HC Deb 11 November 1947 vol 444 cc324-44

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Challen (Hampstead)

I beg to move, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1947 (S.R. & O., 1947, No. 2192), dated 13th October, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 21st October, be annulled. The point which I am about to raise is not very complicated, but there is a certain amount of legal history behind it that I would like to explain briefly. The purpose of this order is to repeal to a large extent the statutory provision regarding the speed limit of motor traffic in connection with vehicles, be they motor cars, armoured tanks or other vehicles, such as ambulances and fire vehicles, and to make vehicles of this nature, driven by personnel or carrying personnel in any of the three Services, exempt from the speed limits contained in the Act of 1930. There was a provisional regulation brought up in 1940, made under the Act of 1930, abolishing altogether any speed limit in relation to Service vehicles. The Act of 1930, as recited in the preamble to the present order empowered the Minister, by regulations, subject to such conditions as may be specified in the regulations, to vary in relation to motor vehicles owned by the Admiralty, the War Department or the Air Ministry and used for naval, military or Air Force purposes … to vary the provisions in the First Schedule to the Act which specified the maximum speeds at which vehicles of certain classes or descriptions may be driven.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

On a point of Order. I dislike interrupting my hon. Friend, but I have tried to get a copy of the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Provisional Regulations, 1940, at the Vote Office and, having failed, I then went along to the Library and asked if I could have a copy of it from the Library even to look at. I understand that this Order is not available in the Library, and that it, was omitted as a matter of urgency from the Volume which I have here, Statutory Rules and Orders of 1940. I submit that it is quite impossible to consider this Statutory Rule and Order No. 2192 if we have not got copies of the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Provisional Regulation, 1940. It is a very material order which this order effects. I ask your guidance, Sir, as to whether this Debate should be carried on any further tonight, or whether it should be postponed so that copies of the relevant order may be made available to hon. Members?

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

Further to that point of Order. Do I understand that the hon. Member put his name down to this Motion without having read the original order?

Mr. Taylor

If I may answer that point, I certainly did put my name down to this Motion, and one of the reasons was that the provisional regulation to which I have already referred was not available.

Mr. Speaker

I think the simpler thing would be to hear the explanation, in due course, of the Minister, who no doubt will be able to tell us what is the difference between the two orders. I gather that there is practically no difference at all.

Mr. Taylor

Further to that point of Order. Would it be helpful if the Minister now told us what the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Provisional Regulation Order of 1940 contains so that we may be in a position to judge whether this order is a reasonable order or not?

Mr. Speaker

That depends upon the fact that if the Minister now rises he is exhausting his right to speak. I gather that he does not intend to speak now.

Mr. Taylor

With the greatest respect, surely this Debate is becoming a farce. How can hon. Members who have tried to read this order produce a reasonable argument unless some Member of the Government can tell us what this particular provisional regulation contains? I do not ask the Minister who is responsible for dealing with this particular order to reply now, but perhaps there is some other Government spokesman on the Front Bench who would tell us what it is all about.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of Order. One cannot interrupt the speech of the hon. Member who is moving this Motion. I think he should now be allowed to continue. Later, no doubt, the Government spokesman can give the necessary explanation.

Mr. Taylor

Then may I move the Adjournment of this Debate until the provisional regulation is available to hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member cannot interrupt the speech of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Challen). That is not a point of Order and the hon. Member would be out of Order in trying to move that Motion.

Mr. Taylor

With the greatest respect—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has interrupted the hon. Member for Hampstead quite enough.

Mr. Taylor

With the greatest respect, may I ask whether it is out of Order to move the Adjournment of this Debate to enable this Order to be made available so that we can talk sense?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has not got possession of the House. The hon. Member for Hampstead has.

Mr. Challen

I am obliged for that interruption, because it has shown the House the complicated and very unsatisfactory position in which we find ourselves in regard to this new order. It is perfectly true that the order I am moving to annul revokes the provisional regulation made in 1940. It is true that that provisional regulation is not to be found in the bound volume of Statutory Rules and Orders. The reason it is not to be found there is that it was a provisional regulation. In case any hon. Member is not fully aware of the nature of a provisional regulation, I would point out that it is made by a Minister under the Rules Publication Act of 1893 which empowers him to make them as a matter of urgency merely until he can make a permanent Order. Because it is merely provisional, it does not really come before this House as a matter which can be debated. It is kept, as it were, in the background. It is not printed or published in the "London Gazette" or in Statutory Rules and Orders. The only copy which I have been able to see is a copy which the Librarian managed to obtain from the confines of the cellars.

