HC Deb 04 August 1903 vol 126 cc1454-516


Order for Second Reading read.


In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I wish to point out that the object of the Government has been misunderstood by some of those who have taken part in the controversy in the Press. It has been stated that their object is to give facilities to the users of motor-cars, and I have noticed with great regret an attempt in some quarters—limited in extent I am happy to say—to turn this into a class question, and to suggest that the use of motors is a privilege of the rich, and that the poor are the sufferers by the abuse of them. No doubt in regard to some of these motor-cars the suggestion is correct—they are very expensive, and obviously can only be owned by those who are rich. But I venture to deprecate this kind of description of the use of motor-cars for two reasons. If the simple question is asked "What is a motor-car?" it is not quite so easy to answer as hon. Gentlemen may think. It will be found that there is already a very large increase in the number of motor vehicles used by professional men of the smaller grade in country districts, such as medical men and those who do work for the local authorities. For these, motor-cars are available at, comparatively speaking, low prices, and I am told that the number of these is likely to continue to increase considerably. The other point of view from which I deprecate this kind of description of the use of motor-cars is this. I am assured by those who have to deal with motor-car cases before the magistrates, that the breaking of the law is by no means confined to those who are generally termed gentlefolk, and that in the neighbourhood of many of our large towns the law is far more frequently broken by people who hire motor-cars as a means of getting out into the country for a few hours. There is, therefore, no justification for trying to turn this into a class question, and I would venture respectfully and earnestly to express the hope that, whatever may be the attitude of the House of Commons on this very important question, we shall try and deal with it as practical men, without reference to any outside consideration such as I have referred to. It has been said that our object in promoting this Bill is to help the users of motor-cars. I emphatically deny that. The reason that we have asked Parliament to consider this Bill at so late a period of the session is one which every man who looks into the history of the question must easily recognise for himself. Twelve months ago the passage of such a Bill would have been easy; but latterly, in the last six months, there is no doubt that public feeling has been greatly excited by what I can only describe as the disgraceful abuse of their rights and privileges by many users of motor-cars. It is not only the security of life and limb that has to be dealt with, but also the extraordinary discomfort suffered by people who live on the roads which motors largely frequent. Many houses alongside the public roads have been rendered almost uninhabitable, not only by the dust, which is an intolerable nuisance in the summer months, but by other inconveniences which follow from the improper use of this means of conveyance. It is in order to deal with these difficulties that the Government have thought it their duty to introduce the Bill to Parliament, and I therefore ask the House to approach the question from the point of view that we are all agreed that the abuses of the motor-car must be abated, and that the only difference between us is what is the best method of securing that result.

No doubt in some parts of the country motor-cars can be driven at considerable speed without risk to any human being except the person who occur pies the car. I have myself travelled in an ordinary horse conveyance many miles along such roads. On Salisbury Plain, for instance, one can see the road, which is not bounded with hedges or ditches, for many miles in from, and there is, I am sorry to say, such a limited traffic that one goes long distances without meeting a human being. On such roads a motor-car might be driven at a considerable speed without risk to anybody except the occupants of the car; but on the vast majority of the roads of this country motor-cars ought not to be driven at anything but a very moderate rate of speed. I will come in one moment to the chief feature of this Bill, around which so much controversy has raged, but I ask the House to believe that we propose this legislation to deal with what we recognise to be very great abuses, and we propose it in the present form because we believe it is the best method of dealing with those abuses. Obviously, it has been my business to consult the best authorities on the subject—those who have to carry the law into effect. The police, for instance, have had more personal experience than anybody else, and I may say at once that a very great majority of the chief constables in the country are of opinion that the proposals of the Bill, without a speed limit, are more likely to secure the effective control of motors than with a speed limit. A little fact is worth a good deal of reasoning, so I will give my own experience. I am not a motorist. The other day I was driving a horse conveyance along the road when a motor-car came suddenly round the corner and nearly drove into my horse, and was quickly away while I was attending to my horse, which, naturally, was very restless. Obviously it would not have been possible for me to say at what speed the car was travelling, and under the law as it stands I should have been powerless to act. It is much easier to establish the fact that a man is driving at a speed dangerous to the public than that he is driving beyond a speed limit. If there is a means of identifying a man who causes danger and inconvenience, that is a very much stronger power, and had this particular car been numbered I could quite easily have taken that number and summoned the owner of the car, who paid no attention either to me or to my difficulties. Had I been on Salisbury Plain at the time I should have been quite safe, for I should have been able to see the car coining a long way off and could have been prepared. The hopeless infractions of the present law show that you cannot prevent a man driving beyond a given speed if he chooses to do so. On ordinary country roads the hedges are too high and the turnings too narrow and sudden to afford the protection one has on Salisbury Plain. It is perfectly well known that in country places children often make the road their playground; and it is not reasonable to expect a mother, who has all her household work to do, to be continually watching her children lest they should toddle out into the road. Can she possibly be everlastingly on the watch?

We are told that there is very little risk, because motors are under greater control than carriages. No doubt a motor-car can be stopped or turned quicker than any other carriage possibly can be, but that depends on the brake being in perfect working order, and some of the worst accidents that have taken place have been due to the failure of the brake power or of the steering gear. It ought not, therefore, to be argued that risks ought to be run by the general public, because motors can be turned or stopped more easily than other carriages. On a great majority of the roads of this country the cars, if they are to be driven with safety to the public, should only travel at a very moderate rate of speed. What we propose is that reckless or negligent driving, or driving at a speed or in a manner dangerous to the public, having regard to the use of the highways and the use which may be expected to be made, of them, shall be an offence under the Bill. It is contended in some quarters that that is only a recapitulation of the present law; but that is not the case. The present regulations prohibit a man from driving at any speed greater than is reasonable or proper, having regard to the traffic on the highway, or in such a way as to endanger the life or limb of any person; but the Bill strengthens that by making it an offence also to drive recklessly, negligently, or at a speed or in a manner dangerous to the public. I am assured by high authorities that that is a very considerable extension of the present law, and that it exposes the driver of a car to a risk of being summoned, to which he is not subjected at present. The Bill provides also, and this is absolutely new, for the registration of cars and the identification of drivers, and for the licensing of drivers, whether professional or amateur, and it makes it obligatory to stop in case of an accident. The Bill further gives power to local authorities to recommend to the central Department that there shall be a limit of speed in certain districts where it maybe desirable, and provides for the setting up of danger boards by County Councils. The Bill is to be applicable to servants of the Crown. That is the best way to deal with those who are determined to break the law. It is said that by holding up a hand one cannot stop a motor-car. That is perfectly true; but we cannot stop it by enacting that it shall not go more than twelve, twenty or thirty miles an hour. It is said if we allow a driver to go at high speed we shall not be able to identify him. I do not think there need be any difficulty in regard to that portion of the question. We make most elaborate provision in the Bill that the distinguishing mark or number shall be capable of being read by day or night, and shall not be obscured by any cause whatever, whether it be temporary, such as dust, or whether it be deliberate on the part of the driver, by covering it with a rug or anything of that kind. We largely increase the fines, and in addition to that we make it possible to imprison the offender for a second offence. I cannot help thinking that these are better precautions than any you could adopt by enacting that twelve or twenty or thirty miles should be the maximum speed. Everybody knows that the maximum speed becomes the minimum speed. If you enact that they shall not go at more than twenty miles an hour, they go at twenty miles an hour. I have examined this question, having in view the checking of the disgraceful abuses which have been indulged in by many of the owners of these cars. I am convinced if you simply say there shall be a limitation of speed which shall be regarded by the public as security, that is no security. The police will be called upon to detect cases by laying traps which are useless, because they are laid in places which are less dangerous than those that have to be dealt with. I am told that motorists are becoming acquainted with these police traps, that they go very carefully past the danger spot, even now, and that they indulge themselves after they have passed it. We do not propose to say that thirty or fifteen or twelve miles an hour is illegal. Instead of that, we say that every man shall drive his car so that the road, when he is on it, shall be safe for the general public. We facilitate the identification of the offender, we provide extra penalties and imprisonment. I believe that is the surest way for dealing with what is unquestionably a serious abuse. On these grounds I ask the House to read the Bill a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

* MR. SOARES (Devonshire, Barnstaple)

We all admit that the right hon. Gentleman has devoted a great amount of care and attention to this very important subject, and if only the Bill had been as excellent as his speech, he would have much less difficulty in getting it through the House than he will have to-day. I notice that he still adheres to two great points. One is the total abolition of the speed limit, and the other is the placing of the County Councils under the heel of the Local Government Board. Therefore I intend to move the Motion for the rejection of the Bill standing in my name. In order to assuage the anxiety of my hon. friends who are anxious for the passage of this Bill, I may say at once that I expect to be badly beaten on the Division. In the first place, I shall have against me the thick-and-thin supporters of the Government, who always vote for a Government Bill whatever it may be, and I believe that if a Bill were brought in to increase the speed limit of his Satanic Majesty, these Gentlemen would record their votes in its favour if the Govern- ment Whips held in favour of it. I shall also have against me, I am told, no less than 123 motorist Members of this House. I do not mean to say for one moment that these hon. Gentlemen would allow their private pleasures to conflict with their public duties, but at the same time, I think perhaps they will be prepared to admit that naturally they are prejudiced in favour of a Bill to promote motoring. Then, I regret to say, I have heard—I do not know whether it is true or not—that I am also to have the Irish Party in favour of the Bill. They tell me that they enjoyed the motor races in Ireland so much that the glories of Punches-town will soon be a thing of the past. [An IRISH MEMBER: No.] I am glad to hear that word of denial, because it must be remembered that Ireland is par excellence the country from which we have always obtained good limiters, and I think it will be a had time for many of us when they send over a young motor cycle instead of a promising "lepper." This is a Bill dealing with an amusement which is indulged in principally by wealthy people. I do not know whether one ought to call it a Sports Bill or not. The word "sport" is difficult to define. But if a certain amount of killing or maiming of living creatures is necessarily incidental to a sport, then I think that motorists are justified in dignifying their amusement by that name. In approaching the consideration of a question of this kind it seems to me that we should clearly define what are the respective rights of the public to use the road, and what are the rights of motorists. I may say that there was a very good article on this matter in last month's Nineteenth Century. To my mind it is perfectly clear that there is a very great and inherent difference between the rights of the two parties, because the public has the use of the road by common law, whereas the motorists have only the right by statute. The public have a birthright to use the road, and you can only have legislation to affect their interest where it is clearly and absolutely proved that such legislation is in the interest of the public. The public have a right to come and say—"These roads are ours, and we have a right to use them, and you must not pass any legislation which conflicts with our interests." There can be no doubt that motorists are attempting to limit the right of the public with regard to the roads, and, as a matter of fact, motorists are in the position—I think it is an accurate definition—of statutory trespassers on the road. They have no inherent rights whatever; they have only such rights as have been conferred on them by statute. They come to this House as beggars asking for privileges to be conferred on them, and I think it is only right to remind them of the old adage that "beggars must not be choosers." No one can doubt that the roads were never made for motor-cars. Those who designed them and laid them out never thought of motor-cars. Most of the country roads, other than the old Roman roads, were originally bridle-paths, and they twist and turn in an absolutely incomprehensible manner. We know that the reason of the twisting and turning is that they had to go down to places where rivers could be forded, or to avoid a clump of trees or for some other similar reason. But does anyone think this would have been the case if it had been foreseen that it was intended to use them as railway lines? Certainly not; and therefore I say that we ought to pause before we give motorists the rights they are asking under this Bill.

