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Motor Vehicles (Tests)

Volume 649: debated on Monday 20 November 1961

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10.0 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order, 1961, dated 20th October, 1961, a copy of which was laid before this House on 31st October, be approved.
I now ask the House to direct its attention from the railways to the testing of motor vehicles. The purpose of the Order can be quite briefly stated. It is to bring within the scope of the vehicle testing scheme as from 31st December next all those vehicles in the classes covered by the scheme which have been registered for seven years or more. More precisely, it means that on and after 31st December all motor vehicles in the classes affected must have a test certificate in force if they are used on the roads and if the date of first registration was before 31st December, 1954. Furthermore, as vehicles in the prescribed classes reach the seventh anniversary of the date of first registration, they must have a test certificate in force.

What it comes to is that anyone who has a car, a motor cycle, a light van or a lorry of up to 30 cwt. unladen weight which was first registered at some time in 1954 will have to obtain a test certificate before the end of this present year. Anyone whose vehicle was first registered during 1955 will have to obtain a certificate by the anniversary of that date of first registration as it comes along in 1962.

I understand that there was a dispute recently about a German car which had been manufactured in the early 1930s but which was brought to this country and not registered here until the late 1950s. It was discovered that this particular vehicle did not come within the ambit of the scheme. Will the new proposals meet that kind of case, or has the hon. Gentleman any other suggestions to make in reference to it?

I know about that case, of course, and I was hoping to say something about it before the close of the debate. I am grateful to the hon. Gentle- man for raising it now, but I hope he will forgive me if I continue to present the Order in the way I had intended.

The number of the vehicles affected by the Order is calculated to be about 1½ million in the age group between seven and 10 years old. The number of vehicles over ten years old which have already been going through the vehicle-testing machinery is about the same. What it means, therefore, is that on 31st December next about 3 million vehicles out of the approximately 10 million now on the registers will be subject to the vehicle-testing scheme. As 1962 proceeds, more of these vehicles will come in.

This is the second stage of the vehicle testing scheme. The House will recall that the first stage began in September, 1960, with the testing of vehicles which were ten years old or more. This was made compulsory from a date in February, 1961. We are now moving forward to the second stage, covering the new age group between seven and 10 years old. This is, I suggest, an appropriate moment to make the move, because, from February next, the ten-year old vehicles which have already had a test once will be coming back for their second test, because the obligation is to have a test once a year.

Hon. Members may ask whether the private garages and local authority testing stations which are testing stations under the Road Traffic Act will be able to deal with this additional 1½ million vehicles by the end of the year. We consulted them at an early stage about the phasing of the operation, and the answer to the question is that they will be able to cope. There are at the moment about 16,000 testing stations throughout the country, and the garage people, the Motor Traders' Association, and others whom we consulted are quite happy about dealing with this number of vehicles at that number of testing stations during the next few weeks.

Secondly, it is important to realise that this is the slack season in the garage trade. What the garages would have been very cross about would have been had we suggested that they should take this load on board sometime in the summer when, of course, they are absolutely strained to their capacity by the holiday trade. The months that lead to Christmas are usually the garages' slackest months, so they believe that they can undertake this job without too much difficulty.

Finally, I hope that from the time the House passes this Order tonight—because it has already been passed by another place—we may expect, as the result of the publicity we will give to the change, lots of people to start coming forward now who might otherwise wait until the end of December. The more who come forward between now and the New Year the better, because it will relieve the amount of congestion at the other end. I therefore hope that any hon. Members whose cars are affected—as mine, in fact, is—by this change will get their cars tested as quickly as they can from now.

There is no doubt at all in our minds that the vehicle-testing scheme is proving a very valuable road safety measure. It was, of course, put forward on the basis of contributing to road safety. We know that under the ten-year test many old vehicles have been scrapped—because the test was there, and the owners knew perfectly well that their vehicles would never pass it.

Secondly, the scheme is already showing up quite a lot of defects in vehicles. In the 1·4 million vehicles that have undergone the ten-year test the rate of failure is no less than 40 per cent.; 40 per cent. of all vehicles submitted for test have failed. The House may be interested to hear some details. Some 64·4 per cent. have been failed because their brakes did not fulfil the standard: 57·2 per cent. failed because their steering was defective, and 39·6 per cent. were found to be defective because their lights did not come up to standard. Brakes, lights and steering are the three testable items.

We already have some very important confirming evidence that many vehicles of all ages—even new ones—fall below the standard that the law requires. From early September we have been carrying out a system of spot checks on the roads. That is a different system from vehicle testing. Vehicle testing, with which this Order deals, takes place in garages off the street, and spot checks take place on the street, and are made by the police and by officers from the Ministry. As I say, spot tests have been going on since September. In the first seven weeks, of 4,303 tested, no fewer than 2,236 failed, a failure rate of 52 per cent.

The figures show several points of interest. Fifty-two goods vehicles ten years old and over were tested, and no fewer than 47 failed. Some 516 vehicles in the 7-to-10-year age group, which would be covered by this Order, were tested, and no fewer than 390 failed the spot check—a failure rate of 75·4 per cent. Vehicles under three years old. virtually brand new—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is talking about another system of examination altogther.

That is so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I was giving the information to point to the need for this Order, so as to be able to extend the vehicle-testing scheme to those vehicles that are 7 to 10 years old, but I have just about finished—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Many of us are rather disturbed to hear that Ruling—or I am. at any rate, because I would argue against this Order on the grounds that there are other and better methods of doing the same job as, for instance, the type of test to which the Minister has referred. Must one take it from that Ruling that it is not possible to argue that there are better methods of doing what this Order actually provides for?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Parliament decided some time ago that this was to be the form of testing, and this Order merely varies the date on which the Act should be applied.

Further to that point of order. One of the main arguments in another place—although I know this is not completely our responsibility—was around the precise point of whether or not there should be more emphasis on this other method of testing as an alternative, to some extent, to this one. If the House is to be debarred from discussing the alternative method it is difficult to apply arguments against this method, and the two do run very closely together.

The alternative method does not arise under this Order. References can be made to it, but it cannot be discussed in detail.

Further to that point of order. Does that mean, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that we cannot argue that certain things which are not in the Order should be in it if we would like to see it extended?

We cannot discuss what is not in the Order, and we cannot amend it. We can, of course, discuss whether it is good or bad.

I am sorry that I have embarked on this somewhat forbidden ground. I had not realised that by showing the House how our testing schemes were functioning as background to the Order I might create complications for hon. Members. I had better leave the question of spot checks with alacrity.

Our experience in both the vehicle testing scheme and spot checks shows the urgent need for pressing on with the vehicle testing scheme. It also shows that particularly for the ten-year old vehicles, much better standards of maintenance are required, because it is clear from the evidence of the tests which have so far taken place that a large proportion—nearly one-half—of all vehicles submitted are defective at the time and, therefore, their maintenance should be better.

As for the future, the Order will bring within the ambit of the scheme vehicles which are between seven and ten years old. The Act enables the Minister to make regulations which make the production of a test certificate a condition of the renewal of the Road Fund Licence. We are making arrangements to bring this into force next spring. We hope to move on to the third stage of vehicle testing next year and to bring the age limit down to four or five years. That will catch a further 3 million vehicles. I have explained the purpose of the Order and some of the background to it. I hope, therefore, that the House will approve it.

