§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of TRANSPORT (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The problem with which we have to deal this afternoon, that of accidents upon the roads, is one the gravity of which cannot be exaggerated, and yet I doubt whether the general public are really alive to the terrible extent of the fatalities and accidents that occur. I wonder, for instance, if the ordinary man realises this one simple fact. It is now half-past three, and by the time Mr. Speaker, at. Eleven o'clock, puts the Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," on the basis of the law of averages, 180 people will have met with injury on the roads of this country. I do not think the general public is yet alive to the full tragedy of that story; but, if the general public are not aware of it, the House of Commons is. The questions that have been put to me during the past few months and the Debate that we had recently have shown in all quarters of the House a realisation of the urgency of the problem and a determination that something shall be done to deal with it.
No one can be surprised at the introduction of the Bill. No one can attribute to it the reason which we are sometimes apt to attribute to some of the Bills introduced into the House, and that is a feeling that Members might perhaps be better engaged criticising Bills upstairs than in critcising the Government on the Floor of the House. No one can attribute the parentage of this Bill to a desire on the part of the Chief Whip to keep people out of mischief. If we are all agreed that something must be done and that there is a necessity for a Bill, it is when we come to the contents of the Bill that difficulties and divergencies begin to appear. The Bill is the proposal which the Government make for dealing, as far as any form of Statute can deal, with this particular problem.
When I introduced the Bill and its terms were published I expected criticism, and this is one of the few cases where results 168 are always up to one's expectations. I not only expected criticism, but I welcomed it, and I welcome it this afternoon, because I feel that a subject of this kind is pre-eminently one for a House of Commons Debate. So often we come down here in the afternoon and have a discussion on some great political issue on which a great gap exists between the two sides of the House, to which all Members of the House are already alive by years of training, thought and tradition, and which a few hours of debate can never hope to bridge. At other times we come here to discuss subjects so complex, so unknown to the ordinary man, that only a few possessed of expert knowledge, or those who can use words which conceal ignorance of the subject, can take part, while the Government spokesman, having at his back a wealth of material and facts not available to others, is in a position which makes debate almost impossible. That is not the sort of occasion that we have before us this afternoon.
There is no great political issue involved in this question. You may be a good Tory and believe in tests for drivers. You may believe in a speed limit in built-up areas without fearing the disciplinary action of the Socialist party. Even my hon. Friends below the Gangway opposite can on this occasion come down firmly on one side or the other, or both, without any thought of treachery to their past or disadvantage to their future. There is no hidden mystery in this subject. All the facts are available to all of us. We are all road users. We all have our experiences of the problem, and we have all thought out conclusions based upon that experience. We are all, therefore, in a position to add something to the common knowledge in a discussion of this character.
Therefore, it is pre-eminently an afternoon when criticism is valuable, but I should like to add this, that to be of value criticism must be impartial. That is not nearly as easy as it sounds. It is fatally easy, quite subconsciously, to allow the guiding factor to be not the security of the public, but the convenience of the critic. It is fatally easy to persuade ourselves quite sincerely that the whole problem can be solved by somebody else's action at somebody else's expense. There is the school of thought which says that there is no need to worry 169 about restrictions, no need for users of the road to put up with anything if only we spend enough money on the roads: if only the millions which the Government receive from motorists, by motor taxation or petrol duties, are spent on the improvement of the roads. I believe that to be nonsense, and dangerous nonsense. There is a great deal that we can do to the roads. There is a great deal that we can do to improve them. A great deal of ingenuity, time and money can be spent on them, but when we have done that, when we have spent all that time, all that ingenuity and all that money, all that we shall end in doing is in making the roads safer but not safe. Ignorance and folly can kill a man just as surely on a modern by-pass as on an old country road.
I do not believe that there is any possibility of finding any real solution of this problem unless all of us are prepared to bear burdens ourselves as well as to impose burdens upon others, and unless all of us are prepared in some degree to subordinate our personal convenience and our personal desires to the general need of public security. In considering the contents of the Bill it is necessary to retain a sense of proportion. I suppose it is inevitable that a Bill which is going to impose certain restrictions has a more dramatic appeal and receives more publicity than other forms of Government action, but I would remind the House that what I am proposing this afternoon is only a part, and not necessarily by any means the most important part, of the action we have to take if this problem is to be solved.
There is the question of road safety, the improved construction and maintenance of roads with a special view to the security of the user. I have seen many criticisms in the Press why provisions dealing with skidding surfaces, the camber and the elevations at corners are not in the Bill. The answer is simple. All these suggestions are in their proper place, which is a circular that has been issued to highway authorities, and I can assure the House that as far as that branch of the problem is concerned we have initiated great advances, and we intend to pursue them to the end. Then there are experiments which we are making in road control. The one which has now reached the most advanced stage is that of traffic lanes. Thanks to the 170 co-operation of local authorities some 65 miles of these traffic lanes were in use during the Easter holidays. There has not been time to receive any real report of the experience gained during that period, but I am certainly not prepared to say that we shall not obtain from experiments of this nature information of great value.
Finally, there is the help of propaganda. In the week before Easter we started a vast propaganda campaign for road safety. The Press have given every assistance, and four film companies on the Thursday before Easter released films dealing with the question. The British Broadcasting Corporation also started a weekly talk by people well qualified to advise the road user, and the National Safety First Association have began a campaign in the country. We cannot say yet what effect this campaign has had, but the general impression seems to be that over Easter there has been better driving and less accidents than formerly. But even if that be so, even if the figures, when we get them, show that as a result of this appeal there has been a marked improvement, we must not attach too much importance to it. We have had experience of similar campaigns and similar improvement. It is quite clear that a campaign which is started at such a high pitch cannot be kept up at the same pitch for ever, and we must recognise that however beneficial may be the immediate results they are comparatively transient in their effect unless they are reinforced by other and more permanent measures.
I do not propose to go through the Bill in detail. Many of the proposals are self explanatory, many of them are almost uncontroversial. I want to confine myself to discussing the four principal proposals, those which are likely to arouse the greatest doubt and difficulty in the minds of hon. Members. They are the speed limit in built-up areas, the test for new drivers, the establishment of pedestrian crossings, and the amendments which we have made in the law of compulsory insurance. First of all, with regard to the speed limit of 30 miles an hour in built-up areas. It is now about four years since the general speed limit of 20 miles an hour was abolished by my predecessor, Mr. Morrison. I thought at the time that it was an act which required 171 a considerable amount of courage. It was so easy for what he did to be misrepresented, for people to say, "You are actually encouraging people to drive faster." It needed a man of firm conviction and courage to carry that proposal.
The arguments upon which he based his decision were that a speed limit of 20 miles an hour all over the country was unenforceable, that everybody knew that it was being broken daily and hourly, and that nobody in fact had any intention of keeping it; that the reason it was unenforceable was that it was unreasonable. It had its origin in the days when motor cars were in their infancy, and it ignored all the more recent developments; that it, in fact, went far farther than any safety requirements could justify, and for that reason the people of this country did not feel that in breaking this regulation they were doing anything which a good citizen should not do. I entirely agree with the decision which Mr. Morrison then took, and I should be just as opposed now to the reimposition, as he was opposed then to the retention, of any general speed limit whatsoever, whether it is at the old figure of 20 miles an hour or at a higher figure, and I have definitely drafted the Bill in a way which will make it impossible for me or any of my successors to extend the present provision of the speed limit in built-up areas into a general speed limit without coming to Parliament and asking for its sanction in a new Bill.
But that is not all the picture. Anybody who reads the Debates of 1929–30 will realise that great hopes were then expressed as to the effects of the Act. It was believed that it would result in a marked diminution in the number of accidents, and that the other provisions which were taking the place of the speed limit would be of great benefit to the users of the roads. Looking back over the four years, we have to admit that the hopes entertained have been largely falsified. It is true that the passage of that Bill was followed in two years by a decline. Part of that decline was due to the publicity given to the number of fatal accidents and dangerous driving by the passage of the Bill, and part undoubtedly due to a decline in the number of vehicles on the roads. But, unfortunately, in the last 18 months we have 172 had definite and unmistakable signs of a turn, and there has been a steady and gradual growth in the number of accidents until we are now just about where we were in 1930. It is clear that we must resurvey the field.
The matter of the speed limit is, of course, one which must naturally receive deep consideration. One hears many arguments as to speed as being the important factor in accidents. Most people will agree that as a factor in accidents speed is only relative. It depends on the circumstances in which it is used, the nature of the road, the climatic conditions; varying circumstances may make speed the most important factor or reduce it to insignificance. What we shall all agree upon is that speed reduces our power to deal with the unexpected. No one can deny that if you are going 20 or 30 miles an hour and something which you could not have foreseen happens you have a reasonable chance of avoiding it, but if you are going 40, 50 or 60 miles an hour, the chance is negligible. That really is the basis of the proposal in the Bill. On the open road with no crossings, with no houses, with hundreds of yards of visibility in front one can be almost certain that the unexpected will not happen. In those circumstances, I say that speed has little effect indeed upon safety, but when you get to places where there are more crossings and where there are more houses, there are more possibilities of the unexpected happening.
When you get to the built-up area, which is all houses and all crossings, then you get to a place where the unexpected usually happens. It is there that you get the child who has been playing on the pavement suddenly running on to the middle of the road. It is there that the errand-boy comes round on his bicycle with both hands crossed in front of him. It is there that the pedestrian with an umbrella over her face suddenly walks on to the middle of the road. If you are going at 20 or 30 miles an hour, with your vehicle under control, there is a chance that you will be able to save those people from the consequences of their own mistake. But if you are going at 50 or 60 miles an hour they are dead. It is not a question of dangerous driving on the part of the motorist. The motorist may have been perfectly safe in going at his 40 or 50 miles an hour, on the assumption that everybody else was going 173 to show the same care that he was showing. "When the accident occurs, when the person is dead, the coroner's inquest will probably decide that the fault was the dead person's. But does it really matter very much whose fault it was? Is not tine important thing that the person is dead?
That is the argument for the reimposition of the speed limit. It does not imply censure on the motorist. There are of course reckless motorists and dangerous motorists; we see them every day. But that does not mean to say that the ordinary man has let down Mr. Morrison, by failing to respond to the appeal made to him when the speed limit was removed to drive reasonably and carefully. It simply means that until our reactions grow quicker, until our caution becomes more habitual, until the habits of road safety are more ingrained, over 30 miles an hour is a speed which, in an area where people are congregated, is made potentially dangerous by the almost certain fallibility of other people. It is in these built-up areas that 75 per cent. of the deaths of pedestrians occur. Pedestrians represent more than half the total of the people killed on the road, and it is a pathetic thing to say that about half of the pedestrians killed are children and old people. If we can do anything to touch that part of the problem, we shall be dealing with the part of the problem which gives us the greatest concern and seems to be the most urgent.
I ask hon. Members not to be led away by the argument that this is a proposal to go back to the old system. It will be said: "We had a speed limit of 20 miles an hour all over; it failed, and what is the good of going back?" I believe that the proposed speed limit is quite different from the former speed limit. The 20 mile an hour speed limit failed because it did not commend itself to reasonable people, but I do not believe that reasonable people will think it a great deprivation to be restricted to a speed of 30 miles an hour in these built-up areas while in the open country they are allowed to go at the speed which they consider to be safe.
As regards the definition of built-up areas, what one wishes to get is a definition which will make it as difficult as possible for the driver to break the regulation without knowing it. We must 174 also avoid as far as we can plastering the country with signboards showing where the speed limit begins and ends. For that reason, I have adopted as a general definition of a built-up area an area where a system of street lighting is in force. Up and down the country it will be found that street lighting systems do more or less coincide with the built-up areas, but it is clear that there are certain exceptions to that rule. Hon. Members who study the Bill will find that provision has been made in the machinery of the Clause for dealing with those exceptions. First, there is the case of a road, usually a new by-pass, where street lighting has been provided to the great convenience and safety of road users, but which cannot be said to run through a built-up area. One can see examples of that kind of road around London. They are particularly prevalent on the North-East coast, in Durham and Northumberland, where there are miles of road in the open country on which far-seeing local authorities have installed systems of street lighting. It will be possible for roads such as these to be excluded from the operation of the speed limit. It can be done by the local authorities themselves with my consent, or, if I think that a local authority is acting unreasonably in refusing to exclude certain areas, I can do it myself after holding a public inquiry.
That is one form of exception. There is the other case, where there is a road, usually a village street, running through a place with houses on both sides, just the sort of area to which I have been referring, but with no street lighting. It will be possible under the machinery of the Clause for the local authority with my consent to include such an area within the speed limit area even though no street lighting is provided. In that case I have not retained any power myself for the simple reason that to impose a speed limit on a particular area against the wishes of the local authority whose task it would be to enforce that limit, would be quite useless.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
On the question of the village street, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether anything which is to be done under the Bill will interfere with the present right of a local authority to ask for a lower speed limit at a place where there is a narrow lane?
§ Mr. STANLEY
No, the existing right of local authorities under the Road Traffic Act of 1930 as to applying for a special speed limit, is left completely unimpaired. With regard to these exceptions, I do not propose to allow local authorities to deal with the matter piecemeal. I am going to ask them, if and when the House gives its assent to the Bill, to prepare general schemes covering their areas for exceptions of either class, and I can promise the House that I shall not bring this Clause into effect until I am in a position to see that I can deal with the exceptions of both characters.
I pass to the question of tests for drivers which is one of the most controversial and difficult questions involved in these proposals. It is a controversy with a long history behind it, and I admit that on this subject my predecessors have taken a different view from me. The general argument advanced against a driving test is one which carries no weight with me. It is that the reckless driver will be able to pass such a test and that, if he can subdue his recklessness for long enough, he can get past the examiner. It is true that in that case he will be on the road. But he is on the road now. By having a test you are not doing anything more than is done already in that respect. The logical purpose of a test for drivers is not to put people off the roads, but to put people on to the roads with some sense of responsibility and some knowledge of the code. It is true that you will find a certain number of people who are unable to pass the test at all. There will be some whose physical condition will prevent them, some whose reactions are so slow and whose judgment is so bad that they are better off the roads. But the general run of people will eventually pass the test.
I am prepared to assume that the opponents of this Measure are right when they say that not a very large number of accidents are caused by the beginner, and that usually when he goes on the road he is too frightened, and drives too cautiously to cause many accidents. I am not so sure that it is such a negligible cause of accidents as people would have us believe, but I am prepared, for the sake of argument, to assume it. The question is whether the man who goes on the road without training, who has 176 nothing more shown to him than which is the brake, the accelerator and the gear-box, may by dint of caution gradually acquire a certain mechanical efficiency. He is able to stop, go on and turn, but what he cannot get, unless someone teaches him, is a sense of road manners, and knowledge of what he ought to do on the road, and I am convinced that in a large number of cases where you meet a man on the road who fails to do something which the decent driver does, half the time he does not know that he ought to have done it. It is not ill-will on his part when he goes along slowly in the middle of the road and pays no attention; it is not ill-will when he signals you on and at the same time puts his foot on the accelerator; it is not ill-will when he stops to prepare his picnic on the most dangerous bend of the road. It is pure ignorance, and my belief is that the real value of this test for drivers is that a man will now have to learn to drive, and, at any rate, when he goes on the road he will know what is right. It does not necessarily mean to say that when there he will do that. You have to leave it to other means to ensure, but it is, at any rate, something if he knows what is right.
With regard to the machinery of this test, I may say that I intend to approach at once the motor organisations. They have, I know, expressed complete hostility to this particular provision, and their intention is to fight it to the end; but however that may be, if Parliament should take a different view from that, and should pass this Measure, I shall appeal to them to co-operate with me in setting up machinery for carrying out these tests. Of course, if they refuse, that is their business. There are alternative methods which we can easily adopt, but I must say I think that other methods would be neither as convenient nor as economical for the motorist himself, and I have therefore every hope that they will end by co-operating.
There is only one other matter with regard to tests to which I might refer, and which everybody, whether he believes in tests or not, will approve—the power that is now to be given to the magistrates in case of conviction for careless or dangerous driving to suspend the man's licence until he passes the test. The driver who has been a driver from the start will be exempt from the 177 test, but anyone now convicted of dangerous or careless driving will be liable to have his licence suspended until he produces proof that he has passed the test. Drivers of heavy vehicles who have a special responsibility owing to the difficulties and dangers of the vehicle they are driving, will be required to obtain a special licence enabling them to drive that particular class of very heavy vehicle.
With regard to pedestrian crossings, I do not think that I need refer at any great length to this proposal, which is one that we discussed at some length in the Debate a few weeks ago. I referred then to the result of the experiment in Paris. I think, at the risk of wearying the House, I must repeat figures which are so remarkable. From 1929 to 1932, they had in the Department of the Seine, which more or less covers Paris, 50 per cent. increase in motor drivers. Unfortunately, our experience has been that accidents increase almost directly with an increase of drivers and, therefore, if we had that increase here we should normally expect in increase in the number of fatal accidents. As a matter of fact, in the period during which the experiment of pedestrian crossings was gradually developing, the fatal accidents decreased by no less than 27 per cent. That is a result so remarkable that I do not feel that we can overlook the possibility of such an experiment here. The procedure which I have adopted outside London is this. I shall lay down certain regulations governing the conduct of various classes of traffic at these pedestrian crossings. Such regulations, of course, will be subject to the approval of this House. It will then be for the local authorities to submit to me, if they so desire, schemes for the establishment of pedestrian crossings in their areas. If those schemes are sanctioned, then, automatically, the general regulations which Parliament has approved will attach to a particular scheme in a particular area.
In London, conditions are different, as I have already the power under existing Acts. There the experiment is started on a voluntary basis, or voluntary at any rate in that the regulations I intend to make do not provide for the penalties on pedestrians who cross at other than the regular crossing places. I make it voluntary in nature, because I want to be quite certain that we get over the 178 original difficulties of proper siting and proper control before we introduce any element of compulsion, but I sincerely hope that by voluntary efforts we can make it a success, and I shall certainly have no hesitation, if it is a success, in trying to save people's lives, even against their own will, by making such a system compulsory.
A further point is that of insurance. It is only four years since Mr. Morrison's great scheme was introduced. It was pointed out at the time that there were certain gaps in that scheme, and that accidents would occur in circumstances where the injured persons would get no compensation, and reasons were given as to the difficulties of finding any scheme where such gaps would not occur. I think it is much too early to pronounce any judgment upon the scheme as a whole. I know that there are a considerable number of complaints of individual cases. On the other hand, it has brought an immense benefit to numbers of people of whose cases we do not hear. But there have been disclosed certain gaps which can be remedied within the framework of the existing schemes, and hon. Members will find in Part II some attempt to do so. I do not know that I need deal with them at any length, but the main alteration is really this: In the case where a policy has been obtained by any mis-statement at the present moment the insurance company can repudiate the policy, because of that mis-statement, and leave it to the injured person, by a very laborious process, first of all suing the insured person, then bankrupting him and, finally, obtaining a right of action against the insurance company. Only then can the injured person find whether the insurance company are legally entitled to void that policy or not. Under the new provisions, the company will become liable on their policy as soon as the injured person secures a judgment, if the car was being used within the terms of the policy. It will then be for the insurance company, if they wish to repudiate, to get the declaration from the court saying that they are entitled so to do, and they will only be able to get that declaration on the ground of non-disclosure of material facts. It shifts the onus in this case from the injured person to the insurance company.
Part IV deals with certain Amendments—with the exception of the test for 179 driving heavy vehicles to which I have referred—to the 1930 Act, Amendments which experience has shown are in the interests of economy or efficiency, and are largely the result of an interview I had in the summer with the representatives of the various transport concerns. I think that there is only one thing I need say with regard to this. Everybody who has followed closely the operation of the 1930 Act knows that we are at the moment in considerable difficulty on the question of contract carriages which certain legal decisions have created, a position which is almost chaotic. The solution is extremely difficult to find. I had hoped to be in a position to include it in the Bill as originally framed, but I shall certainly, before the final stage, be able to propose to the House an Amendment.
I have attempted, as briefly as possible, to outline the major proposals in this Bill. I do not disguise the difficulties with which we are faced. The fact is that we are living in a period of transition. We have invented a machine of great power and great speed which has quickened up our lives to an enormous and incredible extent, and the human mind and the human body are not yet attuned to it. I firmly believe that a time is coming when many of the problems we are discussing to-day are going to solve themselves automatically with quickened reaction, with inherited caution, when an ingrained sense of safety is going to take the place of many of these restrictions and regulations which we now have to impose. But that is a long time ahead, and, meanwhile, all that we can do is to attempt to meet the situation as it is, and as it changes from time to time with the expedients which are to our hand. The worst of it is that we cannot always tell merely by argument what the value of these expedients is. In almost all cases we can only determine their merit by experiment, but there is this compensation: when we talk about experimenting in this connection, it is not like experimenting with our financial structure or our industrial organisation. In those cases, if you fail, you may have to face incalculable consequences; here, if the experiment fails, all it means is that a certain number of people have suffered some limited inconvenience for a certain amount of time. On the other hand, if we succeed, it means that we 180 are saving human life. If failure only means that, and success means this, I think that the one criminal thing that we can do now is not to try. It is because I believe that, that I ask the support of this House for this Measure, which is, I know, a sincere and, I believe, will be a successful attempt to do something to stop this ever-growing problem.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will congratulate the Minister on his speech, and that everyone has been impressed by many of the statements which he has made. One of the first things he said was that he would welcome criticism. To-day we are considering a matter which is almost one of life and death to the people of this country. The ever-growing casualty list makes it imperative that every man and woman should undertake a certain amount of responsibility for what is taking place. The growing nature of the accidents is so serious a problem that we are finding Press references to it day after day, and finding blame attached to this, that and the other person; but, after all, as the Minister has stated, each and everyone of us must undertake a certain responsibility, knowing that our efforts can only lead to the general good.
The Minister has clearly stated the position, and although he asked for criticisms, I do not suppose he will get very heavy criticism to-day. He may get some kindly references to alterations that may be made during the Committee stage, but to-day we must have a full dress Debate, and with the number of motorists that we have in this House, I daresay they will make the time fly, because so many of them will desire to express their views. It was very interesting when the Minister said that between the time when he got up to speak and the time when the Debate closed at least 180 accidents would have occurred throughout the country. That shows how grave the position is and makes it imperative for us all to give full consideration to this problem, with the desire to find a remedy whereby we can alleviate the present conditions.
The Bill maintains general freedom to private motor cars and motor cycles. It may be said that it is impossible to govern these kinds of vehicles, but I am 181 sure that the motor cycle to-day is the speediest and in many senses the most dangerous instrument on the road. Sometimes I see motor cyclists flying along the road at speeds which are almost beyond belief, cutting in and cutting out in a very dangerous way, and while I have no particular axe to grind in that direction, I think motor cyclists ought to be controlled to a greater extent, not only in reference to their speed on the road, but for the very dangerous curves and cuts which they make, endangering their own lives and the lives of other people as well. If they were imbued with that commonsense which is so necessary in road traffic, I am sure they would not do the things that they do.
The Bill imposes a speed limit on all motor vehicles of 30 miles an hour to apply in built-up areas. Personally, I am not a motorist, but it appears to me that 30 miles an hour is a fair speed, though I know that people who drive do not like to indulge in it, because I once heard a motorist say that the faster you went on the road, the better you liked it. That is all right if you do not come to a bump, but there is always that danger when you are exceeding the ordinary commonsense which road users ought to exercise. This speed provision, as I have said, is to apply to built-up areas, and there are lower limits for the heavier goods vehicles. I was rather amused this afternoon when I heard the Minister expounding what was a built-up area, and I think that anybody reading the Bill for the first time would think it a Chinese puzzle in this respect, because there are three kinds of areas which are to be delimited. The first definition of a built-up area is where a system of street lighting is maintained, and the Minister was quite clear on that point; the second definition provides that a lit length of road may, at the instance of the local authority, be deemed not to be a built-up area; and the third definition provides that a local authority may direct that an unlit length of road shall be deemed to be a built-up area. These, of course, are after consultation with the police and with the consent of the Minister, but here you find three definitions of one particular thing, and it will take a good deal of explanation to make people understand them.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I think they probably will not try to understand the definitions, 182 but will be interested in Subsection (6), which provides for traffic signs.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
That may be all right, but would it not be better to decide a built-up area on the lines, say, of a heavy population or property basis, in a village, town, borough, or city, rather than on the question of lighting? You will find a large number of lengths of road in what may be called built-up areas under the Bill but which are merely roads with ribbon building, with just a building line of cottage property and nothing behind it—perfectly good roads, wide and well lit. Of two evils we are told to choose the less, but in this case you have three definitions. You can have all three, but still not be sure of getting or giving satisfaction to those concerned. I would like to suggest that Sub-sections (3) and (4) of Clause I should be recast entirely in fewer words and more definite language, if possible. One thing is certain and that is that local authorities will not adopt uniform definitions, unless it is a regulation from the Ministry or the law of the land. We have got to look at the different kinds of people. One local authority might view a problem from quite a different angle from that of its neighbour, and one authority might say that such and such a road should be deemed to be in a built-up area, while an adjoining authority might say that it should not be. Consequently, they would have to appeal to the Minister to help them out of the difficulty.
While we are describing a built-up area we are not saying anything whatever about the protection of the pedestrian. In many of the built-up areas we shall find roads which have no footpath on either side of the road, and if it is necessary to restrict the speed of motorists in such an area, I am sure it is equally necessary to make provision for the safety of the people who have to walk in it. I suggest to the Minister that he should see whether it is possible to have footpaths provided on each side of the road. Unlighted roads subject to the speed limit will be marked by speed-limit signs, but after you have made all your marked areas, the only real safeguards for the lessening of street accidents are, first, that we must have road sense and considerate driving; secondly, we must have suitable roads and adequate road signs, and I am not sure that the present road 183 signs are as good as they ought to be; and in the third place we must have reliable vehicles. We cannot complain of the class of vehicles that we now have on the road. I think they are as good as we can hope to get, but those are three points to be borne in mind by practically everyone driving on the road if they desire to do their best in their own interests and in the interests of the public generally.