What is the present state of the law with regard to this motor question? I must, I am sorry to say, go back to 1861, but only for One purpose—namely, to quote one clause in the Act passed in that year. That is a clause which gives power to the Home Secretary to prohibit any description of locomotive dangerous or inconvenient to the public. I want the House to notice the word inconvenient, because we hear nothing whatever now of the question of inconveniency to the public, yet by common law the public have not only a right to be protected in life and limb, but also a right to he protected against inconvenience. There is not a single word to that effect in this Bill, and therefore it must he admitted that the pub lie are being asked to surrender a very important public right. I pass over the Acts of 1865 and 1878, and come to the Loco motives and Highways Act of 1896. That, of course, is the Magna Charta of motorists. That is the Act under which they live and move and have their being. It exempted from the provisions of previous Acts all those machines which are called light locomotives, under three tons, and so constructed as to prevent the emission of smoke or visible vapour. The Act also made provision with regard to a speed limit. It provided that the speed should not exceed fourteen miles an hour, and it gave the Local Government Board power to make regulations from time to time with regard to the speed limit and other matters. In pursuance of that power the President of the Board has, made regulations, and he in his wisdom saw lit to limit the speed from fourteen to twelve miles. That is the speed limit at present, and that is how the law stands. We are asked to alter the whole of these provisions at this period of the session. I think the very strongest protest ought to be made against an important Bill of this kind being introduced at this period of the session. It is a Bill of the gravest importance. It affects the safety, welfare and comfort of hundreds of thousands, I might say millions, of His Majesty's subjects, and yet here we are asked to pass the Bill at the fag end of the Parliamentary session, and only to devote two or three days of Parliamentary time to it. What is the object of it? The object is simply and entirely that the speed limit restrictions may be withdrawn, and that motorists may have a good time during the coming year. The Act of 1896 was introduced into this House on 18th June, and it received the Royal Assent on 14th August, and yet the House complained that it was introduced without a sufficient amount of time being allowed for the House to discuss it. We are asked to consider this Bill now, and to put it through Committee in less than ten days of Parliamentary time. I do think we ought to make the very strongest and most emphatic protest in our power with regard to this matter. What is the reason why we are asked to pass this Bill at this period? It is because motorists refuse to obey the law as it stands at present. Those gentlemen laugh at your fines and your legislation. They laugh at a £5 fine. Many of them spend more than £5 on a dinner, and they do not care two straws for penalties of that kind. It is because of their attitude that we are asked to legislate now in the autumn. There is only one point on which we have to congratulate the Government, and that is that they have become absolute converts to the doctrine of passive resistance. What is the difference between passive resistance offered by Nonconformists to the education rate and that offered by a wealthy motorcar owner to the law? But note the distinction the Government makes between the rich motorist and the poor Nonconformist. It is quite true that the motorist is actuated by his own pleasure, whereas the passive resister is actuated by conscience.


Does the hon. Member propose that we should treat the passive resister in regard to education in the same way as we treat the motorists in regard to locomotion—by sending him to prison.


If the right hon. Gentleman would at once bring in a Bill which would meet the approval of all the passive education resisters, as this Bill has the approval of all the passive motor resisters, then we should be happy to pass it. The Prime Minister has told us that on this question of passive resistance in regard to Nonconformists, their action is against all sound logic, all sound morality, and all sound constitutional principles; but when it comes to passive resistance on behalf of the motorists, he at once proceeds to legislate for them. If we wanted an instance that this is not a Government of the people, for the people, and by the people, but a Government of the rich, for the rich, and by the rich, I do not think we could have a better example than we have in this Bill. Need we wonder, then, that the President of the Local Government Board admits the strong feeling in the country. In a letter dated 24th July, he said that there "is an embittered feeling in the general public against all persons who use motor-cars, which, as a dangerous class feeling, is, perhaps, without parallel in modern times." I cordially agree with him. Why does it exist? Is it because the public want the abolition of the speed limit? Is it because the public are not satisfied with the way in which the rural police have administered the law? The right hon. Gentleman himself gives the answer when he says that "the law has been ineffective, and has been brought into contempt. It has failed to protect the public. It has failed to suppress the abuse of the roads by motorists." What the whole country is crying out for at the present time is that you must make the law effective. You must have severer penalties—even imprisoment in certain cases—and some system of registration and licensing. That is done to a certain extent in the Bill. You have a system of registration and licensing, but the other clauses in the Bill are such that, for my part, I would rather do without the Bill as it stands at present than take it.

The main points of the Bill are the abolition of the speed limit except in special dangerous places where the speed is to be ten miles an hour; second, the identification of the motorist; third, the licensing of the motorist; and fourth, the increase of the pecuniary penalties, with imprisonment for driving at a dangerous pace; and fifth, the placing of the County Council under the Local Government Board in regard to the management of motor traffic. With regard to the speed limit, I think the President of the Local Government Board is somewhat disingenuous. He writes letters to the papers, and on the 30th July he said that "the existing law encourages the motorist in the idea that he cannot be touched unless it can be legally proved that he is travelling at a greater speed than twelve miles an hour." And the right hon. Gentleman has suggested again in his speech to-day that the present law is incapable of dealing with a man guilty of dangerous driving. But he himself read out to the Committee a regulation which he had made, and which is the same that he has seen fit to incorporate in the Bill. It must be remembered that that regulation has been in the hands of every magistrate's clerk in the country who has to advise his Bench in these matters, arid of every rural policeman; and therefore I say that there is no change effected by this Bill in the existing law whatever in regard to dangerous driving except in one respect, and that is the Clause which says that "the police-constable may apprehend without a warrant the driver of any ear who commits an offence within his view." At first sight that seems very severe and drastic, but I should like to know whether that is going to be of any practical use for the public in the end? Let us suppose that a police constable makes an arrest of one of those wealthy motorists whom he comes to the conclusion was driving at a dangerous rate. He brings the motorist before his Bench, and perhaps the Bench refuse to convict, and make strong remarks saying the case had no business to have been brought before them. Immediately an action would he started against the policeman—with the hacking of the influential motor clubs—for false imprisonment, and the policeman would be threatened with all the terrors of the law. You would then have one poor policeman against all the wealth of the motoring fraternity. I think, under these circumstances, there would be very few police-constables who would see fit to arrest a motorist under the provisions of this clause. As a matter of fact, this clause would only be of use in two cases—when a policeman sees that the man in possession of a motor-car is obviously drunk, or when he has seen an accident. But that is like shutting the stable door when the steed has been stolen.

Who are the people who are agitating for this abolition of the speed limit. They are only those people who, as a matter of fact, motor for pleasure, and as an exhilarating amusement; and in order that these gentlemen may enjoy their rights, we are asked to turn our country roads into railway lines. It is not demanded for trading purposes—at least, I have not heard of any demand coming from traders for the abolition of the speed limit. We all know that there are motor-omnibuses, and motors used for the conveyance of agricultural produce to market, but the owners of these do not want the abolition of the speed limit. And even if you want light motor-cars to carry perishable agricultural produce to market, you do not want them to go at the rate of more than twelve miles an hour. There is one class of men who do use motorcars very largely, and who might possibly want the abolition of the speed limit: I mean the medicial profession; but I have never seen a single petition from any doctor, or any agitation in the medical world, asking for this abolition of the speed limit. And what is the reason? The doctor knows perfectly well that the public do not like to see these motor-cars driving along the roads at headlong speed. Popularity is as necessary to a doctor as it is to a politician, and therefore a doctor is not likely to use his motorcar in that way. Hence I say that the abolition of the speed-limit is not required in the interests of any trade or profession. What is the position of the general public? If this Bill passes there is nothing in it to prevent a motorcar, if the owner knows the road, and if he thinks it perfectly safe for him, going along the road at any hour of the day or night at the rate of thirty or forty miles an hour. Suppose you are driving along one of these roads in the dark, and you see approaching you two great acetylene lights—which are not at all beautiful—and that as it gets nearer the driver begins to blow the instrument called a horn. Not satisfied with that, suppose the driver has pulled out the sparking plug—I do not know whether that is the correct term or not, at any rate the thing which makes a noise like a Gatling gun—[An HON. MEMBER: Oh, oh!]—it does, I have heard it; suppose that horrible machine, with all that terrifying noise, rushes past you at the rate of thirty or forty milesan hour? However quiet your horses may be, if there is a ditch handy you will be sure to be in it. The fact of the matter is, that if this Bill passes as it stands, we shall have to give up the use of the roads entirely to the motor fraternity. No one would dare to allow his wife or children to drive along these roads. As the President of the Local Government Board says, this question of the cottages by the roadside is a very important one; but he did not tell us whether he would consent to schedule every road in the country which had a cottage by the roadside, where children were accustomed to play in the road. Of course, if that were the case, the health of these children would suffer. It might be urged that it is illegal for the children to play on the road-side. That may be so, but at the same time, I contend that the health of these children is of much greater importance to the State than the pleasure of the motorists.

Then there is the dust nuisance. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of this nuisance, but he does nothing to prevent it. Everybody knows that the faster a motor car travels the greater is the dust raised. This dust nuisance is really very important to women who live in cottages and houses on the road-side. We used to see the most elegant balloon-like garments floating in the wind as we passed by. Now, these cannot be dried out of doors and that will seriously affect the health and the comfort of the people who live in the country. As I have said before in this House, there is a great deal of difference between the danger of horse locomotion and motor locomotion. When you are driving a horse there are two brains at work—that of the horse and that of the man—and very often that of the horse is much the best, in the event of a difficulty. But with a motorcar there is only one brain. We hear a great deal about the development of road-side Inns. I venture to say that a motorist who has been developing these road-side Inns by taking a glass at several of these will be much more dangerous to the public than a man who has been doing the same thing, but is driving in a trap, and who will be taken care of by his steady old horse. Then, we are told that this abolition of the time limit means the establishment of a great industry in the country. Possibly it may; but at the same time I do not want to see a great industry established except under proper regulations. There is another thing we must recollect, and that is, if you do establish a great industry it is only a change of industry. We are told that horses are to become as extinct as the dodo; and what then is to become of the horse breeders, the harness makers, the coach-builders? All these industries are bound to be hit, for there is only a certain amount of money to be spent in locomotion. People who keep motors will not keep carriages, or at any rate will not keep so many of them, and there will only be a change of employment for the working man; instead of building carriages he will be building motor-cars.

The second point with which this Bill deals, and of which I heartily approve, is the registration of motor-cars. I do think that that is a considerable move in the right direction, but at the same time it would be very difficult indeed to work out. As I understand the Bill, there is to be placed on each motor-car a mark indicating the registered number of the car. I should like to know what kind of mark there is going to be. It would have to be of a very distinctive character indeed, otherwise, when struggling with a restive horse, as the President of the Local Government Board was the other day, it would be impossible for a man to distinguish a mark.


My memory is good enough for that.


I am glad to hear it, but some of us are not so gifted, and we should like to know that these marks are going to be of a very distinctive character. Then I strongly object to the amount charged for the registration fee. It is to be the small sum of 5s. The county is to get that, and in return it has to look after the roads, and manage the police, and put up danger signals and boards, which I may point out must be illuminated at night, or else they will be of no use, and they are to get for all that 5s. I call it the height of meanness. You are going to put all these extra rates upon the farmers, whose rates at present are quite high enough, in order that wealthy men may enjoy themselves.

The next point I wish to deal with is the licensing of motorists, which we approve of, but I think, at the same time, that there should be some test of skill before these licences are obtained. To a certain extent this is demanded by the Bill, because it provides that no person under the age of sixteen is to have a licence. I think we are justified in saying that the President of the Local Government Board certainly thinks there should be some test of skill with regard to this matter, but the Bill does not say so. A regulation made by the Local Government Board under the Act of 1896 says, "There shall be in charge of the light locomotive when used on any highway a person competent to control and direct its use and movement." But under this Bill anyone over the age of sixteen years may have a licence, and the licence may be granted to a deaf man, to a short-sighted man, and a man who has gout in Ins fingers, so that he cannot use the brake; in fact, any kind of cripple is entitled to apply for a licence, and if they do not mind risking their own lives they are to be at liberty to risk the lives of millions of His Majesty's subjects. There is an increase in the penalties which, I think, is a step in the right direction, and if they are not enough, that is a matter we shall be able to amend in Committee.

The next point is a very important one, and that is the putting of the County Councils under the Local Government Board in regard to scheduling these roads. I object to that. The County Councils pay for the roads, and surely they ought to have a right to manage the traffic upon them. We are told now that the County Councils may be reactionary with regard to motor-cars. You did not say that the County Councils might be re-actionary when you made them responsible for the education of the country. You think that they are competent to manage the education of your children, but you do not think they are competent to regulate motor-cars on the high roads. I consider this is an insult to the County Councils and I am quite sure it will be bitterly resented by the electorate on the very first opportunity.