10.12 p.m.

It is very infrequently that I speak on a transport matter in this House and express myself in full agreement with the Minister of Transport or his Parliamentary Secretary, but I do so without hesitation on this occasion. The House may remember that these vehicle testing provisions were inserted in the 1956 Transport Bill in spite of the fact that the Government opposed the suggestion by the Labour Party in Committee. I happened to be the spokesman of the Labour Party on that occasion. It was a matter on which I felt keenly, knowing the extraordinary success of these vehicle testing operations in other countries. I and my colleagues persuaded the Government—at least, the back bench supporters of the Government—on that occasion to have this provision inserted in the Transport Act, 1956, in the confidence that it would have a marked effect in keeping down road accidents.

As hon. Members may remember, I have been complaining for years about the completely unjustifiable delay in starting the scheme. It took years before the scheme got into operation. The hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) knows well the number of occasions on which I rose in this House and accused him and his boss of all sorts of things, criminal negligence among other things. The consensus of opinion in this country and elsewhere is that defects in road vehicles contribute to accidents in something like 10 per cent. of accident cases. In view of the numbers of accidents that occur, that is a very high figure.

It sounds as if we were criminally negligent. It was a very difficult Order to draft. The technical details were extremely difficult. I was as regretful as the right hon. Gentleman at the delays which occurred.

I am aware of that, but the hon. Gentleman cannot pass on the responsibility. He was responsible. On two occasions the Minister came to the Box in an apologetic way and said that the delay was due to a legal error which he had made. He was responsible for the legal error as Minister in charge of his Department. Eventually, testing started, not in the way that we would have liked, because we would have preferred it to have been done in garages wholly publicly owned, but anyhow it started.

It is quite clear from the information which the Parliamentary Secretary has given us this evening that the tests have shown up the amount of defects in motor vehicles. These defects have mostly been wholly remedied, though they may have arisen again subsequently, but the tests cannot have failed to have had a desirable effect in ensuring that only vehicles in good condition were on the roads. I am very glad that the Minister has been able to say that in future it is not only cars which are ten years old but those which are seven years old and over which will have to be tested annually. Indeed, all the evidence abroad has shown that cars one year old have an extraordinarily high proportion of defects in them.

I therefore want to ask the Minister two particular questions. First, how rapidly does he think he will be able to proceed with further stages? He says that next year he hopes to be able to ensure that cars under seven years old may come up for testing. Is it his intention, or is it the intention of the Minister, as I think it should be, to move this provision gradually forward until every car one year old is tested at one of these stations? I hope that is so. The other day, when I was at the Road Research Laboratory, I asked that more research should be undertaken into the effect on road accidents of these tests, if this were possible. I think it will be found that these tests will have some effect in keeping down road accidents, and that it will be seen in future that the number of road accidents due to defective vehicles will decline. That is all to the good.

The other question which I want to ask is to fill a gap in my defective memory, and I hope I will be allowed to ask this question. Why is the test confined to vehicles of under 30 cwts.? Is there at the moment some form of test for vehicles over that weight? I believe that there is, but I should like to be reassured on this point by the Parliamentary Secretary. There is one other question. I have always thought that there was a good case for asking owners of vehicles when they change hands, however young they may be, to have their vehicles tested before they are sold. A lot of people sell their cars when some defect develops and they think that it is likely to be an awful nuisance and cost a tremendous amount of money in repairs at a garage. I believe that it would be found if cars were tested for defects at the time when they change hands, that a high proportion of them would be seriously defective and should be repaired. I do not know whether it is possible, under the Act as it stands, to make such an Order. I think is.

I appreciate that I was out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Therefore, I will ask the Parliamentary Secretary to bear my suggestion in mind.

These are the only points that I want to put to the 'Parliamentary Secretary this evening, though I believe that some of my colleagues have other points to put to him. If he can answer these questions, I should be grateful. May I repeat that I am glad to learn that this scheme is making such rapid progress, because the quicker the original conception can be fully completed and we have every car tested every year, the better it will be and the greater will be the reduction in the number of accidents on the roads.

10.20 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has given the impression that it is back benchers on this side of the House who have held back the Minister from going forward with a comprehensive scheme for the testing of vehicles. That is, of course, very far from the truth.

The real truth is that the other side of the House have been asking all the time for testing by garages of public authorities. The difficulty is that there are only a few hundreds of garages of public authorities in this country. As the Minister said—

The hon. Member seems to be talking about the previous Order, not the one now before the House.

The right hon. Gentleman had a good deal of latitude in making his observations. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame"] Yes, and what ought to be said on this occasion is that on both sides of the House today there has been enthusiasm for extending the testing to all vehicles. The only difficulty has been about the method. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister have found the method successfully to bring another 1½ million vehicles into the test net, and the dispute between the two sides of the House is how this could best be done. I am perfectly satisfied now that the best method has been found, far better than that suggested by hon. Members on the other side of the House. Subject to any defects which may arise about commercial vehicles, which have a system of their own, and which we cannot argue about tonight, I think that I am perfectly satisfied that the scheme is going forward as fast as it possibly can.

10.22 p.m.

One always finds oneself in difficulty in taking pan in debates on Orders of this kind. The last time I spoke on a Ministry of Transport Order I was accused, for reasons I do not know, as being the representative of the motorists' lobby. I do not know what induced the Parliamentary Secretary to accuse me of that deadly sin, but I can assure him this evening that I am not speaking on behalf of the motorists or any other particular vested interest in this matter.

I am concerned about this Order, because. as the Parliamentary Secretary has already said, it extends to another 1½ million vehicles a type of testing which I am against unless it is to be applied to all vehicles irrespective of age, and, in my view, that type of testing can be far more efficiently and more adequately provided by spot checks which the Minister himself referred to carried out under other orders on vehicles whatever their age on the road and at any time.

I am particularly concerned with this Order, which with its predecessor brought under regulations vehicles more than ten years old, in that it does not apparently apply to the vast majority of commercial vehicles on the load at the present moment. I understand that there are at the present time about 1,400,000 commercial vehicles registered in the United Kingdom. I understand also that this Order applies to such of those commercial vehicles as are up to an unladen weight of some 30 cwt. I do not know how many of the 1,400,000 are in fact below 30 cwt. and how many are above that, and, therefore, I have not the vaguest idea what is the proportion of commercial vehicles which may or may not be brought within the purview of this Order or the previous Order bearing upon ten year old vehicles.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) said that these commercial vehicles have their own scheme which guarantees that certain essential requirements are met. I have not the vaguest idea what that scheme is. What I do know, as this was quoted in another place a few days ago, is that a spokesman of the Road Haulage Association has alleged that some 25 per cent. of commercial vehicles on the road today are probably defective in one of the ways specified under this Order.

I think that, in all due fairness to the private motorists, if we are to have private motorists with cars of more than seven or ten years old take this test, the same restriction and the same type of test should apply to the owners of commercial vehicles whether they are below or above this magical figure of 30 cwt. unladen weight. I understand that this Order does not apply to those above 30 cwt.