I should like to make one quotation from the First Report of the Royal Commission on Transport. When they recommended the abolition of the speed limit they considered the exact point raised by the Bill, a speed limit for built-up areas, and reported against it as follows:We considered whether there should be speed limits in 'built-up areas,' but we came to the conclusion that there would be great difficulty in defining built-up areas, and, moreover, there are many points of danger on country roads where special caution and slow speed are necessary, but where no question of a built-up area arises. We propose, however, that at all these points, including the approaches to towns and villages, special warning signs should be erected, uniform in character throughout the country, bearing some such inscription as 'Danger Zone'—'Special Caution.'I think there is a lot in that. At present the signals are not quite what they ought to be in many cases, and I believe that much could be done with a view to making the signs more uniform and more in line so far as height is concerned, so that motor cyclists may know where to look to find the signs, which would help a lot in built-up areas. No power is provided in the Bill for the Minister to impose a speed limit for private cars or motor cycles in built-up areas. I think these ought to be governed, like anything else, in regard to the speed at which they can operate wherever there is a dangerous or congested area.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
There is one other point with respect to built-up areas. I believe that in many areas speed will have to give way to public safety. I am not saying that drivers must be confined to what the motorist or the cyclist would call a slow rate, but at the same time there is a limit which ought to be imposed in certain areas, such as old towns and villages, where the roads are very 184 narrow, old, bent, if I might use the term, and exceptionally dangerous from many points of view. The local authorities now have the power to appeal to the Minister for a lower rate of speed, and I think they should have the right to exercise their discretion in that matter.
With regard to cycle accidents, I remember speaking on this matter a few weeks ago, when I suggested that stronger reflectors or something of that kind should be used. In this Bill we have provision for a whitened mudguard as well as a reflector, but I am not at all sure that that will meet the difficulty, because most of the cyclists to-day who value their own lives and safety are using a lamp as well as a reflector. I am not saying that we ought to impose a lamp—we should give a trial to the proposals in the Bill—but the number of persons killed or injured in accidents which are attributed to pedal cycles from 1929 to 1932 is appalling. In 1929 there were 501 killed, and in 1933 they numbered 1,029. I think the House will agree that those figures are appalling, and the injured list has risen from 26,312 in 1929 to 47,973 last year. In view of these figures we shall quite understand the necessity, even though the cyclists themselves may rebel against it very much, for greater safety on the roads, particularly at night time, in heavy, dull, foggy or sloppy weather, when the motorist is on the cyclist before he knows he is there. The cyclist may think he is safe, but an accident is inevitable, and I am glad to see that in the Bill the Minister is taking some steps at least to eliminate that positive danger by a trial of other methods.
Clause 4, which deals with convictions for careless driving, gives power to disqualify a driver for a short period. This is a provision which will trouble and hurt a large number of people, and I am not speaking about those who own or drive their own motor cars. I am speaking about the driver who drives for a company or an employer, and who has to work according to a time-table or schedule, under which, if he has been delayed at some point, he must pick up the time in order to report in or out on schedule time. Such a driver is to be deprived of his licence which of course is his living, for doing something which his employer has instructed him to do. 185 By losing his licence he will lose his living. The position is well put by a statement made on behalf of the Transport Workers Union, and I will read a paragraph appertaining to the point. It says:The proposals regarding the endorsement of the licence for exceeding the speed limit or for careless driving, and the power of the court to disqualify the driver from holding a licence, are of a drastic nature and can seriously affect the employed driver who works under the orders of others. Many of the driving offences for which the public service driver is liable are due to the tightly drawn time schedules. In the majority of the undertakings we can, as a union, make the necessary representation for easement in the schedules, and for a re-allocation of the times or for increased time for the journey. There are, however, undertakings—some of considerable size—who decline to discuss these and other matters affecting the men with the union. If the new legislation goes through in its present form it will be essential that every employed driver should have the right of trade union representation. It will be no good saying the employer will defend the man. That is the job of the union, as is the business of seeing that conditions are such that the law can be observed. How can a man be expected to keep time and be within the law where men are timed in and out of a terminal on the same time?That clearly defines the point I have in mind. I see the Minister smiling. I know there are one or two things which can be remedied there, but there is a danger of many hard-working honest people being penalised for doing something which they are instructed to do by their employers.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Does the hon. Gentleman say that the hard-working honest person, if he is instructed to drive carelessly, ought not to be punished for driving in that way?
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I say a man ought not to be forced to drive carelessly and that any penalty ought to be imposed on his employer. The employer ought not to get away so easily when a person who is trying to do his best and observe the laws of decency on the road is compelled to do something, for which he is punished, owing to the instructions of his employer. On the question of conviction for careless driving, every Member who is a magistrate will have had experience in the courts of this matter. It has been difficult in the past to deal with a driver's licence because the period of suspension has been too long. In my 186 experience the new proviso will give an opportunity for short suspensions and will prevent careless driving.
How are we going to deal with reckless driving? It is no use speaking of the driver having to pass a sort of test. My opinion is that the people who create the most difficulties on the road are generally the cleverest drivers. They are not beginners, but people who can handle their cars like some people can handle a football, and consequently they take greater risks. It is a case of familiarity breeding contempt, and breeding contempt of the most dangerous nature. There will be a better opportunity of dealing with these people by a short-term suspension of their licences than there has been in the past, and I believe it will help to provide greater security on the road. I have another extract dealing with the cases of the careless driver and the dangerous driver. There is a great difference between the two. The dangerous driver is a dangerous individual altogether on the road. The Minister of Transport who was in office in 1930 said:The effect of these Clauses is to differentiate between 'careless' driving and 'dangerous' driving, substantially increasing the penalties for the latter offence. The object of these provisions is to strengthen the hands of the police authorities in dealing with reckless driving. The offence of 'careless' driving is intended to meet cases where the offence of which the driver is guilty is not such as to justify the imposition of the heavy penalties for dangerous or reckless driving, and the court is given discretion to convict for the lighter offence in any case in which they consider that this course should be taken. A conviction for 'careless' driving does not make the offender liable to disqualification for holding a driver's licence.I am sure the Minister desires that a real distinction between the two types of drivers should be made. I am sure he does not want to impose anything very hard on the man who may drive carelessly through sheer accident, but that in any other circumstances he will deal with them rather drastically. The test for drivers is not of very much use at all, for the people who get into trouble are generally the cleverest drivers. I think, however, that there is something to be said with respect to the test fee which it is proposed to impose on learners. The fee is 10s., and, with the licence fee of 5s., the new motorist will have to pay 15s. A new motorist passes a period of apprenticeship from one grade of locomotion 187 to another, and when he becomes a driver and takes out a licence, he becomes a regular contributor to the Road Fund. I do not see any reason why the 10s. should not be paid out of the Road Fund, or at least half of it. It is not fair to impose 10s. on every new driver who comes upon the road. It may prevent a large number of people taking out licences, or it may cause a lot of people to tell untruths with regard to the time they have been driving. It is proposed to impose the test from the 1st April, 1934. The Bill is not yet law and surely the reasonable date is the coming into operation of the Bill instead of making it a kind of retrospective legislation to which much objection is taken. People who are taking out licences now will have to pay the test fee even though they are ready with their cars when the Bill becomes law.
I am pleased to see that the Minister has taken up the question of insurance, which has become almost a nightmare to many people on the roads. The Bill will modify and strengthen the position, which will all be for the good. In the matter of reflectors and white painted mudguards for bicycles, I am glad that the Minister is taking a line that ought to have been taken a long time ago, for there is plenty of room for improvement in the rear lighting of bicycles. If the reflector is not sufficient, it should be made of a sufficient size to be seen instead of the size of a two-shilling piece which you cannot see until you bump into it. The pedestrian crossings are a necessary provision. They may be objected to strongly at first, in the same way that people said that miners' baths were objected to by the miners. Pedestrians may at first feel that they are being dragooned into doing things that they do not want to do, but if this provision is necessary in the interests of the people as a whole, and if we are to lower the accident rate and make people feel more at their ease in the streets, it will be agreed that crossings for pedestrians are a very good suggestion. The Minister will have power to make the regulations to govern them and I gather that a conviction for contravening the regulations will be subject to a maximum penalty of £5. I do not know whether I interpret the Bill aright on that point, but if that is the maximum 188 penalty it is very excessive, because for a long time people will contravene the regulations for the reason that they will not know them.
§ Mr. STANLEY
This is a rather important point which I should like to make clear. All that the £5 maximum means is that I shall not be entitled to submit to the House regulations which provide for any penalty more than £5. What I shall do will be to submit regulations defining certain offences and certain specific fines attributable to each offence.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
That does away with my objection. Many people have taken it that for any contravention of the regulations the maximum penalty would be £5, and I am glad to hear that that is not the right interpretation. In making the regulations, will the Minister consult with the local authorities and the people who have to deal with them? There are several organisations like the Municipal Corporations Association and the Urban District Councils Association which could be consulted, and by such consultation the Minister would be able to get the feeling of the authorities in different parts of the country as to what the regulations should be. I hope that whenever crossings are installed there will be a sufficient number so that people will not have to stand in queues waiting to get across the road. The cost of making the crossings will be very small, and I hope they will be made in sufficient number in the congested parts of the towns.
I would like to ask the Minister the definite meaning of Clause 22. How does it affect officers of local authorities who suffer loss of office as a result of the transfer of licensing duties to the traffic commissioners? I know that this subject has been a bone of contention, and I consider that the compensation ought never to have been paid out of the Road Fund but ought to have been borne by the amalgamated companies who at that time were joining hands with the local authorities. Will compensation rates as formerly be paid to municipal officers who become redundant through a corporation taking over some other business or doing something which precludes these officers from continuing in their occupation? I want to know whether the Road Fund payments will now cease under this Bill and whether 189 there will be any further payment from the Road Fund for this purpose. Will any other fund be responsible for the payment of that compensation?
I hope that every Member of the House will join hands in getting this traffic Bill through. I know there are many ways in which it will have to be amended in Committee, and I am sure the House will look forward to the Committee stage; the Minister does not look forward to that time I am sure, but other Members who are hoping to get points put right which they believe are wrong do. I hope, however, that their anxiety to amend the Bill will not blur the vision that we all have to bring about greater safety on the roads and to do something to reduce the great holocaust which has been going on for so many years, so that we may feel that our children can go on to the roads without being in danger from motor vehicles. Let us do all we can to make the roads safer than they have been in the past. We have the power if we will all put our minds to it. There are certain sections of the population who really cannot help themselves, but there is something that we in this House can do to save those people from becoming the victims of a traffic which really ought to be disciplined, which ought to be brought into the realm of manageable proportion. I am afraid it has not been in really manageable proportions in the past, but I see no reason why, if persons and authorities will determine to watch and safeguard their own areas in the interests of the whole community, we should not within an appreciable time reduce the number of people who are killed and injured on our roads.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I would like to join with the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) in congratulating the hon. Gentleman upon introducing this Bill. I thank him not only for what he has said to-day, but also for the very effective appeal which he made to the whole country the other day in his broadcast speech. That appeal for co-operation on the part of all members of the community to meet what is, to my mind, a menace to the whole community, met with very wide approval, and I feel that it helped to bring about the better conditions 190 of which we have heard during the Easter holiday. We agree with the Minister entirely that there is no one sovereign remedy for this trouble, and I think we might have a distrust of anyone who would suggest that if only his remedy were adopted the trouble would end. I believe it is only by the application of a great number of remedies, some of them very small remedies, and only by the process of trial and error, that we can grapple with this evil. I regard the Bill as, to a certain extent, an experiment, but it is an experiment which has to be made. If when we get the figures for 1934 and compare them with those disastrous figures for the last eight years submitted to the House by the Home Secretary only a few weeks ago, we find that these proposals have not secured what the House has hoped for, then the Minister of Transport must try another remedy, must work out another experiment.
I will leave to an hon. Friend of mine who is to speak later from these benches the question of insurance, and will turn right away to the question of speed. The hon. Gentleman said that man's heart and brain had not yet become attuned to the machine that he himself had created. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, only a few weeks ago, spoke of the new discoveries that were being made and the apprehensions we had as to what new secret of Nature might be revealed. It is very certain that as regards the car upon the road we have not kept abreast of the demands of our own invention. The hon. Gentleman asked just now why it was that the public mind was not quickened to a sense of our responsibility. I cannot explain. I do not think any Member of the House can explain why it is that there is apparently not greater concern about the losses which take place. When railways started a President of the Board of Trade—Mr. Huskisson—was killed, I think, by the first train, and that at once drew attention to the public danger of that new invention. Now we are having such losses as were expressed in the figures given to me a few weeks ago. In the last eight years we had 50,837 people killed and 1,421,000 people injured on the roads. Calamitious as those figures are, the figures for 1933 are worse. The figures 191 for 1933, published recently by the Ministry of Transport, showed 7,202 deaths, an increase of 575 over 1932, and 216,328 injuries, an increase of 9,878 over the previous year.
§ Mr. FOOT
I have given the statistics. Whatever the number of vehicles upon the roads, and whatever are the conditions, what I am putting before the House is the result—the number of these unfortunate people who are dead. It is no consolation to the widow and children of a man killed to be told that statistics may explain his death. He is dead; and others are injured. Surely the problem we have to do deal with is the inevitable increase in cars which I suppose we must look for with the development of this industry, and it is not our business to accept the conclusion that with the inevitable increase there must be a heavier toll. The figures relating to the last eight years call for serious action. I believe the reason why the public are not more concerned is that they do not see these things and that most of the people killed and injured are unknown people. I have some sort of idea that if one day next week the 20 people killed included five Members of His Majesty's Government, five Members of the House of Commons, a couple of Archbishops, two international footballers and Mr. Len Harvey—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or 20 Members of the Liberal party."] In that case there would still be 11 Members left representing all that is best and sanest in the political life and thought of this country, and I am happy to think that even that small number is representing some of the ideals which were cherished and observed by the hon. Gentleman's ancestors. Some let the banner fall, others have to hold it aloft. But that has nothing to do with the speed limit. I would like to refer to what was said by a distinguished witness, who was Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 1914 to 1931. In the "Times" recently he dealt with the question of speed, and in as much as his remarks bear out what has been said by the hon. Gentleman, I would like to read this short passage: 192The pedestrian has many and real grievances. Even when he makes a mistake he has the right to expect special consideration from the motorist, and not to be penalised by injury or sudden death. Why does he not receive such consideration? Generally because the motorist is travelling too fast to give it. The Ministry of Transport's report on the road fatalities of the first six months of 1933 confesses that there is 'the greatest need for caution in interpreting' the alleged speed of a vehicle which causes an accident. The driver is not likely to incriminate himself by telling the truth if he is at fault, and witnesses, if there are any, give conflicting opinions. I have had cases in which the estimates varied from five to 50 miles per hour. Possibly both estimates contained a measure of truth; the accident may have been caused by a car travelling at the higher rate, which was greatly reduced at the moment of impact; but the real cause of the accident was excessive speed.I would also like to direct attention to an article by a chief constable in yesterday's "Daily Telegraph" in which he spoke of speed and gave the results of his experience. He gave it as his opinion that speed was a factor entering into a great number of the accidents—he did not say what proportion, but a great number. It is perfectly true that speed is the factor that we must consider. I suggest to hon. Members that they should note what was said by Sir Arthur Griffith Boscawen, who was chairman of one of the committees considering this matter, and who in a letter to the "Times" at the latter end of last year said he had come to the conclusion that it was necessary to establish a speed limit of 25 miles an hour in the built-up areas. Although he had been chairman of a committee that had come to another conclusion, he was driven to this opinion by the fact that the efforts made so far had failed. Action will mean inconvenience, of course, any amount of inconvenience, and there will be outcry, but we shall have to act upon the rule of the sea, and that is that the more mobile vessel shall give way to the weaker and the one that can only move the more slowly. It is a question of courtesy, of the more-protected user of the road considering the less-protected user.
I am more concerned about local speed limits than the 30-mile limit which the hon. Gentleman proposes to establish. The village speed limit demands a great deal more attention. I refer to the sort of village of which I spoke in the last Debate in this House, where three children of one family had been killed at 193 different times, the village where the houses are all built right upon the narrow road, and the children's welfare centre is on the other side of the road. The warnings which are put up are coming to be ignored. A scarecrow may stand so long that birds will build their nests from the scarecrow, and drivers of motor cars are becoming indifferent to notices at the entrances to villages. It is the experience generally, as borne out by a good deal of evidence, that in spite of appeals at the entrance of villages people drive at 20, 30 or 40 miles an hour through the narrow village street.
I understand that a demand has gone up to the Ministry of Transport for the approval of local speed limits for villages with narrow streets, where road reconstruction is impossible, and some complaint has been made that these requests have not been acceded to. There is also the case of Dundee, which is a bigger place than a village. Two applications were made for local speed limits, one for a 10 mile an hour speed limit on a certain stretch of Seagate, Blackscroft and Ferry Road, Dundee. The city council made the application, following a petition received from parents in the area, where a number of serious accidents, mainly to children, had occurred. A public inquiry was held by the Ministry of Transport on 13th July, when six motoring organisations opposed the application, and it was refused. Another case in which an application was made for a speed limit concerns the village of Hersden in Kent. Up to the time of the Road Traffic Act it was protected by a local speed limit. Two women and two children were killed in 1933. At the approach to this village there is a notice "Drive slowly." A special investigator of the London "Star" reported:I watched the traffic for some time, and noticed that many private cars went through the village at between 30 and 40 miles an hour.At an inquest on a six-years-old child killed in the village the coroner said: "It is an awful road for children to cross, and if they do cross the road the thing that happened here is very likely to happen." That is a case where the Minister was asked, I understand, to intervene and to sanction a local speed limit, but that sanction was not given. There was a similar application from the West Riding County Council for a speed 194 limit in the village of Addingham, the main street of which is described as a dangerous and narrow thoroughfare. A speed limit of 10 miles an hour was enforced there until the Road Traffic Act abolished it. It was stated at a local inquiry that at five points in a length of 792 yards visibility was definitely bad and that to widen the street would mean that half the village would have to come down. The application was opposed by the Automobile Association and that opposition was followed by the Minister of Transport declining to approve a speed limit. I should have imagined that in a narrow-streeted village, where mothers have not the time to give to their children very often that the well-to-do can give, and where trouble has arisen, with one accident happening after another, it would be the desire of the Minister to establish, on his own principle, that the convenience of one section of the community must be subordinated to the need of protecting human life.
I hope that these applications may have more generous treatment in his hands in future. I agree that we cannot by improvement of the roads solve this problem, but we can make them safer. We can make them safer if more attention can be given to the experience that is gained by every individual motorist, who knows the deadly spots that he has to pass every day. A man who uses his car to any extent knows where the real danger is. That information ought to be asked for and ought to be collated. I do not believe so much in the widening of the roads, because the experience has been that when they have been widened, as in the case of the Kingston by-pass, according to evidence that I could quote, cars travel at 40, 50, 60 and even 70 miles an hour.
§ Mr. FOOT
I do not say that it would. I do not believe that merely widening roads would be a check to our wrong conditions. I agree that the Bill does not touch that point. I was dealing with the Minister's own statement as to the improvement of the roads not being the one remedy for our trouble. There is another grievance which I think is not touched in the Bill but which will have to be dealt with some time. That is as to the non-stop driver. I spoke on that subject 195 in the last Debate. I noticed in the "Yorkshire Evening Post" for 21st March, in an article dealing with the "Growing Menace of the Roads" it said, speaking about the motorist who failed to stop after knocking somebody down:In Lancashire alone the deaths of five victims of these motorists are being investigated by the police. The victims include Dean Patrick, who was killed at Bury.A coroner gave his verdict last week in a case where a cyclist was found injured and part of his bicycle was carried a great way from the spot where the body was found. Every search has been made for the motorist without result. The coroner said it was obvious that the motorist who caused that man's death knew what he had done. I do not know how often a broadcast appeal is made for some information as to this man or another man who has been killed where no evidence can be given as to the offending driver, but, upon that, if a man causes death and does not know that he has done it, it shows how great is the peril on the roads, and if he does know it I do not think any penalty is too heavy for the motorist who leaves on the road someone he has maimed and perhaps killed and then goes on.
In this matter there should be a tightening up of the law. Upon investigations revealing who the culprit is, some sense of the public indignation should be expressed in the sentences that are imposed. The real trouble, of course, is the tightening up of administration. I take figures supplied by the Home Office during last year as to offences relating to motor vehicles. The first item is "manslaughter." There were 91 cases of manslaughter. The police are so nervous at the present time about cases of manslaughter that they do not go into investigations without the strongest evidence. But in these 91 cases, which of course would not be proceeded upon except after very full inquiry, there were only 15 convictions; 48 were acquitted: and there were three cases where no true bill was returned. I cannot, of course, deal with juries; I cannot express any opinion upon juries; but that is one of the difficulties that have arisen. Ninety-one people lost their lives in circumstances in which the police thought there was the gravest responsibility. There is great trouble under our present system 196 in bringing the responsibility home to the culprit.
There is one other subject. If the Minister is going to achieve his beneficent purpose he will have to give more attention to the intoxicated motorist. I know that I am looked upon as a prejudiced man upon this subject. But let us take the figures. Last year there were 1,952 cases of charges against motorists who were driving or in charge of motor vehicles when under the influence of drink or drunk. Those cases, or most of them, were brought to the notice of the public because of some injury that had been caused to someone. The report of an expert committee of the British Medical Association on tests for drunkenness carried out by scientists, said this:Thin shades of self control might be lost without any apparent sign of intoxication. Even if no objective symptoms are present the subjective effects of alcohol may make it unsafe for an individual to be in charge of a car.The interval required for action, the change of gear or the putting on of brakes, may be about one-fifth of a second, but under the influence of a relatively small dose of alcohol that interval may be doubled and you may need two-fifths instead of one-fifth of a second, and with a car travelling at 35 miles an hour that extra one-fifth of a second means that the car goes 20 feet further before it is controlled. That may mean the difference between accident and no accident, or between life and death. I suppose that whatever may be the view upon a subject that arouses so much controversy in this House there ought to be no difference of opinion upon the danger that is caused upon our roads by people who take out Vehicles over which they cannot have proper control seeing that they have not full control over their own faculties and decision. The position has now been made worse by what happened recently at Liverpool Assizes. Nothing can be said is this House in criticism of any of His Majesty's judges and I do not now say a word in criticism. But here is the situation. I put to the Home Secretary two questions about it.
At the Liverpool Assizes a man was indicted in respect of the death of a cyclist. A motorist ran down a cyclist and killed him. The motorist was brought before the Assizes at Manchester and he was acquitted. Thereupon the police, and I 197 suppose the Public Prosecutor, brought the case up again at the Liverpool Assizes, not on the ground of manslaughter but on the ground that the man was driving a car under the influence of drink. The police gave evidence that after having arrested the man they found that he was under the influence of drink. They called in the police surgeon, who, after examination, came to the same opinion. The judge said to the police surgeon: "By what right did you examine him?" The police surgeon replied: "I am a police surgeon," and he expressed the opinion that the man was under the influence of drink. The judge said, "I object to these inroads on British freedom. The police have no right to apply tests to a man like the prisoner without his consent. If they say he is able to give consent they have no business to come here and say he is drunk because drunkenness destroys consent."
I am against all inroads upon freedom, but I want to know what can be the administration of our law under these conditions. As far as inroads on British freedom are concerned I want to know also where was the freedom of the killed cyclist? He was entitled to use the road, and using the roads properly, as far as one can tell by the evidence, he was run down and killed. If now there cannot be an examination by any police doctor apparently it cannot be made by a policeman. I am hopeful that as a result of questions to the Home Secretary we may have some decision as to what procedure is to be adopted by the police. If that case is an expression of the British law we are left in a most hopeless quandary at a time when it should be essential to protect the people.
I only want to say further that I would like the Minister to have his attention drawn to the danger arising from defective vehicles, and to the experiments that were made, particularly in the city of Toronto, in making braking tests. I understand that when the tests were applied in that city it was found that 81 per cent. of the vehicles were defective and could not pull up within the space allotted. As a result of three years' experiment in braking tests Toronto has reduced the accidents in that city by 50 per cent., and the boast now is that Toronto is the safest city in the world. All these facts, of course, will be well known to the Minister in his 198 Department. I have gone through such statistics as were submitted to me in this matter. I understand that the experiments started in 1928. In the first instance 81 per cent. of the vehicles were found to be defective and a reduction of accidents has been made to the extent of 50 per cent.
The House will welcome what has been said by the Minister because to-day, although not taking one side or the other, he recognises that the weakest constituent in this business demands the first consideration. I think that we shall not really deal with this problem until we put all the onus upon the motorist and the motor. That is a proposal that has been made in another place, and it has had the support of some of the most eminent legal authorities in this country. It is a proposal that at any rate has this for its warrant, that on every occasion when a man is run down the one who can give the least evidence as to what has happened is the man who has been run down. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member who interrupts were run down in the street he would not know anything about it probably until he woke up in a hospital.
§ Mr. FOOT
The suggestion is one which has been adopted in some countries, and which has the support of many local authorities and of the Lord Chancellor. I would hand to any hon. Member who would like to see it a very high legal opinion in regard to this matter consisting of what the Lord Chancellor had to say in recent Debates which were held in another place. It may be that that is the course which will have to be taken. It has very strong support in some of the oldest parts of English case law. It goes back in English case law for 300 years. As a result of this experiment, which ought to have the endorsement and the approval of all sections of the community, that measure may not be needed.