Obviously, neither the public nor even hon. Members of this House ever saw this provisional regulation of 1940. There is a curious history attached to this matter. This provisional regulation of 1940 was one which completely removed any obliga- tion upon Army, Navy and Air Force vehicles to observe the speed limit. In 1943, there was a Debate in this House on an Order made by the then Minister of Transport. A number of hon. Members present now took part in that Debate. To some extent the Prayer which was moved was historic, because it was one of the first which some of us started moving, and it had the result of the Minister voting against his own order. The Minister was the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. The Prayer was against an order which sought to take the most wide and sweeping powers to repeal any enactment relating to motor traffic which the Minister might think it desirable to repeal.

The comments and criticism of hon. Members were such that the Minister agreed to take back his order. In point of fact, he was not allowed to take it back, and, in order to get rid of it, he voted against it himself. A promise was given that more specific orders would be brought out as a result of that Debate, but no order was ever produced. During all this time the provisional order of 1940 was lying in the background. None of us knew anything about it. It has taken the Minister seven years from the time of making that order in 1940 to produce the present order, against which my hon. Friend and I are praying, putting into permanent form in peacetime provisions exempting these Service vehicles from the speed limit in certain cases. That order was introduced in 1940 as a matter of urgency. It is now 1947 and, despite the interlude we had in 1943, nothing was done about it until this order was placed on the Table of the House.

It is perfectly correct, as the Minister will probably tell us, that this order, in effect, reproduces an order of 1935. That is another of the orders in the history of this case. In substance, it reproduces an order of 1935 following on an order of 1932. The Road Transport Act became law in 1930, and the Minister was given powers and he produced an order in 1932. He added to the order in 1935, and, in 1940, he made his provisional regulation in connection with cars having no speed limit at all. Now, in 1947, we have an order which more or less goes back to the situation of 12 years ago.

I submit that, in those circumstances, this matter is completely open for this House to debate and to decide whether it is right and proper that there should be no speed limit in the case of these service vehicles. We have never had an opportunity of debating the matter. The wartime regulation has gone by the board, and we are dealing with quite different conditions as to the speed of tanks, cranes and other military engines. Therefore, I submit that this House, in regard to this matter, not only possesses the right but is ready and willing to approach this matter with a completely new and open mind.

The precise exemptions which the order creates are as follow. This order, having revoked the urgent provisional regulation of 1940, proceeds to provide that the provision of the First Schedule to the Act is to be varied in certain respects; that is to say, that it shall have the effect as if it imposed no speed limit in relation to— (a) motor vehicles of the types specified in the Schedule to these Regulations which are owned by the Admiralty, the War Department or the Air Ministry and used for naval, military or air force purposes or which are so used whilst being driven by persons for the time being subject to the orders of any member of the Armed Forces of the Crown; I am not quarrelling with that. The Schedule sets out these categories of exemptions: 1. Motor vehicles constructed or adapted