There is only one other point I wish to deal with. You talk of this motor industry also as a solution of the housing problem. I think it is possible that in time to come it may do something in that direction, but I should like to point out one matter. To assist the housing problem, passing through the suburban places, there will have to be a great many of these cars and you have to have special roads for them, and therefore with regard to the housing problem the abolition of a speed limit will do no god whatever. I am quite willing to withdraw my opposition to this Bill if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will give way on these two points; if he will give us a speed limit and give the control to the County Councils. If he will not do that then I shall ask the House to vote against this Bill on the ground that you are depriving the masses, without their consent, of their birthright to use these roads, on the ground that this Bill is in the interest of the motorists and not of the general public, and that Parliament has no right to turn our roads into railway lines in order that wealthy men may enjoy the amusement of motoring.

* MR. LUKE WHITE (Yorkshire, E. R., Buckrose)

In seconding the proposal of the hon. Member who has just sat down I do so because I have given great consideration to the provisions of this Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government, Board has asked the House to consider as practical men. In a very few observations I intend to make I shall endeavour to look at this Bill from a practical point of view. With regard to the Bill and many of its provisions there is no doubt a great improvement to the existing law, but taking the Bill as a whole, and especially the clause taking away the speed limit, I think the effect of it will be to make more dangerous, than they are at the present moment, our public roads. We have had five years' experience of motor-cars amid we are now to consider the question of the terms on which motor-cars can occupy our public highways. The right hon. Gentleman in this Bill asks the House of Commons to do away with the speed limit, and he asks the House to do so on the ground that the law at the present time is ineffective. Why is it ineffective? Because the penalties are not sufficiently high at the present time. If a severe penalty had been placed on the Statute-book in the first instance, to be increased on the second offence, with a term of imprisonment for the third offence, we should, in my opinion, have heard very little of those motorists who indulge in exceeding the speed limit in this country. With regard to the question of the speed limit the right hon. Gentleman said it is going to be clearly laid down in the Bill that if a person drives a motor-car on the public highway negligently or recklessly, or at a speed which is dangerous to the public, the person guilty of such an offence under the Act will have to suffer a very heavy penalty. I quite agree with the terms of the first clause of the Bill, but I say that in its provisions you must maintain both in the rural districts and in the towns a speed limit, and that if you do so you will minimise, to a great extent, the dangers on the highways. The right hon. Gentleman said he also proposed in certain districts to give the County Councils power, notwithstanding the provisions of the Bill, to make a speed limit not to exceed ten miles an hour. I say that if a speed limit in connection with Clause 1 is necessary for populous places, a speed limit is also necessary in the rural country districts in addition to the provisions of the Bill. I consider as far as populous places are concerned you might, without the speed limit under Clause 1 of this Bill, be able to obtain that safety in our public streets, so far as motorists are concerned, because we have in our streets policemen and people who could make a report of those who were driving recklessly and to the danger of the public, but when you get into the rural districts where policemen are scarce, it is absolutely necessary that you should have a speed limit in order to secure a conviction. I was very sorry to observe the other day that the President of the Local Government Board, in a letter which he directed to be written with regard to this Bill, said that he considered persons driving a motor-car beyond the speed limit laid down by law were only committing a technical offence.


The hon. Member misunderstood me. I was attempting to draw a distinction between the offence in the Bill of a motor-car exceeding the speed limit and the offence of driving to the danger of the public.


I should be sorry if I had misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, and I think it is therefore right that I should quote the letter to which I refer.


I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that that was part of a considerable correspondence that was going on, and I was endeavouring to show that, with a speed limit of twelve miles an hour, a motorist driving nineteen miles an hour, if there was nobody on the road and there was no danger in any case, was committing, to my mind, a technical offence, when, if driving at the same pace in another county, or driving at a pace to the danger of the public was quite another matter.


Well, I think when an Act of Parliament says a motorist shall not drive more than twelve miles an hour and the motorist goes nineteen miles an hour he is not guilty of a technical offence, he is guilty of breaking the law. The general public has not made this great disturbance against motorists because they have committed a technical offence. The public complain of the motorists because they defy the rule of the road and endanger the lives and limbs of the people. It is on that account that people are against taking away the speed limit in the rural districts. I represent a very large and extensive rural constituency, and in my constituency, as in many of the counties throughout this country, there are roads which are very narrow. There are many of these roads and lanes which are public highways which have no footpath, and which are used for all kinds of vehicular traffic, horses, carts, waggons, and other conveyances, and also by men, women, and children, and I say it would be detrimental to the interests of the rural districts and to the village life of the country if the House of Commons does away with the speed limit and allows motorists to use these lanes in the manner they are attempting to do at the present time. I have no prejudice whatever against motoring. I believe the great majority of motorists at the present time drive along public highways with judgment and care, and that the House of Commons, if it had only to deal with persons of that description would find that no legislation would be necessary. But we have to deal with the class of persons known in this country as "scorchers." Men who have had a day or two's experience on a motor-car and who cannot go below a certain limit, but who, day by day, are endeavouring to drive cars along the highway and whose only limit of speed is the limit of the machine they are driving.

Many of the provisions of the Bill will require a great deal of discussion in Committee. I will not go into the general bearing of the question now, but there is one point I should like to refer to, and that is, the provisions contained in Clause 8. I do not think such a provision should be inserted in a Motor-Car Bill, because it gives, in a county, a jurisdiction by the County Council over the highways of the non-county boroughs of such a county, with which they have no concern whatever. In a non-county borough of, say, 20,000 inhabitants, where there is a corporation, and where all the streets and roads are vested in the corporation, which is responsible for their maintenance, you go completely over the heads of the corporation to give to the County Council of the county, and not to the corporation, the power to raise these danger posts, and if that power is to be exercised you are going a long way to bring danger on your rural districts. Assume that a County Council sends its inspector to inspect all dangerous corners, cross-roads and side-roads, and he snakes a list which is adopted by the County Council and the Local Government Board, and after that a motorist going through the county comes to a cross-road or a side-road where there is no sign-post and there is an accident, he will at once say—his defence will be—that there was no danger-post at that particular road, and therefore he had a right to go past that cross-road at any speed he liked; this provision, therefore, will be to the detriment and not to the benefit of the public at all. With regard to the Bill as a whole I shall be satisfied if the House of Commons in Committee would make this measure a practical one in the interests of the public, but only upon one ground, which is, that the President of the Local Government Board gives way on the question of the speed limit in rural districts. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, in the interest of the rural districts generally, to give way on this point, and, notwithstanding all other safeguards, to allow the rural districts to have the benefit of the speed limit which they have at the present time. Increase the speed limit if it is necessary, and I have no doubt it might be increased to some extent without detriment to the public under certain conditions. I say increase it if you will, but do not pass this Bill into law and allow a motorist to go at any speed he likes, subject to the provision of Clause 1, but put a hunt on his speed and safeguard the public from that danger that must ensue if the speed limit is done away with altogether.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. Soares.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)

I admit that for my part I entirely agree with what the two last speakers have said as regards the absolute necessity for a speed limit, although it might be increased under this proposed legislation, and I further agree that the treatment of the County Councils under this Bill is not only derogatory to the powers of those bodies, but is really based on an entire misapprehension of the law relating to highways in this country. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, if he were present, that the vast majority of our country roads are district highways, with which the County Councils have nothing whatever to do from beginning to end, and of which they have neither knowledge of the conditions nor the control of them, nor do they repair them, and if you put these roads under the County Councils, subject to the Local Government Board, you would really be upsetting the jurisdiction and powers of the local authorities as regards the highways in various parts of the country. That is a matter which no doubt might be set right in Committee. The speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board in my opinion more than justifies the view of those who think the speed limit ought to be retained. No one put more forcibly than he did, and no one recognised more fully, the evils which exist at the present time; but I think that he forgot to make this one remark, that these evils are not the result of legislation but are due to the action of law breakers who disregard legislation, and what we want is not an alteration in the direction of restriction but the power to inflict far higher penalties, that those who break the law may he made amenable to it as regards motor traffic. Now there is another point which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board which struck me very much. He said with regard to the vast majority of roads in this country there ought to be a speed limit, and that only in some cases might there be an exception, and he instanced the case of Salisbury Plain. Now, nothing can be worse when dealing with an admitted evil than to base your legislation upon exceptional cases, and if it is true that on the country roads you ought to have a speed limit it is no argument to say that there are some roads so isolated and so lonely that a speed limit is unnecessary.

Now let me say one word as to the impossibility of the enjoyment of our country roads under the present system. It is a system which interests the country more than the town, for in the towns, in the first place, there is a far larger amount of traffic, and that in itself is a great measure of safety, because motorists cannot go at the extreme pace in towns that they can in country districts. But there is a much more important element than that in the town districts. Suppose you have not a speed limit. In the towns you always have police or members of the police force to see that the law is enforced, but you do not have those police in lonely country lanes, and unless you have some hard-and-fast line by which you can bring the motorists to book, you will have great difficulty in dealing with these motorists in the country districts, and so far from, their having the right to go faster over these lonely roads, I say it is exactly in those roads that there is the greatest tendency to accident. It is most important that you should have some speed limit. With regard to the speed limit, let me say that in advocating the speed limit we are not saying that the other conditions of the Bill are not necessary. Everyone admits that it is necessary to license drivers, whatever the conditions may be. It is nothing less than a scandal at the present time that these drivers should be able to get away in the way in which they do without being recognised, and it is absolutely necessary that there should be some way of identifying them—those law breakers, who having conduced to the accidents, very often go away as fast as they can without regard to what has happened.

Let me say, now that the right hon. Gentleman is present, that I think he has quite misunderstood the law as it stands at the present time. That is a very grave allegation to make against the President of the Local Government Board, but as that was part of his argument I will try and substantiate what I say. According to the law as it stands every driver of a motor car is not only subject to a speed limit by the regulations of the Local Government Board—and I agree here with the views expressed by one of the chief constables in the country that the regulations which now exist are more easily enforceable and better in the interests of the public than those of the proposed Bill—but if is sufficient for my purpose to say, you have the same regulations in both cases. It does not matter whether you are talking about reckless driving, or driving that is neither reasonable not proper. There is not the slightest doubt that, although the penalties are not sufficiently severe, Section 1 of this Bill does not in any respect increase the liability of motor-car drivers, so that you have the speed limit taken away on the one hand, and no increase of regulations against the motor-car drivers on the other. As compared with the Act of 1835, Section 1 of the Bill does nothing more than put the motor-car drivers in the same position as drivers of ordinary vehicles, but under more favourable conditions. Here it is "reckless driving to the danger of the individual." There is no difference in substance. Under Subsection 2, a motor-car driver may be apprehended by a constable, but under the Highways Act any one who sees the offence may apprehend the furious driver without any warrant. So far from this Bill imposing any additional restriction, it is an alleviation of the general law in favour of the motor-car drivers. The limitation of the power of apprehension to constables is a serious matter in the country. It is all very well in the towns, but where in the country will you find police constables to apprehend offenders? Why should a motor-car driver be put in a more favourable position than an ordinary driver? Yet I have heard it mote than once argued that this special provision justifies the removal of the speed limit! Then as regards the latter part of the clause. What happens under the general law to an ordinary driver? Under the Act of 1835, if he does not give his name he is liable to three mouths' imprisonment. I admit there are other things added here, but there is no greater restriction; there is, in fact, an alleviation as compared with the existing law. Some proper form of regulation is necessary in order that the public may enjoy the public highways in the future as they have done in the past. I do not want to go beyond that. If you do you will put upon motor-car drivers and motorists restrictions which no one desires. But we must recollect, as the hon. Member opposite said, it is our birthright to have the common use of these roads, and, speaking as a countryman who lives in a district where the roads are narrow, I say without hesitation that we no longer have as our birthright the common use of these highways. We can no longer go out ourselves without danger; we are afraid to send out our children, and, unless you are as skilled a driver as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, you must drive only steady old horses which, instead of requiring to be looked after, look after you.