This is one of the reasons why we are entitled to ask that the House should be given rather more justification than we have had so far for excluding from tests under this Order commercial vehicles of 30 cwt. unladen weight or over, over seven years of age. I am not yet convinced that they are adequately catered for. If there is some other type of scheme which ensures that the majority of them are in good condition when they come on the roads we ought to be told exactly what it is and what the requirements are. At the moment, if we are to have this Order and this procedure, of which I am not in favour, then it should apply at least to all vehicles of seven years of age or over.

I have not been long in the Chair, and I am afraid that I do not follow the hon. Member's argument. I do not follow why the introduction of this Order has any effect upon the type of vehicle included in this scheme. On the face of it, the Order appears merely to extend the date in relation to that class of vehicle comprised in the earlier scheme, in which case the issue appears to be confined to the relevant date.

It is true that it does not apply to all vehicles over seven years of age but only to a particular class, and I will not pursue the point further at this stage. One has the difficulty in circumstances of this nature that if one opposes an Order of this kind it is not easy to give the reasons within the narrow limits imposed by the House on this type of debate.

We have been told that there are 16,000 testing stations now in operation. I should like more information about their nature. When the original Order was before the House and the matter was first discussed, there was some doubt whether there would be adequate provision to carry out its requirements. One must consider that the Order is due to come into effect on 1st January next and one must look at the facilities which are available to enable the additional 1½ million vehicles to be tested during the five to six weeks which remain before the Order itself is operable.

I am concerned about the small number of testing facilities made available by local authorities. We shall be putting 1½ million owners at the mercy of garage owners who will provide the greater part of the testing facilities available under the scheme. Could the Minister inform us how many stations have been set up by local authorities and approved by him? There are about 1,600 local authorities. I must express disappointment that more of them have not taken advantage of the powers under the Act and under the Order to set up stations.

If we are to extend the Order to cover a further 1½ million motorists, we should try to make sure that, wherever possible, they have the choice between a commercial concern carrying out the test and deciding whether to issue a certificate and a testing station operated by a completely independent organisation with no interest whatever in saying that a vehicle is not fit to go on the road so that it can then have the job of repairing it, that is, an organisation run by the Ministry of Transport direct or by one or other of the 1,600 local authorities.

The number of tests carried out to date by the 16,000 approved agents works out at 2·4 tests per week per station, for which individual stations have received a gross income of about 35s. a week. I do not believe that with the amount of money they have had to spend on equipment installed for testing purposes and on normal overheads and paying staff to carry out inspections they could have made a profit out of that gross income of 35s.

The Parliamentary Secretary has said that this is a slack season for garages. I wonder whether the Minister has been under pressure from commercial interests who have said that they have spent a lot of money to install these facilities to carry out 2·4 tests a week and that the Minister must bring in another Order to secure more trade for them, otherwise they will find it difficult to carry out the scheme.

I wonder to what extent this move, bringing in at this late date, with only five weeks' notice, 1½ million motorists who must have their vehicles tested, has been dictated because of pressure from the commercial garage interests which have told the Minister, in effect, "You have persuaded us to play ball with you about the scheme. In some cases we have spent considerable sums of money in installing the required equipment, and 35s. per week from an average of 2·4 tests per week is not enough to make it worth while. You must pour some more customers in or we shall not be able to continue operating the scheme."

I see the Parliamentary Secretary shaking his head and smiling. I hope that means that it is not so.

I am very pleased to hear that, but it was a suspicion in my mind. I should not have liked to go to the expense, which I am told can amount to £500 or £1,000, of installing the equipment and then be receiving a gross income of only 35s. per week, which hardly pays for the amortisation on the equipment, let alone the overheads, staff time, and so on. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that he is not under pressure from these interests, and that clears my mind and helps me to look at the Order.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have noticed during the operation of the present tests that there have been large numbers of complaints in some motoring journals about the way they are carried out. But he has not drawn attention to them in moving the Order. Motor Sport—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has had his attention drawn to this—has from time to time been carrying on a sustained attack on the whole idea of the tests. At one period it carried in its correspondence columns and elsewhere a large number of allegations about unfairness and various back-door methods employed by certain organisations to enable motorists to get certificates.

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have looked into some of the complaints. This journal has a wide circulation among motorists in general and particularly among sporting motorists and more so among the vintage type of motorist who is particularly affected by the tests under the present regulations. But the hon. Gentleman made no reference to the complaints.

Is the hon. Gentleman absolutely satisfied, in view of the complaints made in that journal and other publications, that the testing scheme has been operated fairly by the commercial interests which have been given the responsibility for doing them? Has he had many complaints from individual motorists about specific garages or testing stations? Has he looked into any of them? Have his inspectors checked them? We know that if the certificate is refused on the first inspection there is provision for appeal to a Ministry official to carry out a further test. In fairness, the hon. Gentleman should tell us how many such appeals there has been and what the results have been so that we may have an idea how the inspection system has worked.

I regard the Order, as many others that we have had in recent years imposing speed limits of 30, 40 and 50 m.p.h,, no parking provisions, parking meters, unilateral parking provisions, and so on, as a further attack on the long-suffering motorist. The Ministry has to make up its mind with regard to this Order and the large number of other matters which may be coming forward in new Orders—

That "large number of other matters" cannot within the rules of order be dealt with now.

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I simply say that the motorist is becoming fogged by all these Orders and looks at the large amount of money that he pays in taxes and wonders what he is getting back from it.

The hon. Gentleman told us that 60 per cent. of the cases failing the test so far have failed on account of brake deficiencies. In many cases a motorist informed by the testing station that a certificate cannot be issued because his brakes are deficient can take the car home, get a screwdriver or spanner and tighten up the brakes, and take the car back to the testing station, where the brakes will then be found to work. But because there is hardly any lining left on the brake shoes, 20 or 30 miles further on the brakes will again be deficient. That is one reason why I am against this type of testing and I feel that extending testing to cars seven years old and more will not greatly improve the position.

I would prefer to see a greater extension of spot checks on the roads rather than this Order. We understand that 49 per cent. of the tested vehicles fail on defective lighting. I know of cases where a ten-year-old car has been thus failed because the headlight has been out of line. The light has been twisted half-an-inch and the car allowed to go, but within half-a-mile of the garage the light has again gone out of line. That is another reason why I am not greatly impressed by these tests. They may show that a vehicle is in a satisfactory condition at the time it is tested, but they give no indication that it is still satisfactory 30 miles or 30 minutes after leaving the garage after adjustments have been made. It would be better to extend the spot check system.

We have also not been told—and it is important to have this information in making up our minds—what proportion of accidents involve vehicles seven years old or more. One has the impression that accidents involving death or serious injury are mostly caused by modern high-powered cars going across the central strip of the M.1 or by other failures of that nature. Rarely does one hear of a serious accident involving an older vehicle.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) disagrees with me, but my feeling is that multiple crashes causing deaths usually involve modem and high-powered cars. If we are to work on the assumption that older vehicles which are defective are likely to be accident-prone, the Parliamentary Secretary should tell us about the number of accidents in which vehicles between seven and ten years old are involved, or vehicles up to whatever age he requires.