  1. (a) for actual combative purposes, or for naval, military or air force training in connection therewith or
  2. (b) for the conveyance of personnel, or"—
so that, presumably, an army lorry carrying troops can rush along the road without any regard to the speed limit and with absolute protection, or a car with a couple of "brass hats," or a couple of corporals or even a couple of Ministers, may go along the road exempted from the speed limit. One's mind boggles at the potentialities of the freedom which is given to the Services, from "brass hats" to humble privates, in this order in peacetime, and it is interesting to reflect that, at a time when private individuals are being deprived of their basic petrol ration, Service cars can both get petrol and ignore the speed limit. These are matters which, surely, having regard to circumstances existing in 1947, we must consider almost de novo, as matters that require the application of present-day conditions, instead of going back to the more or less embryo and primitive days of 1935, when I suppose, a tank could not travel at anything like the speed which the modern postwar tank can develop. I am not going to elaborate the case on the practical side, because my hon. Friend who is to second the Motion has a good deal of data which he can give on this subject. I will content myself here with finishing these exempted categories: (c) for use with, or for the carriage 0f drawing of, guns or machine guns. 2 Mobile cranes constructed or adapted for the raising of aircraft. I am horrified to think that mobile cranes will be allowed to go all over the country at any speed without the slightest danger of being stopped by the local police. It is staggering and horrifying. There follow— 3. Motor track-laying vehicles constructed or adapted
  1. (a) for actual combative purposes, or
  2. (b) for use with, or for the carriage or drawing of guns, machine guns, ammunition, equipment or stores in connection therewith."
I and some other hon. Members had something to do with the drawing of guns in the 1914–18 war. Then the guns were drawn by horses and it never occurred to us that we had power to gallop along the road with the gun carriages. In these days of motor traction, the position becomes altogether amazing. Finally, we have 4. Fire tenders 5. Ambulances. Nobody could quarrel with fire tenders or ambulances being exempted. Between these extremes, the exemptions granted are altogether too elastic. If it is going to be said that the Service Departments insist on having these exemptions, I would only say with respect to these Departments, that the House of Commons is more supreme than the Service Departments. It is an Act of Parliament which applies the speed limit to all His Majesty's subjects of all conditions, and if any case can be made out for exempting Service drivers, very often young people under 21, it surely must be made abundantly clear It is because I want, first to get a clear statement of policy and principles on this subject from the Minister, and secondly, in case we are not satisfied with his explanation, to divide the House on the matter, that I have moved this Motion.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to second the Motion.

In May of this year, in the final report of the Road Safety Committee, at paragraph 67, appeared a very vigorous statement that wartime concessions as regards speed limit on military and Service vehicles should be revised, and doubtless the appearance of this order is the result of that paragraph in the final report. This order, as ably commented on by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Challen), is little better than a long list of exemptions of a very important and varied character. I expect that when the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply we shall be told that half a loaf is better than no loaf and that this order exempting some vehicles is better than no order at all. If we pray against this order we are in fact voting for a return to wartime freedom from all limits of any sort.

I feel, and hon. Members on this side of the House feel, that if we accept this order, we shall be acquiescing in the maintenance of a highly dangerous state of affairs and it is far better for us to pray for the annulment of this order because it is a bad order than to accept what is very much worse than the existing position. Service vehicles—two years after the war—are involved in a very large number of accidents of a very serious character. In the first nine months of this year over 2,200 of these vehicles were involved in accidents. I do not suggest that the Service drivers were in all cases responsible, but it is rather significant that no fewer than 2,200 Service vehicles were involved.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

Out of a total of how many?

Mr. Erroll

I do not think the Service Departments will reveal, for reasons of security, the total number of Service vehicles on the roads. What has been revealed is that no fewer than 121 citizens were killed in these accidents in the first six months of this year. So we are not dealing with trivial matters tonight. The exemptions to which the hon. Member who moved the Prayer referred, include some of the most lethal and dangerous vehicles, such as fast cruising tanks, high speed armoured cars and modern gun-towers, and highly mobile self-propelled mounties. These vehicles came into exist- ence largely during the war. The precise list of exemptions in the order were, believe, in force before the war, but in those days tanks were not capable of the high speeds of which they are capable today.

There was great development of these vehicles during the war. For example, the cruiser tank, weighing about 20 tons or more, is now capable of speeds exceeding 40 miles an hour on good roads. Such developments have made the list in this order completely out of date. For instance, we are not now dealing with such things as the dreary moving medium tank, or the slow-moving light tank of 1934 or 1935, but with such vehicles as that described as a motor track-laying vehicle, a high-speed heavy armoured fast-moving tank. The schedule as originally compiled to exempt vehicles which could only go at speeds of six or ten miles an hour now exempts heavier vehicles capable of 45 or 50 miles an hour. I want to know why such vehicles should be exempted in peacetime. Why cannot they conform to civilian speed limits for comparable classes of vehicles? If it is dangerous for a civilian tractor, for example, pulling a load of felled trees, to exceed a certain speed, surely it is equally dangerous for a Service tractor to pull a gun and ammunition about the roads at the same speed.