This is an extremely serious question. It is not a matter which can be put off any longer. But if we are to have legislation—and we ought to have it—we must have it once for all on the best possible basis. Unless we do, such a feeling will arise in the country against motorists and motor-cars that either they will not be allowed to use our roads at all, or they will run an imminent risk of being attacked in some of the country districts. The feeling which has already been aroused cannot be exaggerated. I am sorry it is so, because if only the law had been obeyed—and that is the whole question—there would not have been anything like this outcry. Who have not obeyed the law? I do not want to raise any class question, but those who have not obeyed the law are men who think nothing of a £5 or a £10 fine, who put it down as a part of the expense of their amusement, and either insure against it or laugh at the magistrate when the penalty is imposed. It is a great mistake to assume that the speed limit has been a failure. It has been a failure only in respect of the comparatively inadequate penalty. The police have acted admirably. In some of the northern counties—particularly Yorkshire—they have acted not only admirably but effectively. If you gave your magistrates power on the second or third occasion to send these people to prison you would put an end to a most crying evil. There ought to be some limitation, and it will be the greatest mistake imaginable to remove the chief safeguard, we at present have, as regards our country roads. With regard to the powers of the County and District Councils, what are these roads which are being destroyed as far as the common user is concerned? Take the District Council roads. They are roads which have been given and repaired by, and which belong to, the local people, and yet you are to allow the use of these roads to be taken out of the hands of the local people by those who have no interest in the district, who have done nothing to create the roads, and who do not pay a penny towards their repair or maintenance. The only effect of the Bill is, apparently, to impose upon the locality certain expense for the erection of notices and so forth. No reason has been given by the right hon. Gentleman for the removal of the speed limit. All the other regulations in this Bill could, and ought, to co-exist with the speed limit. Depend upon it, if these motorists and motor-cars are not kept in order they will have to leave our roads altogether, because in the long run the people will never submit to the intolerable nuisance which has been created.

MR. WILLIAM MCARTHUR (Cornwall, St. Austell)

I should like to say at once that I am not one of those people who have an antipathy to motor-cars. I am not a motorist myself. A horse is good enough for me, and until I am unable to ride or drive I should prefer a horse to a motorcar. But the question of the motor-car is not altogether a rich man's question. It is quite possible that there may be developments of the industry, both as regards the employment given by the manufacture of these cars and as to the use to which they may be put in the country, which will give the common people a much greater interest in the motor-car than they have at present. I therefore am not prejudiced against the cars. On the other hand, I am certainly strongly opposed to this Bill as it stands, and unless some prospect of modification is held out I shall vote against the Second Reading and oppose its further progress to the best of my ability. Perhaps I speak a little feelingly on the matter, because in order to reach my home in the country I have to drive about a mile and a quarter along the Brighton road, and everybody who has to travel along that road knows what an unmitigated curse and nuisance the motor may become whets it is driven by a person hardly competent to drive, or who is careless of the safety or convenience of other users of the road. Along that road there is a constant stream of motors, and I have been practically compelled to give up the use of the road, and to forbid my children to ride along it. A large part of the difficulty is caused by incompetent drivers. Personally I have no complaint to make about the great bulk of the people who use and drive motor-cars. I have found the bulk of them perfectly ready to stop but I have found some who are simply ruffians, and who ought to receive the severest punishment the law can give. I have seen cars describing a series of S's as they came along the road, so utterly incompetent were the drivers. The point I want to make is this: If a man is to be put on the public road in control of one of these powerful machines there ought to be some guarantee that he knows what he is doing when he gets on the driver's seat. I should not be allowed to drive a four-wheeled cab down the Thames Embankment without my capacity to drive being subjected to some sort of test, and yet under this Bill it is seriously proposed that anyone who applies for a licence should be put in charge of a ton of iron which can be driven at sixty miles an hour, and nothing is to happen unless he commits an offence. This appears to be a most preposterous position, and there is no comparison whatever between the man who drives a motor-car and the man who drives an ordinary horse. There is no comparison whatever as to the amount of danger. I do not think that this Bill ought to be passed unless the right hon. Gentleman is willing to consent to some test of efficiency being applied to the people who apply for these licences. If I am asked what that test ought to be, and what machinery I would suggest for examining these people, I would reply that that is not my business. I am not a person desiring to drive at sixty miles an hour, and, personally, I do not want anybody else to do it. I think it is the business of the Government to provide machinery to insure that the man who is granted a licence must show that he is capable of controlling his motor-car, knows how to drive, and is a skilled person as regards driving. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me in that.


Hear, hear.


Do I understand then that the Government in Committee will be willing to insert words providing that there shall be a test of efficiency for people who apply for licences?


I shall be prepared to make the certificate, which is now only a certificate authorising to drive, one which will be only granted after there has been some test of efficiency applied.


I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that statement, and under the circumstances I will not pursue my remarks. If a real test of efficiency is applied, I think it will increase the safety of the public. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the position he has taken up.

MR. SCOTT-MONTAGU (Hampshire, New Forest)

In the speeches which have been made during this debate I notice a great many complaints have been brought forward which I think will be very largely remedied by the Bill now before the House. As an illustration may I be permitted to say, first of all, with reference to the last declaration made by the President of the Local Government Board, that if the public and the House wish the certificate he proposes to grant to be one of efficiency I am quite sure no motorist will object. I will point out, however, that such a certificate is in no degree a real guarantee of safety and will do nothing to cure the evils which I think we are all united in wishing to remedy. The examination which a driver undergoes in France, Germany, and other countries consists of a test of his knowledge of the engine and of his skill in the management of the engine and car combined. But the rash man may be a skilled engineer, and a man may perhaps be the finest driver in Europe and yet be wanting in consideration towards the other users of the road and the public generally. My experience is that in the worst cases of motor scorchers, or "road hogs," the men are nearly always very skilled, and their skill breeds a confidence that is dangerous The speeches of the mover and the seconder of the rejection of this Bill contained many amusing points to one who was listening to the debate from the opposite point, of view. The hon. Member for the Barnstaple Division of Devonshire suggested, amongst other things, that motorists desire to monopolise the roads. That is not so, because they only wish to be included as part of the public who have the right to use the roads. As one of the public, and as one who rides and drives, as well as one who drives a motor-car, I can say that no motorist has ever expressed a wish to monopolise the highways; but nevertheless the tendency in this country is to make our highways more suitable for fast traffic and to increase the facilities for so doing. It may be that in the future the fast traffic will increase out of all proportion to the slow traffic, but it is no argument to say that on this account motorists wish to monopolise the roads. The hon. Member also referred in his speech to a fear that motor-cars would supersede horses and do a great deal of harm to horse breeding. I do not believe the introduction of motor-cars will ever affect the riding of horses; the prophecies that have been made are as likely to be falsified as have been those made when railways were introduced in this country. May I read art extract from a speech which was made from the same Benches in the year 1826—

Extract from Sir Isaac Coffin's speech in House of Commons, 6th April, 1826, Liverpool and Manchester Railway— How would any person like to have a rail road tinder his parlour window? What was to be done with all those who had advanced money in making and repairing turnpike roads? What will those who may still wish to travel in their own or hired carriages after the fashion of their forefathers do? What was to become of coach-makers and harness-makers, coach masters and coachmen, inn-keepers, horse breeders and horsedealers? Was the House aware of the smoke and noise, the hiss and the whirl which locomotive engines passing at the rate of ten or twelve miles an hour would occasion? Neither the cattle ploughing in the field or grazing in the meadows could behold them without dismay. Iron would be raised in price 100 per cent., or more probably exhausted altogether! It would be the greatest nuisance, the most complete disturbance of quiet and comfort in all parts of the kingdom that the ingenuity of man could invent. We have lived to see those gloomy prophecies utterly falsified. In the early days of bicycles the same objections as are now being urged against us were raised against them. I remember that some ten years ago, when it was not considered quite convenable for a Member of Parliament to ride a bicycle, much the same sort of thing was said about bicycles. I remember coming to this House in 1893 riding a bicycle, and being the object of some amusement and derision to the cabdrivers and policemen because I came down in a manner which was considered improper for a Member of Parliament. Opposition to new methods of conveyance and to their development has always come in the same kind of way.

This Bill as it stands to-day I am confident would not be supported by any motorist Member of this House unless he was conscious that he was looking at the question from a public point of view. If I took a selfish view of this question I should vote against this Bill because it is going to place tremendous penalties in the hands of magistrates, some of whom are intensely prejudiced, and have announced that their object is to suppress motoring. This Bill puts into the hands of these gentlemen penalties which I am sure the hon. Member for the Stretford Division of Manchester will agree are unprecedented as regards any other form of traffic. Hon. Members who oppose this Bill should remember that motorists are being treated with far more severe penalties than anything which has yet been enacted for other users of the highways. There is, for instance, the power to arrest under Section 2 of Clause 1, which the hon. Member referred to. I quite agree that that power exists in the old Act, but it is not weakened by insertion in this Bill, nor is it merely repeated, for there are heavier penalties for infringement and it will draw the attention of magistrates to this power of suppressing reckless driving. There is a clause in this Bill which I think is quite unique. There is an obligation imposed upon motorists, under a penalty of £10 to stop in case an accident occurs. I thoroughly and cordially agree with this particular section, but allow me to point out that under similar circumstances there is no obligation on anybody else to stop on the road after causing an accident. In future a person knocked down by a dogcart or van or a hansom cab is in a far worse position than a person knocked down by a motor-car. [Cries of dissent] Well, can any hon. Member tell me of any Act under which the driver of any other kind of vehicle is obliged to stop in case of accident. I think not. [Cheers.] With regard to the "control" areas I think the ten miles an hour limit will be of great advantage to the public. However, I would point out that very often an ordinary dog-cart goes along the road at twelve miles an hour, and therefore I think ten miles an hour is too slow for practical purposes. Then there is a provision for the deprivation of licences in case of serious misconduct. I think hon. Gentlemen have rather overlooked the great safeguard that this provision will be. I agree in the desirability of this power being inserted, and I think it is a concession to the public which they ought to have. Hon. Gentlemen who oppose the Bill do not seem to appreciate it from the public's point of view.

The question as to what advantage motorists get under this Bill is one of much debate, and I can only tell hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that, so far as I can judge from the letters I have received, motorists oppose the Bill. I have incurred a good deal of odium from my brother motorists for favouring the Bill. More than a year ago I introduced an identification Bill into this House, and this year I again introduced a Bill dealing with registration and licensing, and, therefore, I cannot be accused of having wantonly opposed the interests of the public. There is another argument which has been used by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, which I do not think is quite correct. They say, "Why should the ratepayer in the rural districts be called upon to keep up main roads and other roads for the sake of motorists?" Well, that is a very specious argument on the face of it. But prior to 1888 there was a grant-in-aid towards main roads amounting to 50 per cent. of their cost. Since County Council government came into operation, grants-in-aid of local taxation superseded the amounts previously granted. The State has therefore rightly considered that a man who travels from London to. York is a person who ought to pay the proportion of the upkeep of the roads, and these grants-in-aid are made on account of the long-distance traveller, and only half the cost is borne by the localities. It has been said several times during the debate that this is a class question. It is not a class question. Do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen realise that there are 20,000 motor cycles in this country? I venture to say that by this time next year there will probably be three times as many motor-cycles as motor-cars. And if you could analyse the motor-cars it would he found that not more than one in ten costs more than £500 or £600. There are a large number of cars used by the professional classes of the country who are not at all rich men, and who cannot afford to keep a coachman and horses. They use motor-voitinettes, which cost from £100 to £200. These are rapidly increasing, and they ought not to be lost sight of. It, is assumed that when a gentleman uses cars he must necessarily be a rich man. According to that argument I should be a very rich man indeed; I only wish I was A small motor-car nowadays is within the reach of anyone who can own a brougham and pair of horses, or even a dog-cart. I would only say that so far as regards the motorists' point of view of the Bill, if we consulted solely our personal interests, we should not be over-keen to see Second Reading carried, but we shall support it for the sake of the future. We feel quite as strongly as the gentlemen who differ from us, about the road scorcher. It is because this Bill gives proper safeguards to the public, and is, I think, a fair compromise on a very difficult question, that I shall support the Second Reading.


The hon. Member who has just spoken as a motorist has, I think, been the first Member of the House who has supported the measure introduced by the President of the Local Government Board. The House is indebted to the hon. Member for having called attention to a few of those questions which were entirely overlooked by some of my hon. friends behind me. It has been assumed by the assailants of this measure that the motorist is an intruder on the highway, that he has no right there, that he has a precarious tenure obtained under certain statutes, that he is regulated by previous measures, and that it is proposed that he should be still further restricted by the measure before the House. Now it would be well, before one forms an opinion as to the measure proposed, to get rid of the notion that an ordinary passenger who uses the highway on foot, or uses it on any form of vehicle, has a higher right to the use of that highway than the motorist. The right and the obligation rest equally upon all who make use of the highway. As I understand the law the highway must be used reasonably. There is no absolute duty, it is a relative duty, it must be used relatively to the rights, convenience and safety of others who are equally entitled to avail themselves of the dedication of the owner of the land who created the highway. Now, if that is so one has to ask one's self the simple question whether it is possible to regulate the use of the highway by those high travelling machines in such a way as to permit of its safe use by other persons who may travel on foot, or by children who may play on the highway, or persons who may be driving a restive pair of horses. Well, of course, it is quite possible for the House to say that the use of the highway by machines capable of traveling at express speed, and which in point of fact do on occasion travel at express speed regardless of consequences, shall be altogether prohibited. If the House is not prepared to take that step, some medium line must be found by which, if possible, the user of the highway for motor-cars may be so regulated as not to interefere with vehicles of other sorts.