We should have information of that kind before making up our minds on this Order, so that we can have an idea about whether we are trying to deal with this serious problem effectively or are simply imposing a further obligation upon people who happen to own vehicles more than seven years old. The Parliamentary Secretary should also give us some idea of his eventual aims.

Order. The Minister's eventual aims in this field cannot arise out of this Order. Our concern is his present aims as expressed in the Order.

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, but I find it difficult to oppose the Order without drawing attention to alternative means of obtaining the desired results.

The hon. Gentleman knows my duty and that I do not interrupt him from any desire to do so but as my duty obliges. On a Statutory Order of this kind, one thing we cannot discuss is alternative means of obtaining the same object.

In moving the Order, the Parliamentary Secretary said he hoped next year to introduce another Order bringing in cars of four or five years old for testing. If it is within the rules of Order, and if it is possible for him to reply, I would like him to give us an idea as to how far down the list he intends to go. Vehicles of seven years old or more should only be subject to tests of this kind if such testing is to apply to all vehicles of whatever age. Does he intend to introduce such testing for all vehicles in the near future, or does he intend to stop at vehicles of four or five years old?

I am against this type of test unless it applies to all vehicles from the moment they come out of the manufacturer's garage, when he should be responsible for issuing a certificate, to the time when they are finally scrapped.

One often sees in the newspapers and motoring journals vehicles advertised for sale, and sometimes it is mentioned, if they happen to be ten years old or over—and presumably the same will apply to cars which are seven years old or over—that they have a Ministry of Transport certificate, yet on other occasions when the vehicle is over ten years old there is nothing in the advertisement about a Ministry of Transport certificate having been issued.

Once this Order is approved—and I take it that the House will approve it—will it be necessary for any vehicle more than seven years old, so far as registration in this country is concerned, to have a Ministry of Transport certificate before it can be sold either privately or by a commercial undertaking?

Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Member is not following. We have no power to amend this Order. We can either approve it or not. Clearly no provision of the Order would secure any such result as the hon. Member has in mind, desirable as it may be. For that reason I am bound to say that it is out of order to discuss it.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, you have answered my question. I did not know whether this was the case. You have said that presumably this Order will not make that provision for anyone selling a car.

This does not enamour me to the Order any more than when I started addressing the House. I do not think that this is the right way of dealing with the matter. Reluctantly, from my point of view, the House will approve the Order, but I think that the job could be done better by other methods on which I cannot address the House this evening.

10.42 p.m.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having been able to bring this Order forward at such an early date, even though some of us may have shared the anxiety of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) at the delay in the implementation of the scheme, for reasons explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent).

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the implementation of the first part of the scheme for cars over ten years old seems to have gone smoothly and more quickly than some of us expected. I understand that the number of cars which will be involved in the reduction to seven years will be similar to the numbers involved in the first group of cars, and, with the experience which has been acquired in dealing with testing, there is every likelihood that this group will be tested somewhat more quickly than the first group.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall that this Order is most desirable, and I disagree with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) that it is not. The hon. Gentleman's argument was at variance with that of his right hon. Friend, and I thought that many of his criticisms applied to the original legislation rather than its extension to cars over seven years old.

I hope the House will feel that the snags and dangers, some of which were referred to by the hon. Gentleman, have in operation proved to be far less than we feared. This scheme has been efficiently administered by those responsible, and a message should be sent to the Ministry and to the thousands of people who have been implementing this scheme throughout the country that they have done a surprisingly good job in a new sphere.

I think we can have every confidence that the extension of this legislation to cars over seven years old will result in another step forward in road safety, a step which we all desire.

10.44 p.m.

The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) commenced by saying that he thought the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) were directed more against the original Act than against the Order which the House is being asked to consider. I suppose that is inevitable as the Order is an amendment of the original Act. I think it would be a mistake if we were to lose sight of the fact that this is an Order which seeks to change very much the original Act in that it widens very considerably the scope of that Act and the number of vehicles to which it applies, that it is placed before the House for consideration in the light of the situation which now exists, and that we now have information which was not in our possession when we came to that decision on the original Act. While we are bound to take note of a situation which exists as a result of the original Act, it is highly relevant to the position as we see it when dealing with the Order.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House—including my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench—no matter what views they have about this Order, accept completely that if there is any step or any legislative measure we can take which will in some way decrease the appalling accident toll on the roads, we should take it. That is not in dispute. No one is suggesting that the private motorist should be allowed special privileges when those privileges conflict with the welfare of the majority of the people. The Order that we are now discussing has a real bearing upon the private motorist. I will come later to the peculiar exclusion of the vehicle over 30 cwt. or having more than eight seats. We are now concerned with the ordinary private motorist.

I suppose that the immediate reaction of all motorists—and I am one—will be one of automatic objection to an interference in what is very much a private occupation and a private part of our lives. Most of us regard our cars in the same light as we regard our homes. We have our wives and families in them, but we do not want anybody else poking around. This Order involves a certain infringement of personal privacy and freedom. To that extent those hon. Members on both sides of the House who are motorists start off with a sort of built-in objection to the extension of an Act the intentions of which they do not find themselves in opposition to, but some of the features of which they find rather unpleasant and perhaps instinctively objectionable.

Therefore, we are forced to consider the Order from two points of view. First, does it provide the ideal method of meeting the problem with which the House is faced—the problem of dealing with the increasing number of serious accidents arising through defective parts of motor cars? Does the effect of the Order offset the real interference with private liberties and personal freedom that one immediately feels? Secondly, will the Order, if it is accepted—as no doubt it will be—have the effect which the House hopes it will have?

We have been told that we have so far tested about 1½ million vehicles, under the same procedure as that which it is intended to apply to this Order, and that of those 1½ million vehicles 40 per cent. have been found defective. No hon. Member on either side of the House would find that figure anything other than frightening. It is frightening to think that of the vehicles that have been tested nearly half have been driven around to the obvious danger to the pedestrian public, with defects which were not recognised by the drivers and were not discovered until they were tested. That must immediately make us wonder whether it would not be the answer merely to extend this type of process. The Minister now introduces a proposal to reduce the age at which vehicles have to be tested, from ten to seven years, thereby increasing the number of defective vehicles likely to be discovered.

But we are also immediately faced with a problem which has arisen since the original Act came into being. There is a feeling among many people that the Road Traffic Act, 1960, has to some extent contributed to the dangerous position on the roads, in that the provision of the ten-year certificate acts as a guarantee that the vehicle possessing it is in a roadworthy condition. There is a very dangerous possibility that the certificate offered under the ten-year rule and, if the Order is approved, the certificate which will be offered under the seven-year rule will be taken to have more significance than should justly be applied to it.

As a result, we are faced with the immediate problem as to whether and to what extent the certificate is a certificate of roadworthiness. I should be interested to hear the Minister's views on this. A large number of people would suggest that, whatever the certificate is, it certainly is not a certificate of roadworthiness. The Parliamentary Secretary seems to be signifying agreement with me. I am grateful.