What we want are the same speed limits for comparable classes of Service vehicles as are imposed on similar classes of civilian vehicles. If a large, solid tyred transport vehicle carrying a load of 30 or 40 tons must be kept down to a speed of 15 or 20 miles an hour on the main roads of this country, surely a Churchill tank, which is of about the same weight should be similarly restricted. This is particularly necessary as the Churchill tank has only slippery tracks. [Interruption.] I did not think that hon. Members opposite could let such an opportunity pass unmarked. Another significant point is that the sidelights of the Churchill tank do not give an accurate indication of its width, and, therefore, of its strength. That makes it a very dangerous vehicle to those who may be driving rather carelessly along the road in the opposite direction. It is often a highly dangerous vehicle when stationary. It is of course possible that some of the modern Service vehicles cannot conform to civilian speed limits without causing severe damage to their engines and transmission systems. They have been designed for cross-country work in theatres of operations, and not with an eye to conforming to the civilian traffic regulations of this country. But that, I submit, is a very thin argument to use in defence of this wide range of exemptions. If a man who had a motor car capable of high speeds were found driving in excess of the speed limit, it would be considered a very weak defence if he appealed for leniency in the police court on the ground that it would damage his car if he observed the speed limit. There is no case in the contention that Service vehicles, heavy, cumbersome, and dangerous, exceed the speed limit merely because it would damage the engine and transmission if they kept to the limit. If these vehicles have to be taken about, they should be put on trailers when they travel on main roads, or else be confined to the proper place of manoeuvre, namely, to the Army training grounds, which were taken over with such lavishness in peacetime.

It is possible that the Services have their own speed limits for the various classes of vehicles which they run, and, if so, they should be published. It is all too common a sight to see heavy tracked vehicles careering about the roads at speeds altogether unsafe for crowded thorough fares, and it would be interesting to know how the limits are enforced. If there are such speed limits in force in the Service Departments, then they should be published in this order so that we should all know what they are, if they exist at all. This order exempts the most dangerous and lethal vehicles, and gives no indication of any Service restriction on their movement. It is a thoroughly bad order, and it is for that reason that I second the Prayer for its annulment

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)

I must confess that I view with some apprehension the terms of this order. The Mover of the Prayer did not overstate the case at all. I am not worried about the large convoys of Service vehicles, because they are moved under ordered direction, with set speeds, and stated times for passing certain points. What concerns me is the odd vehicle individually careering about the country; in that lies great danger. Looking at the schedule, I can see hardly any Service vehicle which is exempted from the terms of the order. It refers to Motor vehicles constructed or adapted for actual combative purposes, but all vehicles of the Services are constructed or adapted for such purposes. Even the soup kitchen is a combative vehicle, and I do not know how the Minister decides what is supposed to be a "combative vehicle" and what is not. There is not a vehicle made for any of the Service departments which cannot be said to be made for actual combative purposes. They all play their part in combat, and, on the face of it, this order includes the troop carrying vehicles conveying troops on leave from Euston or Paddington, which we see careering up Park Lane at any speed.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. James Callaghan)


Mr. Poole

My hon. Friend says "No," but these are vehicles constructed for the conveyance of personnel, and paragraph I (b) of the schedule refers to vehicles constructed or adapted for the conveyance of personnel. If the order is so camouflaged that it does not appear to say what it means, I am sorry if I do not understand it, but vehicles for conveying personnel are of a class to which this order could apply. I should be pleased to hear the Minister's correction. One should remember, too, that the drivers of these vehicles have not been called upon to pass the standard driving test. I think that no one should speak disrespectfully of Service drivers—

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

Death or glory.

Mr. Poole

An hon. Member says "Death or glory" and I do not know exactly what he means, but the driver of a Service vehicle is not charged with the same sense of responsibility as a civilian driver taking his new Austin or Morris Eight along the road. Hon. Members may dispute that, but I base what I said on some six and a half years' experience. Men are taught to drive and they are put in charge of a vehicle. I am not suggesting that Service drivers are responsible for any larger proportion of accidents than civilian drivers, but our paramount duty in this House in these day is to do all we can to contribute to safety on the roads. If there is anything in this order which will make it easier for anyone to die on the roads, if we are releasing on to the roads vehicles that can be driver at a speed which would imperil the life of anyone on the road, I would support this Prayer.