I hope that the Minister in carrying his Bill through the Committee will have an open mind for suggestions which may have behind them the weight of experience. He has with him the general opinion and support of the House. Let him see to it that his Bill, when it goes 199 through, expresses that general opinion and the common desire of all, independent of party divisions, to lessen accidents and bring down figures which speak of such an aggregate of human suffering and wretchedness. If he can carry that Measure through, and then, in charge of his Department, can see the improvements growing under his hand, he will deserve the thanks and the congratulations of the country.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
No one can say that we do not have plenty of opportunity of hearing the opinion of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) upon many subjects. We have heard to-day—
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
My non-attendance may be due to the extraordinary regularity with which I hear the hon. Member speak. Upon the subject of this Debate he made, I think, 90 per cent. of the speech the other day, in a similar Debate.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
It was. I moved from my place but was still in the House. It is perfectly obvious that the hon. Member for Bodmin is just an anti-motorist. I have been motoring long enough to have been slashed in the face by people with whips. That was years ago, but I am surprised that such people still survive. The hon. Member is very archaic in everything he deals with, and somewhat sentimental and sloppy in his expressions about modern life. I am nevertheless very glad to have heard the extreme view, and I am sure that nothing more extreme could be said upon a Bill of this type.
I am rather sorry that I have to oppose a Bill which originates from a Ministry with which I had a certain connection, and for which I have a very great admiration. 200 I am sorry also to have to oppose a Measure introduced by my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport whose political future will, I hope, be attended by the introduction of much better Measures than this. My hon. Friend must remember that his psychology in dealing with motorcars is wrong. Curiously enough, he is an ex-railway director, and not a motorist. In these days, when everybody is a motorist, it is a very curious combination that a Minister should be those two things. I believe that a great many of his faults are due to his lack of experience of the maddening things that happen to you when you are actually driving a motor. He is undoing the work of Mr. Morrison. However much we might disagree with his political views, Mr. Morrison was undoubtedly a very sound Minister of Transport. This is a very backward Measure, although it has good parts in it, like the curate's egg. There are parts which are excellent, but I maintain that if there are bad parts in any egg, that is a bad egg. Consequently, this Bill is a bad egg.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I am sorry the hon. Member did not like it, but it seemed to go fairly well with everyone else. I do not want to go into the point with regard to tests. There is little to be said, and I do not, on the whole, think that there is evidence to warrant all the difficulties of tests. I remember that when I was a young man in France, and was being tested by the Ministry of Mines on motorcars, the only question I was asked was whether I knew the difference between the back axle and the exhaust pipe. After that I was considered a capable driver in the streets of Paris. I hope that sort of thing will not occur in this country. I want to object to the provisions with regard to the speed limit, and to that alone. I want to know what has come over the Minister of Transport lately, on the question of speed. Has he become the Vice-President of the Pedestrians' Association, or what is it? For a long time the Ministry has resisted all applications for speed limits, and a very strange and sudden conversion in seeing the light with regard to speed must have come over the Minister. Under his administration hitherto, all applications have been refused.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
Yes, I will deal with that in a moment. If you introduce a Statute it should have some relation to conscience; you should feel, if you offend against the Statute, that you are doing something wrong. If the speed limit of 30 miles an hour is to be introduced, it means that there are to be traps in every town and in many streets. If you are to trap at 30 miles an hour, you will not catch anybody until you go at 35 miles an hour, so that the motorist will be going just over 30. You give the motorist a charter thereby to proceed at just over 30 miles an hour. I think that that is the danger. It is assumed that 30 miles an hour is a safe speed. At dangerous corners and cross roads 30 miles an hour is not a safe speed. There is a prima facie case in this Bill that proceeding along the road at just over 30 miles an hour is a safe speed.
There is also something else to be said about speed. Danger in relation to speed depends upon the car. If you are going at 60 miles an hour in a little 12 horsepower car, you are not nearly under the same control as you are in a great big car; one is dangerous, the other is not. That is the sort of difficulty you get into in setting up a rigid speed limit. Some little cars in London proceeding at 25 miles an hour on a greasy road are not nearly under control and are dangerous, while many other cars sit on the road and are entirely under control. There is another factor which has to be considered if you are to set up this rigorous definition of speed, which is that you are introducing traffic difficulties which are going to be very inconvenient. For instance, you are going to allow, say, a Green Line coach to proceed at the maximum speed, while we poor motorists are to keep behind it, and are never to be allowed to pass. There will be a long queue from which, in desperation, you will pull out to get past, and that is the time when you will be caught for exceeding the speed limit. The Minister would know, if he motored along the high road, how maddening it is when these queues form, because cars are not able to pass. In the built-up areas we shall get such processions, and they will lead to accidents because human nature will get annoyed at them and will try to pass, but will get 202 into trouble. Momentarily they will have been led into exceeding the speed limit.
There is a point in regard to arterial roads which I do not think can be stressed enough. Those roads were built with motorists' money in order to allow motorists to speed up and avoid congested areas. I did my best when I was at the Ministry to get the State to buy the land on the side of these roads in order that the State might profit by the increment as the value increased. While I was there, for two years nobody would buy a plot by the side of an arterial road. Finally, the Government sold the land, and immediately private enterprise came along and built along the roads which were paid for by motorists' money. I know that the Minister is going to exempt them to start within the built-up areas, but from the motorist's point of view we have absolutely wasted our money for getting traffic quickly out of London.
I would have liked to see a little more imagination by the Minister. In some countries, notably in America where they are very severe on motoring offences, it is an offence on some roads to go under 40 miles an hour. If you cannot maintain your 40 miles an hour, a policeman comes up and says, "You must go on another road." That is the sort of outlook to balance the repressive measures which we might have expected, but nothing of that sort comes our way. It is repression the whole time. This is motorist repression of a very vigorous kind. The Minister stressed the point about the slippery surface and the camber of roads and about the black colour of roads, and I do not say anything about that, but the Minister did not realise that a large percentage of the accidents are due to those causes, and that the causes must be laid at the door of the Ministry because they were introduced or rather could have been prevented by, regulations made by the Ministry. If they cause accidents that is not the fault of the motorist.
In 1896, cars were exceedingly uncontrollable. They had a wheel base of about four feet and they were allowed to go at 20 miles an hour. Now, after 38 years of concentration, we are to be allowed to go 10 miles an hour faster. If we do not get the result which the Minister expects from this Bill, are we to go back still farther and have people with 203 red flags in front of our cars? This does not seem to be the way to attack the problem. Does the Minister think that every local authority will not apply for a speed limit? Of course they will. Local authorities like that sort of power, and every one of them will apply. With regard to the 35 miles an hour speed limit at Oxford; the Minister laid it down that it was not due to the danger of accidents that he introduced it, but to protect buildings of an ancient type in Oxford. That was a thoroughly sound reason, but look at what the local authority did. They extended the area for miles around, and now there is a 30 miles an hour speed limit on the basis that a 12 horse-power car proceeding at 40 miles an hour five miles from Magdalen College will shake it to its foundations. That is the sort of thing that occurs. Local authorities will try to keep speed limits, and to get little petty powers of that kind. There is this point that might be suggested. The people who are going to be caught in these traps will not be the real offenders. The man who drives recklessly is very seldom doing that on the actual piece of road that is being timed. The man who was caught in the police trap in the old days of the 20-miles-an-hour limit was always caught when there was nothing on the road—when the road was perfectly clear of traffic. Those were the places where traps were put, and those were the places where people were caught.
Another point that has to be reckoned with is that the ordinary citizen has very little experience of police courts, but with a speed limit and with traps up and down the country he comes in contact with the police in consequence of all these statutory regulations; and I do not think there was ever at any time a worse relationship existing between the public and the police than when we were pursued rigorously under these silly and arbitrary Statutes. People went into the court; they were convicted in an off-hand way, with very little evidence one way or the other; and they came out of the court and said, "If that is the way the ordinary man is treated in a police court, there is precious little justice in this country." That produces a very bad feeling between the public and the police. It is a thing that we are now going to increase a hundredfold.
204 I consider this to be absolutely reactionary legislation. We have to adapt our conditions to the changes that take place in the world. It is no use getting alarmed over these figures. Over 6,000 people commit suicide every year, but nobody makes a fuss about that. It is true that 7,000 people are killed in motor accidents, but it is not always going on like that. People are getting used to the new conditions. The fact that the road is practically the great railway of the country, instead of being the playground of the young, has to be realised. No doubt many of the older Members of the House will recollect the numbers of chicken's that we killed in the early days. We used to come back with the radiator stuffed with feathers. It was the same with dogs. Dogs get out of the way of motor cars nowadays, and you never kill one. There is education even in the lower animals. These things will right themselves. It may well be that we have got to the peak of road accidents, and that, even within a year or two, people will realise the extreme change that has come over our life, and that very much greater care mut be taken.
I welcome many of the propoals of the Bill from the point of view of pedestrains but I would be as severe as I could with the road-hog motorist, and that is the man whom this Bill does not touch. It is the poor innocent man who is going at 35 miles an hour on an open road whom the Bill is going to penalise. I would like to see a vigorous campaign with police patrol cars—not with inexperienced policemen who have just been taught to drive, as is largely the case to-day, but with experienced motorists in big fast cars, who could tour about, and, when they saw anybody really behaving like a road hog, go after him; and they should be given the power to show a sign meaning that they are police. Let them treat those people who behave like cads on the road as severely as possible. There is, however, no imagination at all about this Bill—nothing but oppressive powers.
We are now dealing with the introduction of a Statute which is going to affect the lives and conduct of citizens up and down the country, and they should, I think, be perfectly clear as to what they can and what they cannot do. The hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench did not understand the 205 Bill, and I can quite understand that he did not understand it. What is the Bill? It is a Bill which refers back to what is called the principal Act. It amends the principal Act, and it puts a Clause in the principal Act which refers forward to this Bill, which so far has not been passed. How an ordinary citizen can relate these four things together in a simple way I cannot imagine. I do not think it is fair to introduce a Bill like this with regard to future conduct on the roads. If the Minister wants to change the law of the road, let him do it in a comprehensive Measure which anyone can understand. When an hon. Member on the Front Opposition Bench cannot understand the Bill, I think it is a little hard upon the ordinary citizen.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I do not want to interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend, but I wonder if he could suggest better words than:Subject to the provisions of this Act, it shall not be lawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle on a road in a built-up area at a speed exceeding thirty miles per hour.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I think that that would be fairly simple, but if my hon. Friend goes on to the next paragraph I do not think he will find that it is simple. What is a built-up area and what is not? If you come into a side road running on to a built-up area, you may go a long way before you see a sign-post showing that it is a built-up area. I think there is going to be a great deal of difficulty. My hon. Friend says that he welcomes Amendments. The only really good Amendment is a pair of scissors dealing with the 30-miles-an-hour part of the Bill. As to the rest of the Bill, I shall support it, but from that point of view I consider it to be reactionary. I do not consider that it is either a help to safety on the roads, or a proposal that is worthy of any Government which calls itself in any way progressive.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. FLINT
While every Member of the House probably desires most earnestly that something shall be done, and done quickly, to remedy the present condition of affairs, let me hasten to assure the Minister of Transport that very few of us can agree with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) when he suggests 206 that one possibility is to go back to the precedent which happened in the case of the first railway engine that travelled along a line, in order that the Minister of Transport may make the supreme sacrifice in this matter. I am sure that the hon. Member did not mean that. But, drawing upon some Small experience as an advocate in both civil and criminal courts dealing with motor car cases, I venture to suggest to the Government that the remedy here lies, not with any amendment of the Road Traffic Act, but with its administration. We who practise in the courts know that 99 per cent. of the prosecutions for careless or dangerous driving are brought after the accident has happened, when the dead are buried and the injured are in hospital. That is of no use; it is locking the stable door when the horse has gone. Why is it that we have to wait till then? Driving along any stretch of road on any day, it is almost certain that you will see some motorist coming out on a blind bend, passing in the middle of a road on a blind bridge, or pulling out of the line of traffic when he ought not to do so. All of these things inevitably lead to accidents sooner or later, and it is only because the other car is not there on the opposite side of the road that there is not a smash.
This kind of driving is a habit. These men do not intend to do dangerous things. It is just a careless habit into which they get. How often does one find a man who has once been convicted, or has once been involved in a serious accident, in the court again? Very seldom. One prosecution is enough for most men, and they have learned their lesson. There are potential accidents every day. There is the man who ought to be caught and prosecuted, but he is not. I know that the answer is that there are not enough policemen available on the roads in the country districts to deal with these people, but that is not the only answer. One answer is that the police officers have not been trained sufficiently to detect these offences before they happen. In Section 45 of the principal Act, provision was made for the preparation of a Highway Code, and that Highway Code was prepared. It contained all the essentials of good driving, and an indication of all the essentials of bad driving. It ought to have been in the hands of every motorist and of every police officer. But 207 I was astonished to discover only a month ago, in the city of Birmingham, that a police officer of long experience, who for a month at a time is on traffic duty at a traffic point in the city of Birmingham, not only did not know the provisions of the Highway Code, but had never heard that it existed. If these police officers are not even handed a copy of the Highway Code, how can we expect them to know what is or what is not negligent or dangerous driving?
Another answer that may be given is that there are traffic patrols on the road. There are, but what are they doing? You can go into any police court and discover what the traffic patrols are doing. They are there with a list of summonses against poor unfortunate lorry drivers who have been travelling at 35 miles an hour instead of 30. That is a ludicrous waste of time. If they had stood at a dangerous corner on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon, they could have caught half-a-dozen offenders. Again, in Staffordshire, for example, where this is a very popular entertainment with the police on week-days, you will find on a straight stretch of road four policemen, or possibly five, two of them armed with stop-watches, a mile apart, collecting unfortunate lorry drivers and long-distance coach drivers. If these men, two at a time, were on a dangerous road on a Sunday, a Saturday, or even a weekday, they would bring in the real offenders, the men who cause the accidents. Then motorists would know that that was likely, they would accept it, and manners would be forced upon them. I would ask the Minister to consult with the Home Office and the chiefs of police and see whether something cannot be done to bring about the detection of motoring offences.
Further, many of the tribunals are perfectly useless. I appear before them in motoring cases, and I know perfectly well what would happen if I went into court with one of the worst cases of negligent driving, in which probably someone had been killed, and certainly someone had been injured. What happens is that the defendant is convicted, quite rightly, and the magistrates impose a fine of £2, £3, or £4. What good is that? It means nothing to the man in question; he cannot be cured by that. It is not fines that motorists are frightened of. The 208 penalty must be something which instils into the hearts of other motorists on the road a very wholesome fear of what is going to happen to them if they offend, and the worst penalty, and the proper penalty, is suspension of their licence. There is another thing that is growing, and that is the very marked dissatisfaction among motorists at the way in which they are treated. I am not blaming the lay magistrate with no legal training. He comes to his court once a week, and finds a list which starts with an application from Tom Jones, the licensee of the "Blue Boar," for an extension of hours from 10 o'clock till 11. He then has a list of minor cyclists' offences for having no light on the back of their machines and so on. Then he has to deal with lorries that have been driven too fast. And, at the end of a long morning, he comes to try three, or four or half-a-dozen cases of negligent or dangerous driving. To begin with, he is not a trained man. He is probably a local gentleman, a very worthy gentleman, who is driven by a chauffeur or drives round about his own country. But he has had no training, and has only a short time in which to deal with these cases. If motorists are to be dealt with severely, as they ought to be, they must be dealt with judicially, and must be certain of a fair and proper hearing of their case. There are to be found about the country stipendiary magistrates who are doing their work excellently. When you come out of those courts you feel that your client must be satisfied that he has had justice. He may have been fined heavily and had his licence suspended, but he feels that he has had justice, and that he has had a court that has understood his case. If this work is to be dealt with efficiently, the courts will be burdened with even more work, and it will become even more impossible for lay magistrates to deal with the matter. I ask the Minister to consider the appointment of still more stipendiary magistrates. Just as we have county court judges to deal with county court matters, we should have circuits of stipendiary magistrates to deal with the more serious types of motor offence so that motorists will know that they cannot go into a court and say, "I am a poor motorist; fine me £2," which is a ludicrous penalty.
209 I should like to say a word about cyclists and their reflectors. Those with experience on the Toad and in the courts know that at the very moment when the cyclist needs to be protected, in bad weather, when it rains, or when there is another car approaching with dazzling head-lights and you have to dip yours, it is impossible to see him. A motor car must be equipped with an efficient light, and it usually carries an electric light. The cycle, which is a slow moving vehicle and is going to be passed over and over again by others, is the one which is not compelled to carry a light. It seems ludicrous. It would be no great hardship on the cyclist. During the War every cyclist had to carry a red light at the back of his bicycle and no hardship was felt.
§ Mr. HOWARD GRITTEN
Is the hon. Member aware that, when cyclists had to carry a red lamp at the back during the War, accidents and deaths increased?
§ Mr. FLINT
I was not aware of that. The point I was making is that it is not an impossibility, and it is not an unbearable hardship, for cyclists to carry a red light at the back. They need not have the trouble of oil lamps. For little over 1s. you can buy an electric light with a red glass which gives an efficient and easily visible light. I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter and to say that the people who ought to carry rear lights are the cyclists.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Sir ERNEST GRAHAM-LITTLE
I shall restrict my intervention entirely to the consideration of the medical and psychological aspects of the problem, and it is essentially a medical and psychological problem. The medical profession has a long experience of accidents, and while attention was confined to mechanical factors, progress was slow, but when attention was directed to the human factor, the improvement was immediate. It is to the neglect of the human factor in this Bill that I wish to draw attention, and I should like to urge on the Minister the importance of including a medical test as well as a test of competence in driving. It is possible to make a discrimination between drivers who are likely to be mischievous and those who are not, and the tests, as is so often the case, 210 are largely ignored in this country while they are adopted very much more widely in other countries. Their practical utility may, I think, be conveniently gauged by some figures that were published two or three weeks ago by the director of the principal institute in Paris, who is himself one of the most eminent psychologists in the whole world. If I quote some figures which have been given, it will be obvious that the practical application of these tests is not to be ignored. They show that the frequency of accidents caused by taxis, private cars and lorries between 1921 and 1932 increased by 145 per cent. A series of figures for the corresponding year furnished by the General Transport Company of Paris, which is responsible for the omnibuses and trams of that city, show that the accidents due to collision were reduced by more than 30 per cent. and the gain to the company following those tests reached an average of 1,500,000 francs a year.
Somewhat similar figures are furnished in the case of some companies in America. In the Street Railway Omnibus Services of the Boston Elevated Hallway, accidents were reduced by 35 per cent. The figures in the case of the Milwaukee Electric Railway were reduced from 14.1 to 6 per cent. in a year. The test did more than reduce the rate of accidents. It sorted out the drivers who were likely to be mischievous from those who were not, and the register of selected persons fell to something like 3 per cent. where it had previously been 20 per cent. The saving in the cost of the year and tear of vehicles, again, represents a very large sum. I am sure an advance would be better made by following along the line of medical science, and I am equally sure that much of the accident rate is caused by essential ignorance of quite simple biological facts on the part of motorists. It is not, perhaps, sufficiently realised that the time occupied in making a decision may make all the difference between a fatal accident and an escape from an accident. That was tested very carefully in a group of drivers, and it was found that the best driver gained a half per cent. as compared with a less experienced and less able driver. That meant a saving of 30 feet. He could pull up at 30 miles an hour within a distance of 30 feet less than a man whose reaction 211 time was half a second longer. The reaction time can be decreased. A decision can be retarded by a large number of quite innocent acts. A heavy dinner, a glass of beer, inattention, fatigue—all these unconscious factors may influence that very important circumstance. I think the Bill could be improved by paying some attention to what I have called the human factor which is, I think, aptly demonstrated by statistics to be responsible for so large a proportion of accidents.
§ 5.56 p.m.
Major LLOYD GEORGE
I am certain that any Measure designed to improve the conditions on the roads of the country will meet with general support, because it is a generally acknowledged fact that conditions to-day are exceedingly serious, and cannot be allowed to continue. The Bill attempts to improve those conditions and, therefore, I am going to support it. But while I support the principle of the Bill, I must confess to having very grave doubts as to whether it is going to take us very much farther along the road we all wish to travel. The Minister has taken the most adequate powers in the Bill. The only question I want to ask is, whether he really thinks he can enforce the powers that he has taken? We have had Bills before us dealing with the situation on the roads. Bills have been brought in which created new offences and imposed heavier penalties. I believe there are something like 300 offences for which motorists can be liable, but, if you asked the average motorist, he would not know 10 of them. Despite the fact that you have new offences and heavier penalties, the toll of casualties continues to mount until they have reached an appalling proportion. I am very glad to see that the speed limit has been restored. When the proposal was made in 1930 to abolish it, I was one of the few who opposed it, and nothing that has happened since then has made me alter my opinion. I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) in his ingenious attempt at Question Time yesterday to show that since the speed limit has been removed casualties have gone down, but I think he will have to agree that, taking the years as a whole, casualties have been steadily mounting.
§ Sir W. BRASS
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman looks at the figures he will find, taking the numbers of vehicles and fatal accidents in 1930 and 1933, that there is now a lower average of fatal accidents.
Major LLOYD GEORGE
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will find that in 1933 we have gone back very much as compared with the previous year. I noticed that last year the number of deaths was 7,202 as against 6,600 in 1933. [Interruption.] I think the Minister's explanation was sound. I am not going to quarrel with the hon. and gallant Gentleman about proportions. I am concerned about the number of people killed and endangered in this country year after year. I do not care very much as to the proportions, but we have to look to the fact that the total is mounting. I believe that speed is a much more important factor in accidents than many people are inclined to admit. The Minister himself said that it is relatively important. Of course it is. It is not the speed itself which matters so much when a car is going at 40, 50 or 60 miles an hour, but the circumstances which obtain when a car is going at such speeds Sometimes a speed of 30, 40, 50 or 60 miles may be safe, but at other times a speed of 20 miles an hour is dangerous. The other day I saw a man on the wrong side of the road taking a corner which might have involved a very serious accident. Whereas technically his speed was not at fault, a speed of well under 30 miles an hour at that particular corner was excessive, and it was responsible for his having to go from his right side. The result was an accident, but I suppose that you could not say that it was due to speed, because under the Bill he would have been within the limit. All the same, he was at fault in having to go the wrong side of the road.
I believe that the speed limit should have a definite relation to the locality in which it is being imposed. I am not clear why the Minister fixes 30 miles an hour. I cannot see what it has to do with the question. Does anyone suggest that 30 miles an hour is a speed beyond which it is dangerous to travel? We ought to decide for each locality what the speed should be above which it is dangerous to travel. That would vary in different localities. May I suggest 213 that the experts should fix the speed limit and that it should not be left altogether to the local authorities. We all know of the experience in the old days of the 10-mile limit which nobody ever observed, and in respect of which very few people were prosecuted. In fact, the law of the land was completely flouted. We want to avoid that sort of thing now. Experts could easily decide the limit beyond which it is unsafe to travel in a particular locality, and I suggest that anybody found to have been guilty of travelling in a particular locality above such a speed should be automatically guilty of dangerous driving. I am worried about a speed limit of 30 miles an hour, because I have knowledge of many places where is would actually be criminal to drive a car at 30 or even 25 miles an hour. I suggest that, instead of fixing a definite limit they should, in consultation with experts, fix the limit in relation to the particular circumstances involved at the moment. If that were done, it would be much easier to fix a definite offence. At the present time the question of whether a man is driving dangerously or not is a matter for the local bench to decide. I suggest that, in view of the appalling list of casualties, there should be a more definite offence.
As to the question of varying penalties throughout the country, in some cases there is ludicrously light punishment, and in other cases excessively heavy punishment. I am not sure that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Flint) that the time has come when we should seriously consider the setting up of special courts to deal with motoring offences. I believe that the only cure for those people who are rushing round the country to-day driving recklessly and dangerously, is to make it unprofitable for them to do so. That, I am satisfied, is the only permanent cure. If we are to make it unprofitable we shall have largely to increase our mobile police. May I give an example of how action of that sort helps? I live in a part of London on a road which leads out of one of the great parks. In that park you find motor cars always going at a very respectable speed, but as soon as they leave it they all appear to go mad, and you see speeds of anything up 214 to 60 miles and even 65 miles an hour, along a road which is designed to take at the most three lines of traffic. I have seen double and treble banking at very high speeds, and on two occasions my own car has been knocked flat practacilly outside the door of my house house owing to people indulging in triple banking. Why is it that in that park the speed limit is most respected, yet as soon as they leave the park the speed is increased? It is no doubt because the park has the reputation, amply justified, of being "trapped." practically every day. The "trap" is about the most conspicuous thing in the park. Nevertheless it has that reputation, and as a result you constantly have a perfectly respectable procession through the park and on to this road, which, as far as I know, has never been "trapped" at all. As soon as they leave the park, they ignore any observance of the speed limit.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say whether the particular park is subject to a speed limit?
Major LLOYD GEORGE
Oh, yes, I think so. I am supporting this Bill, and I am now rather on the question of reek-less driving. There is no shadow of doubt in my mind that the only way to cure these gentlemen who drive without regard to the safety of their fellow-citizens is to punish them, and to punish them ruthlessly. [An HON. MEMBER: "Give them the cat!"] I believe that the giving of appropriate punishment would have the support of every decent citizen in the country. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) raised a question about manslaughter, and referred to the fairly high percentage of acquittals. I should like the Minister to consider this matter. There is no doubt at all, even supposing the evidence is conclusive, that juries very often do not like to bring in a verdict which will brand a man practically as a murderer. Would it not be possible to introduce a new offence such as causing death by means of a motor car? I am certain that many people who get off today, and who frankly ought not to get off, would be brought to book far more effectively if an offence something on those lines were brought in which would obviate the necessity of bringing in a verdict which many juries do not like to bring in.