It is not a certificate of roadworthiness for good and all. All that the test does is to say that at the time of the test the vehicle, if it passed, complied with the standards laid down for the test. Beyond that the test does not seek to be a test of roadworthiness valid for any length of time.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because this is an important point. I understood him to make the qualification that it was by inference a certificate of roadworthiness at the time but not a certificate of roadworthiness for an indefinite period. I am under the impression that it is merely a certificate to state that three obvious defects in a motor vehicle do not exist. A vehicle could leave the testing station in a highly dangerous state. I believe that there is evidence that vehicles which have undergone the ten-year test and come away with no obvious defect in steering, no obvious defect in the braking system, and no obvious defect in the lighting system, have nevertheless had very serious defects.

Order. Let me try to explain to the hon. Gentleman what is my difficulty in keeping the House to what is permitted by the rules of order. What the certificate has to certify about depends upon the terms of the Statute and not upon the terms of this Order. What this Order does is to say, if it be approved by the House, that the certificate shall certify in relation to vehicles seven years old what in the past it has certified in relation to vehicles ten years old. The defects in what the Statute requires the certificate to relate to are matters for the Statute and not for the Statutory Order.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. A consideration in deciding whether the Order should be extended is whether anything of benefit to the community was achieved by it. Whether the certificate, which it is hoped to apply to more vehicles in the future as a result of the Order than in the past, had a beneficial effect or was of no benefit is material in deciding whether one supports or opposes the extension of the Order.

I think the hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that, if the certificate is a snare and a delusion in relation to cars seven years old, it ought not to be continued as a snare and a delusion in relation to cars ten years old. That is very different from arguing that it serves no useful purpose at all.

I am grateful for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was not able to think of the phrase, but the certificate could very well be a snare and a delusion and lead people into the supposition that it has much more effect than is the case.

Another very material problem with which we are faced is whether it is practicable to extend the Order to cover vehicles only seven years old. We have been able to conduct the tests on tenyear-old cars with the existing garage facilities, but most people, including the Minister, will agree that this is not the ideal way of doing it. One must consider the failure of the Government to make this the task either of local authorities or some form of publicly-owned testing station. Some doubt has been expressed as to whether private garages would be willing to cope efficiently with the considerable increase of work which would result from this Order. Further, certain defects and doubts were expressed in a debate in another place concerning the Order and these defects have been very much in the minds of their Lordships.

In presenting the Order tonight, the Minister gave two extremely interesting figures. He said that 40 per cent. of all vehicles tested in the past—under a process which has given rise to the Order under discussion—had been found faulty. He also mentioned that 52 per cent. of vehicles had been found wanting, as a result of spot checks.

I was not in the Chair at that time. It is my belief that the Minister was, at that point, stopped in his reference to spot checks. Certainly it would be my impression that he should have been.

If you had been in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, no doubt I would not have been able to get the figures from the Minister. But would it not be in order for me to suggest—irrespective of whether or not the Minister had given those figures—alternative methods of performing the task, which might lead hon. Members to the conclusion that the Order would not fulfil its purpose?

No. This is difficult. I appreciate the hon. Member's difficulty, which is also mine. The rule is that an hon. Member may not on an Order of this kind discuss an alternative method of obtaining the same object. The difficulty of what the hon. Member is saying is that he inevitably approaches doing that.

I appreciate your Ruling and I will leave this question of spot checks, figures about which the Minister slid in at some stage before your arrival.

It leads me, however, to the problem of whether the extension proposed by this Order to vehicles of seven years of age would have the desired effect, for all hon. Members surely wish to ensure that vehicles of that age do not continue to travel about the roads in a highly dangerous condition. In this aim we are at one with the Minister, but if one studies the position one is led to the conclusion that the certificate of road worthiness does not constitute such a certificate. It does not even constitute a guarantee, because, so I understand, there is an explicit safeguard for the person issuing the certificate. The certificate will say that the vehicle seven years old has brakes which are not noticeably inefficient, a steering system which is not obviously out of order, and lights which are not obviously dangerous.

The House must face the possibility that the extension of the issuing of the certificates will give many vehicles in a highly dangerous condition a halo of sanctity, as it were, to which they are not entitled. One will read in the evening papers, if the Order be accepted, of cars seven years old which have as their only qualification the magic words "seven-year-tested." The Minister will have to try to disabuse the public mind of any such idea because, while it is probably a contribution to ensure that such vehicles are at least no more dangerous than is absolutely inevitable as a result of deficiencies in the system, quite the reverse of the effect we desire would be created if the impression got about that a certificate was a guarantee of roadworthiness, which it certainly is not.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North when he says that large fast cars are more prone to accidents than small cars. My experience has been that some of the most dangerous drivers on the roads are the gentlemen who chug along in small cars at about 30 miles an hour, giving not the slightest idea of what they are going to do next. If they put a hand out of the window, it often means no more than that the window happens to be open—S5CV0649P0

Order. The distinction raised by this Order is one of age, not of speed, smartness, hand signals, or the like. The distinction is between a car seven years old and one ten years old.

I leave that point at once, Mr. Speaker. But there is the question of cost which the House must take into account. The cost of this Order will be by no means insignificant. I do not know what the Minister's estimate of the cost would be. At a time when the Government appear to show a reckless disregard for public funds, one is entitled to ask at some stage that the Minister should give an indication of what the cost has been so far and what the additional cost will be under the present Order.

My hon. Friend the Member fox Islington, North said that there were 12,000 testing stations which had so far tested 1¼ million to 1½ million vehicles.

My hon. Friend's figure was 12,000. I assume that that was inaccurate. I hope that the Minister will give us some enlightenment about the cost. I understand that roughly the same number of vehicles would be covered by this Order, if accepted, that is to say, about 1½ million. It has been suggested that, so far, the gross income per garage for testing about 2·4 cars per week, which is the average number of cars tested under the ten-year Order, has been about 32s. to 33s. a week. If one extends that over the number now included, one must accept that the total bill will be something in excess of the gross amount paid to the garage owners.

I must disagree with my hon., Friend on the figures. There are about 1½ million cars to be tested, but many of them will, of course, already have been tested voluntarily and have certificates. Also, a number of vehicles will be scrapped before they go to the testing stations. I doubt that more than I million vehicles will be affected by the Order. That will mean that between now and 31st December there will be, on average, just over 2½ cars per week per testing station, which will keep them going at roughly the same rate as hitherto. Then there will be a gap between 1st January and 1st February, when they will have no vehicles to test at all.

It is intended that this will have a cumulative effect. Not only will we be testing the seven-year-old cars, but we shall be faced eventually with the annual review of the ten-year-old cars as well. This means that the weekly figure, as a result of the Order, will be slightly more than doubled. A problem with which we have to concern ourselves is whether the garages are capable of dealing with the additional volume of work and to what extent the country is involved in the cost as a result. It is time that this House started to ask—it certainly is entitled to ask—Government Ministers, when they start to throw public money around as if it were confetti, how much it will be and to ask them to justify the expenditure of that public money.

There is something else which mystifies me. In the Order, we are dealing with subsection (2) of Section 66 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960. That subsection states:
"The motor vehicles to which this section applies at any time are those first registered under the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, or the Roads Act, 1920, not less than ten years before that time."
It is obviously, for the sake of avoiding confusion, the intention of the Order to change the ten years to seven years. The subsection goes on to state:
"Provided that this section shall not apply to public service vehicles adapted to carry eight or more passengers or to vehicles of such classes or descriptions as may be prescribed, and the Minister may by order made by statutory instrument provide that this section shall apply only to vehicles for the time being registered as aforesaid with such councils as may be specified in the order."
There may be a simple answer to the problem, but I am interested to know why we appear to exempt not only the vehicles of 30 cwt. or over, but also those vehicles adapted to carry eight or more passengers.