I confess that when I approached this Bill I looked at it very much in the same way as some of my hon. friends behind. I thought it an inefficient and bad Bill. I thought it was a Bill framed in the interest of motorists, and I was rather led to that conclusion by the unfortunate fact that the first section of the Bill creates an offence, and in creating the offence simply defines the existing law. That is perfectly true. As the hon. Member for the Stretford Division pointed out, the first section is a mere definition of the existing law. The motorist uses the highway subject to the obligations of the common law and subject to the obligations created under the statute of 1888, and no motorist can use the highway unless his vehicle be skilfully and carefully guided, unless it is under control, and driven so that no nuisance to the public or to a private person is occasioned by the use to which the vehicle is put. It appears that the strong objection to the Bill is that you are introducing restrictive legislation by merely defining the existing law and re-enacting existing penalties. The answer to that argument is that you could not have a more stringent law than that which exists at the present moment. If you are to allow motorists to use the highway at all you must enact that they shall use the highway carefully, without negligence, without recklessness, without undue speed and with due consideration for the convenience and safety of other persons who have an equal right to its use. If you find the law severe enough as it stands the only question that arises is whether or not you can make its application more efficient than at present, so as to check the nuisance which we all feel. Now, is that possible? The right hon. Gentleman has called attention to various provisions in the Bill which certainly do render possible a very much more strengthened application of these legal provisions. Identification of the offender is made easy, detection is greatly facilitated, and prosecution is rendered easy. The task of the police is made simple and many impediments cast in their way at present are removed. You have constituted a tribunal which has as little sympathy with motorists as possibly it has with the poacher, namely, a bench of county magistrates. You can prosecute the motorist by the instrumentality of the police. If you can submit a case to the decision of a bench of county magistrates it seems to me that you have done a great deal towards rendering the administration of the law efficient. Various hon. Members have said that this is entirely insufficient, because there is no speed limit, and I understand that is the cardinal question on which the fate of the Bill will depend.

Is it desirable to have a speed limit? The proposal of a speed limit is exceedingly seductive, it simplifies the definition of recklessness, undue speed, and the careless use of the highway. It substitutes for the exceedingly elastic and flexible standard of this section the simple question Aye or No, a decision arrived at by a stop-watch at what rate the particular machine was travelling.

* MR. BURDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)

The proposal is to add a speed limit to the other safeguards already in the Bill.


At all events I think the motorist is to have very little chance if he exceeds the speed limit. If you once enact a maximum limit, practice shows that it almost always becomes a minimum limit. In other words, if you say that a locomotive shall not travel more than fifteen miles an hour, the impression is created that it may travel at fifteen miles an hour. That is a test which every policeman understands and which he will apply. Surely nothing can be more illogical than to apply a fixed limit of speed to the regulation of the transit of a vehicle over the roadway, where the obligations for care vary infinitely, where the risks are numerous, and where what would be safe in one case would be exceedingly dangerous in another.


I think the right hon. Gentleman will see from the way in which diverse opinions with regard to this Bill are distributed about the Benches, that it ought not to be made a Party matter. Of all the Bills ever brought into this House, this one least merits Party treatment. I certainly hope the right hon. Gentleman will not make the absence of a speed limit a Party matter because such insistence will wreck the Bill. I must vote against the Bill unless that matter be left to the Committee. The Bill, without a speed limit—and I speak not of its intention, because I give the right hon. Gentleman full credit for good intention, but of its operation and result—is a Bill to promote danger to life and inconvenience in their daily avocations amongst the vast majority of His Majesty's subjects. I will not talk about class legislation; it is rather a piece of sectional legislation, to permanently sanction to a comparatively small number of wealthy and luxurious people a right which in practice they have illegally seized upon, and which, as it is utterly inconsistent with popular rights, they should be summarily deprived of, and not confirmed in. I regret that the Bill has been introduced into the House of Lords first. That may have been only an error of judgment; but it is certainly unfortunate when we are dealing with a piece of sectional and anti-popular legislation. One would have thought that a Bill injuriously affecting a great majority of the voters in every constituency represented by hon. Members was a matter primarily and mainly for this House to consider and formulate; and that it was neither necessary, nor consistent with the spirit of our legislative procedure, to bring to bear on the general scope, or the detailed provisions, of the Bill the prior support of large majorities in the House of Lords. I cannot in the least understand the arguments of those who profess to wish to secure a safe and proper use of the highway, and in the same breath say that in order to do so you must not have a speed limit. Excessive speed has always been recognised to he a dangerous and inconvenient use of the road and the street. Still less can I understand the argument of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that because you have a speed limit, therefore you cannot have the other provisions and safeguards in the Bill. When you have a speed limit you have something certain, a mathematical test, to go on. You propose to supply its place by a vague expression as to "reckless driving" or "driving at a speed which is dangerous to the public." One objection constantly raised against a speed limit is that the person who takes the time—the policeman—both makes mistakes and gives false evidence But by removing a speed limit you are placing a far heavier more delicate, and more doubtful responsibility on this officer of the law, whom you call incompetent and unreliable. You are removing a check on him which—although he may make mistakes—gives a certain mechanical certainty. With the speed limit it is the stop-watch against, the motor-car. But by this Bill he has to assume a far different office. He becomes—this person whom you can not trust when he has a mathematical or mechanical guide to aid him—the judge of a phrase, the sole interpreter of a lengthy clause in a Bill. He, acting on his sole unaided judgment, is the arbiter of your destinies. ["No: The Magistrates."] It is absurd to suppose if you cannot trust this officer with the lesser and more fixed responsibility you can trust him with the greater and vaguer one.


Anyone on the road, the hon. Gentleman or myself, could bring the charge.


Of course; if the policeman is not there there is no charge brought.


If a humble individual like myself is driven over by the motor-ear, what is there in the Bill to prevent me bringing a charge against the driver, although I am not a police constable?


But what is the ease now? The great majority of the charges are brought by the police. That is exactly what will happen in the future. And my point is that by removing the speed limit you are making those mistakes on the part of the police more possible and more likely; and my answer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds is that there is not the slightest reason why you should not have the two safeguards combined; both your first clause with your other provisions for safety in this Bill, and the added certainty of the speed limit. That would meet the sensible objection that a speed limit is not of itself an assurance of safety to non-motorists, and the puerile objection that if there is a speed limit, the motorists, will come to think that is the only legitimate cheek on his actions, and that so long as he keeps within the speed limit, he is keeping within the law. It would be perfectly easy to make it clear in the Bill, both to the motorist and to the magistrate, that the two safeguards—the speed limit and the provisions to secure the safety of passengers within it—were not exclusive of each other. The great advantage would be that it would be submitting a large number—probably the majority—of cases of offence to a matter of mathematically ascertainable fact, and leave the smaller number of such offences to a matter of opinion or interpretation of a clause by the police, constable.

I should like to make a remark or two on one argument which is used in favour of motor-cars, or rather in favour of their being granted an excessive rate of speed on the highway—because I am not, and no one is, against motor-cars, if they are reasonably and properly used. The argument may be called the industrial argument, that by limiting the speed we are limiting the introduction and growth of a valuable industry in tins country. And there is a sort of suggestion attached, that we are also limiting the use of the motor-ear for industrial purposes, i.e., for use as a means of conveyance for the masses. Let me deal with the latter idea first. If motor-cars come to be used as a means of public conveyance they will never he used at the extreme speed made legal by this Bill. Therefore the excess of speed is the differentia between motor-cars used as a public convenience and motor-ears used as a luxury. The effect of this Bill will be to legalise their use as a luxury, and if you do not place a speed limit in it, it will stand always on the Statute-book as a Bill passed for the benefit of the privileged few. Now, as to limiting a valuable industry, i.e., the manufacture of motor-cars. At present the vast majority of people, both capitalists and wage-earners, who will suffer by this limitation, are foreigners. Look at the great majority of these hideous machines, which cost from £1,000 to £2,000 apiece, and go fifty miles an hour along our roads, scattering death and destruction and terror and inconvenience amongst the humbler users of the highway. What are the names on them—Panhard, Daimler, Mors, Mercedes, Peugeot. They are all foreigners.


Does the hon. Member know that nearly every one of the makers he has named has branches in England?


Yes; but the money made by these foreigners goes abroad. I hear they make 200 per cent. profit on every machine. They talk about these being wonderful inventions, and that it is wrong to arrest at its birth such a great discovery. But motor-cars were invented before railways, and have lain in statu quo for seventy or eighty years. There is no department in which the inventive faculty has been so torpid, or mechanical enterprise so miserably slow, as in motor-cars

[AN HON. MEMBER: That is because of the restrictions placed upon them.]


Those restrictions were placed on them and maintained for the sake of the public convenience, and no other class of invention in this country has ever had to rely upon conditions which sacrifice the public convenience to the privilege of the few. An hon. Member has quoted the case of the early opposition to railways and tried to draw an analogy between that and the present opposition to motor-cars. As I have already said, I am not opposed to motor-cars. I am only opposed to their improper use. But what is the true analogy between the introduction of railways and the present proposals? When people came to Parliament eighty years ago and asked to be allowed to develop this sort of locomotion at an excessive speed on the public road, what did Parliament do? It said to them: "If you want to use these engines you must build a road for them yourselves"; and it compelled them to build railroads, which took them off the highway. But Parliament did something more. It was so careful of the public interest that it compelled the railway companies to give any private individual the right to run his own engine and carriages along the lines they had built. That was the spirit in which Parliament guarded public interest as compared with the spirit of these proposals which, without a speed limit, will guard only the interests of the privileged few. I will conclude by again begging the right hon. Gentleman not to wreck his Bill by omitting the speed limit.

* MR. NORMAN (Wolverhampton, S.)

There is hardly a statement of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that anyone who has studied, even in an elementary way, the question of motoring could not reply to. The hon. Gentleman said that there was no question involved of injuring industries in this country, as all the cars were manufactured abroad; but there was already a very large industry in the manufacture of motorcars, and motorcycles in this country, and many work men and a large amount of capital were employed in connection with it. The reason why many cars had foreign names, and were manufactured abroad, was because of legislation in this country which had compelled a motor-car to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag, whereas abroad motor-cars had long been given the legitimate use of the roads. Therefore, the argument of the hon. Gentleman on that point fell to the ground. Any stranger listening to this debate would draw the conclusion from the speeches of many hon. Gentlemen that motorists were in the habit of killing men and women and leaving corpses of little children strewn about the village streets. The precise contrary is the case. A motor-car is the safest vehicle using the roads to-day; and I am prepared to substantiate that statement. In the whole of the metropolitan police district, which covers an enormous area, during the year 1902 not one person was killed by a light locomotive of any kind or description. A motor-car journal has very wisely been collecting the statistics of persons killed by horse vehicles; and the number killed or injured during a period of eight or nine months has been about 7,000. There fore, as a matter of fact, not as a matter opinion, there is less damage done to the public by motor-cars than by any other vehicle using the road. I should explain, of course, that that statement must he taken in a proportionate sense, but even proportionately it is true. Anyone would imagine that motorists desired to insure murderous persons against punishment. As a matter of fact, no one was more opposed to what was commonly known as "the road hog" than the motorists, because motorists suffer more from such persons than any other class of the community. [An HON. MEMBER: How?] Well, by inducing speeches like that just delivered by the hon. Gentleman opposite for one thing We admit that there are a certain unmber of men who use motor-cars to-day with the grossest disregard of the rights of others. We admit that, and we deplore it. We hold that there is just one way of all others to stop them, and that is what has been proposed by motorists themselves, namely, identification. As soon as a man knows that his car carries a mark of identification which is able to bring a policeman ringing at his from door within forty-eight hours, that will be effective enough to prevent 90 per cent. of motoring offences. The remaining 10 per cent, can only be suppressed by heavy fines and imprisonment. The severest punishment that can he inflicted on a man driving rapidly round sharp corners or through village streets will have the sympathy of 999 out of every 1,000 motorists. I think it would be to the public advantage if it were generally believed that the fact that a man drives a motor-car does not make him, all at once, a ruffian. After all, motorists are much like other people. I have driven a motor-car a great deal myself, and I have often driven at a fast speed, but I do not think I ever put anybody to any danger or inconvenience except by reason of dust, which motorists admit is a grave discomfort. If hon. Gentlemen would only start with the belief that motorists are as well disposed towards the public as others, and have an equally kindly feeling, it would enable us to discuss this Bill more profitably.

