HC Deb 29 June 1934 vol 291 cc1473-95

12.18 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 32, line 29, column 2, at the end, to insert: In sub-section (2) a period of three years shall be substituted for one year. The object of this Amendment is to increase the period of validity of road service licences to three years. At present the position is most unsatisfactory in that many omnibus operators, who pay thousands of pounds for road service licences, the period of validity of which is only one year, are placed in a somewhat invidious position, as they are only certain of their business for a period of 12 months. The Amendment proposes a very reasonable extension of the licence from one year to three years. It is true that the Minister, in Amendments which he himself has inserted in the Bill, takes power to increase by regulation the period of validity of such types of services as may be specified in regulations. It is not quite clear exactly what types of services the Minister proposes to favour by increasing the period of validity, and I should be grateful to him if, when he is replying, he may be able to give some indication as to which services he proposes to extend the validity. But that does not get rid of the very unsatisfactory position which exists, and I suggest that, if the period of validity is to be extended, it should be extended by the Bill, and not by regulation.

The Minister himself, apparently, agrees as to the undesirability of dealing with matters of this kind by way of regulation, because in Committee upstairs he said that in matters of controversy Parliament should not evade its responsibility by taking refuge behind powers given to Ministers to make regulations. By putting down this Amendment, therefore, I am only trying to save the Minister from that which he himself condemns. The Minister, no doubt, when replying, will say, as the Parliamentary Secretary said upstairs, that he doubts whether the time is yet ripe for extending the period of validity from one year to three years. There may or may not be something in that argument, but, at any rate, I suggest that the time will unquestionably be ripe either next year or, at any rate, by 1936. By that time a degree of stabilisation will be reached which, in my submission, justifies our now asking Parliament to state a date after which the period of validity of these road service licences shall be three years instead of one year.


I beg to second the Amendment.

12.21 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

As the Bill now stands, the Minister is given power by regulation to extend to three years the validity of road service licences. In Committee upstairs we did not think that the time has arrived when it is safe to have a general system of three-year licences. The Commissioners must have more control over the road services for the time being. We quite appreciate that when things are more settled down, and when the whole system of transport in this country is better arranged, it will be desirable to lengthen the period of these road service licences, but this Amendment, we think, is rather premature, and, therefore, we are unwilling to accept it for the reasons I have stated.


Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that the time will be ripe by 1st January, 1936?

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

I never venture to make a prophecy.

Amendment negatived.

12.23 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I do not intend to detain the House for very many minutes. It has never been my practice to speak at any length, for I am one of those who believe in short speeches. I think, however, in respect of a Bill of this kind, which so seriously affects all of us in so many ways, it is right and proper that the House should realise to what extent the Bill has been amended since it was first introduced. I think, from the fact that the important Amendments which have been made in the Bill have been so few, it is fair to say that both the Committee and the House approve of the principles of the Bill. It is only natural, of course, that Clause 1, which imposes a speed limit in built-up areas, should have aroused the most controversy. It occupied the attention of the Committee for seven out of the 14 days of our sittings. It was impossible to make the extreme partisans on either side come to terms, and we saw in the House last night that there are still extremists who believe that any form of speed limit is wholly wrong, while there is another section of opinion which almost believes that motor cars should not be allowed on the roads. The hon. Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate) considers that our Bill is so preposterous that all motorists should take to flying, and I only wish some "speed merchants" would take her advice.

The House must remember that this Bill as a whole represents a series of experiments, all of which are intended to reduce the present casualty list on the roads. The 30 miles per hour speed limit in built up areas was decided upon because all the facts prove that it is in those areas that the great proportion of casualties occur. It may be argued, and fairly argued, that with skilled and careful drivers speed in itself is not a main cause of accidents; it is yet undeniable that excessive speed must contribute to the dangers of the roads, especially in the case of the less skilful drivers. Nevertheless, it may well be—and I hope profoundly that it will be so—that the automatic check to speed caused by the institution of marked crossing places for pedestrians, by a general improvement in the standard of driving, by a better attention to warning signs, and by a greater development in road sense and in road manners on the part of all users of the road may ultimately do away entirely with the need of any limitation of speed.