I am not following the hon. Gentleman again. The Order that the House is being asked to approve does not prima facie appear to be concerned with exempting anything. It proposes to include another three years' seniority of a type of car. We cannot discuss omissions or possible Amendments of the Order.

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker. The Order refers to Section 66 (2) of the Road Traffic Act. I was trying to establish from the Minister whether this mean the complete exclusion of commercial vehicles of 30 cwt. or more and vehicles which have been adjusted to carry eight or more passengers. It may be that these vehicles are included elsewhere in the Order and it will cover them. I am trying to establish whether the Order covers those vehicles or whether it is only a discriminatory Order aimed at the private saloon car. Perhaps the Minister will bear this in mind when he replies.

It has been said by spokesmen within the trade that something like 25 per cent. of the commercial vehicles are unfit to be on the road. Whether or not that is an exaggeration or one supports the Order, we must certainly take cognisance of whether it includes this large section of what are alleged to be dangerous vehicles.

There are a number of questions that I should like the Minister to deal with in his reply. The first, which I have mentioned in passing, is whether the Order involves the commercial vehicles and whether it involves them on the same basis as private vehicles. Does it include commercial vehicles on exactly the same basis as private vehicles, or does it apply purely to private vehicles? The second question I would ask the Minister is what proportion of accidents are caused by faulty lights, what proportion by faulty steering, what proportion by faulty brakes? Is it these factors which we are to extend to a larger number of vehicles. Could he also tell us what would be the total cost of the acceptance of this Order, if we passed it? I suppose it would be out of order to ask him if it would be possible to have any test applied as an alternative—spot checks, for instance. If it is not possible, then we should have the necessary order. If it is possible as an alternative—

I have already said twice, once in answer to the hon Member—no, "answer" is not the accurate word—and in relation to the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds, that it is not in order to discuss alternative methods to attain the same object.

I will leave that immediately, in that case.

Another question I would ask the hon. Gentleman is one on which he kindly gave way when making his opening remarks. There was a case recently which went, I believe, to appeal, in which a person was prosecuted for having a car which had not been tested under the ten-year test. The car was, I believe, a 1934 car. It was a German Opel. It was, at any rate, a German car, which had been purchased in Germany and had not been registered in this country until some time in the late nineteen-fifties. It was, therefore, held, that the ten-year test of that vehicle did not apply because the vehicle had not been registered for a period of ten years. What I would ask the Minister is, whether he could tell us whether the Order could apply to a vehicle which had been registered for only two years, perhaps, but was more than seven years old. This is, I think, a very relevant case on this issue, because obviously if the Order does not apply to such vehicles it does not seem to meet the needs. Could he tell us what powers local authorities would have to implement this Order in setting up testing stations?

I appreciate that.

Could he tell us what the position would be in relation to vintage cars, which, I believe, he himself mentioned in his introductory remarks? As I understand it, these vehicles—I am thinking of real vintage cars, pre-1904, registered vehicles—

This Order would not affect them, because it moves the registration age of cars from ten to seven years.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, the vehicles registered pre-1904 would, I think, be covered by this Order.

Yes, but moving the age by registration depends on the Statute, not upon this Order. We cannot at this stage discuss amending the Statute.

I leave that.

Would the Minister be able to answer a question as to what extent this Order would provide guarantees of road worthiness of vehicles? Is there any method of ensuring a vehicle would receive some inspection—

No. What might be the inspection before certifying depends upon the Statute. All this Order does is to alter the date in relation to registration of the cars which have to be certified, not subject matter of certification.

I will certainly leave that, Sir.

We, on this side of the House, and I am sure hon. Members opposite also, would welcome any move which seeks to keep down the number of road accidents resulting from defective vehicles. We have many doubts about this Order. Nevertheless, if it will assist in that direction we should like to give the Minister our support for what I gathered from my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) is very much a Labour-inspired measure. I do not make too much of that, except to say that this is another example of government by proxy. We should like to be assured, however, that the Minister will not continue to make these Orders blindly without weighing each one against past experience.

11.16 p.m.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), I also wonder why this Order has been made in this form; but, in the main, I accept the point of view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and give some welcome to it as a means of making a further inroad into the terrific toll of human life on the roads every day of the year. Having had time to digest the effect of testing cars of ten years of age and over, the Parliamentary Secretary has now made a case for going further and an additional 1½ million vehicles are to be subject to test.

But it is always up to the House to be vigilant about Statutory Instruments. This Order comes before us fairly late at night. It extends the application of a principle already embodied in an Act of Parliament, but once something is on the Statute Book it is easy by a series of Statutory Instruments so to make alterations as drastically to affect our constituents. The owners of the additional 1½ million vehicles now to be tested will be loaded with a new responsibility and with the need to pay fees.

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for having provided us with so much information relating to this Order. It is most helpful to have information of this kind when hon. Members exercise some vigilance over the business before the House. If the hon. Gentleman sometimes exceeded the rules of order, it was nevertheless most helpful to have the maximum amount of information from him when we are trying to make up our minds about the extension of Government powers.

If we are to extend these powers, it is relevant to ask whether the existing testing stations can cope with the additional work within the stated period. This is relevant to the question whether it is opportune to make the Order now or whether it should be postponed to a later date.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that passing the Order now will ease the practical situation, because testing stations find that their period of maximum activity is between Easter and October, and this means that during a comparatively slack period the 12,000 garages will be able to get on with the job. But that argument does not carry a great deal of weight. Generally speaking, those who run cars seven or ten years old find it difficult to run a car in any case. Every Sunday morning I see constituents cleaning their cars outside their houses. But that is all they do with them during the last quarter of the year and the first quarter of the next; they tax their cars for the summer period and lay them up in the winter. So a large number of my constituents will not he able to get their testing done in this period because their cars will not be licensed. Consequently, the argument that the Order should be passed now does not carry much weight in that respect.

The Parliamentary Secretary has clearly outlined the reasons for the change in period. They are concerned with improving road safety. But the Ministry is dealing with only half the problem—the only half with which it can deal. Accidents are a combination of driver and vehicle. The Order tightens up one side only.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) was right in drawing the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to the fact that a man with a car seven years old becomes familiar with its idiosyncracies and is naturally careful with it. Perhaps the Order should more properly apply to the super Jaguars, the drivers of which take risks in the belief that the brakes of their expensive cars are perfect and sometimes cause accidents because of sudden defects.

If we reduce the period from ten to seven years, shall we not be encouraging people with cars seven years old to take risks through relaxing their driving vigilance in the belief that their cars are satisfactory because they have been tested?

The Parliamentary Secretary has given us figures to show how the scheme has operated so far. It is startling to find that the greatest percentage of defects in tested cars concerns brakes. That is the most important part of any car from the road safety point of view. In the light of that, would it not have been better to have taken a bigger stride in the Order and reduced the period from ten to five years, thus applying the Order to cars registered in or before 1956 instead of in or before 1954?