10.46 p.m.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

The House, and, indeed, the public, must be grateful to my hon. Friends on this side of the House for raising this matter. When it is known throughout the country that this order has been discussed tonight it will undoubtedly afford satisfaction, because it will be realised that attention has been drawn to the dangers which the public are going to suffer if this order is not annulled. I appeal to the Government to reconsider the order, and to note that the appeals for that step come from all parts of the House in order that military vehicles will be restrained from excessive speeds. During the war it was necessary, for military purposes, for military vehicles to dash about the country side, but the people in the country have memories of narrow escapes, of slaughter on the roads and of the danger which occurred. There are animals to be found in the country lanes, and people in the narrow parts of the road, and if these vehicles charge about as it is suggested they might, there is bound to be death and injury. I appeal to the Government to reconsider the whole situation.

Last week I asked the Minister of Defence in a supplementary question if, in order to conserve petrol, he would make a regulation which would limit the speed of military vehicles? The Minister of Defence replied that it was a reasonable request and he would do so. Surely, it is ridiculous for one Government Department to ask for the removal of the speed limit and for the Minister of Defence to agree to what he said was a reasonable request that there should be a limit. We all know that when vehicles are being driven fast, the consumption of petrol is greatly increased. There has been a great appeal to conserve petrol. Motorists have had their basic petrol allowance taken away from them. How will they view this new order if it results in a greatly increased consumption of petrol if they are not allowed any at all.

The Government must think again on this question. If military vehicles have to dash about, a training ground should be used. Surely, there are disused aerodromes with great tracks on them and if cars in order to give the drivers training and practice, have to be driven fast, why not use those great runways and certain disused aerodromes? Why should it be necessary to have vehicles driven at excessive speeds on our main roads and on the lanes of the countryside?

Finally, I want to raise this point—there is no explanatory note attached to this order. It does seem to me that, in view of the fact that this 1940 provisional regulation was never laid and was not available for hon. Members of this House to see, it would only have been fair, reasonable and proper to have added an explanatory note which would have said what this provisional order, in fact, meant. If that had been done then hon. Members, desiring to make themselves fully acquainted with this provisional regulation, and what, in fact, the order does or does not do, would have found it easier to understand. I thought that the purpose of explanatory notes was to make such obscure matters clear. It is for these reasons that I hope the Government will accede to this Prayer to annul this regulation and help to remove the anxiety which undoubtedly will exist in the country when it is known what this regulation contains.

10.51 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. James Callaghan)

I think I can help to relieve any anxiety which exists in the country tonight without acceding to the request of the hon. Member for Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) to withdraw this order. But he is proceeding on a clearly in accurate assumption. He speaks of the dangers to which the public will be exposed if this order is not annulled. If the order is annulled then what will be done is to annul restrictions on Service vehicles which did not, up to this moment, exist. If he is saying that the public are going to be exposed to great dangers if it is withdrawn, then equally the public are going to be put in much greater safety if restrictions are imposed upon Service vehicles which did not, up to the moment, exist.

Sir W. Wakefield

I am relieved to hear that, but there is nothing in this order as far as I can see to enable us to understand that situation, and it is my complaint about this regulation, that there ought to have been an explanatory note so that we can understand what is happening.

Mr. Callaghan

If I might continue I may be able to make the matter clear even to the hon. Member as well. I do not think that it is really my responsibility to defend the action of the Government which was led by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), but I think it is a little unfair of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Challen) to criticise him and to talk about this "unfortunate" order that was laid in 1940. "Unfortunate" seems to me to be a not very appropriate word to use. I do not think that "unfortunate" is a very proper word to use when you lay an order in 1940 removing the speed restriction from vehicles at a time when invasion was in the air. Were the police in 1940 going to stop British tanks from exceeding the speed limit? Or perhaps it is thought that the German tanks would have observed the speed limit. To use that sort of language to describe what was done in 1940, I should have thought, was a little out of place even on the happy-go-lucky benches of the Opposition.