I remarked very carefully what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) yesterday, when he said that under the existing law we are perfectly able to institute a speed limit in places where we think it necessary. My own view is that if that were the general practice and these speed limits differed, as they might, in different places, it would be much more awkward for the motorists than a general speed limit being established as we propose in this Bill. We fell in with the wishes of the Committee upstairs and made certain Amendments to our speed limit proposals which, I think, have materially improved them for motorists. In the first place, to mark the experimental character of the whole of our proposals, we accepted an Amendment which limits the speed limit for a definite period of time. It will come automatically to a close at the end of December, 1939, unless Parliament otherwise decides. We also took off the speed limit between the hours of 12 midnight and five o'clock in the morning, because it is obvious from statistics that accidents very nearly take place at that time of the day. We also accepted an amendment in the Committee upstairs to enable the Minister to alter the limits of speed or the hours of the enforcement of the speed limit, subject, of course, to an affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

It was natural, I suppose, that our definition of a built-up area should cause a good deal of criticism, but it is interesting to remark that, having considered various other proposals, the Committee came back to the conclusion that "a system of street lighting" offered the best criterion of a built-up area. We agreed, however, to an Amendment which excluded from such a system cases where there are a few scattered lights placed at intervals more than 200 yards apart. I am quite certain in my own mind that those who are pressing the views of motorists in this House make a mistake when they underrate so severely the intelligence of the average user of a motor car. I do not believe there will be any difficulty in the ordinary motorist deciding what is or is not a built-up area under the terms of the Bill as it now stands. There was a good deal of discussion upstairs on the provisions of Part II of the Bill, regarding insurance against third party risks. It was made abundantly clear that the Committee as a whole were anxious to ensure that any liability for compensation of injured third parties should not be avoided on merely technical grounds. The Bill as we presented it provided specifically against invalidation on the ground that the vehicle had not been maintained in a particular condition, but the Committee clearly felt that far more than this was desirable, and so Clause 9 as it now stands secures that an injured party shall not be deprived of compensation just because the vehicle was being used outside a particular area or outside particular hours or because it was carrying a particular kind of goods.

We added a new Clause upstairs which makes provision for a payment of 12s. 6d., together with certain mileage charges, to medical practitioners who are called upon to give emergency treatment to sufferers in motor accidents, and that irrespective entirely of any question of negligence on the part of the person using the vehicle. The House will realise that this imposition of a liability irrespective of any presumption of negligence introduces a principle at variance with the general law, but after weighing in the balance any possible injustice which might be involved upon the motorist and any possible injustice which might be caused to a practitioner in getting nothing for his services, the Committee felt justified in inserting this provision in the Bill. They did so, however, on the understanding that it should not be taken as a precedent for the introduction of a like principle into other cases, and such cases might be numerous.

Then there are Clauses which were introduced upstairs relating to public service vehicles, designed to simplify machinery alike in the interests of the operators and of the Traffic Commissioners and passed as a result of representations made during the passage of the, Bill. A new Clause has been added which we consider should remedy defects in the drafting of the Act of 1930 which were brought to notice recently in the courts. A further Clause has been inserted, Clause 24, which is designed to prevent the creation of alleged "clubs" for the purpose of running road services outside the jurisdiction of the Traffic Commissioners and in unfair competition with licensed operators. By agreement between the various interests concerned, new and satisfactory arrangements have been made to provide compensation for persons employed in connection with transport services and local authorities who may suffer loss by virtue of working transport services by local authorities, and other transport undertakers. These Amendments were necessary and are acceptable to all concerned. I think I have now brought to the notice of the House all the main Amendments which have been made in the Bill.

I should like, in conclusion, to emphasise once again the experimental character of this Measure. It is an honest and sincere attempt on the part of the Government to do something effective to reduce the toll of accidents on the roads. There is, as I have already stated, a marked difference of opinion as to how far speed is a contributory cause of accidents. I think, however, it is clearly established that the majority of fatal accidents are due to human failings rather than to road and vehicular defects. The greater number of these accidents take place in daylight when the weather is clear and there is normal visibility, on straight roads or on bends where there is a good sight line, or on roads where there is only slight traffic; in other words, at hours of the day when and on roads on which, the conditions allow for a high rate of speed. Human errors of judgment there will always be so long as human beings exist, but I am convinced that the results of a momentary error of judgment may be less serious if the motorist is travelling at a speed which gives him another moment of time in which to correct any such error. I hope and believe that the general standard of driving and good manners on our roads will improve and that the "speed merchant" may take to the air. I believe, too, that there will be a greater development of road sense among pedestrians. I should like my noble Friend the President of the Board of Education to make a study of the Highway Code compulsory in every school in this country but until such time comes, and so long as conditions on the road are what they are no Government would be doing their duty by the people of this country unless they did all in their power to make every effort to bring about a better state of things on the road.

12.37 p.m.


It do not think it will be right for this Bill to receive the Third Reading without our paying a tribute to the Minister who conducted it through Committee upstairs over a long period. We have tried to knock him about as much as we could, and we succeeded sometimes in touching vital parts, but he has emerged unscathed ready for some other piece of legislation. I would like also to pay a tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary, because I have been one and I know the unenviable position of a Parliamentary Secretary upstairs. He has to know about every Amendment and make himself acquainted with all the briefs, but he speaks on only one in a hundred, and then on one with which the Minister does not want to deal because it is unpleasant. It is no use pretending that I like the Bill, and all I can say to the Minister from the point of view of the motorist is that we will do our best to make it a success. The success of the Measure, however, is very much dependent on how the executive of the country interpret it. It is not entirely in the hands of my hon. Friend, but with good will on both sides it might be a useful Measure. We have to understand that this is not legislation for motor cars for all time. It is, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, an experimental Measure. Nothing wants harder thought and more study than the question of traffic and the saving of life, and there will have to be a good deal more of it before we get a satisfactory and stable highway code.

It is interesting to see that the greater mobility given to us by the motor car has, by the increasing numbers on the roads, defeated itself. That is the sort of thing that so often occurs. I agree with an hon. Friend who said that this Bill is really the charter for private flying, because if anyone is in a hurry at present they must go from place to place by air. I look upon motoring as the pleasantest method of locomotion and flying as the dullest, but if you want to get about quickly you must take to the air. I cannot help reminding the Minister that while the Minister of Transport is putting repressive legislation upon the motorist repressive legislation by the Air Ministry is intolerable. Whereas there were only 700 people flying private machines 2½ years ago, such is the legislation with regard to air matters, that in 2½ years that has grown by only 16 machines. There is not a great encouragement to us to go by air, and I hope that my hon. Friend, as he is interested in transport in general and as the Air Ministry is really a military machine, will-try and get control over private flying. When he gets it, I hope he will free it and not put silly repressive measures on it like the Air Ministry are doing in trying to prevent you killing yourself. After all, it is a sacred right that you can kill yourself if you like so long as you do not commit suicide.


It is quite right that you are at liberty to kill yourself, but if you fail you will be sent to prison.


It is legal to take a risk with your own life if you are not deliberately trying to commit suicide. Of all grandmotherly institutions, I think the Air Ministry is the worst, and we must not let the Ministry of Transport go along the same lines. I hope this Measure will be a success. I am afraid the Minister of Transport is going to play a prominent part in legislation for many years, because we are not at the end of this problem yet. If by our deliberations we have saved lives, whether we like the means or not, we have not wasted our time.

12.43 p.m.


I would like to follow the hon. and gallant Member in complimenting the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on the way they have piloted through this Bill. It is a case of the Minister having had to be saved from his own friends. The opposition to the Bill has certainly not come from the Labour party but from the Minister's own side. Although there is a distinct difference of opinion with regard to the value of a speed limit, I think the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) and the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) have been perfectly sincere in their attitude. They believe that the speed limit will tend to make road usage more dangerous. I cannot agree with that point of view. During the discussions last night, the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey said this Bill had been brought in purely because of sentiment; there had been a Press campaign and a sentiment created, and the Minister had been compelled by outside sources to do something. There is a deeper reason than that. When we remember that last year there were 7,134 persons killed on the roads, the House will agree that something had to be done. Out of that number 3,517 were pedestrians, 1,324 were pedal cyclists, and 1,308 motor cyclists, and the Minister was bound to deal with a situation like that.

I do not intend to argue for or against the speed limit except to hope that it works out as the Minister intends that it should. Some of those who have opposed the speed limit have made exaggerated statements. I have a circular which was sent to all Members which says: It cannot be disputed that a large proportion of the accidents in which motor vehicles are involved are not due to any fault of the motor driver at all, but are the result of the carelessness or negligence of other road users. I am not a motorist. The opinion of motorists has been amply put in this House, but I think road users apart from motorists certainly have rights on the road as well as duties, and whilst it needs the co-operation of all to insure safety I think motorists have rather exaggerated the situation. Anyone who cares to read this Report of the Ministry of Transport will see that it disproves the argument that if the figures it contains had been published before the introduction of the Bill there would have been no Bill. It is a most interesting document. I conclude my remarks on this point by saying that we hope the Bill will accomplish what the Minister intends that it should. But there are other matters in the Bill. There is the question of cyclists. The hon. Lady the Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate) moved an Amendment which makes it perfectly legal for a cycle made for two to run on the road, but if two persons ride one cycle it will be illegal. When the Minister is making his Regulations one will have to deal with the efficient brakes on bicycles and things of that character. Personally, I have always regarded it as very dangerous for anyone to ride a bicycle with his hands off the handlebar.


I think the hon. Member is under some misapprehension. I think I am right in saying that the only Amendment I moved dealing with bicycles was one to insist on bicycles carrying rear lights, and the other one was that more than two bicycles should not travel abreast on the highway at the same time.


I am sorry if I was paying the hon. Lady a compliment she did not deserve, but I really thought her name was attached to the Amendment to which I referred. Anyhow, that does not matter. Cyclists have rights, and as an old cyclist myself I hope they will keep those rights, while at the same time observing the rules and regulations. There is a provision in the Bill dealing with clubs. There have been certain developments in connection with clubs during the last two or three years which clearly aimed at evading road traffic legislation. The Minister will remember that in Committee I brought to his notice the position at a certain colliery where the workmen have combined for the purpose of conveying themselves between the pit and their homes. They are of the opinion that Clause 24 will do them some injury. While I agree that Clause 24 is absolutely essential, I want the Minister to give the point I raised in Committee consideration, in order that those working at this particular pit will not be at a serious disadvantage compared with miners elsewhere. Apart from these considerations we on these benches propose to support the Third Reading of this Bill.

12.49 p.m.


I would like to join in paying a tribute to the Minister for the way in which he has conducted the proceedings on this Bill, though I admit that I approach the Third Reading of it with a certain sense of gloom. Some 20 people are being killed and some 600 injured on our roads daily, and we had hoped that this one big Measure of legislation would help materially to lessen the number of accidents, but I am very doubtful whether it will succeed in reducing them by more than 10 per cent. That is a most depressing thought, because it means that deaths will still be at the rate of some 7,000 a year. If we accept this Bill whole-heartedly it means that we are accepting it as a fact that we have exhausted the possibilities of curing road accidents by reasonable legislation. While I am not prepared to go quite so far as that, after attending every sitting of the Committee I am convinced that there is no short cut towards a cure of these accidents. As to the suggestion that the safety provisions of the Bill have been whittled away by concessions in Committee, I must admit that I have been in favour of some concessions, and especially the lifting of the speed limit between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., because apart from the fact that it is largely unnecessary then, it would have been the worst type of legislation, as being a provision that could not be enforced and would inevitably be ignored.

I will not detain the House by returning to the speed limit, because it was discussed adequately last night, except to say that I hope that motorists and the police will not be brought into conflict again by the unnecessary use of police traps on straight stretches of road. I welcome the assurance of the Minister last night, and of the Home Secretary in Committee that the Metropolitan Police, for their part, will concentrate in checking dangerous driving rather than on this. I wonder if that assurance could be extended as regards the police in other parts of England and Wales, and the police in Scotland? Will the Minister consider issuing a circular to the police on the subject? In this House we are in the position of being able to make laws but we cannot ensure their being carried out in the way we want. That has been shown clearly by the fact that in his Report this year the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police remarked that the average fine for dangerous driving was only £4 Vs. I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland about the fines for dangerous driving in Scotland. Last year there were 244 convictions, and in only 38 of those cases was a fine of more than 10 guineas imposed. In the remaining 206 cases the fine was less. That means that in four cases out of five a man can drive to the danger of the public without risking a fine of more than 10 guineas, and that it a regrettable fact. For this reason one of the principal things I welcome in the Bill is the provision for the endorsement and suspension of licences.

I do not want to be pessimistic in this matter, because I do hope that this Bill may suffice having regard to the fact that other conditions will improve. It is reasonable to expect that in this mechanical age people will develop a sixth sense of self-preservation, and, also, we may help the situation by an improvement in road construction, in road surfaces, corners and lighting. I only mention those things in order to urge the Minister not to regard his duties in the matter of securing safety as being ended with this Bill; but it is a step in the right direction.

12.53 p.m.


It is fitting that one private Member who was not on the Committee, and who looks on this subject from the point of view of the amateur, and who is also a car driver of many years' experience, should welcome this Bill and congratulate the Minister on its passage. He is a master of large and complicated Measures. I do not think he feels that it is worth his while to introduce a Bill unless it has some 50 Clauses and half-a-dozen Schedules, and this is hardly up to his normal standard. When we come to look at the Statute Book at the end of this Parliament we shall find, I believe, that he can claim a larger acreage than any other Minister.


Barren acreage?


No, most fertile. All his Bills are, I believe, beneficial. I would like to make one plea to him, which is that he should consider whether it would be possible to consolidate these Measures within a reasonable time, or at least to print the law in the form in which it now exists—to issue some book which will show the whole law on the subject and not this particular Statute only. Some of us will have to administer this law, even if we do not like its being administered upon us, and it would certainly help if we could have the law in some consolidated form. Some years ago the Board of Education printed the education law as it then stood and it was a great convenience to those who had to work on that subject. As an old car driver, I welcome this Bill.


An old car?


Yes, an old car driver. One of my early cars was a Daimler which was chain driven, and that I think indicates the age of my driving. We welcome this kind of Bill because we must make experiments in safety. There is no certain method of making the road safe, and this is an experiment. We shall know in a few years what has been the measure of our success. An hon. Member has said that this Bill would compel him to take to the air. From his speech I inferred that it might drive him to revert to the most exciting of all forms of transport, and that is going about on foot. If it had that effect, I do not think that it would do him any very great harm. I hope that the Bill will make the lot of the pedestrians less alarming and give them security and more pleasure on the roads, on which they have an equal title with the motorists.

In regard to the provision as to insurance, I may say that I have for many years been interested in issuing policies for insurance to motorists. All who are engaged in that profession lament the interference with freedom of contract between insurer and insured. It has been obvious that the State would have to step in, and do so increasingly, in order to protect the third party. I welcome the provision of the Bill in that matter, but I am quite sure that the process must go a good deal further. The Irish Free State is already ahead of us. I look forward to the time when each car must have not only a licence, but, in relation to itself and not in relation to its owner, a policy which will give an assured safeguard to a third party. Whether the car be stolen and whatever may happen to the owner, there will be a policy on the car in the event of damage. I believe that to be possible without any great increase in premium.

12.58 p.m.


As an old racing cyclist, I want to present my thanks to the Minister on behalf of my own neglected section of the community. There are 10,000,000 of us in this country and, amid the aristocratic motorists, if it had not been for the splendid offices of the Minister, we might not have had very much consideration. I present our thanks for what he has done for the plain, everyday humble cyclist. There are certain weaknesses in the Bill and penalising provisions in regard to the bicyclist. For example, if the working man desires to take his child out for a run on Saturday afternoon and has made a little basket which is not quite as strong or as adaptable or suitable as a magistrate thinks it ought to be, he lays himself open to a fine of £20. I hope that the Minister will see that such a cyclist gets equity and justice in that respect. The hon. Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate) has given some little attention to the question as to how many of us are to ride abreast. She said this morning that she has nothing wicked in her mind as to how we shall ride. I hope that the idea that two are company and three are none will not be adopted in respect of bicycles. It is possible for three persons to ride abreast without squabbling, and when a lady is in the middle that is all the better, as even sedate Members here will agree. As the only racing cyclist—in a past decade—in the House, I voice our appreciation of the splendid work the Minister has done, and we hope he will see that we get a fair show in the rules and regulations with the aristocratic motorist as to the reflector or any other matter as well as with other road users who have special considerations that we cyclists do not always receive. We ask the Minister to bear us in mind and not fine us too heavily, even though our bicycles are not as efficient as all magistrates think they ought to be.

1.1 p.m.


I expressed the great apprehension with which I regard the provisions of this Bill briefly and forcibly in Committee, and I therefore do not wish to detain the House now. I join with other Members in congratulating the Minister. I am sure he must have looked forward to this day and must be thankful that it has at last been safely reached. Although I regard this as a wrong experiment, no one hopes more sincerely than I that I shall be proved to be wrong, and that it will do what I know the Minister is anxious that it should do, contribute to the lessening of the terrible loss of life on the roads. I hope that the Ministry will regard this as an experimental Measure and will continue to keep their minds open as to the real causes of accidents on the roads. If this experiment should not prove to be the right one, I hope that they will be able to come forward with some suggestion which I should regard as more progressive. I regret the provision in Clause 13 which makes the user of a car liable for payment to doctors for emergency treatment, whether or no the motorist had in any way been responsible for the accident. We all sympathise with the unfortunate position of doctors who are not able to collect their fees, but I do not believe that we have done the right thing in passing a law which is definitely unjust in that it provides that someone who is in no way responsible shall be penalised.

I also hope that special regard will be given by the Ministry to Clause 16 which says that bicycles must carry rear red reflectors and a white patch. I very much regret that they are not to carry rear lamps. If at the end of the year we have found that this provision is not satisfactory, I hope that rear lamps will be introduced. The hon. Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden) said I wished to prevent more than two bicyclists riding abreast on the highway. That is true, not because I want to spoil their pleasure but because I want to ensure that a sufficient number of them shall be left among us. I was only thinking of their safety. In regard to the Highway Code, I hope that when it has been revised the Minister will do all that he can to see that the public, whether motoring or pedestrian, shall have a real knowledge of it, and that those who speak for the pedestrians will ensure that the Code is brought to the notice of pedestrians so that pedestrians shall realise their duty in regard to the road.

1.5 p.m.


A few moments ago an appeal was made that at some early date the Ministry of Transport should endeavour to codify the law relating to road traffic in its various forms, and I would like to endorse that request. I speak somewhat feelingly on this subject. As one who is often called upon to advise on these matters, I realise only too well the difficulties that are created by the plethora of statutes and regulations which are issued from time to time, and I believe that codification would be a real boon to the motoring public and to those who are called upon to administer the law. Much as one may dislike this Bill, one must pay tribute to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for the skill and dexterity which they have displayed in piloting the Bill through its various stages, both in Committee upstairs and on the Floor of the House. I say "skill and dexterity" advisedly, because those of us who have had the duty of sitting on more than one Committee under the hon. Gentleman know how very little in fact gives away, and that putting down Amendments is rather like fishing in deep but very empty water. We all, of course, realise and sympathise with the Minister in the difficulties in which he was placed. It was necessary for him to placate the growing public revolt at the massacre on the roads, and, in order to placate that revolt, it was necessary to do something. This Bill constitutes the something. Many of us think that it will not accomplish its avowed object of reducing road accidents, and I do not think it would be unfair criticism to say that the Bill was begotten of anxiety, conceived in confusion, and is now being delivered in apprehension on a Friday. I am sure we are grateful for the twilight sleep afforded by the unassailable majority of the Government. Despite all the efforts that were made in Committee, the Bill seems now destined to be nurtured on regulations and police traps. As the Bill stands, the very vexed question of the definition of a built-up area remains, and henceforth it seems that motorists will be haunted by the bogy of the street lamp; it is interesting to observe that an instrument of light is now to be transformed into an instrument of prosecution. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his speech a few moments ago, suggested that the intelligence of motorists should not be under-rated; but, with respect, I do not think that that is the danger. The danger, to my mind, is that the motoring public will become so exasperated by the thousand and one restrictions and regulations which are being imposed upon them, that they will decline to co-operate with authorities who are constantly pursuing them. If that co-operation breaks down, then the law will be incapable of enforcement, and will be brought into contempt; and I would suggest, with all respect, that if that happens the position will be infinitely worse than it was before the introduction of the Bill.

I hope that my somewhat pessimistic outlook will be proved wrong, and that this great experiment will indeed be a success. In my view, however, the repressions and restrictions imposed by the Bill will far outweigh any advantages that will accrue, and I do not think that the Bill will result in the saving of life which the Minister quite genuinely anticipates. However, now that the passing of the Bill in inevitable, and now that those of us who have had our objections to it have cited those objections, with very little success I am afraid, I want to take this opportunity of adding my voice to the appeal to all motorists to co-operate in making this experiment the success which is so much to be desired.

1.11 p.m.


It has been agreed that this Bill should leave us by 1.30, and, before we part with it, I should like, on behalf of my colleagues, to add our thanks to those which have been expressed to the Minister from all quarters of the House, for the way in which he has met us on various matters in connection with the Bill. We have given general support to the Bill from the time when it was introduced, and I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that my hon. Friends in Committee—I did not happen to serve on the Committee myself—were helpful in every possible way. We trust that all that the Minister expects of the Bill will be realised. The appalling loss of human life on our roads must be reduced, as must also the toll of accidents generally. I hope it will not be said of this Bill when it becomes law that it has not been rigidly applied. I think that the success of the speed limit, and of the legislation generally, will depend upon whether it is applied in the way in which it should be applied, especially in the populous areas. I hope it will not be said of the speed limit laid down in the Bill as was said of the speed limit which existed previously, that very little notice was taken of it, and we on this side of the House would press the Minister in this respect. Speaking, not as one who drives a motor car, but as one who often travels in a motor car, I certainly think that a speed limit of 30 miles an hour is adequate in the populous areas of this country. After all, that is a mile every two minutes, and in a large number of industrial areas I doubt very much whether it would be possible to travel with safety even at 15 or 20 miles an hour. I think that the Minister is to be congratulated upon stubbornly resisting any alteration of the original idea of a speed limit of 30 miles an hour.

As has been said already, the Minister has had a very busy time since he has been at the Ministry of Transport. I know of no Minister who can claim for himself two major Bills of the character of those which the Minister of Transport and the Parliamentary Secretary can claim for themselves in two succeeding Sessions. Whether the hon. Gentleman's stay at the Ministry of Transport be long or short, he will certainly be able to look back upon his period of office at that Department as one which has been as active as that of any of his predecessors. As I have already said, we on these Benches have given general support to the Bill, and, as far as we are concerned, we trust that the expectations of the Minister will be realised, and that there will be a very great reduction in the loss of life on the roads of this country.

1.15 p.m.


I should like to reassure those who are concerned for the virility of the nation and are apt to think of it as degenerating. I should not like them to think that the Debate that we have had to-day in any way represents the way in which we talk to each other in the Committee. The compliments which the hon. Member for Willesden (Mrs. Tate) has showered on us to-day are very different from the manner in which she used to move her Amendments in Committee. Then it was like a road when one of her fast-driving friends had passed, strewn with littered adjectives and a sense of scorching. But I am sure my hon. Friends and I are very grateful for the kind things that have been said to-day and for the real assistance that was given to us in the passage of the Bill even by those who are opposed to some of its provisions. Everyone talked about the Bill as if the Bill were Clause 1. I do not believe there was anyone in the Committee who did not had many things in it with which be was in agreement, even if there were some from which he differed. Even my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) found places where we did something with which he was quite satisfied. One of the most poignant things I have ever listened to, somewhat reminiscent, no doubt, of the translation of Elijah, was when we heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman saying that in future he was forsaking the roads of the country and taking to the air. I could not help feeling a little sympathy with my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air.

The House, I am sure, realises the difficulty we are always in when dealing with matters of this sort, because they are matters of opinion, and on these subjects each of us must hold the opinion which we ourselves form. I can no more prove conclusively beforehand that the speed limit is going to reduce accidents than anyone who is opposed to it can prove that it is not. We can only, with the materials that we have available, form each for himself our opinions upon it and act upon those opinions. With this stage this particular provision is beginning to pass from the realm of opinion into the realm of fact. The future will disclose much more certainly than any arguments that we have had in the House which of the two opinions is right. But I am sure, and indeed it has been echoed from every quarter of the House, that even those who most strongly disapprove of the speed limit, even those who question most strongly the possibility of its success, are combined in a real desire that they may prove to be wrong, because proving them wrong will mean that lives have been saved upon the roads. I welcome the assurance of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey, who is such a well-known popular figure in the motoring world, that, much as many motorists may object to the provisions of the Clause, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, when it has received the imprint of the approval of the House, they will do their best to make it a success and will be only too glad if that success arrives.

I recognise, too, that the responsibility of the Ministry and the Government as a whole does not cease with the passage of the Bill. The enforcement of the Clause has just as much importance in relation to its ultimate success as the terms of the Clause itself. Bad enforcement, lazy enforcement, unfair enforcement, may do much to destroy any value of the Clause and, if the motorist will accept on his side his responsibility for trying to make this experiment a success, I on my side will not shirk my share. Not only Clause 1, not only the rest of the Bill, but any Measure that this House has taken or will take to deal with the problem of safety upon the roads must be experimental and must be subject to possible alteration. It is no good thinking we are going to legislate for all time to deal with a problem which is changing almost from day to day. I hope that no one standing in my place will ever allow opinions that he has previously expressed, arguments that he has previously advanced or actions that he has previously taken to stand in the way of the honest admission of a mistake and an honest desire to reverse an old line that has proved wrong and take a new line which he thinks may be right.

In a Third Reading speech we are not allowed to discuss what is not in the Bill. It is a great pity in this case, because, when you are dealing with accident problems, perhaps the most important things are not in the Bill and cannot be in any Bill. I should not like the Debate to give the impression that the Clauses of the Bill are the only contribution that the Ministry, of which I am at the head, is trying to make to the problem of accidents on the roads. Gigantic fields lie outside statutory provisions. There is the whole question of road construction from the point of view of safety. There are the many experiments which I have indeed started, such as the traffic lines on the big by-passes. All those may, each in their way, have just as much importance on this problem as any provision in the Bill. Finally, when you pass beyond the action of the Government and of the House of Commons you come to the real, ultimate, only solution of the problem, and that is the co-operation, good will and understanding of all the users of the road. I have tried in the last few months to get the co-operation of all in a campaign of propaganda wider and larger than has ever been undertaken before. By the Press, by the films, and by the broadcast I have tried to bring home from every different aspect the responsibility that rests upon all users of the road.

Some, I know, of those who have so willingly co-operated with me, and are so willingly giving their time and energy in carrying out that campaign, are disappointed with its progress and are beginning to ask whether it is worth continuing that work. Week by week they see in the papers the toll of accidents mounting. I do not feel that anyone can express any satisfaction at an accident rate approaching this being the normal weekly feature of our national life. But there is this grain of comfort which I can give them. There is this encouragement for them to continue their work. Up to now we have almost had to take as a matter of course the fact that the fatal accidents increased in ratio to the number of cars upon the road. It has followed almost axiomatically. I am glad to say that since this campaign started ill April the figures of fatal accidents have kept fairly level with the fatal accidents last year, although there are something like 100,000 more cars on the road. That is enough to show that the efforts of these people have not been wasted and should be continued. But I am not prepared to be driven to the position where I have to accept it as a fact that fatal accidents depend on the number of cars upon the road, that every so many cars means so many more deaths, that everything that we do and that the Government have done in the last few months to encourage the manufacture of motor cars means that automatically by that you are doing something to encourage the death of citizens. I am not prepared to accept as successful merely a reduction of this ratio. We have to keep in our minds these terrible figures, which are no less terrible because there may happen to be more cars on the road. It does not matter to the 7,000 families which have been turned into families of mourning this year that we might have expected that there would be rather more. I appeal to Members, not only in their capacity as legislators in this House, but in view of the tremendous influence they have in various directions and in various districts throughout the country, to cooperate with me in what ultimately can be the only solution of this problem, that is, to bring home to all who use our roads that they have not only rights, but duties, and that consideration and courtesy for others is the best cure for the problem with which this Bill is meant to deal.

1.26 p.m.


Inasmuch as I raised this matter some time ago in a discussion, I want to express my gratification and that of my hon Friends, and I should like to reinforce what the Minister has said as to the co-operation of the whole community. I only hope that those who have citicised the Bill will now forget all their criticism, because it is the only effort which is being made, and it is only by a common effort that this scandal can be lifted from our public life. I hope, with the Minister, that this appalling loss will be looked upon as a burden upon the public conscience, and that he will have the gratification—I could not imagine any greater gratification which might come to him in office in later years—of having contributed substantially to the lessening of the suffering of the community. I would not have liked the Bill, having had some interest in it and having spoken upon it on its introduction, to have passed through this House without making this comment and saying these words of very high appreciation.

1.27 p.m.


It rests with the motorists to make a success of the Bill. I shall give it my whole-hearted assistance, but I feel somewhat in the position of the little boy whose father returned from abroad. His father went away in his infancy and came back 10 years afterwards, maimed and blind, and had lost a leg. When his mother introduced the boy to his father and said, "Johnny, this is your father," Johnny looked at him for a moment or two and then turned to his mother, wonderingly, and said, "Mother, is this the best you can do for me?" This Bill leaves out matters which might have been included, and I want to make a suggestion which I feel sure will be carried out in a later Bill. No mention has been made about the misuse of the horn, and in my opinion—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

The hon. Member cannot discuss on the Third Reading what is not in the Bill.


However, I would like to point out that under Clause 13 it is very hard that we should be compelled to pay for medical services for which we receive no benefit and in respect of which it is not our responsibility. I hope that the example of Norway regarding the unnecessary misuse of the horn will be followed and that in future we shall introduce several improvements in the Road Traffic Act. That is all I want to say about the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.