215 I am very glad that the pedestrians have been brought in at last. The hon. Member for Bodmin seemed to take the view that the whole of the responsibility should rest upon the motorist. I think that that is a monstrous suggestion. The greater responsibility should certainly rest upon the motorist, because he has a very potent weapon, and is well protected by it very often, but the pedestrian should certainly not escape all responsibility. It is only those who drive in London and in our large cities who realise what a terrible danger some of our pedestrians really are. They step off the pavement in front of a car without looking to the right or to the left. The car swerves to avoid them, and probably suffers a very much worse accident in its career across the road. There is also the non-observance of traffic lights. We have to watch the traffic lights as well as drive the car, and if we do not do so we get into trouble. As soon as the green light goes up there is a right of way and a stream of pedestrians who completely ignore the traffic lights, walk across the front of the car, and if you blow your horn you get what is called an old-fashioned look. I am very glad indeed to find that pedestrians are being brought in, as they should also be reminded of their responsibility.
I do not know what to say about the driving test, because we do not know what it is to be. If it is anything like the driving test which was imposed upon me before taking a car abroad, I should think that it will be useless. I was taken for a little ride through a pleasant square. I did not meet anything, and I did not cross the road, and I was passed as fit to drive my car. It is true that I should probably kill foreigners and not Britishers, but that was the test. I am satisfied that it is not technical inefficiency which is responsible for accidents on the roads of this country. Very often the really expert driver is the worst man on the road. He could pass any technical test which the hon. Gentleman could impose upon him. The two great dangers are, first, ignorance, and, secondly, recklessness and bad manners. The very best test would be a very searching examination on the Highway Code. A man may leave his car round a corner but four feet from the side, and if you were to tell him that he was a 216 criminal he would be surprised and hurt. He could be dealt with far better by examination on the Code. I suggest that the manufacturers might be asked to co-operate in regard to the matter. They might put on the dash-board of their cars four or five instructions, "Never overtake on a corner," "Never stop car on a corner" and "Never out in." There should be three or four simple suggestions. I feel sure that they would co-operate, and it would not be a bad thing to have these suggestions in front to remind people constantly of three or four of the most dangerous practices.
With regard to the gentleman who cuts in, the only cure is very severe punishment. I experienced a case the other day in which a driver 200 yards away cut in from behind a lorry. He did not know that I had to stand on my brake as hard as I could. He was an extraordinarily good driver and was, no doubt, quite unaware of what might have happened. Such a man cuts in, passes on corners and adopts every kind of trick that makes driving intolerable. There is another little trick which often happens. If you are in a line of traffic waiting for the signal to go up, there is always a gentleman who comes up and pushes his way to the front. I should like that sort of practice to be made a crime, and for such a gentleman to be sent back to where he started from. It is not exactly dangerous, but it is the worst example of bad manners you could have. This sort of thing is very prevalent, especially in London. Ruthless punishment is what is wanted.
Would it be possible to consider an addition to Clause 13, where penalties are provided for selling the wrong kind of reflector, and extend it to people who manufacture and sell noisy exhaust? It is extraordinary that though there has been a law in this country for many years prohibiting noisy exhaust, there are certain people who love to think, when they are in a seven or ten-horse power car, that they are on Daytona Beach, and apparently it is the noise of the exhaust which gives the best impression of that fact. No appreciable efficiency is lost by having a silent car. It is becoming a common occurrence to have these cars passing houses at two or three o'clock in the morning and waking up all the inhabitants of the street. There is only one way to cure it, and that is for the 217 Minister to add to Clause 13 the same punishment that he has prescribed for people who sell reflectors that are not up to standard. No harm will be done to anybody, but these young gentlemen will have to go along quietly and with discipline.
Although I am a motorist, I am very strongly in favour of the strict control of motoring in this country. No decent man fever objects to having motoring properly regulated for the safety of the rest of the citizens. If the motorist does not object to being controlled, I think he is entitled to every help that the State can give him in order to make driving safe. The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) referred to the railways, but I think the speed on some of the railways is not even as great as it was. The railway has every kind of assistance. It has signals and every sort of safety device, and I maintain that if the motorist is to be controlled as he is under the Bill, he is also entitled to every facility that the State can give him.
The Minister said that those people who suggested that the Road Fund ought to be restored, and that the roads should be made better and then everything would be right, were talking dangerous nonsense. I am not one of those who would suggest that all the money should be spent in making wider racing tracks, but it cannot be denied that there are roads which are positively dangerous. I could give examples of several roads leading out of London which have been beautifully made for certain distances and then you come to a bridge over which only one car can go at a time. The motorist is entitled to have these dangers removed. He ought to have every device for safety. He ought to have traffic lights or islands at cross-roads. He is also entitled to have roads widened, bad corners removed and better lighting at night. The lighting in some of our streets at night is dangerous to drivers. The light shines in the driver's face and makes it impossible for him to see.
Pedestrians are entitled to the provision of proper footpaths. They often walk on the roads because the footpaths are not fit to walk on. You cannot expect a woman to push a perambulator upon some of the footpaths, and therefore she goes into the road. The pedestrian is entitled to a decent footpath to 218 keep him off the road. All these things cost money, but if they do cost money, the money has been provided by the motorists. In 1909, when this country was well and wisely governed, the Road Fund was created. It was provided that as traffic increased the receipts for the fund increased to meet the very situation that has now arisen. The traffic on the road has increased enormously, and the fund was designed to increase with it in order to enable the country to meet the situation, but later Governments came in, not so wise perhaps, and started raiding the Road Fund. Subsequent Governments have continued to raid the Road Fund. I suggest that the Minister should go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask not for a favour but for something to which he is entitled and to which the motorists of this country, who have contributed millions to taxation are entitled. If they are to have all this control, they are entitled to have every assistance, especially when they have paid the money for it.
The situation is very serious and admits of no delay. We have heard the appalling figures mentioned. It is an extraordinary thing that if we have a talk on disarmament we can get meetings all over the country and all over the world in favour of disarmament. This country wants disarmament on the roads. It is surprising that comparatively little interest is taken in this question. There has been no war in which this country has been engaged, except the last War, that has been responsible for such heavy casualties as those we suffer year after year on the roads, and yet you cannot get the country aroused on this vital matter, which is not something problematical, but something which is happening every day before our eyes. Peace can only come through international action, but the solution of this problem is in our own hands, and in our hands alone. I agree with the Minister that no legislation will cure altogether these evils. While we have motor cars we are bound to have accidents, but legislation can enormously lessen the risks. If the Minister will tackle this gigantic problem with energy and boldness, he will have the support of the overwhelming mass of the people of this country.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I do not want my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for 219 Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) to imagine that I am at all satisfied with, the present condition of affairs on the streets and roads of the country. I was merely pointing out to him that the actual number of accidents is lower to-day than it was when the speed limit was in force in 1930. I do not want him to think that I am in the least satisfied with the present conditions. I listened to the Minister's speech with very great care, and I think that if anybody can pilot this Bill through the House of Commons it is the present Minister of Transport. He is very skilful in debate, and I congratulate him most heartily, although I am afraid I cannot agree with all the provisions in the Bill. I want to examine some of the provisions. The real thing that the House wishes to do, and what the Minister wishes to do, is to try to reduce the number of accidents which take place on our roads. We want to examine the Bill from that angle, and see whether in fact the proposals will produce the results which we desire.
If I thought that the proposals in the Bill would lessen to a large extent the number of accidents on the roads I would give it my blessing at once, but I fear very much that many of the proposals will have practically no effect on the casualty lists. Let me deal with Clause 1, which imposes a speed limit of 30 miles per hour in built-up areas. I want to refer to the Second Reading Debate in 1930 when the late Minister of Transport, Mr. Morrison, introduced his Bill. He discussed the question whether the speed limit was an effective means of preventing accidents, and I propose to read a few remarks which he made on that point. Speaking on 18th February, 1930, he said:What are the arguments of the critics of the proposed abolition of the speed limit?…Supposing we indicate that the speed limit should be increased to 30, 35 or even to 40 miles an hour, what are we saying? We are saying that in the ordinary run of driving a motor car it is reasonable to run at 30, 35 or 40 miles an hour. I venture to say to the House that that is an exceedingly dangerous thing to say and that it is dangerous to get into the motorist's head. The truth is that"—and I agree with Mr. Morrison in everything he said—40 miles an hour, 35 miles an hour, 30 miles an hour and even 20 miles an hour are dangerous speeds in many circumstances. Ten miles an hour or even five miles an 220 hour, with some fool going round the corner on the wrong side, is a dangerous speed." [OFFICIAL RETORT, 18th February, 1930; col. 1209, Vol. 235.]That was said by the late Minister of Transport, but it is not the opinion of the present Minister of Transport. I want to quote another Minister of Transport, the present Lord Mount Temple, who was then Colonel Ashley. Speaking in the same Debate and referring to the speed limit, Colonel Ashley said:As regards the speed limit…I cordially support him"—that is, Mr. Morrison—in his decision that for what are called private cars there should be no speed limit. The answers which came to my inquiries when I sent out the trial Bill in 1927 were overwhelmingly in favour of having no speed limit.Later, Colonel Ashley said:Even in the Metropolis itself, the City Police and the councils of the Metropolitan boroughs were in favour of the abolition of the speed limit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1930; col. 1230, Vol. 235.]I would also point out that the Royal Commission recommended that the speed limit should be abolished. That was the considered opinion of the Royal Commission. Although the chairman may have changed his opinion, that does not say that the whole Commission have changed their minds. They considered the question very carefully at that time. The point that I want to make is this: Is the speed limit in the built-up areas a practicable proposition? What is a built-up area? We are told by the Bill that a built-up area is an area where you have street lamps.
I went to Oxford last Sunday in order to examine the 30-mile speed limit there. I found that the speed limit extends three miles along the High Wycombe Road, about two and a half miles along the Iffley Road, and it also extends in other directions outside Oxford itself. I made inquiries to find out what the provisions of the police were in Oxford and whether in fact they were able to enforce the speed limit. I found that the police traps which they set in Oxford, and there are a very large number of them, are all set on the long stretches of road outside the city itself where the 30-mile speed limit is imposed. There are street lamps in these long stretches of roads, and it is perfectly safe to drive at 30 or 40 miles an hour. I did 221 not do so myself, because I was afraid of being caught. I made this examination, because I wanted to find out what would happen if we had a 30-mile speed limit all over the country. I asked a question in the House as to how many convictions there had been since the speed limit was put on at Oxford, and I received a letter from the Home Office telling me that 162 people had been convicted in four months, up to the end of March, for having broken the law in Oxford. The speed limit has only been in force since the end of November. If the Bill had been in operation, these people would have had their licences endorsed, and I dread to think of the number of people who would have had their licences endorsed if the same regulation had been in operation in other parts of the country.
I asked a question of the Minister of Transport in order to get some idea of the length of road which is involved in the suggestion of a speed limit, and the answer I received was that there are about 177,000 miles of roads in the country, out of which 46,000 miles, or 23 per cent., are in urban areas. I imagine that this leaves out of account the villages and, therefore, probably about 25 per cent. of the total road area of the country will come under the speed limit and the police trap. If that be so, then we shall have endorsements and fines galore all over the country. But let me point out that these 162 people who have been convicted in Oxford for exceeding the speed limit are not the only people who have done so; they are the only people who have been caught. Thousands of people have gone through Oxford on these particular roads who have exceeded the limit.
§ Mr. GEOFFREY PETO
Can the hon. and gallant Member tell me whether these convictions were all for exceeding the speed limit or whether there were any convictions for dangerous driving?
§ Sir W. BRASS
I am glad the hon. Member has raised that point. I asked the question as to how many people were prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit in Oxford and how many for driving to the danger of the public. The answer I got was that 162 were convicted for exceeding the limit and two for driving to the danger of the public. The obvious deduction to be drawn from that is that in the opinion of the police 162 people 222 broke the law by exceeding the 30-mile speed limit but that in the opinion of the police they were not driving to the danger of the public. That brings out a point which the Minister should remember—that if a man exceeds the speed limit he is not necessarily driving dangerously. I want to point out also how extremely inelastic a speed limit is. It has no regard for the condition of the road. You may drive at 30 miles an hour on a wet road, and that would be extremely dangerous. You may drive at 40 miles an hour on the very same road when it is dry, and you would be driving perfectly safely. You may be driving a car which has four wheel brakes, or you may be driving an old car which has only back brakes. All are treated exactly the same. If you break the law and exceed the speed limit, you are treated alike whether you are driving a car which is safe, whether you are driving on a wet road or on a dry road, whether you are driving a car which has good or bad brakes; it makes no difference at all, the policeman will prosecute and you will be fined and your licence endorsed, compulsorily, under Clause 4.
What is going to happen to the ordinary man trying to get a job? He may have an endorsement on his licence; he may easily get two or three endorsements on his licence, under this speed limit. Directly his future employer sees that he has two or three endorsements on his licence for exceeding the limit, he says that the man must be a dangerous driver, Really it does not mean that at all, because he may have exceeded the limit by only two or three miles an hour, but there is nothing in the endorsement to say to what extent the limit has been exceeded. I think that as a result of this provision such a man is unlikely to get a job in the future, and I would impress that point on the attention of the Minister. Someone else may get the job, who perhaps may not have had his licence endorsed merely because he has been more fortunate or has been driving in areas where there are no police traps.
Let me deal with Clause 5, which provides tests for new drivers. In my view, it all depends on what the test is going to be. During the Committee stage of the Bill of 1930 I proposed an Amendment to the effect that there should be an examination in the highway code 223 before any licence was granted, but that suggestion was turned down by Mr. Morrison. It is more important that a driver should have a knowledge of road conditions, and a road sense, than being actually able to guide and stop a car. The road tests which are given under the Act of 1930 in the case of disabled persons are not of the slightest use, and I hope that the Minister when he makes regulations will not give the same tests which are at present given under the 1930 Act, but will have a proper oral examination as to whether the driver knows the essence of driving a motor car.
One word on Clause 13 which deals with reflectors on bicycles. This is a most important provision. I have always pressed the point that these reflectors should be efficient. In fact, I think I was the first person to move a Bill providing that red reflectors should be carried by cyclists. I moved it under the Ten Minutes Rule, and it was incorporated later in an Act of Parliament. I stressed the point then that these reflectors should be efficient, and I stress the point now. I hope the Minister will make this particular Clause more stringent. The proviso at the end says:Provided that a person shall not be convicted of an offence under this Sub-section if he proves that he warned the purchaser, or the persons to whom the appliance was offered for sale, as the case may be, that it did not comply with the said conditions.I would not allow anyone to carry on a bicycle a reflector which was not of a type approved by the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington. I do not agree with the suggestion of white, because I am afraid that what will happen is that the cyclist will merely paint a piece of white on his mudguard and leave his present inefficient reflector above it. I suggest that the Clause should be altered so that everybody in future will have to carry a piece of white stuff, some kind of waterproof material now used on bicycles, and that the reflector should be attached to it. Then we should have an efficient reflector as well as a piece of white which the Minister suggests. That would be much better than having a piece of white on his mudguard and an inefficient reflector, which many of them have at the present time.
There is another important Clause which deals with pedestrian crossings. I 224 have suggested these pedestrian paths on many occasions. About three and a half years ago I sent a photograph to the then Minister of Transport, Mr. Morrison, and the Home Office from Paris showing exactly how the matter is worked in that city. I think it is about time that the Ministry of Transport adopted some of the suggestions I have made at different intervals. I am glad that my right hon. Friend is now going to do this, but let me point out one thing. I have seen a suggestion in the "Times" that the experiment of these pedestrian paths in London is to be made on a sort of herring-bone pattern on the road with paint. I would ask him to reconsider that suggestion. This is a very important point. The essential in the success of the system of studded crossings in Paris has been the fact that there are thousands of them all over that city. According to the "Times" there are 10,000 of them in Paris. I know Paris very well because my sister lives there, and I know that the result of having so many of these crossings is that the people in Paris know the places where they can cross the road in security. I would impress on the Minister that the essential thing in connection with this problem is the number of pedestrian paths which he is going to establish. I would litter London with them and not only London but the built-up areas in the provinces. They are a much better preventive of accidents than any speed limit. They impose an automatic speed limit. Where the paths are marked out by means of studs, each about the size of a soup-plate or slightly smaller, and rounded at the top, giving a reflection from the lights around, they are easy to see, and, if the motorist finds a pedestrian in one of these paths, he has to stop and give way to the pedestrian. If he knocks down or even touches a pedestrian who is within the studded area, he is to blame, and there is no question about it at all.
The real danger in these areas arises in connection with pedestrians crossing the road. We want to give them sanctuaries and to make it an offence for the motorist to touch anybody who is within one of those sanctuaries. I do not like the idea of painting the crossings as is proposed, because that means that they would have to be painted afresh every week. I have seen examples of this in Piccadilly. My flat is in Piccadilly, 225 and, if I go to get out my car on a Sunday morning, I find men employed repainting the white lines across the roadway. That is why I urge the Minister to mark the crossing places by something more permanent than paint, and I suggest the system of studs. If the Minister teaches pedestrians in London to look out for and expect crossings painted in a sort of herring-bone pattern on the road, he will have to employ thousands of painters to keep them renewed if he is to have about 20,000 crossings all over London. It would be easier, to put down the studs and to get the people in London to realise that these are marked crossings, and that they are permanencies.
In this Clause I do not think the Minister has enough power. I do not like the dictatorial powers which he is taking in Clause 1 about the speed limit, but I would like him to have dictatorial powers under Clause 14 to deal with this question of crossings. Clause 14 provides that where it appears to a local council that crossings ought to be established in its district the council may submit to the Minister a scheme, after consultation with the chief officer of police. It is all put upon the local authority. The local authority is asked whether it would like to have such a scheme or not. It can put up a scheme to the Minister, and the Minister can then approve of or turn down such a scheme. The point is that the Minister feels himself responsible in connection with these accidents all over the country. He has experts in his Department who have travelled all over the world and studied conditions in all the big cities—at least I hope they have. They understand exactly what ought to be done to prevent these accidents. But the local authorities throughout the country have not these advantages. They know little about what can be done to prevent these accidents. That is why I suggest that the Minister ought to take power under this Clause to say to the local authorities, "You must have these studded crossings in certain places, because I know they are going to prevent accidents and save lives." I would not leave it as it is left in Clause 14.
In Sub-section (6) of the Clause it is provided that it shall be the duty of a council by whom a scheme is submitted to execute any works required in the establishment of crossings, and, if the council make default in the execution of 226 such works, the Minister may execute the works, and recover the expense as a civil debt. Directly a local authority sees that provision, are they not likely to decide that they will not submit any scheme at all to the Minister? Apparently, in that case the Minister cannot force them to do so. I ask my hon. Friend therefore to recast this Clause in such a way as to enable him, if necessary, to force local authorities to do what he wants them to do, which is to try to save the lives of people. In that way, I believe he would be able to prevent a large number of accidents such as are taking place at the present time. He will find that this is a better way of doing so than the speed limit which is an utterly arbitrary thing and which was opposed by Mr. Morrison, and was opposed by Lord Mount Temple when as Colonel Ashley he was Minister of Transport—
§ Sir W. BRASS
I did not say that Mr. Morrison was opposed to the proposal for crossings. What I said was that I have sent photographs and suggestions to the Ministry of Transport under Mr. Morrison and that they have not acted on them. The Department has had those photographs since my hon. Friend has been Minister, and it is only now that he is beginning to act. I want to impress upon him the consequences of insisting on a 30-mile speed limit in all so-called built-up areas. I use the term "so-called" because on my way to Oxford I have come across numerous stretches of road like the Fairmile outside Henley where there is a mile of road with no houses on it, but with lamps all along it which would bring it within his definition of a built-up area. There are numerous places all over the country where street lamps exist but which are not built-up areas. The Great West Road is an enormously wide road which has been specially built, but directly this Measure passes, it will automatically become a built-up area because it has lamps. On Sunday I went along that road at 50 miles an hour, and I had somebody in the car with me who was taking a cinematograph picture of somebody else in front of me travelling at the same speed. I can show hon. Members the picture if they wish to see it. 227 There was no danger in going at that speed on the Great West Road, and I would impress on the Minister the importance of trying not to annoy all the motorists in the country. If he puts on this speed limit, one result will be to start the traps all over again. We have had an example of that in Oxford where in the four months during which these traps have existed 160 people have been prosecuted.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
As Member for Oxford University, may I say that the amount of furious driving through the streets of Oxford which was enormous three or four months ago has now gone down practically to nil, because the road hogs are stopped in the suburbs and brought to the police court, and they have been shown that they had better tone down their speed to an ordinary 20 miles an hour or so before getting into the congested central district of Oxford.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I know something of it, and I can tell my hon. Friend that what in fact happens is that the police do not stop them at all, but pursue them and necessarily have to travel at the same speed. They have a motor bicycle and sidecar and an M.G. car there engaged in that work. I saw them on Sunday.
§ Sir W. BRASS
The measures which are being taken in Oxford do not prevent people from going fast, as is shown by the fact that 160 people have been prosecuted within four months for exceeding the speed limit there, and directly you get this kind of antagonism between the police and the motorists you get serious trouble. You create a bad atmosphere, and the police, instead of being the friends of the motorists, instead of trying to help them, will be looking out for breaches of the speed limit, while the motorists, instead of watching the road properly, will be looking round to see whether there are any traps. We shall see cars carrying mirrors at the back as some of the big omnibuses do—
§ Sir W. BRASS
I certainly would, because the police traps in Oxford are not in the congested area. People go slowly through the congested area and no speed limit is necessary there. The police catch them outside the congested district.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
Has the hon. and gallant Member no regard for the ancient buildings whose safety is protected by having a speed limit?
§ Sir W. BRASS
I do not think it makes any difference. I am speaking, of course, of light cars and not of heavy vehicles. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Minister has had any application from Cambridge in this connection or not, but I hope not. I think Cambridge people are possibly better able to look after themselves than those of Oxford, but I will not go into that, because I do not know whether my hon. Friend was at Oxford or Cambridge. In conclusion, I want to say how grateful I am for being allowed to make these comments on the Bill. I do not propose to vote against it, and I do not propose to vote for it, because I object to the speed limit, but I hope that during the passage of the Bill through Committee it will be found possible to amend it considerably.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir C. OMAN
Showers of vituperation have descended on the head of my hon. Friend in charge of the Bill. I, on the other hand, give him the whole-hearted blessing of all the pedestrians and all the decent motorists of this realm. The Bill follows the public opinion strictly in tackling four great questions of the present day. In a very sincere and modest speech the hon. Gentleman said that he had no panacea for every problem. I do not think that there is a single panacea for all problems, but he has tackled four great problems of which the solution will be of enormous benefit to pedestrians. The first is speed, the second is the test and examination of would-be motorists, the third is the heightening of penalties for reckless or careless motoring, and the fourth is the providing of sanctuary-pathways for the unhappy pedestrian.
229 I have listened to several of the hon. Members who spoke on speed, and I now understand why the feeling about speed is so great among those who are not enthusiastic motorists, or who are motorists of a more modest kind. There are people to whom speed is an end in itself. The faster they can go the happier they are; it sends a thrill through them which nothing else can give. A distinguished man once said to me, "Short of my swoop when I am aero-planing, there is nothing which gives me such pleasure as to go at 70 or 80 miles an hour along a straight road." That is a mentality which may give great pleasure to the individual but which, in the end, is thoroughly dangerous to the King's lieges. The man whose aim in life and whose one ideal of pleasure is to go at 80 miles an hour on a long, straight road is a public danger, and ought to be stopped. All the arguments which I have heard against having some sort of speed limit—I do not say precisely what it should be—seem in themselves to be absolutely contradictory. One argument developed at great length was that if there were a 30-mile an hour limit it would give the motorist free licence to go up to 30 miles an hour on that particular piece of road and no charge could be brought against him. That is absolutely futile. Suppose I go at 30 miles an hour on that road through a dense fog, or when it is filled with a marching regiment, can I then say: "It is true that there was a regiment or a dense fog on the road, but I was only going at 30 miles an hour?" Of course not; I should be had up for reckless or careless driving and fined. It is therefore not true in the slightest to say that a motorist will have license to go at 30 miles an hour on a scheduled piece of road.
The second point is the stopping of the traffic to a reasonable pace in the streets of narrow villages. It was depreciated on this ground. It was said that 40 years ago hens used to be run over and some hon. Members brought their feathers into the House; and that dogs used to get run over; that now it is the children who get run over. That argument will scarcely appeal to the public. Shall the child be taught that the village street is not its playground, or the children of England be treated like the dogs and the hens? No, it is impossible. 230 How can you keep the children out of the street? Think of the village mother having to spend the whole of her time seeing that her little boy does not get into the street. It cannot be done. I remember one awful moment last summer in Scotland when, in a village street, a motor was going by; a little blue ball bounced out of a cottage door and a little boy came out after it like a flash of lightning. The motorist, to his great credit, succeeded in swerving. If he had been going at the reckless pace of some motorists the child would have been knocked to bits. You cannot, as a human being, look with equanimity upon the idea of letting the village child be killed in the streets because someone wants to go through them at 40 rather than 10 or 25 miles an hour. The mentality of that argument is simply incredible, and it has done the callous motorist more harm all round the world than I can say. It is a simply intolerable idea.