I think that my first duty is to explain to the House precisely what our responsibility is in this matter. I am glad that I carry the Opposition with me so far, and I think that they will come along a lot further by the time I have finished. Our responsibility in this matter is that which is laid on us by Section 121, Sub section (2) of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. The appropriate words are these: In the case of motor vehicles owned by the Admiralty, the War Department, or the Air Ministry, and used for naval, military, or air force purposes or in the case of vehicles so used while being driven by persons for the time being subject to the orders of any member of the armed forces of the Crown, and the Minister may by regulations, subject to such conditions as may be specified in the regulations, vary in relation to any such vehicles as aforesaid, while being driven as aforesaid, the provisions of the First Schedule to this Act. Our responsibility is simply that this duty is placed upon us to make certain that the Service Departments have reasonable facilities for doing their job and pre- paring for their job of maintaining the defences of this country. We have to satisfy ourselves before we vary such an order that what it is proposed to do is reasonable, and we also have to have regard to what is always predominantly in the mind of people in the Ministry of Transport and in the mind of the hon. Members who moved this Prayer tonight—and I am glad that we are having this discussion—that is, the question of road safety, which is the concern of all of us. As hon. Members in all parts of the House know, the Ministry of Transport is campaigning on this question, in conjunction with the local authorities up and down the country everywhere. As far as the question of road safety is concerned, the hon. Members who moved this Prayer are pushing at an open door. We are all in favour of getting the maximum restrictions we can, consistent with enabling the Service Departments to do their job properly, and these two considerations must be balanced.

The situation, broadly speaking, is that in 1940 such restrictions as had existed on Service vehicles as regards speed were for obvious reasons withdrawn. That situation has existed up to the present time when these regulations were laid; and we are now returning, as the hon. Member for Altrincham (Mr. Enroll) said, to the prewar practice which laid pretty considerable restrictions on Service vehicles. He said in his comments that some vehicles will be restricted. That is not quite the position. I will give more details later, but I can assure him that in point of fact 80 per cent. of Service vehicles will now be restricted which have not been restricted before this order was laid. That seems to be a pretty considerable step in the direction of road safety.

He referred also to the number of Service vehicles involved in accidents. He prevented me from giving the numbers "on security grounds," but perhaps I can give him another figure which will reassure the House. The number of road deaths in this country in the first nine months of the year was 3,458. The number of road deaths in which Service vehicles were involved was 121—or 3.5 per cent. I do not think that that justifies the allegation of wild and reckless driving by Service people careering around the roads. I think it is very unfortunate if hon. Members on either side of the House allow that charge to be bandied about in respect of people who cannot protect themselves from it.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

Can the hon. Member say what is the proportion of Service drivers to others entitled to be on the road?

Mr. Callaghan

No, I cannot. [HON. MEMBERS: "The figures are valueless."] They are not valueless at all because, if I may go on to give the figures for earlier years, it will be seen—I will not go into details—that the number of deaths from Service vehicles has obviously dropped very sharply in relation to the total number of deaths because the number of Service vehicles has declined more rapidly in relation to civilian vehicles.

Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)

What about average losses?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not know, but I think I have established my point. One hundred and twenty-one deaths out of 3,458 do not justify the allegation of wild and reckless driving. I want to go on to the point raised by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole) who said vehicles might career round London taking soldiers to Paddington at any speed. That is not the case. All Service vehicles in London and in any other built-up area must observe the same speed restrictions as any civilian vehicle. The only difference is when they go outside London and outside the built-up areas into the wide open spaces.

Mr. C. Poole

That is not a Service regulation.

Mr. Callaghan

That is the normal requirement of the law of the land. As to the reasons why we should not accede to the request to annul the order, the public has to be given protection under it, because now Service drivers and civilian drivers of motor vehicles may be brought up in a civil court if they break the law. As I understand the law—I do not want to get on to those legal paths, and I do not think I have to go very far down those devious routes—up to the moment Service drivers have been limited to Service discipline on matters of this sort. Proceedings could not be taken against them in civilian courts. Under this order as now laid, they may have proceedings taken against them in civilian courts. The next reason why we should go ahead with the order is—

Mr. C. S. Taylor

Does the hon. Gentleman say they can be brought before civilian courts by this order? That is news to us.