The Parliamentary Secretary has explained that the testing of goods vehicles so far has shown a large percentage of defects—I believe he mentioned about seven in ten, and that there is a limitation of 30 cwt. in the Statute. The Order mentions the Interpretation Act, 1889, Section 19, which is to apply to the interpretation of this Order as it applies to the interpretation of an Act of Parliament. The Interpretation Act, in Section 19, makes it clear that:
"In this Act and in every Act passed after the commencement of this Act the expression 'person' shall, unless the contrary intention appears, include any body of persons corporate or unincorporate."
Although it is the car which is examined, it is the person who it liable to penalties. I take it from the reference to the Interpretation Act that this can include a group of persons—a firm, a company, or a co-operative society, for instance. If that is so, I am not sure that the original Act gives a sufficient penalty.

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue that on this Order.

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will leave that point, but I think that it is relevant to whether or not we should bring the age limit for these cars down from ten to seven years.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what results have emerged from the testing of ten-year old cars. What kind of research has been conducted'? That is relevant to whether or not the seven year period is the right kind of period to introduce. He has given figures of the number of tests and the percentage of failures, but it would be interesting to know if he is satisfied that the testing so far has done what was intended—that the driver of a tested car returns annually for further tests to keep the state of his car constantly under review. If that does not happen, then it means that such drivers are under a false sense of security.

I believe that I may be out of Order if I go on to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall about the test being applied when a car changes hands.

Perhaps the point has been taken. My hon. Friends have referred to the difference between the large number of tests made through commercial garages and the small number of official tests. This Order will have the effect of doubling the number of cars to be tested from 1½ million to 3 million each year. Does not this mean that it would be preferable to have separate testing stations under the management of public authorities, so that one could be certain that there was no question of one station having different standards from another?

The Parliamentary Secretary must have seen reported the case where, following a test at which a ten-year old car was failed, the driver immediately drove on to another testing station where his car was passed.

I am not trying to cast any aspersions on the general high standard of the testing stations, but it stands to reason that there will be a variation in the quality between one station and another. We are concerned to ensure that, if another 1½million cars are brought within the provisions of the Act by virtue of this Order, the highest possible standard will be maintained, and that all stations will come up to that standard rather than slip a little due to the flood of extra cars involving extra work and perhaps the necessity to put in more man hours.

If the tests were done by a non-profit making public authority, if there was no question of there being any pecuniary gain by inspectors because of their testing of the cars, the Order would perhaps have a little more validity, and perhaps one would be more satisfied in assenting to it.

I do not want to go too far into the other points which have been raised, but I think that the House has every reason to look thoroughly at an Order which will affect so many lives. This is the point which the Parliamentary Secretary made. If the Order is to increase the amount of road safety, I will be only too pleased to give it my assent. lf, on the other hand, it is loosely cast and is just a wild guess, or a case of thinking of a number, say, ten, and then another number, say, seven, and settling for that, I shall be a little chary of giving it my assent.

I hope that when the hon. Gentleman replies he will make quite clear the governing reasons for deciding on a period of seven years.

11.32 p.m.

I very much approve of this Order. I am glad that the Government take this view that cars between seven and ten years old should be subject to these tests.

Having said that, there are one or two small points I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary. He has already appreciated that, although this is a small Order, it has a considerable number of implications. When in order, my hon. Friends have raised some interesting points which I hope the hon. Gentleman will answer.

My first point is about the road accident statistics. I took it from what the hon. Gentleman said when introducing the Order that it was not yet possible to say—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present:

House counted, and, 40 Members being present—

As I was saying, in introducing the Order the hon. Gentleman said that he was not able to give the effect of the previous Order on road accident statistics. I wonder when the Minister expects to have this information available.

When does he expect the effect of the previous Order, or of this one, to be clear in the road accidents statistics? When will he be able to tell us whether the previous Order has had any appreciable effect at all? I am convinced that this testing of vehicles is bound to have an appreciable effect on road accidents, but I should very much like to see that confirmed by statistics.

Secondly, during his opening speech the Minister mentioned that when spot checking had taken place—this is an entirely different type of checking, and I am not in the least concerned to argue its merits as compared with those of the checks done under the Order—out of the 52 tested no less than 47 had shown certain defects and had failed to pass the test. I know that the tests given in the spot check method are rather different from those given under the Order, but that is still a rather disturbing state of affairs.

The Order covers a certain number of commercial vehicles, up to 30 cwts., and therefore some commercial vehicles that are covered by the Order and were covered by the previous one might have been included in the figures he mentioned. If so, it seems to demonstrate that there are considerable defects in the scheme, which is a rather frightening propect. On the other hand, if they are not covered, the moral seems to be that the scheme ought to be extended. I should be out of order if I attempted to argue that further, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will take the point. However one interprets his figures there is something rather unsatisfactory about them.

The third point to which I want to refer concerns the capacity of the testing stations to carry out the obligations placed upon them by the Order. The Parliamentary Secretary said that about 1½ million vehicles are covered by the Order. I understand from the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) that some of these vehicles will already have been the subject of voluntary testing, and therefore that the number to be tested within the next five weeks might be less than 1½ million. Can the Parliamentary Secretary give us any sort of fairly precise number? Is it less than 1½ million? Can he say, even approxi- mately, what number will be tested within the next five weeks?

Does not my hon. Friend agree that one of the features of the Order is not so much that a number of vehicles will already have been tested, but that whereas with the ten-year test it was argued that a number of people would dispose of their cars when the test was imminent, with the seven-year test the number of people disposing of their cars owing to the imminence of the test will be far smaller? Does it not therefore seem likely that the number to be tested will not be far short of the original 1½ million?

That is a reasonable point. My feeling is that there will be about 1½ million vehicles to be tested before the end of the year.

The previous Order made testing compulsory, but as from September, 1960, it had been possible to have a voluntary test, and the period for compulsory testing was three months—from February to May, 1961. There was therefore a period of about eight months—from September, 1960, to May, 1961—in which it was possible to deal with the 1½ million vehicles covered by the previous Order. Under this Order we are going to test 1½ million vehicles not in eight months or even eight weeks, but in five weeks. This is a large number of vehicles to be tested in this short period. Why was it necessary? Perhaps there are technical reasons for it. If so, the Parliamentary Secretary will no doubt tell us about them. Why was it necessary to lay down the date 31st December in the Order? Could not the date have been, say, 31st January, which would have given more time and would have allowed the testing stations more grace?

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, in an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), gave an average figure of what would be involved in the next five weeks of about 2½ vehicles per week per testing station. I am sorry to have to disagree with him, but with 16,000 testing stations it works out at about 12 or 13 vehicles a week per testing station for the next five weeks. We know that many testing stations do virtually no testing and a number of stations will do a much greater number than 12 or 13 vehicles per week. It seems to be doubtful whether we have the capacity to carry out all this work.

These are my three points. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give some answers to them.

11.42 p.m.

I will do my best, whilst remaining within the rules of order, to answer the various points. I thank the House for the general reception it has given to the Order and to our intention now to go forward to another stage of the vehicle testing scheme. I was asked by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) whether we intended to come right down as far as one year old cars. The answer is: not in this Order. My right hon. Friend certainly has ideas on this.