My hon. friend the Member for the New large Forest made a comparison between the opposition which was offered to railways and bicycles and that which is now being offered to motor-cars. I know of nothing, however about which so much persistent however, about which so much persistent misrepresentation had been published as about the motor-cars. It is a strong thing to say; but there are really people in this country who invent deliberate lies in order to injure motorists. There was the case the other day, quoted by Lord Camperdown in the House Lords, but which he withdrew when he found it was baseless, about a certain young lady whose horse was frightened by a motor-car and who was thrown into a ditch, the motorist driving away. That was investigated by some motorists, and it was found that there was no question of motor-car at all. The young lady herself said that she did not see a motor-car, but that her horse was frightened by a threshing machine. Even The Times printed a letter the other day in which it was stated that a motor-car was seen at Maidenhead covered with mud, and that the ostler told the writer the chauffeur had told him that it had been driven from London at the rate of ninety-two miles an hour, which was of course, perfectly ludicrous. Yet so great is the genuine and honest ignorance on this subject that the greatest paper in the world prints a letter of that kind. The Times also published a statement that the dropping of petrol poisons streams and ponds along the roads' but the best way to disprove that statement is to drop petrol on one's hand, when it will be found to disappear without stain or smell. I hope my hon. friend the member for the Barnstaple division will forgive me for saying that his description of one motor-car passing another at night at a speed of forty miles an hour with its sparking-plug out, possesses a peculiar humour, which can only be appreciated by motorists. The greatest in every speech delivered against the Bill this afternoon, is that the motor-car is the rich man's toy. I do not know what one can do to dispel that delusion. Is a motor-cycle a rich man's toy; or is the little motor-car which costs£125, or £135, or £170 a rich man's toy? These small cars are now being sold in very large numbers; and one firm even at the end of the motoring season is putting 1,000 of these cars on the market Are these cars rich men's toys? If so, is a pony and trap a rich man's toy? My point is a car of that kind, allowing for depreciation, can be kept for little more than the cost of an ordinary horse and trap; therefore, unless a horse and trap is a rich man's toy, how can the small motor-car be a rich man's toy?

Finally, as to the question of the speed limit, motorists wish the speed limit abolished, not because they want to drive at an excessive pace, say seventy or eighty miles an hour, which is all nonsense, but in order that if they are punished they may be punished for a genuine offence they have committed. At the present moment a motorist is punished for going at the rate of twelve-and-a-half miles an hour in circumstances of absolute safety. The police set traps in the early morning in places like the Hog's Back; and no one can realise, except those who have suffered from them, how absurd are many of the offences for which motorists are fined. The motorists' point is that, if they are punished, they should be punished for a real offence. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Stretford Division used an argument with which there is a great deal of sympathy on the other side of the House. He asks, Why should motorists go faster than the present traffic? But why should they not? Surely, if they desire to go faster, and if it can be done with safety, as we contend it can, why should they not be allowed to do so? I do not think that the President of the Board of Trade need have any very great anxiety in connection with the argument that motor-car traffic ought to be stopped because it goes faster than horse and trap traffic. With regard to horses, every motorist knows that horses which are alarmed at motor-cars are becoming very rare. Hon. Members who disagree speak perhaps from knowledge of one or two horses, but a motorist passes thousands of horses. My own experience is that it is becoming very rare for a horse to be alarmed at a motor. In Ireland the other week, when everybody went at any speed they pleased, so intelligent were the people, and so well were the horses handled, that it was very rarely indeed that a horse was frightened and nobody was injured.

MR. DELANY (Queen's County, Ossory)

I only escaped with my life.


With regard to children and horses, there would be just as much danger if there were a speed limit of twenty-five miles. I believe that if this Bill passes, the rate of speed from point to point will be less than at present. Under the Bill special areas will be marked out by the local authorities, in which the rate of speed will be reduced to ten miles an hour, under very heavy penalties, and I honestly believe that a motorist will make slower progress under the regulations provided by this Bill than at present. Motorists desire the abolition of the speed limit in order that reckless motorists and professional motorists in the employ of the makers—and they are the greatest offenders—may not imagine that because a certain speed is mentioned that that speed is always permissible. If a limit of twenty-five miles an hour were fixed, a motorist would defend himself on the ground that he was only travelling twenty-four miles. A motorist must be responsible for the safety of the public at whatever pace he goes, and that is the only means by which the public safety can be guaranteed. I think that every motorist will desire to support this Bill. Every advance in invention necessarily brings some disadvantage. No one can deny that there are certain disadvantages connected with motor-cars. There is the question of dust; but every effort is being made to find some means to prevent that inconvenience. No legislation can possibly stop the progress of motor-cars. Legislation may possibly postpone that progress, and give a great advantage to foreign manufacturers; but it cannot stop it. Motoring is going to have an enormous social effect in this country, by placing long distances within the reach of every moderately well to-do member of the community. It is going to enlarge the scope of social life far more than is yet realised. In a few years there will not be a horse-drawn van in the streets of London. That is my firm conviction. I believe that when a motor-cycle which will enable a man to cover fifteen or twenty miles just as easily as he can now cover five miles on an ordinary bicycle is by means of deferred payments within the reach of every well to-do artisan, it must necessarily have a very considerable effect upon the housing problem in large cities. These things are coming, and they cannot be stopped. The motor-car industry is going to be one of the greatest in this country. It may be delayed, but stopped it cannot be; and, therefore, I most earnestly desire that we shall arrive at some common ground of agreement. In conclusion, I would say, as I began, that motorists are at least as well disposed towards their fellow creatures as any other class of the community, and we shall only get a good Bill if hon. Gentleman will only bring themselves to believe so.

SIR PHILIP MUNTZ (Warwickshire, Tamworth)

Some years ago this House imposed a common-sense restriction of twelve miles an hour on the speed of ordinary vehicular traffic. I and many other Members of this House believe that that was a wise and necessary regulation, and we fail to see why motors should be allowed to be driven at a greater speed than the ordinary traffic. Motor-cars are much more dangerous. If they collide with other vehicles it means the destruction of the latter, and I really cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman, having at last taken up this matter, should have removed the speed limit. With this exception the Bill is an excellent one; it will require a few minor Amendments in Committee, but otherwise it contains everything we require for the control of the motor traffic. Having carefully watched and seen the danger and inconvenience of that traffic in the Midland counties, I am not prepared to leave it to the motorists to determine at what speed it is safe to travel. If for no other reason than to give motorists an indication of the speed at which they might travel, I think this House ought to impose a reasonable limit, which, in my opinion, should be that at present fixed for ordinary vehicular traffic. If that were included in the Bill, I should be quite prepared to vote for the Second Reading, but unless we have a pledge that such a limit will be inserted I shall vote against the Bill. It would be dangerous—almost wicked—to allow racing-mad motorists to travel at whatever speed they thought to be safe. They have no idea of what is safe but if you fix a definite limit it will act as a guide to them. I understand the principal reason for omitting the speed limit to be that the present restriction has not been effective. Why has it not been effective? Because there was no means of identification. Means of identification ought to have been established long since. If they had been in existence not only the police but every private individual who saw a motor travelling at excessive speed could have taken out a summons against the owner. It should be made impossible for any man who commits an offence to escape. This is no trifling matter. I have received hundreds of letters on the subject from every part of the Kingdom and all sections of the community, urging me to press my objection to the Bill unless a speed limit is introduced. The feeling among agriculturists is so intense that many of them state that unless such a limit is introduced they will not consider the right hon. Gentleman worthy of their support in the future. Many of these letters are couched in language which is neither polite nor Parliamentary; I have some in my pocket which came to hand this morning and might be edifying to the House. [Cries of "Read "].

Then there is the dust question. It looks a very simple matter, and an hon. Member opposite has said that something is to be done to prevent dust. I am an old user of the roads, and I do not believe in roads on which there will be no dust. The farmers are indignant beyond description. The hon. Member opposite says that nobody has been killed in the Metropolis during the last twelve months. That may be so, but among the agricultural community there have been several cases in which men have been nearly frightened to death, horses have had to be killed, and much valuable property has been destroyed. You cannot be surprised that agriculturists view the matter with great dissatisfaction Farmers do not dare send out wagons except with more attendants than used to be the case, and that is a serious matter in the way of expense. I would urge all my friends who represent agricultural constituencies in this House to vote against the Bill unless a reasonable speed limit is introduced. The value of property is in many cases being absolutely destroyed. I know a beautiful suburban residential district in which not only are rents having to be reduced, but it is being found impossible to let the houses at all, simply because of the motor traffic nuisance, caused by the excessive speed and the dust arising there from. Why should the people be driven out of their gardens, and, instead of enjoying the summer evenings, be compelled to go inside and shut all the doors and windows? I contend that in the interest of all classes of the community it is most important that some restriction of speed should be imposed, the dust nuisance dealt with, and the present danger to life and limb removed.


Hon. Members must have been somewhat astonished at the arguments which have been adduced for and against this Bill. The hon. Member opposite says he has had communications not only from his own constituents, but from all parts of the Kingdom. The reason why those letters have been sent to him is very simple. He is well-known as a horseman, and his name has been familiar in the shires for the last 50 years. I myself have often seen him galloping along the roads more rapidly than any motor-car I ever saw in my life. As to the speed limit, there are times when it is safe to go much above the present limit, and there are other times when it is dangerous to go at even five miles an hour. How, then, any reasonable man can argue in favour of a hard and fast line passes my comprehension. The hon. Member for Westminster brought forward entirely new reasons for imposing a limit. The first was that as the House of Lords had first dealt with this Bill, a speed limit should at once be inserted. Another extraordinary suggestion was that foreigners made these cars, and therefore the speed should be restricted. Why is the hon. Member so very English? I always understood that he himself came from the other side of the water. The hon. Member for Barnstaple objected that the President of the Local Government Board had given too much attention to the Bill, and that the supporters of the Bill were motorists who knew something about the subject, and who ought, therefore, to be disqualified from speaking on the question We were also told that the roads were not made for motors Neither were rabbits made for skinning. Motors have as much right on the roads as the hon. Member himself with his carriage. The hon. Member also told us that this was entirely a rich man's Bill, and he drew a piteous picture of certain garments, covered with dust, fluttering in the midnight air. I venture to say that those garments would flutter away just the same even if there were no motors, except in the Highlands, where they do not wear them. In Ireland we have had an object-lesson with regard to motor-cars. There were over a thousand motor-cars in Dublin, going about unrestricted as to speed, and there was not a single accident of any kind in Dublin itself. If ever there was an object lesson it was in Ireland recently, where for over ten days in Dublin motor-ears ran about the streets, and there was not a single accident of any kind. The hon. Member for St. Austell Division came much nearer the proper way to protect the public when he said that he considered that those who drove motor-cars should have some qualification. I was delighted to see the President of the Local Government Board give way upon that subject, for that is the curse of the whole matter. If you put a novice to drive a motor-car, that is a danger to the public on the high road. I suggest to the President of the Local Government Board that all these arguments which have been used, after all, come round to the one thing, that, if you have a man who understands his business, at all events, the safety of the public is not in great danger, or not in any greater danger than in the case of someone driving horses who knows nothing about them. I press upon the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of taking steps to see that drivers are fully qualified. I congratulate the hon. Member who is connected with the motor industry upon the speech he has made. I hope the House will pass this Bill, and I trust that those who are led away by prejudice like the hon. Member for Rugby, and who are great horse riders, will not press for a speed limit. I would like to know what the hon. Member would think if a speed limit were introduced in regard to riding with the hounds?