As to Oxford, to which my hon. and gallant Friend alluded, all I can say is that we were plagued with road-hogs charging down the High Street at 40 miles an hour, and with lorries which shook my 17th century window down into the street. We have not yet got rid of lorries, because the right hon. Gentleman has not provided anything about them in the Bill, but we have, to a very large extent, got rid of the people who made crossing the Corn Market or the High Street a danger. I cannot see the object of arguing that the traps are not set in central Oxford How could they be? No one wishing to preserve his own life could charge at 30 miles an hour through Corn Market Street. If you want to stop the motorist from careering through the High Street, you must catch him in advance as he is coming into Oxford I had a letter from the chief constable agreeing with me entirely. If only two people have been charged with driving to the danger of the public, that means, I suppose, that motorists were not actually doing it in the centre of Oxford, or at any rate when people were crossing the street in their habitaual way and were in danger. Prevention, however, is the best cure, and the cure for rapid, reckless driving in central Oxford is to prevent it in the suburbs. That seems to me perfectly clear.
231 There is a great deal to be said, on the third point, in praise of the Minister's tests and examinations. I praise this proposal entirely, and think that the arguments produced against it have been unconvincing. There is only one thing I should like to add, and that is a medical examination. Only a few weeks ago an epileptic motorist charged into a dense crowd watching the King drive away, and killed four people. If that motorist had presented himself before a doctor, he would probably have been detected. A person who is actually a drug-taker or is showing all the signs of being a habitual exceeder in alcohol would also be detected by the doctor. The only thing that is wanted in addition to the tests proposed in this Bill is that there shall not only be the 10s. man who will test your powers of driving, but a panel doctor at the lowest decent fee, yet competent, to say that you are physically and mentally capable.
I can only congratulate the hon. Gentleman very much on his heightening, in some cases, the penalties for careless and reckless driving. The few really serious accidents at which I have been present were all cases of absolutely wicked, reckless driving. I have been run into by a butcher-boy coming out of a by-road at full speed into an arterial road; that is careless driving. I have been run into by a lady driver who, while discussing an extraordinarily interesting secret with her passenger, came out of a private entry and charged into the side of my vehicle. I must ask the House not to laugh at my third instance. It was on a very good but slightly curving road; there was a big char-a-banc, followed by a car containing four young people who were going out to lunch. It was a quarter to one when this happened; the young people got tired of waiting behind the char-a-banc, charged round it and, the road being extremely narrow and curving, they were run into and killed by a fast car coming in the other direction, the driver of which was purely within his rights and not to blame in the least. That was careless and reckless driving punished in the most dreadful way. I shall never forget the bodies laid out under their tarpaulin at the side of the road. It is, however, not true to say that reckless and careless driving always takes place on roads where it does not make 232 any difference, on remote and obscure roads where there is no danger or harm done. These three accidents took place in highly frequented roads. You cannot rule out the human element, the careless driver. He is sometimes punished by killing himself, but, when he is not, I am strongly convinced that the new penalties introduced by the hon. Gentleman will be very useful. The fourth point, the sanctuary paths, has already been dealt with by an hon. Member. They are absolutely necessary, and I trust that the local authorities will take them up, and make a great many of them.
I will dwell only upon one more point. There is a sad gap in this otherwise excellent Bill, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do something to repair it when the Bill comes into Committee. That is the provision for stopping nuisances. I do not mean the small nuisances like wild noises, nauseating odours, ashes and oily substances dropped intermittently from lorries, but the much more important nuisance of vibration. Anybody who has inhabited an old house by a main lorry road knows that this is a terrible infliction. Not only is there noise, but material damage is done. My own windows in an ancient college on the High Street of Oxford were shaken down by lorries. Worse, the subterranean cellars of the Bodleian Library were affected and the books in them spoilt, not by their being underneath the road, but because the vibration in the road passing near the Bodleian was so great that it penetrated the cement sides of the underground buildings and ruined many books. All through that narrow street was driven a fleet of heavy lorries, bringing heavy machinery from Birmingham to Southampton. Central Oxford is full of narrow streets and valuable buildings, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find some way of shielding them from vibration. I have said enough, and all that I can do now is to assure the hon. Gentleman, however much the speed maniac may criticise him, that the sympathy of the whole of the King's lieges who are not speed maniacs will be with him. Let him go on and prosper. Sic itur ad astra.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. ALED ROBERTS
The Minister of Transport, in introducing the Bill today, said that at any rate it dealt with a subject which was entirely non-political. 233 I am bound to say that I agree with him, and probably the best proof of that is that I should, if I had the opportunity, vote for the Measure. The Minister also told us that he had made at least a sincere attempt to grapple with this problem, which I thoroughly believe, but he also told us that he would be glad to have any views on it, and he led us to suppose that he would be prepared to consider Amendments to it. I can remember, about 12 months ago, the hon. Gentleman standing in the same place, introducing another Bill, which is now on the Statute Book, and saying that he would be prepared to welcome Amendments, but I also remember how very few Amendments to that Bill he did ultimately accept.
However, those of us who think politically as I do are bound to look at the Bill and, on a first glance, to receive it with some measure of repugnance, because it is a Bill which adds further to the restrictions on the liberties of the subject. I always feel like that whenever I hear of any law proposed to be introduced which will prevent people from doing things, but on an occasion like this one must weigh up the pros and cons of taking some liberties from one section of the people if it is really going to achieve something to stop the tremendous waste of life and the injuries which are taking place on the road to-day. Balancing the one factor against the other, I very regretfully come to the conclusion that, if there are any of these restrictions which can help to that end, I must support them. The doubt that is in my mind is as to whether they really will do very much beyond drawing the attention of the country at large to the necessity for legislation to deal with this grave matter, and perhaps giving the country to think that something tangible is being done. I am not looking at this matter with the hope that the actual provisions in the Bill, if it were carried as it stands, would do very much, but perhaps if the Minister accepts some Amendments and the Bill is properly advertised, the general effect might be very favourable.
I am one of those who did a good deal of motoring during Easter. I always have to drive myself, for obvious reasons, and when I was passing through some of the narrow roads in North Wales I noticed, or thought I noticed, a perceptible improvement in the standard of driving, 234 which I put down to the very timely address which the Minister gave on the eve of the Easter holidays. That, I think, is one of the things which should show us that at the bottom of most of these troubles, in so far as the motorist is responsible, is not so much inefficiency as bad manners. If, when the figures for Easter are produced, we find that there has been any appreciable falling off in road accidents during the holiday period as a result of that appeal, I think that will confirm, once and for all, the fact that many of these accidents could be avoided by a proper observance of ordinary, decent conduct on the road by many of our motorists.
I do not say to-night that I am speaking for anybody in particular, but I have had one or two things mentioned to me by some of the motoring organisations, who appear to be very much annoyed by the fact that the Bill was introduced on the eve of the Easter cess and that the Debate on it is being taken immediately we get back, with the result that many of them have not been able to sit down and collect their opinions or their data. I do not think that is a matter which should concern them very much, because they will be able to say the things that they want to say much better during the Committee stage than in this Debate. The thing that most of us should look at to-night is whether, in view of the fact that we have got to have a Bill, we can do anything which will assist the Government to make it a really effective Measure, and it is with that object that I want to say a few words and then to offer some suggestions from my own personal experience.
In the first place, the matter of bicycles has been referred to by several hon. Members to-night, and I would like to add my pressure on the Minister to consider whether, now that he is dealing with bicycles and their makers, he should not do the job thoroughly. It is no hardship, as has been said already, to ask the cyclist to carry a rear light, and any motorist who has gone through a colliery district or a district where the roads are very black and cycles are in common use, will know that at night it is almost impossible, even with a white mark on the rear mudguard, for the motorist to see the cyclist in front of him. The obvious solution is to insist on the cyclist carrying a rear light which can be seen, and 235 in that way not only will you avoid accidents to the cyclists, but you will avoid accidents to other people as well. Those who drive will know that when you come suddenly upon a cyclist, whom the reflector has not shown up, and you almost run him down, it gives you a very nasty jar, and the nerves of that motorist, after two or three times like that, are not so good as they would be otherwise to deal with some other emergency which might arise suddenly, besides the danger of skidding, as an hon. Friend reminds me, if the road surface is in a bad state, in the endeavour not to run down a cyclist.
There is another point that I think the Minister might consider in connection with these reflectors on bicycles. Will he do something about providing for better rear lights on very slowly moving heavy vehicles? I occasionally have to deal with the actual details of some of these accidents, and I have been horrified at times to read, in the description of the accident, that the motor cyclist or the motorist concerned has run right into the back of one of these slowly moving vehicles, because it has had no light, and the man has been killed in many of these cases which I have had to handle. That should be avoided. Horse-drawn traffic and very slow-moving heavy traffic undoubtedly should have some special kind of rear light to enable the motorist to detect it at once.
The matter of tests for drivers is one about which I am sure there will be plenty of argument during the Committee stage. I wish I could persuade myself that it will have some effect in solving this problem, but I cannot see what good we are going to get out of the ordinary test for drivers as laid down in the Bill at present. First of all, you are not going to put a driver on the road and test him immediately he applies for a licence. The Bill says that he is to have a provisional licence for three months to enable him to learn to drive, and that then, at the end of the three months, he must pass a test. What is going to happen while he is learning during those three months? If he is going to learn in a school or always subject to the supervision of some other person, he will not be fit to pass the test at the end of the three months, and if he is to be allowed to learn on the highway, which is the 236 only place that is really of any use, you might as well give him a licence straight away.
The experience of insurance companies goes to show that when they are dealing with this problem, so far as I know there are only two companies in the country that will not accept insurance of a man who is licensed for the first time. The majority of them will, some without any stipulation, some merely making a stipulation that in the first three months or six months he must pay the first £5, that is, if he runs people down or anything like that. It seems to me that unless the Minister lets the man who applies for a licence for the first time drive on the road, the test will be of no use afterwards. If he is not going to do that, how will the man ever learn to drive? And having done all that, the man having got his licence, that does not remove from the roads any of those who are at present licensed and who have been causing these accidents. The people who have actually been running people down, and injuring the people who are enumerated in the figures which the Minister produced a short time ago, are still driving, and nothing in the Bill will do anything to weed them off the road.
I am one of those who deal every day, as a matter of ordinary business, with the insurance of motor cars. I have seen a good deal of it, and I think the Minister might do worse, if he really wishes to reduce the number of injuries, than to collaborate very carefully with the insurance companies. In the last four years these companies have had insurances on nearly all the motorists on the roads, and they know their records. If the Minister would investigate the matter, he would probably find that well over 50 per cent., and it may be up to 75 per cent., of all the persons who are insured for private cars are entitled to a no-claim bonus. An insurance company does not pay a no-claim bonus to anybody who has had an accident, and if somewhere between 50 and 75 per cent. of all the motorists on the road can have a no-claim bonus, that means that only 25 per cent. have had accidents during the previous year. Quite a considerable proportion of motorists are entitled to a higher no-claim bonus, because they have had no accident for two years, and another proportion, still quite considerable, are entitled to the maximum no-claim bonus, which 237 means that they have had no accident for three years.
It comes to the same thing. If you examine these figures, you will find that there is a small proportion of motorists who do nearly all the damage. They are accident-prone people. They cannot help it. I know of many cases, that have come under my own notice, where the driver is experienced and quite competent, but we know them—the insurance companies know them—and there ought to be some means by which the Minister of Transport can collaborate with the insurance companies. If he is going to deal with this question of driving tests or with the efficiency of new drivers, he ought to be able to weed out this particularly dangerous section of drivers who are responsible for many of the accidents on the road.
I hope the hon. Member will forgive my interrupting, but does he advocate having no form of driving test? Surely he recognises that anyone taking a car out of the country has, very rightly, to pass a test. This may be limited, but it necessitates ability to drive on the right of the road and to carry out the different forms of manoeuvring that this entails.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I do not advocate any test at all, because I do not think there is much in it. I know that some of the most brilliant men in business to-day have been incapable of passing examinations, not because they have not had the knowledge, but simply because they cannot pass examinations, and I can conceive of the man who has been through a course of instruction in driving being unable to pass a test, just as I can conceive of a man being able to pass a test with flying colours and yet being a public danger on the road. I do not see that these tests have any very great advantage. The Minister might consider the suggestion I have made to him, namely, that there is very good evidence as to the type of people who are causing a lot of these accidents, and that it might be possible to do something to the Bill toy which he can get track of them and deal with them.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is speaking with the knowledge of what the insurance offices are prepared to do, but may I ask him whether they are prepared to give me the names of those people who are prone to accidents?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am only speaking for myself, and saying that that information is available. If there is anything in the suggestion and the Minister can get into touch with the right quarters and get the information, I shall be delighted.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I do realise that, and that is why I am making the suggestion to the Minister that, if he wants to reduce accidents, he must deal with a number of people who are not fit to be on the road. I have suggested the quickest and best way of finding out who they are. I would like to support the suggestion with regard to brake tests. I attach a good deal of value to that suggestion. It is no use testing a brake after an accident has happened. If it is in order, nothing more is said, but, if it is not in order, the victim is dead. I think the Minister might give serious consideration to a test of that kind. A commercial motor vehicle under the Act which was passed last year has to be efficient, and there is no reason why a test of this kind should not be applied to ordinary motor vehicles. There are plenty of appliances for carrying out the test rapidly and efficiently without causing anybody inconvenience. The proposal to test the heavy vehicle driver and to give him a special licence from the Traffic Commissioners rather surprised me, because it is only a few months since the Minister in Committee upstairs and the Government in another place resisted the proposal very strongly.
§ Mr. STANLEY
What I said at the time was that it must be considered as part of a general system of test for drivers, which was then receiving the consideration of the Government.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I have no desire to be unfair, and I was going to quote what the Minister actually said. He said at that time that you could not apply a test for commercial vehicle drivers if you did not apply it to other drivers. He is removing that reason now. His second point was that he wanted time to consider the report on the investigations into accident causes. The report from January to June, 1933 has been published, and the figures do not indicate that want 239 of experience is a frequent cause of accident. The drivers of motor lorries were responsible for 866 accidents, and of these 839 were caused by experienced drivers. Twenty-six were caused by inexperienced drivers, namely, those who had held a licence for less than six months; and one was caused by a driver inexperienced in the type of vehicle in use at the time.
It puzzles me to know why the Minister, having resisted this proposal at the time for one reason which has now been abolished, and having got the results of the investigation which he said he would like to see, has changed his mind and insisted on the lorry driver having a special licence. Lorry drivers generally are efficient people, and it should be noted that these figures include light vehicles as well as heavy vehicles. The lorry driver is going to have a very rough time in future, because, if there is any sort of revival in trade, there are plenty of unemployed lorry drivers who will want to get a licence to drive. In order to get a licence, they may be told they will have to produce a heavy vehicle on which to be tested. That will be an intolerable burden, because an unemployed driver will not find it easy to get a heavy vehicle for the test, and, if he cannot get his driving certificate, he will not be able to get a job. I hope the Minister will look into that point and see if he cannot do something to make it easier for a man who wants to get a job to qualify himself.
The speed limit is one of those things about which there can be interminable arguments We have heard a lot of discussion about its effect in the City of Oxford. I am one of those who think that no kind of arbitrary speed limit will do very much in the actual congested areas. If we are to have a speed limit, then we have to punish the people who violate it. It is interesting to see what the late Minister of Transport, Mr. Herbert Morrison, said when he was dealing with this question and was appealing to the police to adapt themselves to the new conditions of the time. He said:It may be that in some cases the police trap is defensible.I mention that, because you cannot bring a motorist up for exceeding the limit 240 except on evidence, and that evidence can only be obtained by some kind of police trap. Mr. Morrison went on:It is not much good in the town; it can only be used effectively on a long stretch of long road."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, (Standing Committee C), col. 260, 20th March, 1930.]I believe that to be true. Mr. Morrison then went on to suggest a friendly warning to the motorists, and said he was convinced the policeman standing on one point, or the policeman walking a beat, was not in future going to be in a position to see to the adequate administration of the Act as regards speed and dangerous driving. I agree with that. I wonder how the Minister proposes to carry out the enforcement of this 30-mile speed limit in places which are outside congested areas without some form of police trap. I agree with him that places like villages, which have no street lights, should have a very low speed limit for the controllability of the vehicle in the narrow streets. The same thing applies in a town, where the mere common sense of the motorist dictates his speed; but it is in the semi-built up areas, which includes undeveloped places, where it is safe to go fast and the competent driver can do so. If the Minister will consider rather narrowing that down and introducing the 30-mile speed limit in the outside areas and something very much less in the congested areas, he will find he can use police traps.
I hope he will consider some of the suggested Amendments in Committee. I am sure that he will improve his prospects of carrying the country with him in the operation of the Bill if he does so. The essential thing that we are all striving to obtain is to diminish road accidents and the number of people killed and injured. If we are to do that, we cannot do it merely by laying down certain things in a Bill of this kind, even if we can carry them out. We have to have the co-operation of the motoring community and the pedestrians. It is no use pedestrians carrying on as they have done in the past. I do not know why the motorist should be liable to prosecution if he does not obey the traffic policeman, while the pedestrian can walk across the road as he likes without anybody saying anything to him. That sort of thing ought to be put a stop to. Co-operation will be required in these things, and if the motoring community 241 and the educational authorities will co-operate, the public will stand with fortitude some of these restrictions.
§ 7.42 p.m.
Mr. TEMPLE MORRIS
My hon Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Flint), in supporting the Bill, said that one of the most important aspects of it was its administration. While I agree that the administration is vitally important to the well-being of the Bill and the safety of the public, I wish to deal with two suggestions which my hon. Friend made. He indicated that the Minister of Transport might invoke the aid of the Home Secretary in order to see that more stipendiary magistrates were appointed. I gather from his subsequent remarks, when he spoke about the powers of the justices to suspend licences and to disqualify from driving, that he rather indicated that the appointment of stipendiary magistrates was in order to make the penalties more severe with the hope that there would be more suspensions. In advocating something of that sort, my hon. Friend is adopting a rather dangerous course. I have always been against interfering with the discretion of the tribunal which inflicts punishment upon the subject.
We may have stipendiary magistrates in every important city in the country, but I venture to suggest, and I think every Member of the House will agree, that, while we may have stipendiary magistrates everywhere, we shall never get uniformity of treatment of the offenders that are brought before them. Perhaps it is not generally known—and I speak subject to correction—that every large town that desires a stipendiary can apply for one and have one, provided, of course, the town pays for him. When one considers that large and well-governed towns like Bristol, Plymouth and Portsmouth have not stipendiaries, and that they manage extremely well, and when one also remembers that the large number of suspensions of licences come from lay benches without stipendiaries, I do not think my hon. Friend's argument for more stipendiaries will commend itself to the House.
There is another point to be considered when dealing with this question. Stipendiary magistrates frequently do not sit alone. They sit with lay justices who can out-vote them, so that any extra weight 242 which the stipendiary may have is outweighed by the other magistrates. While I agree with the powers that are given to magistrates to suspend licences of offenders, and while I am anxious that the House should not misunderstand me, I think every Member will agree when I say that every man and woman who is convicted for being under the influence of drink when in charge of a motor car should not only have their licences suspended, but should be sent to prison without the option of a fine. When we are dealing with suspensions for driving dangerously or recklessly, we have to remember that there are suspensions and suspensions. For instance, if a student who drives his motor car recklessly and collides with another vehicle is fined and his licence is suspended for six months, the penalty on him is not nearly so severe as the penalty of suspension would be on, say, a commercial traveller who has to earn his living with his motor car. To him suspension would be disastrous and might cost him his employment.
Therefore, we should not so much urge justices to use these powers and invoke the aid of the Home Secretary to urge chief constables to put them into operation, but rather to tell motorists of the risks they run if they do not obey the Statute. It is a remarkable fact—although, perhaps, every Member does not know it I am certain legal Members know it—that very few people realise that if they are to-day convicted of being under the influence of drink while in charge of a motor vehicle it means automatic suspension of their driving licence for 12 months unless the tribunal sees fit otherwise to order. It would not cost much to make that fact widely known, a short publication might be exhibited in places where licences are applied for; and such simple things as that if undertaken, would, in my respectful submission, effect a great deal more than will be accomplished by talking about universal suspension of licences, which would do a considerable amount of harm to many people.
I listened with care to the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) about the offence of manslaughter. There, again, we are dealing with an extremely difficult matter. I would ask my hon. Friend the Minister if this is not an ideal opportunity for him to put right 243 a state of affairs which, at the moment, is full of difficulty and from which a certain amount of injustice has come. If I illustrate my meaning to the House by a simple example I think it will save time on my part and my hon. Friends will appreciate what I mean. A motorist is driving a car at night. In front of him, and going in the same direction, is a pedal bicyclist, with no light but with one of those very small and inefficient rear red discs. The motorist, not seeing the bicyclist, collides with him, and perhaps kills the bicyclist, perhaps injures the bicyclist, or perhaps simply upsets him. It seems to me, from studying the facts of cases which have come under my knowledge and of cases of which I have heard, that if that motorist is unfortunate enough to kill the bicyclist he is immediately charged with manslaughter, that if he has injured the bicyclist very much he is charged with wanton driving or wilful driving and under the Offences Against the Person Act, and that if he has had the good fortune, from his point of view, merely to upset the bicyclist, he is simply charged with driving to the danger of the public.
It appears therefore, that rather than basing the offence on the degree of negligence displayed, the offence is based upon the injury suffered by the person with whom the motorist has been in collision, and it is no wonder that British juries refuse to convict motorists of manslaughter. British juries are renowned for their good sense, and I think they are wise in acquitting people of manslaughter under those conditions, but whilst they rightly acquit them of manslaughter there are, no doubt, other offences for which they should be punished. Frequently to-day a man charged with manslaughter walks out of the court with a "not guilty" verdict, and he is a free man, whereas if no such disastrous effects physically had happened to the person whom he had, shall I say, bumped into, he would have been charged with a smaller offence and rightly convicted. Does not the Minister think this is an ideal opportunity for him to put right this wrong and, shall I say, to get a new Clause with a new offence in order to see that these persons are properly, not improperly, punished for offences which now are brought before the courts as charges of manslaughter?
244 There are two other brief points which I welcome this opportunity of placing before the Minister. Does he consider that in this Bill he has protected himself sufficiently with regard to one-way traffic areas? It seems to me that in large towns which are developing and getting omnibus centres one-way traffic Orders are greatly on the increase. I suggest to the Minister that now is his opportunity to safeguard himself so far as one-way traffic areas are concerned. There is one further point I wish to put. I raised it some time ago on the Floor of the House by means of question and answer, and I corresponded with the Minister about it. I am looking forward now to the opportunity of making a contribution which will be helpful to the discussion which may follow these observations. Certain insurance companies insert clauses in their policies that if the assured person is convicted of being under the influence of drink at the time of a collision the insurance company shall not be liable. That may act as a deterrent up to a point, but it is very little compensation to the injured person.
A case that comes to my mind is one that happened to a constituent of mine who was driving in his car at a moderate pace and on his correct side of the road in broad daylight. He saw a car coming towards him, down a hill, at a reckless speed and on its wrong side of the road. He did everything which conceivably he could do. He blew his horn to attract attention, he brought his car to a dead standstill, and he awaited forthcoming events. The forthcoming event was a dreadful collision, and that man was injured and damaged to such an extent that he lost his employment and is a complete physical wreck. The man who was driving the other car was rightly convicted of wanton driving and of driving under the influence of drink and sent to prison. The man who went to prison had not a penny, the insurance company have disclaimed responsibility, and the injured man has not had a single penny of compensation. Therefore, I say that now, perhaps, is an opportunity for that matter to be put right, and if it is I am certain that hundreds of people will be safeguarded, and that, after all, is the primary consideration for this House.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mrs. TATE
In view of the enormous number of people killed and injured yearly on our roads, it is not to be wondered at that the fact that a Bill to deal with the subject has been in some measure or another welcomed from all parts of the House, but I think it is a little ironical that congratulations on this particular Bill should have been showered on the Minister from the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) for what is not in fact in his Bill. The hon. Member for Oxford University said that the speed maniac would in future be controlled. There is nothing whatever in this Bill to control the man who has a mania for driving at 80 miles an hour. There is only an effort to control the speed in what is going to be known as a "built-up area," and I suggest that what is called in Clause 1 a "built-up area" is going to be a cause of infinite confusion to the motorist. Firstly, we are told that a built-up area is one in which a local authority has supplied street lighting. We are also told that an area which is not so lighted can, on the direction of the local authority, be declared a built-up area, or that if the local authority has failed to declare it a built-up area the Minister himself can do so. If the Minister or the local authority has declared as a built-up area an area which is not illuminated by street lights, it will become necessary, under this Bill, for a sign to be put up to show that there is a speed limit of 30 miles an hour. I hope the Bill will be so amended in Committee that in either case—whether the area has street lighting or has been declared a built-up area by the local authority or the Minister—there will be adequate, plentiful, and, throughout the country, uniform signs to show that it is an area in which the 30-mile limit is to be observed.
Personally, I do not believe that the 30-mile limit will do what it is intended that it shall do. Mechanical transport on our roads is bound to increase enormously in the next few years. There is a tendency among the public to wish to travel further afield, and a tendency among all classes to wish to do in a day more than they have previously been wont to do. These tendencies are catered for by the provision of increasingly efficient mechanical transport at a yearly decreasing cost. Therefore, we are bound to have very much more crowded roads in the future, 246 and I think this Bill is unimaginative in that it makes very little provision for that increase of traffic. Mention has been made of the expense of improving our highways. Very large sums are contributed to the Road Fund. I do not think enough notice has been taken of the immense sums of money which are contributed to the Exchequer by the motoring industry in one way or another. With the toll of deaths such as it is, we should not resent money being spent to make our roads safer. It is, I think, a terrible thing that although £600,000,000 has been spent on roads since the War we are still left with only three-fifths of our roads supplied with footpaths.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) is not in his place. We are, of course, used to the fact that he is very seldom impartial, but it is a little extraordinary that when he quoted so freely from a book called "The Pace that Kills"—almost his entire speech was taken from that book—he should have failed to notice that in that book it is stated that the preliminary report of the committee on fatal road accidents states that of the total accidents on the roads motorists are responsible for 34 per cent. whereas pedestrians are responsible for 39 per cent. In a way, it is a pity that this Bill has been introduced before we have had the final report of that committee. In view of the enormous number of accidents caused by pedestrians, surely it is not too much to ask that at least every main road should be equipped with an adequate footpath as quickly as possible, and that when it is so equipped it should be considered an offence on the part of pedestrians if they do not use the footpath. A speed limit of 20 miles an hour was in force until 1930. It was abandoned then, to the general satisfaction. We cannot be reimposing a speed limit on account of the increase in road accidents, because since the speed limit was removed they have diminished. If we take the number of vehicles licensed and the number of people killed, it works out that since the abolishing of the speed limit the number of persons killed per 10,000 cars has gone down from 19 to 18.
