§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Mr. Noel-Baker)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In moving the Bill in another place my Noble Friend began by saying that its purpose was to promote safety on the roads. It is for that purpose—and that purpose alone—that the Government have asked Parliament to approve it. Before the war pedal cycles had to carry either a red rear light or, if they preferred it, a red reflector and a white patch. During the war, because of the conditions of the blackout, cyclists have been required to carry a red rear light. If they wished, they were allowed not to carry reflectors and white patches as well, and in fact many new cycles have been made during the war without them. The obligation to carry rear lights was imposed by an Order made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Home Security under the emergency powers conferred for the period of the war by Defence Regulation 24. Clause 1 of the Bill contains an obligation on pedal cyclists to carry a red rear light in future, after the war time obligation has lapsed. It does so by repealing the provisions of the Road Transport Lighting Act, 1927, and of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, which relieved the cyclist of the obligation to carry a light, if he carried a reflector and a white patch instead. This first Clause, the most important in the Bill, will come into immediate effect if and when the Bill becomes law.
Clause 2 provides that a cyclist must not only carry a red rear light but must carry a red reflector and a white patch as well. This is for greater safety in case the rear light should fail or be obscured without his knowing that it had happened. The reflector and patch must comply with the Regulations which the Minister lays down. My Noble Friend does not intend to alter the substance of the Regulations about reflectors and patches which were drawn up in 1936, though the form may change in certain ways. The Regulations must be laid before both Houses of Parliament; and the obligation of Clause 2 will not come into operation until the day my Noble 1795 Friend appoints. That is because, as I have said, many cycles have been made without the reflector and patch. The necessary equipment is not now available to provide them, and that there may be some delay before it is, and therefore my Noble Friend will not appoint the statutory day until adequate supplies of reflectors and patches are available.
Clause 3 provides that, until the day appointed by the Minister, no rear light need be shown if the vehicle is stationary in the road, owing to traffic signals or other similar cause, provided that the cycle is as near as possible to the left hand edge of the carriage way. That is because many wartime dynamo lighting sets have no batteries which keep the light burning when the cycle is at a standstill. New fittings will be needed to overcome that difficulty, and we are doing all we can to ensure that they shall be made available without delay; but, until they are, the Clause allows this necessary relaxation. The Bill does not alter the provision of the Act of 1927 that, if the cyclist's lights should altogether fail, he may wheel his bicycle without lights along the left hand edge of the road. That, again, is an obviously necessary rule, to allow the cyclist to reach a repair shop or to reach his home, and we propose that it should go on.
That is the Bill. The Government believe that the case for it rests on the lessons of experience and the dictates of common sense. I think I can best establish the case by answering objections which have been brought against it in recent times. May I, to begin with, deal with a point of prejudice? We have been accused of rushing the Bill through in an ungenerous and an un-British spirit, without proper consultation with the people who are principally concerned. It is said that cyclists have patriotically accepted rear lights for the period of the war, and, now that tens of thousands of their young colleagues are fighting overseas, we are pushing this through, taking them unawares, without any valid reason and, in our haste, giving them no chance to make their real defence. I admit none of those charges. There is a valid reason why we should have acted swiftly. During the war, there has been this legal obligation imposed by Order, and it was imposed under Defence Regulation 24. The moment the war in Europe 1796 ends, that Regulation might be withdrawn.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
Is that an undertaking that the Emergency Powers Act will be brought to an end when the war in Europe ends?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
My hon. Friend knows very well that it is not; but I expect that he will be one of those who will demand that No. 24 shall be withdrawn with the utmost speed. If the Government intend, as they do intend, to continue this obligation on cyclists in time of peace, it is desirable that there shall be no hiatus, no gap of time, between the lapsing of the war-time Regulation and the entry into force of the long-term legislation which we have in view. Such a hiatus would be inconvenient to everybody concerned, and perhaps, most of all to the cyclists themselves. I think the House will agree, therefore, that we have not acted with undue despatch in bringing this Measure forward now.
What about consultation? Frankly, the cyclists have told us everything they have to tell us long ago. This is not a new issue. It has been vigorously debated, at least since the General Election of 1929. It has been submitted to expert and impartial examination three times in the last seven or eight years. It was carefully examined by the Alness Committee of the House of Lords in 1938–9. The cyclists' organisations all gave evidence. Their evidence was dealt with in the greatest detail. We have a verbatim record, which we have constantly referred to in our preparation of the Bill. The Alness Committee unanimously recommended what this Bill contains.
The matter was examined further before the war by the Transport Advisory Council of the Ministry. Again, the Council went into every detail; they had the cyclists' views most fully laid before them, representatives of the cyclists helped them, and they recommended by a large majority, nearly two-thirds, that rear lights should be required. Lastly, the present Road Safety Committee, who have just presented their interim Report to my Noble Friend, discussed the matter fully.
§ Sir H. Williams
On a point of Order. Is it not very improper for the Minister to refer to a Report which has been presented to his Noble Friend but which has not been presented to this House?
§ Sir H. Williams
Surely no Minister can refer to a Report which has been presented to him on a matter which is the subject of Debate in this House unless the Report is presented to the House?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
Presumably the Minister will see that it is laid before the House, because it is usual, if a Minister is quoting from a Report, for the Report to be available to the House.
§ Sir H. Williams
Surely we must have some undertaking before the Committee stage of the Bill is taken that this document will be made available to the House.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I will consult my Noble Friend who, I think, has every intention of publishing the Report, although I am not aware that he has yet made a decision on it.
§ Sir H. Williams
It has nothing to do with his Noble Friend. No Minister is entitled to quote from a document without presenting it to the House. I am not in the least interested in his Noble Friend.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman is quoting from this document it really will have to be presented.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I was not quoting from it. I was saying that, in the Report, there was a recommendation which, as my Noble Friend announced in another place, he has accepted. I have quoted nothing from the Report itself, and he quoted nothing.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
May I clarify the position? If the hon. Gentleman quotes from a document, the document will have to be presented to the House. If he is summarising from a document, the position is not the same, but it must be a summary and not a quotation.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am only summarising the proposal which the Road Safety Committee made to my Noble Friend, a proposal which, indeed, before the Report was completed or presented to him, he had already decided to accept. This Road Safety Committee is a very competent body. Apart from the representatives of the Government Departments, it has three representatives of the police, all very highly qualified, and two of them among the greatest traffic and road safety experts in the world; it has also an admirable team of representatives of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, one of whom, Mr. Whall, happens also to be an officer of a cyclists' organisation. There could not be a better spokesman, from the cyclists' point of view, than Mr. Whall. He gave the Committee the cyclists' arguments against this Bill, but the Committee unanimously, except for himself, endorsed the proposals of the Alness Committee, the proposals, that is to say, of this Bill.
When we drew up the Bill, therefore, we were not in any doubt about the cyclists' views. They have had ample opportunity of telling the Government in general, and my Ministry in particular, anything and everything they have to say. Moreover, since the Bill was introduced in another place, I have had the pleasure of meeting a deputation of representatives of cyclists and cycle manufacturers. Our discussion was extremely useful to me, but I cannot in candour pretend that they said anything new, or that they brought forward any fact or argument which was unfamiliar to those who framed the Bill. I hope, therefore, that the House will not think we have behaved unfairly by the cyclists.
What is the case that they bring forward? First, and most fundamental if it were a valid objection, they urge the mechanical difficulty of finding a satisfactory rear light which is adequately reliable, and which lasts for a reasonable time. Twenty years ago, or even ten, I think that that argument had a great deal of force. There is more vibration on the frame of a cycle, and there is less room for power to run a light, than there is on a motor car. Oil lamps are hard to keep alight in a gusty wind. But I think that that argument has lost most of its force to-day. There are now cheap and efficient battery sets, and more than 1799 one type of dynamo set. The dynamos are constantly improving. We have had five years of compulsory lighting during the war, and the cyclist—and I say this with great assurance—has had no great difficulty in complying with the law.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Magistrates have been complaining up and down the country about the inability of cyclists finding batteries or adequate sets.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Of course, in war circumstances the supply of batteries has sometimes been tight, but when cyclists have had the batteries, it cannot be maintained that these have not been efficient or have not worked reasonably well, in spite of the war difficulties.
§ Mr. Walkden
Is my hon. Friend aware that in my own division engineers have been prosecuted when they have not been able to buy batteries, and that although they have been able to prove to the magistrates that there were no batteries and that the retailers had none, they have been fined?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It may well be that it has happened that there has been a temporary shortage of batteries in some places and at some times during the war; but does my hon. Friend think that that is a valid objection to a peace-time obligation? Of course it is not. The lesson of the war on this point is that the lighting sets are adequately efficient, and that is the point that I am trying to put.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Is my hon. Friend going to give an undertaking that the Order will not be applied until he is assured by the President of the Board of Trade that there are adequate supplies available in the shops?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I have dealt with that on one point. I said that the obligation on the cyclist with a dynamo set to keep his light burning, while he is stopped by a traffic signal or other similar cause, will not come into force until there is sufficient apparatus to make that possible. There is further evidence on the matter. The Alness Committee pointed out that, although the cyclists' organisations urged the mechanical difficulty of getting an adequate light, there were seven other countries in which, before the war, rear 1800 lights on cycles were compulsory. These countries include France and Italy. They included Belgium, where the vast army of cyclists used to be led by the great King Albert. Many hon. Members will have seen him cycling through the streets of Brussels. They included also Holland, the foremost cycling nation in the world, where the proportion of motorists to cyclists is far lower than it is here, and where the cyclists must form the great majority of the total electorate. Can it be believed that, in such a democratic country as Holland, rear lights would have been compulsory, if cyclists had been against them, or if they had had any difficulty in finding an adequate or efficient system of lighting?
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
Can my hon. Friend give the proportion of motorists to cyclists in this country?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I have not the statistics here, but if my hon. Friend has visited Holland he will be aware that my comparison is valid.
§ Sir Robert Bird (Wolverhampton, West)
Can the hon. Gentleman say in regard to Holland, which he particularly quotes in his support of his case, whether the white strip and the red reflector are in operation?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I cannot answer now, but I will give my hon. Friend the answer a little later in the Debate.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I think not, for my argument has been on whether it is possible or not to have an efficient rear light. There must have been an efficient rear light in Holland, or else the provision there would not have been tolerated, because the cyclists are the great majority of the electorate.
I come to the second argument, that the Bill involves discrimination against cyclists. It is called class legislation against an old and numerous class of road users. It is constantly asserted that this is so, but I have never been able to 1801 fathom what it means. If to be obliged to carry a rear light is a burden, the cyclist has hitherto had a discrimination in his favour, because he has been exempt while nearly all other kinds of vehicles have been obliged to carry one. There is another alleged discrimination which I have succeeded in tracking down. It is said that under this Bill we shall compel cyclists to carry three protective gadgets—the light, the reflector and the white patch—whereas motor vehicles are obliged to carry only one. If I may, with the permission of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) summarise another of the recommendations of the Road Safety Committee, they suggest—and I feel sure that my Noble Friend will adopt it—that in future motor vehicles should have two red rear lights and a red reflector on the extreme off-side of the vehicle. That is based on experience, because it has often happened—it has happened during the war—that a man whose rear lights have failed has stepped down from the driving seat to go to the back of the vehicle to tinker round, trying to mend them, and has been run into from behind by another vehicle and killed. There are many deaths, particularly of lorry drivers, every year from that cause. That is why the Road Safety Committee propose, and I think my Noble Friend will decide, that there shall in future be three safety gadgets for motor vehicles, as there are under this Bill for cycles.
But the main argument by which the whole case of the cyclists stands or falls is this. If cyclists, so the cyclists say, do carry red lights, then motor drivers will go faster; will hit cyclists from behind, and will destroy their light; then when they get to court—if they ever get there, if they are not dead—the cyclists will not be able to prove that their light was on. Therefore, the court will find against the cyclist and he will get no compensation. I have tried to state the case as fairly as I can, and I will try to answer it reasonably and without undue heat.
First, about the speed. I do not think that anyone can prove anything about that; hut, if I understand the argument of the cyclists, it is that at present, or before the war, motor drivers, because they knew that there might be cyclists on the road without lights went more slowly than they otherwise would have done. 1802 That is a very kindly view of the morality of motor drivers for cyclists to take. It is very unusual for different classes of road users to think so well of each other. I am not sure that there is anything in it at all. In any case, it is pure hypothesis. None of us can say he knows. But I ask hon. Members to consider whether it is not true that the motorist drives, as he himself believes, safely, within the range of the vision that he is given by his headlights; and that when he sees a tail light ahead, he slackens speed in order to pass. The sooner he sees the tail light, the sooner he begins to slacken speed. But often he can only pick up the reflector at the last moment. In any case, it is certain that a tail light can be seen further off than a reflector. If that is so—I beg the hon. Member for South Croydon to think that this is a valid point—it must mean that the motorist who has begun to slacken speed when he sees the tail light will arrive near the cyclist, the danger point, at a slower speed than he otherwise would have done. None of us can know, but I suggest that my hypothesis is at least as probable as the contrary hypothesis, which rests on no evidence of any kind.
What about the onus of proof? The cyclists attach tremendous importance to it, so much so that the deputation the other day asked me to consider whether we could not put a Clause into the Bill which would lay it down that the Bill in no way affected or diminished the Common Law obligation of the motorist to drive with proper care. I have considered that proposal with the greatest care. I have taken legal advice, and I am assured that the Bill, neither directly nor by implication, in any may absolves the motorist from his duty to drive with due care and within the field of his vision. My advisers say that, for this reason, any Clause on the lines suggested by the cyclists would be absolutely meaningless and out of place. They say more than that. They say that if such a provision were inserted in the Bill it would have to be included in every other similar Bill, and that the effect might be to weaken and not to strengthen the binding force of the Common Law.
Is there anything in the cyclists' point that when they get to court the onus of proof will be on them to show that their light was burning when the accident occurred? I have here some very care- 1803 fully drafted language on this point, and I propose to read it to the House:The objection which is made that the cyclist would be at a disadvantage, if his rear light were put out by a collision with a motorist, in having to prove that it had been alight, is entirely misconceived. If the motorist who has collided with a cyclist alleges, as part of his defence, that the cyclist's rear lamp had not been alight, the onus would fall on him to prove to the court's satisfaction that that was the case. It is a clear principle of our law that a person who alleges a fact must prove it. It is not necessary for the other party to disprove it.I have submitted this statement to the Attorney-General, who agrees that it is right, and I hope that it finally disposes of the cyclists' point.
§ Sir H. Williams
As there would be only one witness before the court, the motorist—the cyclist being dead—unless there is rebutting evidence the court has to accept the evidence given on oath.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I hope that the Attorney-General may be here a little later. Perhaps the hon. Member would be good enough to put that point to him when I hope he may be able to make an authoritative answer. May I put another consideration to the House? If this argument were valid about the increase of speed by the overtaking vehicle as the result of cycles carrying rear lamps, and the onus of proof falling on the man who is run down, then it would apply not only to cycles, but to other vehicles as well.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Persons are different. If my hon. Friend likes I will talk about that point. There are a great number of accidents in which one motor vehicle runs into another from behind. If the argument were valid about cycles it would be valid about motor vehicles which were overtaken. That is surely true. What is the conclusion? The argument would rule out rear lights altogether. It would rule out the white patch and the reflector which cyclists carry now. And, in fact, when I put this to my deputation, they said; "Certainly abolish all these reflectors and patches and rear lights on all vehicles. That suits us better."
Well, that may be their point of view, but it is contrary to the whole experience of this country and of all other countries, where elaborate legal provisions have been 1804 drawn up for the carrying of rear lights by vehicles of every kind.
Now one word about statistics. I will not say very much. I remember once hearing a Welsh miner say, when I quoted some figures, that a statistician was a man whom the Government called in when their figures would neither stand up nor lie down. Certain it is that statistics of road accidents are a very imperfect science. I would not try to prove very much from any statistics I have ever yet been given. I want to make only two points, and I do not want to press them too far; but I think they are both valid. The first point is about the efficacy of the reflector and the white patch as protection. In 1937 448 cyclists were killed on the roads; 133 of them were killed by collisions from behind. Of those 133, 65 per cent. had their reflectors and white patches in order, and of 26 per cent. the particulars were not known. There is no evidence to show that reflectors and white patches of the 26 per cent. were not in order. It is extremely probable that they were, because otherwise they would have been had up for not observing the law.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
These were at night. The total for day and night was 1,300, that is to say about 900 in the day time and 440 at night. That was about the proportion.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Fewer people ride at night, of course. I think it is safe to say that the majority of the 26 per cent. had their reflectors in order and that, therefore, at least 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. of the people killed from behind were carrying reflectors and patches which were in order. That shows that the reflectors were not enough protection and that something more was needed.
My only other statistical point is this: It has been said very freely that the figures of accidents during the war have proved that the rear lights are no good and that they have failed in their purpose. That conclusion I rebut, though I do not want to draw any other conclusion from what I am about to say. In the year 1936–37, and in the three war years, 1942, 1805 1943 and 1944 the total number of fatal accidents on the road per annum was approximately the same. I am only talking of deaths. Those accidents are very much easier to verify and you are sure that there are no errors in reporting. The total number of cyclists killed in daylight was approximately the same in the pre-war year, as in the three war years. But the total number of cyclists killed at night was a great deal less. It was 270 odd in each of the three war years, compared with 448 in the peace year. That is a very striking fall, and it happened in spite of the fact that, as we believe, there are more cyclists on the roads at night during war time than there would be in peace.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
There are fewer cars, of course, but these were black-out nights; and the fact that there were fewer cars applies to all the figures I have given. There was a very substantial reduction in the figures of those cyclists who were killed at night. I am not saying that that was due to lights. Let no one interpret this statistical argument to mean that; but I do say that the statistics do not prove that rear lights have failed.
I do not like being in dispute with cyclists. Many of their leaders are my friends. Among the deputation who came to me the other day was an old and distinguished cyclist who has been one of their leaders for many years.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
In several ways. If my hon. and gallant Friend desires to do so, he might try to win an Olympic cycling race, or he might become an officer of a cycling organisation and serve it for many years as its president. There are many ways by which he could earn distinction in the cycling world.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
If anybody had cycled for 30 or 40 years and still kept alive, would that not be regarded as a distinction?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The man I am speaking of has cycled for more than 40 years. 1806 I have a great regard for him and his work. He ended his speech to me by saying:By this Measure you are condemning hundreds of cyclists a year to certain death.If we believed that, of course, we would not go on with the Bill. But we believe that by the Bill we shall be saving from death hundreds of cyclists whom our opponents would condemn.
§ 2 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I beg to move, to leave out "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add "upon this day six months."
I regard this as a most reactionary Bill, and I am frankly amazed at the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. He has based the Bill on two documents, neither of which has been presented to the House. It is perfectly monstrous that the Government have jumped ahead of the publication of the statistics and the publication of the Report. It is treating Parliament with disrespect—
§ Sir H. Williams
There were the statistics about accidents during the war. The Government are so full of secrecy that the statistics have never been published. Will the Parliamentary Secretary give me the reference with regard to the figures of deaths in 1942 to which he referred? He has masses of assistants here to tell him. Surely to come to this House and give the number of deaths of cyclists by night—[Interruption]. In what document have they been published? Has that document been published recently? We should know now so that we can get that document from the Vote Office, and use it for the purpose of this Debate. We have been told that the number of cyclists killed on the road at night is less than in pre-war days.
§ Sir H. Williams
That is not good enough, if the Minister is quoting documents. In 1934, when we had a Bill before us, the then Minister was courteous enough to present to Parliament a report on road accidents before the Bill was considered. Lots of things are not pub- 1807 lished because the Press has little space. I think it is monstrous to present an analysis of statistics which is not available to Members of this House, and a copy of which is not even on the Table here. What does the Parliamentary Secretary say? That there have been 286 deaths in war-time as against over 400 in peace-time, or something like that. What is the position? Most people go home from their work, and in the black-out they stay indoors. The traffic is negligible. In peace-time there are thousands of people on the roads on their bicycles after dark. To-day, in fact, the risk of exposure is that one hour in winter-time alone, when people are going home from work after the black-out, so that the degree of exposure to risk is not one-tenth of that in pre-war days. No account is taken of that. No, we have a few statistics trotted out by the Parliamentary Secretary, with no documents before us to enable us to examine them.
Here is a Bill that has nothing to do with the war. The Emergency Powers Act will continue, certainly until the war with Japan ends. The powers are there for so long as they are necessary. Why use this power, which was brought in in war-time not primarily because of the black-out but because of the masking of headlights? We know the extraordinary difficulty of driving. I have driven since normal headlights were available, and it is an entirely different matter, as we know. This war-time obligation on the cyclist was due to the masking of the headlights. The situation is now entirely different. The Minister has appointed a committee on lighting in connection with traffic. One recommendation has been picked out of that Report and incorporated in this Bill. They have not had the courtesy to present the Report to Parliament before acting on it. It has been summarised. We do not know who these experts are from whom the Parliamentary Secretary quoted. Their names were not mentioned to us. I could mention certain expert advisers on traffic to His Majesty's Government who ought never to have held that office. There was the question of putting the wheels of buses under the chassis so that the back wheels should not kill people. That was held up for ten years by the experts who advised the Minister and 1808 Scotland Yard. This Bill was introduced in another place just before Christmas. It attracted very little notice. Apparently there was very little debate in another place. I found it on the Order Paper, and because of the part I took in Standing Committee in 1934 on the Road Traffic Bill, as soon as I saw it, I put down a Motion for its rejection. It is only in the last few days that the bulk of cyclists, and I doubt if even the bulk of them, have discovered that the Bill is under consideration by Parliament.
Let us see what happened in 1934. The Bill did not contain any provisions for a rear light. The hon. Lady who was then the Member for Willesden and is now the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate), moved that "such vehicles" should carry a lamp showing to the rear a red light visible from a reasonable distance. I find I was the first speaker to follow her in opposition to the Amendment. Then an hon. and gallant Member whom I saw here yesterday, but who is away on service most of the time, said he had added his name to the hon. Lady's Amendment, but that when he came to examine the Report on Traffic Accidents—the then Minister had been courteous enough to give us the Report before he introduced the Bill and I think we have been treated with the most gross discourtesy in this matter, when statistics and a Report are quoted and are not available—he completely changed his mind, and opposed a rear lamp. Then a Liberal Member said that if he thought the Minister was going to accept that Amendment, he would detain the Committee by making a long speech but that he took it that there was not the slightest chance of the Amendment being accepted. That was after we had studied a well-thought out report on traffic accidents. The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass), who is perhaps the outstanding supporter of the motoring fraternity in this House—a distinguished motorist—opposed the proposal. Then came the Minister of that time, who had the advice of all the experts to whom the Parliamentary Secretary has referred, those marvellous people, those distinguished—or extinguished—experts. I do not know which they are. They have apparently all been extinguished—
§ Sir H. Williams
I do not know whether they were insiders or outsiders. But at the conclusion of that Debate the hon. Lady who is now the Member for Frome said:Although I am still convinced that my Amendment has much to be said in its favour, in view of the fact that I think the Minister has what I think is a really novel experience, the support of the entire Committee behind him, I do not intend to press the Amendment."—[Standing Committee C, OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st May, 1934; c. 2026.]That is a very remarkable thing. Here was a Standing Committee upstairs. I see there was a very good attendance that day, about 50 Members, and only one Member supported, in that Committee, the terms of this Bill, out of the people who had studied the report on accidents, an opportunity which has been denied to this honourable House in regard to the most recent figures.
I do not believe that this Bill, if it becomes an Act, will ever come into operation. We shall have a General Election before long. I know what will happen. Candidates will be asked, "If elected will you vote for the repeal of the Road Transport Lighting (Cycles) Act?" Then we shall see the running. It is all very well in war-time, when there is a mixed bag, representing every hue of the rainbow, sitting on the Front Bench, and Ministers can treat deputations without a great deal of respect, because if one party will not back them another will, and they will have a majority. It will be different when we get a good party Election. [Interruption.] If the cyclists of Derby say, "Do you agree with that Measure?" then I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary will be quite as confident as he is to-day.
§ Sir H. Williams
If so, the Parliamentary Secretary took very little trouble about it, when the matter reached the Floor of the House. He was not in the House then, but none of his friends intervened. When the Bill reached the Floor of the House, the Amendment was not even tabled. It was defeated by 50 to one upstairs, without a Division, and downstairs was not even raised.
There are no new facts. The real basic problem is that the cyclist has not got an eye in the back of his pants, to put it 1810 quite bluntly. He does not know whether his rear light is on or not. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about motorists?"] The motor driver has a lamp which, from the very nature of things, is much more stable. In addition to that, if the rear light of a motor-car is off, it is not nearly so important, because the front lights illuminate the road very efficiently, and one can tell that there is a motor vehicle ahead, whether there is any rear light or not. These rear lamps will fail. It is grotesque to pretend that the bulk of cyclists on the roads to-day have a rear light on. Of course they have not, they cannot get them. My family own five bicycles, and I do not think we have on any of them a rear lamp that works. I take the precaution of not using mine in the dark. I do not care much about using it in the day-time. The last time I did so a neighbour's dog tore my trousers and pulled me off the cycle, and that is not provided for in this Bill. It is no test in war-time, when vehicles are driving with masked headlights and there is difficulty in seeing, when there is no street lighting and every kind of peril. If the motorist thinks that every bicycle ahead of him is carrying a lighted lamp, and at any given moment that lamp may have gone out, it creates a false sense of security, and risks of accidents increase. That is the outstanding case.
The Parliamentary Secretary read out some words drafted for him by the Attorney-General. I have a great respect for the Attorney-General, but I do not attach a great deal of importance to legal advice, for this reason. In every case in the courts one set of distinguished lawyers have advised their clients one way, and another lot have advised another way, and one-half are invariably wrong. There is a higher degree of error in legal advice than in anything else. I know of no case where legal advice is less than 50 per cent. wrong. It is no good saying, "That is all right." Quite clearly a man's rights are diminished if he has failed to obey the law. This Bill will impose a new law on the cyclist, and if the cyclist fails to obey that law, and because it will be alleged he has failed to obey that law, when he suffers an accident, any court will award him less damages because he has broken the law, or because the presumption is that he has broken the law. If, as a result of having broken the law, you suffer an injury, it may be that you 1811 get no compensation at all. To take an extreme case, if I am engaged in a felony, and if by accident somebody is killed, I am guilty of murder.
I see the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) is apparently disagreeing with me. It so happens that one of my constituents was condemned to death in such a case, and I got him reprieved. The hon. Member is more expert in the law of property than the law of crime, so I was not paying much attention to him. It is obvious that the cyclist will be prejudiced in legal proceedings if, after this Measure, his rear light is out, and an accident occurs, and it is represented that there was contributory negligence on his part, because he had failed to obey the law. We had some words read out by the Parliamentary Secretary which do not impress me very much, even though he assured me that they were prepared by the Attorney-General.
§ Sir H. Williams
That makes it even worse. When I want drafting done by a lawyer, I like him to do it, not approve somebody else's. When you do your own drafting, you take more trouble than if you look at somebody else's. I think the Attorney-General might do a bit of drafting on his own.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
I am quite willing to do it on that point. In my opinion, there is not the slightest doubt that, if there is an accident and an action is brought against a motorist, and the motorist alleges that the bicycle rear lamp was out, the onus is on him to prove that fact and not on the cyclist. [Interruption.] Certainly, it is.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am delighted that the Attorney-General said that, but it was not the point I was discussing. The point I was discussing was—Did he lose his Common Law rights? We are assuming that it is proved that the cyclist's light was out. The Parliamentary Secretary led us to believe that, in that event, there was no point in the contention of the cyclist that a cyclist who was the victim of the accident loses any of his Common Law rights, and my hon. Friend proceeded to read out those words. I am saying 1812 that those words have misled the House, and that they have no bearing on the subject-matter. The Attorney-General says that the motorist would have to prove that the light was out. Let us assume that there was independent testimony which proved that the light was out. What is the position of the cyclist then? It is worse than it is to-day, without the slightest doubt, so far as compensation is concerned.
§ The Attorney-General
Of course, that is a fact in the case, but the fact of the bicycle rear lamp being out, although that is a breach of the law, does not relieve the motorist of his obligation to take due care in driving. They may both be negligent, and, of course, no one will suggest that the position of the cyclist should not be affected, when, knowing his light is out, for example, he goes on, recklessly and not caring.
§ Sin H. Williams
We are on something really interesting now. It is clear that the Parliamentary Secretary has deceived himself. He read out those words and said "I have taken every precaution over those words and I have had them approved by the Attorney-General." He read them out in rebuttal of the allegation of the cyclists that they would lose certain Common Law rights if this Bill becomes law. I have great respect for the Attorney-General, but he has been on his legs twice, and has got the situation worse than when he started. He is clever enough not to do that when he is on a good wicket. It is clear that the cyclist is going to be prejudiced. Let us say that the cyclist's lamp is out when he is run down by a motorist, and there is independent testimony to show that the lamp is out. Suppose he suffers severe injuries, and sues for damages. He will get less sympathy than he would if the Bill was not passed, though it was not his fault that the lamp was out. The Parliamentary Secretary read out words which implied the contrary, and I think he should get some legal advice before he makes another speech.
§ 2.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)
I have been asked by my party to support the Second Reading of this 1813 Bill, and I do so with great pleasure. I was much interested in the speech of my hon. Friend to whom we have just listened. He reminded me of a good many people who think they know much more about law than most lawyers. My hon. Friend revealed his anarchistic disposition. He dislikes all regulations, hates control, hates all legal arrangements and wants to do as he likes and thinks everybody else ought to do the same. Unfortunately, we are living in a world that has to be regulated and organised, and in which proper safety provisions have to be made and a good deal of law and order provided for. My hon. Friend made considerable play with the fact that he had a lot to do with this matter in 1934, but that was over 10 years ago and the world keeps changing. Every year, things become different, especially on the highways, and they are going to be very different after this war, so I do not think we need concern ourselves too much about what may have happened in 1934.
The point has been made that the cyclists may be unaware of the existence of this Bill. Well, the Bill has been in existence during December and January, and we all know that the cyclists have a very vigilant and capable organisation, which is officered and run quite competently. They have plenty of advice and plenty of people looking after the interests of the cyclists. I refer, of course, to the Cyclists Touring Club. This House is often gibed at by outside people as being too slow, but it is never unduly hasty, and I do not think it can fairly be pleaded that the people concerned have not had a fair chance of becoming aware of the existence of this Bill. As for the coming General Election, I should think it would be wise to avoid having it before the German and the Japanese wars are both over, so that we can have an Election unprejudiced by any war circumstances, but, whenever it may come, I should hope that no one in this House, who is looking forward to that event, will be unduly worried by any threat of what cyclists, or anybody else, may do. So long as we know that we are doing what is right we need have no fear or concern about people who do not quite understand what they are complaining about.
As I say, I have been asked to support this Bill, and I do so as an old cyclist. I began cycling on an old boneshaker 1814 long ago in an English village. When the "penny-farthing" machine came into the village, I got on that, and soon came off again, and I know what it is to have little accidents with both old and new bicycles. Later, we got the safety bicycle, made of steel, which was terribly heavy and with solid tyres. When you rode on it, it was like holding down a road-breaking drill, or so it seemed on the cobbles of the city of Leicester. Then we had the cushion-tyred machine and then the modern pneumatic bicycle, which has become very popular. My hon. Friend said that he had five cycles in his family. We have four in ours, and I ride myself, so that I think we are a fairly representative cycling family.
The cyclists' organisation talks about 10,000,000 cyclists in the country. It seems an awful lot. Fortunately, they cannot all get on the roads at once—or they do not—but I should doubt whether very many of the 10,000,000 are members of the Cyclists' Touring Club. I think it is a very small minority, and, against that, we have to take into account other people who have to get their living on the roads, such as working motor drivers, about whom I am concerned, and for whom I have been asked to plead to-day. I am sure that everyone has given careful and sympathetic consideration to the letters we have had from the cyclists' organisation, and have taken into account the pleadings they put forward, but, in my view, the relaxation on the dimming of headlights—spoken of as an oncoming change which they welcome, because of the longer distance in which the motorist can see ahead what there is in front of him—will not be enough for the safety of cyclists or for those working on the road.
The rear lights of cyclists will be just as necessary to enable the motorist to see the cyclist away on his left as far ahead as possible. A white patch and reflector, referred to in these letters and pleaded for as being sufficient, are quite insufficient. Not only is the reflector a poor little thing, which does not reflect much until you get near to it, but it gets dim, dirty and dusty and the white patch does the same, and, while both are useful auxiliaries, in the absence of a proper red light, you have to make more adequate provision for safety on the roads. I am concerned, not merely for the safety of the cyclist, so that he should not get run over, but 1815 for the driver or working motorist, in order that he should not run somebody down and suffer mental pain and agony over what happens. We should help both to avoid accidents. Therefore, we think the white patch and red reflector are not sufficient, and that the red light should be continued.
The letters we have had suggest that every road on which traffic is running is a straight road, and, at that, a level road, but most of us know that roads have many turns and hills and hump-backed bridges, and that there are side roads which come into them, and gateways from which cyclists push out straight away on to the road, and where the motorist, however good his lights, cannot always see the cycle as far away as he would like himself, but comes upon it suddenly. It is in such a situation that, unless the cyclist has a red light, the motorist does not have a fair chance. I think that, for that reason, and because of the nature of the road itself and the risk involved, it is very desirable red lights should be continued.
If my hon. Friend will exercise his imagination a little, I think he will agree with me that, after this war, there is going to be vastly more motor traffic on the roads, and more cycle traffic than we have ever had before. I am not in the motor manufacturing trade, but I am sure there will be more. More working people will get cars. In America most working men have cars. The car traffic unquestionably will increase on the roads, and I should imagine that the cycle traffic will also increase. I believe it has increased during the war and that the demand for cycles has been enormous, and the difficulty of getting them very great. More have been wanted, but after the war there will be far more still.
§ Mr. Walkden
I am very fond of young people, and I know that boys are looking forward to getting cycles, and that girls are, too. Boys and girls will go on the road, and they will not always come in after dark. They will be out on the road after dark. I am quite sure of that. We talk of 10,000,000 now in being; we may have a great many more than that. The Cyclists' Touring Club and the Pedestrians' Association talk about 10,000,000 cyclists and say that 1,770 1816 have been killed by night in the last five years. That is their statement and not mine. I reckon that to be something like one person being killed each night, which is a very high rate. I think that the figures are put rather higher than they need be. Had there been no red rear lights on cycles there would have been a great many more fatal casualties. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because of the black-out, and the risks are greater than they used to be. The Cyclists' Touring Club believe that it would involve "unconscionable hardship" to continue the use of rear lights on cycles. This is most exaggerated language. Cyclists have already got used to the practice of providing red rear lamps. They manage to get them and I notice them on every machine I see at night. We have had an assurance that arrangements will be made to ensure a greater abundance of these lamps when the war is over, and no real hardship will be involved in continuing the use of red rear lamps.
A good deal has been said already about the onus of proof, in the case of accidents, being on the overtaking vehicle. That is stated in these letters. It shows an even greater need for the driver of every oncoming vehicle to be able to discern those who are in front of him as early as possible. The red light helps in that. If there is no red light, those who are in front cannot easily be discerned. I am sure that, from practice and observation, a reflector and a white patch are not sufficient to enable an oncoming driver to see the cyclist. A cyclist is difficult to see, and is sometimes almost invisible.
The difficulty of seeing a cyclist on the road is the worst difficulty one experiences when driving. I am rather surprised that there has been all this hullabaloo on behalf of cyclists against the proposed arrangement. The present position reminds me of the passenger in a railway carriage who has taken out his pocket knife and is trying to scrape off some of the netting placed over the window as a protection against the risk of damage from bombs. Some wag of an advertising artist produced a poster, which the railway companies use, depicting the passenger trying to tear off the protective covering on the window and another passenger saying:I trust you'll pardon my correction:That stuff is there for your protection.1817 I suggest that this Bill is being brought in with a view to putting it on to the Statute Book for the protection of the very people who are making this complaint. It is for them and, one might almost say, for them only. But they are not the only people who should be taken into consideration. They are rather unfair to motorists. It is natural that some pedestrians do not like motorists; I have heard them curse them very severely, and they would like them to be obliterated altogether. In the letters I have received, some motorists are described as "reckless road hogs." That is reckless language indeed. No one who is driving a car can afford to be reckless. The very nature of what he is doing makes him careful. Motor drivers are very careful indeed.
I know of my own knowledge that the working motor drivers—the taxi drivers, the bus drivers and the lorry drivers—are among the most careful drivers in the country, and it is for them that I plead that this Bill should be carried. It is a most heartbreaking and upsetting thing to be present at an accident. A few months ago I got run over myself. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where was your red light?"] It was in broad daylight. I was knocked over and pushed along for 15 yards before I recovered. After I had managed to pull out from underneath the car and had staggered across the pavement to the railings of Westminster Abbey, up came the poor driver. He was in a terrible state, and I had to say to the poor chap, "Never mind." He said, "Where is a policeman?" and I replied, "Do not worry about a policeman. I am alive all right. Do not worry, I have only my shoulder broken." I was terribly impressed by the awfully drawn white face of that chap who had run over me. I have been told by other drivers that that is the usual thing which happens to drivers when they have hurt another person.
I hope that this Bill will be carried with good will and without any nasty obstruction. These drivers are a most exemplary body of men, those for whom I have spoken especially. They are quite as good as railway engine drivers, and we make the railway track as safe as possible for our railway engine drivers. We have many red lights, green lights and white lights to tell the driver how to go on and for that reason railway accidents are exceedingly rare having regard to the enormous number of passengers and the 1818 amount of traffic carried. Wu must have adequate lights for the sake of everybody on the road. I hold no brief for the "jay walker," but for the ordinary motorists who have to go from place to place, whether on business or pleasure, whether bus drivers or lorry drivers, we must do the best we can in order to help them to avoid accidents and prevent cyclists from being run over. We should do everything possible to pass this Bill which our "sea-lawyer" Friend, the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has been trying to obstruct.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
I want to speak only for a few minutes in support of the proposals put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport. Naturally one asks why they have been put forward, and I presume that they have been introduced for no other reason than that of saving life. Everybody will appreciate the tragedy and toll of deaths of some 1,700 cyclists who have been killed since the beginning of the war. I am asked to believe by my correspondents that improved precautions for cyclists, in their own interest, of the type suggested are wrong. I am asked by two of my correspondents the question, "Have you had narrow escapes of colliding with cyclists at night which would have been lessened or avoided if the cyclist had displayed a rear red light?" The answer is obviously "Yes." I am astonished that such a question could be asked at all. However careful one might be—and I have driven motor cars since 1905—one is very often faced with the grave difficulty of seeing a cyclist. Over and over again I would have given anything to have felt more sure whether or not there was a cyclist ahead of me.
My object in getting up is to draw the parallel between the problems of what occurs on the roads in this country and what I and all seamen have experienced at sea. Exactly the same problem was posed to seafarers from the day on which fast craft, mechanically propelled, began to frequent the sea. In the early days little or nothing was done. There were no regulations of any kind regarding whether ships should carry lights or not, and it is only in the last 40 or 50 years that ships at sea have been forced by regulations and law to carry lights and subjected to a fine if they did not. 1819 If it was not for the laws and regulations, as laid down by the Board of Trade and carried into effect, I do not hesitate to say the small craft—the cyclists of the sea—would not carry lights. Their contention, with which, not unnaturally, I have some sympathy, is that "it is your business to look where you are going." Ships do not carry headlights and therefore the argument is not an exact parallel. They carry searchlights in certain instances in the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal and similar places, but the normal procedure is not to have any such lights at all. The result is that you have to trust entirely to the lights of small craft which frequent the seas and close inshore waters round our coast. I do not hesitate to say frankly that, if it were not for the regulations and the fines inflicted, the small craft at sea would not carry their lights. I can say from my professional experience that it is a hair-raising affair to be in a ship in confined waters when you are not sure whether there may not be some small craft knocking about and when you may be sacrificing somebody's life by running into them. I mention that because it seems to be something that is very nearly parallel.
Therefore, anything that we can do to improve the chances of survival of the cyclists on the road should be done. There are millions of them and they deserve every conceivable protection we can give them. They ought in their own interests to realise that the Bill before us is in order to help them to save their lives and lessen the anxieties of people who use the roads. I therefore wish to support the Bill.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
The House always listens with respect to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) and I am the very last person to say that we ought not to have the most wisely-devised regulations for the safety of those who use the roads. I think it is obvious that if the promotion of safety on the roads is the object of this Bill the persons who are most concerned are the cyclists, and cyclists as a whole are really concerned about this Bill and have made their opposition very clear even in the short time that has been allowed. Anyone who reads the little pamphlet which 1820 has been prepared at short notice by the Cyclists' Touring Club will see that the opposition is not unreasonable, that it is based on evidence giving very clear instances of the way in which injustice might arise to the cyclists if the provisions of this Bill become part of the permanent law of the land. I think everything in this pamphlet and in the circular of the Pedestrians' Association goes to show that there is need for further time for consideration, and that before any proposals are made by the Government to alter the law permanently there ought to be the fullest opportunity for public inquiry. There has been an inquiry, but the Report is not available. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said in his speech that it was important to have this Bill now because there might be an awkward interval if we relied upon the regulations made under the Defence of the Realm Act. Surely, however, there is no need for any interval. The legal ending of the war will only come when an Order in Council is made, maybe a year or a year and a half after the cessation of hostilities. In the case of the last war, I believe the legal end came in the summer of 1920.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Of course, it may become eminently desirable that Defence Regulation 24 should lapse long before then, and, in fact, I am quite certain that there will be a very strong demand for that on grounds quite unconnected with cycling.
§ Mr. Harvey
In that case nothing would be easier, if the Minister were convinced that for a further period this Regulation was desirable, than to have a new Regulation confined to that point. He has the power. It would then be for the House to challenge the new Regulation in the way that is open to us, by means of a Prayer. The Minister would not have his power removed, and there would be ample time for very serious consideration of all the objections that have already been raised here to-day and which are being raised in the country. There would be opportunity for public inquiry and, if the Minister's view is the right one, surely that would be justified by the inquiry and cycle owners would be convinced. However much their personal opinion might weigh on one side, if, after careful inquiry, an impartial Committee decided against it, they would accept that verdict. 1821 I do beg the Government not to rush through, at the present time, a Measure which is not needed now. They have their Regulation and it can continue as long as the emergency lasts, and they will have ample time for an adequate inquiry. I would beg the House to remember the very real difficulties that arise, even now, under this war-time Regulation. I have come across them as a prison visitor. I can think of a young miner who was imprisoned under the provisions of this Regulation because he could not get a battery for his lamp. He was some miles away from the mine, and he took the risk—I suppose he ought not to have done it—of going without the necessary light which he could not procure, and, of course, he had to be punished. It is regrettable that should happen now; it would be still more regrettable if cases like that were multiplied exceedingly.
§ Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing)
What about the temporary expedient of putting a candle end in his lamp?
§ Mr. Harvey
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend, who is very ingenious and mechanically-minded, could do it, but not every person who has a bicycle has the mechanical knowledge and ingenuity to meet a difficult situation of that kind. Then there is this further reason. As every cyclist knows, when you have a rear light and are cycling in the dark, and you have to look round to see if the light is still burning, you incur not only the danger of collision but the danger of a sudden skid on a frosty road. It happened to me years ago, long before any Regulation of this kind was proposed. The reflector causes none of these difficulties, and I believe that the peace time Regulation of the white patch and the red reflector provided a very real measure of security whenever the motorist was as careful as, happily, the great majority are.
The case put forward so movingly by my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) is, I think, covered by this Regulation because, if a motorist is driving exceedingly fast and 1822 suddenly comes over the top of a hill, he is upon the cyclist in a moment and whether the cyclist has a reflector or a lamp makes very little difference. The real remedy is that motorists should drive with caution, and, when they are approaching a bend or a top of a hill, should re-double their caution. Happily, we can count on the humanity and the good sense of the great majority of motorists to take that additional care, but I would plead with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary seriously to consider deferring the further stages of this Bill until there has been an opportunity for an adequate public inquiry.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Major Peto (Birmingham, King's Norton)
I shall be very brief, as is my custom. I understand that there are some 10,000,000 cyclists in this country, and to-day I want to speak on behalf of some of them, at any rate against the Bill which is in process of being discussed now. As I understand this Bill, all these 10,000,000 cyclists have to provide for themselves a red light which works, and a white patch and a reflector which also work. The point which has not yet been raised—and this is the only point I want to make—is this: What proportion of those cyclists will have all these three gadgets in perfect working order at the time they meet with an accident? That has been gone into with a view to seeing how they stand at law, but the paint I want to make is, How do they stand as regards insurance? I doubt very much whether an insurance company would feel itself liable to pay up on the claim of a cyclist who had an accident if one of these three devices was not in proper working order. I think that is a reasonable point of view, and one fit for the consideration of the House. The hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) has himself said how easy it is for the white patch or the reflector to become covered with mud and dust, and so not show up. It is indeed easy and, in that case, how do these wretched people stand with insurance companies? The House should remember that there are 10,000,000 of them. A speech that is short should not be so brief that it is mistaken for an interruption. In order that any of our friends who are reporting for HANSARD may not fall into an unfortunate error, I make that point at the end of my speech.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Like my namesake the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden), I speak as a cyclist, but I oppose strongly the idea that this Measure should reach the Statute Book. My family and that of my hon. Friend seem to be of the same size, but there are not four supporters for this Bill in my family. One of my family is in the Fighting Services, and I do not think he agrees with it. I know that my son does not, my daughter does not, and father does not. I do not know whether many of those Members who say that they are cyclists realty ride bicycles at night. I imagine that they are, in the main, day-time cyclists. I wonder whether they know, as cyclists, what happens on the roads? There is no greater security to-day for a man with a red rear light than there is for a man with a red reflector. There are so many discs and odds and ends on the road that the average motorist is not sure whether what he sees is a moving cyclist or not. Recently we have had the lifting of the hoods on motor-car lamps. I believe that if we went into the figures quoted by the Parliamentary Secretary, and the comparison with pre-war days of the number of persons injured on the roads, we should find that there was no greater safety for the man who had a red rear light than for the man who had a red reflector.
I do not think that the number of cyclists is quite so great as 10,000,000, but there are 1,500,000 in the Fighting Forces to-day, 99 per cent. of whom, I believe, would oppose the idea contained in this Bill. This is a controversial issue, and I beg the Government to defer the Measure for further consideration—in fact, to push it back so far that we cannot get it returned to us until after the next General Election. The hon. Member for South Bristol suggests that there are only a few thousand members of the C.T.C., but there are hundreds of thousands of members of wheelers' clubs, whom he probably has not taken into consideration at all. But we are concerned also with the average citizen, who uses a bicycle and is not connected with any organisation at all. Many of us believe that this Measure provides safety neither for the majority of other road users nor for motorists. If we are going to be logical, what about the pedestrian in the country 1824 lane, who has no pavement to resort to when there is a scorcher or a road hog coming along? Is he to be compelled, in the next Bill from another place, to carry a rear light? I agree with the hon. Member for South Bristol that 90 per cent. of motorists prefer a steady safe speed: most of them regard speed as a secondary consideration at night. But those who have a desire for speed should not ask Parliament to protect them: they should protect themselves by having efficient headlights, so that they can pull up if there is any risk of colliding with an object or a person, whether a cyclist or a pedestrian.
The Minister referred to the Acts of Parliament which have been passed in Holland and the conditions that prevail in that country, If he is going to quote statistics from Holland, I would point out that there are more roads exclusive to cyclists in Holland than in any other country in the world. I question whether the Dutch would ever have agreed to this Measure. I think the Dutch Government will confirm my statement that the Dutch never used oil, acetylene, or battery lamps: they went straight from candles to dynamos. Most of the cycles in Holland have both headlights and rear lights dynamo-lit. Dynamo-lit lamps on pedal cycles are a very difficult proposition. If the cyclist prefers, as many women do, to ride slowly, a very poor light comes from the dynamo, because the power of the light depends on speed. A dynamo-lit rear light would be inefficient. I question whether it would be as good as those very good red reflectors. Then there is the question of a man with a puncture. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) disagrees with me—
§ Mr. E. Walkden
I have tried to find reasonable evidence that this proposal is for the safety of the cyclists, but I remain unconvinced. I believe that there is a risk for the cyclist who is pushing his cycle because he has had a puncture. He invariably has to push it on the kerb, and the dynamo set then gives no light at all.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If he has a puncture he can wheel his bicycle on the left-hand edge of the road without lights, as he can if his light has failed.
§ Mr. E. Walkden
But on country roads, where punctures almost invariably happen, there are seldom footpaths. He may be pushing his bicycle on his own side of the road, and it is likely that somebody coming along behind will overtake him before he knows it, because those big vehicles go so silently. In that case there is grave risk, because he has not a light at all.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
He will have a reflector and a white patch, which is all the protection he has now.
§ Mr. E. Walkden
The comfortable rider, returning home from work, usually does so at little more than walking pace. If a red reflector is sufficient in the case of a man who has a puncture surely it is sufficient if he is riding.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If a man is walking because he has a puncture he will have a reflector and a white patch. He will have the protection which cyclists now say is sufficient for them. If he is riding—I will speak later about dynamos—he will have a lot more light than he has now.
§ Mr. E. Walkden
I am wondering whether it is too late to consider using luminous paint, which has been used by various local authorities during the war to lighten our darkness, and to mark lines which can be seen in the dark. Could we not reach a compromise on this matter? Why not have a white rear mudguard? A red disc reflector, with white luminous paint, would be a satisfactory and reasonable safeguard against the terrible slaughter which is going on on the roads to-day.
§ Mr. Walkden
Yes, and the Army have also used it. I ask motorists, and those who might become a little heated about this Bill, to remember that if it reaches the Statute Book it will be a penalty on ordinary, humble citizens, people with small incomes who will not always be able to afford the necessary lamp, bulb and battery for their bicycle. There are 1826 four bicycles at my home, and when I have wanted to go out at night I have never yet been certain that any of the lights on those machines was efficient. I suggest that we can reach a compromise at this late hour by giving those cyclists who are in the Fighting Forces an opportunity to say something about this matter after the war, when, I believe, they would not agree with the Government. I therefore suggest that the Government drop the Measure altogether.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe (Brighton)
The speech made by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) was hardly worth making, because it reiterated all the points which have reached us during the last few days in pamphlet form. It was a repetition of those points, many of which have no validity at all. His specious suggestion that we should not go on with this Bill in the absence of cyclists in the Services is really an appeal to cheap sentimentalism which has no relation at all to the question. It is the same point which the doctors have been taking in relation to national health insurance. All the hon. Gentleman has done is to follow the point made by the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) and say, "Let us put this off; let us have an inquiry." My first lesson in any political matter at all was as a child, when I inquired why cyclists did not have rear lamps and I was told that no party would ever dare to put such a regulation into operation because it would cost them 10,000,000 votes. Well, this seems to be an occasion, now we have a Coalition Government, to run that risk. The speeches which have opposed this Bill are not really politically honest. They have been merely vote-catching attempts—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe
—because of the fear of the speakers of expressing their own views on this matter.
§ Sir H. Williams
On a point of Order. Is it proper, Sir, for my hon. and gallant Friend to impute motives in this matter?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think it has often been the case that speeches have been made in order to attract votes.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe
I cannot acquit Members of having some apprehensions 1827 that somebody, at the next General Election, will say to them, "Did you vote for rear lamps or not?" I am not afraid to say, if it comes to a vote, that I voted for rear lamps. The point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for King's Norton (Major Peto) on the question of insurance showed that he does not appreciate that the first nature of insurance is to be insured against negligence or default. That is the whole object of insurance, and anybody in the circumstances he envisaged is covered by insurance. The rather pathetic picture which was painted of cyclists having to ride acrobatically with their backs to the handlebars, in order to see whether their rear light was on or not, is also quite fallacious. To my mind it rather linked up with the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish), although at this stage I do not want to go into the vexed question of which is the starboard and which is the port side of a bicycle. He rather conveyed the impression that we should go even further and every cyclist be required to have a look-out, fore and aft. The opposition is really too ridiculous, because if the arguments which have been put forward against this Bill are valid any cyclist not bothering to see whether his rear light was alight would know in a short time because he would be knocked off and would then know for sure.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe
I want to deal shortly, however, with what is the legal position in this matter. It is quite absurd to put forward the suggestion that any cyclist would in any way be prejudiced by this Bill. I have had considerable experience in these matters, and I want to assure the House that liability must remain the same, that is an obligation on the motorist to see what is in front of him. It does not matter whether the cycle has a rear lamp, reflector or white patch, that liability remains the same. No cyclist, knocked down by a car because he has no rear light, will fail in any action if the circumstances are such that the motorist ought to have seen him. The legal liability remains untouched by this Bill. The Bill does nothing except to try and add one further element of 1828 safety to the cyclist riding in the dark. It appears to be resisted by a very strong body of cyclists who do so, apparently, on the ground of alleged liberty. It will not be much comfort to the widow of an unfortunate cyclist who is killed to know at least that her husband died in the name of liberty because he did not carry a rear lamp.
It reminds me very much of an American epitaph which used to appear at a place where a jay walker always crossed the road at a certain place regardless of the traffic. After his demise, which inevitably came, a notice was put up at the point where he had been killed bearing these words:Here lies the body of Andrew Jay,Who died maintaining his right of way.He was right, quite right, all along,But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.There will be many cyclists who will save themselves if they will only take the advice of what I hope will be the majority in the House and will safeguard themselves against this sort of disaster by providing themselves with rear lamps.
§ Sir H. Williams
Will my hon. and gallant Friend give us the argument on safety grounds, which is the real argument against the Bill?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe
I should have thought it was a very simple answer. A lighted lamp shows at a considerably greater distance than a reflector, particularly when no headlight is shining on the reflector.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Bird (Wolverhampton, West)
The real point at issue in my view is whether the rear lamp adds to the security of the cyclist. The cyclist maintains the contrary. I can take quite a detached attitude on the question because I first rode a bicycle about 63 years ago, long before the invention of the pneumatic tyre, and subsequently I became a motorist, in the early part of 1897. I have been a cyclist until a few years ago, when a disability compelled me to abandon the pastime, but I am still a motorist.
The great body of cyclists, numbering some 10,000,000, feel that an urgency has been brought into this question which is not justifiable. I have heard the word "clandestine" used. The Measure was introduced in another place and is brought 1829 down here on a Friday afternoon. I recall the observation of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that a Friday afternoon is nonsense day. This is no nonsense for 10,000,000 cyclists. For the most part they are wage earners. They have had no voice in the matter, and no opportunity of expressing their point of view. It is true that organised bodies of cyclists, notably the Cyclists' Touring Club, have expressed their view, but those organisations are concerned principally with cycling as a recreation and a pastime. They form quite a small proportion of the 10,000,000 to whom a cycle is an instrument which is necessary in following their daily vocation. They are not interested in cycling as a sport. Their machines for the most part receive little attention and they have little knowledge of mechanics to keep these delicate dynamos properly adjusted, or of elementary jobs such as maintaining efficient rear lights by means of a battery.
It is proposed to place a burden on cyclists which they are not convinced will bring to them a greater degree of safety. Indeed, from neither the Parliamentary Secretary nor from any supporter of the Bill have we heard evidence that the red light will give a greater degree of safety. In 1934, after a very thorough consideration of the whole question upstairs, and reports of very competent Committees, the House in its wisdom decided that the white slip and the red prism reflector would be a sufficient safeguard. We have had six years' experience of them. The Parliamentary Secretary said the proposals of the Bill were based upon experience, but he adduced nothing to discredit the efficiency of the red reflector and the white slip, beyond certain statistics produced from documents which have not been placed before the House. I plead with my hon. Friend to give the House an opportunity for further consideration of the matter and to allow for an expression, out of their own experience, of the views of these 10,000,000 cyclists who are unable to voice that experience through an organisation which exists mostly for the safeguarding of the pastime side of cycling. Have the great trade unions been consulted? This is a matter which affects them very considerably.
§ Mr. A. Walkden
The principal union of the transport workers is very concerned 1830 that the Bill shall be passed, because they do not like running over cyclists.
§ Sir R. Bird
I am glad to hear that. It forms a precedent for expressions of opinion from other trade union organisations who are concerned more with members of the wage-earning class who require cycles for the purpose of their daily vocation. We should like to have an expression of their opinion and their experience of these lamps and, above all, their opinion on the value of these proposals, which are directed to secure their greater safety.
§ Mr. R. Morgan (Stourbridge)
Does my hon. Friend say that in his experience as a motor driver he does not find a red lamp a great asset for the protection of all concerned on the roads?
§ Sir R. Bird
Under war conditions, certainly, but none of us have had the opportunity of testing the advantages claimed for the red light under these conditions. The restrictions were removed only a few weeks ago, and that is one more reason why the whole matter should be delayed. There is no urgency whatever. It has been said, perhaps unjustly, that it is a bureaucratic attempt by the Department to get complete tidiness on the roads without regard to the consequences of what is proposed to be enacted.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe) I have heard it murmured once or twice in the last few days that cyclists have got more votes than motorists, but, unlike him, I would certainly not accuse of any dishonesty of purpose those who have opposed this Bill. On the contrary, I thought that their speeches in many respects were very telling, and I am the more reluctant to accuse them of any wrong or unworthy motive because I myself, until this afternoon, was very much in two minds about which side I ought to take in this controversy. I therefore approached the Debate with an open mind. If anything, my disposition was to vote against the Bill, because I am a motorist, and, other things being equal, one ought, I suppose, to vote against what may appear to be one's own interest. But in the course of the Debate it has seemed to me that the Parliamentary Secretary succeeded in answering in advance most of the points that 1831 were made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) and his friends. In particular, I think that the point made by an hon. Member, who referred back to the decision taken by this House in 1934, is not really a valid point in view of what the Parliamentary Secretary said and in view of the assurance he gave that there had been technical developments and progress in the construction of lamps within the last 10 years which make it irrelevant to refer back so far. I assume that the Parliamentary Secretary would not have made that statement lightly and that he meant what he said.
§ Sir H. Williams
Will the hon. Gentleman indicate in what way batteries are better now than they were 10 years ago?
§ Mr. Driberg
I have no technical knowledge of that matter and I have to accept the assurance of the Parliamentary Secretary, who would surely not have made such a statement without due consideration and expert advice. Perhaps if he speaks again in reply to the Debate, he will go into the point a little more fully and give a few technical points which may satisfy the hon. Gentleman. One point which seemed to me particularly cogent in the representations which were made to us all by the cyclists' organisations was the legal point about the possible difficulty of getting compensation if the rear lamp was destroyed or put out in the accident. Again, I feel bound to say that I thought the legal statement which the Parliamentary Secretary read out so carefully answered that point quite substantially. I would like from him, however, some further assurance on the point on which I ventured to interrupt him, about whether there will be sufficient supplies in the shops of the rear lamps that may be needed, in addition to those now in use, on the date on which this Order is put into effect. We certainly must safeguard our constituents, and cyclists in general, from the monstrous and ridiculous prosecutions and penalties to which reference has been made, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey). Like other Members, I had a number of cases some time ago of men who had to bicycle to work because they lived six or seven miles from their work, who simply could not get batteries, who were obliged to be at work before 1832 daylight or run the risk of prosecution under Essential Work Orders for being late, and who yet were being fined for cycling without lights. That is an anomalous situation, and we must be assured that there will be no risk of any extension of it under this Bill.
In the last few days I have, so far as I could, taken soundings of opinion among various sections of people in various parts of my constituency, and I have found, on the whole, that there is no great opposition to the Bill, either among cyclists or among motorists or among the general public. I have a fairly large and rambling country constituency, and I do a good deal of motoring about it, very often after dark. To my mind, there is one important small point which has not yet been mentioned. The maximum danger point for accidents is when you are in a car and another car is approaching you with its headlights in your eyes. You perhaps dim your lights, and the other car may or may not dim its lights. Then there is a moment of almost complete blackout through which you cannot see what is on the road immediately ahead. If a cyclist is there it is extraordinarily difficult to see him if he has only a reflector, and I am convinced that in a situation such as that a good red rear lamp provides an extra safeguard for the cyclist. For this and other reasons that have been argued in the Debate, I shall, if there is a Division, do what it is always a great pleasure to do, vote for the Government.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) has made a persuasive contribution to the Government's case. At the same time, I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member who said that this Bill comes under contentious legislation which the Government have pledged themselves solemnly not to introduce.
§ Mr. Driberg
My hon. Friend is dragging up that old idea about the pledge. The pledge was about contentious legislation as between the parties, but this issue obviously divides all the parties.
§ Mr. Baxter
I am not at all certain of that. I understand that my hon. Friend opposite supported the Bill on behalf of the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman spoke for the Labour Party, which is in favour of the increased regimentation of the public at all times, whereas the party I represent is not. Therefore, I think this is contentious legislation and I must adhere to my point. I ask my hon. Friends on this side to support that point of view. I have had a larger postbag on this subject than on any since the spontaneous expressions of gratitude over Munich. Mine may be an exceptional case, and my constituents may bicycle more regularly than the rest of the public, but the fact is that the cyclists in this country do not want this Bill. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that that is not true. I believe it is true and that cyclists are 90 per cent. against it. If that is so, and I claim it is, we should take it into consideration. There is some spontaneous objection to the Bill, sincere and overwhelming, on the part of cyclists, and they should be considered.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe), in his breezy and witty fashion, said that anybody making a speech like this is doing so in search of votes. That is a most unworthy suggestion. One might reply, I am sure with complete inaccuracy in his case, that as there is a large Conservative majority my hon. and gallant Friend may have decided to make a speech which will assist in his leaping the Becher's Brook from the young Tories to the Government Front Bench. It may be that his speech was intended to please the Government and that he took a chance of sacrificing the interests of his constituents and whoever is going to oppose him at Brighton next time.
I suggest that the supplies available to carry out this new measure of safety will not be ready for a long time, and that with the tremendous needs we have in the months ahead of us we ought not to inflict this thing upon the country now. We are told that this is the only way of increasing the measure of safety, but I say, Let us hold up this Measure for the time being. I do not think that the House or the public want it. It is being rushed without sufficient consideration. I also think that we should have a free vote on it. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), myself and a few other hon. Members find ourselves in a very 1834 difficult position. The last time I voted against the Government the Government were defeated by one vote. Ever since then, I have understood that war-time slogan, "It all depends on me." It is a dreadful responsibility, and in the present circumstances I do not want to vote against the Government on a Vote of Confidence connected with rear lights on cycles. Unless the Parliamentary Secretary will concede the points that the Bill is premature, that we are not certain that it is the best way of doing things, and that it is against the feelings of the public and the House, I shall have to abstain from voting. I trust that in doing so I shall not precipitate another political crisis.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I am less troubled than my hon. Friend about the dangerous possibilities, should they arise, of voting against the Government, more especially as I do not propose to take that course on this occasion. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe) referred to the well-known epitaph of Andrew Jay. It is perhaps little known that the tomb of Andrew jay lies not in America, but in South Croydon. I happened to be walking beside it the other day in the pretty little churchyard in the constituency of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Hogg
The one to which my hon. Friend goes every Sunday. On a neighbouring grave, beside the grave of Andrew Jay, there was another little tombstone which was inscribed with the following epitaph:Our Member's friend, young cyclist StampDied for want of a red rear lamp.He was right, dead right, as he pedalled away,But he's just as dead as Andrew Jay.I have ridden a bicycle habitually, night and day, since I was ten years old. During peace-time I can claim to have driven a motor-car more than 10,000 miles a year. In addition, I can claim, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton, to have examined professionally some hundreds of motor accident cases. I can say with complete sincerity that I believe the only thing which matters in the case is to reduce the total number of tragedies on the road, which seem to spring out of the blue, and 1835 bring misery, mutilation and death to so many innocent and happy lives. I do not believe that the money question matters very much. I quite agree that it would be a matter to raise on a Bill of this kind, if it were considered that the cyclists' claim to compensation was affected by the proposed new regulation. I am quite satisfied, with my hon. and gallant Friend and with the Attorney-General, that the cyclists' claim to compensation is completely unaffected.
§ Sir H. Williams
The Attorney-General did not say that. He only said it was completely unaffected if certain things were established. But they are not established and the cyclist is left in a state of complete confusion.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am quite clear upon this, that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton was completely right when he said that the right to compensation would be completely unaffected by the new legislation.
Even if it were not so, I should still say that the real nub of this case was not whether somebody was going to be compensated at a particular rate or not, but whether or not the proposed legislation would reduce the number of accidents to cyclists during the course of the year. I am absolutely persuaded that it will do so. I know that neither would I think of going out at night on a bicycle without a rear lamp, nor, if I had anything to do with it, would I let anyone I loved use a bicycle without a rear lamp. That seems to me the real test of this matter. I am not concerned about the small extra sum of money to buy a rear lamp, which I should look upon as a kind of insurance. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that the question is whether the Measure will save cyclists' lives, and if it will, it is worth while. It is because I am absolutely convinced, as a cyclist and as a motorist, and as one who has had considerable experience of motor accident cases, that it will save lives, that I support it.
I want to add only one further word. I have listened to all the arguments which have been used against the Bill. There is not a single argument which I have heard this afternoon, or seen used in any document, or heard used on any previous occasion, against a rear lamp for cycles which could not equally well be used 1836 against the rear lamp for a motor car. There is not a single argument which can be used in favour of a rear lamp for a motor car, which could not be used with equal force, in favour of a rear lamp for a bicycle.
§ Sir H. Williams
Does the hon. Member realise that a rear lamp on a bicycle goes out much more frequently?
§ Mr. Hogg
I do not realise that. I have used a bicycle with a rear lamp throughout the years of the war. It was one with what an hon. Member described as a delicate dynamo. Why "delicate" I do not know. I have not looked at it during six years, nor, I suppose, does any other cyclist look at his dynamo, but the thing has worked perfectly. It was left untouched during the years of my service in the Middle East, and it worked just as well when I came back. It works just as well when you push the cycle as when you ride it. There is no reason why an ordinary working person should not afford the few extra shillings for one of these lights. If he buys life for the money or wholeness of limb, it will be money very well spent and he will not begrudge it.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
Many years ago I gave a pledge to the Cyclists' Union that I would oppose compulsory rear lamps on bicycles. More mature reflection, consideration and experience have taught me the wisdom of changing my opinion. I agree entirely with almost the last statement of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, that the only thing which ought to influence one in this connection is whether the Bill will save life and limb. I am convinced as a cyclist for very many years, and one who has used other vehicles, including motors, on the road, that it is in the interest of the cyclists that they should have rear lamps. It is in the interest of the motorists that the cyclists should have rear lamps. It is in the interest of the pedestrians that the cyclists should have rear lamps. An accident caused by a motor-car running into a cyclist, may be a danger not only to the cyclist and the motorist, but to any member of the public on the path or in the road at the time and there may be loss of life as a consequence. From any point of view, the whole case is on the side of the Government. I would like to congratulate this Government on 1837 having had the courage to do something which previous Governments have feared to do, because of the reason given by the hon. Member for South Croydon—(Sir H. Williams)—10,000,000 votes.
§ Sir H. Williams
I really must protest. It is perfectly clear. We examined the report on road accidents in 1933, and unanimously turned down the proposal.
§ Mr. McEntee
That may be, but the hon. Member referred in his speech to the fact that there were 10,000,000 cyclists and said that, judging apparently by his own feelings on the matter, when the next General Election comes, the rest of us would run away when we received that letter from the Cyclists' Union asking what we intended to do with regard to rear lights on cycles. The hon. Member must not judge other people by his own fears.
I say to the cyclist, as I have said to everybody else at every Election I have fought, "I have a set of principles, a point of view which I present to you. Whether in literature or in speeches, I present to you my opinion and the convictions I hold. I do not present half a dozen different points of view—one for you and another for somebody else." Let us stand up for a thing if we believe it to be right, and not be influenced by this fear, which the hon. Member for South Croydon apparently has—perhaps he imagines that all of us are like himself—when we are asked by the cyclists in our area whether we will do something because they want it, irrespective of whether it is right or wrong, because we fear to lose their votes. I will not do such a thing. I say to the cyclists now that, in my opinion, from the experience I have had, it is in their interests, and in the interests of motorists and pedestrians, and it is for the safety of the public generally, that a Measure like this should be passed. Therefore, I hope we shall give it a Second Reading to-day, and ultimately pass it.
With regard to the rear light, I do not see any mechanical reason why a cheap and efficient unit that would embrace all three safeguards that are mentioned in this Bill cannot be put on the market. Why should there not be a unit containing the lamp, white patch and reflector? The motor trade is sufficiently well-organised and efficient to produce a unit of that kind. The hon. Member for South Croydon asked what improvement there had 1838 been in rear lamps and batteries. There is an improvement in the batteries. I have one in my pocket now, that is infinitely better than any battery I could have bought a year or two ago. There is an improvement also in the strength of the elements that go to make up the lamp—in the bulb, so that it stands greater vibration than was the case formerly. Everyone knows that the cyclist's lamp will keep alight under greater strain and for a longer period than the lamp which a cyclist could have bought 20 or 30 years ago. I was using a rear lamp 25 years ago. I believed it was for my own safety. I used it, and I was willing to use it.
Even if the Government took off the Whips and allowed the commonsense view of the House to be expressed, and allowed the views of its individual Members to be the only means of testing this matter, I think the great bulk of Members would vote for this Bill in the interests of public safety. I do not think the cyclist ought to be afraid of this proposal. It will cost him a little more. Somebody asked what the trade unions were doing. I do not think it is a matter on which they have ever been asked to express their opinion. I wear a little badge which indicates I have had 50 years' membership of a trade union, and I think I am as competent to judge trade union opinion as the hon. Member opposite, who referred to it. My experience, as a trade unionist, teaches me that the bulk of trade unionists are ordinary commonsense people, and I am sure that they would vote in favour of this Bill. I hope the House will give it a Second Reading, and that it will become law.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)
It is not my intention to offer any observations of my own on this complex question of the relative merits of reflectors or red lamps. Nor do I intend to enter into a controversy with my hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) on the subject of the virtues of bulbs or the shortcomings of batteries. It is evident from the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon, that this is a very controversial topic. It is, indeed, one of those subjects which seem to go right down into the depths of the heart of the great British public. I want to ask why such a topic as this should be treated as a matter of Government 1839 policy? I should have thought that if there was a subject upon which the House should have been permitted to express its opinion, this was just the subject. I do not believe that the Government would be embarrassed in the councils of the world, if the House of Commons decided that a red reflector was better than a red lamp, or that a red lamp was better than a red reflector. That being so, and many Members this afternoon having expressed a laudable desire to be free of the influence of their constituents, and to express an opinion of their own upon this subject, I should have thought that the Government would have been well advised to allow us to take that course, and permit that commendable spirit of independence to display itself, unfettered by other considerations, in the Division Lobbies.
I recognise that it matters very little what I say at this stage of the Debate, and that it will matter very little whether the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir. H. Williams) persists with his Amendment or not. Since my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) informed us that this Bill was supported from a certain quarter, it is quite evident what the result will be. Therefore, I conclude by making this suggestion: I believe this is the sort of commonsense issue on which the House of Commons is the best possible judge. I much prefer the opinion of this House to the opinion of the experts at the Ministry of War Transport. I prefer the opinion of this House to the opinion of any number of distinguished, or undistinguished, cyclists. I have a great respect for my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, but, on such a topic as this, I prefer the opinion of the House to the opinion of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, because I know what are his sources of information. I suggest that, when a topic of this nature comes up for decision, the Government should take the House of Commons into their confidence. Let us decide it for ourselves. If we do that, we shall have no cause to complain afterwards and, what is, perhaps, more important still, the public outside this House will have no cause to complain, either of the Government or the House of Commons.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I have very great sympathy with the view put 1840 before the House by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), and I have a great repugnance against multiple offences. I feel quite convinced that, if this Bill is passed, a number of cyclists will be hauled before the bench for quite minor offences, and even for offences which they will be unaware they have committed. But there is another, and, to my mind, an irresistible factor. It is my necessity to motor many miles over country roads and dark country lanes, in a part of the country where mists are apt to lie at all seasons of the year. From that experience, I am quite convinced that there is necessary a further measure of protection than that afforded by the rear indicator and white mudguard now used. Every motorist must be painfully aware of the fact that he may be on top of a cyclist, even when driving with great care and at moderate speed, before he realises where he is. For that reason, much as I dislike these additional penalties and regulations, I feel that, in justice to the cyclist and the public, this further measure of protection is necessary.
There is another class of the community entitled to further protection, and that is the motorist. I listened to the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) when he gave that very vivid description of the distress of mind of the driver who propelled him some 15 yards along the road. Can anybody imagine a greater distress or agony of mind than that of the motorist, who has driven with great care and at reasonable speed, and is then involved in an accident which ends either in the death of the victim or his serious mutilation? I am terrified of cyclists on the road—absolutely terrified—because I know that, if I run into a lorry, I am going to be the chief sufferer, and, if I run into another motorist, it is fifty-fifty, but, if I run into a cyclist, it is 99 to 1 against him. That is a source of worry to me, and, much as I dislike these additional regulations and penalties, I feel that this House ought to give support to the Government in reducing these risks.
§ Petty-Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
I apologise for intervening without having heard all the speeches in the Debate. I have great sympathy for what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson). I am a great defender of the procedure of this House and have also made speeches 1841 in defence of the party system, but, on a point like this, it is very galling to people who, unlike myself, have sat throughout the whole Debate, to find when the Division bells ring, that everybody comes in—as they are quite entitled to do—to vote against them. On this quite unconstitutional and unpolitical point, I support my hon. and learned Friend who said that this is a case for a free vote.
I am pro-pedestrian and pro-cyclist. I have been described, rightly or wrongly, as anti-motorist, and I am nearly always pro-the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). I am sorry to be against him on this occasion, but I cannot see why cyclists should not be required to take the same precautions as motorists. I have for many years navigated a very small vessel on the Thames in very narrow channels—a vessel which corresponds to the cycle on the roads. We have to observe precisely the same Board of Trade regulations as the 20,000-ton Cunarder. It is not so easy in my little vessel, 29 ft. long, to maintain stern lights and mast headlights, but we must do it. I should not proceed very far, if my stern light was out. We have to do it, and we are very proud that we are governed by the same regulations as the mighty liner. If we are unable to maintain these regulations, we are stopped, or, if we proceed, we do not expect to be able to blame anybody if we are run down. On balance, I should have thought that cyclists would have been proud to say, "We are on the same level, and must do the best we can to observe the same Regulations," but I do feel, while agreeing with the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that there is more than the question of compensation.
Might I refer to a point on this question of compensation? I do not know if it is in Order to refer to a Government Bill now being considered in another place, which has not yet come down to us. I daresay that, strictly speaking, it is not, but, if it is, I hope I may refer to the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Bill, which relates the law of contributory negligence on land, to the law at sea. I am supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford. This Bill proposes—and we know that all Government Bills must become law in these enlightened days—that where a cyclist who fails to maintain 1842 his lights is run down by a speeding car, it will not be enough to say that his light was not lit. It will be important evidence that, in addition, the motorist was speeding round a corner at 50 miles an hour on the wrong side of the road, as very often happens. In that case, as far as compensation is concerned, the views of the cyclist will be met if this Bill becomes law, but I must say, if I may do so respectfully, that there seems to be a little lack of co-ordination in the Government's proceeding, in bringing this Bill before the House to-day without any reference to the Bill which follows and is part of the same big subject.
I am not however in agreement with those who suggested that these proceedings should be adjourned in order that these things might be co-ordinated. If the proposals of the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Bill had been inserted in this Bill, I think that, on the compensation point, there would be much less objection, though I imagine I should not be very popular in proposing anything of that kind. Perhaps the Minister, when he replies, will develop that point a little better than I have done? Having said all that, with some reluctance and with some doubt upon it, I support the Bill.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
I regret that I have not been able to be here to hear the majority of the speeches, but I have been engaged upstairs on other business. I share the views expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson) in so far as I rather regret that the Government are making this a matter of confidence in the sense that their supporters will be expected to go into the Lobby in support of the Bill, irrespective of its merits. The House ought to be at liberty to declare its opinions in an unfettered manner in a matter of this kind. I have been a cyclist, and at times I drive a car. During the early days of the blitz I was compelled to move to the country and I had a considerable amount of experience of driving in the dark from this House to near Berkhamsted, where I had to reside at that time. I was able to assess the value of the red rear light to the cyclist. My mind and attention were invariably riveted upon the red light in the distance. There were occasions when I was inclined to forget the fact that there 1843 were likely to be pedestrians between my car and the red light ahead. As a result of that experience, I felt that the idea of safety arising from the red rear light was likely to cause one to overlook the safety of the pedestrian. If the motorist obeys the Highway Code and drives at a speed within the limit of the range of his headlights accidents are not likely to happen.
I feel that we are pinning our faith in regard to safety to a wholly fallacious idea, and it is for these reasons that I intend to vote against the Bill. There is an obligation upon the motorist; the motorist is in charge of the vehicle that can kill. I am not completely exonerating the cyclist from his responsibility, but I appeal to the House to consider the position of the pedestrian. If it is necessary for the cyclist to carry a red rear light, then it will become incumbent upon the pedestrian also to carry a red light if safety is to be secured.
§ Mr. Viant
I would not go to that extreme. I am putting, as I am entitled to do, the case for the pedestrian; I do not want the pedestrian to be overlooked. I want to emphasise the obligation that we must impose upon the motorist. It is the motorist and not the cyclist who is likely to cause the trouble for the pedestrian. If it is essential for a red light to be used by the motorist or the cyclist for safety purposes, according to the logic of this Bill, then the pedestrian should carry a red light. It is not desired to go to that extreme, but I suggest that, as a result of the Debate, it is desirable that the Government should reconsider the whole proposal. We are not likely to get safety for the cyclist, but we are likely to jeopardise the safety of the pedestrian, and on these grounds the Bill should be withdrawn.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
We have had a very agreeable and good tempered Debate, and I hope the result will be to carry this Measure with the full support of public opinion in general throughout the country. I would first answer my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson), who asked why we made 1844 this a matter of Government policy and why we should not leave it to a free, unfettered vote of the House of Commons. With great respect, road safety is a matter of most important public policy. For many years the Government have been engaged on the investigation and consideration of the problem. They have for many years been accused, and my Ministry in particular has been accused, of having no policy on the matter. It was an issue on which we felt bound, in view of the evidence we have had, to take a Government line, and to put through a Government Measure, and to do it now. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert) asked why we could not wait until the Bill, now in another place, in regard to accidents and compensation had been dealt with. It is because we want this Bill now, for the reasons I have already explained, and I think, if he will examine the matter, he will come to the conclusion that negligence is really quite a separate affair. We are now deciding about lights; later on Parliament can change the law on negligence, if it so desires, but whether we have red rear lights on bicycles or not will not affect the issue of what is done by the other Bill.
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
I said that it met a good many of the arguments of the opponents. What I meant was that there should be an act of co-ordination to link things together.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
We need this Bill now; but I am advised that we are getting along with the other Bill as fast as we can. The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) asked why have this Bill, and why, when the present Defence Regulation lapses we should not have a new Defence Regulation. I think the House of Commons would take very grave objection to such a course as that, and that, on any reasonable consideration of the matter, a Bill is by far the better plan.
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), who moved the Amendment, quoted largely from the Debate of 1934. I read the speech then made by the Minister of Transport to mean that at that time the case for rear lights on bicycles had not been made out; they were not yet reliable, and would be a burden on cyclists and perhaps unfair. We had not then had sufficient experience 1845 of the reflector and the white patch. But we have now had enough experience. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities argued that adequate protection was provided by the reflectors and the white patches required before the war. I think the statistics which I gave, and which were published in a special report long ago, are really conclusive on that point.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
In 1937. I do not think either of my hon. Friends took into account the deficiencies of the reflector on a winding road or on an undulating road, or the case put so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) of the two cars with headlights meeting, and the difficulty of picking up a reflector then. Really, there are many cases where the reflector is inadequate and, in the experience of us all, is not enough.
The hon. Member for South Croydon made a very strong point about the publication of the relevant documents, and said that it was monstrous that the House was being asked to pass this Bill without having furnished to it the evidence upon which it had been drawn up. Well, I said this afternoon that, in the course of the last seven years, there had been three independent expert inquiries into this matter. The first of them was by the Transport Advisory Council; they are not members of my Ministry. They had an inquiry in 1938, and their Report on Accidents to Cyclists is published in a White Paper, which has been available to my hon. Friend for more than six years. Then there was the Alness Committee, which published a Report in 1939, and this has been available to him for more than five years. I believe, if he desires it, that he can also have access to the evidence that was taken by that Committee. There is also the recommendation of the present Road Safety Committee, of which I spoke.
I want, if I may, with the indulgence of the House, to make a rather clearer explanation than I gave before of what has really happened. This Road Safety Committee has existed for nearly four years, but only last January did it begin the task of drawing up a report on a comprehensive road safety policy. Acting in its first capacity, considering, problem by problem, matters of road 1846 safety that arose, it decided that the cyclists ought to carry a red rear light, the reflector, and the patch; and, without waiting to complete even its interim report, it made a recommendation in that sense to my Noble Friend. The recommendation, of course, was subsequently embodied in the interim report which my Noble Friend has just received; but the recommendation was made before my Noble Friend had received the report; and before he received the Report, my Noble Friend had acted on it. I have given that recommendation to the House. It is contained in the Bill which is now before us.
§ Sir H. Williams
Surely we are entitled to see the reasons and the evidence. The fact that somebody says, "I recommend so and so" does not convince me.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The reasons and the evidence are all contained in this Report of the Transport Advisory Council and in the Report of the Alness Committee. The recommendation endorses what the Alness Committee put forward. I do assure my hon. Friend that there is no evidence, whether from the cyclists' side or from the other side, which is not available for him to use, if he desires to have it.
Let us come to the statistics which he said had not been published. I quoted from two sources—from one of the three Reports on Road Accident Statistics made before the war—from the last pre-war report, published in 1937—and also from the monthly statistics which my Ministry now publishes and gives to the Press. In these monthly statements, the figures are analysed and broken down. The Report I quoted is a White Paper, available to my hon. Friend since 1937. The monthly analyses which we publish now are given to the Press. They are not, I admit, published by the whole of the Press in full, there is not the space; but the important features are always brought out. Moreover, in response to a Parliamentary Question a considerable number of months ago, I promised that these analyses should be placed month by month in the Library of the House, and there they are if my hon. Friend desires to consult them. I venture to think that his charge under this heading does not really hold.
§ Sir H. Williams
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me of any paper which he knows has published these figures showing the accidents to cyclists in any detail?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Yes, they are often published. The transport papers publish them constantly, often very nearly in full, and the daily Press always gives considerable attention to them, so that my hon. Friend must have his attention drawn to them month by month; and, if he had followed up this matter, he would have known that the figures were in the Library and he could have had access to them. He made a long argument about cyclists being prejudiced in legal proceedings. I do not think, after what has been said in the House to-day, I need argue it again in detail. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) have given me full support. I only sought to reply to the two points which cyclists have put to me. The first is that the Common Law obligations of the driver would be unaffected by this Bill. The second is that the onus of proof that his light was on would not fall on the cyclist in court proceedings. Both those points emerge absolutely unscatched from the Debate, and I believe that, when the cyclists read their HANSARD, they will think that they have obtained a great deal of satisfaction in what has passed to-day.
I will come now, if I may, to considerations of a different order. I will take the points about the power of dynamos and the supply of batteries raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon. The hon. Member for Doncaster said that the dynamos gave no light when the cycle was going at a moderate speed. I have here a memorandum on the subject from the firm of Lucas, which I think will be accepted by the House as a high authority. This firm assures me that:When the dynamo is being pedalled at two miles per hour there is a visible light. At three miles per hour there is ample illumination.The dynamos are not in the least experimental, they are far past that stage. There was a production before the war of 350,000 a year. There is a present production of 150,000, with provision for an increase to 500,000 as soon as facilities can be made available.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Not everybody will buy dynamos, and they have been available for a very long time already. I am also assured that the heavy dynamos of the past have been abandoned, that the new light dynamos are much more efficient, and that as the aluminium alloys become available the weight will be constantly reduced. The quality also is improving. I would point out to my hon. Friend that we do not insist on dynamos. The cyclist is perfectly free to have a battery set if he so desires.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Of course, in wartime, with the raw materials which the manufacturers have to use, the efficiency of the battery is seriously reduced—it is reduced by not less, perhaps, than 40 per cent.—but, when we return to peacetime conditions, I believe it is true to say that the batteries will be satisfactory and sufficient. I will read again, if I may, from this memorandum from the Lucas firm:It will be seen that part of the trouble to-day is from the use of the cheap and therefore less satisfactory size battery. Even under war conditions, a reasonable life can be obtained from the larger battery, and when pre-war quality is reinstated, the life will be entirely satisfactory.On the question of the supply of batteries, I am assured that, at the present time, no cyclists have difficulty in getting a battery. I shall be very glad to hear of any difficulties of which hon. Members may hear, and I will try to put them right; but, in general, at the present time there is an ample supply.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
On that point, I had complaints in my constituency last week of the miners having considerable difficulties on account of the shortage of batteries.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If my hon. Friend will let me have the facts, I will do my best to have things put right, but I am assured that, broadly speaking, there is no shortage at the present time. On the expense of the dynamo or battery for the cyclist, of course it will cost something. However, I agree with what I understood my hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) to say, that this is a cost which the cyclist should really welcome. I would add this con- 1849 sideration, that the cyclist gets the use of admirable roads and he pays no tax. I do not think this is an unjust burden, if, as we believe, it is a real contribution to safety in the land.
Perhaps I may say one word on the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster about luminous paint. I am assured that, under normal lighting conditions, luminous paint does not show up at any distance, and that it would be no improvement on the present reflector and the white patch which we have now.
I come to the comparison, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster and my hon. Friend the Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant), between the pedal cyclist and the pedestrian. Because the cyclist has a light, they say, the pedestrian must have one too. I do not think that that can be maintained. The pedestrian is not a vehicle.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
He is on one; and it is the vehicle that has to have the light. The pedestrian, in the vast majority of places, both in town and country, where there is much pedestrian traffic, has a footpath; and he ought to use it. It is the policy of my Ministry to increase the number of footpaths as rapidly as that can be done. The pedestrian, where there is no footpath, can do what the cyclist cannot do: he can avoid an accident by climbing up the bank. He is much more mobile than the cyclist. The other point about the pedestrian, that he will be in danger because this business is going to increase the speed of the average motorist, I dealt with when I spoke first. I do not believe that anybody, in the course of the Debate, has begun to bring a scrap of evidence for that view. On the contrary, the point has emerged with perfect clarity that when motorists see a rear light at a greater distance, they will retard their vehicles in order to pass, and they will arrive near the cyclist at a lesser speed than they would have done if there had been no rear light. Therefore, the very point about which the cyclists are most anxious has been amply met.
I end by saying how much I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden), who said that he paid a lot of attention to the views of the lorry drivers and the bus drivers, 1850 who earn their living on the roads. Statistics prove that they are a very careful class of drivers. They have to be. An accident, if it is their fault, means that they lose their livelihood, perhaps for good. An accident, even if it is not their fault, may be a very serious matter indeed for them. If the cyclists are right about this, these drivers are going to have a lot more accidents, and fatal accidents at that. Ask the drivers, and see what they will say. I will read a letter from a lorry driver to a newspaper:As a transport driver, I would like to take a few of your anti-rear light correspondents for a ride some nice dark night, when it is a bit misty and drizzling with rain. I have a good idea that they would change their minds.So have I; and it is because we believe that this Bill will save life and injury that we ask the House to pass it now.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Sir H. Williams
As my hon. Friends and I desire to retain Clause 2 of the Bill, and our objection is to Clause 1 and to Clause 3, which is consequential, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Major A. S. L. Young.]
§ Committee upon Thursday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.