I was asked by several hon. Members what would be the position of vehicles which are not covered by the Order. I simply refer them to the appropriate parts of the Road Traffic Act, 1960. They will find the answer there. They need not ask me for it in the course of this debate. In Sections 183–5 of the Road Traffic Act they will see something to their advantage about goods vehicles over 30 cwts. In Section 129 they will find something about passenger-carrying vehicles equipped with more than eight seats—in other words, buses. There are many adequate provisions in other parts of the Act.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) asked me how many local authority testing stations there were. Currently there are 75. These are local authorities which have applied to set up testing stations. We in the Ministry are in the difficulty that we are in their hands. We cannot force a local authority to set up a testing station, but if it applies to we can authorise it. Seventy-five have so far applied.

Can my hon. Friend say how many of those are in England, how many in Scotland, and how many in Wales?

Not without notice. I cannot help my hon. Friend now. I have no doubt that Wales has its fair share. I was asked whether the standard of testing was the same in local authority testing stations as in private garages. One cannot be categorical, but there is a document which every testing station has. All the staff of the testing station have seen and studied a copy of the document. It is a document which we have published called, "The Tester's Manual". It is comprehensive. Much of it is highly technical, but it tries to lay down as far as possible the drill which should be followed to ensure that vehicles tested comply with the prescribed statutory requirements, to use the expression which is used in the Act.

Is it not the fact that there is a much higher proportion of qualified craftsmen employed at local authority garages than at private garages? Is there anything in the legislation which ensures that persons testing vehicles have any training?

If I tried to answer the latter part of that question, I should get seriously out of order. On the first part, I have no reason to think that that is so. So far as I know, the standard is the same. I was also asked by the hon. Member for Islington, North how many complaints there had been about the conduct of testing stations. He mentioned Press reports of certificates which had been improperly issued or refused, and so on. The answer is interesting. Of 16,000 testing stations we have so far withdrawn authorisation from only 14 as a result of complaints or routine inspections. That is a fairly good indication because all these stations are tested regularly by Ministry officials to see that they are complying with the requirements of the Act and the regulations.

Occasionally one reads of a case where a man has taken his car to one station, has been refused a certificate but has got one from another station. This sort of situation can arise; where one mechanic will take a particular view of a mechanical part and will say, "In my opinion that is defective", whereas another mechanic may come down on the other side. There are such marginal cases. We usually hear about them long after the event, normally through the Press, but we keep a close watch on this matter.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) and the hon.

Gentleman the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) asked about the effect of the lest certificate and whether it was a guarantee of roadworthiness. The original Road Traffic Act of 1960 states that the test certificate, when issued, is nothing more or less than a certificate that at the time when the test was carried out what are called the statutory requirements were complied with. It states that those statutory requirements are those parts of the motor vehicle's construction relating to brakes, lights and steering. Thus there is no question of a test certificate being a guarantee of roadworthiness.

In fact, if one looks at the back of a test certificate, which everyone obtains who applies and is successful, one will see that it states clearly in black type:
"… the certificate relates only to the condition of the vehicle, its equipment and accessories as at the time of that examination and in so far as its condition and equipment and accessories were required to be examined for that purpose, and the certificate must not be taken as relating to the condition of the vehicle or its equipment or accessories at any other time or in any other respect."
It is clear that it is not intended to be—or broadly speaking is not accepted as—a certificate of roadworthiness or that it is good for a period of 12 months.

The hon. Member for Greenwich and the 'hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) asked whether we had statistics showing the effect on the accident rate of the vehicle testing scheme. The answer is "No". We have no such statistics at the moment. They would be difficult to obtain, and only when a larger volume of vehicles has been subject to annual testing might that information be obtainable.

The hon. Member for Greenwich also asked if I could calculate the cost of bringing this Order forward and putting it into effect. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman but we know that about 1½ million vehicles will be affected and that they will be charged 15s. each for the test. Anyone with an aptitude for arithmetic which exceeds my own will rapidly work it out.

The hon. Member for Greenwich further mentioned the case of a Mercedes car which was widely reported some time ago in the Press. Here the problem is difficult. The test must, by statute, apply only to those vehicles which have been registered in this country and have reached a certain age. One could—and this has been done—bring in foreign cars of a considerable vintage but which have been registered for the first time in this country at a comparatively recent date. That would mean that the test would not automatically apply.

The answer to this is that these circumstances have only recently been brought to our attention by this one prosecution. We have not examined this Mercedes car and we do not know the name of the testing station concerned. But we are making investigations and we have in mind the taking of appropriate action when our inquiries are completed. I hope that the hon. Member will not press me further about it tonight.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's difficulties, but it is a little bewildering that he does not know anything about it, he does not know the name of the testing station or the result of the test, and, so far, no action has been taken. If I remember aright, the case was the subject of a prosecution about two months ago. I should have thought that the Ministry would at least have discovered the background of it by now.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me and not press me further tonight. We are making inquiries and investigations into the case. Beyond that, I cannot now go.

The hon. Member for Willesden, West spoke about those cars which are licensed only during the summer months and asked whether they would come within the testing scheme. He pointed to the fact that a number of such cars are allowed to stand on the roads in default of an off-street garage. I think he had better advise any of his constituents who are in that situation to be very careful, because it is an offence to have a car on the road, even though it is standing idle, unless it has a Road Fund licence.

I am glad to know that.

The hon. Member for Craigton asked me three questions. I think I have already replied to one of them, about the effect on road accidents. Next, the hon. Member asked whether the testing stations would have the capacity to handle this traffic. As I said when opening the debate, we estimate that about 1½ million new candidates for testing, as it were, will be coming forward once the House passes the Order. We know also that there will be an indeterminate but quite small number of cars ten years old and older which were voluntarily tested between the time when we introduced the scheme and the time in February last when we made it compulsory. How many of those will come forward for their annual re-test before the end of the year we do not know. There will be a number, but not many. Broadly speaking, there will be about 1½ million cars which the the stations will have to test between now and 31st December.

Thirdly, the hon. Member asked why we had chosen 31st December and not a later date. As I said when introducing the Order, our object was to try to phase the age groups, and this particular date fitted in very well. I will not conceal from the House that, if it had been possible to make the Order and get it passed by both Houses of Parliament by 31st July last, before the Recess, we should have been very happy. As things have turned out, we have had to wait until now; but that does not invalidate the fact that the testing stations will, so they have assured us, be able to cope with this number of cars by the time laid down in the Order.

Why could not the effective date have been, say, 31st January, which would still have been in the slack winter period? Why precisely 31st December?

Compulsory testing started in February last. In January last, a lot of owners of ten-year old cars knew very well that testing was to start on a compulsory basis, and there would be a growing number of people coming forward from the end of the year for their re-test. Until 31st December, for the next six weeks, the numbers will be comparatively small, but after the turn of the year they will grow and there would be a burden put on the garages if we left it too long. I hope that each hon. Member will do his utmost to ensure that his constituents know that, if they have cars in the age group from seven to ten years old, the sooner they have them tested the better.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order, 1961, dated 20th October, 1961, a copy of which was laid before this House on 31st October, be approved.