If I believed that by imposing a speed limit of 30 miles an hour in what is being called "a built-up area" we should diminish accidents I should be the first person to support such a measure, but 247 I do not believe that it will have the effect that it is intended to have. I believe a speed limit of 30 miles an hour in certain areas will give a false sense of security to certain people. A speed limit of 30 miles an hour in crowded areas and for certain types of drivers is always far too high a speed limit. No mention has been made in the Debate of who is to be the judge of the speed at which a car is travelling—which is incidentally a difficult matter to judge for an onlooker. There has been a great deal of talk about reimposing police trapping. That was found most unsatisfactory in the past, but I think it would be even more unsatisfactory if the judge of the speed of a car is to be one constable alone. I would like a guarantee from the Minister that that will in no case be the effect of the Bill.
At present to have one's licence endorsed is a very serious thing. The man whose licence has been endorsed is in very serious danger, especially when there are so many chauffeurs out of work, of not getting another job. It is important that we should pass legislation which will not be disregarded by the public and will not therefore fall into disrepute. Although at the present time it is a serious thing to have a licence endorsed, I am very much afraid that when every man who exceeds the speed limit in a built-up area automatically gets his licence endorsed, in a very few years time the endorsement of a licence will no longer be considered a serious matter, and that would be greatly to the detriment of safe driving. I believe that drivers who have been convicted of careless or of dangerous driving should always be relieved of their licences for at least a month or two months. That is the sort of penalty that the motorist minds most. I think I am Tight in saying that last year there were 15,542 convictions in England and Wales for careless driving, but that only 811 licences were endorsed. I believe a larger number of those licences should have been endorsed. To my mind the careless driver is the potentially dangerous driver. He is the man for whom we should legislate, and whom we should prevent from being on the road until he becomes more careful.
The hon. Member for Oxford University also congratulated the Minister very 248 heartily on the driving tests that were to be imposed on those who applied for licences after 1st April. But it is difficult to know why his congratulations were quite so hearty when there is nothing in the Bill to tell us what those tests are to be. I believe that the average man or woman is capable very quickly of learning to drive sufficiently well to pass the kind of test which is likely to be imposed, and I do not think it is the beginner who is the dangerous driver. The dangerous driver is the man who has driven for a few hundred or a few thousand miles, and who, although not a much more competent driver, has a greatly increased sense of his competence. He is the man who becomes a danger on the road. It would be better to give a man a preliminary licence for three months and then to make him pass a severe test before he is given a permanent licence. In Germany the applicant for a licence has to produce a certificate from the head of a driving school before undergoing his final test. He also has to pass a medical test as to his physical condition. The test in France is also extremely strict. In 1932 38 per cent. of the applicants for driving tests in France were refused licences. It would be interesting to know how many applicants have been refused in this country.
I welcome the provisions in Clauses 7 and 8 in regard to insurance against third party risks. Both those improvements have been long overdue. Many hon. Members who have spoken to-day have impressed on the Minister their belief that bicycles should carry, not a reflector, but a rear lamp. I do not think that that point can be sufficiently emphasised. The day is long since past when it should have been made compulsory for a rear light and not a reflector to be shown at the back of a bicycle. There is one point that no one has stressed, and that is that it is still possible to take on the road certain types of agricultural vehicles or implements which need only have a reflector, as is the case with bicycles. I do not think that that is safe. These implements also should be compelled to carry a rear lamp. There is another point. At the present time there is no law to compel a man who drives cattle along a road at dusk to carry any light whatever, and in actual fact he very often does not do so. Surely in this Bill we have an opportunity of 249 saying that a man who is driving cattle on the road after dusk should at least carry a lantern or a stave from which a lantern is hanging.
The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) asked that roads might be supplied with frequent passages where pedestrians might pass in safety, and that we should adopt the same method as is employed in Paris. I firmly believe in that method. But, whatever method we have, I hope that all over the country it will be uniform. It is not a matter which in any circumstances should be left to local authorities; it should be in the hands of the Minister. You have to educate your public before they begin to understand the method that is used, and it would be a disastrous thing if in one place there was one form of passage showing where pedestrians could cross, and in another part of the country something quite different. I believe that the cheapest and most effective method is the use of studs such as are used in the streets of Paris. I implore the Minister not to leave this matter in the hands of local authorities, but to insist that he is the person who should lay down where these crossings are to be and the form that they should take.
The Minister told us that he was going to circularise local authorities as to the road surfaces that should be used. Circularising local authorities is not always as effective as we should like it to be. In a matter of such vital importance it should be the Minister, and not the local authorities, who should say what forms of road surface are safe. In many places to-day one goes from a road that is safe to a road that is quite unsafe, either because the surface is so dark that at night or in wet weather it absorbs all the light, or because it is a surface on which one is peculiarly liable to skid. This matter should not be left any longer in the hands of local authorities; it should be in the hands of the Minister, who should say which surfaces local authorities are allowed to use.
I very much welcome Clause 20, which says that drivers of heavy vehicles must pass a more difficult test. I believe that this will tend enormously not only to increase the safety of the public, but will be of advantage to the driver of the heavy vehicle. If a driver has a serious accident he probably loses his sole means 250 of livelihood, and we should do all we can to guard him against that. The last time this subject was brought up the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) made a suggestion which has unfortunately not been embodied in the present Bill. He suggested that no one under the age of 21 should be allowed to drive a heavy vehicle unless he had been doing so for the previous six months. That was a most excellent suggestion, and I regret that it is left out of the Bill. I supported the Minister at that time because he told us that legislation was forthcoming shortly which would embody some provision for the drivers of heavy vehicles. I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdare will again press this point in Committee and that the Minister will give way.
One Clause of the Bill changes Clause 61 of the principal Act, which divided public service vehicles into three classes, stage carriages, express carriages and contract carriages. Express carriages were carriages which charge not less than 1s. and which did not stop beyond certain points. They have been entirely left out of this Bill. There is great concern amongst the owners of this type of vehicle as to why they are omitted from the Bill. Does it mean that in future they are to be obliged to have conductors on these vehicles? That is a matter which is of moment to them. I think everyone in the House will congratulate the Minister on having brought forward a Bill to make conditions on the roads safer, but I do hope that he will very seriously consider the Amendment of Clause 1.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. ANSTRUTHER-GRAY
One remark made in the course of the Debate I regard as entirely unreasonable. That was the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) that the whole onus for preserving safety on the roads should fall upon the motorist. For my part I should like to congratulate the Minister upon taking steps to make pedestrians realise that in certain circumstances it may be an offence for them as well as for vehicles to use the road without regard for others. I should have liked to have seen the Minister go further. I should have liked to have seen it made compulsory for pedestrians to use footpaths where provided, and to travel on the right side of the road. But the fact that there might be a regula- 251 tion imposing some measure of control on pedestrians in any set of circumstances will make people throughout the country realise that the mere fact of being upon one's feet does not give one an inherent right to ride rough-shod over the interests and the safety of other equally legitimate users of the King's highway. I am glad to see that these restrictions are to be coupled with further restrictions on motorists. The only basis on which to solve the problem of safety is that each type of traffic must make sacrifices for the good of the whole. I am pleased to see that the speed limit has been fixed at 30 miles an hour. So long as the definition of "built-up area" is reasonably applied—it will be the duty of this House and of the Committee to see that the application of it will be reasonable—there should be no great temptation to motorists to exceed that limit.
To those who suggest that it is an unreasonable hardship to motorists not to drive above 30 miles an hour in a populated area, I would reply that a careful driver has no pleasure in going faster than that, and that in a reckless driver it is quite unwarranted. In view of the failure of past attempts to enforce a speed limit, I would ask the Minister what additional steps he is going to take in order to ensure that the speed limit will not become a dead letter as did the 20-mile speed limit. With regard to the suspension of driving licences, I urge the Minister to hesitate before authorising the suspension of driving licences for trivial offences such as careless driving or driving too fast. In the case of the professional driver, his job is endangered when his licence is suspended, but in the case of the amateur or the owner-driver by far the strongest deterrent is the stigma of disgrace that should properly attach to the suspension of a licence. If licences are to be suspended for short periods of a month for negligible offences, that deterrent will lose its force.
An attempt is being made in the Bill to reduce three types of accidents: those to pedestrians in towns, those to road users in built-up areas, and those to victims of dangerous and unskilful driving. So far so good, but one would not like to feel that the Minister is not going further. I hope that in the circular which has been sent to highway authorities to encourage them to pay more attention to 252 road surfaces, country roads, dangerous cross roads, corners, lighting, camber of roads and kerbstones, the Minister realises that this is a national responsibility and not a local one, and that he will not shrink from using his power of withholding grants if local authorities do not show sufficient energy. Scottish local authorities have not been remiss, because in no less than 12 counties last year, including Edinburgh and Glasgow, the number of accidents was reduced.
I regret the illogical folly of allowing one vehicle which is more frequently overtaken from the rear than any other and which is the most vulnerable—the bicycle—to be the one vehicle which is allowed to travel at night without an efficient rear light. I regret that it is not made illegal for more than two cyclists to travel abreast. There is an exhortation to this effect in the Highway Code. Highway codes and safety campaigns are all very well, but something stronger is needed to deal with the present situation. It is all very well for the Government to say "must" to certain types of traffic, but that is no use if they are only going to say "please" to other types. I believe that the House will agree with me that, when 20 lives and injury to some 600 persons are at stake every day, it ought to be a question of "must" for all.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Dr. HOWITT
The main object of the Bill is to prevent loss of life on the roads. The number of casualties to-day is appalling, and I support the Bill because I believe that immediate legislation is necessary if those casualties are to be reduced in number. I hope that when the Bill becomes an Act that the casualties will be reduced, but there will still be a tremendous number of them on the road. I know that the Minister is prepared to accept any suggestion that he thinks will improve and strengthen the Bill, so I ask him to think kindly of the suggestion that I am going to make to him.
The Minister is aware that many of us are anxious that the Bill shall include a provision embodying the principle of Lord Moynihan's Road Traffic (Emergency Treatment) Bill which has passed through all its stages in another place. That Bill makes provision for remuneration of registered medical practitioners 253 and hospitals for emergency treatment only. Hospitals and doctors are thoroughly dissatisfied to-day with the remuneration for emergency treatment, and there is a growing feeling of dissatisfaction among people all over the country with the fact that emergency treatment is usually not paid for. Take the case of cottage hospitals which are provided by local means and are kept up by local contributions to meet local needs. It is not right or fair that emergency cases should be treated there and not be paid for. Money spent on bandages, chloroform, drugs and splints has been provided by local generosity for local needs, and, if it is used for people who have nothing to do with the locality, the service ought emphatically to be paid for.
Take the case of doctors in private practice. Everybody will, I think, agree with me that family doctors are very hard-working men and not particularly wealthy or over-paid, and as to the amount of work they do and the long hours during which they work, in serving the community. The lives of many of those doctors are rendered miserable to-day by the casualties on our main roads. If an accident case comes in on a weekday, the doctor has to break into his programme and hurry away to the accident, which may take him an hour or two. That throws out of order all his programme for the day. He has to leave unvisited people whom he had intended to visit, or to be late for his visits to others. If the accident happens on a Sunday, as such accidents usually do, he has to work. All doctors work on Sunday, but they try to do as little as possible. I am afraid that a lot of doctors have had to give up their houses if near main Toads, because they were being perpetually fetched out on Sunday, and they were losing money, just as do the hospitals for bandages and splints. They practically never get a penny remuneration or one subsequent word of thanks. I do not believe that it is sheer ingratitude on the part of the patients which gives rise to that, but that patients fear to get into communication with the doctor because they are afraid of the law. They are afraid that if they pay anything they are putting themselves in a false or wrong position with the law.
The difficulty about doing something in the matter of fair remuneration is as to 254 how the contribution is to be found. After a great deal of discussion the conclusion has been arrived at that a very slight increase in the premium for compulsory insurance for third-party risks would cover emergency treatment by doctors and by hospitals. There are over 2,000,000 drivers of motor cars in this country today, and it would only require a very small addition to the cost of compulsory insurance to secure the removal of this grievance. I am sure that the great majority of Members of the House would wish the Minister to have this done; I am sure that the great majority of the people of this country are keen and anxious that this injustice should be removed; and I ask the Minister, if he can possibly manage it, to see that the principles of Lord Moynihan's Emergency Treatment Bill shall be embodied in this new Measure.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. McKEAG
The hon Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt) has just mentioned a real grievance which I am sure the Minister will do his best to meet, and in regard to which, I think the hon. Member may rest assured, he will have the support of the majority of Members if he raises it in Committee. The present Bill owes its birth to the very real and natural concern of the general public at what has come to be called the toll of the roads. This concern has been voiced on all sides, and has been growing in volume to such an extent that for some time there has been a virtual clamour that the Government should do something. What that something should be, however, the great majority of the most vocal of the clamourers have not been quite sure. I must say that I heartily sympathise with the Minister in his endeavours to formulate proposals amid the welter of suggestions, both practical and otherwise, which have been thrust upon him from every conceivable quarter during the last 12 months or so. Because of that sympathy, and I hope because I have a proper realisation of the magnitude of the problem which confronts the Minister, I do not propose to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. The Minister has certainly produced something, but whether that something will accomplish the avowed object of reducing road accidents I have very grave doubts indeed. My own view is that its success will be negligible. I cannot help feeling that 255 the Bill creates a maximum of restriction and regulation which will produce the minimum of effect.
In his opening speech the Minister said that in this matter it is necessary to preserve a sense of proportion, but, in my view, that is just what has not been done in drafting the Bill. Already the restrictions and regulations affecting the motoring public are very many in number and very drastic in practice. Already it is possible to prosecute motorists and secure the infliction upon them of heavy penalties, including imprisonment in some cases, and suspension of licence for dangerous driving. Already a motorist can be hauled up before the magistrates for the slightest degree of lack of care and attention in his driving. What more is really required? Certainly the imposition of a speed limit and of driving tests will not, in my view, accomplish any more than can be accomplished by the provisions of existing legislation. The enforcement of the speed limit will be, of course, by the obnoxious speed trap, which aroused so much indignation when it existed during the operation of the 20-miles-an-hour speed limit. The chief result, in my opinion, will be a large increase in prosecutions for non-observance of the limit at places where danger to the public is practically non-existent, and the various county funds will no doubt benefit accordingly. The definition of a built-up area will unquestionably cause a great deal of trouble and create a great deal of confusion and many anomalies.
I was glad to note that the Minister in his speech stated that he had specially in mind the exempting of by-pass roads, such as those which have been constructed in recent years, particularly in the North-East of England. In all probability, therefore, such roads as the new coast road from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Whitley Bay and the Chester-le-Street bypass will be exempt. These are roads which have been constructed at great expense during recent years to facilitate the passing of fast-moving traffic. Obviously the enforcement of a 30-miles-an-hour speed limit on these roads would be unnecessarily irksome, would serve no useful purpose, and would lead to that very congestion which in itself is a pregnant source of danger. It is indeed a strange paradox that this country in recent years has spent hundreds of millions 256 of pounds in making new roads and widening old ones for the accommodation of fast-moving motor transport, and yet this is the third Measure introduced within the last three or four years which will have the effect of curtailing the volume of motor traffic. First we had the Road Traffic Act of 1930, which cut down very considerably the number of motor coaches operating on the roads. Secondly, we had the Road and Rail Traffic Act of last year, which in its operation will certainly curtail the amount of goods traffic on the roads; and now we have this Bill of 1934.
The Minister said that he was anxious to avoid a multiplicity of signs, but I am afraid that that is what is going to be brought about by the provisions of this Bill. The country will be literally plastered with signs of all sorts and descriptions. Indeed, motorists will be kept so busily occupied in looking for signs and notices about speed limits that they will be unable to give due care and attention to their driving, and the police will have it both ways. If the motorist tries to read all the signs that will be erected, he will be charged with not driving with due care and attention; and, if he drives with due care and attention, he will not be able to follow the signs. Happy indeed is the lot of the motorist in these progressive days. Perhaps the next Measure that will be introduced into the House, and perhaps the most effective in accomplishing the avowed object of this Bill, will be the prohibition entirely of the manufacture of motor vehicles capable of travelling at a speed in excess of 30 miles an hour. I wonder if the effect of such a Measure as that would diminish the number of road accidents. I am not sure that the result would not be actually to increase them because of the congestion that would be created.
So far as driving tests are concerned, while they may eliminate a certain number of people who ought not to be permitted to drive a vehicle in any circumstances, I doubt whether very much good will be accomplished, commensurate at any rate with the inconvenience, the red tape and the expense that will be occasioned. On thing, however, is certain, that these tests will create another large horde of officials. I have in mind in regard to these tests one person who has been driving for nearly 10 years. I feel convinced that he would be unable to 257 pass the kind of test that is likely to be imposed under this Bill; yet he is one of the safest drivers on the road. He has not been involved in a single accident of any kind, and he is to-day enjoying the highest rate of no-claim bonus from his insurance company.
The Minister spoke very feelingly about the person who is on a picnic out in the country with his car parked on a dangerous bend in the road. But all the driving tests in the world will not remedy that. The hon. Gentleman described that kind of conduct as being due to ignorance, but there are many ignorant drivers on the road, and many who are likely to buy cars in the future, who will be able to pass the most severe tests of sheer driving ability. What is required of a motorist more than anything else is imagination—the capacity to imagine what the child on the kerb is likely to do and what vehicle may rush out at the next corner. I doubt whether these driving tests will instil imagination.
As to other aspects of the Bill, I welcome some of the experiments in the setting up of crossings for pedestrians, and I can only hope that they will prove successful. I am also glad that the vexed question of rear lights for cyclists is at last to be definitely tackled, and I hope that cyclists, for their own safety, will assist by conforming religiously to the proposals of the Bill. The Minister stated that he would welcome criticism in Committee, and I do not think he will be disappointed, but I hope that Amendments that are tabled will find a little more receptive attitude, because our experience on the last Bill was decidedly not encouraging. In a considerable number of aspects the Bill requires amendment.
Another thing I should like to mention is the question of express carriages. It is proposed to delete all reference to express carriages in the Act of 1930, and I find myself entirely unable to understand the reason which has attracted this special attention to express carriages. The difference between them and stage carriages is well known and is accepted in the motor transport industry and, as far as I know, in the courts of the Traffic Commissioners. Any suggestion, therefore, of express carriages being specially dealt with merely because of simplification is rather out of the question. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary 258 will indicate the precise reasons which have governed this proposal. I hope there is no foundation for believing that it is for the purpose of assisting combines at the expense of their smaller brethren. In a different category entirely are contract carriages, and I was glad to hear the assurance of the Minister that he proposes to include in the Bill a definition of a contract carriage, which will dispose of the present very unsatisfactory position. He will, no doubt, bear in mind that it was never intended to abolish the hiring of omnibuses by private firms. In view, however, of the various judicial decisions of what is and what is not a contract carriage, private hire work by omnibus operators is threatened with extinction and many omnibus proprietors will find themselves faced with bankruptcy and ruin. I hope this very complicated question will be cleared up satisfactorily in such a way as to ensure the carrying on of private hire work by omnibus proprietors.
I cannot sit down without again complaining of the continuance of the practice of legislation by regulation. Here we find in Clause after Clause that the people affected are going to depend on the precise wording of regulations to be issued at later stages. Again, I rather deprecate the wording which provides that the Minister may fix different dates for the coming into operation of different parts of the Act, and may fix different dates for different purposes and different provisions of the Act. It would be better if there was greater certainty when the provisions of the Bill are to come into operation. Under the Bill the police are to be vested with larger and wider powers, and I hope that some opportunity may be found for an expression of opinion from the Treasury Bench that the police should exercise those powers wisely and well. Too often in past years, under legislation affecting motorists, complaints have had to be made that a motorist commits one offence and finds himself faced with a large number of different charges. There is no reason whatever why a multitude of summonses should be issued against a motorist for one offence. The police have been too prone to adopt the attitude towards the motorist of "If we do not get you on the swings, we will get you on the roundabouts." I suggest that, while offending motorists should be prosecuted, prosecution 259 should not degenerate into persecution.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. GLOSSOP
Despite the persuasiveness of the Minister in introducing this Bill, I am sadly disappointed with the provisions which it contains. Arising out of a Motion of mine on the 7th February, we had a Debate on the whole question of road accidents which showed us that from every quarter of the House hon. Members realised that something drastic had to be done with regard to our road system and the various users of the road to try and minimise and to reduce the enormous loss of life which the roads are causing at the present time. I think that outside this House also the country has realised that the situation has become intolerable. I believe that the country is prepared to accept drastic legislation provided that it covers every class of road users and also the conditions which appertain on the roads themselves. I must frankly confess that the Bill is merely tinkering with the whole problem, and I do not think that it faces up to the situation in the way in which it should be tackled.
If we look at Clause 1 of the Bill which deals with the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit in built-up areas, those areas are to be defined by roads on which there are street lamps, which is the most unsatisfactory way possible of defining a built-up area. Had a built-up area been defined according to the amount of population which bordered on a particular road, it would have been a much truer and reasonable definition. The definition which the Minister has chosen may be all right in those parts of the country where towns are situated in the midst of surrounding countrysides, but in the semi-industrial North of England there are roads which are lit by street lamps which connect one small industrial area to another and which no one can suggest for a moment are built-up areas. You will have in the industrial North miles upon miles of roads to which the speed limit is to apply which are not really built-up areas.
The Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary who is to wind up the Debate, may perhaps reply that under Sub-section (4) of Clause 1 he has power to exempt certain roads from the provisions 260 of the speed limit, but the Minister can only exercise those powers after there has been a local inquiry. The Financial Memorandum of the Bill tells us that, apart from a negligible increase in administrative expenses, there will be no great expenses incurred by the Bill. If the Minister is to hold inquiries in every part of the country, it will entail very much more expense. The fact that the financial provisions of the Bill say that there will be little expense shows that it is very unlikely that the Minister will in practice exercise the powers which he is to possess. I said that I thought the Bill tinkered with the problem, and I say it again. If street lamps are the basis upon which the Government are to decide what is and what is not a build-up area, and if street lamps are so important in that respect, why does not the Bill deal with the street lamp problem and ensure that we have some uniformity of street lighting throughout the whole countryside.
Clause 3 deals with the exemption of fire engines from the provision of the 30-mile per hour limit. Why does not the Clause deal with the whole problem? Why should fire engines and motor ambulances be exempt when doctors and Veterinary surgeons are not to be exempt? It is equally important for them to get to their respective cases as it is for a fire engine to ge to a fire. With regard to Clause 5, which deals with the provision of tests for driving licences, as I pointed out in the Debate on my Motion in February, I do not believe in a driving test itself. I think that a great many people can pass a driving test after a few hours' tuition, but it is after a few weeks when the individual driver thinks that he has confidence and knows how to drive a car that he becomes a potential danger to the public. If the Government think that the imposition of a driving test will minimise the number of accidents on the roads, I am prepared to support it, but if a driving test is so important, why not carry it a stage further. Why not insist that every person who gets a driving licence shall, for three months following the granting of the licence, have affixed to his car some distinguishing mark, so that if road users see a person coming along with the particular mark they can say, "This person is a new driver. He had probably not got the full road sense, and we will therefore do everything we 261 possibly can to ensure that he may have a safe passage along the road."
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
My hon. Friend must know that there are certain motor manufacturers who attach labels at the present time so that anyone seeing them may know that a potential danger in the form of an amateur driver is on the road.
§ Mr. GLOSSOP
I am ready to be corrected by my hon. Friend because I know that he is generally right, but when I have been fortunate enough to be able to buy a new car and have seen a label upon it indicating that it is a new car, that label has generally been with regard to the health of the engine. I have never bought a new car on which there was any notice to show that I was a person possessing a new car and capable of driving it at a certain speed. But that is by the way. I want to refer to Clause 14 which deals with the provision of crossing places for pedestrians. Here again, I agree that if we are to solve the problem of road accidents we have to deal with the problem of pedestrians. But if we are to impose restrictions upon pedestrians in this particular respect why not again go a stage further and make it illegal to walk on the right hand side of the footpath? Why not compel people to walk on the left side of the footpath in the same way as motor and other vehicles have to drive on the left side of the road? At the present time in going through a town or a village the motorist knows that, owing to the fact that people walk on the right-hand side of the pavement, more than likely, particularly if there is a lady coming, a man will step off the pavement on to the road with his back towards the oncoming traffic. What happens? The motorist instinctively drives about a yard nearer the centre of the road than would otherwise be necessary, thereby adding to the possibility of collisions and accidents. In regard to the provision of these crossing places for pedestrians what worries me is that the Minister is not taking powers to insist that the crossings are to be provided. It is all to be left to the local authority. Unless the local authority wants to provide the crossing places there is no authority in the Bill to compel them to instittue them.