MR. JOHN STROYAN (Perthshire, W.)

said he was strongly of opinion that the speed limit was absolutely necessary. They had heard a great deal from various speakers of the excellent roads on Salisbury Plain and their suitability for motor-car driving. They were told that these roads were level, that one could see a considerable distance ahead, and that it was fairly safe to drive at great speed on such roads. That might be true with regard to Salisbury Plain, but there was another side to the picture, as, for instance, with regard to the roads in his constituency of West Perthshire. That was perhaps one of the most favoured touring and motoring districts in Scotland, but the roads were not eminently suitable for motoring, because although they had excellent surfaces they were often on the side of a hill with a precipice on the other side. In some cases they were only twelve feet wide and in very few cases were they more than twenty feet in width, so that it would be dangerous to drive motor-cars on them at a high rate of speed. He held further that even on moderately good roads it was absolutely dangerous to the public to allow motor-cars to be driven at excessive rates of speed. It was dangerous to the traffic, to the carriages and horses, and to farm teams. In fact, agriculturists found them unmitigated nuisances, and were up in arms against them. It was not consistent with the safety of the public that they should be allowed to go at unlimited speed. They might just as well level up the railway tracks and use them as highways, because in that case there would be the benefit that they would know which portion of the road to avoid. He contended that if the roads throughout the country which were not intended for motoring were to be used for that purpose, they must be used only under such conditions as were consistent with the public safety.


I am quite in agreement with my hon. friend the Member for Barnstaple as to this Bill being an insufficient measure. I believe that the two most urgent points are the provision of adequate means of identification, which should be as perfect as can possibly be made, and the provision of adequate penalties. I feel so strongly that the provision in regard to identification should not be postponed, that I hesitate to do anything which would endanger the proviso in this Bill dealing with that question, passing into law. With regard to penalties, everybody will agree that at present they are quite useless. There was quite recently a case at Aldershot where a sergeant was knocked down and seriously injured by a motor-car, which was apparently being driven with the grossest carelessness, and the maximum penalty was only £10. It is necessary that we should be able to inflict the penalty of imprisonment, because I do not believe a money penalty is of the slightest use. I would almost consent in some cases to the punishment of flogging. The present, speed limit is obviously useless, and I agree with my hon. and learned friend that the maximum speed is very liable to become the minimum. It has been said that a speed limit is necessary as a guide to the motorist. We do not want them to fancy that they can drive up to any limit; they must have the full responsibility upon themselves, and they should not go so fast as to endanger the safety of the public, although that speed may not be more than five or six miles per hour. It is impossible for any witness to tell how fast a motor-car is going, but you can easily form an opinion as to whether it is going too fast for the safety of the public. When I meet a motor-car I want to be able to swear whether it is going too fast for the safety of the public. You have not the slightest idea as to the actual speed at which a motor-car is running, but you can very fairly form an idea as to whether it is going too fast for the safety of the public. I earnestly hope the right hon. Gentlemen will leave it to the House to judge and not make it a Party question. I am quite impartial upon this subject, and if hon. Members do not get the Amendments they desire in Committee they can always vote against the Third Reading. Personally I am so anxious not to lose the two provisions to which I have alluded that I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, and reserve to myself the right to vote against the Third Reading if I do not get the Amendments I desire inserted.


I think that the question of penalties has much to do with the efficiency of this Bill. I agree with the various speakers who have stated that a fine is little or no discouragement to the owner of a motor-car The phrase a "road hog" has been used, and it is one to remember. The "road hog" is the man who drives a motor-car without the least regard for the safety or comfort of others on the road, who will steer quite close to the restive horse or the nervous pedestrian to enjoy time sport. I say that to fine such a man is puerile; he should be sent to prison. Up to the present time there has been no power to send the "road hog" to prison. He is as much blamed by respectable motorists as by pedestrians or horse riders. This Bill is supposed, inside and outside of this House, to convey the power to enable the magistrates to send the "road hog" to prison. I desire the attention of my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board while I inquire whether or not the Bill does give that power. When I turn to Clause 9 I find that a person guilty of an offence under the Act for which no special penalty is provided may he sent to prison, and when I turn to Clause 7 I find that for certain excesses of speed over what is stated as fixed by the local authorities penalties may be inflicted. I submit, as a layman, simply that so far as the Bill goes it does not convey the power to a bench of magistrates to inflict imprisonment as an alternative to a fine. That is one of the superstitions concerning the Bill similar to that exploded by my hon. and learned friend on the question of a policeman having a new power to arrest a person guilty in his sight of furious driving. I desire to emphasise what has been said by the hon. Baronet as to the strong feeling that exists throughout the country regarding this question. I have them honour to represent one of the Divisions of the West Riding of Yorkshire. The County Council of the West Riding have received, from most of the districts under their care, petitions strongly advocating the provision of a speed limit in the Bill. I believe that is a feeling which is shared by every agricultural district in the country. Therefore I appeal as powerfully as I can to my right hon. friend, having regard to the strong feeling which has been expressed on both sides of the House this afternoon in favour of the imposition of a speed limit, to reconsider his view on this matter and to make at the earliest possible moment some announcement on behalf of the Government.

MR. HELME (Lancashire, Lancaster)

As the motor-car has come to stay, it is necessary for this House to be very careful to make such arrangements as will not prevent the free use of this useful vehicle, while at the same time protecting the interests of the public. I rise, Sir, only for the purpose of presenting the opinion of certain of my constituents, who have asked me, as the hon. Member opposite has been asked, to endeavour, as far as may be in my power, to secure from the Government an alteration of this Bill, so that we may have the many advantages which are undoubtedly likely to accrue under it, provided they will consent to the imposition of a speed limit. I would earnestly ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter, and relieve the House from the difficulty of having to reject the Bill, for that is the alternative which we should have to face. The experience of most men is that the travelling public, whether by foot or horse carriage, is very seriously interfered with by the reckless driving complained of. On the other hand, motorists have a right to the use of the roads as well as others. Therefore, without going into the general question at all, I would state that I have received a resolution from the Rural District Council of Garstang "strongly protesting against any extension of the present speed limit of motor-cars," and yet approving of proposals met by the general provisions of the Bill. I received a letter this morning from a medical man in the same district, in which he says he has read Mr. Long's apology for the Bill. The speed limit must be the most important part of such a Bill. He says he has had unusual opportunities for ascertaining the opinion of the residents in the district, and he has not spoken to a single man who agrees with Mr. Long in this Bill. The only other matter I wish to put, is in regard to the position of the County Councils. I do claim on behalf of the County Councils that they should be trusted with the determination of the points alluded to, and not be subject to the control in these matters,of the Local Government Board. I appeal to the Government to meet the expressed wish of the House in this matter, and adopt a limit of speed. I believe also there is a strong volume of public opinion outside this House which demands it, and is well worthy of consideration. Therefore I think, if the right hon. Gentleman would at once meet the general expression of opinion and allow this matter to be dealt with in Committee, this discussion might be rapidly brought to a close, and the business of the session not be unduly prolonged.


I think it will be perhaps on the whole convenient that I should state now very briefly the view I have formed. I will deal with the one point on which the debate has centred this afternoon. There has been a general expression of approval of the greater part of the provisions of the Bill, and there has also been a practically unanimous declaration from all quarters in the House that legislation is urgently needed. Most things effected in this House are brought about by compromise. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, speaking from the point of view of those who favour and also those who are opposed to motor-cars, while finding great fault with one particular feature of the Bill, have endeavoured to meet the Government in a manner which I recognise, and to help them in dealing with this extremely difficult question. I attach full importance to the views of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the question. I claim myself to be an impartial examiner into this question, having no predilections one way or the other. If I had any predilections I am afraid they would be thrown into the scale against motors; for, like my hon. friend the Member for Warwickshire, I have been associated with horses all my life. But I think I may honestly claim to be impartial in this matter. I believe firmly that the view of my hon. friend the Member for Warwickshire, which has been emphasised by the hon. Baronet opposite, is the right one—that a limit of speed forms at once an indication which tells the motorist what he can do. Whether or not the limit of speed is to be a very narrow one, it, is obvious that the present speed cannot be maintained. I think common sense would tell us that there must be a speed somewhat in excess of it. I am afraid that the motorist will regard such a speed as that at which he may always go. [Cries of "No."] I am only expressing frankly the views I hold; I believe it will make it more difficult to secure convictions in some cases; but I fully recognise that my view, and the view I express on behalf of the Government, is not shared by the majority of those who have taken part in the debate, and who, I have no doubt, represent the majority of the people interested in this question. One or two suggestions have been made for the consideration of the Government. One is that the general question of the speed limit should be left an open question until we come to Committee, and the other is that some definite speed limit should be declared. I cannot accept the first suggestion, be cause I think it but an indifferent way out of the difficulty, and I cannot ask the Government to absolve themselves of responsibility in this particular case. There is a very grave responsibility to be attached to any alteration of the law which carries with it the risk of severe punishment to individuals. I am prepared, however, to make another suggestion to the House. I have stated what our views are. I will state what are the reasons that led us to form the conclusions at which we arrived.

I recognise the general feeling in the House, and that that feeling represents accurately the very strong feeling in the country. I assure the hon. Member for Warwick that it was quite unnecessary for him to reveal the secrets of his inner pockets and to show me all his correspondence. I doubt whether the letters he has received exceed or equal in warmth of expression the correspondence which I have myself received. I fully recognise, as I have said, that the feeling of the country is very strong indeed, and I hope that the debates in Parliament, as well as this legislation, will produce an alteration in the condition of things, because we all acknowledge that the motor-car has come to stay, and if properly employed will be useful for locomotion. I am prepared to make a suggestion to the House. I cannot make a definite proposal on the spur of the moment, because the question is surrounded by very considerable difficulties; but I recognise that there is a general desire that there should be some speed limit, and I am prepared, on behalf of the Government, to consider on the Committee stage whether a speed limit should be introduced, and, if so, what should be the maximum limit to which a motor-car should be allowed to go. But this on the understanding that there is to be added to the Bill, as a separate provision, that the penalties which carry with them imprisonment, must not be made applicable to that provision. There must be a distinction between an offence which consists in exceeding the recognised speed and the speed which adds to it some danger to the public. I point out to the House that there is nothing in the suggestion I have made which need lead hon. Gentlemen to think that this is not a real suggestion. We propose that there shall be two classes of offences—one, an offence committed when any particular speed is exceeded, and we propose that there shall be a graver offence, dealt with in a more serious manner, when that speed is great and the risk of the public. We propose also, under the Bill, without question as to the limit of speed at all, whether you go fast or slow, that if you are using your motor-car to the danger of the public, on a public road, then there shall be an offence punishable by heavier penalties.

* SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the spirit of sweet reasonableness which he has shown in the course of the debate. He has, first of all, given us a valuable concession in reference to the qualification of the drivers. That is a most important concession. With reference to the speed limit, I myself have not much regard for it, and I never had. When the right hon. Gentleman's Department was dealing with road locomotives on a former occasion, I had very grave doubts as to putting on a ten or twelve mile limit, and likewise as to the provision that a flag should go before a road locomotive. I thought that these were restrictions of an obsolete kind and would be merely obstructive. As time passes I am sure we shall all find that this system of a time limit is also obsolete. While that is my personal opinion, I know that there is a very strong feeling in the House and outside about the matter, but I warn the right hon. Gentleman that there will be very great difficulty in fixing the limit. There is always this great danger, that if you fix a fairly high limit it increases rapid locomotion by inducing drivers to drive up to it, and that increases the danger to the public. On the other hand, if you put a limit at too low a rate you check invention, which this House ought never to do. There is another point in connection with a speed limit which I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider before the Committee stage of the Bill. Some hon. friends behind me appealed very strongly that this matter should he left to the local authorities rather than to the central authority in London, and that each County Council should fix its own limit. That would lead to great diversity of regulations in different parts of the country and great confusion in practice, and would require that every County Council should erect at its boundaries a sign-board giving notice of the speed limit allowed in that part of the county. Still, there is a good deal of feeling that members of the County Councils ought to be allowed to regulate the traffic in their own area and on their own roads. There is another argument which the right hon. Gentlemen ought to bear in mind, and that is as regards excessive speed in its bearing on the destruction of the roads. We all know that the greater the speed of motorcars the greater is the dust and the greater is the suction made by the car, which draws out of all the crevices the dust which creates such a nuisance to those living on the roadside. That dust, moreover, leads to a large amount of danger and nuisance to those making use of the roads. Therefore the County Councils would be naturally opposed to a high rate of speed. However strongly we may personally feel on all these questions, we ought to be prepared in Committee to make concessions in order that this Bill may be passed. The feeling is universal in the country with reference to the danger of the rapid and monstrously reckless driving of some people who have been called by not too eulogistic terms in this debate. I rejoice that the right hon. Gentleman has made the penalties in the Bill as severe as he has done. I would have had them even more severe; for I believe that nothing short of imprisonment will stop the excessive speed at which some cars are driven. I do not think that the danger is in any degree so great as the public imagine, but there is a great amount of feeling in the country that demands the passage of this Bill. I hope that the passage of this measure will lessen public apprehension, and end in the safe development of a means of locomotion useful for commerce as well as pleasure.


