§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Sir G. FOX
I beg to move, in page 1, line 9, after "Act," to insert:but is certified by the licensing authority for the purposes of section thirty-one (Licences of drivers of heavy goods vehicles) of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, to be competent to control the movement of such a vehicle as is hereafter in this sub-section mentioned and to have a knowledge of the highway code.I consider this is a very important point which ought to be gone into carefully. The effect of the Amendment would be to insist that the steersman of a vehicle which comes under the Clause has to have some sort of licensing authority over him. If it is carried it will enable the steersman of such a vehicle to go to the traffic commissioners of the area and get a certificate which would say that he was competent to steer such a vehicle and knew something about the Highway Code. I would like to explain what types of vehicles are affected by this Clause. It provides for exemption for a person acting under the orders of another person who is engaged in the driving of a vehicle and who is licensed by the Road Traffic Acts, as a steersman of a motor vehicle, subject to a five-miles per hour speed limit, who does not himself hold a licence under the Road Traffic Act. The vehicles include some form of tractors, agricultural engines, steam-ploughing engines, and travelling showmen's vehicles which go from fair to fair. These engines have been made for some three-quarters of a century and are of a somewhat antiquated design in many cases, and it requires two men to drive and steer these vehicles. The visibility from the engine is not very good. On the left there is generally a big flywheel which is turning round and obscures the vision to the left. If the steersman happens to be sitting, he does not get a very good view of the road. His vision of the road, I believe, is some 100 feet ahead of the vehicle.
On these vehicles there is, first of all, a driver. He is, in fact, an engineer. He is the man who is responsible for getting steam up, applying the brakes 2071 and generally looking after the firing and mechanical side of the engine. When the engine goes downhill the driver or engineer has to see that his fire is properly damped down, that he has not got too much steam up, and that his brakes are properly on. At the same time he is giving the necessary signals to the men behind on the different trailers. They can pull three enormous trailers and a watering cart, a train of five vehicles travelling along the road. The engineer blows a whistle and each man who is in charge of the different trailers behind has to apply the brakes at the proper time, or take them off, as the case may be. This Clause does not affect these men. The driver-engineer would continue to have a licence, but he is not the man who steers the vehicle. The man who steers the vehicle is a steersman. He is the man who actually turns the small wheel which directs the front wheels of the vehicle along its course on the road, and this Clause, if it goes through as it stands at present, will mean that the steersman will not need to have a licence. Anyone will be able to steer one of these big machines—a lunatic, or a half-wit, or even the fat lady in the show, if she is able to get into the small space available. On the other hand, of course, you might have the driver who goes round "The Walls of Death."
It does seem very important that this House should decide whether this steersman should or should not have any form of licence control. What happens if the vehicle gets out of control on a hill? Obviously the engineer or driver is not troubling very much what the steersman is doing. He is thinking of the machine, the brakes and stopping the machine from getting out of control, but the person steering the vehicle may know nothing about the Highway Code, and may never have been on the road before. Yet he is steering this vehicle which is plunging down the hill.
On 15th March, 1936, in the "Sunday Express" I saw a picture of three enormous traction engines which were hauling the world's largest transformer which weighed 100 tons. This crashed at Seven Hills Road, near Cobham, and the two front engines overturned. I do not know what was the cause of this accident, who the drivers were or whether they had a 2072 licence, but I would only point out that by this Clause, if it goes through, the steersmen of the vehicles need have had no experience at all of road conditions or any knowledge of the Highway Code. Yet they could have been taking the world's largest transformer over our roads. Often we have seen these vehicles trying to negotiate crossings—a long train of five vehicles ill coupled together —and they have, in many cases, difficulty in steering their way around narrow lanes in villages. Also these vehicles are very heavy, and if one has been in a motor car following them one has often seen the damage they do to the roads. The pressure of their wheels, although they have rubber to-day, tears up the tar on hot days, and it is often a help that the two people responsible for the vehicle should have some knowledge of road conditions and should know whether a machine is doing damage to the roads.
I should also like to ask whether there is any age limit for the steersman. If the Bill goes through anyone can steer one of these vehicles. If there is an accident and a case is taken to court, there will be great difficulty. How is it possible to say whether the steersman was or was not under the control of the engineer of the vehicle? We have often seen the steersman in sole charge of the machine and the engineer busying himself about the machine. The position might be likened to t -tat of the helmsman of a ship, but that is no fair comparison. The steersman of a ship is under the direct orders of the Captain or navigating officer. They are only there for the navigation of the ship. They tell the steersman or helmsman exactly on what point of the compass has to steer. The helmsman is not able to alter or deflect the direction of the situ]: without receiving orders from them, but in this case the steersman turns the wheel and steers the traction engine in any direction he likes. It is absurd to argue that because these vehicles are limited 10 five miles an hour it is unnecessary to have any form of licensed steersmen at all. There are no vehicles which can do greater damage on the road. They are enormously heavy, and if there is an accident with any other vehicle, that other vehicle is bound to be smaller and to suffer most.
It so happens that this Bill passed through its Second Reading with hardly 2073 any discussion, and upstairs in Committee this Clause also went through without discussion. But I ask the promoters and the Minister to give us convincing reasons why the steersmen of these vehicles need have no licence at all. Is it a question of expense, or is it a question of the difficulty of getting the necessary qualified engineers and drivers? I think this raises the whole question of the policy of the Ministry of Transport with regard to improving safety on the road. Another Clause in this Bill requires drivers of different types of vehicles to be tried out on those special types of vehicles, but here is the biggest vehicle which can travel the road, and the man who steers it is to be able to have no licence at all. It will appear to many people very astonishing if the Minister of Transport should support such a policy, and that these enormous vehicles should be allowed to be directed by a steersman who has no knowledge of the Highway Code and who may never have been on a vehicle on the road in his life before.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Sir A. WILSON
I beg to second the Amendment.
I have seen five or six accidents in my own constituency in the past six months, two of them serious, and in each case fatal, and in each case the direct consequence of some failure on the part of the steersman or the steering gear of the rear vehicle, and I feel that there is at least as strong a case for these men being licensed as for the ordinary lorry driver for whom special provision is made in the Bill. It is not a question of the fat lady or of the child who is steering. That is an extreme case, but there is a very serious case for the Amendment. I do not know whether the Minister has statistics of the accidents in which a timber trailer behind a traction engine has been involved, or a traction engine, or some other very heavy vehicle which requires a steersman, but I feel that they must be considerable. I am not surprised at these results. On some of these very narrow roads it is not possible for the man in front to know what is going on behind, and the co-ordination of the responsibility of the man in front and the man behind requires consideration.
2074 This seems to me to be a reasonable and a good Amendment. I have not heard the case against it argued, and it was news to me that these men did not require to be tested by the Ministry of Transport, but I am certain that if the Ministry wish to reduce accidents on the roads, they will be well advised to bring these men under the same type of control as they use over lorry drivers and drivers of other heavy vehicles. Timber vehicles, heavy lorries carrying propellers and transformers, and vehicles carrying these vast beams which come down sometimes from Birmingham to London, with as many as four steersmen on them, all require great care and great knowledge if there is not to be a disaster. I have seen these casualties happen, and I have heard the allegation made that the steersman rather than the man in front has been at fault. I feel that there is a good case made out for the Amendment, and I shall await with interest the views of the promoter of the Bill and of the Ministry of Transport.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. GROVES
I trust the Amendment will not be pressed, and as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) said he had not heard the case against it, I will try to give some reasons why it should not be accepted. I will deal first with his final remarks, because I was interested to hear about the vehicles that came up from Birmingham to London and their relationship to this Amendment. The Bill deals only with heavy vehicles going at a rate not exceeding five miles an hour. Therefore, my hon. and gallant Friend can take it for granted that the number of such vehicles travelling from Birmingham to London at five miles an hour is very small, and they are certainly not those in regard to which he said he saw an accident last week.
§ Mr. GROVES
I hope the vehicle did not get in there. I should be very sad if this Clause 1 were deleted. For a. very long time the people affected by this Bill, the showmen, have been trying to get the Ministry of Transport to accept their view about the proposed new regulations, and 2075 I trust my two hon. Friends are not trying to lead the House to believe that this Bill is trying to undo something or remove some licence which has been in existence, because up to 1930 there was no consideration of this matter at all. The Act which was put through this House in 1934 has now imposed upon the steersmen upon these heavy vehicles the obligation of taking out a licence to drive, which means that the steersman of a heavy vehicle, in order to be in a position to be qualified, has to go through the Ministry of Transport test to drive a motor car. I would like to ask the supporters of the Amendment, even if we were to grant their case, what added ability would be conferred upon the steersman of a heavy vehicle if we compelled him to learn to drive a motor car?
I will not take my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment to task for his facetious remarks about a lunatic or a half-wit, but I want to assure him that these vehicles which belong to the showmen, and of which there are not many on the road, cost £2,000 or £3,000 each, and it is not reasonable to assume that a business man would do anything which would allow any person other than a common-sense man to sit or stand by the side of his engineer and take charge of the steering gear of one of these vehicles. My hon. Friends have to understand that steering a motor car is very different from steering one of these vehicles. A motor car is a fast-moving vehicle, and those who are now trained to drive and steer a motor car are more technical and are able without great difficulty to pass the test required of them.
The reason this Bill was not discussed on Second Reading was the active interest which Members have shown in other private Members' Bills, and the reason why this Amendment was not discussed in Committee upstairs was because the Chairman did not consider it was in Order. Steersmen on heavy vehicles have no relation to the mechanical propelling power. An hon. Member asked what would happen if one of these vehicles began to do downhill, and he made reference to the Highway Code. I have read the Highway Code, and one does not require to be a technician in order to understand it, but it does not say what a man ought to do when a 2076 heavy vehicle is going downhill. Obviously, however, the thing to do is to put the brakes on. In normal circumstances it is not the duty of the steersman to do that. He has charge of the wheel only and acts always under the instructions of the driver. The driver is a technician who has served his apprenticeship, but the steersman is a labourer or a craftsmen's mate who, if he has average intelligence, can be trained to do the job in a few days. The Amendment would entirely destroy the purpose of the Clause. If this Bill passes it will be a great encouragement to the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), who was very lucky ire being drawn twice in the Ballot, and it will be a tribute to his zeal. If my hon. Friends will withdraw their Amendments and help us to get the Bill through, they will earn our gratitude.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Mr. OLIVER
Why should the Statute Book be encumbered with such a Clause as this? How many people does it affect? I do not suppose it affects more than a handful.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
Perhaps the hon. Member does not realise that the Amendment is not to leave out the Clause. The point that he wants to raise will came better on Third Reading.
§ Mr. OLIVER
I was coming to the Amendment which we are discussing. The Clause seems useless and the Amendment equally as useless. I am amazed to think that the Clause merely relieves the steersmen of paying a sum of 5s.
§ Mr. OLIVER
I understand that if he has no licence he will pay no licence fee. If he misses the test under the Clause he will be caught under the Amendment, because, under the Amendment, he must be competent to control the movement of these heavy vehicles-and to have knowledge of the Highway Code. If he must be competent to control the movement, there must be someone to pass his competence. The Amendment will, therefore. to a large measure defeat the object of the Clause. There is no reason why a steersmen should not 2077 pay a licence fee if he is engaged on a vehicle operating on a road. A poor old person in an invalid carriage, who is less qualified and less able to pay the licence fee, has to get a licence to drive his carriage. Therefore, there is little consolation to be derived from the fact that we are relieving the steersmen of his duty to pay the 5s. fee.
§ 2.1 p.m.
This Amendment appeared on the Paper only this morning, and as both the Clause and the Amendment are rather technical, the promoter of the Bill asked me if I would look at it and explain my views to the House. This problem of the steersmen only came up when the driving tests were instituted under the Road Traffic Act, 1934, under which drivers on the road had to be tested before they had a licence. It was before a simple matter. This is not a question of the 5s., but of the test. I want the House to realise, also, that if they pass the Clause without the Amendment, as I am going to ask the House to do, there is no additional danger on the road, as the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) said. There are comparatively few of these vehicles, and they yearly become less; the steersmen will be as dangerous, or as little dangerous, as they have been all through the years up to the present. These heavy traction engines, which are limited to a speed of five miles per hour, are controlled by two men—the driver and the steersman. If anything happens to the vehicle and they get into any kind of trouble, it has been laid down again and again that the driver and not the steersman is the man in charge. It is, as the hon. Member who moved the Amendment said, rather like the position of a ship where the helmsman is under the orders of the navigator, but he has not himself necessarily to be a skilled navigator.
There are perhaps from 2,000 to 4,000 men affected, including about 400 showmen, and they felt that there was a hardship. They came to see me on a deputation and explained that it was impossible for these people to carry out the provisions of the Road Traffic Act as they could not be tested on their traction engines because they were not the drivers. What would happen would be that they would 2078 have to be tested on a motor car and if they passed that test they would be given their licences, but because a man can drive an Austin Seven motor car I fail to see that that makes him any better as the steersman of a traction engine. When this deputation came to me I went very carefully into the matter with the officials of the Department and we came to the conclusion that there was a. hardship and that to grant this concession would not increase the danger on the roads in the slightest degree. The Minister would not have supported Clause 1 of this Bill had he felt there was any danger in making this concession. The vehicle must be of the five-mile-per-hour class and if the steersman does do something reckless—and I cannot imagine him doing anything reckless—the driver beside him could put on the brake and stop the vehicle very quickly.
I was asked whether there was now an age limit. The answer is that these persons must be 21 years old, and in the case of showmen I believe they are nearly always the gentlemen who look after the coconut shies. We are trying to simplify matters for a comparatively small number of people, and if we were to accept this Amendment it would go right against the whole purpose in view. I give the House the assurance that if this Bill goes through we shall write to the Showmen's Guild and to the Traction Engine Owners' Association telling them that we expect them to see that everybody who acts as a steersman has a knowledge of the Highway Code. It would be no use our writing to say that we expect the steersman to know how to steer, because the showmen, for their own sake, will take every care to see that the man is as efficient as he can be. Although only a small number of people are affected we are meeting a grievance. Again, I can assure the House that my Department feel that no danger will be involved, and I hope the House will reject the Amendment and pass the Clause as it is.
§ Sir G. FOX
As the Minister has said that he is prepared to look into the matter and do something to try to improve the knowledge of the Highway Code among steersmen, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Sir G. FOX
I beg to move, in page 1, line 10, after the second "vehicle," to insert:which is registered under the Roads Act, 1920, in the name of a person engaged in agriculture and is used on roads for carrying or hauling the produce of agriculture or articles required for agricultural purposes andMy Amendment would have the effect of making it compulsory for the steersman of a travelling showman's vehicle to continue to have a licence, but would exempt the steersmen of agricultural vehicles. There is a certain amount of difference between these agricultural vehicles and showmen's traction engines. Agricultural vehicles always go in pairs. There is one engine pulling the threshing machine or the steam-plough, and another engine pulling the men's living hut and the steam cultivator and, possibly, the watercart. These groups are only half the length, both in point of size and of the number of vehicles, of the goups pulled by the showmen's traction engines, and for the most part they move only about the country districts. They go on a tour from village to village, from farm to farm and from field to field, and wherever possible they avoid going near any towns. Travelling showmen go from fair to fair, often long distances, and they travel through big cities. We have often seen them travelling through the heart of London. I ask the promoters of the bill what is done when the driver of one of these vehicles becomes ill or is taken ill. Are there any spare men likely to possess the necessary licence to take these vehicles along the road? When a showman packs up he has to move on—though it may be a Sunday—to the next place as soon as possible. The Parliamentary Secretary said there was no additional danger by reason of the steersman not knowing anything about the Highway Code. I cannot agree with him. I cannot think that the driver of one of these vehicles when he is, perhaps, trying to go round Piccadilly Circus or Hyde Park Corner should be just as safe as a man who has some knowledge of the Highway Code.
I certainly never said that I did not think there was any danger in a steersman having no knowledge of the Highway Code. Perhaps my hon. Friend will read the OFFICIAL REPORT and see what I did say, because it certainly was not that.
§ Sir G. FOX
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I had no intention of misquoting him. I should like to ask the promoters of the Bill whether there are any spare men who can drive these vehicles in the case of illness, or what happens in such circumstances?
§ 2.13 p.m.
§ Sir A. WILSON
I beg to second the Amendment.
I support the Amendment on the grounds set forth in the concluding portion of the speech, that these showmen are constantly travelling through large towns and turning and reversing in the main streets with their heavy vehicles. They are a public danger unless they are brought under regulations like any other traffic in the streets. They have to go through London, they go considerable distances and chiefly they move at night. They are less under control at present than any other form of traffic, and I feel that there are strong grounds for introducing effective regulations which will give confidence that the drivers will not do some silly, foolish or careless thing which may have the worst consequences to traffic on the road. Their numbers are surprisingly large. I did not realise there were so many of them until I heard the Parliamentary Secretary. There are the showmen on one hand, contractors on the other, the agricultural owners who carry their steam ploughs from place to place and rotary tractors, which are doing a large business in some counties, and they also have their steersmen.
I do not know what the reply of the promoters may be, or the view of the Ministry of Transport, but I should not like it to be thought that there is not a serious case for consithration. The roads of the country are notoriously narrow, and the narrower they are the greater the danger presented by these double vehicles, however slowly they may be going, even at one-tenth of the:peed of the traffic going in the opposite direction. A collision may be no less inevitable if the man in charge of the heavy vehicle is not on the proper side of the road and does not know what to do.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I listened very carefully to the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment, and as far as I gathered they did not explain whether 2081 or not, if this Amendment were inserted, the Clause would be limited to agricultural vehicles. Keen as I am about agriculture I think it would be rather unfair to limit the benefits of the Bill to agricultural workers. This class of vehicle is not very much on the roads. Showmen use the roads very much more than agricultural workers.
§ Mr. GROVES
I ask the Mover of this Amendment to withdraw it. It is not correct to say that showmen are much in London streets. When they travel in London it is generally late at night when the traffic is least. The Amendment has no relation to the problem of showmen as such.
§ Mr. STOREY
I hope my hon friend will not press this Amendment. His action in moving it is contrary to his action in withdrawing the previous Amendment. He says that the purpose of the Amendment is to allow agricultural vehicles to have the benefit of the Clause, and it would exclude showmen. He asked what would be the position if the driver of the vehicle was ill. This Clause deals entirely with steersmen and a steersman has not to hold a driving licence; and there is no question of his having to step into the place of the driver in case the driver is ill.
§ Mr. THURTLE
Before we come to a decision the House might ha-ae the expert advice of the Ministry of Transport.
§ 2.20 p.m.
I tried to deal fully with the point of the steersman in what I said on the previous Amendment. I fail to see what the effect of this Amendment would be other than to cut out altogether the showmen and to keep this concession for the steersmen of agricultural vehicles only. I cannot see any reason for doing that. I have seen agricultural tractors pulling just as big loads as I have seen behind the showmen's engines. The promoter of the Bill has explained that a steersman cannot take the place of a driver who is ill. The driver must have a licence. I hope that the Amendment will be withdrawn.
§ 2.21 p.m.
I am very sorry that I cannot agree with the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope the Amendment 2082 will not be withdrawn. Its object is to assist those engaged in farming. I was surprised to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that trains of agricultural vehicles on the pubic highways were just as heavy as the trains of showmen's vehicles. If the hon. and gallant Member reflects on that assertion I do not think he will be able to substantiate it. Things are very hard indeed for the agriculturists of the country at the present time. I am satisfied that there is a point of substance in the Amendment as it affects the Agriculturist. We want in every way to help agriculturists to get their produce expeditiously to the various markets, if they are fortunate enough to find markets for their goods.
My hon. Friend who has just spoken does not seem to know what the Amendment will do. It says that showmen shall be cut out and agriculturists left in. I hope that both the showmen and the agriculturists will be left in.