The Minister said that we have to take a broad outlook and not a sectional view 262 of the roads. He admitted that perhaps hon. Members are liable to take a narrow view. If that is so in this House how much truer is it outside? I can visualise that a local authority made up of a good many shopkeepers may take a certain line in regard to the provision of crossing places. If a shopkeeper is on the local council and his shop is situated half-way between proposed pedestrian crossing places, is it likely that he is going to impress upon his council the need for the provision of a crossing place when he knows that people would cross the road at the recognised crossing place and visit the grocer's shop of one of his competitors. That is a point which the Minister might consider and see whether it would not be very much better for him to take powers himself. If the power is to be granted to the local authority alone there will not be that uniformity throughout the country which is one of the vital factors towards reducing accidents.
The Ministry of Transport have not yet realised that people motor for more than 20 miles away from the places where they live. Hundreds of thousands of motorists go long distances to places which hitherto they have not entered. Take the North Road. If at Grantham, Newark and Retford crossing places have not been provided the motorist may imagine when he cornea to Doncaster that there will be no crossing place, but suddenly, without any warning, he will come across crossing places for pedestrians. The local pedestrian will go there, but the ordinary motorist who happens to be a stranger to the place and is not aware of the crossing place will probably run into a pedestrian. Unless we have uniformity in regard to the various provisions for reducing road accidents the whole purpose of this Bill or any other Bill will fail. I shall vote for the Second Reading because I am prepared to vote in favour of anything which may reduce the number of road accidents, but I do hope that the Minister will very sympathetically consider Amendments put down in Committee. Weak and feeble as I think the Bill is, I think it is capable of considerable amendment. I believe it may be so amended in Committee that it may become a Bill which will do much to reduce road accidents and may be an everlasting monument to the present Minister of Transport.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
On the last occasion that I had the honour of addressing the House on the subject that we are now discussing I pressed upon the Minister two points—the importance of limiting speed and the introduction of tests. The Minister did not indicate in any way that he approved or accepted my suggestion, but I was extremely gratified when I read the Bill to find that both those points that I ventured to press upon him had been adopted. Every speaker has congratulated the Minister on his Bill. So far as it goes it is a very good Bill with the object of reducing road accidents. There are two classes of people the Minister will have to watch very closely in the discussions upon this Bill. Those people are very much opposed to limitation of speed. They profess to be seriously concerned at the large number of deaths and accidents and profess to be ready to accept minor details and small reforms which are of no real value, but they are resolutely opposed to the reduction of speed. The hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) has described one of those classes as speed maniacs. They find pleasure in driving at a rapid speed in a vehicle. Even before motor cars were invented Dr. Johnson said that one of the best things in life was rapid driving in a post chaise.
There are many people who find great pleasure in going at a rapid speed and they are, of course, strongly opposed to any speed limitation. They are the people who are driving the steady motorists off the by-pass roads into the country roads, for which the by-pass roads were supposed to be substituted. The speed maniacs who tell us that our prestige as a nation is gone if an Italian or Frenchman goes more quickly than an Englishman will oppose the limitation of speed, and they are a class against whom I hope the Minister will be on his guard, and that he will not make any concession to them. The second class who are opposed to the limitation of speed are the manufacturers of motor vehicles. They find that it suits their industry that there should be no limitation on speed. They are extraordinarily subtle in the way they work. They have the automobile newspapers under their control and the Minister will find as the Bill proceeds that they will offer most determined oppose- 264 tion to the limitation of speed. They are the second class on whom I hope the Minister will keep a very stern eye and to whom I hope he will not make any concessions.
There are only two points in the Bill to which I would refer. I do not wish in any way to put obstacles or difficulties in the way by finding fault with this Bill at this stage. Clause 5 provides for tests of competence for the applicants for licences. As I understand that Clause the result will be that we shall have on the one hand a large number of men, pre-1st of April men, who have licences and have had licences for a long time. You will have new men, post-1st of April men, coming in provided with what I suppose may be called a certificate of competence, and you will have a gradually growing class of men who have passed the test of competency. On the other hand, you will have men who have had licences before the 1st of April who will not have passed such test, and it has been suggested that there is a real danger of the pre-1st of April men being at a disadvantage. I should like to ask whether it is possible for men who have had licences before the 1st April, and who therefore will not have passed the test of competency, to be able to qualify for this certificate in the same way as the post-1st of April men and thus avoid the danger of being crowded out by those with certificates of competency. I can imagine an employer who wants a chauffeur or a motor driver having two men before him and selecting the one who has passed the test of competence, and that might work out rather unjustly to the pre-1st of April man. I hope the Minister will consider that point.
Under Clause 6 the Minister will be making regulations with respect to the use of appliances on motor vehicles for signalling their approach. I beg the Minister to take into his serious consideration the horrible shrieking motor horns which are so commonly used at the present time. They are like a stab with a dagger in the ear. They are thoroughly bad for the nerves of the nation, and they are becoming more numerous. In answer to a question the Minister said that they were declining; but they are not. The natural tendency is for these clamant and noisy motor horns to increase. Traffic is increasing and the 265 number of drivers is increasing, and there seems to be a desire to be noisier and louder than your neighbour. When the Reform Bill of 1832 was before the House of Lords it was stated that the Lord Chancellor fell on his knees and begged their lordships to pass the Bill. If I thought I could do any good by falling on my knees before the Minister I would do so. I beg him to consider this question. It is quite unnecessary that these abominable shrieking things should exist. Motor cars with moderate and reasonable motor horns suffer no disadvantage and, therefore, I appeal to him to consider the desirability of stopping the horrible, piercing, shrieking motor horns which are now so common.
The Bill, which I hope will become an Act of Parliament, will be of very little value unless the people who are to be responsible for putting its provisions into operation perform their duty. I saw the other day that one of the stipendiary magistrates of London, Mr. Dummet, at Marylebone Police Court, said that accidents could be greatly reduced if the courts would only do their duty. A case in my own constituency was recently brought to my attention. In March last a driver was brought up with 13 previous convictions against him. The Chairman of the bench said to him—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I must warn the hon. Member that he is not entitled to criticise the decision of a judicial tribunal except on a substantive Motion.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It has long been laid down that this rule applies to magistrates' courts as well as to other courts. If the hon. and learned Member wishes to criticise any decision of a magistrates' court, he can only do so in this House on a substantive Motion.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
In that case, I will not pursue the matter further, but I would ask the Minister to consider the question of magistrates doing their duty. How he is going to do it I do not know, but it is a matter which should be considered. As long as you have men with 15 or 16 or 20 convictions against them being allowed to leave the court on the 266 payment of a fine of £1 so long you will have contempt for the law.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Sir ISIDORE SALMON
There is one point upon which the House is unanimous, and that is that there should be a reduction in the number of accidents and deaths on the roads of the country. As a member of the Royal Commission which recommended the abolition of the speed limit, I should like to make one or two observations. When we made that unanimous recommendation the County Councils Association, the Urban District Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations and the National Safety First Association, the Cyclists Touring Club, and 37 out of 55 county chief constables were all in favour of the abolition of the speed limit. What has occurred since then which justifies the Minister in bringing in a Bill which reimposes a speed limit? It has been suggested by hon. Members that something of a practical nature should arise out of the Bill. I suggest that there is not a Member of the House who really believes that a 30-mile speed limit is going to be carried out effectively, and, if that is so, then it is putting back the clock to go back to a system which experience has proved is not successful. If the Minister had come forward with a suggestion that he should have plenary powers to see that our roads are of a definite standard, with a non-skid surface, with proper lighting of a definite standard and that they should be kept up to a definite standard of maintenance, it would have been a much more practical proposition. If we are really going to tackle the problem, we should not tackle it in the way proposed by the Bill, which will only create a false sense of security in the minds of the people of this country that by this panicky legislation, by introducing a speed limit, we are going to create a condition when our roads will be free of accidents.
When we refer to the number of persons killed in accidents attributed to private cars, already mentioned by an hon. Member, we find that in 1929 the figure per 10,000 cars was 19, and in 1933 it was 18, and I would remind the House that the number of cars licensed in 1929 was 980,886, while in 1933 it was 1,203,245. We are all anxious to help and to make practical suggestions. It is easy 267 to criticise, and I am not approaching this matter from a merely critical point of view. I am anxious, however, that legislation passed by this House should be of a character which will ensure that all users of motor vehicles will co-operate in carrying out the law in its broadest sense. I fear that the Regulations which are now being proposed to the House will not achieve the desired result. It is extraordinary that the Minister, who, a few years ago, said that in his view and in the view of the permanent officials of his Department it was in the interests of the country to abolish the speed limit, should to-day come to the House and express the very opposite view. I say so with all respect to the hon. Gentleman. Unfortunately, I did not hear his speech, and I do not know whether he gave any reasons to justify the change of view which appears to have taken place since the previous Measure on this subject was introduced.
There has been another extraordinary change. In 1919 the Ministry set up a technical committee to consider the question of tests for drivers. That committee took the same view as the Royal Commission, namely, that the driving test as such was of little practical value, and that it was the road sense of the driver that was important. Yet we find in this Bill to-day a proposal to make a test compulsory for all drivers. Many countries have tried this test, and I do not know whether there is any evidence that it has reduced the percentage of accidents in those countries where it has been applied. If the test has reduced accidents in those other countries we are entitled to be told. We are entitled to know whether the Minister can give any justification of that kind for his proposal.
Whatever legislation is proposed it should be in the power of the Minister to give definite instructions to local authorities as to the carrying out of that legislation. If local authorities are not carrying out certain regulations and if the Ministry are of opinion that those regulations should be carried out, then the Minister should himself have the power of seeing that it is done. There is no novelty in such a provision. In many Acts passed by this House a Minister has taken such powers. The Minister of Health for example in many cases has the right in case of default by local authorities, to 268 order that certain work shall be done. If we are to get a standardised system throughout the country for carrying out the provisions of the Bill, whatever the result of the deliberations upon it in Committee may be, the Minister ought to have the right to compel local authorities to do what he and his advisers consider essential. I do not propose to deal with the Clauses of the Bill beyond making the one observation on the provision as to crossings for foot passengers. Nine years ago in California they introduced the system of studded crossings and any one who tried to cross a road at any other point was summoned. I agree with the suggestion which has been put forward that in place of painted lines studs would be more effective and I hope that the Minister will give consideration to that point.
I regret that the Minister is putting on a speed limit. I would like to say, especially after the remarks of the previous speaker that I have no interest in the manufacture of motor cars. But it occurs to me that of all the industries in this country, the motor industry has been about the most successful in recent years. Yet to-day the Minister come along with this proposal, without offering us any definite proof that by curbing the development of the motor industry he is likely to save lives on the roads. I think we are taking a very serious step if we do anything to arrest the progress of an industry which has been growing tremendously in recent years both as regards production for export and production for home use. I fear that by this proposal we may put a damper upon that industry and industry generally in this country is not in such an improving state and employment is not so great that we can afford to hinder in any way this particular industry which has been so successful in the last few years.
I hope even at this late hour the Minister will consider whether the Government are justified in taking the risk of curtailing the development of a successful industry for the very doubtful alternative of a speed limit. Has the Minister any evidence that will justify him in taking that important step? I ask him to bear in mind that notwithstanding the fact that there are more motor cars on the road to-day than there were in 1929 the number of accidents per 10,000 cars is less to-day than in 1929. In those circumstances is he justified in the 269 extreme measure which he proposes to take? I hope the many points raised in this discussion will receive the serious consideration of the Minister. It is not difficult to get legislation passed when you appeal to the hearts of the people and every one feels deeply the terrible loss of life and injury to limb which is taking place on the roads year in and year out. But whatever we are going to do let it be of a practical nature and let it be done in such a way that it will command the co-operation of the people themselves.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Sir EDWARD CAMPBELL
Though I do not agree with the entire Bill, I feel that it will go a great length towards reducing the number of accidents provided always that it is carried out in the letter as well as the spirit both by the motorist and by the pedestrian. I think I am one of the few Members of Parliament who have had the experience of passing a test and getting a licence at the hands of a Dutch policeman. Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon) has said, I believe that a test of that sort is definitely good. In any case, one can say that it will do no harm, and, if it results in the saving of even one life, I see no reason why such a test should not be applied. My experience was that this Dutch policeman sitting alongside me, telling me in the Dutch language to turn to the right, to turn to the left, to reverse, and to do this, that and the other thing, was able to see whether I had good eyesight, good hearing and a sense of driving, things which are very necessary before anybody should be allowed to have a licence. He could also see whether I had any mental or physical defects. I am talking not from a Parliamentary view-point but from a purely motoring one. I do not believe that a test of that sort would or need be expensive. We could easily get a large number of volunteer expert drivers, in the same way as we recruit our special constabulary or territorials, who would be only too willing to give a few hours a week to training motor drivers without any cost at all, merely for the pleasure of doing it, as many of us do our drill during the week in the special constabulary or the territorials. Such a provision would be very valuable. I am therefore definitely in favour of a test for motor drivers.
270 Though I am all against the road hog and the man who wants to pass everyone, I am glad that the Minister has pointed out that the roads are not the sole property of the pedestrians, as so many of them seem to think. Horses, dogs and chicken have developed a motor sense, but many men and women seem to think that the roads are for them alone. Such people should be taught that, through their carelessness and very often through their stubbornness, they are not only endangering their own lives but also the lives of motorists, and are liable to be punished just as much as are faulty motor drivers. It should, for instance, be punishable for a pedestrian to cross the road, whether there is an accident or not, when the red signal is against him. Often, when after the light has been against me for a considerable time and the green light has appeared, I have started off and one or two people have crossed the road at that very moment. People who choose that moment look at you as though you had committed a terrible crime; yet it is they themselves who are committing the crime.
I never believe in a law which cannot be administered with equal justice to all concerned, and I believe that a speed limit is such a law. It is very difficult to administer it equally. At one place men are going as fast as ever they can and the policeman does not happen to be just there at that particular moment. Along comes someone else, driving much more slowly, and happens to be the one who is caught. That is a reason against the speed limit. Moreover, as has been said several times to-night, the officials of the Ministry said only a few years ago that they did not believe in a speed limit. Why should they now suddenly change their minds? We have an enterprising and a very capable new Minister, but we must not let him "get away with it" by putting his own opinion against the opinion of the experts. There is to my mind no justification for a speed limit to-day when there was no justification two or three years ago. With that part of the Bill, therefore, I disagree.
In conclusion, what we need is more co-operation between pedestrians and drivers, more give-and-take, understandable and practical regulations. Many of our regulations may be practical, but they are not understandable. A motorist 271 who is going out on a Sunday afternoon does not want to have to look up a whole code of regulations; he wants to be told a few definite things which he knows he must not do, and, if he is perfectly sure of what he may and may not do, he is far more likely to follow the law than if he has to find out by breaking the law what he should have done. These laws should apply not only to motorists but also to pedestrians, and to my mind the easier and more understandable they are the less likelihood is there of accidents. I support the Bill, but I sincerely hope that in Committee the Minister will see fit to accept some of the Amendments which have been outlined in the various speeches we have heard to-night.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. WHITESIDE
I am sure that the whole country welcomes the introduction of this Bill, not necessarily because it is a good Bill, but because it shows that the Minister realises the urgency of adopting some measures which may mitigate the dangers of the road. I would, however, like to offer one or two criticisms which I hope are not altogether unconstructive. This island is comparatively small, embracing about 90,000 square miles. Some areas are completely barren while others are densely populated. It occurs to me that if the Minister is to be held responsible for accidents throughout the whole of the country, he should be given executive power to take any action which he may consider necessary to decrease the number of accidents which occur. At the present moment he does not possess that power. The local authorities may introduce innumerable regulations, which may conflict one with another. For instance, in London a motorist may pass a tram on the offside, but if he goes to the North of England he is only allowed to pass a tram on the near side. In some towns one is allowed to filter to the left; in other towns one is not. The result is, particularly in view of Clause 4 of the Bill, that a driver may be summoned and his licence endorsed for committing an offence which in another part of the country would be a perfectly permissible action. I would therefore suggest that there should be one code of law all over the country, as far as the road is concerned, which both motorists and pedestrians could understand.
272 The second point which I should like to raise is that if accidents are to be avoided all motorists should be able to give a signal to show which way they are going to turn, and one which can be seen by all following and oncoming traffic. It therefore surprised me, when I put down a question on this very matter some months ago, that the Minister would not grant my request. It is quite impossible for the driver of an omnibus to give to traffic following behind him a signal showing that he is going to turn to the left. Yet, when I asked that question and suggested that all omnibuses, lorries, vans and vehicles of a length of 35 feet or so should be compelled to carry electrical sign indicators, the Minister replied:I am aware that inadequate signalling, like other faults on the part of drivers, may cause accidents. Proper signals by hand, however, are, in my opinion, adequate for their purpose, and my hon. Friend does not, as at present advised, propose to make the use of electrical or mechanical signals compulsory. This is in accordance with the unanimous recommendations of the Departmental Committee on Traffic Signs which considered this subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1933; col. 1829, Vol. 283.]The arm of the law may be long, but in the eyes of the law an omnibus driver has to be a species of fisherman; he has to be able to extend his arm so far, that a driver immediately behind can see what he is going to do. I do not think electrical indicators which merely go out at the side of the car are of any value. If a sign is to be seen, it should be of the arrow type at the back of the van so that it is quite visible to all oncoming and following traffic. If it is advisable for a motorist to give a sign to show which way he is about to turn, it is even more necessary that he should know which way he is going to turn, but under the regulations of local authorities for the erection of signposts it is impossible for a motorist going through a country which he does not know to know which way he should turn, because the arms of the signpost are all on the same level, and therefore it is only possible to see two of the arms, one of which is in the direction from which he has already come. If the arms of the signposts were placed at different levels, he could see where all four roads went.
Personally, I should like to see the introduction of medical tests for all people who are to be allowed to drive 273 cars, and I do not see why that should be altogether impossible. There is an enormous number of people who are included under the National Health Insurance scheme, and the majority of people have a doctor of some description. Why, when they take out a driving licence, should they not be compelled to forward their application for a licence to their doctor for him to sign, and say they are physically capable of driving a car? Secondly, why should the motor car be the one mechanical vehicle allowed to be used which need not have any mechanical efficiency? If an aeroplane is to go up in the air, every time it goes up a ground mechanic has to say that that aeroplane is fit to fly. There are regulations regarding ships that are going to sea, and there are regulations to see that the engines of trains are in a fit condition to be used, but there are no regulations to see that a car is in a fit condition to be used when on the road, and I see no reason why some measure should not be adopted by which a man should be accused of careless driving if an accident occurs on the road through a mechanical defect in his motor car, which, one has every reason to suppose, he should know existed. For instance, there is the man who has his lamps improperly focussed. It is impossible for a man to take his ear on the road without knowing if his lights are improperly focussed; why should he not be summoned for careless driving if an accident should result from that cause?
I should like to welcome Clause 14, in regard to crossings for pedestrians, but do we understand that the Minister is considering adopting the French Code, whereby, if a pedestrian is knocked down in the road, he is held to be primarily responsible, but if he is knocked down in the studded area, then the motorist is held responsible? I should like to know whether the Minister is considering adopting the French Code in this matter. I welcome the Bill as a whole, but I hope the Minister will see his way to adopt some of the recommendations which have already been made during this Debate.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. STOREY
I am prepared to admit that a great deal can be said for the Bill, but there is one respect in which I think it entirely fails. In opening the Debate, the Minister told us that we 274 must not solve our problem at the expense of other people, but I think the greatest blot on the Bill is that it does nothing to do justice to the voluntary hospitals and to lift from their shoulders the very heavy burden which is placed upon them, quite wrongly, by road accidents.
The Minister told us that by 11 o'clock to-night there would have been something like 180 accidents, but he did not tell us that they would probably be 180 hospital cases and that of those 180 cases the hospitals would not be able to recover the costs of more than half. The House will recall that before the 1930 Act was passed it was estimated that road accident cases cost the voluntary hospitals no less than £230,000 per annum, and of that sum the hospitals were only able to recover some £26,000. The House may not realise, however, that although the 1930 Act made provision for hospitals to recover up to £25 where negligence could be proved against the driver, it utterly failed in every way to do justice to the hospitals. In 1931 it was estimated that road accidents still cost the hospitals of the country £230,000, but they were only able to recover £34,000. It is true that there were outstanding claims for some £58,000, but anybody who has any experience of the difficulty of getting these claims through will know that such claims are a very doubtful asset indeed.
I do not want to weary the House with a lot of figures, but I may perhaps be allowed to emphasise my point with the figures of the hospital in my own constituency of which I happen to be chairman. Last year road accident cases cost us no less than £870, and of that sum we have been able to recover only £235. It is true that we have outstanding claims for another £229, but even if we are successful in receiving the whole of that amount, we shall still be left with the fact that we have to face a cost of over £400, or nearly 50 per cent. of the charges for road accident cases which we have treated. It is the same with other hospitals of which I have made inquiries. Wherever I have asked it is the same tale; there has been a very heavy cost for road accident cases and very little chance of getting any payment for them. It is true that under the 1933 Act it is possible to claim up to £50 for the treatment of those cases, and something has 275 been done to stop the evasion by insurance companies of these claims, but that Act only touches the fringe of the question. If you are going to increase the amount of the claim from £25 to £50, why cannot you go the whole way and, where negligence can be proved against the motorist, give the hospital the right to claim the whole cost of treating such cases? Again, I have made inquiries from various hospitals, and I find that the increase of the limit from £25 to £50 in the case of the hospital with which I am connected would mean that we could only claim another £94.
I feel that something ought to be done to lift this very heavy burden which is placed, quite wrongly, upon the voluntary hospitals. This burden should never be placed upon a hospital which is maintained by local funds for local people. Anyone who has any experience of the difficulty of maintaining a voluntary hospital at the present time, particularly in a distressed area or in a working-class area, where more than half the income may he raised by contributions of a penny, twopence, or threepence a week from workers, will feel that it is quite wrong that this money, which is subscribed for dealing with local cases, should be taken for road accident cases, many of which are strangers to the neighbourhood, while the people for whom the money was subscribed are kept waiting and cannot receive treatment.
If I am asked what remedy I would suggest, I would say that the Road Fund should meet the cost of these cases. Surely it would be simple to make a grant of £250,000 to some central body, which would recoup the voluntary hospitals for any charges to which they had been put in treating road accident cases, the hospitals making over to that central body any right that they might have against motorists who were proved negligent. I know I shall be told that such a proposal would put an unfair charge upon the motorist. It is perhaps correct to say that the Road Fund was originally formed for the use of motorists, but, owing to the growth of the fund, it has been raided on many occasions for the benefit of the taxpayer. These road accident cases should be a charge upon the motorist and also upon the other road users, all of whom are taxpayers. Therefore, I do not think we would be doing 276 anything more than rough and ready justice if we were to make the hospital cases a charge against the Road Fund.
I think the House has only to realise the very great strain which is put upon the finances of the voluntary hospitals to induce it to take immediate steps to remedy the defect. I hope that the Minister during the Committee stage of the Bill will seize the opportunity of doing justice to the voluntary hospitals; if he will not do that, I hope that he will, at any rate, give sympathetic consideration to any Amendments which may be put down by hon. Members to ensure that voluntary hospitals are recouped for the expense to which they are put. The voluntary hospital system is an asset which this country and which Members of this House should do everything to support. The opportunity is here now to lift the burden which is both heavy and unfair, and I hope the House will take the opportunity which now offers to find some means to recoup hospitals for the expense to which they are put.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. HAROLD MITCHELL
I am very glad of the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill, because I represent the constituency through which the main outlet of traffic from London to the West goes, and also because twice every day I motor the five miles from Chiswick to London through one of the most congested and difficult traffic areas, and, whether I like it or not, I am forced to see something of the traffic problem. Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for East Cardiff (Mr. T. Morris), with all his legal experience, telling us of some of the penalties that motorists are liable to, I almost thought I had better sell my car and take to the river as a means of transport. I want to congratulate the Minister upon bringing in this Bill, because, even if on one or two points I am not in agreement with him, I believe that only by experiment can we solve the problems which confront us. I am not yet converted to the idea of a speed limit, and even when I listened to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) describing how he had recently been motoring in my constituency on the Great West Road at 50 miles an hour, I was still not completely converted to the idea of this limit; nor was I by the moving appeal of the hon. 277 Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman), who is my own Member of Parliament, and who has not only had his windows destroyed by heavy traffic, but nearly came to an untimely end at the hands of a butcher's boy.
I listened with great interest on the subject of the speed limit to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), who told us the views on the question of speed of Dr. Johnson, who had a great predeliction for speed. I could not help thinking of another quotation of that learned man which flashed through my mind, thatthe noblest prospect which a Scotsman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England,—a quotation which, I suppose, in a political sense I might apply equally to myself as to him. Even there I doubt very much whether the imposition of a 30-mile limit is going to make the high road to England or to anywhere else any safer.
Leaving the very difficult question of the speed limit, may I come to the question of the endorsement of licences. I feel that we are making a mistake in that under this Bill it will be inevitable that a very large number of people will have their licences endorsed compulsorily because they have exceeded the speed limit. At present the endorsement of the licence acts as a deterrent, but I fear that in future, if many people have their licences endorsed, it will be regarded as a thing of not very much consequence, and that the only people who will be penalised will be drivers of commercial vehicles and other professional drivers such as chauffeurs. I am in complete agreement with the Clause that exempts fire engines, etc., from the provisions of the Bill, providing they are carrying out their duties such as going to a fire or, in a case of an ambulance, going to an accident, but I am not clear whether the provision applies to practising or coming back from a fire. In such cases they ought not to be exempted from the speed limit.
May I come to one or two points which I would liked to have seen in the Bill. In regard to vehicles debouching from a side street on to a busy thoroughfare, I would like to see a provision put in by which there should be a line or some other obstruction put across the side roads so that such vehicles are compelled to come to a stop before emerging on to the busy thoroughfare. Secondly, in a busy street 278 with more than one line of traffic, if a driver wishes to make a right hand turn, he should be compelled to make it by starting with his off side wheels as near as possible to the centre of the road. One often sees drivers starting to make a right hand turn in such a thoroughfare from the extreme left hand side of the road, thereby bringing their cars broadside on across the street and forcing to a full stop two lines of traffic. I would commend these matters to the serious consideration of the Minister.
