance Companies Amendment Act. Hitch hiking, insurance discs, heavy lorries and safety kits are all matters about which I have put forward suggestions to my right hon. Friend at various times. I thank my right hon. Friend for the attention that he has given to the many suggestions that he has received from myself and other hon. Members. Some of them he has been able to use; others have proved impracticable at this present time.

The Bill takes us a step forward with a set of varied proposals for dealing with the motor vehicle, which, although it is the greatest social advance of the century, is at the same time an environmental problem. With 75 per cent. of all passenger mile journeys being taken by car, of which 80 per cent. do not exceed 25 miles, we have to realise that the car is our main form of transport.

I want to comment briefly on four clauses, and I ask the Minister to consider my observations. Clause 6 deals with parking at urban road junctions. The original proposal in 1971 was for a 20 yards parking ban, which was modified to 15 yards in 1972. It was applied to lighting of vehicles by regulation from that date. Since then there has been a certain amount of confusion among the public as to where exactly they can park and when lights are required. I should like to see a simple system of delineation of the parking areas which must be provided.

At present yellow lines appear in all directions. We all understand double yellow lines, but there are single yellow lines, dotted lines and pavement markings, and with the new set of markings I begin to wonder whether we are not reaching one of the famous cross-over points when it might be cheaper to put yellow lines where we can park rather than where we cannot park. The banning of parking or stopping within 15 to 20 yards of urban road junctions will greatly add to the shortage of parking space in our towns and cities. This was brought out in several speeches today, in particular by the right hon. Member for Sheffield. Park (Mr. Mulley). In older towns, such as my own constituency of Exeter, many shopping streets lie off the main road and are criss-crossed by other roads. I suggest that where urban junctions occur, for example, less than 100 yards apart, the restrictions that may be brought in should apply only for five or 10 yards. I wonder why we need these extensive restrictions at all.

In connection with parking limitations we have the question of lighting restrictions. The present lighting regulation which was introduced in 1972 stipulates 15 yards from a road junction as the lighting-up requirement. Many of my constituents have found themselves in court since the introduction of that regulation. I confess to being subjected to a small fine myself recently for this offence. I parked my car opposite my constituency office in a quiet side road at a point where the double yellow lines on the main road end in the side road, about five yards in from the main road.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Was the hon. Gentleman's licence in order?

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

I assure the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) that my road fund licence was in order. I was surprised when I came out of the office to find a ticket on the vehicle. However, it was parked within 100 yards of the Exeter City police headquarters. Therefore, it was a pretty fair cop.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

The hon. Gentleman, like me, is a law-abiding citizen. I suggest that the regular breaker of the law is the man who does not pay his road fund licence, does not register the vehicle, does not carry insurance and, therefore, when he receives a ticket he ignores it, and no action is taken against him. I do not suggest that the hon. Member should act in that way.

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

I have no evidence of such extensive law breaking, but I have made suggestions in the past to my right hon. Friend that we should include in the details on the car disc information regarding insurance and road fund licence. I hope that at some stage, as is done in other countries, that idea will be introduced.

The hon. Gentleman referred to me as a law-abiding citizen. I hope that he will still agree with that description when I have finished my story. I was dealt with in that instance, but it was confusing to me, as I am sure it must be to many others, to know exactly where one may park at a time when lighting-up restrictions come into force. At the moment double yellow lines end at a certain point in a side road. People park there thinking that they will be exempt from the lighting-up restrictions. I hope that those areas will be clearly marked in future.

My other motoring fine in 25 years of driving occurred four and a half years ago, when I was summonsed for doing 51 mph. on the Great West Road. I do not grumble about that, although I was slightly put out a week later when I found that my car was one month over three years of age and I had not obtained the necessary MOT certificate. That was charge No. 2. The final blow, which leads me to Clause 14 and Schedule 3, came when my driving licence was found to have expired because the usual county council reminders had ceased to be sent out and I was caught.

I found myself in court making an impassioned plea to the magistrates. I asked whether they themselves would lend weight to a campaign to have all these different certificates and licences recorded on one licence form. To strengthen my case then, I asked half a dozen Members of Parliament to check their own driving licences. Three of those licences were found to have expired, too.

I welcome Clause 14 and the proposal to grant licences until the age of 70. My only query relates to the cost to those who obtained their licence a year or two before that age. The charge of £1·65 which my right hon. Friend mentioned would, I believe, be a reasonable and sensible charge to make.

Clause 7 refers to parking on pavements and footways. Although the general purpose of this clause is worthwhile, I question—as do many other hon. Members—its application to rural areas and to quiet streets with wide pavements. In country areas where roads are often extremely narrow, it is prudent and sensible to park slightly off the road when stopping. Even in towns we often find restaurants, shops and flats where the pavements are several yards wider than the road itself. I am not convinced that this clause is necessary, but if it is retained I hope that the clause will allow country areas to be exempted and that latitude will be given for those streets with very wide pavements. My right hon. Friend has intimated that powers will be given to local authorities to amend this rule, but some uniformity will be necessary if we are not to get confused by a variation of restrictions.

I come to Clause 10 and the question of seat belts. I really cannot say whether I feel the time has arrived for the introduction of compulsion in the wearing of seat belts. I confess to being a forgetful and lazy driver who does not use his seat belt more than half the time. Probably the time is nearly right for a decision on this, and I am happy to give the Minister the necessary power and authority to do so. The problem of enforcement will be the major worry.

However, there is a group of people who need special exemption from such a compulsory measure. There are people who suffer from disabilities and illnesses which prevent them from being able to strapped in. One such group are sufferers from claustrophobia. Some people cannot stay in confined spaces, and panic sets in if a seat belt is strapped across them. I hope allowance can be made for these people if such a regulation is brought in.

I express my support for this Bill and my admiration for the excellent way in which my right hon. Friend and his Department have approached the whole area of motoring and transportation, safety barriers on the motor ways and new road schemes for the urban transport proposals.

I make one final suggestion. My right hon. Friend has taken some extremely sensible steps to promote road safety. I believe he now has a further opportunity. We would all agree that the speed at which we drive has a direct bearing on the severity and the number of accidents. The lower speed limits introduced during the present fuel crisis are proving the validity of this point. I do not think, however, that it would be sensible or practical to maintain a 50 mph speed limit on our motorways and dual carriageways. I suggest, therefore that the Government should permanently maintain a 50 mph speed limit on all roads other than motorways and dual carriageways where a 70 mph. limit would apply. Most people would consider this to be a sensible law and would obey it.

I believe this to be a good Bill in principle. It should help us in keeping the motor car and the lorry in its proper place as our servant rather than our master.

7.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

I hope that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. John Hannam) will not mind if I do not follow him. I will not reveal my past criminal record, if he does not mind. Nevertheless, I agree with him that this is a useful Bill containing many useful clauses. Although it has not, and will not, set the House on fire, the debate so far has been interesting.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) raised the valid question of enforceability. But if we take his argument to its logical conclusion, perhaps we shall never pass any laws. I agree that perhaps we ought to look at the enforcement arm of the law to see whether it is the right sort of arm and the right sort of enforcement procedure for the very detailed laws which we now have relating to vehicles.

One of the most effective things is deterrence. Most people do not know what the law is, nor do they know what the penalties are for breaking the law. Should not the Minister publicise so far as possible Clause 5, giving the variations in penalties for certain offences. When people are made aware of the variations, this will act as a deterrent.

I hope the Minister will well publicise one variation, because pedestrians still feel they have the right to walk wherever they wish without let or hindrance. Section 23, which is referred to in Schedule 5, provides that the fine for a Pedestrian failing to stop when directed by constable regulating traffic goes up from £10 to £50. I feel sure that that will be a deterrent, and I hope that the Minister will consider giving as much publicity as possible to the offences and the penalties if the regulations and laws are broken.

I welcome Clause 7 which deals with parking on footways and verges. Although I understand and appreciate the arguments put forward by Members from rural constituencies and think that they are valid in those areas, they are not valid in towns. I should like to emphasise what has been said about the danger to pedestrians—particularly the blind and the disabled—and to children, who all too often have to step off the pavement to get round a car parked on the pavement and therefore expose themselves to danger—a danger which children's parents and teachers are always telling them to avoid by remembering the Green Cross Code. Children particularly, as well as the blind and disabled, are vulnerable to danger as a result of cars parked on verges

Then, of course, there is the cost to local authorities. The cost of broken paving stones and footways to my own local authority is considerable. It is so concerned about it that a £5 reward is offered for information which leads to a conviction in the event of damage to footways by vehicles. The cost is considerable to the public exchequer, and that is in addition to the danger to pedestrians using the footways.

Many urban local authorities try to beautify their areas and estates and specify that there should be green verges. There is no doubt that this is good planning. The visual aspect is great until some inconsiderate fool of a motorist drives on it in wet weather, cannot get off, and converts a pleasant verge into a rutted area dangerous to people and destroys the visual amenity for those living in the area. I hope that local authorities will ensure that the regulation is enforced.

I now come to the vexed question of seat belts, and I declare at once that there is no equivocation as far as I am concerned. I am very much in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I always wear a seat belt myself, even when going out of my drive, because I think that to do so is safe and sensible. Although I commend the Minister's campaign to persuade people to wear seat belts voluntarily, I think the time has arrived to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory.

We have heard arguments this afternoon in favour of seat belts. Medical evidence in this country confirms what the Minister said in his earlier statement, namely, that 1,000 lives would be saved and 14,000 injuries would be avoided every year if seat belts were worn. Experience in Australia has shown a marked decline in deaths and serious injury.

Even now, many people wear seat belts only when driving on motorways. They have the idea that that is where they are in most danger. However, hon. Members know that the greatest danger is within five minutes of home, when driving within the 30-mile-an-hour speed limit. That is where 75 per cent. of accidents occur, and that is another argument for making the wearing of seat belts compulsory.

Although I always wear a seat belt, I am in difficulty when carrying a passenger other than my wife whom I can instruct. When a stranger gets into the car, how can I say, "Get your seat belt on, mate"? There is one Member of the House who says that, and if the passenger does not comply he says, "Get out". He is courageous and does not mind losing friends, but I do. If the Minister would make the wearing of seat belts compulsory, it would make it so much easier for the driver. Since I am a coward in that respect, I should welcome his action on that score alone.

We have also discussed the question of personal liberty. I am a great believer in personal liberty. Everyone should have personal liberty. What worries me is the gory job that nurses, doctors, firemen and policemen have when clearing up after an accident when someone has gone through a windscreen. Anyone who has seen an accident knows that, and the liberty of those who become involved after an accident has to be considered too. Some people have to be protected against their own folly, and people who do not wear seat belts are foolhardy. We are protecting their liberty to live, and that is the greatest liberty of all.

Only a few months ago the wearing of crash helmets was made compulsory. Were not we taking away some people's personal liberty then? What is the difference between making motor-cyclists wear helmets, which are heavy and uncomfortable, and making motorists wear seat belts?

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

I can tell my hon. Friend the difference. When the motorcyclist is travelling along, everyone can see whether he is wearing a helmet. When I am in my car, no one can see whether I am wearing a seat belt, particularly if it is dusk. If a policeman pulls me up, it is only his word against mine if I say that I have just undone it.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

I disagree with my hon. Friend. I accept what he says about not being able to check when it is dark, but during the daytime one can see whether a person is wearing a seat belt. I did an exercise and counted how many people were wearing seat belts in order to see how well the Minister's campaign was going. It went very well. While the campaign was on, the number of people wearing seat belts increased, but when the campaign died down the number decreased.

However, from the standpoint of personal liberties, there is no difference between requiring one set of motorists to wear helmets and another to wear seat belts. I do not imagine that the Sikhs would have any religious objection to wearing seat belts. They have grave objection to wear helmets because, apparently, it is against their religion, though I believe that, when in this country, they should obey the laws of this land, and I did not support their campaign to alter the law.