Mr. Callaghan

It may be news to the hon. Gentleman, but I really do not want to go down those legal by-paths, because I do not understand them. As I understand it as a layman, the position simply is, that under the normal law of the country, anyway, those drivers may be brought before the courts. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but that is in fact the case, and I ask the House to accept it from me at the moment. It is now recognised that Service drivers of Service vehicles will come before civilian courts, and that is an additional protection.

Mr. John Foster (Northwich)

I thought the hon. Gentleman told the House that since the order that provision was recognised. That is distinctly the recollection of the House. Is he still saying that that is the effect of this order? Does it make Service drivers responsible to the civilian courts? Did he say it, and is he still saying it?

Mr. Callaghan

The position is that Services' drivers, up to the moment of laying this order, have been court martialled, or were under Service discipline, if they broke Service speed limits imposed by the Services Now if they break the limits which are laid down for vehicles which are not exempted under this order they may be brought before the civil courts. That could not have been done before, because under the order of 1940 all Service vehicles were exempted from civilian limits.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying Service drivers could not be charged with manslaughter in respect of road accidents before?

Mr. Callaghan

Really, this is the sort of legal argument into which I was afraid I might get. But it is quite irrelevant to the discussion we are now having. I do not know what the practice was—although as a layman I have an idea—before the order came into force. What I am now doing is explaining to the House what the practice will be under this order.

Mr. C. Poole

Will the Minister help us to clear up this point? I ask him to do so in all sincerity, because I want to understand it. He said, as I said, that anyone is now liable to conform to the normal speed limit in a built-up area, which is 30 miles an hour. I ask him. Is there any speed limit restriction outside those areas? If there is not, from what does he exempt these vehicles?

Mr. Callaghan

From the speed limits outside built-up areas. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are they?"] Buses—if I may explain for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman—are liable to a limit of 30 miles an hour; heavy goods vehicles are liable to a limit of 20 miles an hour. I have here, handed me by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, a complete list. I shall not read it out to the House and weary the House with it, because it runs to two and a half pages. It states all the speed limits imposed on various types of vehicles, even when outside built-up areas.

The next thing is that we submitted this draft order to a number of organisations that are particularly concerned with road safety, or are concerned with matters affecting the roads, for their observations. They were a number of very reputable bodies—of motorists and cyclists, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and others. We did not receive any objection from them. That does not mean that the hon. Member for Hampstead and his friends are not entitled to raise this matter in the House, but at least I am entitled to put the point to the House that there is no substantial volume of public protest over what is being done, and the point of fact that we have received no objections is a pretty good indication that they do not dissent much from what we are doing. But, nevertheless, the House ought to be satisfied that we are doing the right thing, and I am putting it at that level.

The only other thing we can do, if this order is annulled, is to revert to the regulations that have existed so far and bring them up to date, as the hon. Member for Altrincham would say. Are we justified in letting this go while these long drawn-out negotiations go on? We regard this as a period of experiment. We are concerned, as I said when I started my speech, with road safety, and we want to make it, as far as we can, the pre-eminent concern of Service Departments as far as is consistent with their training, and that is the angle from which we approach it. Therefore, this is an experiment and one which we at the Ministry of Transport shall watch with care as the custodian Department of the Government responsible for road safety matters. This is really a practical trial. It can be modified if experiments show that it is not working out properly, and we shall modify, in conjunction with the Service Departments, if necessary. But rather than let the whole thing drag on, it would be far better to revert to a pre war tried practice which is readily understood by everyone than that we should have no regulations at all until the whole thing is hammered out again.

There is another responsibility of the Minister of Transport before acceding to requests to vary speed limits, and that is to satisfy himself that the Service Departments are taking all reasonable precautions, and we did satisfy ourselves on that. We had an assurance from the Service Departments that the exemptions in all cases will be only a limited exemption, and not applied to every type of vehicle on every journey. The hon. Member for Hampstead referred to "brass hats" running up and down the country in cars. Cars in any case are not subject to a speed limit outside the 30 mile an hour limit whether driven by "brass hats" or civilians. Was he putting to me the suggestion that because a car contains a "brass hat" it should have a lower speed limit than a car containing a civilian? Because if he did not mean that, his reference had no point.

Mr. McGhee (Penistone)

It would be a good idea!

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Member for Altrincham said there should be the same speed limit for civilians and comparable Service vehicles. The comparable vehicle to a Churchill tank is a heavy locomotive which has a speed limit of five miles per hour. How far could one drive a heavy tank at five miles per hour without doing irreparable damage to its gears and everything else, as the hon. Member knows very well from his experience of testing tanks. As I remember the Churchill tank, it was erratic in its direction.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Callaghan

It could reverse its direction with equal facility. In action it was unsatisfactory and it caused more alarm to its friends than it did to its foes.

Mr. Erroll

Does not the hon. Gentle man feel that the case for a speed limit is all the stronger?

Mr. Callaghan

No, I do not. I think the hon. Member really believes that we ought to give reasonable facilities to the Service Departments for the necessary training, especially when we have from the Service authorities assurances of the type I am now giving as illustrations. They have told us that authority to exceed the speed limits will be issued by unit commanders only for particular occasions. Apart from the blanket guarantee they have given us about the limited exemptions, it is also going to be a particular exemption for particular occasions. Next, authority will be issued only when military necessity demands it. That test will have to be satisfied. Next, they have issued instructions on road safety themselves. The Admiralty have some 2,600 of their drivers entered for the national safety tests run by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Because of what has been said about the Service Departments I would like to read what the Admiralty have said about safety. This is an extract from an Admiralty Fleet Order: In cases of negligence or misconduct, naval and W.R.E.Ns. ratings and Royal Marines should be transferred to other duties, with such disciplinary action as may be decided. Civilian drivers should be suspended, transferred to other work, or discharged. Their accident record should be taken into consideration in the award of increments or advancements of pay. That seems to me a highly commendable state of mind on the part of the Service authorities. It is only one of several illustrations that I am armed with and can give, but I hope I have said enough to convince the House that this is a reasonable order, and one that we should be allowed to have, and I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will withdraw their Motion to annul it.

Mr. Challen

In view of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I must say that we are calmed down—if I may so put it—by his assurance. He has made it clear that the Government are endeavouring to experiment in this matter, and as a basis of their experiment they are going back to the status quo ante the 1939 war. It might be a good thing for them to do that. One of the reasons giving rise to this Prayer is the fact that no proper explanatory note was placed on this order. That is a point some of us have endeavoured to rub in, in season and out, for many years. If sufficient notes explaining Government policy were attached to these orders we should know better where we were, and I think the public would feel better satisfied. If we were to press this Prayer to a Division, I think the result would be—the hon. Member I think did not put it quite correctly—that there would be no order at all. I think we would be in a position where the Act of 1939, with all its rigours, would apply. This order against which we are praying revokes the provisional regulation of 1940. This is a subject some of us have gone into—

Mr. Austin

On a point of Order. Is the mover of the Prayer in order in making a second speech?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

Yes. The mover of the Motion is entitled to reply.

Mr. Challen

It is a point that should be borne in mind that this, order revokes the provisional order, and if we annul the existing order we do not, in my submission, revive the revoked order. That is the case with an Act of Parliament If we press this order to a Division we might leave the Government with no order at all and they would have to, start all over again. In view of all these considerations and the considerate answer given by the Minister and the kind way in which he dealt with the question, we do not propose to press the matter, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

May I raise a point of Order? I think it is a material point and I apologise for keeping the House late. It is a point which should be considered now.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I understand the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Challen) has asked leave to withdraw his Motion. We cannot have another speech.

Mr. Taylor

With the greatest respect, I say it is up to the House to refuse to allow a Member to withdraw a Motion and I submit that it is quite in Order to raise this point as a point of Order for guidance on future occasions. The point of Order is this. The Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations, 1947, is not available for Members tonight. I tried to get a copy from the Library.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Another case of Government incompetence.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that that is a point of Order. It is a matter which the hon. Member may take up with the proper place. It is not a matter on which I can or ought to give any judgment.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.