There is another source of accident which has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), namely, ineffective brakes. I agree with him in what he said on that subject, and I would like to add the necessity for a more rigorous inspection of motor tyres. Many skids which cause accidents are due to defective tyres, and, although there is provision for punishing people whose tyres are defective, I think it should be enforced much more thoroughly than it is. I do not make this suggestion because there happens to be a large motor car factory in my constituency. I am glad that the Minister stressed the need for uniformity, for if we are to have different regulations in different parts of the country it will be a great source of difficulty and trouble. I could pass one or two criticisms on the Bill, but I think that most of it is very good. I am in complete agreement with imposing driving tests. Even though in some cases that may not prevent dangerous driving on the road it will eliminate some people who would be potential sources of danger. I cannot believe that anyone who fails to pass a reasonable driving test ought in any circumstances to be permitted to drive a car upon the roads, as I think he is an undesirable person to be on the roads. I hope the Minister will consider Amendments in Commitee, and I wish him all success with his Bill.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. RAIKES
I welcome this Bill in particular for the boldness which the Minister has shown in tackling the question of the speed limit. I only hope that he will not allow himself to be seduced by the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) into giving different speed limits for different localities all over England, because if he were to do so the life of the ordinary motorist would be a very harassing one. 279 But, apart from that, these constant and continuous accidents in built-up areas constitute by themselves an argument for trying to tackle the question of the built-up area by some sort of speed limit, however difficult it may be to define a built-up area and however easy it may be to raise captious criticisms. Speaker after speaker in the Debate has suggested that a speed limit of 30 miles an hour is unnecessary in congested areas. I do not entirely agree. What is a congested area by day is very often the reverse in the evening. I often have to motor back from my constituency through the East End of London between 10 o'clock and midnight. When I motor out the Commercial Road is a congested area and there is no need for a 30-mile speed limit, because one cannot do more than scramble along at about 12 miles an hour. But at night it is not congested, and one can drive pretty quickly. There is bad lighting, crowds of people are crossing and recrossing the road, and there are the people coming from public houses, cinemas and the like. I confess that I very often tremble at the sight of cars sliding along at about 40 miles an hour down that perfectly straight and open road, where it is very dangerous for the pedestrian who tries to cross in the semi-light, because he may constantly find himself with a car close upon him. On those grounds I think we ought to tackle the question of the speed limit.
A further point I wish to raise concerns children. They have been mentioned a good deal during this Debate. It would be an advantage if we could to some extent tighten up the regulations requiring cars to move at a cautious pace when near schools especially those near arterial roads. The children come out of school at a gallop. A child who has just left his work will not trouble very much whether there are cars speeding up and down the road. He gallops out. I did it myself as a boy, years ago, and was very nearly run over. There ought to be some sort of speed limit in the area of a school, particularly if it is on an arterial road, or else new schools ought not to be built within a certain distance of a great main road, in the interests of the safety of the children. This brings me to a further point, regarding speed limits and commercial vehicles. The hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Flint) more or less 280 gave us to understand that the stupidity of magistrates was one of the disadvantages with which we have to contend. I happen to be a magistrate in the district in which the hon. Member often appears as counsel, and if he had been here I should have had a few things to say in reply, but as he is not now present I will merely say that magistrates are not always quite so stupid as counsel sometimes think.
Magistrates have one great difficulty in the case of commercial vehicles. A commercial vehicle which is running to a time-table may have got a little behindhand and the driver exceeds the speed limit, and is had up. The court is most anxious not to put too heavy a penalty upon him, because, after all, we know that the driver has got to keep to his schedule, otherwise, in many instances, he is going to be "sacked," and the onus is on him. As matters stand to-day we can fine him, but it would be very much more advantageous if, where a commercial vehicle or a company were caught time after time exceeding the speed limit, the licence of the vehicle itself could be suspended for a time rather than the driver himself be fined. Then we should have the converse of the present state of affairs. Companies would be saying "We do not want our drivers to exceed the speed limit, even if they are behind schedule. We will urge them under no circumstances to exceed the speed limit." That would be a much more satisfactory position.
§ Mr. RAIKES
The magistrates, however, are in a difficulty under the existing law. That brings me to a further point regarding the overloading of vehicles. Time after time local benches have overloading cases brought before them, and we know that companies are quite prepared to pay the fines—something small on the driver, something rather larger on the company. If magistrates had the power to suspend the licence of the vehicle where there was overloading time after time that would have a very salutary effect upon overloading, which is sometimes due to carelessness, and sometimes to something possibly worse than carelessness on the part of those who own the vehicles. On the question of insurance, I have an idea, 281 though I may be mistaken, that under certain circumstances it is possible to get a cover note from insurance companies for a period of time and yet not take out an insurance policy at the end of the period. If that is possible, once a man gets a cover note he can get his road fund licence, and can go on driving although, after the cover note has expired, he is uninsured. I do not think that point is covered by the Bill as it stands. There is the further point that if an uninsured man is pulled up by the police he has 24 hours in which to produce either the insurance policy or a cover note. It is possible under certain circumstances—although it is illegal—for him to get an ante-dated cover note, in which case he avoids the illegal act he has committed. It would be an advantage to give discretion to authorities granting road fund licences to require not merely a cover note but evidence of an insurance policy having been taken out before they issue the licence.
My last point is on the same lines. Supposing a man takes out an insurance policy for a year in February. The following January he can take out a new road fund licence. He is only insured for a month in the new year, but gets his road fund licence for the year. His insurance policy collapses in February, but unless he is involved in some accident he can go on driving his car for the whole of the rest of the year, although uninsured. I suggest that the authorities might be put into a position in which they are bound to take note when granting a road fund licence of the date at which the insurance policy expires, and that unless they have evidence of its renewal the road fund licence should at once be cancelled. I do not at this late hour wish to go in further detail into the Bill, because the points I have raised already are largely Committee points. I think the Bill may do a considerable amount of good and that it deserves a Second Reading. It should be carefully considered in Committee. Very humbly as a back-bencher I should like to express the appreciation by the whole House of the grace and skill with which the Minister introduced it earlier this afternoon.
§ 10.6 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
The Minister can have no cause to complain of the reception which the House has given to 282 his Bill, for I have sat through most of the Debate and I have not heard a single Member say that he would oppose the Bill. I promise the Minister, moreover, that we on the Labour benches will not take the opportunity of forcing a Division. Nor can the Minister complain that my colleagues on this side have taken up too much time in the Debate. With the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), I am the only Member who has attempted to address the House from the Labour benches. As my colleague and I are probably the only two speakers who do not drive motor-cars, it cannot be said that we speak as experts on this question. We look at this Bill entirely from the point of view of the general public. In doing that we want to be quite fair to the motorists. In protecting the general public we must keep in our minds the fact that month after month the roads of this country are becoming more and more congested with motor vehicles. At the present time over 2,250,000 motor vehicles are on the roads.
We must also remember the very high rate of mortality resulting from motor accidents. The Minister stated that from 3.30 this afternoon until 11 o'clock to-night, if the average is kept up, no fewer than 180 persons will meet with accidents on the roads. When we think of motor accidents, either singly or the average daily number, they do not appear to be very many, but when the numbers are added up we realise the tremendous loss of life of which motor vehicles are the cause. I read a booklet, issued a few days ago, which indicated that during the last 15 years no fewer than 2,000,000 people, or one out of every 22 persons in this country, have either been killed or met with accidents in connection with motor vehicles, and of those 2,000,000 persons no fewer than 75,000 have been killed or have died in agony within a few hours or days of meeting with accidents. The Home Secretary, in the Debate on 7th February, stated that during the last eight years 50,800 persons have been killed and 1,420,000 have been injured. Those are figures which must be brought to the notice not only of this House but of the public. It is not only the loss of human life and the great suffering which are caused to the people, but the great economic loss every year, as a result of these accidents.
283 We of the Labour party view all of this with very great concern. We are not surprised at the introduction of this Bill. We all agree that something should be done and we promise the Minister that we shall not treat this Bill as a political Measure. This and all Measures within reason will have our support. As the Minister said, the security of the public is the predominating question, and the attention of the House and of local authorities and of the public should be directed to that matter. We agree that the Bill is not going to prevent all accidents on the roads. It is only to be a part of the action which will have to be taken. But one thing we do ask the Minister and his Department to do, and that is to see that the provisions of the Bill are enforced. The hon. Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon) asked whether, when the Bill became law, it was the intention of the Ministry to impose the speed limit mentioned in the Bill. I hope that not only the speed limit but every other provision in the Bill will be imposed.
The Minister rightly said that we must have the co-operation of the local authorities. I think that the Minister and the Department can do more and more towards reducing accidents if local authorities are called into consultation more often than they have been in the past. There might be conferences called in the different transport areas, with the transport officer in the chair, and a representative of the Ministry there. After all, the local authorities have to deal with this problem from day to day in their own areas. Then there is the question of the police, and the experience which they have had in connection with these accidents. There are very few accidents in which the first individual on the spot is not the police officer. If information is asked from the police I am convinced that they would be able to give a good deal of assistance in framing Measures for preventing accidents.
We were pleased to hear the tribute which the Minister paid to Mr. Herbert Morrison. Four years ago he abolished the speed limit. Some of us had our doubts, but Mr. Morrison gave his reasons, and the House of Commons accepted them. Then as now, the experts disagreed, but Mr. Morrison thought that the system should be given 284 a trial. It cannot be said that the increased number of accidents which have taken place this year can be placed at the door of Mr. Morrison. He and the Ministry worked very hard in an endeavour to place the responsibility upon the motor driver. They put the motor driver upon his honour, saying, as it were, to him: "You have complained about speed limits. We will now give you a trial." I do not suggest that the majority of drivers have not carried out the pledge which was given, but it is very striking that there has been a gradual increase in the number of motor accidents during the last 18 months. I shall certainly support the Minister in a speed limit of 30 miles an hour in what are called the built-up areas of this country.
I am not a motorist. I have never driven a car in my life. I have ridden in a car on hundreds of occasions, and I have never complained that the speed of 30 miles an hour in the populous districts was too slow. It is quite fast enough. Anyone who wants to travel at a speed of more than 30 miles an hour in London, in any of the large cities or in populous industrial areas like the mining valleys of South Wales, can rightly be described as a road hog. Of the pedestrians who were killed last year 75 per cent., I think the Minister said, were killed in areas which will be brought under the designation of built-up areas. I am not going to complain if the Minister applies as rigidly as the Department would desire the definition of built-up areas. I do not want to be prejudiced, but we must remember the protection of the public.
I was impressed with the speech made by the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) when he referred to the difficulties of endorsing a licence. That comes under Clause 4. I am particularly concerned about lorry drivers. They are not the owners of their vehicles, and they have to work to a schedule. They have to deliver the goods. Unless a lorry driver works to a schedule he gets into trouble and his licence will be endorsed. If his licence is endorsed it is more than likely that his livelihood is at stake. I am not suggesting that drivers of heavy vehicles should be able to put the public in jeopardy, but more consideration should be given to that aspect of the question. If pressure is brought to bear upon those drivers, they are between the devil and 285 the deep sea. If they make a little spurt without any very great danger, they will he brought within the law. If they do not do it, they are not keeping up the schedule, and they get into difficulties with the persons who employ them. I wonder whether it is possible that their licences could be dealt with in the same way as special licences for public service or heavy vehicle licences. Those are matters which will be brought to the notice of the Minister in Committee and I have no doubt that he will give consideration to them.
In Clause 5 we come to the question of driving tests. We are not objecting to reasonable tests being made. The hon. Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate) referred to our suggestion on the Road and Rail Bill that a test should be required from drivers of heavy vehicles. I would like to ask the Minister what is the precise position at the present time. This Clause makes driving tests retrospective. Are licences being granted at the present time, and if they are, under what conditions are they granted? Does it mean that persons who are granted licences after 1st April will have to submit themselves to a test; and, if they are submitting themselves to a test, can the House have any information as to what kind of test it is? If they are not submitting themselves to a test, can the Minister give the House any indication of the kind of test that will be imposed? I heard the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) explaining the kind of test to which he was submitted when he took his motor car to France. All that he was asked was whether he knew the difference between the back axle of his car and the exhaust pipe. As I have said, I know very little about a motor car, but I think I should be able to answer a test of that kind. Other Members also have suggested that in various countries the test was so simple that it did not require any intelligence to pass it.
It seems to me that the usefulness of this Clause will depend very largely on the exact meaning that is attached to the phrase, "Competent to drive." It should be made quite clear that competence means not merely the starting, steering and stopping of a motor car. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) said, there should be a little theory and a 286 little practice. I should have no objection myself if questions on the Highway Code were asked, and also if some driving test was applied. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) complained about the fee that is to be charged. I hope that the Minister is not going to adhere rigidly to the figure of 10s. After all, the person who is granted the licence will make his contribution to the Road Fund. I do not know whether the Minister, during these days of financial difficulty, intends to make a profit out of the fee which is charged. I certainly think that he ought not to do that. Ten shillings does appear to be a very substantial sum—
§ Mr. HALL
As the Minister has told us the maximum, perhaps he will tell us what is in his mind as a minimum. Is it to be a uniform charge throughout the country, and is the test also to be a uniform test? Then there is the controversial question of the reflector on the back of the bicycle. My own personal opinion on that question is that, in the interest of the cyclist himself, something more should be placed on the back of the bicycle than there is at the present time. Taking the statistics with regard to accidents as I have been able to see them, I find that in five years no fewer than 3,500 cyclists have been killed—I should say very largely as a result of there not being a distinguishing mark sufficient to enable the motorist to know that they were there. In addition to the number killed, no fewer than 175,000 were injured, making a total of nearly 180,000 cyclists killed and injured during the last five years. Again I say that, so far as we are concerned, we shall be prepared to support the Minister in requiring a mark which is much more distinguishable than the reflector now being used. That, as I have already said, would be in the interests of the cyclists themselves.
As to the provision for crossing places for pedestrians, I am personally very pleased that the Minister is going to give these a trial. It has been suggested that there should be uniformity, but I do not know whether it would be possible to have uniformity throughout the country. At any rate, there again I want the Minister to take the local authorities into consultation, because all kinds of local difficulties are likely to arise. Crossing 287 places in some of our areas are not nearly as essential as in the large congested and crowded cities and towns of this country. Before uniformity is adopted, there again the local authorities should be taken into consultation.
I want to refer to Clause 20, which deals with the licensing of drivers of heavy vehicles. When the Road and Rail Traffic Act was before Parliament, we on this side tried to secure the licensing of drivers of all goods vehicles. This Clause goes some way towards meeting the position, but still omits a very large class of drivers because of the taxation laws. The manufacturers are now constructing vehicles which are just under the 2 ton 10 cwt. limit unladen weight, but which will carry loads of three to four tons. The drivers of such vehicles ought not to be exempt. It is suggested that we should press for the complete inclusion of all drivers of commercial vehicles, as was done on a previous Bill. That, again, is a matter which we shall bring to the notice of the Minister in Committee. I certainly was very impressed with a portion of the speech of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot). He referred to the fact that, however careful you might be concerning the driving of these vehicles, something should be done concerning the inspection of the vehicle itself. He specially referred to a report which came from Toronto, where it was said that upon an inspection it was discovered that 81 per cent. of the brakes of the vehicles that were inspected were defective and, as the result of the periodical inspections that took place, the condition of the vehicles was gradually improved and accidents decreased in a very short time by 50 per cent., not because the driver had in any way improved, and not because of any legislation, but because precautions were taken as to the condition of the vehicles when they were taken out. The Bill, as the Minister pointed out, will not prevent all accidents, but it is an effort, and we shall support him in his effort. We are not an opposition as far as the Bill is concerned. We shall move Amendments in Committee where we think the Measure wants strengthening. To every Member of the House every member of a local authority and to all the public of the country the public interests after all is the predominating question.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam)
We have had a very interesting Debate and the Minister and I most certainly have no cause to complain of the way in which the House has received the Bill. We have really only had criticism of a kind that can be dealt with in Committee, and the desire to support the Bill and to give it a Second Reading has been generally expressed by almost every Member who has spoken. Like the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, I am not a motor driver. I decided as long ago as 1919 that I was not fitted for that particular job—I did not react quickly enough. At the same time I have done a great deal of motoring and have studied the difficulties of the road, and I feel, therefore, that I can fully appreciate the various points of view that have been expressed during the Debate. I am going to leave the real matter in dispute—the matter of the speed limit—until the end of my remarks, because it is the only point in this Bill which has come in for any serious criticism, although the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), who criticised it most, having delivered his speech, has left the House and so consequently may not be so anxious about the subject as might have appeared from the bitterness of some of his remarks. The other points which have been touched upon mainly by hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate are the paths for pedestrians which we propose to establish, the driving test, the necessary improvement of roads and bridges, and the necessity for the administration of the law as regards the speed limit if it is re-established in the way in which we suggest for certain areas.
I will first deal with the matter of special paths for pedestrians. I think that a general opinion has been expressed to-night that these paths were worth trying and certain Members, notably the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass), were very anxious that the Minister should get to work quickly and set up as many paths of this description as possible. The hon. and gallant Member seemed, I thought, to evince a general preference for the methods of Paris rather than the methods of Piccadilly.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
He was insistent that we should have studs in the roads rather than criss-cross lines. But I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that we are trying out this method of road crossings and that in a period of trial it is advisable to do the work as cheaply as we can. If the practice proves a success, we shall no doubt eventually adopt the Paris method of studs and outrival Paris in the number of paths. We must, however, go steadily at first. A great many Members have evinced a desire that cyclists should carry lamps rather than reflectors, and there is a great deal to be said for that point of view. But there is also the point of view usually put forward by the cyclists—and after all the cyclists are the people who have to be considered in this matter. Their point is, that if they carry lamps they never can really know whether they are alight or not. The time may come when a cyclist is run into by a motor car and is upset; then if he is carrying a lamp, it is put out and no one can say, that it was alight at the time when the accident occurred. We think that the system which we are proposing in the Bill is well worth trying; we mean to have a uniform and effective reflector to be carried on a white ground, and we shall insist upon no other varieties of reflectors being sold. We hope that the result will be fewer accidents to cyclists, but, if this particular method does not prove successful, we may have to try something else. Some hon. Members have expressed a doubt as to whether the proposed test for drivers is going to be effective. I think that it was the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey who described with contempt the kind of test to which he was put when driving a car in some foreign country. All I can say is that the intention of this test which we are proposing was explained very fully by the Minister in his opening speech. We are anxious that it should inculcate the road sense into the drivers of motor cars from the earliest moment they go on the roads and, in our opinion, a thorough knowledge of the Highway Code is one of the first points which should be instilled into the minds of drivers. I could not give to-night, even if I were so inclined and even if the House wished to hear it, the form of test that we shall 290 impose, but the Minister is in close communication with the motoring associations and is taking the most infinite pains to devise a test which we consider, and which the House will consider, is the sort of test to be applied to a man who is applying for a motor licence. One cannot be quite certain that even when a man has passed a test he is going to be a perfect driver on the road, but it is equally obvious that if you put a man through a test there is more likelihood of his being found out if he is totally incapable of driving on the roads than would otherwise be the case, and at any rate the passing of a test will be some assurance that he is fitted for his work.
With regard to the administration of the law as it affects motor cars on the road, there is no doubt that it is perfectly futile passing Acts of Parliament if they are not administered properly. I sympathise with hon. Members who have spoken to-night and have called attention to the inadequacy of the administration of the law as regards motor traffic at the present time. I think it was the hon. Member for East Cardiff (Mr. Temple Morris) who suggested that if the existing law were administered effectively there would be no need of further legislation at the present time. I am not prepared to agree or disagree with that point of view, but I am certain that if we do pass this new legislation, it must be enforced, and it is our intention that it shall be enforced. That brings me to the question of the speed limit. There is no intention in the Bill to re-establish a general speed limit for private cars such as existed before the passing of the Road Act, 1930. The general speed limit which we are imposing is confined strictly to what are defined as built-up areas, because it is perfectly clear that the larger number of accidents that take place at the present time take place in such areas. So long as this is the case it is, in my opinion, desirable to do all that we can to reduce these accidents, and this can be done best by fixing a maximum speed limit. The imposition of such a speed limit does not impose a very serious hardship upon motorists. I never have been able to understand why excessive speed on high roads used by the public can, except in the literal interpretation of the word, be described as progressive. We were told by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) 291 that this re-imposition of the speed limit in built-up areas was a return to the archaic. We all know that long before the coining of the motor car, men worshipped speed. Lord Byron wrote:Now there is nothing gives a man such spirit,Leavening his blood as Cayenne doth a curry,As going at full speed.It does not matter in areas where there is no danger to the rest of the community if a motorist chooses to go at full speed, but where there is danger to others it is essential in the public interest that the Government should step in and look after the interests of other users of the road. That is the reason why we are reimposing a speed limit in built-up areas. A built-up area is undoubtedly most difficult to define. In France, they have tried to define it as an agglomeration of houses. This is a rough sort of definition, and it is not surprising that it has been found ineffective. We have decided on the particular form of definition in the Bill because it seems clear and simple. Anybody can see where the streets are lighted or where there are means of lighting them, and when once places have been marked off by clear signs which will be similar all over the country it should not be in the least difficult for motorists to know at once when they come to a built-up area. I know the North of England well enough to realise that there are large stretches of roads which would conform to our definition, that is they are street lighted, and at the same time they are roads along which it is perfectly possible to go at a greater speed than 30 miles an hour without doing anybody any harm. Local authorities are not likely to wish to declare such stretches of road as being built-up areas, and it will be possible for motor cars to go at a greater speed than 30 miles on almost all the roads in areas which are not fully developed.
I do not think that hon. Members need fear that there will be any great difficulty in deciding what is or is not a built-up area. But, in any case, my hon. Friend has retained the power to settle this matter himself if he is not satisfied that the local authority has settled it satisfactorily. It is always easy to suggest that the definitions in a Bill are absurd or difficult of interpretation, but, as a rule, when they are fully considered these 292 difficulties disappear, and in the case of this particular definition I think that some hon. Members have exaggerated the difficulty of defining what is a built-up area.
Another point upon which some hon. Members have laid a good deal of stress is the necessity for having, so far as possible, uniformity in matters respecting motor traffic speeds. It has been asked why we have decided upon a 30-mile speed limit. The answer is that it is a reasonable speed limit. When hon. Members suggest that it will give motorists a sense of false security to say that they can go at 30 miles an hour in a particular area, they are really over-rating the stupidity of motorists. In certain parts of such an area it may be perfectly safe to go at 30 miles an hour, but in other parts it may be dangerous to go more than 10 miles an hour. There is no reason why motorists, because there is a speed limit of 30 miles an hour, should want to go faster than what is a reasonably safe speed under the conditions which exist. Therefore I do not think we need anticipate any danger of motorists going at high speeds where it is unsafe for them to do so.
The real point of this Bill is, as my hon. Friend pointed out, not that we hope by it to do away with all accidents and troubles on the road, but that we hope its effect will be to reduce the number of accidents and to inculcate into the minds of people in this country the necessity for care and precaution on the roads. I remember years ago when I went to Switzerland we used to engage in what was a most enjoyable form of sport. We used to go in what were called bob-sleighs down the roads of the various places at which we were staying, going round hairpin corners at considerable risk to ourselves and everybody else who came on those roads. It was the most exhilarating sport imaginable but I understand, now that there is more traffic on these roads and that accidents are liable to occur the authorities have stopped that form of sport. That must always be the case. Where motoring or anything else becomes a public danger it has to be regulated under speed limits and in other ways. We believe that if the example of Oxford is a serious criterion the imposition of the speed limit will have the effect of reducing accidents in the built-up areas, and we hold that 293 the experiment has been justified so far. The chief constable of Oxford writes:My opinion is that the standard of driving has improved in the city since the limit was imposed, and there appears to be less cutting-in and jockeying for position, less impatient hooting and, generally, less dangerous and careless driving.It seems to me that in those circumstances we can regard the imposition of the speed limit in built-up areas without trepidation. Various hon. Members have raised points with regard to other matters dealt with in the Bill, and I wish at once to make it clear that my hon. Friend is ready to consider any suggestions made by hon. Members in Committee upstairs with the object of improving the Bill. Questions such as the position of hospitals and doctors and points which have been raised by other Members concerning the administration of the law, can be considered in Committee. I had forgotten one point which I wished particularly to mention, and that is the question of stage carriages and express carriages. It was found in practice that the definition in the Act of 1930 was proving impracticable and this is the reason why we have made this alteration. It is also a matter which can be more fully explained in Committee.
The Bill we are asking the House to give a Second Beading to to-night is a serious attempt by the Government to cope with a very alarming state of things on the road, and we hold that the time has come when something must be done to make the motorist realise the fact that "more haste than good speed makes many fare worse." Let us have speed by all means, in parts of the country where speed is not dangerous to the public, but let us, as the poet said who first sang of a motorcar, have "speed in the fear of the Lord". The time has come when we must realise that, in the interests of the whole country, we cannot sacrifice life with impunity. We cannot run the risks that have been run in the past. There are cases such as that which was cited by the hon. Member for East Cardiff, where a drunken chauffeur in charge of a car injured various people who have been unable to get compensation. Questions of insurance of that description will, I think, be covered by the Bill as it stands at the present time; if they are not, we will look into the matter in Commitee 294 and do all that we can to put the insured person in a sound position. I ask the House to give a Second Beading to this Bill in the full confidence that it is designed in the public interest and that it will be effective in the service for which it is designed.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.