Clause 11 deals with the lighting of vehicles. I have recently had correspondence with the Minister about that subject, since the 1972 lighting regulations. He knows that the number of accidents in urban areas at night has increased by 33⅓ per cent. since the passing of those regulations, and that is serious.

Does Clause 11 enable the Minister to differentiate in these regulations? I understand the difficulties of people living in terrace houses, with no opportunity to garage their cars, but we are now reaching a stage when people with perfectly adequate drives and garaging space leave their cars parked in the roadway, unlit, all night, every night, week after week. That is utterly unnecessary and inconsiderate. Does the clause enable the Minister to deal with that sort of situation?

Finally, Clause 14 and the question of lifetime licences. Although it might be administratively convenient, this idea is not finding great favour with opticians who are writing to me from my constituency. They feel that the three-year application at least reminds people that, as age progresses, eyesight may deteriorate and other physical disabilities may develop. The opticians who have written to me are opposed to lifetime licences, and they would prefer that licences should be issued periodically, albeit at slightly longer intervals than three years as at present.

I support their view. Most people are honest, and, when they read the licence application form, it makes them think every three years, or four or five—whatever it might be—about their physical condition and their eyesight, and they may think it wise to have a general check-up. Therefore, I am very much against the lifetime licence proposal, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider it.

I warmly welcome the Bill. I ask the Under-Secretary to forgive me should I not be here when he winds up, as I have another engagement which was arranged much in advance of the time when we knew that this debate would take place.

7.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ronald Russell Mr Ronald Russell , Wembley South

Clause 6 gives power to local authorities to prohibit parking at road junctions. As I understand it, there is already a regulation which enables local authorities to ban parking—within 15 yards of a road junction, I thought—which is very well enforced in the City of Westminster but not quite so well enforced in Camden, for example. I am a victim of it in that I live in a house on a corner and, therefore, what used to be plenty of parking space is now nearly all gone. Nevertheless, I support the rule which helps in improving visibility for traffic approaching crossroads.

I wonder, however, whether it is necessary to give power to take the prohibition as far as 30 yards from a junction. I should have thought that 15 yards was enough to enable other drivers to see whether there was other traffic coming towards the junction or crossroads which they were about to cross. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that when he winds up the debate.

There is one addition I should like to see made to the Clause 6. Why should it not cover barrows and handcarts as well, for they, too, are apt to cause obstruction, especially in the West End, and they often take up as much space as a car. They are also sometimes an obstruction to pedestrians, too. I hope that that addition will be considered.

The subject of seat belts has been discussed at great length. I am firmly in favour of compulsion. I think that the time for that has arrived, provided that there is a possibility of enforcement. I understand that in New South Wales the compulsory wearing of seat belts resulted in a 20 per cent. reduction in deaths in the first year, and in Victoria, it has reduced deaths by 18 per cent. and injuries by 15 per cent. in the first nine months of enforcement. Our Traffic and Road Research Laboratory estimated that similar enforcement here would cause a reduction of 15,000 in deaths and serious injuries a year. Perhaps my right hon. Friend can confirm that figure.

Has my right hon. Friend consulted the Sydney and Melbourne authorities on how enforcement has succeeded over there? From my experience of two visits to Australia, I am sure that the traffic in those two cities is not much less than it is in cities in this country, although there is a vast difference in rural areas. We might get helpful advice on enforcement from the urban authorities of Sydney and Melbourne.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) spoke of air travel, pointing out that we do not have compulsion in the same sense as with motor transport. But I remind him that, if one does not fasten one's seat belt voluntarily in an aircraft, there is an air hostess to tell one to do so. Furthermore, if one then does not fasten it, she comes along and makes sure that it is fastened. My hon. Friend does not, therefore, present a true comparison. If we could acquire the same habit in driving as when flying in an aircraft, that would, of course, be the solution to the problem, but that is not quite so easy.

I wonder whether, with the ability for invention and research both in this country and elsewhere, it would be possible in time to invent a fitment which would prevent a car being started at all unless the driver had fitted his seat belt. An empty passenger seat belt might present an awkward problem, but I should not have thought that impossible to solve. Research into such a fitment might be the best course to pursue to solve the problem enforcement of compulsion. But I want to see the wearing of seat belts made compulsory, because I am sure, from Australia's experience, that it would be of great value over here.

A great deal is said in Clause II about sidelights and other fitments on cars, but nothing about the use of dipped headlights. I know that the Ministry for a long time has been encouraging motorists to drive with dipped headlights in dimly lit areas. I wonder whether the time has now arrived to make their use compulsory—again if one can define a state of lighting to which the rule should be applied. Dipped headlights obviously make cars more easily seen at night, not only by other drivers but by pedestrians, and, of course, they make it easier for drivers to see in dimly lit streets where pedestrians are crossing. People cannot always wear light coloured clothing. They may be in evening dress, for example, and there is sometimes a rather narrow space between two lines of traffic when cars are parked on each side. Moreover, it is sometimes very dangerous on the road when there are cars with only pinpoint sidelights, such as some cars—the Jaguar, in particular—used to have although they have probably increased the size now. I should like that point considered as well.

I welcome the Bill and its attempt to increase safety and, possibly, to help enforcement. I congratulate the Minister on introducing it. I am sorry in only one sense. As the Bill started in another place, there seems to be some rule that the Minister's name cannot be on the back of it, as is the case with Bills which start in this House. That is a matter of procedure which might be looked into. I wish my right hon. Friend all success with it, and I hope that it will soon be on the statute book.

7.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Garrett Mr Edward Garrett , Wallsend

One of the advantages of sitting through a debate of this length is that one gets a broad impression of the consensus that emerges. Although the Bill is basically non-controversial, the usual balance in the Chamber has been carried out with decorum. Had it not been for the odd shafts of wit from the Minister, some of us probably would have nodded off to sleep. I know that he likes putting across these shafts from time to time, and I always like to hear them.

I should have liked to ask my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis)—who is not now in his seat—the secret of his success in evading any charge in 40 years of motoring. My experience is that members of the police forces throughout the country seem to take a sadistic pleasure in prosecuting Members of Parliament for minor offences, especially motoring offences.

I, too, welcome Clauses 18 to 21 because, although I represent an industrial constituency, I live in an urban area. I agree with the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr)—who is also not in his seat—that there is nothing more ludicrous than to meet in a country lane a huge double-decker bus carrying three passengers trying to justify an economic service. In these days of petrol and fuel restriction, the sooner the minibuses are established on a proper basis in these areas the better.

On Second Reading, one is entitled to comment upon omissions from the Bill. I should have liked to see—and I shall ask the Minister to consider it at some time—clauses covering an important sector of the community, particularly in the city and urban areas—namely, the cab trade. We are making all sorts of traffic provisions, but we are omitting this important sector.

This area of activity is virtually a jungle. Those who run licensed cabs are facing tremendous difficulties. There are unlicensed cabs in virtually every city and suburban area. Although minor legislation has been passed during the last 10 years to deal with the problem and it has met with some success in the Metropolitan and GLC areas, in provincial cities there is a degree of chaos that is unbelievable. I know that talks have taken place between the Minister's representatives and members of that trade, but no legislation has yet emerged.

Since this has been described as a hotch-potch of the Bill, I had a feeling that it would not be too difficult to add legislation to cover this trade. From time to time Members will have received representations from those in the licensed cab trade about some of the awful things that happen in the trade. We are here to protect the public, yet we allow unlicensed cabs to operate without any means of testing their safety. We have no system of checking on drivers' personal records. Whether a driver has a criminal record for a variety of offences is not checked. In some cities there are cabs on the streets with no screen or barrier between the driver and his passengers and we are becoming familiar with assaults not only by passengers on drivers but by drivers on passengers. This is a matter of tidying up the legislation on this subject which should be implemented.

A person who applies to his local authority for a licence to run a cab business faces the difficulty of having to make sure that he has proper insurance, that the cabs are properly inspected, and, above all, that the people who drive them are of good character. I do not see why we cannot implement such a provision to the extent that anyone not fulfilling those obligations should not obtain a licence. It is not impossible at this stage to add new clauses to the Bill which include such provisions. The Minister's advisers should be able to draw up sufficiently good watertight clauses to be included in this legislation without too much trouble. I should like to know whether there is any technicality that prevents such clauses being added to the Bill at a later stage. Alternatively, perhaps the Minister will assure me that the matter is still under active consideration.

I am known in the House for the brevity of my speeches. I hope to maintain that record. I trust that the Minister will take cognisance of the points that I have made.

7.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Roger White Mr Roger White , Gravesend

The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes), in his usual courteous fashion, referred to the Bill as being both useful and important. He paid tribute indirectly, as have other hon. Members, to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries, who has achieved almost the unachievable, not for the first time, in that he has apparently attracted almost the entire Liberal Party to listen to the debate. At least, that was so until the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope) finished his speech. Then, as apparently is the fashion, the Members of the Liberal Party left the Chamber. I go a long way with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), who said that if in Committee we have the pleasure of the service of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam we trust that he will spend more time on this Bill than when we debated the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Bill last year.

This is an important and useful Bill. It concerns human behaviour and is associated with the modern means of transport in our cities, towns and villages. It sums up the position in a modern society where the Government sometimes have to step in to save people from themselves.

Much has already been said—I will not labour the point—on Clauses 1 to 5 and Schedule 1 regarding fixed penalties. As a magistrate who served in the London courts, I assure the House that the burden of work upon the police and upon those who administer the courts has increased beyond all imagination. Any measure that can ease that situation should be welcomed by all concerned.

I welcome the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) on that part of the Bill relating to the training of drivers. I have for many years considered it wrong that a new driver should drive a vehicle on the public highway for the first time without initial training in the handling of the brake, the clutch and the gearbox, particularly in view of the enormous volume of traffic on our roads.

We have heard many remarks about seat belts. I am not satisfied that the seat belt manufacturers have yet been able to produce a belt suitable for all the contingencies that arise in modern driving in our cities, towns and villages. I welcome the points that have been made not only by hon. Members but by my right hon. Friend about this matter. Obviously it will have to be carefully considered before compulsion is contemplated.

I turn now to that part of the Bill dealing with the powers of the magistrates' courts. My right hon. Friend quite properly told us about his thoughts and feelings—he was most courteous towards the Magistrates' Association—on that part of Schedule 5 which purports to take away from magistrates' courts the power to imprison offenders for about 40 specific offences. I believe that offences of drinking and driving and dangerous driving are matters for the magistrates' courts, and that they should have the power to imprison offenders. I hope that in Committee we shall be able to discuss this matter in greater detail.

Other aspects of this part of the schedule concern offenders under 21 years of age. If the schedule were to be passed as it is, magistrates' courts would be unable to send offenders to Borstal training, to detention or attendance centres, to order treatment under the Mental Health Act 1959, to make them subject to community service orders or to remand them for medical reports. These are serious matters, and I look forward to hearing the Government's views in Committee. These matters were debated in another place, and experienced magistrates and former Ministers have commented on them. I trust that the Government will take cognisance of the feelings of hon. Members before the Bill goes into Committee.

In general, I welcome the Bill. It has enormous potential to help to save lives. This, after all, is what we are concerned about. I wish the Minister success in bringing the Bill to a satisfactory conclusion when it eventually returns to the House.

7.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alan Fitch Mr Alan Fitch , Wigan

I trust that the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Roger White) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument, but I shall comment on one or two matters to which he and other hon. Members have referred.

I support the Bill. It is difficult to make a Second Reading speech, because many of the points made about the Bill—the Minister referred to it as a ragbag of a Bill—are Committee points. Nevertheless, the Bill contains some important proposals.

I am in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts in motor vehicles, for two reasons. I was first converted to the idea a few years ago, when I attended a demonstration by somebody who knew a great deal about safety—the late Donald Campbell. He effectively demonstrated the necessity of always wearing a seat belt.

Secondly, the only motor accident in which I have been involved, when I was thrown against the windscreen, was when I was not wearing a seat belt.

Those two examples convinced me—I hope they convince others—that it is absolutely necessary to wear a seat belt.

There are exceptions or difficulties. For example, insurance agents pop in and out of their cars many times a day. It is difficult to insist that they should always fasten their seat belts, because they would have to do so hundreds of times a day.

I also accept the Bill's principle of the lowering of age of people driving lorries. It is a progressive step although I have my doubts about a similar proposal to lower the age of those driving buses. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), who will conclude the debate for the Opposition and is an expert on these matters, will have something to say about it. I support the idea—it may be possible—of people under the age of 21 being trained to drive buses.

I wish to comment on magistrates powers because, like the hon. Member for Gravesend, I am a magistrate and a member of the Magistrates' Association. But I have certain reservations about magistrates' attitudes towards imprisonment. They appear to be somewhat aggrieved to have those powers removed, except in the case of disqualification. Although motoring offences are serious they are only relatively so. Our prisons are full to overflowing at the moment and I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that there are certain offences, such as motoring offences, and other offences which I will not mention since they are outside the scope of the Bill, that should be dealt with by means other than imprisonment.

I gladly accept the compliments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) to the work of magistrates. He said that we are hardworking and competent people. As a magistrate, I must naturally agree. But the question of competence does not arise. Competence is not questioned by these provisions. It is argued that one is removing the right of motorists to be tried by jury. During the Minister's opening speech I intervened to explain that there is a feeling—I do not know if there is evidence for it—that people who elect to be tried by jury get a better deal than those tried summarily. That is a conjecture—something that people feel—but there is no proof to support it.

I have doubts about Clause 12, which extends a life licence to the age of 70. I have some time to go before I am 70, but I have my doubts whether the age is not too high. I should be inclined—it is a Committee point—to restrict it to 60, or a maximum of 65. To hold a licence until one is 70 without any medical examination is too long. I know that there are financial savings in licence administration but one has to weigh against that the competence of a person to drive when in his mid-sixties to seventies.

I particularly welcome the powers under Clause 9 allowing local authorities to promote road safety, especially paragraph (c) in the new subsection, which deals with safety precautions on new roads being built in our towns and cities. That measure is extremely important and I welcome its provision. By and large the Bill is progressive and will, I am sure, command the support of the whole House.

7.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

One could liken a road safety traffic Bill to crossing a fast-flowing river by means of stepping stones, some of which are firmly based and some loose. To tread on a loose stepping stone is to fall into the raging torrent, and be swept into oblivion. As I read through the Bill, which has been sifted in the House of Lords, I wondered how many of the measures that the Government are proposing are firmly based and how many of the measures in five or ten years Parliament will begin to regret, doubting the wisdom of the steps which have been taken. To say this in 1974 is reasonable because it is true of this Bill's predecessor in the early sixties. It is only after one has taken the step that one can decide whether it was right.

What I am certain about is that motorists in Britain, compared with elsewhere in the world, are more proficient, and more safety-conscious due to an interest in their car survival and more tolerant of other road users.

The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) and other hon. Members have raised the subject of enforcement. What I think is difficult at the moment is that the motorists finds so many rules, regulations and laws that unless he is keen and interested, even in spite of the Highway Code and other manuals, he is hemmed in and does not know what he may or may not do. When powers are given to local authorities—each may interpret those powers differently—what might be right in one town or city might not be correct in another. I hope that when the Act reaches the statute book—there is a favourable atmosphere for it—the Minister, with the motoring organisations such as the AA, RAC and the Institute of Advanced Motorists, will produce a simple document instructing the motorist about where he stands and what the penalties are for the offences of which he may or may not be aware. There is also a good case for consolidating legislation, which would be useful back-ground to any simple compendium of what the motorists may or may not do.

I am interested primarily in three issues—rural buses, parking restrictions in cities and owner or keeper liability. But first I welcome the Minister pointing out that the car is as important today as it has ever been. Personal transportation is important so that a person can leave his home or place of work as and when he wants to do so. Farmers and others living in rural areas are utterly dependent on the car. Today in certain instances, between 50 and 60 per cent. of our factory workers go to work by car, certainly in the outlying areas. They may share their cars with other co-workers.

Another feature is that those who live in less desirable areas find that owning a car gives them a freedom which they have not enjoyed before. A second factor I want to stress is that in the rural areas buses are travelling empty. That is hardly a sensible use of fuel, although I accept that the bus is the most economic way of using fuel compared with the railways, the private car and certainly the aeroplane. The alternative railway services are unreliable in London and elsewhere and have meant that commuters have had to rely on their private cars.

One or two hon. Members have asked what the impact of the rising cost of fuel will be. One immediate solution which appears to have been found by the motor manufacturers is to produce smaller cars which use less petrol. Nevertheless, even if it is costly motorists will still pay this higher figure to run and use the car.

Clauses 18, 19 and 20 deal with the rural transport services. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and Shoreham (Mr. Luce) pointed out that there were various ways in which voluntary bodies and other organisations could promote the use of the minibus and other forms of transport. Perhaps the small local garage, the innkeeper or the local storekeeper could play an important rôle here. There are various ways of replacing the empty bus. Of course, similarly, more and more people want to share a car, and the clauses which regularise a habit that is now developing are to be welcomed. The habit is for the car owner to ask others to share his car and for him to accept payment for this. The problem is that under various Acts local authorities have a responsibility to develop a transport policy and pattern. I presume that that refers as much to the county council as to the cities. If the minibuses and other services are encouraged, however, this will conflict with the scheduled bus services which form part of that pattern.

It is suggested that the local authorities should subsidise the minibus services, but one difficulty exists of which my right hon. Friend the Minister is well aware. I live half way between my constituency in Sheffield and Bakewell. The bus services have been cut because the expenditure by which the local authorities subsidise the joint service has been a matter of disagreement. If there is disagreement over scheduled bus services how much more disagreement will there be over subsidising the alternatives, particularly the minibus, if more than one authority is involved?

Clause 18 contains a reference to Statutory Instruments and I should be most grateful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will outline how the conflicts between the scheduled service and the minibus service will be overcome, and to what extent subsidies will be allocated to both. The minibus and the car are important, but it does not mean that the driver should simply pick up anyone as he passes by. I live in a village and if I know of people waiting to go into the nearest town I will give them a lift. There is even a scheme called the Oxford car-share scheme to encourage people to share a car. But the greatest difficulty for the motorist is that if he picks up friends at a bus stop he is taking business away from the scheduled bus service.

I should like to deal with the parking restrictions in the city and parking on the pavements. In Paris it is customary for more vehicles to be off the road—somewhere between the road and the pavement—than actually on the road. Motorists park on the pavement for several reasons, for instance, when they are on narrow roads and when it is dangerous for their car to stick out into the flow of traffic, or when they are involved in a breakdown. In those circumstances when a vehicle has no lights it is better for the car to be off the road. That was certainly the advice I received when I broke down on a motorway. I was even told to get partly off the hard shoulder and on to the grass, because in such circumstances a parked car without lights represents a positive danger. I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend's decision to put forward amendments on pavement parking. The amendment relating to parking at junctions means that the motorist is being driven more and more out of the cities. Many shopkeepers, certainly in Sheffield and the outlying areas of the city, will find it difficult to attract motorists to their premises, and I therefore hope that the provisions in the clauses will be applied slowly, and only as and when off-street parking is extended.

I accept that ultimately the wearing of seat belts in cars will have to be made compulsory in the same way that the wearing of crash helmets by motor-cyclists has been made compulsory. But that time has not yet arrived. The attitude of the general public is still uncertain and if the Government move too quickly they will find themselves incurring too much hostility too soon.

I experienced an accident three years ago almost to the day which made me glad that I was wearing a seat belt. I had to take a late train which arrived in Chesterfield near my home at 4 a.m. I drove over the hills at nearly 1,000 ft. It was raining in Chesterfield but it was icy on top of the hills and the accident which followed made me grateful to be wearing a seat belt. I am a strong believer that the motorist and his passengers should wear seat belts, but not everybody shares that view. In the United States cars have buzzers and horns and other devices which make it impossible to start the car or move off without the buzzer sounding unless the seat belt is worn. Nevertheless, some drivers still sit on the seat belt rather than putting it around them.

Surely a first step in this direction would be to impose penalties, and for insurance companies to make awards following an accident dependent on whether or not the driver was wearing a seat belt. A driver could expect to pay a much larger part of the penalty or to contribute more towards the cost of damages due to an accident, if it was found that he or his passengers were not wearing their belts.

Clause 9 deals with the responsibility of local authorities for road safety. The issue is how much of what should be the Exchequer expenditure will fall on the local authorities. As president of the local branch of the Institute of Advanced Motoring in the Sheffield area, I supported the motoring organisations in persuading the Sheffield City Council to set up a motoring school with a skid pan as part of its local authority responsibility. This is now built at Norton. It was hoped that motorists would pay for some of the services. The skid pan is proving expensive. The test track, has many advantages and permits young people to go with their parents in a hired car to learn to drive at the age of 15, 16 or 17, before they go on a road. It does not seem to have gained the support hoped for it, perhaps due to fuel shortage and other problems. But young people can come from all over Sheffield and benefit from the facilities. I hope that similar facilities will be provided elsewhere in the county.

This may be a compendium or a ragbag of a Bill, but it is to be welcomed, and I have much pleasure in supporting it.

8.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Simeons Mr Charles Simeons , Luton

The Bill recognises some of the realities of the changing world, particularly the administrative problems involved in the vastly increased number of vehicles on the roads, and also takes cognisance of the changes which are taking place in the size and nature of vehicles.

I am pleased to see that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries is taking steps to try to reduce parking offences. I hope that in concentrating on the ownership of vehicles and thereby finding the offenders, steps will be taken at the same time to ensure that certain owners are not clobbered unfairly because they cannot prove that they did not know that the person concerned in the offence was using the car at the time.

I am also pleased to see that steps are being taken to try to stop congestion in the courts. There will always be a percentage of people who will not pay fines. Therefore, we should see that our police force is better paid and that it attracts more people into its ranks. The greater the certainty of detection, the less likely are we to get unlawful parking.

I do not know whether the Minister has considered setting up special motoring courts and thereby reducing the congestion in magistrates' courts. The heavy goods vehicle is a highly specialised piece of equipment. I suspect that many of our judges who sentence people for various offences would not know how to begin in a heavy goods vehicle. They have no idea of the problems of driving such a vehicle. This applies also to the magistrates' courts, although no doubt some drivers of heavy goods vehicles serve as magistrates when they can afford the time to take their place in the court.

I join with those hon. Members who have mentioned the provisions in respect of eyesight tests, but I look at the problem from a different point of view. I believe that the most important question is not whether one can see clearly at certain distances but whether one possesses all-round vision. At the Heavy Goods Motor Show it was found that 30 per cent. of all heavy goods vehicle drivers had restricted vision and could see only to a narrow extent in front of their vehicles. This surely is highly conducive to accidents, and eyesight tests are obviously vital.

The Bill recognises the great change in the size of vehicles and the effect of this aspect on the situation. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend acknowledge the necessity for some vehicles to park on pavements in narrow streets to allow other vehicles to pass. This should be only an interim measure. We must do more in respect of split containers and begin to designate those areas where heavy goods vehicles can go. Once we have sufficient by-passes and motorways, this course can be more easily followed. Merely to carry on admitting these heavy vehicles into congested areas for the purpose of parking will reduce the rate at which we bring in smaller vehicles and split containers.

The Bill also recognises the great problems involved in the complexity of heavy goods vehicles, and this reflects the fact that about 80,000 people have moved from the possession of heavy goods licences to smaller vehicles. I do not know what is the remedy, but it will be expensive in terms of fuel and manpower if a driver who moves to a smaller 2½-ton vehicle does not need to pass such skilled tests.

I am pleased to see that the Bill seeks to bring in young people under the age of 21 with the proper training, but I hope that the Minister will consider bringing in more women to drive buses and heavy goods vehicles. I was recently driven in a coach by a woman driver and, to start with, it was a somewhat strange experience because I wondered how she would handle the vehicle. But having been driven in that coach for a considerable distance, I was very impressed with her skill and with the way in which she manoeuvred the vehicle. She handled the vehicle as well as any man would have done.

I am glad to see that there is to be a rationalisation of equipment—not just because it will make life safer, but because it will bring down costs. If manufacturers know that they are making a standard type of lamp, they will be able to make those pieces of equipment at a reduced cost. They could well become standard pieces of equipment on a vehicle instead of, as sometimes happens, being regarded as optional extras.

The question of instrumentation or the replacement of ordinary drivers' records by recording devices has been somewhat glossed over. If the device had not come originally from the Continent, I feel that the tachograph might have been given a better reception. In industry this sort of instrumentation gives both the skilled and unskilled man certain advantages. The man in industry looks upon such equipment as a good guide to temperature, the way in which pressures are controlled, the way in which gas acts, and in a boilerhouse the worker can see whether the equipment is firing correctly. Furthermore, if there is a complaint that the man is not doing his job, he can hold up the chart and say, "This is what happened."

The tachograph records speed and distance travelled by the vehicle, and has been said by some to be a spy in the cab. It will say exactly what work the vehicle has done. When the vehicle has a short stop, the instrument will show that it stopped. I hope that all sensible managements will not spend their time in inquiring what happened on that short stop because if that happens the whole object will be defeated. I hope that they will use the charts first as an aid to better driving.

In Germany, because of the use of these instruments, fuel has been saved and the benefits have been shared between the firm and its drivers. In the case of accidents the charts are read scientifically and interpreted. There have been many instances on the Continent where a driver has been cleared of a charge by the police once the tachograph evidence has been analysed. In other instances the tachograph has been of great assistance in cases involving damages in apportioning blame between one person and another. Therefore, I hope that we shall see more use of the tachograph in this country.

I have been over to Europe and stopped at traffic points and check points and talked to drivers about tachographs. I asked them whether they minded having these instruments on their vehicles. They replied, "Why should we worry about them when they save us filling in a lot of pieces of paper? The jobs is done for us." I also asked whether they were worried about having these instruments alongside them. They told me that they did not mind at all, and it did not matter as long as one kept within the law. Certainly if one does not keep within the law one would have good cause to be concerned. In other words, the drivers to whom I spoke found the tachograph to be a two-way weapon. I hope that we shall look at this topic in a slightly less emotional way.

A month or so ago I wrote a letter to a lorry drivers' magazine recounting my experiences. I received a number of letters from lorry drivers saying that they found my points interesting and that they had not considered matters in that way before. They said that they hoped that more discussion could take place so that both sides of the picture could be seen.

There is without doubt a need to raise fines. But we must bear in mind that the fines in the Bill will be the maximum fines which can be levied. The matter boils down to the standardisation of fines for standard situations. I sit in court from time to time, and I am well aware that no two cases are totally identical. I am also aware that local judges are holding meetings about sentencing so that magistrates may discuss problems and try to achieve more uniformity. Magistrates should be encouraged to impose fines at a higher percentage of the maximum. It is no good maximum fines being raised if the level imposed remains the same.

There is a great disadvantage in removing the power to imprison an offender. The fact that the power is perhaps not used does not necessarily matter. It is a good thing to have the power. It would be a great pity to remove the ultimate deterrent of loss of freedom, even though it may be used or threatened in only one case in a thousand.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will examine the way in which penalties work. For the average motorist, who is not driving regularly to earn his living, the penalties are a hazard. But for the heavy goods vehicle driver, who must take a special heavy goods vehicle driving test, the penalty of disqualification which he may receive as a result of the totting up of licence endorsements is out of all proportion to the fine which the ordinary motorist would receive. The heavy goods vehicle driver, in such circumstances, would not receive unemployment benefit, and he would lose his heavy goods vehicle licence. He could also lose earnings of £3,000 a year, for drivers on Continental runs earn £60 a week. He would have to turn to social security benefits. At times like the present, with short-time working, it would not be easy for him to get another job. That penalty would be out of all proportion to the £400 maximum fine proposed in the Bill. The true penalty for the driver could amount to £2,000.

Will my right hon. Friend consider categorising the different offences to a degree? No one suggests that drivers should be permitted to speed, or to drive dangerously or carelessly. But endorsable offences may be committed even though a driver is incredibly careful. For example, he may not see a road sign because it is obstructed. If the driver is unlucky and gets a third endorsement he could be disqualified. A driver who turns the wrong way into a one-way street with a 32-ton lorry would be in more difficulty than the driver of a Mini, who could easily get his car out of the street. The lorry driver could lose his licence as a result, which would be an enormous penalty, out of all proportion to the crime.

Will my right hon. Friend consider doing a deal? When the tachograph is introduced, it will help fuel saving and assist better driving. It can also be used by drivers in their defence if cases are brought against them. In return for the benefits in fuel saving and better driving, will my right hon. Friend reconsider some of those minor offences which carry endorsement and which can bring the enormous penalty of disqualification to the driver of a heavy goods vehicle, while the ordinary motorist, who may have committed similar offences, does not suffer a parallel penalty?

I turn to the question of seat belts. I was at the Stoke Mandeville spinal injury unit the other day to see a surgeon about invalid carriages. He told me that for every injured person who was admitted to the hospital after wearing a seat belt, 200 were admitted who had not been wearing seat belts. He told me to tell my colleagues in the House of Commons, and other people outside, to wear seat belts, because if they did they would be less likely to see him. He said, "Believe me, there is no glory in being in the Paraplegic Olympic Games." Well, there is, but not for that reason.

There are certain incentives. One is that there are precedents in court whereby people who did not wear seat belts received a reduced amount of damages. We cannot make anyone do anything which they do not want to do. Certain foreign cars, Volvo in particular, have a hooter device. Once a person sits in the car the hooter blows if the belt is not connected. If we had deafening klaxons going off it might be an incentive to do up the belt—unless people decided to disconnect them. I find that whenever I get into a car which has that sort of device the driver says, "For heaven's sake do your belt up or our ear-drums will be split."

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the wide range of this Bill. There are problems but they are there to be overcome. I am certain that with the will from the motoring public who wish to see better driving these problems will be overcome.

8.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Nelson and Colne

The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), opening the debate from the Labour Front Bench, said he would have welcomed a full debate on transport policy. I, too, would have welcomed such a debate. I do not believe that a magic wand can be waved and all traffic taken off the roads and put on the railways, but it does seem a long time since we were able to discuss at any length overall transport strategy. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will see that these remarks are borne in mind and that when time permits we shall have such a debate.

I want to deal with two aspects of the Bill. The first has to do with the change in penalties for road traffic offences. No one can object to the increase in financial penalties, which simply take into account the inflation of recent years. Nor do I believe that any objection can be made to the decision to remove imprisonment as a possible punishment in many cases. I have listened with interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) has said about this. As he said, the truth is that it is very rare that anyone is sent to prison for any of these offences, and the existence of the power to imprison can scarcely be said to have any deterrent value if it is never used as a deterrent.

If someone went into a public house and told another person standing at the bar that he could be sent to prison for a second offence of careless driving the second person would look at the first as if he were mad, because to the best of my knowledge no one has been sent to prison for a second offence of careless driving since the offence was created. It seems unreal to talk about the deterrent effect of imprisonment for certain offences when experience shows that magistrates have never seen the logic of imposing such a penalty for that kind of offence.

Photo of Mr Charles Simeons Mr Charles Simeons , Luton

Does my hon. and learned Friend not agree that there are cases of dangerous or careless driving which are of such a nature that people have been sent to prison? It may happen very rarely, but if the power is removed and a bad case comes up the possibility of imprisonment does not even exist.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Nelson and Colne

My hon. Friend will know from his experience that in a bad case a charge of dangerous driving is brought, rather than a charge of careless driving. My hon. Friend's point therefore does not apply, because dangerous driving can be tried summarily or on indictment if the police consider that the case is of such a serious nature that it should be visited with a sentence of imprisonment there is no difficulty. The prosecutor elects for trial by jury and the man is committed to the Crown court.

There is a great deal of force in another argument advanced by my right hon. Friend. For a long time now the Home Office has been preaching the gospel of there being no value in short prison sentences. We know that, unfortunately, our prisons are overfull with people serving short sentences. During those short periods there is no possibility of reform or corrective treatment of any sort. All that we do is to acquaint a person for two or three months with the inside of a prison and possibly remove the deterrent effect of the threat of imprisonment.

Another point which is perhaps more important is that the Crown courts are overfull of trivial cases. Undoubtedly a lot of people elect for trial by jury because they feel that perhaps something will turn up at the Crown court. It does not seem that the time of the courts is being spent properly when they try one breathalyser case after another, the accused electing for trial by jury in the hope that, for example, the police officer will not follow the correct formula or will forget to say what sort of caution he administered at various stages.

I could not follow one point which was made by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park. He seemed to be suggesting that people should not be deprived of the right of trial by jury because of the terrible penalty that disqualification could represent. There is no force in that argument, because many offences which carry disqualification are not offences in respect of which a person now can elect trial by jury. The sort of offences for which a person can elect trial by jury are offences for which the penalty is not only disqualification but the possibility of more than three months' imprisonment. That is a penalty which, as I say, is never imposed.

I wish that the opportunity had been taken to grapple with the problems which have arisen since the Road Traffic Act 1967. Since the arrival on the scene of the breathalyser law many technical defences have arisen because of the original bad drafting of that legislation. The law is made to look an ass, and the dignity of the courts is not added to, if time and time again people are acquitted on technicalities. The Bill provides the next best thing. Few cases of that nature will now find their way to the Crown courts. The magistrates will no doubt deal with them in their usual robust fashion and if the magistrates go wrong in law they can be corrected in another place. The overall effect will be to increase and not diminish the effect of the Road Traffic Act 1967.

I consider that the present controls on public service vehicles are absurd. It is a reflection on our activities here that it has taken so long to react to the changed circumstances of the past few years. It is absurd that at the time of the Transport Act 1968 we were reaffirming archaic restrictions in spite of the decline of country bus services, the growing habit of accepting lifts and sharing the cost of journeys and the fact that taxi drivers all over the country were taking shared fares from customers who were going to work or from children going to school.

We should be more alert to see that, for instance, restrictions which were imposed when pirate buses were dashing through our towns should not be allowed to remain long after, in many areas, not only pirate buses but all buses have disappeared. The matter was brought to my attention most forcibly in the middle of last year when some taxi drivers in my division were threatened with prosecution for having taken children to school and women to work for shared fares. Not surprisingly, their reaction was that if they were committing offences, all of us here had gone off our heads. I had great difficulty in explaining to them that, unfortunately, it takes so long to pass legislation like the Transport Act of 1968 that a succeeding Government are reluctant to begin to unscramble any of the eggs.

The Government are to be congratulated for introducing these modest and sensible proposals affecting public service vehicles. People have perhaps been too eager to refer to the fact that a person can now give someone a lift and accept a fee from him. But these relaxations are more important than that. They cope with the very important problem of taxi drivers who, for a long time, quite rightly—even if they have infringed the law—have been accepting separate fares from three or four people going to work day by day.

For all those reasons, I welcome the Bill and the matters dealt with in it.

8.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

My main interest in the Bill lies in Clause 10. However, on my way to it perhaps I may say a few words about Clause 7 because, as one of the few farmers who have had an opportunity to intervene in the debate, I wish to refer to the problems which may be caused if that clause is imposed with undue rigidity.

My right hon. Friend said that he intended to look sympathetically at this matter. However, in my view he did not go far enough. One of the objections of the National Farmers' Union is that the proposed procedure for exemptions from the restrictions is both laborious and complicated and will deter local authorities from exempting parts of their areas from the regulations.

I accept that the onus must be on the person who parks his vehicle in the countryside, whether it be a trailer, a tractor or a car, but perhaps some compromise can be found, with the possibility of indicating that there is a parked vehicle ahead, or something of that nature.

One other agricultural matter that has not been raised but was referred to in the other place concerns damage to hedges, fences and walls. In the other place the Government spokesman said that the Government might give sympathetic attention and a hearing to an amendment to include compensation for such damage.

We debated this subject during the Report stage of the Animals Bill. At that time the Government were not prepared to accept an amendment along these lines because it would raise the question of liability if animals escaped on to a road. However, it is aggravating for a farmer to have a hedge, fence or wall destroyed by a passing car, only to find that there is no obligation on the driver to report the accident and that he, the farmer, has no legal right even to ask for the driver's name and address. It is a situation that needs putting right.

I come to Clause 10 and the question of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. It. is clear that this proposition now has all-party support both in this House and in the other place. I am convinced that it is the only course open to the Government. From the figures, however pessimistic a view is taken of them, the saving in life, in suffering and in serious casualties is such that we cannot delay a decision on it any further.

I would be happy if this could be a voluntary matter. Unfortunately, it does not seem that the public in any country—this does not apply only to Britain—will respond voluntarily to the obvious arguments. Certain judges have awarded reduced damages in injury cases to those who were not wearing seat belts. I believe that this is of assistance as a financial reminder of the necessity to wear seat belts.

Motor manufacturers have made it clear that they would welcome a law making the wearing of seat belts compulsory. General Motors and Ford's have asked for this in America. The reason is simple. If motor manufacturers can design their cars on the assumption that the passenger is constrained it will make the interior panels, and so on, cheaper and easier to make.

Under our voluntary arrangements, at present only about 15 per cent. of drivers wear seat belts. Mr. Jimmy Savile and the excellent advertising of the Department of the Environment—which, after all, has up to now cost £1·7 million since July 1972—has increased the wearing rate only from 15 per cent. to 30 per cent., and then only in certain localities for a short period.

Although it can be held that the campaign has been partly successful, there is still a long way to go. Other countries have already adopted compulsion—in particular, Australia, New Zealand, Malawi, and Yugoslavia. More recently, the French have brought in rules for the wearing of seat belts on country roads. Nearly all the State legislatures in America are considering similar legislation, and I do not believe that it will be long before it is world-wide practice to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory.

The figures in Australia are startling. The figure of 20 per cent. has been quoted in the Chamber this afternoon. There are some towns where fatal accidents have been reduced by as much as 35 per cent. A hospital casualty department dealing with accidents on a Saturday night and needing four doctors has been able to send one of them home permanently. The figures that have been quoted for the United Kingdom are interpretations of the Australian figures, taken in percentages.

I am told that some researchers into these matters think that the figure of 1,000 fatalities and 14,000 serious injuries saved every year by the compulsory wearing of seat belts is, on the whole, a very low estimate and that when we bring in this legislation we may well be surprised at the immense saving in human suffering that will result.

About 90 per cent. of vehicles are fitted with front seat belts. I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to indicate at some stage whether he thinks that this legislation should also apply to rear seats. I think that it will be hard enough dealing with front seats alone, and that rear seats must come later. I should like to put rear seat belts in my car, partly for safety reasons and partly to restrain my children, but, unhappily, they are very hard to obtain. I have had them on order now for more than 1½ years from British Leyland, but I still cannot get them, which I find irritating.

It has been suggested that public opinion is not in favour of this move, but the two widest surveys which have been conducted, one of which has been quoted the other was in Drive—indicate that the vast majority of the public accept that seat belts save lives and believe that the Government will ultimately have to bring in this legislation and that, the Government having done so, the public will happily accept it. I accept that there are some people who have objections.

There will have to be exemptions. There are exemptions in Australia and New Zealand. Exemptions will have to be dealt with in the order. I am most grateful for the careful answer that my right hon. Friend gave me on this matter concerning consultations with many interested bodies. He did not indicate the views of all these bodies, but it is widely accepted that with the possible exception of the Royal Automobile Club, which for some reason has not quite taken this point on board yet, all organisations involved believe that the compulsory wearing of seat belts is the final answer. There is an exact similarity with the wearing of crash helmets, which the public have accepted and which is proving satisfactory.

Photo of Mr Clive Bossom Mr Clive Bossom , Leominster

The RAC is not against the wearing of seat belts, but it still believes that we should persevere with persuasion. It has made that clear several times. It is in favour of its members wearing seat belts, but it considers that the time is not yet right for it to be made compulsory.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

I know that my hon. Friend is a member of the council of the RAC, and I accept that point, but I still find its attitude strange, since persuasion and voluntary compliance will not work. The money spent on advertising alone—£1¾ million—is considerable. In the other place, the noble Lord, Lord Davies estimated that the cost of medical treatment for the 15,000 casualties mentioned could be as high as £115 million a year in hospital costs alone. I have no other authority for that figure, but it must be substantial.

There seems to be three arguments against compulsion. First, it is said to be an infringement of personal liberty. True, it would be an infringement of personal liberty, but so is the prohibition on the use of drugs. I do not believe that there are many hon. Members who believe that it would be right to legalise the use of narcotics. If, for example, 1,000 people a year were jumping off Westminster Bridge, after about three days everybody would say, "We must put up a fence to stop them". But that would be an infringement of liberty. The parallel is not as silly as it seems, because 20 people a week are dying because we have not brought in this law.

As for enforcement, the Australians manage to enforce the wearing of seat belts. Surely, if one can see whether a car has its lights on or off one can see whether a seat belt is being worn. There may be those who choose to cheat and, perhaps, not to fasten the belt, but by the time they have managed to get the belt round them I suspect that very few will take such a ludicrous course.

Finally, there are those who fear that they will be drowned, burned or trapped. In a small percentage of cases, it is conceivable that a person could have survived had he not been in a seat belt, but the chances are much greater in most such cases—though this cannot be proved—that he would have been killed whether he had a seat belt on or not. Less than 1 per cent. of all accidents involve either fire or water.

I am convinced that the Government will be right to stick to this clause. I accept that it will have to be altered in detail. I ask just one question. If the Bill is passed, when will the Government consider bringing in the order? In my view, it is a matter of urgency.

8.48 p.m.

Photo of Miss Joan Vickers Miss Joan Vickers , Plymouth, Devonport

I am pleased to have the opportunity of joining this debate, and I should like my hon. Friend to be kind enough to give to his right hon. Friend my thanks for the great improvement to the roads in the West Country.

The Bill is extremely complicated and difficult to understand, and I congratulate the draftsmen on the way in which they have put it together, because it must have been a difficult task but I pity the poor motorist trying to understand it. I support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) that we should have a detailed explanation of the Bill for motorists, and I am sure we all agree that any measure to stop the slaughter on the roads is worth while.

I regret that one matter has not been included in the Bill, that of privileges for the Diplomatic Corps. It is absurd in this day and age that its members should be given all these privileges. They park where they should not, they fail to pay fines, and so on. I cannot see any reason why they should be treated differently from British citizens. If it is said that any alteration would have repercussions overseas, my answer is that I do not see why British diplomats should behave badly, either.

There should be some control over caravans, towed particularly on narrow roads such as in the West Country. There is either too long a bar between car and caravan, so that the latter sways and it is almost impossible to overtake it, or the driver bats along at a tremendous speed, and again it is impossible to get past. I should like those two matters to be considered.

I should like an explanation of a matter that arises on Clause 5—that of the danger of a notice being left at my home in Devonport or sent there by post while I am away. If I were away at the Council of Europe for 21 days, I should know nothing about the notice. What would be the position? Would I be prosecuted for failing to comply with the notice?

I mention this because once when I was away at one of the meetings that I have to attend in Europe my telephone bill came and I failed to pay it and immediately my 'phone was cut off and it took me several days to get it back, so I do not think that I am raising an irrelevant point.

I should also like to refer to Schedule 3, because I find paragraph 2, about disabilities impossible to understand. It says: ''there shall be added the words 'or from any other disability which at the time of the application is not of such a kind that it is a relevant disability but which, by virtue of the intermittent or progressive nature of the disability or otherwise, may become a relevant disability in course of time'"—— and then in brackets '(such disability being hereafter in this section referred to as a "progressive disability"). I do not see how anybody can have a "prospective disability". I hope that this will be looked into, because it does not seem to me to be a practical proposition. One cannot tell whether one will have a heart attack, or whether one will have cancer or liver disease or anything like that in the future. Therefore, I suggest that it is not possible to work this provision as drafted.

I should like to mention the magistrates and their powers. I shall not go into details, as it is late and other hon. Members have dealt with this. I believe that there are now 40 different offences for which people can be sent to prison. I agree that we must cut down the number of people who go to prison. The offences include drinking and driving, dangerous and reckless driving, failing to give blood or urine samples when arrested for a driving offence and, worst of all, failing to stop or report an accident—the hit-and-run driver. More than 43,000 people were found guilty in the magistrates' courts in 1972 for driving while unfit through taking drink or drugs, but only 307 were sent to prison. On the other hand, the Crown courts tried 1,370 people and sent 29 to prison. The question of the European Economic Community has been mentioned. In Holland, 30 days' imprisonment is mandatory for all drunken driving, and in the United States of America it is one month.

Lady Wootton, who has great knowledge of these things, said, concerning failing to stop after an accident: I should have thought if they were going to accept the principle—which I would fully endorse—that one only imprisons in extreme cases persons who are a danger to the community. Here we have such a case. That is a reference to the hit-and-run driver. I mentioned the number of cases, and it appears to me that if they are not dealt with in the magistrates' courts there will be crowding in the Crown courts, because a number will have to be sent there.

Another problem that has been raised, by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Roger White) among others, is that of offenders under 21 years. It seems a great pity that these people cannot be sent to detention centres or attendance centres. Sometimes detention centres are residential, but attendance centres are not. These young people cannot be tested under the Mental Health Act 1959, and they cannot do any community service. I should have thought it would be beneficial for them to be able to do the latter. They cannot be remanded for a medical report under Section 26 of the Magistrates' Court Act 1952.

If we were to abolish the power of imprisonment by a magistrates' court, other powers would have to be given, because, as I understand the matter, there would be no power to compel the physical attendance of offenders at court and this often has a marked effect on the future actions of an offender.

I believe that suggestions are being put forward by the Magistrates' Association to which I want to refer. Magistrates would like stronger powers to enable them to get their hands on an offender's driving licence to see whether it contains any endorsements. I am told that the rules in respect of this power have been inadequate for years. Magistrates would like endorsements to remain on licences for four years instead of three, and for 11 instead of 10 years in the case of endorsements for drinking and driving.

The Magistrates' Association, commenting on the Bill, stated that: Offenders were avoiding the totting up provisions and semi-compulsory disqualification when the third conviction court appearance came after three years from the original conviction. I hope that this question will be seriously considered in Committee.

When will the James Committee report on the redistribution of criminal business between Crown and magistrates' courts be published? It is a pity that we have the Bill before we have the James report. Can my hon. Friend tell us whether the report will be published before the Bill goes to Committee? It would be helpful if we had the report to study, as there will be many issues raised today which will require to be studied in Committee.

I ask my hon. Friend to give consideration to the question of the penalties for overloading and improperly secured loads. I mention this particularly because in Plymouth we now have lorries coming in from the Continent on the Roscoff Ferry. There is considerable difficulty about overloading, and some improperly secured loads.

Clause 13 deals with the sale of un-roadworthy vehicles. I suggest that further action be taken to ensure that speedometers are not changed. The seller should give a written document stating the exact mileage travelled by the vehicle, because it is so easy to cheat by turning back the clock. Naturally, the number of miles a car has been driven renders it a more or less reliable car. Even if a vehicle has been well kept, the mileage travelled must affect its value and whether it is more or less roadworthy than it was when it was new.

Next, driving licences. I have held my driving licence since 1936. It is a sub-stantial document, and the original cover has worn well. We are now issued—as I was in 1972—with a flimsy document which is supposed to last a number of years. The present document is totally impractical. Will my hon. Friend consider issuing a driving licence which will not wear out and fray before its final year?

Now that my right hon. Friend has returned to the Chamber, I should like to say, particularly as he is a Member for a West Country constituency, that we are grateful to him for the improvement of our roads, especially those between Exeter and Plymouth. This will make it easier for members of Plymouth City Council to attend meetings at Exeter—despite the fact that I do not much care for the reorganisation—of the Devon County Council in the future.

8.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

I should like to mention one omission which should be rectified during the passage of the Bill. On 14th November 1973, I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he would introduce legislation to allow the construction of "sleeping policemen" as an aid to road safety. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries replied that he was considering the matter. I regret that he has not yet had time, judging by the Bill, to complete his consideration. I hope that he, or his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, will be able to contradict my assertion when winding up the debate.

Hon. Members may wonder what "sleeping policemen" are. The only part of the world in which I have seen them is Mexico City. Their result was that no taxi in Mexico City had any springs whatever. But I can assure the House that they are remarkably effective in slowing traffic. They are simply humps or bumps or ramps in the road aimed at ensuring that traffic slows down.

If "sleeping policemen" were introduced, there would have to be signs on the road to state that they were in existence, otherwise we should have lorries and cars bumping all over the place and running into houses on the side of the road. Where they are particularly useful is in country villages. There is virtually no village on a main road in my constituency which is not asking for the construction of a bypass. That is not surprising in view of the increasing weight of heavy traffic. But money will not stretch far enough to allow every village in my constituency and every other village throughout the country on a main road to have a bypass.

People are being more and more intimidated by this heavy traffic and it is causing considerable damage and worry. Equally, speed limit signs do not do the trick. Therefore, I believe that if "sleeping policemen" were allowed to be constructed by local authorities, it would have an extremely good effect in slowing down traffic, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give urgent consideration to them if he has not already done so.

9.0 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) may not be aware that not far from here, in Middle Temple Lane, there was a very effective "sleeping policeman". They are of value not only in rural areas but also in housing estates, particularly those which lie between two main roads. There can be considerable danger in such situations. A child in my constituency was seriously injured in one such not long ago.

Like my hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), I am concerned about Clause 7. Subsection (1) forbids anyone to park on a verge or footway. Subsection (2) enables a local authority to exempt persons from this prohibition. In a country district, such as mine, lanes are so narrow—the one adjoining my own home is one such—that it is impossible for farmers or farm workers to conduct their work in that area or to carry heavy spares to it without parking on the verge. I hope that there will be some relaxation in this matter by exempting country districts from this provision.

I welcome Clause 16. I had some correspondence with the Minister on the reduction of the age at which competent drivers may take the test for a heavy goods vehicle licence. In my constituency, haulage firms and provender merchants were in difficulties with drivers under 21 who were extremely competent but who moved on to other occupations because, although they could well have passed the test, they were not at that stage allowed to do so.

I am delighted with Clauses 18 to 21, to relax the bus licensing system and give more flexibility, which will greatly assist rural areas. But I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would enlarge what was said on this subject by my right hon. Friend in opening. I hope that their efforts, in conjunction with the efforts which will undoubtedly be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science on the report on school transport, which she has just received, will solve many of the transport problems in my part of the world.

9.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

Anybody looking at this Bill for the first time would certainly describe it as something like a ragbag, which is the title the Minister gave it, or a hotchpotch, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) referred to it. It seems to me like a 57 varieties assortment, except that I am glad that most of them have not been canned yet.

I find that many of the provisions in the Bill are piecemeal and not logically or coherently thought out, particularly in their effect on the important part of the industries which they are designed to improve or whose faults they are designed to cure.

Many of the measures contained therein will be far more far-reaching than some of the enactments which have stemmed from the Transport Act 1968. I am sure that the Minister and my hon. Friends will agree that whether one is walking, driving, riding or just standing on the pavement, there is something in this Bill affecting those activities. Consequently when its effects outside this House are seen to have worked their way through, many people will be surprised by what is in effect about ten Bills in one.

We are engaged in a major extension of the fixed penalty principle. I should have thought that there was at least scope for a thoroughgoing re-examination of the way in which the fixed-penalty principle is working in the country, but, without that we are proposing not only a major extension of it but also the addition of the most important principle of keeper liability. We are proposing these major extensions without examining how the system is working so far.

Then we have the introduction of that most important concept of type approval for the car industry. For those Members representing car workers or the car industry, I need not remind my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite the significance of type approval, not only for British car makers but also for cars exported from and imported into this country. I hope that the Minister, in introducing this concept, has taken note of the way in which other car-manufacturing countries have been using their type approval systems in the past to keep down their imports of our cars. I hope that the Minister studied the implications of the use of our type approval system for possibly doing the same.

If one is to consider the introduction of a major new concept like type approval, the whole concept of the Ministry of Transport vehicle testing scheme ought at least to be thoroughly re-examined. I do not think we can have one without the other, but the Bill tries to do that.

Then there is the introduction of the new concept of driving licences for life—flying in the face of current proposals emanating from Brussels and contrary to all of the medical evidence and opinions expressed by the medical profession.

There is the introduction of more stringent limitations on the weighing of heavy goods vehicles without the bringing in of the equipment which the lorry driver particularly—and he will have to bear the brunt of these regulations—needs to put them properly into effect. There is the reduction of the driving age, both for heavy goods vehicles, which has the consent of the unions involved, and for public service vehicles, which does not have the consent of the unions involved.

The biggest overhaul which is proposed is the complete overhauling—and I think undermining—of all of the principles which were enshrined in the Road Traffic Act 1930, set up to end the kind of pirate buses to which the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) referred. This is to be done without the consent of the operators and the unions. The Minister is proposing to do this without, I think, adequate reassurance about some of the insurance effects, certainly without knowledge of the ultimate effects of the relaxation which he is proposing, and, I am bound to say, completely in advance of the plans which the new county councils and local authorities will have to submit to his Department by 1st April this year. I should have thought that the Minister could at least have waited for the new plans from those local authorities.

There is the introduction of what I suppose the Minister will call very new concessions concerning the tachograph and lorry drivers' hours. I am bound to say that that, too, raises severe doubts in the mind of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

We have heard references on both sides of the House to the changing of the sentencing procedure in magistrates' courts and Crown courts without even waiting for the James Committee to report—the committee which was set up specifically to consider the distribution of work between the magistrates' and Crown courts.

A lot of not too coherently thought-out measures are introduced, I think, rather hurriedly, and I can certainly promise the Minister that we shall have a very invigorating Committee stage. I think I can promise him also that when people discover the way in which these various measures affect them, they will be very concerned as well.

When one re-examines the major extension of the fixed penalty principle, I accept what the Minister says about the Metropolitan Police having great difficulty in finding people and the serving of sentences. I accept the Metropolitan Police figure of only 64 per cent. of these people being followed through as regards paying their fines, and I accept particularly the hon. Lady's point about the diplomatic immunity and the extensions which we see in that. But one must consider the implications of extending the fixed penalty principle not only to the offences we already have but also to new offences and, on top of that, we add keeper liability.

I wonder whether the Minister has thought out the consequences of bringing in the offence of parking at junctions and the enforcement of bus lane discipline. I stand rather agog at the thought of traffic wardens jumping out along Park Lane, trying to fix a fixed-penalty sticker on somebody's windscreen when in a bus lane. But that is the kind of proposal in the Bill.

In view of the total effect which the extension of the principle, backed up by keeper-liability, will have, we ought to have had a major re-examination and, perhaps, a recodification of the way in which the fixed-penalty principle was going. I say this in the light of the innovations in police procedures which are bound to come about once the new vehicle licensing computer and the national police computer system are operating fully. Instead of the period of up to six months which the police will have, under the amendments made in another place, to find a person, it will be possible for a policeman standing at the top of Park Lane to radio to the control room that he has seen a car somewhere in the bus lane. He can then get on the radio to another policeman at the bottom of Park Lane. By the time the car has travelled the length of Park Lane, it will be possible, with the aid of the vehicle licensing computer and the national police computer, to find the name and address of the vehicle owner and all the details which the owner has to fill in on both the vehicle excise licence and the driving licence form.

Here we have a major extension of a principle which does not take sufficiently into account that police procedures will be vastly improved. I hope that the Minister will give some warning to the public. At the moment, much of the public acceptance rests on the assumption that the system is not efficient. It can be much more efficient, and I hope that the Minister will give more warning to the public.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that in the short length of the bus lane in Park Lane, which is only 145 yards, a car seen by one police car can be stopped by another police car at the end, before it has left the lane? I find that unbelievable.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

I do not know how many mornings the hon. Gentleman has been in that bus lane.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

On the mornings when I drive, which are very infrequent as I come to work on the 159 bus, I have been caught in that bus lane for 10 or 15 minutes. My point is therefore valid.

There is to be a considerable extension of the principle, and we are bringing in such an innovation that the Minister should do all he can to explain to the public the effects of the Bill. It will produce some shocks if people go on accepting that the fixed-penalty principle is as inefficient as it has been in the past.

I do not want to dwell on the question of seat belts. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) and the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) put some valid points. If we can spend £1,700,000 and still get only 30 per cent. of the population wearing them, bearing in mind that the AA's statistics show a 56 per cent. acceptance, I think that the Minister must come to a decision pretty soon.

I turn to the subject of driving licences for life. I wonder what account the Minister has taken of the information provided by the Optical Information Council. His Department says that this measure will save £1 million and 350 staff, but when the Optical Information Council members tested 21,000 people, they found that 36 per cent. of those tested in some way failed the eyesight test. That is not surprising bearing in mind that the present driving test eyesight requirements were laid down in 1935. As a driving licence for life may be held for 53 years, I should have thought that at least eyesight, and possibly quite a few other things that people will not tell the Minister about, required more frequent checking.

I turn now to the subject of the weighing of heavy goods vehicles. In the Bill the Secretary of State is given the power to lay down more stringent limits for the weighing of heavy goods vehicles. I had hoped to have the reply to a Question that I put to the Minister today asking for the conviction figures for the past three years. Unfortunately, the reply had not arrived on the letter board before I came into the Chamber.

I speak of course and declare my interest as a Transport and General Workers' Union Member of Parliament and, in correspondence which Mr. Ken Jackson of the commercial section of the union has had with the Minister, the Minister has told the union that he does not feel that it would be right to compel heavy goods vehicle operators to fit axle-weighing devices—devices which the lorry drivers could certainly utilise. Consequently, the advice which has gone out from the union, and I quote from Ken Jackson's letter which was sent to district officials last year in which he refers to the Minister, is: The only solution he suggests to the problem that it is open to certain employers and operators to fit the axle-weighing equipment if they feel so inclined, but he also states that it is open to drivers who feel that they need this protection, and for the Unions on their behalf to exert pressure on the employers to fit such devices. I have no wish to press the Minister now, but if in a haulage firm in one part of the country or another there is a dispute about an operator refusing to fit such devices, would the Minister give that dispute his endorsement or blessing?

As heavy goods vehicles drivers' licences can be put in jeopardy through an overloading conviction, as this is the Minister who in the past has been most concerned about the damage to the roads that will be caused by greater axle weights—he has said that they will cause £200 million worth of damage—I should have thought that the figure, given in another place, of £50 million for fitting the 550,000 licensed vehicles with axle-weighing devices was a fairly small price to pay to ensure that the roads did not suffer the amount of damage which the Minister has forecast. It is to be hoped—the Opposition will certainly press this in Committee—that the Minister will look again at the possibility of ensuring that lorries and lorry drivers are properly and fully equipped to comply with the demands of the Bill's new regulations about vehicle weighing.

On the question of the reduction of the ages of drivers of heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles, the position of the Transport and General Workers' Union may have been slightly misunderstood in another place. While the union accepts Clause 16, because a graduated scheme is involved whereby somebody who has not driven a lorry before does not move on to drive the heaviest lorry, I am bound to say that there is a great deal of union doubt about the public service vehicle side, because there is no graduation from small buses to big buses—one either drives a bus or one does not, and no graduation scheme is involved.

The view of the Transport and General Workers' Union is that because of the experience and skill needed by particularly municipal bus drivers, there ought to be a training period. Certainly it should be possible for somebody to train while holding a provisional licence and being under the age of 21, but he ought not to have a full driver's licence and drive by himself until he is 21.

The point that both operators and unions would make is that the biggest problem in the bus industry is not recruitment of bus drivers—there are plenty of applicants—but keeping them. I am sure that all sections of the National Bus Company and the various municipal operators in the country would agree that keeping bus drivers is the main problem. That is why the union has submitted various suggestions for improving pensions, housing facilities, and so on. So, in view of the staff shortages which I know are suffered by bus operators, I hope that the Minister will give far more consideration to the real problem now facing the bus industry.

Perhaps the major principle in the Bill is that of the relaxation of bus licensing of minibuses and cars—Clauses 18 to 21. Perhaps the Opposition should be thankful for small mercies when one remembers what the Minister proposed two years ago when he would have introduced an almost free-for-all. I can see that the Government have not gone quite that far in these proposals. I am not of the school—to which I believe one or two hon. Members opposite are adherents—which thinks that if the licensing system is taken away altogether, passengers transport will find its own level. I do not accept that.

If licensing is abolished, in many parts of the country there will be no transport. All the studies of the rural problem which were made eight and ten years ago—the Jack Committee, the Merioneth Study and others—apart from the two carried out by the Government, referred to the necessity for a subsidy system of some kind and to the necessity for the involvement of the county councils or the traffic commissioners. Yet the Government seem to be flying in the face of all those studies, having conducted but two of their own, and their proposal is to abandon licensing—that will result in several areas of the country being without transport.

There is a strong feeling among the Opposition, accurately described by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), that this will result in very little public passenger transport in several parts of the country. It is not enough to rely on voluntary lift giving and on some of the very good voluntary schemes. I mention that as the Minister has not said what kind of insurance provisions will be involved if these schemes are made continuing.

Some hon. Members on the Government benches who have advocated even more relaxation do not seem to understand that the present system of public passenger transport in our towns and rural areas is the result of a complicated series of cross-subsidies, sometimes provided by central Government and sometimes by ratepayers, sometimes by urban journeys for rural journeys. It is a complicated and intricate pattern, and once one starts to eat away at that pattern, the whole foundation of our bus licensing system is threatened.

The spectre of returning to the competitive era of the 1930s has already been raised. I should like to know how the Minister thinks he is going to exert any control over drivers' hours in the minibuses. Are we to have a system whereby people spend the whole day working in a factory and the whole night driving a minibus? How, in fact, will one enforce this kind of provision?

My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) referred to the difficulties of enforcing regulations with unlicensed taxi drivers. There will be a proliferation of only part-time operators, not very professional operators, certainly not well insured, and much of the benefit of the licensing system in the 1930 Act, which was endorsed in 1953 by the Thesiger Committee and has been endorsed time and again by the traffic commissioners in their annual reports, will be lost.

Apart from that, I am sure the Minister knows that very serious anomalies are caused by the fact that some of these minibus services will be eligible for grants, while some of the bus operators who provide school services and works contracts services will not be eligible for grants. In my opinion, school services ought to be more eligible than some of the new services which will receive them.

The Minister will know that there has been a tremendous amount of argument between county councils and the National Bus Company about the amount of subsidies that local authorities ought to pay for certain routes. If we have had fast and furious arguments already about the amount that local authorities ought to pay on rural routes, there will be even more fast and furious arguments because many of the component parts of the National Bus Company will find that these minibuses are eating away even more of their profitable routes. They will not be operating on the non-paying routes; they will not fill the gaps; they will be taking off the cream. This is why the operators of scheduled services will come back to the new local authorities and ask for even bigger subsidies.

Far from creating an extension of public passenger transport, I think there will be a diminution of public passenger transport in many parts of the country, and certainly a more costly public passenger transport system, as far as the ratepayers are concerned. Why cannot the Minister wait until the new county councils submit their transport policies and programmes to him? They have to do this by 1st April this year. Why can he not study more effectively Section 34 of the 1968 Act which enabled the subsidy of rural services?

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

May I put the hon. Gentleman right? I would not wish him to waste his time. The TPPs do not come into effect this year. The new county councils do come into being this year. If the Bill passes through all its stages, it will be 1st April 1975.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

All I can say is that that conflicts with the hon. Gentleman's Department's own circular which has asked local authorities to get in their plans by 1st April this year.

The Minister must go into this matter in more detail. He should place far more emphasis on the opinion of the traffic commissioners, who know what they are doing. After all, these proposals certainly do not have the consent of the operators, and I think I am right in saying that the public passenger transport operators are unanimous in their fears about the proposals for relaxation which the Minister has enshrined. The Transport and General Workers' Union, which, after all, is the main union in the bus industry, certainly shares all the doubts of the operators.

The Minister has kindly told the House that he will do some re-examination, and I hope there will be amendments, but I am bound to say that they will need to be pretty major concessions unless we are to undo all the work which has been built up over the years by the traffic commissioners and the local authorities.

I turn now to the introduction of the tachograph and the "attempted sweetener" contained in the Bill. I suppose that the Under-Secretary will say that if we give people an inducement to install the tachograph by saying that they need not fill out log sheets, this will in some way encourage them to beat the rush and get their tachograph fitted. The Transport and General Workers' Union has some fundamental objections to the introduction of the tachograph, and it will take some far bigger sweeteners than the relaxations which the Minister proposes on written records, especially as he knows that we cannot enforce the British driving hours regulations just with a tachograph. The tachograph records only the time when the vehicle is moving; it records only the speed of the vehicle when the engine is running.

British driving regulations separate resting, working and driving time. Without written records to back up the tachograph it will not be possible for the Minister to enforce his own regulations. If he is proposing this kind of relaxation, I hope that he will look at its effect on the enforcement of our current regulations and those that we shall have to introduce under the EEC rules which emanate from Brussels.

The Minister did not consult the unions involved when he relaxed drivers' hours during the present emergency. I hope that he will consult them far more before he contemplates making these changes.

Already there are sufficient complications in the interpretation of the EEC regulations regarding international and domestic journeys. I suggest that unless there is far more consultation with the operators and the unions involved we shall encounter far more serious difficulties of enforcement not only of the regulations from Brussels, that we may have to obey, but even of our own drivers' hours regulations.

I turn now to the points that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the treatment of driving offenders in the courts. Without going into too many details, it bears saying again that not only are justices' clerks and the Magistrates' Association opposed to the changes that the Minister wants to bring about, but the RAC and the motoring organisations were not consulted.

The point about driving offenders electing to go to the Crown Courts and that choice of election being diminished is significant. But perhaps the most valuable point is that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of magistrates throughout the country who give of their time, often suffering a loss of wages to do so, were not consulted about their opinions, feelings and sentiments on the matter. Certainly they ought to be consulted a lot more.

Before the Minister makes the kind of sweeping changes proposed in the Bill, I think that he should at least await the outcome of the James Committee, which was set up specifically to examine the whole question of the treatment of offenders in either magistrates' or Crown Courts, and then should sound out the views of the Magistrates' Association and of other associations as well. I am not convinced that the freeing of the Crown Courts and the diminution of their work, which is the intention, will be the result of these proposals.

The Minister has proposed a fairly comprehensive series of measures. As they stand, they do not have the wholehearted endorsement of some of the operators and they certainly do not have the whole-hearted endorsement of the trades unions involved. For that reason alone, apart from others, the Minister ought to engage in far more consultation, because, if he is in the same kind of generous frame of mind as he was when he opened the debate, I think that he will have to bring forward a whole series of amendments in Committee. Though we may not oppose Second Reading, I can at least promise an invigorating Committee stage.

9.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

I may tell the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) that his speech, and indeed the whole tone of his remarks, was in marked contrast to every other speaker, including his right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), who gave a courteous and constructive welcome to the Bill. I am bound to say that with some regret, because the hon. Gentleman is a neighbour and an old friend, and we were born in the same part of the world. But I confess I wonder who he was speaking for tonight. He appeared on some occasions to speak for the operators, although most of the information he gave was wrong, and on other occasions for the Transport and General Workers' Union, but as far as his own party and the Bill are concerned it was not clear for whom he was speaking.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

It is facile of the Under-Secretary to try to divide us in this way. In my opening remarks I made it clear—I have read the HANSARD record—that while we were keen to have the new Bill, it did not mean that because we agreed to the Second Reading we were not concerned with a number of pertinent points, particularly those about bus licensing and the attitude of the trade unions.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

I accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation entirely, but on this discussion I preferred his speech to that of his hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will certainly agree that the right hon. Gentleman made constructive comments. I believe that the Bill when it is an Act will play a significant part in reducing casualties as a result of accidents and will help many people with transport in rural areas. In several other ways it will remove many of the anomalies that have been rightly spotlighted by hon. Members today.

I too, shall be hopping from subject to subject—that is the way that the debate has gone—and I will start by trying to help the hon. Member for Nuneaton, who made a specific point about junction parking and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), who also expressed concern. The point of the regulations will be to ensure flexibility. I can tell the House that it is our intention that the 15 yards limit will apply normally on class A and B roads, and the 10 yards limit on class C and unclassified roads. There will be a few occasions when, because of the layout of the road, it will be necessary to go to 30 yards, but this will by no means be the norm.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the problem of the £50 fine in the provisions and was at a loss to find it in the Bill. I must confess that I was too, when the Bill came from another place. But if the right hon. Gentleman reads Clause 10 he will find that it is construed as one with Section 178 of the 1972 Act, which brings in the question of £50. But while it is not as clear as it might be, it is something that we could re-examine in Committee.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

With respect, there is no reference to any section in Clause 10.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

It is construed as one with that section. I did not draft the clause myself, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and neither did the Government. Technically it is correct, but from the point of view of understanding, it can be improved. That is what we intend.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the subject of sight defects, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) and the hon. Member for Nuneaton. I will not go over all the ground again. I commend to the House an excellent Adjournment debate on the subject, which I answered in reply to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) a few months ago. We covered the ground in great detail. Our researches in this country and the much greater researches in America, including a survey of about 18,000 people in California, have shown that there is at the moment no correlation between defective vision and accidents. That may sound surprising, but it is the case. The whole subject of vision is much more complicated than some of us had thought—the subject of tunnel vision and the rest—but researches are going ahead.

I am not clear whether my hon. Friend or the right hon. Gentleman was advocating regulations for eyesight tests. At this point it would be the greatest waste of resources, and there are many better things we could do for road safety. But the Government's mind is not closed, and if we got convincing evidence that this would be a good plan we would study it again.

Concern has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Nuneaton, about reducing the age of holders of PSV licences. There is general acceptance in the House about HGV licences but I should make one or two comments to clear up any misunderstandings. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) was concerned about this. We have informed the bus industry about the lowering of the minimum age which will be conditional on a driver entering into an agreement with the employer providing for close supervision under a progressive training scheme approved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. Details of a driver training scheme have yet to be worked out by both sides of the industry, in consultation with my Department, the Department of Employment, and the Road Transport Industry Training Board. Before driving a bus or a coach carrying passengers a young driver would have to obtain a PSV driver's licence and satisfy all the usual requirements for this purpose other than the minimum age of 21. There is therefore a great deal yet to do and, of course, consultation with the unions and various parts of the industry will continue before that scheme is introduced. That is an assurance I can certainly give.

The right hon. Gentleman asked how the grants for rural services under Section 34 of the 1968 Act were going. They are currently running at about £2 million gross per annum, and this represents a rising though still a rather slow uptake since the scheme was introduced. Of course, it will be superseded by Section 203 of the Local Government Act 1972 and that, together with the various provisions in the Bill and the supplementary grant arrangements which will come under the transport policies and programmes in due course will enable this sort of rural transport to play an even greater rôle. The arrangements have not gone as well as one might have hoped, but that is the up-to-date position.

My right hon. Friend the Minister has discussed the question of the tachograph with the unions on a number of occasions. There is an open invitation from my right hon. Friend to discuss the whole matter with them at any time. Therefore, I certainly reject any charge that might be made that we have not had sufficient discussion on this point. The door is always open.

Similarly, we have held discussions with the Magistrates' Association. We have taken account of the various arguments both for and against the proposals in the Bill. I and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office had a useful meeting with the association before the Bill was introduced in another place, and we shall continue to listen to the views of hon. Members in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) made some interesting suggestions about training. I agree that the training of any road users, whether on two wheels or four, is important. The new counties will be responsible for transportation in its widest sense and for road safety, and the non-metropolitan counties will be responsible for education as well. For the first time we shall bring all the strands together and in the fullness of time a great deal more can be achieved here with the proper training of young people. My hon. Friend referred to having the driver's photograph on his driving licence. Of course, it would need to be updated many times. Many hon. Members have a photograph in The Times Guide to the House of Commons which could do with a little updating from time to time.

My hon. Friend also referred to the question of seat belts, and I agree with him about the difficulties encountered by the short, the fat, the thin and the odd-shaped. It is an important consideration where the belt is not the inertia reel but the static type. Where the wife is relatively short and the husband much bigger it is a bore for them to have to keep adjusting the belts, perhaps several times a day.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

The hon. Member speaks with feeling, as I do, and this is where inertia reel belts offer an important advantage. I welcome the points hon. Members have made on seat belts generally. I commend in particular the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). What he did not say when he gave his extensive list of countries that already have compulsory legislation is that there are other countries like Switzerland, Holland, Portugal and Scandinavian countries which are proposing legislation in the near future, and Spain and Luxembourg, which favour compulsion but do not envisage its early introduction.

I spent a day or so with the police on the M6 motorway patrol in Warwickshire. I saw their album of photographs of crashes and I spoke to the police officers who drive their cars. Maybe, as the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) says, the Metropolitan Police on occasions do not wear safety belts. The police on the M6 motorway patrol in Warwickshire certainly do. They convinced me of the absolute and total wisdom of people wearing their seat belts at all times.

We have had extremely helpful suggestions from all parts of the House and, on occasions, some moving remarks on the question of seat belts and accidents. We all heard the reactions of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton on visiting the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. The hon. Member for Wigan recounted his personal experiences, and other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn), paid tribute to the safety belt. All these helpful contributions will be taken into account by my right hon. Friend and myself, and eventually the House will have to come to a decision on this point.

The importance of obtaining a good modern safety belt system that is convenient to use and reasonably comfortable to wear is of critical importance. My right hon. Friend and I have had a great deal of discussion with seat belt manufacturers. We have had special displays set up at the Road Research Laboratory. Since my right hon. Friend began to prod the manufacturers—and they did not need much prodding—and with the help of the AA, RAC and others, we have made a great deal of progress even in the last few months. The new seat belts which are now coming forward are greatly superior to the equipment that was being produced only a year ago.

The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) raised a number of interesting points. He said that the railways could take more goods and passengers. That factor was in my right hon. Friend's mind when he made the announcement about railway investment a month or two ago. I hope that all those concerned with railways will realise that if we are to win the traffic the railway system must run, and that it is not much good if it does not. The Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973 is germane to what the right hon. Gentleman said, since he was worried about traffic generation. Some of the measures in this Bill must be seen against the background of that Act.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised a matter which concerns a number of people. I refer to the question of parking on pavements, which was a provision added to the Bill in another place. The National Farmers' Union is particularly concerned about this provision, and it was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Mr. Farr), Wellingborough, Weston-super-Mare, and by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope).

Perhaps I may slightly enlarge on what my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks. We believe that there will have to be improvements in the present clause. We think that there should be a restriction or ban in relation to urban areas or built-up communities, or certainly to ensure that the country lanes or areas where one could run into difficulty are not affected by the ban.

We should provide for local authorities to exempt particular areas from the ban. The clause in the Bill was intended to provide for this point, but it is doubtful whether the present wording is satisfactory. We should restrict the ban to vehicles of three-tons or under as heavier vehicles already come within the restriction of the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act. We should provide for exemptions for heavy lorries in an emergency so that where permission can be given for loading and unloading, this can be undertaken within certain denned circumstances. This will be necessary if we are not to throw the baby out with the bath water. We should also make it clear that the ban applies to footways and verges and not just pavements. There are amendments to be made which will go a long way to meet the proper points put by various hon. Members and also by the NFU.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough mentioned, as did many other hon. Members, the question of rural bus services. On the one hand, my hon. Friend was saying that we are being too restrictive about minibuses and other services and that this will cause difficulties for towns and villages. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), the hon. Member for Nuneaton and others said, "No; you have gone too far. You will kill the stage carriage service which has existed for so long and which has provided a basic service for the rural areas. They will be driven out of business by the minibuses." It is a difficult matter to get the balance right. My hon. Friend said that we had had some helpful discussions with the unions and with the operators.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

The hon. Gentleman said that there had been extensive discussions. When did he have consultations with the Transport and General Workers' Union?

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

With my right hon. Friend, I was speaking to members of the Transport and General Workers' Union only this morning. There have been other discussions between my Department and the union.

Photo of Mr Keith Speed Mr Keith Speed , Meriden

I cannot give specific dates now. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there have been discussions with both sides of industry, and my right hon. Friend hopes to bring to the Committee amendments which will reflect some of those discussions.

We now have an understanding with and are on all fours with the operators. I do not claim the same in regard to the union, but it understands our position. It is a matter of trying to get the delicate balance right. We do not wish to kill one side or undercut the stage carriage services, many of which provide the basic backbone of public transport in rural areas. No bus operators are running in some areas. Unless there is extra flexibility, such as that proposed in the Bill, there will be no public transport in some areas. I beg the hon. Member for Nuneaton and some of his union friends to appreciate that point. We are not talking just about areas which have at least a skeleton service, run perhaps by the National Bus Company. There are whole areas with virtually no service.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam gave a warm welcome to the Bill on behalf of his party, which I appreciate. I confirm that Clause 17 would be particularly acceptable to London Transport. The hon. Gentleman regretted the proposals for compulsion regarding safety belts, but eventually said that compulsion was inevitable. That view was echoed on both sides of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and other hon. Members raised the question of insurance. My understanding, from discussions with insurance companies, is that if the use is on a casual basis, not for regular business, the present compulsory passenger insurance provides cover, but if there is any question of turning it into a commercial or business venture, proper commercial insurance must be taken out. That point will be underlined when the Bill goes to Committee and when it is enacted.

I have good news for my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough on roadside markings. I met a deputation from the industry and from the House yesterday, and I have arranged for a small but important experiment, on a before-and-after basis, to see how useful sideline markings can be in reducing accidents. If they are effective in cost-benefit terms we shall advise local authorities on the matter in a more positive way than we have been able to do in the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and Shoreham (Mr. Luce) spoke about the Suffolk and Devon experiment, and stressed the duty of the new authorities to co-ordinate transport, which is extremely important. County councils have an important rôle, under Section 203 of the Local Government Act 1972, and I have no doubt that they will discharge it.

There will be scope for enterprise in rural transport, particularly in those areas which have little public transport at present. I hope that many people will be able to fulfil a need by providing services which will be possible under the Bill.

The hon. Member for West Ham, North made a sweeping statement about enforcement. He was unhappy about enforcement of parking offences and the wearing of seat belts. Experience in other countries, particularly France and Australia, is that enforcement of seat belt wearing is not a major problem and the wearing rates have gone up dramatically.

Turning to the question of owner or keeper liability in relation to the question of parking tickets and unlicensed cars in London—a subject on which the hon. Member has been campaigning for many years—the whole object of Clauses 1 to 5 is to make life easier for the police and avoid the necessity of their having to chase false hares all over the place. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) referred to licensed cabs. I wish that I could give him comfort tonight, but this is a matter for the Home Office. I have some sympathy with his view and I will see that his comments are passed on to the Home Secretary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Roger White) was worried about the suitability of seat belts. I hope that what I have already said about the discussions we are having with the manufacturers will assure him that we are taking this point seriously. His comments on magistrates' courts will, of course, be listened to. On this question of seat belts I was particularly impressed by the personal experiences put forward by the hon. Member for Wigan which I think convinced the House. He obviously spoke with great feeling. There will certainly have to be exemptions of some kind. No doubt we shall have to discuss this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hallam and others said that it was important, because this is a measure which includes so many things, that there should be maximum publicity given to it. I agree. I cannot say what form the publicity will take. I am not sure that pamphlets by themselves will be the answer. Certainly once the Bill is enacted it is important that motorists, pedestrians, bus operators, vehicle operators and everyone else should be fully informed about what is going on.

Unfortunately I was not present when my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. John Hannam) made his speech. My right hon. Friend has reported it to me. I thank him for the things I understand he said and for his support for the Bill. He was particularly generous in his tributes on the subject of road safety. I understand that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart)—whose speech I also missed—gave the Bill a welcome in a serious and well-considered speech. I take the point he made. Why should it be the doctors, nurses, police, even the undertakers, who have to clear up because others apparently value their liberty?

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) asks whether barrows and handcarts would be included in the junction ban. They would not be included. The main purpose of the junction ban is to improve visibility and reduce obstruction. On the whole one hopes that barrows and handcarts would not affect visibility or cause obstruction. I am not sure whether he wanted to deposit a barrow at some junction, but if he does he is less likely to be in trouble than if he parked his motor car there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton raised the question of the heavy goods vehicle penalties, as did others. I cannot go along with him on this because there are many other categories, such as commercial travellers and even Members of Parliament, to whom road transport is essential. It would be totally unfair to make a specific distinction in this case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked me a number of questions. The James Committee has been set up for only a few weeks and I cannot give a date for the publication of its report. As for the question of the serving of the notice upon her, if she was abroad I understand that that would be a perfectly valid excuse and she would not find herself in trouble. The question of diplomatic immunity is more complex. There is diplomatic immunity which applies to the whole range of the criminal law. There are reciprocal arrangements. This is a matter for the Foreign Office and is certainly deeper than can be covered by the Bill.

My right hon. Friend is a modest man, as the House will know. With characteristic modesty he described the Bill as a "ragbag". This has been echoed by others. I do not believe that it is. I think it is an excellent Bill and I am sure that the House will now give it a Second Reading.

Photo of Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris , Nantwich

Before I put the Question may I say to the House, perhaps a little optimistically, pour encourager les autres, that 21 back benchers have spoken since twenty minutes past five o'clock, averaging 10½ minutes each. I think that is an exteremly good result.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committeed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).