As this is a Bill which affects Ireland as well as Great Britain, I am very glad to say that the remarks which I intended to make will be different now, because of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. I think the right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on the fact that he has, at the eleventh hour, by the attitude he has taken, secured the passage of the Bill which is desired by the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Otherwise, after the strong lead of the hon. Member for Westminster, the Bill, in all human probability, would never have become law this session. I have a confident belief—and I think I speak on behalf of the Irish Members—that with the Amendments suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, this Bill will pass into law to the intense satisfaction of the general public. I only say that I wish to goodness the Government were always as responsive to the expression of public opinion as in this case. I am certain that if a general election had taken place on this question of speed limit, the opponents of that provision would have been hopelessly defeated. An hon. Member below the Gangway said that there had not been very many fatal accidents in the streets of London. But that has been because the people in the streets have been obliged to fly for their lives. I happen to live facing one of the greatest thoroughfares in London, where thousands and thousands pass every hour; and I know what the feeling of the man in the street is. The people scatter and disperse in every direction whenever they see a motor-car coming along as if before a charge of cavalry. The people in the streets ought not to be called upon to fly to the pavements when a motor-car passes. There was one view expressed by an hon. Member, which I hope will never be realised viz., that the day was at hand when horses would completely disappear from our streets, and when every sturdy artisan would be found careering along to his work on a motor-bicycle. I say it reverently, "God forbid we should ever see such a day as that." I am not opposed to the motor industry; I have not the slightest objection to motors; but I do say that of all the forms of motoring the motor-bicycle is the most despicable. Some discussion has arisen in this country lately as to the physique of the people; but I am quite convinced that if the hope of the right hon. Gentleman were realised, and every citizen spent his time on, and got his life shaken out of him by a motor-bicycle, we would soon have the worst physique in the whole world. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman for two reasons. In the first place, because a useful Bill would be passed, and secondly, because he could go home relieved of the necessity of remaining to divide the Committee on the point.


said that having regard to the fact that they might look upon the right hon. Gentleman's promise in the nature of a pledge that he would fix a reasonable speed limit in Committee he would ask leave to withdraw his Motion. He thought the County Councils ought to have full power of regulating the speed on their own roads.

MR. MURRAY (Coventry)

said he should like to have some further information regarding the sweet reasonableness with which the President of the Local Government Board had been credited. He agreed that the speed limit was a vital matter, and his reason for further debating the Bill was that they had hitherto considered it as a whole, and this concession entirely altered the conditions. He thought it bore very hardly on those motorists who were not very rich men. He sympathised with what the right hon. Gentleman had said with regard to motor-bicyclists, as he represented a constituency in which this industry had taken root, and which, in one city alone, gave occupation to 2,500 workingmen. He should be failing in his duty if he did not attempt to protect their interests. This industry had produced last year, without counting motor-cars for the rich, small forms of cars to the number of 8,000. He thought that when they looked at the savage penalties introduced into this Bill, which might affect men of small means, they ought to hesitate in passing it. For extreme cases he did not think the penalties were too severe, but the penalties for working-men, who bought a motor-bicycle by instalments, which would be inflicted by magistrates who considered all motorists to be lunatics, opened a vista of considerable danger to a large section of the population. The users of motor-cars would not be frightened off the roads. They wished to use them without driving off other people. In his opinion they ought not to accept the withdrawal of the Motion without fully considering the effect it would have on the Bill, and he thought they ought to have some expression of opinion from those interested in the motor industry, whether under the new condition of affairs the House should permit the Motion to be withdrawn.

MR. SEELY (Lincoln)

said he wished to appeal to the President of the Local Government Board and to the House generally to carefully think over the question of these very savage penalties which had been inserted in the Bill. They had that day heard that motors were intended as toys for the rich, but he would point out that motor-bicycles were used by men with weekly salaries of only £2 or £3. Only the other day a man in receipt of a weekly salary of £2 was under the present unreasonable law fined £5. He was riding at a quiet and reasonable speed with another cyclist who was not on a motor-cycle, and was stopped by a policeman, who would listen to nothing as to what the actual speed was, but insisted that they were exceeding the legal limit and summoned him, with the result that he was fined a sum in excess of a fortnight's income. That was the kind of case that caused the motorists to think the present law was unreasonable. It allowed a sentence of three months imprisonment to be passed if in the opinion of the magistrate or policeman, which might or might not be right, the motorist was driving recklessly or negligently, and without regard to the nature, condition, or use of the highway and the amount of traffic that might be expected to be on the said highway. He thought that these penalties were very strong, although they had to a certain extent been accepted by a number of motorists, who were anxious to provide a remedy for the present state of affairs. He had the greatest sympathy with the hon. Member for Cornwall, who had mentioned a fact that had occurred to him. The same thing had happened to himself, when a motorist deliberately turned the car towards him and frightened his horse. But all that would be completely altered by the provision for registration, and in the future if any one behaved improperly they had the means of identifying him and having him punished. That would do away with the ill-feeling which had been caused by improper conduct on the part of certain motorists in the past. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman that if he was going to alter the Bill and put in a reasonable speed limit, he should at the same time leave out these savage penalties which were a relic of the mediæval old-fashioned times. Let them act on modern progressive and liberal ideas and inflict moderate penalties and a proper system of identification, rather than inflict savage penalties which were only fit for the old times when a man was hanged for stealing a sheep.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said the motor-cars seen on the streets could only be likened to the cars of Juggernaut. The people had a perfect right to the use of the highway, and the House ought to take good care to see that the motor-cars should be as little danger to the wayfarer as possible. The hon. Member who had last addressed the House talked about the savage penalties that might be inflicted under the Bill, and instanced the penalty of three months' imprisonment, but hon. Members would remember that the offenders did not necessarily get that punishment, although the magistrate had the power to inflict it. The hon. Gentleman had also said they were going back to the mediæval times. That was just what they were not doing. In those good old times the gallant knight could gallop down the road throwing down honest citizens and no penalty at all was inflicted. He wanted some sort of punishment to be given that would prevent reckless people from endangering the lives of others on the high road, and therefore he hoped the President of the Local Government Board would not reduce the penalties. What had been done was that the right hon. Gentleman had said—"I am going to put in a speed limit. A rider may exceed that by mistake. If it is a mistake he shall only be fined, but if he injures any person or drives negligently where there is much traffic, and produces ill or havoc to those using the road, then he shall be liable to imprisonment." They heard a good deal of every working-man going about on his motor-car, but they knew that was not the sort of machine on which the working man as a rule would go to his work, for the reason that not only was the initial cost heavy, but there was the additional cost per hour of working whether by electricity or petroleum. He admired the Bill as it stood, and had a sound and great admiration for the right hon. Gentleman. They wanted a law by which persons could be prevented from upsetting others and then driving away without being recognised. The Bill had two great advantages. It insisted on the registration of the machine, and it also insisted on the registration of the driver. Even if the Bill went no further than that it would do good. But he thought that in the interests of the public it would be a mistake not to have a limit of speed. The right hon. Gentleman knew that if there was a strong opposition the Bill could not be passed this session, and he made certain concessions, and I think very fair concessions, and I hope the Bill will pass through a much better one than it was before, in consequence. In all these things it is not a question of politics; you may call them fads or principles or anything you like, but this is exactly one of those Bills on which, unless concessions are made, we should talk to extinction. The House of Lords, which generally passes a Bill in ten minutes, took three days; we probably in proportion would take three weeks. In this matter I am much in the position of the Prime Minister; I have no confirmed convictions. But there is just one point. I see there is to be a limit in towns of twelve miles an hour. [An HON. MEMBER: No, ten.] Well ten. I think that is a deal too fast; I should have put it at six. Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but the roads are made for all mankind and hon. Members know how they are troubled and how their nerves are shaken by this rapid locomotion. I am an old man, but if I walk in London I have to bound and skip about like a boy. I think six miles an hour is enough. But outside towns I think wherever there is an agglomeration of houses, boards should be put up in order to warn motorists and prevent motor-cars going fast through those places. It is not so much that there is much traffic, but there are a number of children who come to play in the road and the thing is dangerous to them. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider that in making these changes, and with these modifications the Bill will pass without much discussion.


I will not detain the House from the Division but for a few minutes, but there are two points I wish to mention regarding the concessions made by the right hon. Gentleman, to which I hope attention will be given. Firstly, we are going to have a speed limit. I hope it will be some moderate and reasonable one. I am not sure that the present limit of twelve miles an hour is not high enough, but I hope it will not exceed fifteen to twenty miles at most. (Cries of "Keep it twelve.") Secondly the right hon. Gentleman has indicated that the penalty for the offence of driving beyond the authorised limit will be a different penalty from that prescribed in Clause 1 for going at a reckless speed and dangerous driving. That is right, but I hope that the penalty for exceeding the authorised limit will not be an illusory one, as it is at present. Persons now habitually exceeded the limit, and paid the fine with the utmost satisfaction. They pay the fine of £5, and look upon it as part of the game. Those persons must be stopped, and I, for one, trust that the penalties for exceeding the limits will be adequate pecuniary penalties. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the decision he has arrived at, which has given the utmost satisfaction to the House.

MR. SPEAR (Devonshire, Tavistock)

It has been suggested by an hon. Member that the motor-car industry will be ruined by the imposition of a speed limit. I venture to say that, having regard to the strong feeling in the West of England against the abolition of the speed limit, the right hon. Gentleman, by the concession he has made, has rendered the greatest possible service to the motor-car industry. If the Bill had been passed without the speed limit there would have been such dissatisfaction that the industry would have suffered considerably. I rise on behalf of my constituents to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the concession he has made. They feel that the Bill, with the exception of the regulation as regards speed, is a very good one indeed, and so strong is their feeling against the abolition of the speed limit that they would rather have no Bill at all if that were taken away. I think the moderation shown by the right hon. Gentleman will produce a better feeling between motorists and the public, and that the public will recognise the right of motorists to use the roads, and that the motorists will also recognise that the people have a right to use them in a proper manner.

* MR. JOHN DEWAR (Inverness)

I should like to call attention to one matter not touched upon to-night, and get some assurance that it would have the attention of the Government in this Bill. No power is taken under this Bill to prohibit motors from using certain roads altogether. There are many roads so constructed that no motors should be allowed to go upon them under any consideration. In my own constituency there were two accidents involving fourteen people in a week. They were not necessarily due to a high rate of speed or reckless driving, but were as likely as not to be due to the construction of the road, and to the motors coming suddenly round a corner and frightening horses which were coming the other way. I want the right hon. Gentleman to introduce in Committee a provision giving power to the County Councils, with the consent of the Local Government Board, to schedule certain roads, as is done, I understand, in France and Belgium.

MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR (Essex, Rumford)

Sir, I have listened to this debate with great interest, and it seems to me that the House of Commons are making a mistake in imagining that the present Bill is not a severe blow to the motor drivers. I consider the penalties in this Bill are so severe as to be almost savage in certain cases. I heard one hon. Member say he would like to imprison a man for exceeding the limit of speed, and the evidence in the case would be that of policemen and others, who had been put up to swear he was driving at an excess speed. I have never been fined, but I say, so far as the Bill is concerned, the question of a speed limit is in no way an objection. I think that a Bill might he brought in in order to deal with people who are ruining the motor-car industry, mid if for that purpose the question of higher penalties were to arise to deal with men, who make themselves objectionable by shewing no consideration whatever to those who have a perfect right to use the high roads, such a Bill would receive the support of everybody. It has been said that if this Bill is not passed now we may have to submit to a very much more stringent Bill in the future. That only shows how we have to knuckle down to the ignorance of this House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday.