HC Deb 22 February 1945 vol 408 cc1079-83

In the case of pedal bicycles fitted with dynamo equipment exhibiting a red light when the bicycle is in motion no offence shall be committed by reason only of the fact that the machine when at rest exhibited no rear light.—[Mr. Quintin Hogg.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

6.0 p.m.

The point is a very short and simple one. Under Clause 3, a stationary vehicle is protected, provided that it is as near as possible to the near or left-hand edge of the carriageway, until the Minister thinks fit to remove the protection. It really is going a little too far to ask the cyclist to carry a device which ensures that when his machine is at rest, his dynamo equipment, which only operates when the machine is in motion and which works perfectly during that time, shall show a red light. Cyclists stop at traffic lights, and sometimes when quite well out on the road, they may stop suddenly without warning. It would be absurd to render them subject to prosecution, either under the provisions of Clause 3 or subsequently by Ministerial Order, when all the time they have a reasonable dynamo equipment. I know that it will be said that a device could be attached to a dynamo equipment. We all know that when we have to get off our bicycles because of traffic lights or any other sudden cause, we do not like to have to fiddle about at switches. For that reason I suggest that the proposed new Clause is a reasonable one and that the Minister will be trying to put a little paint on the lily if he places reliance on such a device as has been indicated.

Sir H. Williams

This is a very surprising proposal. Here we have the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), whom I counted in the Lobby in favour of a rear lamp, saying that there may be times when it is not easy for a cyclist to have such a light. He is an interested person. He has told us so. He is one of the proud possessors of a bicycle with nine dynamos, and I do not think that he should adopt this attitude. He wants to be sure that the Minister will not ensure that he will be fined if, for some reason, he is standing on the road with his bicycle. I think that a standing bicycle is far more dangerous than a moving one. This is a most reactionary Clause and I hope it will not be accepted.

Mr. Edmund Harvey

I hope that the Government will accept the new Clause even if they cannot, in every way, agree with the wording. It is reasonable to allow a privilege such as is suggested in the Clause to a cyclist who stops at the road traffic lights or for some other reason for a moment, and if it works satisfactorily now under the existing regulations there is no reason why this should not be extended indefinitely. I hope that, although the Minister is not able to meet the claims of cyclists on the major issue, the much more important one, he will have some regard to their views on this one. At the road traffic lights there is less excuse for a motorist running over a cyclist who is momentarily stationary there, even if he has not got any kind of rear light. The very fact that there are traffic lights is a warning to the motorist to stop, some time before he gets to the point. There ought to be no reason for an accident simply because a cyclist is not able to show a rear lamp. I think that the dynamo light is the most popular form of electric light among cyclists and is most efficient, but even that is sometimes uncertain, That is another reason why the principle of the Clause should be accepted by the Minister.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

I want to support the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) in his Amendment. There is a certain doubt not only when the cyclist is stationary, but when the cycle is being pushed. We have been told that when the cyclist has a dynamo an efficient light is given if the cycle is moving at two or three miles an hour, but when a test was recently made of two cycles going at six miles, and possibly seven miles, an hour no really effective light was produced. I wish we could have persuaded the hon. Member for Oxford to have gone a little further with his argument in favour of the cyclist who is also able to prove, if his cycle is stationary and he is pulled up by the police, that his battery light is deficient.

The Deputy-Chairman

That is exactly where the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) would have been out of Order if he had tried to do it.

Mr. Walkden

I was only hoping that it would have been for the purposes of illustration. There is a good reason why the Amendment suggested by the hon. Member should be further amended by a reasoned argument that where a deficiency can be proved the police should not have authority to prosecute.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I hope to persuade my hon. Friend that he ought not to press the Clause to a Division. The conditions to which the Clause relate, that is when cyclists are stopped by traffic signals, by police, or in a traffic block, are dangerous conditions. They are the more dangerous because cyclists very often try to weave their way forward to the front of the traffic block between the vehicles. It is extremely important, therefore, that drivers should be aware that they are going by and should have the warning which a red light would give. My hon. Friend's new Clause applies only to bicycles with dynamo equipment. That is one of the difficulties. The relaxa- tion is confined to the rear light only. Front lights must be kept on when the cycle is stationary under the existing prewar legislation. Under his Amendment the relaxation would apply wherever the bicycle was, whether in the middle of the road or whether it was parked by the side of the road. At first we took the view, in the Ministry, and I did myself, that my hon. Friend was right and that the technical difficulties of overcoming this would be considerable and that it would be better to do what he now proposes or something rather like it. We changed our view when we reflected that, under the existing pre-war legislation, the front light has to be on in any case when a dynamo bicycle is stopped in traffic.

The cyclist must therefore have the battery and the switch to which my hon. Friend referred, as well as the dynamo. When we reflected that under Clause I he must also have the rear light, it seemed to us not really common sense not to ask him to wire his rear light to the battery which he has to have for his front light, so that both lights can be switched on at the same time. I hope, in fact, with the new inventions that are coming, all the business of switching on and off will be wiped out, and the batteries will be much more efficient, and that this will work very smoothly and efficiently for the cyclist. I think it will cost very little more, but, in any case, I do not think my hon. Friend thinks that cost should be a decisive point. I hope he will see that our plan is really sound and that he will agree to accept the Bill as it stands.

Mr. Hogg

I am afraid I find the argument of my hon. Friend singularly unpersuasive. It seems to me to be unrealistic in the extreme. It is, of course, true that the owner of a cycle fitted with a dynamo and without a switch and battery attached, commits an offence when he stops at the traffic lights in respect of his front light, but everybody knows that does not stop him from being equipped in exactly that way, and there are probably more than 50,000 bicycles so equipped. There is nothing more calculated to bring the law into disrepute than to pass a law which is not observed, and I cannot imagine anything so absurd as to rely on an existing provision of the law, which, in fact, is wholly and widely disregarded, as an argument against an Amendment to a proposed Bill which will make the Bill a little more in accordance with what people will be prepared to do. I do not think that my hon. Friend did justice to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) in regard to the traffic light and the road block, because at that stage it is not the rear light which warns the traffic when the bicycle is weaving in and out of vehicles, it is the sight of the bicycle. I do not propose to press this Clause to a Division, because it does not seem to me to be of sufficient consequence to do so, but I regret that my hon. Friend did not see fit to accept the principle, and I am not without hope even now, that, on reflection, he may not come to think that he was ill-advised.

The Deputy-Chairman

Is it the pleasure of the Committee that the Clause be withdrawn?

Mr. E. Harvey

The hon. Member did not ask leave to withdraw his Clause.

The Deputy-Chairman

I was not quite sure whether he did or not.

Mr. Hogg

I thought it had better be negatived.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.